A new class of modern saints has emerged with the expansion of the electronic media. A new type of evergreen business is flourishing by leaps and bounds, unaffected by recession or inflation. Hardly a day passes when a TV channel is not launched and a new baba (or 'babi') does not appear for darshan. Clad in colourful dresses, beads around their neck, heavy make-up, surrounded by musicians and followers planted for repeating their bhajans based on filmy songs, they make the audience dance to their tunes before starting the sermons.
People with their grievances, pains and problems approach such self-proclaimed avatars, who 'heal' simply by waving their hands and try to be a panacea for the public.
Gone are the days when holy persons would sport "dhoti, choti and langoti" and were supposed to abstain from wordly possessions, walk on foot, lead a simple, ideal life sermonising and spiritually guiding society through their satsangs. Now, a saint is judged by the number of his or her bodyguards, political connections, fleet of cars and planes, court cases, size of the dera, quantum of allegations of murder, molestation, land grab, et al.
At the recent Mahakumbh in Allahabad, sadhus could be seen wearing dresses woven with golden threads, flashing latest cameras, iPhones and laptops, chatting and chanting with female foreigners taking a holy dip in the Ganga. One such baba claimed to mitigate sufferings of viewers through the TV screen itself, provided they deposited the requisite fee in his account.
It's a lucrative career if you can befool people with impressive oratory and possess some singing ability also, no matter whether you have cleared Class 4 or not. You must be able to feel the pulse of the followers and treat them accordingly.
A very popular baba, who would sit on a golden chair, sleep on a golden bed and mesmerise 'bhakts' (devotees) by pulling out a golden egg from his mouth and producing a 'vibhooti' (golden chain) out of thin air, failed to recover from a disease despite his magical and spiritual powers. In his last days, his followers kept announcing that the baba would make a comeback and show a 'chamatkar' (miracle), but it was not to be.
Despite sting operations, a Bengaluru-based baba, caught with a heroine in a bedroom, still hasn't lost his popularity. Another saint, known for his controversial statements of 'Taali and Gaali' and booked in several murder and land-grab cases, is busy diversifying his business.
It's not only the film world where there is a rat race among heroes and heroines. In the saintly world, babas are found in the 7 Race Course area of the Capital. One of them tried lobbying for national honours such as the Bharat Ratna and Padma Vibhushan, but failed.
Recently, a 23-year-old mahant of Chandigarh bid Rs. 10 lakh for the '0001' number for his Rs. 55-lakh Audi Q7 SUV. He leads an aristocratic lifestyle and uses the iPhone, laptop, LED TV, etc. It's always safe to say that all these items have been gifted by devotees.
It all boils down to how you emotionally or religiously blackmail your followers.