Sheikh Farid

Sheikh Farid is numbered among the greatest Indians saints. He was born in Kothawal in 1173 A.D. in the month of Ramzan, which is devoted to fasting according to Muslim tradition. It is said that the newborn child refused to drink his mother’s milk during the hours ordained for fasting. He was named fariduddin Masaud or Farid, which is Arabic word for ‘unique’. He was also called ‘Shakar-Ganj’. Being fatherless, Farid was brought up by his very pious mother, Qarsum Bibi. She educated him in the essentials of religion and strict duties enjoined upon believers of Islam. It is said that by the age of eight the child had learned the Qu’ran by heart.

He was called ‘Shakar-Ganj’ because his mother regularly induced him to say his prayers by placing a packet of Shakar (sugar) under his prayer mat. Once it is said that she forgot to place this incentive in the usual place. Such was the piety of the child and such the divine favour bestowed upon him that a package of Shakar nevertheless appeared in the usual place. But the real explanation of the name may be derived from the blessing which he is recorded to have received from his spiritual preceptor, Khwaja Qutbudin Bakhtiyar Kaki, who praised his sweetness of disposition, and remarked: ‘You shall be as sweet as sugar’ .

Once the ‘King of Enlightened Ones’, Hazrat Khwaja Muinuddin Hasan (Qutbuddin’s Master) visited Qutbuddin, who presented his own disciples to him. Each got blessings in accordance with his merit. After that the Master asked, ‘Master Qutbuddin, is any one of your disciples still remaining?’ He replied, ‘A hermit named Masaud is undergoing chilla (constant prayer for forty days with head hung downwards) and thus has not been able to come’. The Master got up and said, ‘Come let me see that wilderness.’ Then both of these great saints, lords of spiritual experience, came to the isolated cell of Farid. As the door opened, Shakar-Ganj was seen to be so weak that he could not even bend to make his obeisance. So, tears welled up in his eyes and he placed his fore head on the ground. When the Master saw this he said, ‘Qutbuddin how long will you torment this poor soul with these ascetic exercises? Come, let us confer our blessing on him.’ So they held him up one arm each and Hazrat Khwaja Muinuddin Hassan, turning his face heavenward, prayed: ‘Thou Lord God of Highest Glory! Accept the penance of Farid and bestow upon him the highest sainthood.’ At once a voice replied, ‘I have accepted Farid. He is unique and unequalled among mankind.’ This divine oracle sent Farid into state of ecstasy. When Qutbuddin saw this, he transmitted to him the ‘Great Name’. Divine Illumination was revealed to Farid and no veil was left to intervene between him and God, the Supreme Lord of all. Then the Master Hazrat Khwaja Muinuddin Hassan conferred on him his own special robe, and Qutbuddin gave him his turban and shawl and whatever else was needed to appoint him his successor.

Farid’s Teachings: True devotees are those whose hearts are sincerely in love with God. Those whose heart is contradicted by their tongue are hypocrites. The true devotees soaked in God’s love are ever in ecstasy of realization. Those indifferent to him are burden on the earth. The true devotees are those whom God attaches unto Himself. Blessed is their birth and their life is truly fruitful. Worship those who have realized God. Seek shelter only in the Lord. He alone is the Bestower of forgiverness

Radhe Maa’s donation enables employment in destitute areas

Mamtamai Shri Radhe Guru Maa has always believed and practiced serving God through service to the world. Over the years she and her team have started various initiatives and recently the Sanatan Hindu Guru undertook another initiative. This initiative was focused on providing sewing machines to the needy. Shri Radhe Maa’s followers undertook this noble cause on Sunday the 21st of April in Mukerain, Punjab.

 

In order to provide employment to the destitute people, Shri Radhe Maa undertook the initiative by providing sewing machines.  The initiative was based on Shri Radhe Maaji’s “Karam hi Pradhaan Hai” teachings and focused on widow and needy people.

