In India, cosmic meets commercial
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In India, cosmic meets commercial

Gurus forsake asceticism to become corporate captains, writes Asia Sentinel’s Neeta Lal

Leveraging their spiritual appeal across a growing global base of devotees, Indian gurus and “godmen,” a particular type of charismatic ascetic, are belying their poverty-stricken image to climb onto the commercial bandwagon to get rich.

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Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Pic: AP.

Some Indian spiritual leaders have long been accustomed to luxury. The Maharhishi Mahesh Yogi, guru to the Beatles and a long list of celebrities, built a vast organization whose US assets alone were estimated at US$300 million and loved to be seen traveling in his fleet of Rolls-Royce sedans.

But the number of spiritualists who have forsaken simplicity and poverty to cater to a burgeoning domestic and international clientele is growing, setting up corporate empires that profit off a population faced with stress, alienation and lifestyle disorders, packaging and selling their goods in ways that resonate with modern consumers.

There appears to be no escaping India’s crowded spiritual supermarket. From ayurvedic therapies (a system of healing that originated in ancient India), personal care and packaged food items, ayurvedic elixirs to slippers, yoga mats, spiritual music, meditation books, self-help guides and mind-healing workshops, there are plentiful offerings in this Instant Nirvana bazaar.

They promise a better quality of life through their products. One of the most popular gurus is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, with millions of followers and a worldwide operation. His Art of Living organization peddles everything from slippers and yoga mats (a craze in America) to music, chants and clothing.

Snapping at Shankar’s heels is yoga guru Baba Ramdev, whose Patanjali line of ayurvedic products promises respite from many lifestyle diseases. Also on the rise with the Indian bourgeoisie are spiritual trusts like the Aurobindo Ashram, Pujya Bapuji’s Sant Shri Asharamji Ashram, Coimbatore-based Isha Foundation and Swaminarayan Akshardham.

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