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25 November, 2014

On the trail of godmen

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Indian lore is rich with tales of spiritual leaders whom the faithful revere for their noble deeds. That tradition makes it easy for fraudsters to pose as saints or godmen and indulge in criminal activities. It is not easy to decide who is genuine and who is fake.

Last week the police arrested Rampal, a self-styled World Guru, who was evading court proceedings in a murder case, after a massive operation at Barwala in Haryana state, 200 km from New Delhi. The arrest was made after a two-week siege of his ashram, where more than 15,000 devotees raised a human wall to keep the police at bay. Rampal said devotees prevented him from surrendering to the law.

Some saints of the modern period achieved considerable international fame. One of them, Osho a.k.a Acharya Rajaneesh, argued that the more sexual a person is the more intelligent and inventive he is, and he came to be known as Sex Guru. The foreign disciples of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, exponent of transcendental meditation, included the rock band Beatles. Both of them faced legal problems in the US.

Osho and Mahesh Yogi were well educated and spoke fluent English. But lack of English knowledge is no bar to international fame.  Satya Saibaba of Andhra Pradesh, who spoke only Telugu, had many followers abroad, including Spanish-speaking Latin Americans. Mata Amritanandamayi of Kerala, whom foreign media has dubbed the Hugging Saint as she embraces devotees, addresses congregations around the world in Malayalam, and her speeches are translated into English by an aide.

Saibaba used to materialise objects like wristwatches, jewellery and holy ash from the air and present them to devotees. Rationalists demonstrated that a magician can perform such miracles but his devotees, who included the Prime Minister’s Scientific Adviser, judges and army generals, stuck to him.

Many gurus have been caught up in controversies. What differentiates them from the saints of yore is the role sex, money, muscle power and political patronage play in their scheme of things. They are also said to broker business and political deals. Some of them have attracted charges of murder, rape and embezzlement.

Swami Premananda, a Sri Lankan, who ran ashrams in India and Europe, died in a Tamil Nadu prison in 2011 while serving two consecutive life sentences on charges of murder and multiple rape. Delhi Police have charged Shiv Murat Dwivedi, who conducted religious programmes as Swami Bhimamandji, with running a business empire which included real estate, money lending and prostitution.

Dhirendra Brahmachari, Indira Gandhi’s yoga guru, rose to prominence when she was the Prime Minister and was sometimes referred to as the Indian Rasputin. He had a stake in a gun factory in Jammu and was said to be own several properties illegally. He died in 1994 when his private plane crashed in circumstances which have not been fully explained.

Chandraswami, who reportedly impressed Elizabeth Taylor, Margaret Thatcher and other regional personalities with his astrological predictions, was close to Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao. After leaving office, Rao was chargesheeted along with him in a cheating case but they were acquitted. Though his name came up during the investigation of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination he was not prosecuted.

The Enforcement Directorate instituted several cases against Chandraswami for illegal foreign currency transactions. None resulted in conviction because of the prosecution’s lukewarm approach. The high court rejected its appeal in a 1999 case, stating 13 years had elapsed since the lower court finding and it was too late to start fresh proceedings.

The Bharatiya Janata Party is generally well disposed towards godmen and often defends them in the name of Hindu tradition. When Asaram Bapu, who has over 425 ashrams, was arrested before the parliamentary elections on a charge of raping a minor girl, some party leaders alleged he was being targeted for criticising Congress President Sonia Gandhi. Narendra Modi reportedly advised them to take the line that he should be dealt with according to the law. 

Haryana’s BJP government let the law take its course in Rampal’s case, presumably because it does not see him as a saint of the Hindu tradition. He claims to be a descendant of Kabir, the 15th-century Sufi saint, who, he says, is the Supreme God.

Public exposure of frauds and conviction by courts make little difference to the devotees’ attitude towards godmen. As police took Rampal away from the ashram, reporters heard devotees telling one another, “He will return. He is God.” -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, November 25, 2014.

1 comment:

Lawson English said...

Osho was deported from the United States and banned from visiting many countries.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was deposed for a lawsuit and eventually testified long-distance, declaring that one of his former students was NOT enlightened (the purpose of the lawsuit was to force him to admit that the former student WAS enlightened).

Osho's headquarters in the USA was abandoned.
MMY's headquarters in the USA has become a destination spot in Iowa for mainstream political candidates to speak, and was the subject of a 1 hour documentary by Oprah Winfrey. Many consider it a "must see" spot for tourists visiting Iowa.

I think you have drawn false equivalency in your article.