 

The sewing machines were distributed keeping in mind the tailoring training provided by Shri Radhe Maa herself. People were very happy as they received the machines, now the women in the community can earn their own living. Most of the initiatives are free and are offered to all who are in need without discrimination. Shri Radhe Maa is a guru in the Sanatan Hindu tradition. She stands tall as a bhakta who serves God through service to society.  

Bapu Asaram – Bapu Asaram

We are born for peace and love, not strife and unhappiness. A healthy, happy and respectful life is all that we are seeking. I only teach how to let go of negativity.” So saying, Asaram Bapu proceeded to his seat in a special cabinet to begin the discourse for which thousands had assembled in the big pandal. I’d seen him on TV, on Sony channel, where his discourses are aired, but that had not prepared me for the radiance surrounding this man. Dressed in a white dhoti, sandalwood paste on his forehead, smiling at his devotees, he looked ethereal. The video cameras were in place. All around tight security was in evidence.

The devotees were in fervor, swaying to the chant of Hari Om. It was Gurupurnima, a special day for them. And Bhagwan—as his devotees fondly call him—was in Delhi for two days. It was a festive, gay ambience.

There were stalls in which Asaram’s photographs, guru geeta (sayings of the master), malas (garlands), incense, and ayurvedic tooth powder were being sold. And there was a special stall, where you could register yourself for diksha (initiation) and another stall from where you could buy the diksha kit. After registering, early next morning Asaram Bapu would give diksha. He would chant a few mantras and whichever one the devotee vibed with, he could adopt as his personal mantra. But as the discourse was in progress, all were seated listening attentively. Some latecomers outside were begging the security to let them in. Hailing from the land of Mahatma Gandhi, Sabarmati, Ahmedabad, India, it comes as no surprise that Asaram Bapu has taken it upon himself to propagate de-addiction. For this he has even brought out a booklet Nashe Se Savdhan and held camps all over India.

His aim is to create a new society where each realizes his responsibility. “We are lost in the glamor of the West,” he says in many of his discourses. “We must revive our culture and tradition, take the best out of it. After all, we are a spiritual land, why must we lose our essence, the fragrance with which the whole world associates us?”

Asaram has a following largely in the northern parts of India, as his discourses are mostly conducted in Hindi. During his discourses, he encourages devotees to meditate on the mantra Om Namah Bhagvate Vasudevay. “This reverential chanting soothes,” he says. Apart from holding satsangs (communions) and discourses, Asaram Bapu is actively involved in distributing free medicines and food in calamity-stricken areas.

On the anvil is a home for the destitute in the ashram premises. The organization also publishes a monthly magazine, Rishi Prasad, which is translated into many Indian languages. The main ashram in Ahmedabad, India, hosts an ayurvedic clinic, gaushala (cow sheds) and sadhana (prayer) hall. What is special here is the maun mandir (temple of silence), where you are locked in and provided with food. You can meditate, contemplate or do whatever you feel like to discover yourself. Regular camps to educate women and make them aware of their rights are organized.

“In Jaipur, we have been running a gaushala for stray cows for many years. Now there are 1,460 cows,” says Narayan Sai, Asaram’s son who is being groomed as his successor.

Born on April 14, 1941 in an affluent family in Sindh, Pakistan, Asumal was the second amongst four children of Thaumal Sirumalani, a businessman. It was his mother, Mangiba, who put him on his destined path. Since birth, a calm radiance permeated his face and soothsayers predicted that Asumal would be a renowned yogi.

During the Partition in 1947, the family fled from Pakistan to Ahmedabad, India. Here, Thaumal had to start all over again. Asumal was enrolled in a Sindhi medium school and soon became popular because of his generosity.

A devout lady, Mangiba would ask Asumal to pray to Lord Krishna—a routine he follows till date. From there flowered the spiritual seed. At the age of 10, Asumal had to give up studies and work in a shop, due to his father’s demise. “This trauma made him more determined to unravel the mystery of life,” says Narayan.

As was the norm in those days, his family wanted to marry off the adolescent Asumal, who was unwilling to be tied down. “He wanted to be in communion with God,” says Narayan.

