However her devotees come to get darshan every year. In western countries, they even get darshan at least twice per year : one time during the normal program and one time during the devi bhava night. When they travel to India they get more darshan. She may have given her hug 30 millions of times but to how many people?
Let's consider the crowds at her programs to make a theoretical estimation of the real number of devotees. Amma's international tour is planned along several batches, in 2013 the tour was designed as follows :
- North India : 16 programs
- South India : 10 programs
- Asia-Pacific : 3 programs
- USA : 11 programs
- Europe : 11 programs
- India : (16 + 10) * 200,000 = 5,200,000 attendants
- Foreign countries : (7 + 11 + 11) * 20,000 = 580,000 attendants
This theoretical approximation sheds another light upon her irresistible charisma. She seems to bestow her grace over an average of 6 million of devotees, 90% of them live in India, 10% live in foreign countries. Why does she shines internationally powerful? Does her success come from the social background of her devotees?
Her followers mainly come from the middle-class and upper-class of the society. According to thinkers, like Dr Maya Warrier, the success of modern gurus is mainly due to the support of the middle-class. A few excerpts from her books can be browsed online. The rationalist Meera Nanda confirms this point of view. Talking about Amma she states :
Modern gurus also seem to help to take the edge off guilt by teaching how to “balance” all that consumerism with spiritual pursuits.Indeed Amma's closest disciples come from wealthy families and all of them are graduated. This article mentions a striking detail :
One incident that touched most of the earliest inmates involved a leprosy patient called Dattan who was so gruesome that he covered himself with a cloth. They say Amma hugged him and licked his sores. In time, they claim, he became free of the disease. But the ashram faced a problem when more lepers came for blessings and other devotees felt uncomfortable. "Then she agreed to send bhasmam (sacred ash) to them," says Ramakrishnananda.Claiming that a leper has been cured, then getting rid of those who wish to benefit from the same blessing, while the healthy and wealthy are welcomed in spite of their family's disagreement. How selective!
The least one can say is that a lot of her western devotees originate from the upper crust of the society as well. One must have a sound financial position or at least a supportive family to afford traveling to India several times a year and to follow her all around the world, without worrying for the future. On stage, a long list of famous stars and sometimes politicians, grant her with the credit of their image. Backstage, talented people offer their knowledge, experience, skills and lobbying. Given the means used, it is no surprise that she looks more popular than she actually is.
Amma doesn't have 30 millions of devotees worldwide.
She has a few millions of followers in India, like many other gurus. Her supporters include influential personalities, which guarantee an extensive media coverage and an efficient protection for her activities. In western countries other influential people take care of her marketing and display, for her to look more impressive than she actually is. Those who don't abide by these terms are legally threatened to remain silent because it is above all a matter of communication.