The many devotions of India

What kind of people flock to the guru culture? It's not the ignorant brain washable alone.

 |  5-minute read |   25-08-2015
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Radhe Maa has spawned overly red maa-themed parties in New Delhi by now, and my guess is, not all of them will be mocking in tone.

2015-08-24_082515104312.jpg Via Facebook.

Several people online or in conversations ask what kind of people are drawn to these fake gurus and cult leaders.

In a recent conversation with Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, one of our most logical and articulate spiritual contemporary cult leaders in India, he explained India's inherent secularity thus: "India is a country where if a man started worshipping a stone on the road, a tree, the sun, anything at all, that would be accepted, and joined in".

The ashrams and satsangs of India's many gurus are filled with people from all walks of life. It is not, as is the common educated urban outraging elite perception, that these are the "brainwashed" masses. Deepak Parekh, Sachin Tendulkar, Pt Shivprasad Sharma, MS Subbulakshmi, APJ Abdul Kalam, and scientists like G Venkatraman and Ashok Chauhan have been in attendance at gatherings of Sathya Sai Baba. Venugopal Dhoot is a regular host of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, and Kiran Bedi and artist Akbar Padamsee visit Jaggi Vasudev's ashram. If Modi has his Baba Ramdev, Indira Gandhi had her own tryst with destiny with the tantrik Chandraswami and Anup Jalota stands by Radhe Maa. The children of several around the country continue to study in the schools run the Asaram Bapu Foundation despite its mentor languishing in jail with rape charges against him. Several young people enlist to study and train at the RSS shakhas around the country. Do they all possess a common thread of brainwashability?

Also read: Ten things you didn't know about Radhe Maa's leela

Not all are believers. Time in these ashrams will reveal that devotees who flock are drawn from all walks of life, all classes of society, and come for various reasons. A primary reason is a chronic or terminal health or illness that they seek healing or a cure for. Much of this comes from having exhausted conventional options and finding no relief, or exhausting money to seek more cures. Free medical camps with dedicated doctors who are not in it for the money also pull in lower classes. Distribution of free clothes, food as prasad, or performing ceremonies that prove taxing, with priest fees now in lakhs, like upanayanam ceremonies and weddings, take the burden off several who are drawn here. Personal problems, such as property disputes, marital unhappiness, the lack of a child, business troubles, issues that people traditionally imagine blessings will alter the course of, are key pullers. Ashrams also offer subsidised rooms, food and education. Several groups of young women who are not necessarily "believers" from the conflict prone Northeast, Manipur, Nagaland, Assam and even from Nepal, come to study at religious institutes for instance because it is perceived as safe for women, affordable, and offering a better environment for education, as well as a way to join the mainland Indian workforce. These are institutes that offer large playgrounds, sports along with studies and extra curriculars at state board-level curriculum, with facilities of a much higher quality than local village and town schools would. Within places like rural Andhra and Tamil Nadu, where it is not uncommon to send away young women and men into low-cost boarding schools for their education, as educational institutions have typically been far and few between, involving transport costs and long commutes, religious institutions with segregated education for women that take only a basic food cost and offer housing and tuition free, are again perceived as "safe" options. Many families opt to send their girl children to these ashrams from the first grade itself, getting them married by the time they finish their final year of college, just ensuring an "unsullied" puritanical existence.

Also read: Why do Hindus turn their women into sex slaves for babas?

Above all, certain common universal teachings meted out at all the ashrams - think good, believe in God, cut your ego, serve others and erase your karma - harm no one and provide no reason to not engage.

Spirituality and guidance is an inherent part of the Indian psyche. Whether it is the hundreds who flock to Haji Ali Dargah or to say the novenas at St Michael's in Mahim, the Indian public has a huge ability to sift the good from the bad and focus on a karmic fatalism.

It is a psyche rooted in the establishment of temple trusts by kings who used the temples to disseminate everything from religious teaching, debate, and art and culture to the feeding of the poor and the giving of grants. Not just in our voting patterns, spiritual succour, the turning to religious figures to alleviate much of everyday human suffering is an almost instinctive part of our mental make-up as a nation. "Belief" is secondary.

I once asked my eldest aunt who was on her way to meet a religious figure someone had invited her to go along to why she was going when I knew she didn't necessarily believe in him.

She replied: "Because in Indian culture though the heads may be different, we bow to the feet, and all feet, whether that of Jesus, or a Krishna, or a guru, are the same".

I then asked her why she would go to someone who was tainted with scandal.

She replied: "Because sometimes when you step into a river to wash your feet, you must stand in the mud at the bottom of the river, but your feet still get washed in the process. Take the good, and exit".

The quality of belief is not in the guru, fake or not, it's in the Indian people.

Writer

Gayatri Jayaraman Gayatri Jayaraman @gayatri__j

Mumbai-based writer, reporter, editor. Currently writing two books.

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