Eight days before his wedding, he ran away. However, the family traced him in an ashram. And he found a soul mate in Lakshmi Devi, who understood his quest. He left home in 1968 and wandered to all the pilgrim spots in India, searching for God.

It was in the forest area near Nainital that he met the man who would put him on his destined path—Leelashah Maharaj. After much pleading, Leelashah accepted him as his disciple.

It was in the forest area near Nainital that he met the man who would put him on his destined path—Leelashah Maharaj. After much pleading, Leelashah accepted him as his disciple.

He stayed in Leelashah’s abode for 70 days, where he was initiated into some of the mysteries of life before being sent back home. His spiritual quest was now a raging fire, which could only be quenched by complete realisation. So he sought out Leelashah again in Mumbai, India, and finally his goal was fulfilled. He attained enlightenment on October 7, 1964. And Asaram was born. Now there was no grief, no sorrow, only bliss.

For seven years he meditated in the caves of Mount Abu, Rajasthan, India. Blessing him, Leelashah said: “See this rose, if you sniff it, it will be the fragrance of rose. So spreads this fragrance everywhere, don’t look at the negativity, the thorns, see only the positivism, the fragrance.” After that there was no looking back. Asaram Bapu began attracting attention when he brought a dead cow to life. People came to him with all kinds of problems and to listen to his discourses.

“But this was predetermined for in his past life his guru had told him about all this. He was a Bengali saint in Mount Abu that time,” says Narayan Sai. “He used to love rice and milk”. Asaram Bapu finally went back to Ahmedabad in 1971. In 1972, he built a small cottage on the banks of Sabarmati, unmindful of the robbers and the thorny land. And from there he began to spread the “fragrance of the rose” through Vedanta, yoga, divine love, bhakti (devotion). All of which leads to salvation. Today, there is a flourishing ashram on the same site.

Asaram Bapu has traveled to many countries to spread Indian culture and tradition. In 1993, at the Parliament of World Religions, he was elected a committee member in the assembly of Global Religions.

A large number of people claim to have benefited from his teachings. In fact, a Swiss woman left her hometown about nine years ago to join his ashram. “He came to me in a dream,” says Ursula. Ursula ran an organic food store back home and her spiritual quest was strong even then. She would do yoga and meditation. Some 11 years ago, she was visiting India with a friend. “We were planning to get married. And when we visited Swamiji’s ashram, there were wishing trees there. We wished to get married, but he refused. Surprised, we came back.”

Two years later she came to India again and never went back after her initiation. A firm believer in Vedic astrology, she claims that an ascetic’s life was predicted for her. According to Ursula, westerners find it difficult to understand how a spiritual master can help you. “Their ego does not let them bow down to the universal energy. And this is reflected in their attitude.”

The regimen at the ashram is simple. Early in the morning there is puja (prayer), yoga and meditation. There is no emphasis on idol worship. But study of the scriptural texts—Yoga Vasistha, Bhagvad Gita and the Vedas—is encouraged. You have to cook your own food, which is simple and spartan. Social service is the norm, such as helping the poor and needy, teaching under-privileged children and holding camps in tribal areas. Just like the Buddha, Asaram Bapu has received the support of his entire family for his mission in life.

His wife manages the women’s section of the ashram and his daughter also pitches in. About 150 women of all ages live there. Admits Ursula: “It’s a beautiful and hard life but we all are well protected by him and his family.”

All this while, the women are busy preparing bowls of prasad (offerings) for the thousands listening to the discourse. Many have come from other cities.

– By Ambica Gulahti

Who is Amma, the Hugging Saint

Mata Amritanadamayi, known as Amma the Hugging Saint, is a woman of Indian birth who has amassed a huge worldwide spiritual following. Though her practice and religion is Hindu, she is a strong advocate for peace between religions, and her principal means of communicating this is through hugging people who visit her, which she feels expresses a divine motherly connection between herself and others. Her ministry, begun in 1981, emphasizes charity to the poor and ill, addressing disease, and promoting an end to suffering through the mother’s love of a hug. It is her hope that her hugs, sometimes as many as 20,000 a day without break, give to people a sense of the divine nature in their hearts.

