The recent drama regarding the arrest of self styled Godman Rampal has once again brought the spotlight on India’s numerous spiritual gurus and preachers. Though health, well-being and spirituality are what they all profess, some have made it to the headlines for the controversy they create, like financial irregularities, sexual abuse and, sometimes, even murder.
Though gurus or godmen in India have huge followings and are usually considered holy and utterly blameless, allegations of sexual misconduct and depravity on their part crop up with regularity. In India, godmen wield a lot of power over their devotees, which is a heady feeling. They have the money power and influence. Many a leading politicians hob nob with these self styled Godman for seeking solace, spiritual guidance, eager to peep into the future (most of these Godman are adept with astrology), dip into their deep & huge pockets (many of them are billionaires), use them to store their ill-gotten wealth, use their resources in their election campaign and leverage their followers to gather votes. It’s a quid-pro-quo arrangement and in return the Godman expand their operations and soon begin to believe they can get away with anything – financial irregularities, sexual abuse and, sometimes, even murder. No wonder, most godmen get away with their unpleasant acts simply because they enjoy political clout.
In the past two decades, spiritual life in the country has undergone a transformation as Indians embrace hectic urban lifestyles and move away from their cultural roots of village-based worship .
The result is that many have sought solace by flocking to the ashrams of gurus who offer spiritual tourisms, chanting routines, yoga lessons and herbal cures . Most of these Godman’s appear on TV regularly and some even have their own 24×7 TV Channels thro which they spread their propaganda and brain wash innocent, gullible followers.
These modern-day mega- gurus are nothing like the wandering saints of ancient Hindu religious texts, who meditated and lived on alms, renouncing all worldly possessions.
Today’s gurus have built hundreds of ashrams across the globe and run flourishing businesses in everything from herbal medicine to meditation and yoga workshops. They travel in luxury cars, fly in private aircrafts, glide past airport security and are guarded by gun-toting police officers and bouncers. Some have criminal pasts.
Followers being sworn to secrecy is a common practice of godmen. No wonder so many “godmen” get embroiled in sex scandals? Sociologist Dipankar Gupta agrees that godmen prey upon the vulnerability of their followers, especially women. “Once the women are drawn in, it is easy for these godmen to force themselves upon them,” he says. The belief that so-called godmen are above sexual impulses is totally false. “Their sexual desire is no less than that of an ordinary man,” says andrologist Sudhakar Krishnamurti. Many incidents of rape or sexual assault by godmen happen because they deprive themselves of a natural sex life.
So what is it that makes these Godman thrive and continue to exploit the innocent & gullible public. Experts say that it is the blind faith of their devotees that enables these “gurus” to influence them. “We Indians are great believers in miracles and feel that somebody can get us out of our miseries. This is the prime reason we fall for these godmen,” says Prabir Ghosh, general secretary, Science and Rationalists’ Association of India, Calcutta.
Historically if one were to go down the spiritual past and the religious scriptures, mankind mostly turn to religion & GOD when in distress. It could be as a result of poverty, ill-health, loss of near & dear one, financial losses, legal threats, depression, love failure, approaching of an exam, appearing for a job interview etc. At this stage the person is at the lowest ebb of his emotions and will easily be attracted by anyone who promises or appears to help alleviate their problems. The person is looking for a quick fix solution, though it may take a long time to resolve their problems. Most of the time it’s a case of “Placebo” effect. In many cases the person is looking for some someone to hear them out (ventilation) and possibly offer an instant solutions – it’s a case of Soothe sayer.
Its here that the self styled Godman intercept. They are well versed in the religious scriptures, can rattle them from the back of their head with consummate ease. Recite slokas and can communicate & articulate well. They are able to relate the problems of mankind with that of the religious scriptures and there fore are able to connect well. On top of it they have learnt & mastered meditation and hence can do gravity levitation, specialized in yoga, reiki (healing touch) and have learnt a few tricks (magic) – vibudhi generated on the photos remotely, sudden appearance of a ring in the Godman’s hand, mouth etc, instant disappearance from public view, sudden lighting of the aarti without a match stick, plucking out a flower from the open etc.
On top of it all, they use a part of their earnings and build hospitals, educational institutions, social infrastructure and other social work. This is seen as a great piece of charity by the gullible public and further strengthen their bond and relationship with these Godman. They have made it into a business and mastered ROI (return on investment). They invest in charities (a percentage of their revenues) and in turn reap in huge donations and fundings from their devotee’s. History is replete on the financial fortunes of Tirupati, Iskon, Raghavendra Swamy temple.
