“There was a lot of joy, bliss, so much satisfaction. My first Programme was with thirty doctors and engineers in Shimoga. It was for two days. I started speaking after ten days, a few words now and then. There was a mystical presence, so much temptation.” I was left wondering what the temptation was but then, divinity defies logic and begs surrender.
After his “mystical enlightenment”, Sri Sri began travelling the world. At this point, miracle stories - an essential aspect in any Godman’s life - abounded. A London based businessman, at whose home Sri Sri stayed, found his daughter’s thyroid problems disappearing; someone who could not walk began to potter about; someone who could not talk properly, began delivering fluent speeches. A young boy, Chetan, whose eyes would water constantly, was cured after his parents followed Sri Sri’s advice that they tie a non perforated pearl around his neck.
Sri Sri, who was based out of his father’s home in Jayanagar in Bengaluru now decided to expand his operations, which he did by building his ashram on the sixty acres of land that had once housed the Vedic school, which had been disbanded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In 1988, the first international conference of Art of Living was held with just eighty people attending.
As he ashram expanded, Sri Sri began to attract bad press. It was widely rumoured that among those who helped him in his early days was a well known liquor baron; a tabloid ran a series on Sri Sri, characterizing him as a charlatan who bent the rules expand his ashram. The matter came to head in 2010 when a gangster-turned- artist-turned-newspaper propreitor targeted Sri Sri and the latter went public by speaking to the daily, Midday. “Sridhar has threatened to malign us by using fabricated video of women and then moved to a non existent land issue.”
Then came a stroke of luck. As the young guru struggled to establish his patented breathing exercise, Sudarshan Kriya, as the pre-eminent form of meditation, he was picked up by a media baroness: Indu Jain, chairperson of the Bennett Coleman Group which owns the Times Of India. An adulatory cover story in the India Today magazine in 2000 did the rest. Had the media helped or hurt him, I asked?
He characterized it as a, “Knife that can be used in a positive or negative sense. There is a sensationalism and that is not good. When the Shankaracharya of Kanchi was arrested, there were 2500 hours of coverage but when he was acquitted of all the charges, it was only 8 minutes of coverage. It was not fair. Similarly, there is prejudice and bias which should be done away with whether it is against spiritual leaders or sections of society media has two responsibilities : put the fact as they are in front of people and the other one is to give a vision to them. So that people don’t get depressed reading the news every day.”
[ Excerpted with permission from “Gurus : Stories of India's Leading Babas” by Bhavdeep Kang, Westland Books, June 2016. Views expressed are writer’s personal ]