Amma is not only known to people of India, but is known by much of the world. She’s embarked on several foreign hugging tours, and has been instrumental in raising money to assist victims of disasters like Hurricane Katrina, for which she donated over a million US dollars (USD). She’s addressed the United Nations, given speeches at UN Peace Summits, represented her Hindu religion in interfaith conferences, and received the Gandhi-King Award for Nonviolence in 2002. Despite her emphasis on assisting the poor, her actions did come under fire in the US in 2007, when she chose to stay at a Los Angeles hotel that was in the midst of a labor dispute with its workers.

It is unclear whether Amma clearly understood the implications of her actions, but given the criticism of this decision, Amma’s star shines a little less brightly in media treatment. Still, to many Amma is considered a saint, on par with Mother Theresa, in her goal to attain universal motherhood through the simple act of compassionate touch. It is certainly not the case that Amma can be accused of using donations to her charitable organizations in an abusive manner. Her work “hugging” is usually carried on for sometimes 16 hour stretches without breaks for food or even water.

To some ardent followers, Amma is truly a saint, and they ascribe to her the ability to produce miracles and heal people. These claims have not been widely substantiated. What can be verified is that Amma the hugging saint early in life knew that she must devote her life to the disenfranchised. As a child she gave any possessions she had away, and instead of marrying, chose to follow a path of attaining universal motherhood. She has certainly succeeded in some respects with millions of devotees in India, and many followers throughout the world, not all of them of her faith. In fact, up until the 2007 hotel controversy, she had been widely accepted as a holy woman, if not a saint, by people of many faiths, including some religions diametrically opposed to Hinduism.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar unveils Auto Raja poster

Ganesh’s forthcoming movie Auto Raja was launched by Sudeep. The film had made news after Kiccha, who had some issues with the Golden Star, graced the occasion and tapped the clap for the muhurat shot. Now, the film is yet again in the news with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar taking part in the poster launch function of Auto Raja. The spiritual guru unveiled the posters earlier today (Wednesday, 20 Feb) and blessed the team at Town Hall, Bangalore. According to the director, the makers of the film have tied up with an auto association’s anniversary function where Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a special guest and the movie bosses thought that it would be an honour if the spiritual guru launches the poster.

Maa Jagdambe Chowki in Radhe Maa’s sannidhya

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For the tenth year, thousands of devotees of Hindu guru cheer as she makes a grand entry from the ‘heavens’ on her birthday; devotees plan various social service initiatives across India in the year ahead

By a correspondent

Mumbai: 4 March, 2013: Mamtamai Shri Radhe Guru Maa’s devotees organised a Maa Jagdambe Chowki for the 10th year in Mumbai to commemorate her birthday. This time, Mamtamai Shri Radhe Guru Maa appeared from the cosmic world (Brahmand) to give divine darshan to her devotees at Kora Kendra, Borivali (west) on 3rd March. The Brahmand was a specially designed cubicle shaped like the crescent moon inside a lotus that was lowered with the help of a crane to the ground. 

The crane was ordered so devotees would not have to rush to the podium to catch a glimpse of the guru as she came on stage. “The idea was to avoid a stampede like situation as Guru Maa entered the venue. The ‘Brahmand’ concept was put in place so that devotees, especially women devotees with children, those with disabilities and senior citizens would not have to compete in the crowd to catch a glimpse of Guru Maa. The idea worked beautifully and all were able to have darshan from the convenience of their seats,” said Sevadar Sanjeev Gupta, a devotee of Shri Radhe Maa.        

 Thousands of the guru’s followers flew in from UK, America, Switzerland, Singapore, Dubai, Hong-Kong and Australia to attend the event. Bhajan samrat Padamshree Anup Jalota, bhajan singer Ram Shankar, bhangra king Sardool Sikander and popular singing star Jaspinder Narula were among the impressive lineup of performers who shone on stage on the memorable evening.

