Baba Ramdev : From selling Chyavanprash on bicycle to being a Yoga star

Author Bhavdeep Kang
Many stories are told of Ramdev’s sojourn in Haridwar, the temple town from where Ganga begins its journey to the Indo-Gangetic plains. Several swamis claim to have housed and fed Ramdev during his early years.

They recall him hawking herbs - particularly, home-made Chyavanprash (a mixture of herbs and spices which serves as a tonic) – from the carrier of a bicycle (later upgraded to a second-hand Lambretta scooter) to earn money. A Haridwar-based journalist, Sunil Pandey, who has tracked the Baba over the last couple of decades, has a fund of anecdotes about him. Baba apparently had a bit of temper in those early days - a local advocate filed complaint against him, alleging that the swami had assaulted him outside the district court premises. Ramdev apologized and the matter blew over.

Baba said that he along with and Karamveer had first Joined the Tripura Ashram, headed by swami Amalanand. Grinning at the recollection, he said : “I lived in a tin shed… Balkrishna used to wander around, searching for herbs… I had only two disciples – one Gupta and one Bansal.” Amalanand introduced the trio to Shankar Dev who accepted them as his pupils. They moved to his ashram.

In 1995, Ramdev founded the Divya Yoga Trust in partnership with Balkrishna and Karamveer. With the Infrastrture of the Kripalu Bagh ashram at his disposal, Ramdev launched his self-appointed mission of popularising Yoga and Ayurveda, beginning humbly by distributing pamphlets on its benefits. He might have continued his small-scale operation indefinitely and perhaps gone unnoticed, but for the timely intervention of Sanskar TV. Inspired by his first public yoga session in 2002, at which he revealed the fruits of ten years of intense practice and study in the form of an easy-peacy yoga package for all, Sanskar TV signed him on for an early morning show.

Unexpectedly, the unpolished swami was a hit, beating out the sophisticated sermons of established TV with folksy style, vitality and an irreverent take on western medicine. Within an year, in 2003, he was poached by another religious channel, Aashta TV. As expected, he was a huge draw, charming audiences with his earthy wisdom, regardless of geography and language (so successful was he that in 2007, his Vedic Broadcasting Limited (VBL) would buy out the Aastha channel for approximately sixteen crores). Within a couple of years, he was on various Hindi news channels, Sahara TV, India TV, Aaj Tak : MacYoga on MacNews channels. Of the lot, India TV would play a critical role in the  projection of Ramdev who embraced his celebrity status with fervor.

I asked the Baba how he’d learnt to use the media so effectively. “Within a year, we realized the power of media and in 2004-05, I began to understand the mechanism. Now I know the “complete ABC” of media. Through It, I have been able to accomplish work of many lifetimes in just one. It has had a multiplier effect”, he said.
[ Excerpted with permission from “Gurus : Stories of India's Leading Babas” by Bhavdeep Kang, Westland Books, June 2016. Views expressed are writer’s personal ]
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