India abounds in Godmen - both genuine and fake. Some of them have had an unblemished record of spiritual and social service while others have sullied their names and even gone to prison for crimes including rape and murder.
There are literally thousands, and perhaps even lakhs of Godmen in India, but not all of them get noticed in the media. Those who do, are generally the ones who have attracted the following of the leading lights of politics and business or those who have indulged in criminal activities or moral transgressions.
Mass curiosity about a Godman is aroused when the myth about him is shattered. People revel in finding out the details, knowledge of which they would have wilfully brushed under the carpet when the myth was alive.
Westerners are now being drawn to Godmen, seeing the limitations of the materialistic Western way to happiness. And this is partly due to advances in psychology
However, myths about the power and potency of Godmen have survived despite frequent exposures of the misdeeds of some of them in the media.
Against this background, it is very unlikely that the era of Godmen will end with the sentencing of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the spiritual head of the Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS) sect for rape, and the subsequent violence unleashed by his followers in two states in North India in which 30 people were killed.
Ram Rahim Singh was found guilty of repeatedly raping a female faithful in the DSS campus near Sirsa in Haryana. In addition, he has two murder charges against him, one for allegedly killing journalist Ram Chander Chatrapati in 2001, and the other for killing DSS Manager Ranjit Singh in July 2002.
Ram Rahim Singh is not the first high profile fake Guru to be publicly exposed. Asaram Bapu, preacher of One Supreme Consciousness and Advaita Vedanta was arrested for sexual assault on a minor in 2013. Swami Amrita Chaitanya, also known as Santosh Madhavan, was an accused in several cheating cases. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2009 for raping two minor girls and producing pornographic films featuring underage girls.
Swami Sadachari, the Godman who performed rituals for top Indian dignitaries, was caught running an underground brothel. Sant (Saint) Rampal had a stand-off with paramilitary forces in 2014 as a result which six persons were killed. Rampal was later arrested and jailed for 22 months. Paramahamsa Nithyananda disappeared five days after charges of rape were levelled against him. A leaked video showed him engaging in sexual activities with Tamil actress Ranjitha.
Ichchadhari Sant Swamiji Maharaj Chitrakootwale, whose real name is Shiv Murat Dwivedi, was arrested twice for being involved in a large-scale sex racket in Delhi and Mumbai. Swami Premananda, a Tamil from the Sri Lankan hill-country, was convicted for raping 13 girls.
Roots of Godman phenomenon
In his book ‘Modern Godmen in India: A Sociological Appraisal Prof. Uday Mehta explains why Godmen are so popular in India.
“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people,” he observes.
Drawing a distinction between the Indian and the Western mind, Mehta says that while the Indian mind sees the inner world as the variable and the outer world as the constant, the Western mind sees it the other way round.
Myths about the power and potency of Godmen have survived despite frequent exposures of the misdeeds of some of them in the media
“The Indian emphasis has been on the pursuit of an inner differentiation while keeping the outer world constant. In contrast, the notion of freedom in the West is related to an increase in the potential for acting in the outer world and enlarging the sphere of choices, while keeping the inner state constant,” Mehta says.
Be that as it may, it is the premise of every religion that souls, supernatural beings, and supernatural forces exist and Godmen and spiritual potions are believed to help bring about change in the condition of one’s life, he adds.
Westerners are now being drawn to Godmen, seeing the limitations of the materialistic Western way to happiness. And this is partly due to advances in psychology, says Mehta.
“Large-scale interest in Eastern religions (in the West) coincided with a movement among psychologists in the 1950s who believed that psychology has the potential not just for curing the sick, but also for improving humankind. These psychologists had a serious problem with the common-held belief among Western religions that man is basically sinful and can be saved only by believing in God. This movement came to be called the Human-Potential Movement, and it stressed a belief in the perfectibility of human nature.”
According to Indian sociologist A. Bavankar, the phenomenon of Godmen is rooted in the “Guru-Shishya” (Teacher-Student) tradition in Indian religion, tradition and education.
“Gu” refers to darkness and “ru” refers to light. The Guru changes darkness to light. Thus, Gurus are believed to posses super-natural powers with mystic abilities for telepathy, healing and prophesy.
Psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar states that the swing away from the teacher-guru to the mystic-guru, to the Godman, seems to have received its greatest momentum in the 7th century with the rise of the Bhakti movement in both North and South India.
“With the spread of tantric cults around 1000 AD, the Guru not only showed the way to the Lord, but was the Lord. The Guru was now the Godman, an extraordinary figure of divine mystery and power. The Vedas speak of the ‘oral’ transfer of the most absolute and supreme knowledge (the brahmavidya) from the Guru to the Shishya.”
In his book, Saints, Folk and Elites, Dr. Ramchandra Chintaman Dhere, says that the Guru-Shishya Parampara is central and fundamental to the Upanishads (c. 2000 BC). The term ‘Upanishad’ itself means ‘sitting down near’ a spiritual Guru/ Sage who imparts knowledge.
The Bhagwad Gita stresses the importance of finding a Guru. Lord Krishna was Arjuna’s Guru. In the Ramayana, Lord Rama was Hanuman’s Guru.
During the medieval period in India, the Bhakti and Sufi Saints or Gurus stood for reform of society, emphasized moral values of religion and included all human beings in their fold
Gurus cut across traditional barriers
During the medieval period in India, the Bhakti and Sufi Saints or Gurus stood for reform of society, emphasized moral values of religion and included all human beings in their fold. These Saints stressed equality of all human beings, against all superstitions irrespective of caste and class distinctions.
At the time this occurred in India, the elite enjoyed privileges excluding the others. The ethos of these Saints instantly appealed to the underprivileged and illiterate masses at large, resulting in these Saints becoming mentors and Gurus with mass following, Dhere says.
Therefore, Godmen are here to stay, the charlatans, criminals and rogues among them notwithstanding.