25 January 2006
Published: 24th January 2006
Living gods facing purge
MOST people know India is the land of gods but not many know
eight million of them are alive and walking around there.
This is the
estimated number of holy men and women - mainly men - who claim everything from
divine powers to the grandiose title of God on Earth.
practitioners of the holy path vary from street market swamis who bamboozle the
credulous with cheap tricks to multi-million religious corporate heads with
wealthy communities attracting millions of followers in India and abroad.
this bastion of light, or superstition, depending on your view, has been
formally challenged for the first time.
The government of the most populous
state in India, Maharashtra, which includes Mumbai, have adopted a bill to
outlaw superstition and black magic and those who practice it.
Congress-led Democratic Front, which includes the Communists, passed the
legislation but already the sub-continent's nationalist parties, including the
BJP, who have gained from the rabble rousing Hindu nationalism many 'gurus'
often promote, are lining up in opposition to the purge of India's living god
At the apex of this holy pyramid are self-styled godmen including
Chandsraswami, Sai Baba, Kalki and Premananda who have all generated vast
fortunes from their holy antics and preaching.
Baba is seen by his numerous
followers as a full-on living god.
One witness account by a reporter from
Asiaweek Magazine of his divine entrance at his Ashram in Puttuparthi describes
the scene thus:
"..the music begins, soft Carnatic rhythms issuing from the
loudspeakers. A waifish man with Afro hair appears. Satay Sri Sai Baba has
arrived to demonstrate his morning miracle.
"The Baba moves slowly and the
seated devotees hold up envelopes containing petitions, requesting favours of
themselves or their loves ones.....the Baba speaks a phrase or two, turns his
palms down and traces circles in the air. Thumb and middle finger join and gray
ash appears to flow from their tips. The ecstatic devotee received the gift with
cupped hands and the Baba continues down the line proffering the....holy
Such an exalted person could not, of course, have had a normal birth.
His was a steer on the Christ birth legend. Baba's mother was fetching water
when a blue ball of fire emerged from the village well and entered her stomach,
she fainted, woke-up and found herself pregnant. The result was Baba born 23,
The little lad has come a long way since then. His cult has
made the Puttuparthi ashram a sizeable market town with hotels and an
Baba lives in a large house with a balcony like a prop from a
kitchy Bollywood film. He runs a BMW sedan and a Mercedes-Benz limo.
the power of these top gurus is that they are frequently sought out by
politicians. Politics in India is often an uncertain profession but often the
door to great wealth. To be seen paying homage to these figures is good for
gaining support especially in the gurus home state.
But there is a dark side
- Baba's kingdom has now been tarnished with accusations of corruption and
homosexual child abuse. Worldwide many of his centres are shutting down.
the other end of the scale are the street and market tricksters. Organisation
like the All-Indian Committee to Eradicate Superstition and Blind Faith are
campaigning to open the eyes of these people to the charlatans.
puts on its own demonstrations.
Said magician Anand Tayade, who is helping:
"It's simple. If you want people to bow down to you then you perform a trick.
There's no such things as performing miracles on this earth."
demonstration of trickery held before a hushed crowd of 100 village people a man
in saffron robes seems to sit suspended in mid air without any support but for
hand on a pole. A superstition-busting activist tell the hushed crowd ....that
the long garment actually hides a wooden seat fixed to the pole.
even more gullible like the female doctor who asked, for help over her husband
from two self-styled godmen who set up shop in a Hyderabad market.
her how old her husband was and being informed 40 told the woman to bring 40
gold coins in a box.
They held the box for four days doing their 'magic' and
then handed it back to her instructing the woman not to open it until she got
home. Needless to say the box was empty and the holymen fled. In Mumbai the
police, prompted by the anti-superstition campaign, have arrested 25 fake
"These godmen are unlike saints who renounce worldly life, give
sermons and induce a feeling of positive energy, They are out to catch gullible
people to make money," says Mr Tayade.
The campaign has even spread to the
Asian News has already reported several times on prominent Imams
denouncing the so-called Muslim healers and saints. Now the Asian Rationalist
Society of Britain are challenging the charlatans and occult practitioners. They
have offered a prize of £2,000 to any person who can prove he has magical powers
- no-one has come forward and the society intend to increate the reward to
£10,000 - any takers?
First published by the Asian News