Odisha police arrested self-styled godman Sarathi Baba on Saturday for cheating and other charges after violent protesters demanded action against him for his alleged escapades.
Police also seized Rs 2 lakh in cash along with gold and silver from his sprawling ashram at Barimula in Kendrapara district.
“We have seized several documents and they are being examined,” said Bijay Sharma, additional director general (crime branch).
The arrest came days after television channels showed him staying at a Hyderabad hotel with a young woman who posed as his wife.
Sarathi was grilled for 10 hours at his ashram and later at the crime branch headquarters in Cuttack. He has been booked under various section of the Indian Penal Code, including 420 (cheating), 120(B) (criminal conspiracy) and 341 (wrongful restraint), as well under the arms act and SC/ST act.
Sarathi has denied allegations that he spent two days at the hotel with the medical student, but she contradicted him.
“The baba is not at fault. He is still a god to me. Four persons, who had clicked some obscene pictures of mine while I was in a bathroom at the ashram, had blackmailed me to force the baba to accompany me to Hyderabad,” the woman said in a police complaint.
Protests against Sarathi rocked Kendrapara town Friday with people involved in pitched battles with police.
The 48-year-old god man has millions of followers across Odisha and outside and the sermons at his ashram every Sunday draw a big crowd. He also commands loyalty among several top ranking government officials and leaders of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in the district because his followers can swing elections.
Some believe Baba’s leaked pictures with the woman might be a result of internal conflict in the ruling BJD.
Who is Sarathi baba
As a child, Santosh Kumar Raula -- that is his real name -- lived in a rented two-room house in Kendrapara with his parents and three siblings. His father worked as a meter reader in the State Electricity Board.
Raula was never a good student and he dropped out after class 9. But he had a fascination for black magic, which his father often practiced.
His schoolmate Siba Kumar Mohanty said Raula would take them to the cremation ground and sit over the ashes for hours.
“Once after a fight in the locality in 1985, Raula told people that a day would come when the whole world would be at his feet,” said Mohanty.
A few months later he disappeared from Kendrapara, to reappear in 1992 as Sarathi baba, dressed in spotless white dhotis with matching jersey and shawl.
He set up a thatched house at Barimula on a small patch of land he purchased at a modest rate of Rs 70,000 and started conducting sermons every Sunday.
Soon he switched to performing 'miracles', his followers grew in thousands.
Today the complex has a large ‘temple’ where he sits in a well decorated throne and the ashram does good business selling white clothes, CDs, and talismans.
But with increasing influence, his enemies too grew in number, with many villagers alleging that he annexed land by force.
“When he started producing holy ashes and honey, surrounded himself with women and pressuriesed people to buy village land, I parted ways,” said Satyajit Patra a former devotee.
The anger against him reached flashpoint after the hotel pictures surfaced, bringing thousands of angry protesters to the gates of the ashram.
Read:From Radhe Maa to Sarathi Baba: Various avatars of spiritual gurus