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Vrindavan?s new god

A question of titular succession has thrown up interesting nuances in religious politics in one of India?s holiest places, Vrindavan.

india Updated: Feb 08, 2006 03:16 IST

A question of titular succession has thrown up interesting nuances in religious politics in one of India’s holiest places, Vrindavan.

It concerns an ordinary enough act of self-proclamation by Narain Prem Sai, the thirtyish son of the spiritual leader Sant Asaram Bapu, as “Bhagvan” (God).

Many others have done the same in modern times. The Puttapurthi Sai Baba, in his famous record Sai Chants the Bhajan, reportedly declared he had come to earth previously as Rama and Krishna and this time as Sai. Osho was commonly known as “Bhagvan Rajneesh”.

But when Narain Prem Sai prefaced himself with this modest appellation for his three-day birthday gathering in Vrindavan between January 26 and 29, he was booed by local residents outside the Fogla Ashram, where several hundreds of his followers had gathered for the event.

Technically, there can be no objection to anyone calling himself “Bhagvan”, says Brij-born Srivatsa Goswami, head of Vrindavan’s historic Gambhira Ashram. A visiting scholar at Harvard’s Divinity School 30 years ago, Goswami says, “It is ignorance of Hindu thought that makes this an act of presumption in the so-called ‘modern’ view. Advaita says clearly that every individual (jivatma) has God (Paramatma) in him and every rock, tree and animal is an expression of the creator.”

Counters Swami Sevak Sharan, another Vrindavan native, who dispenses natural products from the Tehriwali Bagichi, “I accept the Advaitic argument. But I think the reason why residents of Vrindavan object is because of sacred geography. You can be Bhagvan anywhere you please, but in Vrindavan, Lord Krishna, who is inarguably Bhagvan, himself yields first place to Radha. This is Radha’s town, even our daily greeting is not Ram-Ram but Radhey-Radhey. Locals residents feel that by declaring himself Bhagvan here, Sai desecrates the very identity of Vrindavan and its deep lesson in spiritual humility.”

While neither Asaram Bapu nor his son is available for comment from Ahmedabad and Jodhpur respectively, their devotees are indignant at all the fuss. Says Alok Choubisa, administrator of Asaram Bapu’s Ahmedabad ashram, “This controversy is created by people who want to make an issue out of a non-issue. We do not see any issue when disciples themselves want to use the term Bhagvan to the sant’s son.”

Though theologians must be satisfied, the material issue of saintly succession is likely to remain unresolved, given Sant Asaram Bapu’s wide appeal in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.