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Holy Hell: The Inside Story of Amma. New Book by former Personal Assistant Gail “Gayatri” Tredwell.


Holy Hell: The Inside Story of Amma. New Book by former Personal Assistant Gail “Gayatri” Tredwell.
Amma, universally known as “The Hugging Saint,” went through a two-decade transformation from a simple fisherman’s daughter to an international wonder worshiped by millions. Her hugs believed to cure cancer and other diseases. Thousands line up, often waiting hours to be hugged and blessed by the godly woman. However, a different portrait is painted of Amma in the new book Holy Hell: A Memoir of Faith, Devotion, and Pure Madness, written by the guru’s former personal assistant, Gail “Gayatri” Tredwell. The true picture is far different from the facade of beloved holy woman that the public sees.

After becoming Amma’s personal assistant in India at the age of 21, Tredwell never realized that her quest to find God would end in such a web of deceit and abuse. For two decades, Tredwell acted as Amma’s personal servant, expected to be available at the “saint’s” disposal at all hours.

Holy Hell: A Memoir of Faith, Devotion, and Pure Madness depicts an unsettling portrait of Amma in a voice that brims with honesty and hope. Tredwell became fluent in the Malayalam language and was with Amma continuously. The author shares her unique story, keeping to the facts yet taking responsibility for her own role in the situation.

She tells her tale with straightforward honesty, fairness, and a dash of Aussie snap and wit. Although the guru’s flaws are a necessary part of her story and awakening, she strives to be factual throughout, digging deep to eschew victim frameworks and take responsibility for her own role in accepting the abuse and perpetuating the lies. The book evokes the joys of early devotional life and vibrant images of rural India. Through Tredwell’s eyes, we watch a modest and traditional ashram metastasize into a business-oriented, bustling, mega-international organization.

We also see how such a dizzying rise created vast opportunity for abuse, deceit, and hypocrisy. Tredwell takes us vividly through her varying stages, starting with naïveté and innocent devotion, then on to dawning awareness and confusion, finally to emotional breakdown and her shocking “enlightenment”—her realization that the liberation she urgently required was is in fact liberation from her own guru. 

Only after years of recovery and reflection has Tredwell been able to reveal this story in all its raw and unflinching truth.