My mother was cent percent religious. She would wake up in the early morning when the cock crows announcing the break of the day. Her day begin with a dip in the cool waters of the pond in our compound. Wearing fresh white clothes and sandal paste on her forehead she would perch on a grass mat behind the traditional brass oil lamp and recite ‘slokas’ from the holy books before retiring to the kitchen to take care of the domestic chores. We children had the duty to pluck flowers of white, yellow, red colours from the plants and Tulsi leaves grown in the compound while she cooked and completed her morning jobs. These flowers and tulsi leaves were to be offered to the deity at the nearby local temple which she visited every day without fail unless she fell ill.
Mother was very close to the Gods. In her ancestral home they had a temple of their own to worship their god every morning and evening. She even had the liberty to quarrel with the Gods. We heard her occasionally raising her voice condemning them for not listening to her prayers when the family was in distress. Such brief sessions always ended with sobs and tears running down her cheeks. She was not scared of the evil spirits for she believed her Gods the powerful ‘Durga’ and ‘Subrahmanian’ (Karthikeya) protect her and the family. She often warns the evil spirits roaming around, the consequences of trespassing the boundary. She said she could identify the evil spirits by the foul smell spread in the air when they are around.
However religious she was my mother never cared to visit the house of Ammni Amma who lived in our neighborhood. Mother could not accept any self-styled god and was critical of the woman as duping the people. Ammini Amma a lady in her fifties with dark complexion was the god woman in our village. She was crippled in her right leg and used a bamboo stick to support her movements. Her followers mainly were illiterate local poor. They thronged at her house seeking her blessings and in return paid her in kind and in cash whatever way they could. Her followers also included few small time businessmen and traders, some belonging to neighboring villages. Her fame gradually went beyond the village and her followers swelled. There were quite a number of influential and wealthy people among them. Initially she lived in a thatched hut on a small piece of land. Gradually the wealth and land increased. She erected a new building replacing the thatched hut. The new house with many spacious rooms was the first concrete house in the village and it had a big prayer hall that could accommodate the swelling followers. Now it was called an ‘Ashram’, Ammini Amma’s Ashram.
Ammini Amma was detached off her family and lived separately along with her only son. She was not married and the fatherhood of her son still remains a mystery. Her son, a school dropout, lived an enviable life style. He used to wear the most fashionable dress in vogue in the cities and moved around on a Motor Cycle. He avoided the local youth as all of his friends were city lads. He did not care to do any job. Soon he became notorious for he indulged in all sorts of misdeeds. He became a drunkard and a womanizer. He spent recklessly the easy money his mother earned.
Ammani Amma was a small part of a larger world of self-styled gods and goddesses in the country. There are approximately 8 million of them in India claiming to serve the spiritual needs of millions and millions of Indians. Not just Indians the powerful and famous among them have devotees in different countries. The successful god-men and women all have their branches in the rich Western as well as Gulf countries. Many have their own Web-sites giving details of their holy-powers, write-ups on the holiness of the persons by their devotees. But one cannot find the details of the exact place of their birth, about their parents, the details of their early life or their educational background. In one such sites of a holy-man who conducts spiritual discourses world over gives the birth place as South India. It could be anywhere beyond the Vindhyas. Yet another most popular God-man’s site narrates the story of his birth emphasizing the divinity. “Baba's mother was fetching water when a blue ball of fire emerged from the village well and entered her stomach; she fainted, woke-up and found herself pregnant.”
India is known for spiritualism. The Sanyasis/Sanyasins formed an important part of the spiritual echelons of the country since ancient period. The scriptures unambiguously describe who a Sanyasi is. In sanyas, desire for wealth, name and fame, as also pride, anger, greed, fear, attachment to children and friends is to be renounced. The present day ‘Sanyasis’ who claim everything from divine powers to the grandiose title of God on Earth move around in luxurious cars and live in posh bungalows. Many have set up multi-million business establishments across the country and abroad. Education and Health care are the two preferred areas of investment by many. Some have entered into the production of Ayurvedic medicines in view of the increasing demand of the indigenous medicine in the country and abroad. One may have the doubt why these divine persons opt for establishing hospitals with most modern scientific amenities when their divine powers could have helped the ailing masses get cured sparing their poor devotees the unaffordable cost of medicines.
The life of these so-called divine people is often mired in controversies. There are many accusations of misdeeds against them using sheer magic to dupe the gullible believers. Their involvement in cases ranging from sex-scandals, land grabbing and extortion are often reported in the media. Latest of the string of such controversies are reported from the very capital of the country, New Delhi and another one from down south Tamil Nadu. The Delhi based God-man was arrested by the police for running a high profile sex racket involving former airhostesses and students. In the second case, people went on rampage targeting his sprawling Ashram and destroying hoardings of the Swamiji after the telecast of a video footage showing him with a film actress in a compromising position. Earlier the Ahmedabad police arrested a god-man and his wife on the charge of cheating people from various states to the tune Rs.1200-00 crore promising to double and triple the amounts the people gave him. Some time ago, the Kerala government launched a hunt for the fake god-men in the State. The police probe revealed startling facts about their anti-social activities. The city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat rocked by large scale violence by agitated people following the mysterious death of two children who were inmates of an ‘Ashram’ run by a prominent spiritual guru. The Guru described the agitation and related probe as a design to malign Hinduism and its spiritual leaders. Surely, the big sharks in the spiritual trade go unscathed with the political patronage they enjoy. The political leadership including Prime Ministers and Presidents are frequent visitors in these Ashrams giving legitimacy to these frauds. Obviously, the politician uses the popularity of these god-men to gain political mileage and hence it is assured no allegations against them leads to its logical conclusion. It is a proved fact that the miracles they perform are sheer magic and many agencies challenged them to scientifically prove their divine power. Professor Late A. T. Kovooor since 1963, had declared an award of Rs. 1,00,000/- for anyone who could demonstrate supernatural or miraculous powers under fraud-proof conditions. But so far no god-man or woman came forward to accept this challenge.
There are many laws existing in the country to check the actions of fraud and cheating. One can approach the consumer courts in case of a consumer product does not live up to the specified standards. But there is no policy to monitor and check the activities of the self-styled godmen who are allegedly duping the gullible people. The Delhi High Court in 2006 directed the Union Government to formulate a policy. It is the responsibility of any democratically elected government to protect the people from being subjected to fraud and cheating in the name of spirituality and healing.