While photos leaked this week of a Mumbai-based spiritual leader’s free-spirited ways brought her much criticism, they also put the spotlight back on India’s self-styled holy men and women and their not-so-holy acts in recent days.
Images of 50-year-old Sukhvinder Kaur, called Param Shradhey Shri Radhe Maa by her legions of devotees, in a red miniskirt with a cap and knee-high boots to match took social media by storm, leading to memes galore.
The photographs show her lounging on a red sofa and generally hanging out and posing for the camera in what appears to be a mall. And there’s apparently a video of her dancing to a Bollywood number.
So the song "Kal Raat Mata Ka Mujhe, Email Aaya Hai Mata Ne Mujhko Facebook Pe Bulaya Hai" was written for Radhe Ma pic.twitter.com/4MVqbF5SHQ— Valar Morghulis (@sarcastic_monk_) August 6, 2015
This is a marked departure from the glittering red saris, heavy jewellery and pancake make-up that Kaur is usually seen in, with a "trishul", or trident, in her hand.
From "Radhe Maa" to "Radhe Ahaaaann"... pic.twitter.com/MzyFDRuDt7— Rahul Nitn Ahire (@Rahul_Ahire) August 6, 2015
Devotees credit her with supernatural powers and passionately follow her sermons that critics have termed “salacious”, as she dances with her disciples and lets them carry her in their arms.
India is famous for its avowed spiritualists and mystics who inspire the devotion of tens of thousands of followers and often lead lavish lifestyles while hobnobbing with political parties that call on them to mobilise voters.
According to her official website, Mumbai-based Kaur was born in Dorangla town of Punjab’s Gurudaspur district and her father is a retired officer of the state government.
Her glowing bio says she decided at the age of 23 that she was “no longer a householder” and gave up her home with a husband, two children and all the comforts of the world.
Kaur is no stranger to controversy. A woman in Mumbai complained to police last month that her husband and in-laws were harassing her for dowry after being incited by the guru.
“A 32-year-old married woman lodged a complaint against her in-laws as well as Maa, claiming she was being harassed mentally and physically for dowry,” said Mukund Pawar, senior inspector at Mumbai’s Kandivali police station.
Kaur was booked under provisions of the Indian Penal Code and Dowry Prohibition Act.
A Mumbai-based lawyer also complained to police that Kaur’s “satsangs”, or sacred gatherings, were “obscene” and the guru was conning people in the name of religion.
Kaur rejected the accusations made by the married woman in a statement on her Facebook page. “The reports are full of inaccuracies, unsubstantiated allegations, and rumours that have no basis in fact,” the post said.
Religious leader Dwarkapeeth Shankaracharya Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati demanded this week that Radhe Maa be restrained from participating in the ceremonial “shahi snan”, or royal bath, at the Nashik Kumbh Mela.
In Odisha, 48-year-old spiritual guru Sarathi Baba has been in the news for all the wrong reasons after a TV news channel reported that he was caught staying with a 21-year-old woman at a Hyderabad hotel.
A group of people also protested outside his ashram in Kendrapada district on Wednesday after photos on social media showed him sporting T-shirts and jeans. The local administration barred the gathering of large groups and used batons to disperse the protesters.
Detractors of the guru also organised protests in other parts of Odisha and burnt his effigies. They also vandalised offices of his organisation in some areas. Sarathi Baba, aka Santosh Kumar Raula, defended his right to be seen in T-shirts and jeans, telling the media: “I sometimes wear normal dress during travel. What is wrong with the dress?”
Raula apparently disappeared in 1985 and returned after seven years as a spiritual guru.
“Some people have been linking me with women,” he added. “This is totally baseless. They make false allegations that I checked into a hotel in Hyderabad with a woman. I have no relationship with any woman.”