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Spiritual conundrum: Book claims 'hugging saint' ashram murky world of sex, money, power

Saturday, 22 February 2014 - 7:31am IST | Place: THIRUVANANTHAPURAM | Agency: DNA

An Australian woman, who served Mata Amrithanandamayi for two decades, has exposed in her memoir the "hugging saint's" ashram as a murky world of physical, sexual and mental torture, promiscuity power-madness and intolerance.

Money and gold donated by the spiritual guru's devotees for Amrithanandamai Mutt's charity works was diverted to construct mansions for the Mata's siblings and was invested in her father's fisheries business. It was also used to create assets worth billions of dollars, including a medical college and a super-specialty hospital in Kerala.

The ashram's authorities shrugged off Gail 'Gayatri' Tredwell's claims in her book, Holy Hell: A Memoir of Faith, Devotion and Pure Madness, terming them "a figment of her depressed mind" for which she had been taking medicine. "We are not initiating any legal action against her," ashram spokesman Sudeep Kumar said.

Tredwell's book was published on October 22, 2013 by Amazon.com and has gone viral on social media. She now lives in Hawaii.

Tredwell was Amrithanandamayi's personal assistant for nearly two decades from January 15 1981, when the then 20-something arrived at a small dingy house in a swampy coastal village near Kollam in her quest for spirituality. It was this house or ashram where Amrithandamayi stayed in with her parents and three sisters.

"In front of me was a simple plastered home and a shrine set amid a dozen or so coconut palms, surrounded on three sides by swamp," Trewell writes in her memoir about the first time she saw the ashram. By the time she walked out of the congregation in 1999 — over the repeated rape she underwent by Amrithandamayi's chief male disciple Balu, the physical and mental torture by the Mata herself, and the absence of spirituality she had come looking for — the ashram had grown into a monstrous, concrete complex replete with modern facilities and residential flats for rich foreign and Indian devotees.

Tredwell claims that she was not treated any better than a housemaid is treated by an Indian family. She was cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing for Amrithanathamai besides accompanying her on foreign trips to cook for the Mata and members of her entourage.

The Mata's mood swings, writes Tredwell, were unpredictable. "Once behind closed doors, she was no longer a saint or a loving, holy mother. Her disciplinary measures for me had always been hitting, kicking, slapping and verbal abuse and denial of my greatest joy — that of serving her."

She also states that she happened to witness the Mata's sexual escapades on more than one occasion, and was emotionally blackmailed and raped by Balu to prevent her from speaking out.

"Once behind closed doors, she was no longer a saint or a loving, holy mother. Her disciplinary measures for me had always been hitting, kicking, slapping and verbal abuse and denial of my greatest joy — that of serving her"


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