God is a refuge for many. He is incandescence in the darkness for the pilgrim in this life and the afterlife. He is a protector of both the rich and the poor. For India’s self-styled godmen, however, God is a career. Asaram Bapu aka Asumal Sirumalani has a very successful career in god-ism; one that has brought him huge swathes of real estate, wealth and political power, and also unsavoury controversies.
When the salacious swami was accused of molesting a young girl who had come to seek his blessings, holy wrath erupted. His son, who has acquired the spiritual sobriquet Narayan Sai was at his vitriolic best: calling the victim “unstable” and “greedy”. Asaram, booked under various penal codes in connection with the alleged assault, is on the lam, refusing to surrender to the law. BJP leaders cried persecution and Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot tread carefully—for devotees also have votes. The godman even claimed it was a conspiracy backed by the Gandhi family that landed him in the molestation mess. Asaram’s defiance reflects the dark gender attitudes of the regressive hick town Indian, even after he has made good. After the Delhi gangrape in December 2012, Asaram accused the victim of being as guilty as the rapists and advised her that if only she had addressed her violators as brothers, she would have been spared. Such godmen are the cardsharps of the Great Indian Spiritual Con. A civilisation heir to a great spiritual tradition of ashrams and sages is now a plundering ground for self-serving sadhus who exploit the gullible. In the scriptures, the last two stages of existence—vanaprastha and sanyasa—show renunciation as a completion of life’s metaphysical quest. For a multitude of modern monks, religion is a Kamadhenu: a cash cow that gives gold, land, money and political clout through devotees or land grabs.
Rajneesh was India’s first sensual sadhu; a showman whose love for luxury and flamboyant delight in sex made him an icon for a generation of seekers, mainly from the West. He dominated the Indian spiritual market abroad for decades. Once Swami Vivekanada took the eternal wisdom of the Upanishads to the West, but it was Rajneesh who took the Kama Sutra abroad. In Indian mythology, sex and spirituality have a symbiotic relationship—the exalted saint Vishwamitra made love to Maneka; Parashara’s desire for Satyavati resulted in the birth of Veda Vyasa and sage Vatsyayana wrote the Kama Sutra. The gods did not lag behind in this department; Surya impregnated Kunti, Indra seduced Ruchi, and Mohini captivated Lord Shiva. Today’s television gurus and multimillionaire sadhus violate trust under the pretext of tradition. Vishwamitra and Parashara were sages, whose teachings defined the Hindu way of life for centuries to come. Their power frightened even the gods. They were the real demigods of the Indian spiritual ethos, not the self-styled godmen who debase the faith of millions. Swami Nithyananda was caught on video allegedly getting an erotic massage from an actress; Nirmal Baba was in trouble for money laundering; Jayendra Saraswati is the prime accused in a murder; Amrita Chaitanya was charged with paedophilia; and Chandraswamy and Dheerendra Brahmachari exulted in political machinations.
India is also the land of Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Ramana Maharishi and Sri Aurobindo. The guru is an immanent part of Hindu consciousness. As of days of old, when great sages lived in idyllic ashrams and imparted knowledge to their disciples, the sacrosanct tradition continues. Real gurus do not buy slots on TV channels, or make millions from yoga and ayurveda, they are content to live in the hearts of devotees. The prominent among them promote the common good through hospitals, universities,
orphanages and disaster relief. The antics of criminals masquerading as guardians of Indian ethos cannot sully their auras. God is sought in the silent paths of the soul, guided by the guru whose power is felt and never seen.
(The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)