Special arrangements were made at the venue for seating senior citizens, sadhus, sants, gurus and those with disabilities. Water dispensers and toilets were placed across the ground for easy access by the thousands of devotees who assembled for the event. A fire brigade truck and ambulance were also kept on standby at the venue.        

The 10th edition of Maa Jagdambe chowki also kick started several social service campaigns by devotees of Shri Radhe Maa across India like free dental, eye, heart and blood check-ups that have been a part of the group’s social service programmes for over 20 years now. The first event in the series after the chowki is a blood donation camp scheduled for the last week of March at the Shri Ram Trade Centre in Borivali (West), Mumbai, in association with Dr RN Cooper Hospital in the same city.

The fortnight-long celebrations also included a massive sadhu bhoj programme across India, which involved feeding of thousands of sadhus, sants and gurus of various lineages. The Guru’s devotees have also organised a vastra daan event, which encourages members of the public to donate old clothes to orphanages, old age homes and NGOs for the disabled.

The annual ‘Mata ki Chowki’ organised by devotees of Mamtamai Shri Radhe Guru Maa is one of the largest spiritual events in Mumbai supported by the trader community, political leaders and members of outdoor advertising associations. The event is free and open to all irrespective of caste, creed, religion and social status.

As it has been for the past 10 years, the event was managed by Shri Radhe Guru Maa’s sevadars who had also organized a free langar for all attending devotees.

 

Maa Jagdambe Chowki in Radhe Maa’s sannidhya

For the tenth year, thousands of devotees of Hindu guru cheer as she makes a grand entry from the ‘heavens’ on her birthday; devotees plan various social service initiatives across India in the year ahead

By a correspondent

Mumbai: 4 March, 2013: Mamtamai Shri Radhe Guru Maa’s devotees organised a Maa Jagdambe Chowki for the 10th year in Mumbai to commemorate her birthday. This time, Mamtamai Shri Radhe Guru Maa appeared from the cosmic world (Brahmand) to give divine darshan to her devotees at Kora Kendra, Borivali (west) on 3rd March. The Brahmand was a specially designed cubicle shaped like the crescent moon inside a lotus that was lowered with the help of a crane to the ground. 

The crane was ordered so devotees would not have to rush to the podium to catch a glimpse of the guru as she came on stage. “The idea was to avoid a stampede like situation as Guru Maa entered the venue. The ‘Brahmand’ concept was put in place so that devotees, especially women devotees with children, those with disabilities and senior citizens would not have to compete in the crowd to catch a glimpse of Guru Maa. The idea worked beautifully and all were able to have darshan from the convenience of their seats,” said Sevadar Sanjeev Gupta, a devotee of Shri Radhe Maa.        

 Thousands of the guru’s followers flew in from UK, America, Switzerland, Singapore, Dubai, Hong-Kong and Australia to attend the event. Bhajan samrat Padamshree Anup Jalota, bhajan singer Ram Shankar, bhangra king Sardool Sikander and popular singing star Jaspinder Narula were among the impressive lineup of performers who shone on stage on the memorable evening.

Special arrangements were made at the venue for seating senior citizens, sadhus, sants, gurus and those with disabilities. Water dispensers and toilets were placed across the ground for easy access by the thousands of devotees who assembled for the event. A fire brigade truck and ambulance were also kept on standby at the venue.        

The 10th edition of Maa Jagdambe chowki also kick started several social service campaigns by devotees of Shri Radhe Maa across India like free dental, eye, heart and blood check-ups that have been a part of the group’s social service programmes for over 20 years now. The first event in the series after the chowki is a blood donation camp scheduled for the last week of March at the Shri Ram Trade Centre in Borivali (West), Mumbai, in association with Dr RN Cooper Hospital in the same city.

The fortnight-long celebrations also included a massive sadhu bhoj programme across India, which involved feeding of thousands of sadhus, sants and gurus of various lineages. The Guru’s devotees have also organised a vastra daan event, which encourages members of the public to donate old clothes to orphanages, old age homes and NGOs for the disabled.

