Spiritual leader and humanitarian Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, right, also known as the hugging saint, Amma, hugs a follower during her June 2013 visit to the Hyatt Regency Hotel at DFW International Airport in Irving. Amma returns to North Texas next week, when she visits Denton for a two-day gathering.

About 5,000 people attended last year’s tour stop in Dallas by Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, also known as Amma, the hugging saint. This year, her tour stop will be in Denton.

Rooms at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Denton Convention Center are completely booked for people arriving for Amma’s free programs June 21 and 22.

Amma is a humanitarian and spiritual leader who has dedicated her life toward comforting those suffering physically and emotionally.

Most people visit her on tour to experience her hug, which is how she was deemed the “hugging saint.” These hugs started when she was young and would comfort those in need. She has embraced more than 34 million people around the world, according to her website. She is known to go hours hugging people who come to meet her without interruption.

“There are many people coming to be blessed by her,” said Kim Phillips, vice president of the Denton Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We’ve worked with their meeting planners for the last couple of years. They were wishing we could have it in Denton, but we couldn’t until the convention center opened.”

Phillips said Amma’s team was interested in doing a tour stop in Denton because its Texas center is in Aubrey.

The 50-acre MA Center Dallas, was established in 2016 and serves as the “focal point in the region for regular spiritual activities.” The center formerly was known as the Green Valley Ranch.

Kaivalya Rupe, an MA Center volunteer, said the Dallas branch has “really [started] to take off.”

“It really is a blessing to have her,” Rupe said.

Rupe said Amma has up to 50,000 people come to see her in India, but that number is much lower in the United States.

“Here, we have time with her and she’ll talk to us,” Rupe said. “It’s such an opportunity for us to have that special blessing, that special time with her.”

Phillips said Amma’s team has already booked an event in Denton for next year, too.

“With that knowledge, we are looking at this year to be a teaching time to understand how this thing flows,” Phillips said.

To get into her free program, guests must get a token from the token line. Token lines open two hours before the morning and evening programs begin. Everyone wishing to receive a hug from Amma must have a token, including children. Priority is given to those who have special needs.

The morning program will begin at 10 a.m. both days with a short meditation. She will begin embracing guests at 10:30 a.m., and lunch will be served at 12:30 p.m.

The evening program on June 21 will begin at 7:30 p.m. She will embrace guests from 9:45 p.m. until all those with tokens are hugged. Dinner will be served at 6 p.m. until Amma arrives at 7:30 p.m., then dinner will resume at 9:45 p.m.

Rupe said the evening embraces can go until 3 a.m.

The special program dedicated to world peace called “Devi Bhava” will begin at 7 p.m. June 22 with a ritual ceremony for world peace (Atma Puja). Dinner will be served from 8:30 p.m. to midnight.

The first day of Amma’s visit also coincides with the International Day of Yoga. Rupe said Amma has led people in yoga in previous years, so it might be something she will do in Denton.

Amma’s network of charity organizations, led through Embracing the World, aim to help people in need meet five basic needs — food, shelter, health care, education and livelihood.

The convention center is at 3100 Town Center Trail in Rayzor Ranch Town Center. Guests are asked to dress modestly out of respect for the Indian culture. No audio, video or photography is allowed. For more information about her summer tour, visit https://amma.org/meeting-amma/north-america.

ZAIRA PEREZ can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @zairalperez.

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