INSIDE THE GURU’S BASTION
In Indore, aggressive passion for ‘ Bapuji’ keeps a glimmer of hope alive for the godman
Ayagna is burning behind the cow shed, deep inside the heart of the Indore ashram run by selfproclaimed godman Asaram ‘ Bapu’ on Khandwa Road, a major educational artery for the city. At least three men have been sitting around the fire night and day, chanting the mantra that ‘ Bapuji’ has taught them for success in court cases. “Svaha ( So be it)”, they say in unison, as they toss in a mixture of fennel, black sesame and sugar along with oblations of ghee into the havan kund built of brick and cow dung. Next to them is a large image of ‘ Bapuji’. It is not clear if these followers are propitiating Asaram, whom they believe to be God, or if there are other gods who need appeasement.
The eight to 10 people who are attending the yagna in the middle of the day are offered water to wash their hands with when they get up. This is to ensure that any reward, or punya, they may have acquired during the service accrues to Bapuji rather than to them. Women are not allowed into the ashram at certain times of the day: After 7 p. m., and in the afternoon between prayers. This is strictly enforced now that allegations of rape have surfaced against Asaram. Only the ashram workers, typically wives and daughters of ashram personnel, are sitting in prayer in different parts of the compound. Some are in the main hall in front of Asaram’s bulletproof glassencased seating space, lip- syncing the Hanuman Chalisa in a loop in front of another perennial flame. Some others
are walking around the ‘ wish- fulfilling’ tree planted next to the store selling herbal medicines, which doubles as the office of Rishi Darshana, Asaram’s official newsletter.
This ashram is one of the three main seats of Asaram’s vast spiritual empire— along with Motera in Ahmedabad and Jodhpur in Rajasthan, which was the venue of much drama on August 31, when the police finally arrested him.
Preparations are underway for a silent rally in which 5,000 devotees are expected walk to the district magistrate’s office in the heart of Indore city on September 5. One by one, Asaram’s office staff is calling people from a list of supporters and asking that they be present for the rally. “What do you mean you don’t know who can join? Make them join! They have taken Bapuji from here, I need a crowd of 5,000 tomorrow,” one devotee is screaming into the phone.
Gentleness is not a quality usually associated with followers of Asaram. As a stranger attending the yagna for the first time, you are watched, followed, and your every movement noted. Are you praying, or just wandering? Why is there a flight tag on your bag? Have you received deeksha, or initiation mantras? If you are from Mumbai, why did you not go to the ashram there? Why did your husband not accompany you? One by one, the workers are sent to interrogate you.
You are searched, and if something suspicious is found on your person— such as a phone or a tablet PC— you are surrounded. This circle, now less casual and more intimidating, tells you that doing “computer things” is sinful. “Don’t you know Bapuji is against it?” An alert is sounded, you are told to leave, and the ashram gate is shut down. If you won’t move far enough as you wait for your cab, a chair is offered kindly in a neighbouring house, where you are casually locked in. “Who do you think you are, walking around asking questions? Were you taking photographs? We will take yours also,” says a belligerent school principal who has rushed out of the Gurukul premises opposite, pushing and shoving as he clicks your picture for evidence.
And yet, there is an element of pathos in the fervent clinging on to the hope that Asaram is innocent. “The truth will come out in the end,” says a female supporter, more out of hope than faith, as you are leaving. “Milk will separate from water. We are not disheartened. It is just that the allegations levelled against him are hard to digest.” And that, in a nutshell, sums up the atmosphere of part- fear and part- disillusionment, hidden behind anger, insolence and acrimony.