With the recent arrest of godman Rampal and a few months back Baba Asaram, it is really very essential to ponder over some issues pertaining to these so-called godmen. Why there is so much craze for godmen in India? Who is actually a godman? Why do Indians have faith in godmen? Are they for real? Do they really have super-natural powers?
It is said that the concept of godman originated from the concept of Shishya-Guru tradition that was practised in Hinduism since time immemorial. A godman in India is considered by the masses as a guru and possessing spiritual powers, a guru who gives religious sermons, a guru who preaches, heals and attracts large sections of the society as his followers. A godman usually has high-profile presence, who is sometimes seen as getting politicians’ patronage and support and is believed by many as capable of influencing future events.
With advancements in modern science and technology, it is hard to believe that even today, there are lakhs of followers for these godmen. These followers can go to any extent to support their gurus. In many cases, they are considered as God’s incarnation. Followers worship them. These godmen because of their popularity and support from their followers have established their own schools of spirituality, they build their own ashrams and live there with their disciples. They may or may not follow any religious order but they are revered and respected for their charismatic style and powers. In recent years, they have become so powerful that they have increased their fame and wealth and have attracted followers outside of India as well.
Some iconic Godmen in India
- Satya Sai Baba: Satya Sai Baba was a notable godman, an Indian spiritual leader, philanthropist and guru, known for his miracles using the sacred ash (vibhuti). He had thousands of followers, who believed in him. He was known for his charitable works and found patronage among politicians, rich businessmen and other high-ranking officials. Even after his death, Sathya Sai Organisation, his Charitable Trust continues with social service activities like establishing free hospitals, clinics, drinking water projects and schools.
- Baba Ramdev: How can we forget our very own yoga guru Baba Ramdev? He is one of the most influential godmen of our country presently, with a fortune of over Rs 1,100 crore earned from his herbal medicines and Patanjali Medical Stores in every nook and corner of the country, including his teachings of various yoga asanas like pranayama.
- Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: We also have Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the famous ‘Art of Living Foundation’ and is one of the most recognized spiritual leaders, not only in India but also around the globe. His main area of preaching is spirituality. He has conducted various workshops to teach spiritualism to his supporters and followers and has done a number of humanitarian projects. His aim is to reduce stress and uplift the people of the world with human values that can help other people and communities.
- Mata Amritanandamayi Devi: She is known as “Amma”. She is also known as “the hugging saint”. She has vowed that she would spend her entire life for others, for the world to make a better place to live, by getting rid of sorrows, unhappiness and the stress and strain of life . What is her method? She simply hugs the people who come to her for help. She does her ritual of giving a hug to the people who comes to have her darshan every day, and at times, she spends almost 20 hours, day and night, doing this ritual. Her motive is to ease the suffering of others.
Some Controversial Godmen in India
While we do have a few iconic godmen who are actually involved in spiritual and humanitarian works to serve others, we cannot ignore the names of some who have become controversial.
- Sant Rampal: You may not have heard about him earlier but his arrest has indeed made him very popular. He is a self-proclaimed godman, an incarnation of the 15th century poet Kabir. But, he has been involved in a number of fraud cases, including murder. But even then, he has hundreds of followers in Hisar. Many women followers can actually die for him.
- Asaram: Another self-proclaimed guru, spiritual leader, preaches the existence of One Supreme Consciousness. He has hundreds of devotees who visit his ashram for prayers, yoga and meditation. But, he was arrested last year for allegedly sexually assaulting a girl at his ashram, supposed to be his follower.
- Ichchadhari Sant: He claimed himself to be a disciple of Sai Baba. Had assets worth several crores. Started holding religious discourses. He took up spiritual preaching as his saving grace but was arrested on charge running a prostitution racket in 1997.
- Swami Nithyananda: His name was mentioned in Watkins’ Mind Body Spirit magazine as one of the 100 most spiritually influential people in the world. He was known for his meditation programmes and spiritual discourses. But he landed in a controversy after a video footage showing him in a compromising position with an actress was shown in some TV channels. Soon his name became associated with a number of sex scandals.
- Swami Sadachari: He was a tantric, a spiritual advisor and many top politicians were his followers. This also included Indira Gandhi, former Prime Minister. But, he was arrested for running a brothel.
There are many more of them. The list seems to be endless. As a matter of fact, the number of controversial godmen is more than the number of the actual religious preachers and spiritual leaders. A real godman is one who provides spiritual guidance to protect his followers from evil or wrongdoing without asking for any returns. But unfortunately, some self-proclaimed godmen are allegedly involved in money spinning missions and lead lavish life in the name of spiritualism. It’s high time the people could see through the intentions of those who are fake godmen.