Take the case of Thiruvananthapuram temple (estimated 22 billion in gold diamonds – jewels found in Indian temples secret vaults). It’s a find worthy of a “Raiders of the Lost Ark” plot line: Jewels, gold trinkets, coins, and statues worth an estimated $22 billion were uncovered in a series of secret vaults beneath a Hindu temple in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram. The loot includes about 1,000 kilograms (2,205 pounds) of gold coins – some dating back 400 years – ropes of gold, sacks of diamonds, and a gold statue of the Hindu god Vishnu studded with precious gems, as well as an 18-foot solid gold ornament weighing 35 kilograms (77 pounds) and rare silver and brass platters. So far the find is worth nearly double India’s 2011-2012 education budget ($11.61 billion) – and there’s still another vault to be unlocked. The 16th century Sri Padmanabha temple, in the capital of the southern coastal state of Kerala, is now considered to be the richest of India’s temples.
Imagine if all this money is unlocked and released back into the society, our GDP will grow a few percentage points instantly and many a poor can be lifted out of poverty.
No wonder world renowned Indian Magician – PC Sorkar – Sr used to say that if he wanted to become a Godman, he could have easily become one and far more popular & powerful than Sathya Sai Baba. He would often say that what these Godman claim to be miracles (because they are God or have supernatural healing powers) are but simple magic tricks that are being used to dupe the gullible public. Imagine if a PC Sorkar, Houdini, David Blaine, Chris Angel were to grow a long flowing beard & hair, wore a orange or a white dhoti, bare chested, were able to recite a few slokas what would have happened to them. They would have ruled the world because they are far more skillful in magic than these Godman- who look so poor in front of them.
With the combination of good knowledge of religious scriptures, meditation, yoga and magic they are able to captivate their audience, who in their lowest ebb of their emotions, connect instantly with the Godman and slowly become addicted with them and refuse to detach themselves. Because of their magical skills (maya) even the educated often fall prey to them.
Many a times they instill fear in their devotees in the name of GOD (you will go to hell – naraka) and promise the moon in Moksha. The scriptures themselves instill fear in the devotee’s and threaten that if you don’t follow the rituals (kriya) or don’t do your duties (karma), you will be punished by God and will go hell (Naraka). However they also prescribe a solution to a problem. If you did this (fast), a pooja (homa) & offer some fruits, vegetables, jewelry, in some religions sacrifice an animal, shave / tonsure your head, your sins will be washed off and you will be forgiven by God. Isnt this a form of bribery or one of a trade off with God himself.
That’s why many a religious destinations, temple are the hot bed of corruption, sleaze & exploitation. Take the case of the ritual of visiting Sabarimala. Millions throng the Sabarimala every year. Before the darshan, devotees perform a sort of penance and then visit Sabarimala offer their prayers. Just have a look at the other side of Pampa and check with the Railway authorities on the condition of the rail coaches on the return home or the case of Tirupati, Varanasi etc.
There is an erosion in the value systems in today’s society & generation. Every own wants instant gratification and hence every one adopts shortcuts to meet their expectations and ever growing demands. With more & more individuals adopting a Nuclear family, living a fast & high life style, tolerance levels are growing lower & lower because of financial independene (no wonder most urban marriages are heading to a divorce). They get stressed, become sick (physically & mentally) and are prone to depression sooner than later. Its here that the Godman having read and learnt all these solutions (parihara’s), they leverage on these and further exploit the illiterate, innocent & gullible followers. Even the educated who don’t have time or have access to these solutions (shortcuts), rely on these Godman to help them wash their sins.
If at all anyone has to be blamed it’s the people at large for without an audience these Godman are nobody & nothing. Because we commit many sins and want to wash them off and instantly, these Godman thrive. In the process many of them get exploited mentally (emotion), financially and physically (sexual exploitation).
Its time we realize that it pays to live a life with values, slow down our pace, distress ourselves and realize that there is no quick fix to life problems. Its time that we realize that there is no such thing or anyone who is a Godman and that they are also a human being just like all of us and abhor believing in Godman and shun them from their lives and put an end to this mad faith in their supernatural powers & healing powers.
Till such time we will have many more such Rampals, Nithyananda, Asaram, Rajneesh, Dheerandra Bramachari etc. Only time will tell if we ever learn from past lessons…. or will it be …….