India is known to be the land of spirituality and the baba’s that we all worship are known to be the conduits for this spirituality. Frequently called ‘Godmen’, these guru’s give up worldly pleasures and desires to fully devote themselves to servicing God. Authentic baba’s seek the guidance of Vedik literature and ancient scriptures to learn the way to become a spiritual master however the reality that we see today is completely the opposite.
Self-appointed baba’s are found by the handful in India and they prey on religious sentiments for their own monetary gain. Known to be skilful manipulators, they use the name of God to trick people into fraudulent schemes. From petty crimes of tax evasion to serious acts of murder, rape and terrorism, India definitely has no shortage of ‘Dhongi baba’s’. The following list has been curated with baba’s who will go down in history for all the wrong reasons -
1. Osho Rajneesh - The Sex Guru
While most baba’s are known for their spirituality, Osho, also known as Archarya Rajneesh, is mostly known for his free-spirited attitude on sex which earned him the nickname ‘The sex guru’. In fact, he gained an immense following in America and ended up setting up a ranch in Oregon called ‘Rajneeshpuram’ which was basically a commune/ashram where drug-induced sex orgies were encouraged. While most baba’s renounce worldly pleasures, Osho was found of luxuries and owned over 90 Rolls Royce’s! However, many famous Bollywood celebrities were impressed by him and joined his cult, namely - Parveen Babi, Mahesh Bhatt and Vinod Khanna.
2. Asaram Bapu - The Nymphomaniac
One of the most notorious baba’s of India, Asaram Bapu is infamous for his sexual controversies and corrupt morals (how ironic). Charged with murder and rape of a 16-year-old girl that he had regarded as his ‘daughter’, he is far from the image of a holy baba that we have. He also made inappropriate comments by saying that the Nirbhaya rape case could have been prevented if only she had called her rapists ‘bhaiya’. Rightfully so, he has been in jail since 2013 over various allegations including fraud over a 700 acre plot of land.
3. Narayan Sai - The Escape Artist
Asaram’s son, Narayan has followed in his father’s footsteps of corruption and fraud. He was arrested for committing fraud over a 700-acre plot of land but it took 4 state police teams and over 2 months for them to catch him! While most guru’s preach celibacy, he was also accused of raping multiple of his father’s disciples. Estimated to be worth around Rs 5,000 Crore, one can imagine the amount of fraud and corruption he has committed.
4. Swami Nithyananda - The Womaniser
Swami Nithyananda is known for his teachings regarding Advaita Vedanta, bhakti, yoga, meditation and kriyas but he is also most well known for being broadcasted on Sun News in a compromising position with a Tamil film actress. Although he refuted the allegations and claims that the video was fabricated to defame him, the footage was claimed to be legit because it was filmed by a former follower of his, Aarthi Rao. Rao had also claimed that he had seduced and raped her several times over the 5 years that she had spent in his ashram. Apart from these allegations, he has also been accused of lacing holy water that was offered to his disciples, with drugs.
5. Swami Aseemanand - The Terrorist
Swami Aseemanand was a self-proclaimed monk and a former RSS activist. He was charged with plotting 4 terrorist attacks and then finally arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) over the 2007 Mecca Masjid the last case. Aseemanand had also admitted that he and his followers were involved in several bombings of religious Muslim sites for trying to take revenge over the ‘Terror acts of Muslims”.
6. Swami Sachidanand - The Disco Baba
A self-proclaimed godman, Sachidanand was frequently called ‘Disco baba’ or ‘Builder baba’ by his followers. Appointed ‘Mahamandaleshwar’ or one of the 80 high priests, he was stripped from his title within a month because of the various controversies that surrounded him. One of the biggest scams that he was involved in was where he duped a person of a few crores in the hopes of giving him high returns on his investment. While most baba’s promise you a long and happy life, he was duping his followers by calling himself a godman and duping them of crores! He also owned a bar in a mall in Noida, which is where how he got his nickname ‘Disco Baba’. While he constantly evaded arrests by the police, he was finally acquitted and declared a serious offender in 2016.
7. Baba Mangalanand - The Trance Music Baba
We often think that gurus would prefer hymns that praise the Goa but Baba Mangalanand was a die-hard fan of trance music. While some gurus would prefer visiting places of worship, he would frequent the Goa Rave scenes in the 90s. Originally called Gil, he was from California but was always obsessed with the hippie culture. In search of the ideal nomadic life, he travelled first to Amsterdam and then India, where he became transfixed with the lives of our Sadhu’s. While he trained under a Guru named Mahant Nirmalanand Saraswati, he also moonlighted as a DJ at trance parties. In what can only be described as the most absurd combination, Gil said: “dance is an active form of meditation and the use of trance music is a way to redefine the ancient tribal ritual for the 21st century.” After this, no one can accuse baba’s of being boring.
8. Aghori Baba’s - The Cannibal’s
A whole sect of baba’s, the Aghori’s are holy devouts of Lord Shiva and one of the most respected and feared sadhus of India. Generally found residing along the banks of the river Ganga, you could recognise them by their signature loin cloth. Sometimes even found nude, this sect is said to be over 1000 year’s old and in complete awe over the phenomenal of death. Their diet allegedly consists of ‘’rotten foods, foods from dumpsite, animal faeces and putrefying human corpses which are generally eaten in a cup made out of human skulls’’. We may wonder why they would indulge in such eating habits but the Aghori’s believe that this diet kills human ego and free’s the soul from the entrapment of beauty ideals.
9. Amar Bharati - The Perpetually Raised Arm Baba
While he is not known for rape, murder or fraud like his counterparts, Amar Bharati is the sadhu that is known for not putting his hand down. Yes, you read it right, for the last 38 years he has left his hand raised as a sign of devotion to Lord Shiva. Bharati was once a normal man with wife and children however one day he decides to renounce his material life and devote his entire life as a disciple to Lord Shiva. In an effort to prove his renunciation of worldly pleasures, he decided to raise his hand and never bring it down. One can only imagine the discomfort and pain he must have felt, leaving his arm hanging in the air for over 38 years! The said arm has atrophied and deformed and while it had initially caused him pain, it is now rendered numb and useless. This effort of Bharati has also influenced various other sadhu’s who have gone onto keeping their arms raised as a sign of devotion for 7, 13, and even 25 years.
10. Baba Ramdev - The Patanjali Founder
Last but in no way the least, Baba Ramdev needs no introduction. A Household name, he founded the brand Patanjali which has gone onto becoming extremely successful. Offering yoga as a solution to almost anything, Ramdev believes that homosexuality is a disease and can be ‘cured’ by meditation. He also believes that sex education in schools should be abolished and replaced with yoga education instead. He says “The government should stop polluting the minds of innocent young children with sex education. Society’s morality cannot improve with teaching sex education in schools. And AIDS cannot be prevented by talking free sex and by using condoms.” While baba’s pride themselves on their honesty and humbleness, Ramdev seems to embody ideals that are the complete opposite. His trusts have frequently been accused of evading payment of taxes, stealing land and electricity from farmers. The latest controversy involved a pharmacy owned by him that was found using human and animal bones in their medicines.