The annual ‘Mata ki Chowki’ organised by devotees of Mamtamai Shri Radhe Guru Maa is one of the largest spiritual events in Mumbai supported by the trader community, political leaders and members of outdoor advertising associations. The event is free and open to all irrespective of caste, creed, religion and social status.

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Shri Radhe Maa is a guru in the Sanatan Hindu tradition

Mamtamai Shri Radhe Maa is not an incarnation of God but a ‘sevika’ of the Almighty.Her message is one of selfless service to the community as an act of bhakti. ShriRadhe Maa also emphasizes the need for surrender to God, humility, truthfulness,self-discipline and self-restraint.

Despite several allegations fabricated to tarnish Shri Radhe Maa’s reputation, she hascontinued to spread the message of love, devotion and service among her devotees.

Shri Radhe Maa’s compassion for uplifting the disadvantaged sections of societycontinues to draw devotees from all walks of life.

Shri Radhe Maa supports initiatives like blood donation drives, free health camps forschool children, and financial support for dialysis and cancer patients.Shri Radhe Maa is an embodiment of a true Sanatan Hindu Guru, a living example of aselfless bhakta who serves God through service to society.

A divine celebration on Shri Radhe Maa’s Birthday

Devotees of Shri Radhe Maa celebrate her birthday by organizing a Maa Jagdambe Chowki

 

Shri Radhe Maa’s followers are spread across India. The humanitarian ambassador that she is, Radhe Maa with her vision of equal society has inspired millions of people to work towards the betterment of the world. On the eve of 3 rd March, Shri Radhe Maa’s devotees are all set to gather at Kora Kendra Ground at Borivali (W) to celebrate the Hindu Guru’s birthday.

 A huge ‘Maa Bhagwati Chowki’ has been organized on this special day. Shri Radhe Maa will grace the Maa Bhagwati Chowki and give a ‘divya darshan’ to all her devotees, following which she will bless her followers. Popular bhajan singers like Anup Jalota, Sardool Sikander, Ram Shankar and Master Saleem, Anuradha Paudwal and Manoj Tiwari have paid their respects during chowkis held on this day in the past. This year is expected to be no different.

Lakhs of people across the world congregate in Mumbai every year on the day and this year is not expected to be any different. The crowd includes devotees, seva volunteers and media persons. For details of the event log on towww.radhemaa.com or call Sevadar Talli Baba on 9820969020

The Dark Side of Asaram Bapu

Less than 35 kilometres from the centre of Ahmedabad lies the dusty town of Motera, now made famous by one of India’s best known spiritual gurus, self-styled philosopher and friend to the rich and the powerful. Nearly 42 years ago, a developing friendship with the powers that be in Gujarat earned Asaram Harpalani, the son a coal and wood seller, 10 acres of fertile agricultural land. The land did not come to him all at once, it accumulated over the years as friendships strengthened. Harpalani, who was born in 1941 in Berami village of Pakistan’s Sindh province, set up a small ashram on the land, the first of over 400 ashrams that exist today across the world. Soon enough, this self-styled religious preacher dropped his tongue twister of a surname and began calling himself Asaram Bapu.

His controversial intervention in the Delhi rape case—when he said “galati ek taraf se nahin hoti hai,” suggesting the victim of the sexual assault was equally responsible for the crime—has recently brought unwanted national attention to the man, but in Gujarat, Asaram and his Motera ashram have been in the eye of a storm since July 2008. The controversy involves the deaths of two ten-year-old cousins, Abhishek and Dipesh Vaghela, at the ashram’s Bal Kendra, on 3 July, a month after they were admitted there as students. On 23 January this year, seven disciples of Asaram accused in the Vaghela case were summoned by an Ahmedabad court.

In the aftermath of the disappearance of the Vaghela brothers from the heavily guarded Bal Kendra, the ashram administration, including Asaram and Darshan Sai, had initially played down the seriousness of the incident. The parents of the children were told that they had run away home, a fact vociferously contested by them. “My brother Shantibhai and I enrolled our children at the Motera ashram for education,” said Praful Vaghela, father of Dipesh.

