Seeking ‘sampurna nirvana’, ‘moksha’, ‘enlightenment’, spiritual solace or whatever name you give to spiritual wisdom, has always been an expensive affair. Thanks to the introduction of technology, social media, 24*7*365 news channels and some unique PR strategies, the new age God-fellas are able to reach out to a larger audience.
The multi-crore controversial ashrams, mega-donations, special high-tech discourses, mind boggling foreign funds, exclusive telecast copyrights and the jet-set lifestyle of the gurus, everything has an enigma that has turned out to be a fatal attraction for the Indian audience, especially the middle class audience. The economic boom in the last decade has further improved the prospects of Godmen and their followers.
Be it the old, famous and renowned spiritual leaders like the Sai Baba, Osho, Asha Ram Bapui ji, Morari Bapu, Maa Amritanandamayi or the relatively newer ones like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Baba Ramdev, each of them have carved a unique path for themselves in the spiritual world.
The riches of today’s Godmen and the organizations they head are sufficient to give them the status of large organizations and corporations. The rise of several Godmen in the recent years has created a general belief that it is one of the shortest paths to create wealth. Or perhaps to evade the tax laws? Undoubtedly, cash speaks and cash rules in the Godmen market that exists today and is almost a parallel economy, in itself.
The Indian media has consistently maintained a love-hate relationship with the Godmen and has worked as per its needs and the TRPs. One of the most classic examples we witnessed recently was the explosive news coverage of Nirmal Baba, alias Nirmaljit Singh Narula. While it hasn’t been proved if the allegations against him are true, it was indeed ridiculous to watch the same news channels exposing the Baba, where his early morning discourses were being shown!
It is quite clear that in the TRP dominated era, even the TV channels look out for stuff that can boost their earnings. Why can’t they just skip programs in which they don’t have any faith or belief or if they are suspicious of the motive of the people involved in them. After all, if they are telecasting a program, it is the responsibility of the TV channel, to ensure that the program is rational and is not done by a controversial or suspicious person. But then, why do they need to care if the morning 5.30-6.30 slot, earns them decent money. It seems it all boils down to revenue generation and a purely business relationship.
It is not difficult to understand why the Indian middle class in the past decade has unknowingly helped several Godmen to transform into millionaires and billionaires from just being a saint looking out to make a living in the world. The new age God-fellas have chosen religion combined with lessons of self-help to dispel the proverbial ‘ignorance’ of life. In fact, all this is easy to do in India because we have majorly been a religious country, with an unparalleled diversity in all forms of faith. It is often said that we have more temples than schools in India. As numerous faiths collide in India, it has become far easier to give birth to new forms of religions and mixed faiths.
Moreover, India is at the cusp of great urban development and it is happening in all cities. The peace and union of joint families is transforming into just one family norm, giving way to atomism. The isolationism, the fierce competition, endless insecurities and especially the stark uncertainties that life throws in urban cities becomes a great recipe for the Godmen to lure people. A cheerful peppy talk in alignment with the psychological condition of the person by the divine Godman is surely a stress buster for many people these days. For some it is a relief that some larger-than-life image is there to protect them and for some, it is just an unknown, unexplainable journey of discovering a spiritual guru. That’s India- more than a billion people with millions of faith backed by trillions of reasons!
So, as we can see, the love triangle of Godmen, Indian media and the naÃ¯ve public is really interesting. The same media that highlights the Godmen as the ultimate saviors, turns them down to expose their frauds. The same public and followers go mad when they discover that their saviors are just common human beings with same selfish ambitions like the rest.
The nexus between religious institutions and money has always been a reality of human civilizations, and it continues to be so even in the current era. While the public has often been duped of its modest donations by some aspiring God-fellas, it will indeed be interesting to watch how the relationship between Godmen, common man and the media changes over the years, as rational thinking and scientific organizations work religiously towards issues related to blind faith and superstitions. Nevertheless, one thing is for sure these days. The common man has endless options in the form of a spiritual guru, even with tempting discounts, perks and of course, special mental peace packages! So eventually the ‘nirvana economy’ is indeed exciting, interesting, mystic and of course, rich!