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March 26 2001

A Catholic official of a communist-led state government in India has enlisted the aid of a Hindu woman spiritual leader to set up a special "health village."

The Holistic Health Village will not only care for poor and elderly people but also attract spiritually inclined tourists, according to Jiji Thomson, managing director of the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation.

Mata Amritanandamayi, a Hindu spiritual leader, is helping set up what Thomson said will be a unique center combining spirituality, meditation, and traditional and modern medicine, using more than 25 health-care systems.

The government corporation began work in Kinalur, in the northern region of the southern state, in February, Thomson told UCA News March 12.

Amritanandamayi, known among her followers as "Amma" (mother), runs several educational institutions, social service centers and hospitals across India. Based in Kerala, she reportedly has some 20 million followers worldwide.

Thomson said the government sought Amritanandamayi´s help since her associates have the technical expertise and manpower to run a center that combines spirituality, medical care and tourism.

Describing Amritanandamayi as "the epitome of all religions," Thomson said that she remains "above all partisan religious and communal feelings" to spread "the philosophy of love and compassion."

The government and Amritanandamayi will have equal shares in the 2.5 billion-rupee (some US$55 million) project being built on 2.7-hectares of land amid hillocks, trees and rivers in Kinalur village.

When completed in 2004, the village will use alternative therapies and holistic techniques to improve spiritual and physical energy, Thomson said.

It will offer treatment based on Indian, Chinese and Tibetan medical systems, allopathy, faith healing, and music and aroma therapies, he said.

Amritanandamayi establishments already offer spiritual and physical therapy that the health village promoters hope will help attract overseas tourists.

In the view of James K. Mathew, a Catholic physician who runs a hospital in the Kerala commercial capital of Kochi, the project "is a great idea" as patients now seek both physical and spiritual treatment.

Swami Amritaswaroop, an Amritanandamayi associate, called the village their "biggest social-service project," as well as their first collaborative effort with government.

He told UCA News that some 100,000 people get free treatment every year at their 925-bed Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences in Kochi, some 2,565 kilometers south of New Delhi. More than 15,000 children attend their schools.

Amritanandamayi projects have also provided houses for nearly 25,000 families, elderly women and widows in several parts of India.