Tehelka Gives 'Em Hell
File under: Amma All-Over-The-Planet, Gurus Clockin' Dollars and The Siddhi of PR
Being stuck in the States, we've a bit of a distant outlook on the guru scene in India. Our main viewing portal is Google News and the occasional bit of luck in the way of a reader-supplied tip. Yet much of the time, what we come across in the Indian press is unusable as it's just fawning about traditional ideas of gurudom.
So we were very pleased to discover Tehelka, a sort of alternative press paper in India known for hard-hitting investigations and that slightly anti-corporate tone you find in the alt weeklies here in the States. In their sights this week are some of those occlusion-spewing, self-aggrandizing and money-grubbing fauxvatars that you know we just love to complain about in this blog.
Having already examined the finances of a number of these so-called divine beings, today Tehelka goes after Big Mamma specifically. The article opens with an excellent treatise as to how a guru gets to the big-time in India (and the rest of the world):
RELIGION MAKES lots of money because of the universal belief that you earn merit by giving. The best of faith-founders have stressed compassion; so has humanism. For the modern individual, directly helping the needy is a messy business because you are forced to get involved. Presenting money or goods to a place of worship or to a godman/woman solves the issue neatly. Hinduism has a special place for the parityagi — he who renounces all. The way things turned out, it is the so-called parityagi who ends up making all the money! What fun!So true! And there is not one iota of difference between the living guru and the statue which symbolizes her/him. They are both symbols of the devotee's inner hope, the real source of any "miracles" that are perceived (or much more likely, misperceived,) to occur.
Usual places of worship do not do so well in money-catching because they have no special charisma; or they must build up the god as a miracle-maker through competitive marketing. Big money flows only towards the talented individual who can create popular spiritual appeal and surround him/herself with a group of committed disciples.
Disciples are the key. By him/herself the godman/woman is like a nuclear reactor waiting to go critical. It is the disciples who trigger the money-machine and the supporting media blast. They have more at stake than the guru. Almost none of them is guru-material. They control immense wealth and power because of the guru’s talent. And when the guru is dead, a statue with an offerings-box can do pretty well too.
But author Paul Zacharia has a bigger fisherwomen to fry:
Mata Amritanandamayi Devi née Ms Radhamani fits Malayali decadence to a T. She is reckoned to be one of the country’s richest gurus. She is a handmaiden of the Sangh Parivar, especially the VHP, with its global fund-flows. The hug is her USP. Her media managers and fund-managers are the real miracle-workers, considering what they have made out of a simple woman with a knack for popular religious enactment and the energy to hug all and sundry...We take the dust of Paul's feet and tip the turban to Telhelka, our new bff and now high in the bookmarks for our daily Indian edification.
Amritanandamayi has invested well too. She has an expensive TV channel which is a great conduit. All the millions invested into medical/engineering and other professional institutions go under the head of charity. But the same charity also demands capitation fees of about Rs 30 to 40 lakh for a seat in the professional institutions. Some millions were spent on building homes for the tsunami-hit. That was a God-sent credibility exercise because it looked almost like charity. It was the best mask Amritanandamayi’s millions have yet worn. It increased her money-gathering power a hundred times. As we know, what all godmen/ women don’t like is auditing and accountability. But then, can you audit God?