Godmen in India are a different breed; self-styled healers, saviors' and incarnations of the divine, they possess the uncanny ability to attract hundreds of followers commanding a tremendous holding power over them.
Indians are known to be worshippers of many gods; the delicate fabric of our country is composed of multi-religious and multilingual individuals. Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists live in harmony following common laws, traditions, and customs that have evolved with time. Godmen emerge from this crowd, with a distinct vision and implacable power to grab the attention of numerous sanguine and sometimes gullible followers.
Swami Nithyanada and Radhe Maa are two such very prominent and high-powered Godmen/Godwomen who amassed huge wealth, cult following but fell prey to scandals and disrepute. They are some of the many examples of spiritual leaders caught in wrongdoing. As was the case with the former Gurus, these Godmen have stars, top businessmen and page three celebrities as followers.
It could be argued that not many people, let alone educated individuals have an exhaustive knowledge of the Hindu Scriptures; perhaps contributing to their inability to discriminate between genuine and a hoax. However, one common factor that makes people flock to Godmen is the need to find meaning and purpose.
It is unmistakably human to find reasons, to understand why things go wrong and what could be the possible solutions. Godmen seem to offer the perfect way out and a miraculous one-stop solution to make life richer and more meaningful.
Faith does indeed move mountains and the positivity, hope that Godmen seem to radiate in their being seems at a moment of crisis, a godlike blessing. Their teachings instill in their followers a sense of calm and spiritual awakening that even religion cannot. India is filled with stories of numerous personal and unique experiences of people who had tables turned in their favor from following the words of their spiritual leaders or Gurus. These occurrences and events cannot be taken away from them and perhaps contain celestial truths not comprehensible to all.
Faith can be a great healer; blind faith, however, raises questions and some confusion. A combination of blind faith and superstitious belief is altogether too ambivalent. Superstition is a part of quite of few Indian lives; it could be as small as tasting a spoon of curd before exams, interviews and during auspicious occasions so they go well or taking precautions when a black cat crosses one's path.
Although most of these omens could be justified on scientific grounds, curd is a digestive agent and coolant that would be useful in times of stress; black cats were carriers of the plague ages ago.
Superstition not backed by logic could be deadly. Setting oneself on fire and inflicting wounds on the body are examples of how far superstition has pushed people. When people start to blindly follow an individual simply because of word of mouth or assume their life transforming and healing skills, they become victims of their own judgment. The arrest of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh a few weeks back was preceded by widespread agitation on the part of his followers who protested angrily against the arrest of the rape convict. Different cultures perhaps have different ways of expressing the collective need of its people to understand the profundity of their existence. People are usually very receptive to deep thoughts and wise words of wisdom.
In the west, Self-help books are a rage and fly off shelves in days; Dale Carnegie, Joseph Murphy, and Napoleon Hill are well-respected counselors in their respective field. At home, Baba Ramdev has founded a million dollar industry with his range of Patanjali Products. Mandirs and Ashrams have done exemplary work in social work and value education, trying to usher in a change in society.
The real challenge is, therefore, to differentiate between the real and fake. The Upanishads also state that a true guru or Mahatma should only be accepted after careful consideration. People need to be made aware of it.