The Tyranny of Godmen

The tyranny of godmen has reigned in our country for decades now. As one godman fades out of the spotlight, another one takes his place. The concept of godmen is said to have developed from the Guru-Shishya relationship that two people shared in a Gurukul (a place where all students stayed to learn from a guru). Although the Guru-Shishya relationship had authenticity, the concept of godmen has earned reproach from the public. This was accumulated through many years as people observed the rise and fall of many high-profile gurus. Most of them were exposed in some scandalous revelation while others were accused and arrested of fraud. This is not limited to any one religion.

Some of the very popular godmen in the past included Osho, Asaram Bapu, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, Swami Premananda and Nithyananda. Baba Ramdev and Shri Shri Ravishankar are at large even today. India recognised some female gurus who had many followers, they include Anandmayi Ma, Mata Amritanandamayi and Mother Meera.

These godmen rose in fame as more and more people believed in their antics. They were known to levitate people, magically burp out idols of god and some of them even claimed that they can cure physical disabilities of their ardent devotees. Although their claims were far-fetched, they continued to gain popularity and their followers increased every day. This can only be attributed to the superstitious behaviour of religious people in our country. Despite so many of the exposed self-styled godmen being fake, our people still believe the next godman who proclaims to have seen the Lord in his dreams. It has become one of the easiest ways to con Indians. The popularity of Asaram Bapu, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, Premananda and Nithyananda all perished in the same way– they were all exposed for sexually assaulting their devotees. Not so virtuous for having attained enlightenment!

The economics of godmen goes beyond their popularity. Some claim to solve your problems for a price. Shri Shri Ravishankar, a renowned Guru and founder of the Art of Living Foundation has roughly 300 million followers giving him a 1000 crore in donations every year. As Sri Sri Ravi Shankar offered to mediate on the Ayodhya dispute, it was alleged that he has intervened to avoid getting probed for his amassed wealth. He is not the only one with the ridiculous net worth. Baba Ramdev, a famous yoga guru and founder of Patanjali has a net worth of $6.1 billion, making him the 19th richest man in India. His products have fallen short of meeting quality standards many times. 40% of his Ayurvedic products are of substandard quality. None of these quality issues impeded his sales. This makes us wonder how he was able to diversify his company despite bad quality and dominate the markets.

Recently Indian actors have reiterated in several movies that the self-styled gurus are not only bad for the economy but they also take advantage of their followers. Films like PK and OMG: Oh My God have ridiculed these godmen indirectly ridiculing these beliefs as well. PK narrates the story of a humanoid alien that is confused by the actions of humans and later tries to prove that all gurus manipulate their followers for personal benefits. The movie clearly portrays India’s blind belief over praying. OMG: Oh My God) is a similar satirical story of an atheist man who sues god over an earthquake that destroys his antique shop.

Despite the presence of some godmen that have only exploited their followers, there are a few of them who have used donations they receive to positively influence people. For instance, Sathya Sai Baba, a guru, spiritual leader and most importantly, a philanthropist; founded the Sathya Sai Organisation that encouraged his devotees to undertake service activities which enabled to establish over 1200 Sathya Sai Centres in 126 countries. Through this organisation, with the help of his devotees, he was able to institute a network of free hospitals, clinics, drinking water projects, auditoriums, ashrams and schools which have helped scores of people from lower income families. The Sathya Sai Super Speciality hospital in Bangalore strives to provide patient care irrespective of caste, creed, gender, religion or nationality free of charge upholding the principles of Sathya Sai Baba even after his death.

Similarly, there are other spiritual leaders like Ramana Maharishi whose fame and guidance proliferated as throngs of people desired his tutelage. Although he has an ashram to his name to this day, they do not collect any donations and his disciples dutifully propagate his teachings to this generation keeping his spirit alive. It is the people who have to be careful while being charmed by charismatic Indian gurus who claim to have powers that can erase all the problems in this world. At the same time, the law makers and police have to make stringent laws that make sure godmen do not exploit their popularity and influence over their followers as other religions are following suit and falling prey to similar felonies.

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