In tradition-bound India, the number of people claiming to possess mystical powers has increased. These so called godmen are said to have thousand of followers. But many have been in the news for all the wrong reasons.
Bathing in the Ganges is considered a holy act by Indian tradition
Their disciples are an eclectic bunch: they are rich, poor, foreign, Indian, politicians or rickshaw drivers. In certain cases, so-called godmen have been known to have their grip on presidents and prime ministers because of their influence.
But trouble looms for hundreds of such godmen in the country who claim to be able to perform miracles and solve just about any problem. Many are now on the run.
Police across the country have arrested several such self-styled godmen, including some high-profile persons who have been involved in sex scandals, tax fraud and even murder.
People in power as target
Rasani Baba, a learned ascetic from Uttar Pradesh who specializes in ayurveda (alternative medicine) is angry that these high-flying godmen exploit people's insecurities.
90 year-old Rasani Baba believes Indian godmen exploit their followers to get money and power
"All these godmen first try to win the confidence of powerful bureaucrats and industrialists. Having won their trust they then build up a fan following," he explains how the fake godmen work. "After this they begin to exploit people only to get cash and power."
One of these 'godmen' was arrested for running a vast sex racket from his temple, while another was allegedly shown in a TV sting expose having sex with an actress. Even the southern state of Kerala, which boasts high literacy, has had its fair share of problems with police arrests over a dozen such "spiritual gurus".
Good marketing strategy
Yogi Anoop, a famous meditation yoga guru has studied the role of such godmen. He says they market themselves well and people fall prey because they want instant gratification.
"People in India want blessings from such holy men," says Anoop. He explains further that these godmen market themselves well on television and radio and attract people with this strategy. "That's when they become powerful and popular."
In vast swathes of the country, where there is poverty, illiteracy and deep-rooted superstitious beliefs, such godmen thrive.
Spiritual guru Yogi Anoop has studied the role of godmen in India
Opening the public eyes
For skeptics, the sex scandals show that many godmen, despite their spiritual air and claims of mystical powers, are nothing more than confidence tricksters craving cash and power.
Sanal Edamaraku, president of the Indian Rationalist Association, has exposed several of the country's leading godmen and godwomen and opened the public’s eyes to their tricks.
He says that the goal is to "cleanse" India from all the fake gurus who are using the gullibility of common people. Edamaraku says his association tells people "if they want to go spiritual, they should go spiritual but take it seriously and go in the right way," warning people not be pray to the fraudulent godmen. "They have to be stopped," Edamaraku demands.
For now, the image of the numerous "miracle gurus" has taken a severe beating after the alleged illegal activities. But in a society still steeped in blind faith, the big question is: will people stop flocking to them?
Author: Murali Krishnan (New Delhi)
Editor: Sarah Berning