“Love me when I least deserve it because that is when I really need it.”
India is a land of million gods and maybe more than a million godmen. And if there is something even more all prevailing than godmen, it is the industry that godmen spawn and flourish in. What explains India’s unflinching, unending fascination for godmen?
Search for solace, purpose and meaning of their existence takes people to strange places and persons. People form emotional connects with their gurus who promise to provide them these. In India, gurus provide these and a lot more.
India has consistently ranked amongst the bottom one third of all countries in world on (HDI) human development index. HDI is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, gender disparity and per capita income indicators. Over the last 5 years, India has floundered between 130-136 rank on this index, on par with countries like Tajikistan, Honduras and Congo.
Dignity, social support, medical assistance, employment, food, shelter, security are the things modern Indian state refuses to offer or at best half-heartedly offers to its citizens. The Indian state is quick to collect its pound of flesh in the form of various taxes and tolls but mostly unable or unwilling to fulfil its duty to its citizens except when it is politically convenient for those in power. The sect of gurus and babas then fill the vacuum created by the missing government. Over a period of time, this association between the devotee with the Guru becomes quite strong and tenacious often easily superseding the bond that connect the people to the uncaring, distant, and unfair, Indian state.
Indians are mostly superstitious rather than religious. India has not produced any Nobel prize winner in science in the last 80 odd years – largely because of the lack of a scientific temper and environment in the country. It is not uncommon in India to find highly educated people from accomplished professions being extremely superstitious. Very few Indians have read or know about great Indian scriptures like the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas and The Gita. At best, most Indians have some rudimentary understanding of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Hinduism is very diverse, tolerant and open to multiple versions and interpretations. Anyone can claim to be a guru, saint, reincarnation or avatar. This is fertile ground for anyone professing to be a godman, to come in and interpret these scriptures as per their motives to brainwash gullible believers.
Indians deeply believe in personality cult in all walks of life. We are excessively crazy about personalities. From movie stars who are often worshipped by crazy fans to superstar cricketers to all powerful politicians, everyone is a holy deity, not to be questioned, only slavishly praised. Few of their followers know or talk about the work ethics or discipline of their idols, they seem more content talking about their personalities and lifestyles.
India has had a rich and ancient tradition of Guru-Shishya (Master – Disciple) culture. It’s a tradition of mentoring whereby teachings are transmitted from a guru to a disciple. The learned master helps people attain higher knowledge. In recent times, this tradition seems to have metamorphosed into an industry with godmen exploiting weaknesses of existing institutions like family, education, society to their advantage by offering instantaneous miracles and quick fix solutions to cure the dissonance caused by modern life. The stresses of modern life are triggered by high velocity socio economic transformation, dislocation of communities and the atomization of society. In western countries, rootless individuals seeking to make sense of their world drift to alcohol, drugs and psychiatrists. In India, they take refuge in godmen. Today, the godman isn’t just the miracle worker, he is also the agony aunt, family adviser, match maker, spiritual guide, psychologist and corporate consultant and sometimes a business magnate too. He offers answers, solutions, happiness, an easy path to follow in an otherwise unforgiving and cruel world. He is the anchor that roots an individual to a cause, to a community of fellow devotees. He is the believer’s moral compass.
In walks the politician who turns this already potent cocktail to a toxic and incendiary substance. In return for votes, legitimacy and visibility the politician offers the godman his patronage. The patronage from the greedy, corrupt and powerful politician allows the godman to run a parallel state, often with their own army and currency. Many godmen start seeing themselves as above the law which leads to gory and tragic consequences for their die-hard believers. Yet, these godmen are rarely held accountable, least of all by their devotees. A powerful politician or a celebrity falling at the feet of a godman to seek his blessings adds to the already invincible aura of that godman in the eyes of his believers.
And that’s how the gullible and vulnerable of India continue their tryst with gurus, babas, swamis, sadhus and saint’s till sometimes it all falls apart like a house of cards.
For most people, religion is nothing more than a substitute for a malfunctioning brain – Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek