Cochin, India, Aug. 23 - A religious leader known as the "hugging saint" escaped an attack by an unidentified man during a prayer meeting in southern India when three of her followers overpowered the assailant, a state official said.

Mata Amritanandamayi, who uses hugs as a gesture of blessing, watched on Sunday as the followers suffered minor knife injuries during a scuffle with the attacker about 15 feet from where she was sitting in her headquarters in Quilon, a town 55 miles northwest of Trivandrum, the capital of southern Kerala state, district collector B. Srinivas said.

Police arrested the unidentified attacker and took him to a hospital for a psychological examination, Srinivas said.

Amritanandamayi is known by followers as "Amma," which means "mother" in several Indian languages. She has devotees throughout India and the rest of the world.

Her Amritanandamayi Charitable Trust has centers in 15 countries, including Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Britain. It builds homes, runs schools and provides medical care for poor people.

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