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Messenger of God – Decoding the Saintliness

Satya Sai Baba is a radical phenomenon as is evident in his throng of devout devotees vigorously committed to spreading his words. Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev has a staggering 8.36 million subscribers on YouTube. While the sales of FMCG wonder Patanjali has been experiencing a free fall in sales yogeshri Ramdev Baba has become a hallmark of the swadeshi, back-to-the-roots trend that has taken the country by storm. The phenomenon of the humble guru riding the waves of deafening popular support has reached great heights.

Godmen are considered special human beings channelising the power of the divine through themselves and apparently serve a direct connection with God. Rumoured incidents of miraculous deeds, unexplainable healing by faith healers and extra sensory prowess resulting in equally extraordinary incidents are the claim to fame for many of these godmen. They hail from spiritual sects and may or may not profess allegiance to any established religion. Very often devotees claim a separate meta religion in honor of their chosen godhead’s beliefs. Nowadays the term serves as an umbrella heading for spiritual leaders although many prefer to not associate with the term and seek Indian nomenclature such as Baba, Guru, Bapu and so on.

The phenomenon of this super human also poses an equally larger than life confrontation- of the superb marketability of an unflinching faith and public support.

The Indian consciousness has always been infused with an inherent spiritual cognizance. The Indian soil has imbibed the pseudo divine mythos of the gurus and godheads in all its eccentricities and more than slightly questionable origins. Godmen very frequently enjoy support from the State- they are this mythical messiah of the common folk who will serve as the medium of deliverance from the vagrancies of daily humdrum. Indian leaders, socialites and educationists alike were of the opinion that a boost to the education system, advent of rationalism and buoyant economic prospects would help increase self reliance and moral confidence. However the expected results have not been achieved- the country teeters on the brink of an economic breakdown, the proliferation of formal education is not democratic and these figures reign uncharted. Godmen enjoy State support – the country’s central ruling party openly acknowledges and promotes severely unscientific claims of Ramdev Baba’s claims of the “miraculous healing powers of cow urine and dairy products. Sai Baba enjoyed political patronage from the likes of LK Advani when he was accused of falsities to hoodwink followers.

Charisma can very often be a defining feature of a godhead. They hold immense sway over the people and ruralites are especially enamoured by these strangely powerful personalities. Political motivations have a vested interest form these godheads- to secure legitimacy and popular support through recognition from these figures of social sanction. When Sadhguru commented on how the CAA bill sought to resolve tensions and extend sanctuary to persecuted minorities and ascertain the people’s true homeland he automatically garnered popular support on a central government bill way too nefarious to be commented on so flippantly by one of the country’s biggest influencers. This is how governments harness public sanction by using godmen.

The remarkable phenomenon of godmens has impregnated the West too – the United States and European nations have shown remarkable affinity for adoption of Eastern beliefs vis a vis the likes of Rajneesh aka Osho and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Rajneesh conceptualised Rajneeshism as a movement decidedly plucking away embellishments from formal religions and propounding a movement towards the bare aesthetic frameworks of religions. A greatly controversial figure who was later prosecuted in a scam to seize political power, Osho was also a liberal proponent of sexual activities to achieve a similar transcendence as obtained through nirvana. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi founded the movement of Transcendental Meditation that greatly resonated even with pop legends The Beatles.

Sociologist Shiv Viswanathan reportedly told the BBC “… how conventional politics and religion have been failing a large number of people.” The populace is de-sensitised and disillusioned with the false claims of the supposed representatives of public opinion. There is a moral and existential crisis pervading every aspect of being for the ‘aam aadmi’, the solace of formal religion and religious folds is a pipe dream. The search for a higher purpose brings them to the doorsteps of the same sandcastle that rejected him under a different name. The abode of the guru offers sanctuary of sanctuary, a cultist paradigm with lowered inhibitions and the specter of egalitarian operations. It was only too easy to submit to the peace godmen offered.

Contrary to popular notions, it is the middle class’ money that heavily fuels the cogs of the godman’s den rather than the rural classes. One plausibility is that that the middle class holds the highest aspirations for a better future- constantly caught up in the hustle and the seemingly impossible dream of infiltrating the creme de la creme, they pin their hopes on the godman’s miraculous powers.

A comically redundant image of the ‘baba’ is somehow representative Indian spirituality now. The sacred saffron has become a laughing stock and the reductionism of India philosophies across the ages to the myth of these supposed miracle workers is a tragedy. The life and works of reformers and educators of the likes of Rishi Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda (among many others) is being traded for the irrational, unscientific, pompous image of the money minded business ventures of the godmen. The secular, democratic framework of the country is severely impacted by this image- the uninitiated and the superficial stereotype India as the country of “mambo-jambo” hijinks and gullible naivete.

Some of the illustrious remarkably un-divine activities that these supposed messengers of god have engaged in and been prosecuted for ranges from battery and assault to solicitation and sexual assault. Swami Premananda was found guilty of raping 13 women, fraudulent activities and being an illusionist of divine materialisations and ( using magic tricks to create illusions) and sentenced to lifetime imprisonment. Ram Rahim, the self styled gdman and founder of the Dera Sacha Sauda organisation was sentenced on multiple charges of rape, castration and hurting the sentiments of Sikh and Hindu orders. The astrologer and spiritual guru Chandraswami, a close confidante of the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, was held guilty by the Supreme Court of India and charged around 90 crores for the violation of key tenets of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA) . He was also indicted in the nefarious assassination attempt of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Asaram Bapu, who came from humble origins and amassed estates and papers amounting to a staggering of 100 billion approximately, was also accused of raping women followers in his ashrams. Godwoman Radhe Ma has questionable attitudinal outlooks with context to her cult and claims her followers are the Hindu goddesses reincarnated – a pretty hefty claim rife with apocryphal implications.

Investigations into the residential hubs of the godmen’s ashramas have led to scandalizing, blood curdling realities- a vicious circle of oppression and resorting to the worst crimes against humanity to silence feeble voices. Various instruments of deception including hidden platforms for achieving levitation, using sodium crystals for spontaneous combustion and potassium permanganate on wooden sticks to create magical unexplained fires in ordinary room temperatures to create the sacred vibhuti (ash)apparently out of thin air.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s The Art of Living foundation, while a social and humanitarian foundation that has actually helped thousands find not simply attain a higher purpose but also in various economic and political consciousness enterprises . Yet the organisation has been time and again implicated in claims of land encroachment and desecrating the Yamuna flood plains by hosting foundation oriented ceremonious occasions.

The emotions of countless vulnerabilities have been toyed with, left assundered and freely exploited. Huge estates have been purchased, luscious complexes purchased overnight and millions squandered to wasteful lascivious crimes. The arrest of Ram Rahim launched violence in Haryana among the followers of the guru post the verdict anointing him a criminal. The verbatim of followers reveal an ironclad blind fanaticism in the face of facts. The business of a tryst with the maker continues to play a morbidly fascinating role in the Indian socio-political scenario. It would be foolish to deny the massive, outrageously humongous impact they have on the mental map of our nation and the national identity holistically.

– Bipasha Bhowmick

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