The Golden Baba shines bright, even when among hundreds of thousands of kanwars trudging along a national highway, effortlessly commanding the attention of onlookers.
It’s not without reason: At any given time, this holy man is adorned with 12 kg of gold, including rings, chains and lockets, worth about Rs 4 crore. In fact, it was his infatuation with gold that earned him the sobriquet ‘Golden Baba’.
He says he wears so much gold because it is a symbol of Goddess Laxmi, and not to show off his wealth.
Nonetheless, everywhere he goes, he is able to whip up frenzy, with thousands of people flocking to catch a glimpse of him or touch his feet as he rides atop his luxurious Fortuner car during the kanwar yatra.
And, it seems, no one can escape his aura: Partapaur police station inspector Ram Kumar Yadav was among hordes jostling to get a photograph with the baba in Mohiuddinpur, on the outskirts of Meerut.
“I will continue my kanwar yatra every year till my death,” the baba, who is on his 24th kanwar yatra, told HT.
He claimed to have spent Rs 72 lakh on his journey from Hardwar to Delhi last year, and that he had expanded his budget to over Rs 1 crore this year. He is being accompanied by over 200 people and at least 10 bodyguards on his journey from Hardwar to his ashram in Gandhinagar, Delhi.
With all that jewellery, security is a major concern. Police have an elaborate security arrangement for the baba — a team of officers escorts his convoy as it passes through their respective areas to ensure that nobody approaches him without permission. A few policemen even get a seat on the roof of the baba’s vehicle to offer additional security, while personal bodyguards sit inside the car.
He was not always the gold-loving seer he is today. The Golden Baba was once a wealthy cloth merchant before he shunned material pleasures. He embarked on his first kanwar yatra with just 5 kg in gold jewellery, and gradually added to it each year.
Where does he get all that gold?
“Sab uper wala deta hai (The Almighty gives everything),” he says, before explaining that it was bought with the money donated by his followers.
Most seers and priests accept eatables, but not the Golden Baba. In fact, for security reasons, he has a personal pantry follow him during the yatra. His convoy includes elaborate tent set-ups for overnight halts and to deal with any vagaries of weather. The stops are pre-planned and the schedule tight.
He is associated with the Joona Akhara, and claims to be its biggest mahant (chief priest) now.