“We paid Rs 15,000 each but were not given pucca receipts. It was just a handwritten receipt. The children were given yellow T-shirts and white pajamas as uniform in the ashram. In that month, we visited them at least six to eight times. On 28 June, when we visited the ashram, their hair was tonsured and both had sandalwood tikas on their foreheads. I was uncomfortable with this,” said Vaghela. According to him, the children told him that the tonsuring was done in the presence of Asaram. On the afternoon of 3 July, Shantibhai met the children at the ashram. At 9 pm the same day, Praful Vaghela received a call from the ashram administration inquiring if the children had come home. The Vaghelas went to the ashram and looked for the children. At the end of their futile search, Pankaj Saksena, the administrator of the gurukul told them to go around a peepal tree 11 times and ask for the children.

They did so but “nothing happened”. The family, Vaghela claimed, wanted to file a police complaint, but the Ashram administration did not allow them to do so. The family waited out the night and proceeded to the Chandkeda police station the next morning. Two office bearers of the ashram—Vikas Khemcha and Ajay Shah—were already there at the police station. “They went in and spoke to the police. Then they came out and told us to go inside. The police got angry with us when we demanded that a complaint be filed. They did not let us file one,” says the distressed father.

During this period Asaram sent a message to the parents that they should go to a char rasta (crossroad), pick up seven stones, put the stones in hot water along with the children’s clothes and then take out the wet clothes inside out and hang them to dry in the children’s room. The children would return within four hours. “The ashram people told us to wait for the mandatory four hours as directed by Asaram. Nothing happened,” said Vaghela. On the third day of the search, the ashram administration told the Vaghelas another bizarre story—the thumbnail of a 10-year-old gurukul resident had indicated that the missing children were at Kallol. Not surprisingly, that was not where the children were found. Their bodies were finally recovered from a dried-up riverbed close to the ashram.

Vaghela can still vividly recall the harrowing sight—his son Dipesh’s arms were missing from the shoulder down. All the internal organs were missing, only the hollowed out ribcage remained. His left leg appeared to be cut off at the ankle, the right leg seemed burnt. His nephew Abhishek’s body was half burnt as well. Instead of helping the family, the policemen harassed them and refused to register complaints against Asaram and the ashram. “When I said the guilty should be arrested, we were told the consequences could be dire. Then we saw a tempo full of ashram inmates coming to the place where the bodies were recovered, armed with weapons and sticks. We ran away,” said Vaghela. Till this point, Asaram had always enjoyed a cosy relationship with the media. But when the media started reporting on the Vaghela case, many other skeletons started tumbling out of the ashram closets. The media, including several women reporters, were targeted and mercilessly beaten up. Kuldeep Singh Kalair, a reporter with Divya Bhaskar, was locked up in a room in the ashram and beaten by sadhaks. He had to be rescued by the police.

The incident served to lend credence to the allegations of tantric practices by Asaram and his followers. The rumours had been around for a while, but before the deaths of these boys these were mere whispers. Meanwhile, in the Chhind- wara town of Madhya Pradesh, two other children were found dead in the residential institution run by Asaram. The students—Ramakrishna Yadav (a nursery student) and Vedant Moraya (Class 1 student)—were found in the hostel toilet on 31 July 2008. Here too, angry residents protested and demanded the closure of the ashram.

Vaghela continues to maintain that Asaram and his son are involved in black magic and tantric practices, a claim he has made in his deposition before the Justice (retired) DK Trivedi Commission of Inquiry. The Commission, appointed by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to probe the deaths following the public outcry, has already been censured by the Gujarat High Court for going soft on Asaram and his son. The high court order on a petition filed by Asaram (15637/2012), challenging the Commis- sion summons to appear before it, stated: “a picture emerges where the Commis- sion has, on its knees, with folded hands craved the convenience of the petitioner and his son to record their evidence before it and this has continued for a period of more than one and a half years”. When Asaram appeared before the Commis- sion, after being summoned on six different occasions, he was accompanied by an entourage of slogan-shouting followers. Eyewitnesses say that even as the deposition before the Commission was on, Asaram would leave the room without permission, either to drink milk or address his followers.

