Niche Faiths

Sant Mat
In rural Uttar Pradesh people often greet each other with "Jai Guru Deo". For 55 years now Param Sant Tulsi Dasji Maharaj, popularly known as Baba Jai Guru Deo, preaches from his ashram, run under the banner of Jai Guru Deo Dharam Pracharak Sanstha, near Mathura. He became a cult figure among the backwards and Dalits of UP in the '60s and '70s. His core followers are the rural poor of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar and a sprinkling of adherents in the US
The head: Now claiming to be 104 years old, Babar Jai Guru Deo has not named a successor.
The philosophy: Practical self-realisation and detachment from worldly associations and pleasures. Worship as per Sanatan principles. Vegetarians. Liquor not permitted.
The numbers: Devotees number in crores (1983 count showed 1.2 crore members), claims Mat spokesperson RK Srivastva. Ashram sprawled over 60 acres. Runs a school for poor and needy children and a small hospital.
The controversies: Guru Deo sent to jail during the Emergency for criticising Indira Gandhi. In 1978 he declared Subhas Chandra Bose was alive and organised a rally in Kanpur at which he claimed Netaji would participate. At the rally, announced he himself was Bose and faced the wrath of the public. Floated a political party in 1980 and fought elections till 1989. In the recent Assembly polls, supported Samajwadi Party.
Siddharth Kalhans Swaminarayan
The Swaminarayan sect started as a social reform movement in Gujarat, working among the backward classes in the early 19th century. But, over three centuries the sect has split into five sub-sects.
Before his death, the sect's founder Sahjanand Swami had set up two gaddi or seats, one at Ahmedabad and another at Vadtal in central Gujarat. At present, there are more than five important sub sections of the sect, often competing with each other for expansion of their networks.
Bochasanvasi Askhar Purushottam Sanstha:
The first split in the sect occurred in 1907 when some saints challenged the supremacy of Acharya, broke away from Vadtal and set up a temple in village Bochasan in central Gujarat. This group is now known as Bochasanvasi Akshar Purushottam Sanstha (BAPS) headed by Pramukh Swami Maharaj. BAPS is one of the richest sects in India. It has a presence in 45 countries and has over 600 temples and 9,090 centres there. BAPS Temple in London, spread over 1.5 acres, is one of the most visited places in the city.
Guru Pramukh Swami is often credited with obtaining the patronage of the British Royal Family and it is believed Queen Elizabeth II sought the Swami's help in sorting out differences between Prince Charles and Diana. It runs over 29 educational institutes and nine major charitable hospitals and medical centres across the country. Rajkot Gurukul:
Shastri Dharmajivandas set up the first educational Gurukul in Rajkot in 1948. Today, Rajkot Gurukul has spread its wings across the country. Vadtal Gaddi and Ahmedabad Gaddi.
Two original gaddis were set up by Sahjanand Swami. Vadtal temple is regarded as one of the richest temples in Gujarat. The influence: All factions have a cumulative 2 crore followers. Patels, the most powerful community in Gujarat, form core of Swaminarayan following. According to insiders, NRI Patels are the main donors. Sect has enjoyed the patronage of state governments, prominent businessmen, industry and corporate houses. The controversies:
Swami Gadhadhranand, chairman of the Vadtal temple committee, was kidnapped by four sadhus and a disciple belonging to a rival faction in May 1998. Before the power struggle began, the root cause of the friction of sale of land worth crores of rupees by a faction.
Sharing of the temple spoils had led to two other murders at Vadtal. Manubhai Patel, a supervisor, was murdered in the late 1970s. In 1986, Nattu Swami was murdered in his hostel room at Vadtal by rivals.
In 2004, some saints made a CD of other saints from the same temple having sex with women. The rival group came up with another CD with similar contents. According to one estimate, there are around 15 cases registered against Swaminarayan saints in Gujarat for sodomy.
Mahesh Langa

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