Mystery and confusion shrouded the health of spiritual head of Divya Jyoti Jagriti Sansthan (DJJS) Ashutosh Maharaj at the sect's headquarters in this historic town, about 25km from Jalandhar city, on Wednesday. While doctors who reportedly examined the godman declared him "clinically dead", the sect management scotched the medical diagnosis, insisting that he had only gone into 'samadhi' (deep state of meditation) and would come out of it when he so desired.
Ashutosh, said to be more than 70 years old, was not keeping well for the past few months, according to sources privy to the highly-secretive sect which was founded by him in 1983.
The news about Ashutosh's 'demise' spread like wildfire, prompting media managers of union minister Manish Tewari and former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh to send condolence messages. Amarinder called Ashutosh a "spiritual guide who preached peace and harmony and guided thousands of his followers in their spiritual pursuit."
As per DJJS chief spokesman Swami Vishalanand, the sect head was spotted "sitting unconscious in samadhi" by dera securitymen between 12:15am and 12:30am late on Tuesday night.
"Thereafter, a team of doctors was called from Apollo Hospital, Ludhiana. They examined Swamiji and concluded that he was clinically dead with no heartbeat or any other sign of life. But these are also the signs when any saint goes into the 'samadhi' mode. Swamiji has been entering such modes of yoga earlier too," the spokesman said.
Appealing to followers not to panic, Vishalananda urged them to organise a religious discourse till the next bulletin was issued by the DJJS.
However, the management of Satguru Partap Singh Apollo Hospital, Ludhiana, when contacted by HT, denied that any team of doctors had attended to Ashutosh or any other patient on the DJJS premises.
"But yes, on Tuesday night, we received a call for sending an ambulance to the sect premises in Nurmahal. However, when our ambulance staff reached there, they were told that the patient had already died. Thereafter, our staff came back," said Dr Abhijeet, spokesman for Apollo Hospital, Ludhiana.
He confirmed that no team of doctors had examined Ashutosh or any other patient in Nurmahal area on Tuesday.
When HT contacted the sect management over the hospital's statement, the chief spokesman maintained that doctors from the hospital had examined the godman.
"The doctors are confused because the glow on Swamji's face is still intact and there is no crystallisation (congealing) of blood, which should have happened had the Maharaj been clinically dead," he said.
Meanwhile, an uneasy calm prevailed in the area, with hoards of followers making a beeline to the sect headquarters.
Sources said the management was holding closed-door meetings to monitor the situation on an hourly basis and a top management official has arrived here from Delhi.
The sect management neither allowed Phillaur subdivisional magistrate (SDM) Jasvir Singh nor any other local administrative official to assess the godman's health. The media was also kept out of bounds.
"Citing administrative issues, I urged the management to update me on the Maharaj's health, but they maintained that he was in 'samadhi'. I requested them to take me to the Maharaj's room, but they refused, terming it an internal matter," the SDM said.
Sources also disclosed that dera organisers purchased adrenaline injection from a local chemist shop around 1am on Wednesday. This injection is administered when a patient's blood pressure dips to an alarmingly low level.
The entire area has been cordoned off by the police. Cops have also been sent here from Kapurthala, Rupnagar, Hoshiapur and Ludhiana districts.
Mired in controversy
* Founded in 1983 by Ashutosh Maharaj, Divya Jyoti Jagriti Sansthan (DJJS) portrays itself as a spiritual sect and claims to have 15 lakh followers in India and abroad. Headquartered at Nurmahal, the sect commands a sizable sway in Punjab's Doaba belt.
* The controversial sect has for long been at odds with the Sikh orthodoxy and radicals who accuse Ashutosh of distorting Sikh scriptures in his sermons. There have been several clashes between DJJS followers and radicals as the latter have opposed the sect's public congregations.
* Though the sect has no known political affiliation, politicians of all hues have been courting the sect by paying visit to its dera, especially before elections