This brazenness in the face of the law is in keeping with this guru’s attitude to life. Initially, after the Motera ashram was set up, the numbers who came to listen to him were not large, but as local politicians started paying obeisance, they swelled. At the core of his attraction was an aggressive discourse that preached an ethic of ‘tit for tat’. The attitude is still visible at the sprawling Motera ashram.

Beyond a huge peach-coloured arch, plastered with flex banners of the white-bearded preacher in elaborate head gear, two listless guards in khaki uniform watch people enter and exit the ashram. Many prostrate themselves at the ashram entrance before entering or leaving. Asaram speaks to the people via recorded discourses heard through the ashram compound, but few who come into the ashram seem interested in listening to the recorded version. It is the white kurta-pajama-clad male disciples, spread across various age groups, who catch their attention. They are everywhere—behind the various counters, walking around, talking in groups and working. They speak rough even with each other and some even use colourful expletives to make a point.

At the far corner of the ashram stands the heavily guarded Bal Kendra. The presence of the guards is in keeping with the fear the name of Asaram invokes among present-day and former disciples when they discuss the godman. Two who have shared a close rapport with Asaram—Raju Chandak, a secretary, and Amrut Prajapati, personal physician—are running scared ever since they called it quits. Both claim to be privy to numerous illegal activities at the ashram. While Chandak has been shot at and wounded by three bullets following his deposition before the Trivedi Commission, Prajapati says he has been attacked at least six times by the ashram goons. Both are scared of sting operations done by the ashram, which have been furnished as proof before investigating agencies. Speaking to Open on telephone, a scared Chandak kept demanding proof that this reporter was not a part of a sting operation. “Asaram and his goondas have ruined my family life. We are running all the time because he has threatened to eliminate me. An attempt was also made. There is sexual exploitation going on at the ashram. I am being attacked because he does not want the illegal activities made public,” said Chandak.

Prajapati spoke to Open at the Ayurveda Yog Centre in Ahmedabad’s Odav Circle. Responding to an advertisement for an ayurvedic doctor at one of Asaram’s ashrams, the BAMS-educated Prajapati met the godman for the first time in 1988. He was offered Rs 15,000 a month for a job that included food and accommodation. “I was entrusted with the job of setting up their ayurvedic formulation laboratory and allied services at the Surat ashram,” said Prajapati. As the number of disciples grew, Prajapati says Asaram insisted that they compromise on the quality of raw material used to prepare medicines. “Cow’s ghee was replaced by mixed ghee. I am also a witness to corruption and womanising. I saw these things closely when I became his personal physician. I could go to Asaram’s room at any time. One afternoon I went to his Jatikara farmhouse in Delhi. This was the day after his mother died. There was a woman in the room and it was a sight I should not have seen,” said Prajapti.

“On 20 August 2005 I left the ashram after being threatened by them. I was scared. In September 2005, I was attacked by 10-15 people when I was visiting a friend in Ghaziabad. They threatened to kill me if I spoke against Asaram or the ashram. After the attacks I do not inform my patients about my schedule. I don’t even tell my family about my travel plans. This is the price I’m paying for the inability of the Gujarat police to protect me. There will never be justice. Even the Trivedi Commission will not be able to do anything to Asaram,” said Prajapati.

The death of the boys is not the only allegation of wrongdoing against Asaram and his ashram. The cases against him range from the sinister to the bizarre, from land grab (in February 2009, the Gujarat government admitted in the legislative assembly that the Asaram ashram had encroached on 67,099 sq. m of land in Ahmedabad) to this allegation by a man blinded in one eye during a discourse, who has alleged that toffees were showered from a high-speed rotating machine at those in attendance. One such toffee hit him in the eye.

Ashram spokesman Uday Sangani, an accused in the Vaghela case, dismisses the cases against Asaram and his associates as politically motivated. “It is perceived that Bapuji is close to the BJP due to his Hindutva teachings, hence the Congress has started this harassment.” He has been associated with the ashram for the past 17 years.

– By Haima Deshpande