The debate in India is developing slowly towards some kind of near-sanity about their omnipresent ‘godmen’ as they call them (though the godwoman Amma is also a top player). This is, however, confined to the more respectable media outlets, and some of the top newspapers have to be said to be sticking to myth beyond facts to a despicably large extent. Meanwhile many frenzied Sai devotees – robbed of their enormous expectations built up over decades that Sathya Sai Baba would live until he was 96 (or, as he also said, around 92/93) – are clinging with fervour to the myth concocted by the Sathya Sai authorities that Sai Baba actually lived until he was 94-4 years old according to a little-used lunar calendar. They could not make the arithmetic fit to either 93 or 96, however, which just shows that they will create any delusion they can to save their financial bacon. The inset statement clears up all doubts about this issue once and for all!
Not only that, but the manner of his ‘departure’ from the human body was not at all what any believer expected or trusted could never happen to the Divinity who claimed he created the Universe and sent Jesus to earth etc. ad inf. Indian spiritual traditions require that a supposed saint or a realised yogi leave his/her body in full consciousness, going to deep meditation! But NOT in being unconscious, on medication in an Intensive Care Unit! No, it should have been more like Yogananda is fabled to have done, sitting in the lotus position after his last words of wisdom to his acolytes. Many followers of Sai Baba were also formerly believers in Yogananda and other gurus who departed this life in a far more decorous manner, even Ramakrishna Paramahamsa who died in bed after talking to Vivekananda, or Ramana Maharshi who sat out his fatal cancer in his cave until the last.
Despite such obvious signs that Sai Baba was in most major respects a ‘fake divinity’ until the last, his devotees are busy writing heartfelt drivel on newspaper comment pages about him surely being resurrected soon, about how he really was 96 (despite the official Sai website saying that he was 94.4 lunar years old – that is, 84 in all more usual calendar reckonings of the same sort Sai Baba used in all his discourses and interviews). Further, these zealous fact-twisters are disfiguring the Wikipedia page about Sathya Sai Baba and illegally removing all reference to the huge controversy and criticism that has followed Sathya Sai baba – both within India and abroad, and they are evidently permitted to do so by the Wikipedia administration as there is no warning on the page that the article is contested.
Two excerpts from Indian news lately show a growing impatience with India’s materialistic ‘spirituality':-
That Irrational High – How godmen hoodwink the gullible into subscribing to their divinity by Ajith Pillai
“When we have a pantheon of gods and goddesses, do we really need godmen? At a very early age, I was exposed to the spiritual guru class.”(excerpts from Outlook India)
“…as a journalist, I did the rounds of a few ashrams. One conclusion I arrived at was that godmen, more than politicians (at least they have to win elections every five years to stay relevant), are the most privileged class. Many have humble beginnings, but later build empires worth hundreds or even thousands of crores. But very rarely are questions asked about the sources of their wealth and what exactly happens to all the black money that the netas are rumoured to park in their ashrams. At any rate, should queries be raised, powerful devotees are often on hand to save and protect them. This is because the elite—from netas to the rich and famous—are drawn to the godmen. Call it this class’s need to fill an inner void or a compulsion to seek divine intervention to ensure their own success and the ruin of their rivals, the godmen, many believe, serve as the via media (a cruder expression would be middlemen) between humans and God. Clearly, mystery shrouds the goings-on in some of the ashrams. Which is why when a Chandraswami (Narasimha Rao’s favourite godman, who was arrested for swindling) or a Swami Amritachaitanya from Kerala (who is wanted for raping two minor girls, among other charges) are arrested, then the nomenclature ‘fake godmen’ is invoked to point out the differences between the ‘tricksters’ and the ‘genuine’ swamis. The only trouble is that devotees who have reposed trust for years together in those who claim to have a hotline to the divine are angered and disappointed when the bubble bursts. Which is precisely what happened when the Bangalore-based Swami Nityananda was caught on video in a comprising position with a Tamil actress. The footage was telecast by a news channel, leading to much violence. The swami’s shocked devotees attacked his ashram and the godman had to flee Karnataka and head for Himachal Pradesh.”
BUSINESS OF THE GODS
YOGA, MEDITATION, AYURVEDA, ART OF LIVING. HOLDING ON TO FAITH AND LETTING GO OF STRESS IN THESE TROUBLED TIMES COMES AT A PRICE. BUT MILLIONS ARE READY TO PAY. THE HEALERS, AMASSING FORTUNES AND BUILDING EMPIRES, SEEM TO BE THE HAPPIEST, WRITES SHANTANU GUHA RAY (excerpts from Tehelka)
LAST MONTH, the Delhi Police’s Economic Offences Wing (EOW) received a strange complaint from disciples of one of India’s top godmen, a figure immensely popular for his crowded, five-star discourses in select farmhouses on the Mehrauli-Gurgaon road on the Capital’s southern fringes.
The bizarre incident revolved around a disciple who offered Rs 35 lakh in three installments as donation to gain instant access to the godman’s inner circle. Enthused by the donation and the disciple’s meteoric rise in his business, the godman requested his help in a personal investment that would guarantee quick returns. Rs 4 crore — the amount could even be higher — changed hands. The disciple disappeared overnight. No one knows why the godman and his followers did not press charges, but the general perception among those who attended that meeting at the EOW office, was that the issue was buried instantly because the complainants felt investigations would actually create more tensions for the godman than for the offender. What if the police asked about the source of that cash? “Obviously no one wanted to reveal the godman’s source of money, which is mostly in cash and collected after the discourses. The collections are just huge,” a top EOW officer told TEHELKA.
SOLACE COMES FOR A PRICE
As per estimates with the finance and home ministries, the total turnover of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s empire is approximately Rs 400 crore that includes his Art of Living (AOL) institutes, pharmacy and health centres, and a hill 40 km from Bangalore on lease from the Karnataka government for 99 years. In the same league are others like Asaram Bapu (turnover Rs 350 crore, includes the multicrore controversial ashram in Delhi’s Ridge area close to the Rabindra Rangashala); Mata Amritanandamayi, “Amma”, of Kerala (turnover Rs 400 crore, includes a virtual corporation that runs schools and hospitals and receives mega donations from all over the world); Baba Ramdev of Hardwar (turnover Rs 400 crore, includes pharmacies and land for two universities); Sudhanshu Maharaj (turnover Rs 300 crore, includes meditation centres across the country and special discourses at the homes of the rich and famous in India and abroad) and Murari Bapu (turnover Rs 150 crore, includes special discourses at political rallies and at private residences in India and abroad).