The rise & fall of the Orange People
Led by mystical Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the Sannyasin spiritual movement captured Australians by the thousands during the 1980s. Followers stood out for their distinct earthy coloured clothing, and became known as “orange people”.
Members would wear a necklace of 108 wooden beads called a “mala”, which featured an image of their guru. Each bead represented a meditation technique.
It’s understood rock star David Bowie and his wife Iman were devotees, even spending time in the sect’s Fremantle Ashram.
The free-sex cult eventually fell apart, with believers leaving en masse after a fallout between the guru and his outspoken lieutenant Ma Anand Sheela at their US centre in Oregon in 1985.
Bhagwan accused Ma Sheela of attempted murder, poisoning, wire-tapping and even a bioterror attack – the first of its type in the US – in an attempt to sway local elections.
Orange People in Fremantle, one of the centres of the cult.
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, assisted by Ma Sheela, had 250,000 followers during the 1980s.