‘Idolization’. It’s remarkable how this word, initially, perhaps centuries ago was only just confined to expression of devotion for the Higher Power. Cut to a complicated world of the 21st century where there is no dearth of idolized entities- you name it. Movie stars, sports personalities and a great Indian specialty- the Indian godmen. Dipankar Gupta in a column in The Hindu went so far as to call the last ‘The Godmen Syndrome’ and rightly so. In what is intuitively supposed to be a clean world of holiness and mysticism, there exists an awful lot of dirt. Shocker! If the statement with the added sarcasm isn’t enough to be an eye-opener for the blind devout, let’s have a look at the glittering personalities of this arena and some of their not-so-glittery life episodes:
1) Swami Nithyanada
Born in Tamil Nadu, Swami Nithyananda was drawn to idols and temples as a child and had numerous spiritual mentors who played a monumental role in his formative years. His specialization in the study and practices of Yoga, Tantra, Vedanta, etc. earned him fame in India and abroad. The first time he landed in the soup was in 2010, when Sun TV telecasted an obscene video of him with Tamil actress Ranjitha. The sex scandal is believed by many to be a planned attack on the Swami- his immense sea of followers and staunch anti-conversion stance having irked the Dravidian and Christian forces. He was arrested on 21st April, 2010.
2) Asaram Bapu-The most controversial godman
Born on 17th April, 1941, Asaram Bapu had a fascination for the epics and the scriptures as a child and later went on to spread the message of Vedanta, bhakti, etc. He has been caught in numerous appalling controversies. In 2008, the deaths of two 10 year old cousins in his ashram in Gujarat became the first dark stain. Few years later in Madhya Pradesh’s Vidisha district, a controversy surfaced that he had kicked a devotee Aman Singh Dangee and hurled abuses. Then again in 2013, he was caught in a land grab case worth Rs 700 crore. He has also managed to drown himself in a squall of condemnation by the public on numerous occasions owing to his outrageous remarks.
The latest allegations on this controversial godman were of sexually assaulting a 16-year old girl at his ashram in Jodhpur. Following this, he was taken into custody and has been denied bail on multiple occasions.
3) Sathya Sai Baba-The Sai baba reincarnate
Sathya Sai Baba born on 26th November, 1926, was claimed by many to be a reincarnation of the Sai Baba of Shirdi. His devout followers make claims of an endless list of miracles- such as materializing rings, necklaces, watches, holy ash; healing the sick, resurrection, etc. The famous god man has been in quite a sea of trouble– with allegations of misappropriation of funds with regard to the Sathya Sai Baba Trust and murder of devotees in his own ashram. He has also elicited scoffs from rationalists like David Lane, Abraham Kovoor, etc. who have went on to show why he doesn’t deserve a cult status.
4) Gurmeet Ram Rahim-The messenger of god
Born on 15th August, 1967 in Rajasthan, this controversial godman is most well-known for being at the helm of the Dera Sacha Sauda, a socio-spiritual organization that has entered the Guinness World Records ample times. He had a brush with trouble for the first time in 2002, when the organization came under investigation following allegations of sexual exploitation of women followers.
The death of investigative journalist Ram Chander Chatrapati who had been writing about the Dera caused a furore and he was drawn into the eye of the storm. The Tehelka magazine published articles of murders and illegal possession of arms by his followers on his behalf.
5) Chandraswami-The politically correct godman
Chandraswami was born in 1948 and was an earnest student of the Tantric studies at an early age. After having spent 4 years in meditation in the jungles of Bihar, he claimed to have acquired supernatural powers. He was one of the most controversial Indian godmen with extraordinary political capital has been in the spotlight on account of serious crimes. He had been involved in financial irregularities for which he had to pay heavy fines, amounting to 9 crores. He was also a suspect and subjected to rigorous CBI investigation in the high profile assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.
6) Baba Rampal-Saint Kabir reincarnate
Baba Rampal was born on 8th September 1951 in Haryana. It is believed that after having met an old group of followers of the Great Saint Kabir, he became attracted to the Saint’s teachings and began spreading his message. Having gained his own circle of followers, he founded his own Ashram in 1999. An ugly battle in the religious realm manifested in 2006 as a clash between his followers and that of the Arya Samaj resulting in a fatal injury to one. That seems to have been a point of no return as his legal troubles continued, defined by attempt to murder, contempt of court, etc.
If anything, these stories of controversial Indian godmen are a glaring example of the strange times we live in- a world where people who make worthwhile sacrifices to protect values that matter are killed or driven out of their homes on one hand and on the other hand we have people with questionable image thriving on fragile religious sentiments of the masses and political liaisons. Social ills have a way of building up to a point when it might be impossible to turn back. Idolization is a social ill-it’s time we recognize that and sweep away the rug from under those who doesn’t deserve it, so that they can feel the hard floor.