Way back in the 1970s, some bright sparks in Calcutta had come up with a jaw-dropping Saraswati idol. Instead of a customary veena, the goddess of learning and music was found holding a microphone. What’s more, she was wearing goggles.
They were probably a bit ahead of their time. But in the new millennium, new-age spirituality has arrived — perhaps ever since Baba Ramdev hypnotised the nation on television. So why do our collective jaws drop when Mamtamai Shri Radhe Guru Maa of Mumbai appears on Twitter as a study in pink —bereted, mini-skirted and booted?
After all, spiritual leaders are not lawyers. They can't be stopped from climbing those 20 stairs to the Supreme Court unless they don black robes — even in extreme summer? Anyway, what’s the problem in a country where men take off shirts at the drop of a hat? And sadhus go around stark naked?
Ok, the way she is lying on a sofa in the picture may make you a bit tense, lest you get to see more than you wish to. Still, admit it, in an age when difference can make or break a business…or a brand…she is a sadhvi with dollops of difference.
No saffron for her. It’s just a fierce red storm of bridal wear, piles of diamond, pancake face and lipstick like blood in the spotlight. If you thought Baba Ramdev looks young, think again. Not a single grey hair for Maa, just shiny jet black bangs and bouffant, with wisps of hair blowing in the wind—while she sways, smiling, eyes closed, as her bhakts go crazy with chants of “Bol Radhe Radhe.” Her bio says she is 50 (and also a grandmother) but she doesn’t look a day over 30.
She is also different in the way she touches the lives of her devotees. She usually arrives from above for her midnight darshans, in contraptions that look somewhat like the spaceship in Spielberg’s ET; she gets snowed under petals, much like the mythical termite mound around sage Valmiki. In trance, she goes round and round in a frenzy of divine delight. And just as you think she would fall, she stops with her left arm raised in a tathastu; or she says “Maa ko uthao (Lift up mother)” and some blessed sevadar lifts her up and rocks her like a child.
And, yes, ashrams are passe (is Baba Ramdev listening?). Radhe Maa lives in an urban cave, a "gufa," on the top floor of a six-storied house in Borivali, owned by the Gupta family, who began with a catering business, MM Mithaiwala in 1946 and have since then, “experienced tremendous growth by the grace of God”. The Maa+Mithaiwala has become such a killer combo that the house is now called ‘Radhe Bhavan,’ where people come streaming in every Saturday, to see the incarnation of Durga. The less fortunate watch her on TV on the ground floor. The more fortunate ones move up. The really fortunate ones may enter her cave.
In one way, however, Maa suffers from a disadvantage: unlike all the gurus — ancient and modern — Maa doesn’t speak. Not that she can’t, but she just doesn’t open her mouth in public, preferring to communicate with the poke of a trishul or the gift of a rose petal.
Born as Sukhvinder Kaur of Dorangla village in Gurdaspur, Punjab, no one knows how she made Mumbai her home. Or how she built her lakh-strong devotees, including the power elites of tinsel town.
But one thing is clear, Mamatamayee is too different to be left in peace. The Shiv Sena cadres beat her images and posters with shoes whenever they get the time to look beyond Biharis. Some young women are now lodging an FIR in dowry cases against her (apparently, she instigates in-laws to torture young brides for dowry.) One Mumbai lawyer has filed a case of obscenity against her (apparently, her blessings are too touchy-feely.) And the the muscular sadhus of Juna Akhada have banned her from taking a holy dip along with 30 lakh holy men and women at Nashik Kumbh this time.
Pure jealousy, I say. But Maa is laughing the last laugh: she is a rage on social media. At the end of the day, God works in mysterious ways. It’s all, what we Hindus call, "leela".