By Ambica Gulati December 2000 Seen by many as a savior, Asaram Bapu propagates a simple, healthy and happy lifestyle through his discourses and anti-addiction campaign ‘All actions rebound, so do good’It took two hours of waiting in the blazing sun, standing barefoot on the road, not to mention a car chase. But it was all-worthwhile as Narayan Sai consents to talk to us. Like his father, Narayan too is dressed in a white kurta and dhoti, sandalwood paste on his forehead, his face glowing with peace and love. Narayan doesn’t like to talk about himself. ‘I’m a householder and as yet have no children.’ For him, Asaram Bapu is God. He recounts how since childhood he has been watching his father work for the well-being of society. ‘We must learn to adopt the best values of any culture, and not get carried away with the glamour. Bapuji is simplifying life by guiding you on the right path in your daily life. If you’re a householder, then you must discharge those duties properly. When you are bogged down with problems, just work harder to solve all your problems. ‘You must look within to find peace and happiness, not seek it in material things. This is where a realized master can help people. Only a lucky few are blessed with a guru who can guide you on the right path. It all comes down to karmas-past and present. Karmas make or break us. We all must work hard to make this world a better place to live in, not sit down to chant the word ‘impossible’. Nothing is impossible. God looks after his own. God is present in all of us, in everything around us. We have to see that God in every human being, all living creatures.’ This is probably the reason why Asaram’s devotees address each other as prabhu (God) and greet each other with Hari Om. Adds Narayan: ‘Irrespective of caste, creed and culture we must look after our fellow human beings. We are looking for global peace, aren’t we? Here, saints. We are born for peace and love, not strife and unhappiness. A healthy, happy and respectful life is all that we are seeking. I only teach how to let go of negativity.’ So saying, Asaram Bapu proceeded to his seat in a special cabinet to begin the discourse for which thousands had assembled in the big pandal. I’d seen him on TV, on Sony channel, where his discourses are aired, but that had not prepared me for the radiance surrounding this man. Dressed in a white dhoti, sandalwood paste on his forehead, smiling at his devotees, he looked ethereal. The video cameras were in place. All around tight security was in evidence. The devotees were in fervor, swaying to the chant of Hari Om. It was Gurupurnima, a special day for them. And Bhagwan—as his devotees fondly call him—was in Delhi for two days. It was a festive, gay ambience. There were stalls in which Asaram’s photographs, guru geeta (sayings of the master), malas (garlands), incense, and ayurvedic tooth powder were being sold. And there was a special stall, where you could register yourself for diksha (initiation) and another stall from where you could buy the diksha kit. After registering, early next morning Asaram Bapu would give diksha. He would chant a few mantras and whichever one the devotee vibed with, he could adopt as his personal mantra. But as the discourse was in progress, all were seated listening attentively. Some latecomers outside were begging the security to let them in. Hailing from the land of Mahatma Gandhi, Sabarmati, Ahmedabad, India, it comes as no surprise that Asaram Bapu has taken it upon himself to propagate de-addiction. For this he has even brought out a booklet Nashe Se Savdhan and held camps all over India. His aim is to create a new society where each realizes his responsibility. ‘We are lost in the glamor of the West,’ he says in many of his discourses. ‘We must revive our culture and tradition, take the best out of it. After all, we are a spiritual land, why must we lose our essence, the fragrance with which the whole world associates us?’ Asaram has a following largely in the northern parts of India, as his discourses are mostly conducted in Hindi. During his discourses, he encourages devotees to meditate on the mantra Om Namah Bhagvate Vasudevay. ‘This reverential chanting soothes,’ he says. Apart from holding satsangs (communions) and discourses, Asaram Bapu is actively involved in distributing free medicines and food in calamity-stricken areas. On the anvil is a home for the destitute in the ashram premises. The organization also publishes a monthly magazine, Rishi Prasad, which is translated into many Indian languages. The main ashram in Ahmedabad, India, hosts an ayurvedic clinic, gaushala (cow sheds) and sadhana (prayer) hall. What is special here is the maun mandir (temple of silence), where you are locked in and provided with food. You can meditate, contemplate or do whatever you feel like to discover yourself. Regular camps to educate women and make them aware of their rights are organized. ‘In Jaipur, we have been running a gaushala for stray cows for many years. Now there are 1,460 cows,’ says Narayan Sai, Asaram’s son who is being groomed as his successor. Born on April 14, 1941 in an affluent family in Sindh, Pakistan, Asumal was the second amongst four children of Thaumal Sirumalani, a businessman. It was his mother, Mangiba, who put him on his destined path. Since birth, a calm radiance permeated his face and soothsayers predicted that Asumal would be a renowned yogi. During the Partition in 1947, the family fled from Pakistan to Ahmedabad, India. Here, Thaumal had to start all over again. Asumal was enrolled in a Sindhi medium school and soon became popular because of his generosity. A devout lady, Mangiba would ask Asumal to pray to Lord Krishna—a routine he follows till date. From there flowered the spiritual seed. At the age of 10, Asumal had to give up studies and work in a shop, due to his father’s demise. ‘This trauma made him more determined to unravel the mystery of life,’ says Narayan. As was the norm in those days, his family wanted to marry off the adolescent Asumal, who was unwilling to be tied down. ‘He wanted to be in communion with God,’ says Narayan. Eight days before his wedding, he ran away. However, the family traced him in an ashram. And he found a soul mate in Lakshmi Devi, who understood his quest. He left home in 1968 and wandered to all the pilgrim spots in India, searching for God. It was in the forest area near Nainital that he met the man who would put him on his destined path—Leelashah Maharaj. After much pleading, Leelashah accepted him as his disciple. It was in the forest area near Nainital that he met the man who would put him on his destined path—Leelashah Maharaj. After much pleading, Leelashah accepted him as his disciple. He stayed in Leelashah’s abode for 70 days, where he was initiated into some of the mysteries of life before being sent back home. His spiritual quest was now a raging fire, which could only be quenched by complete realisation. So he sought out Leelashah again in Mumbai, India, and finally his goal was fulfilled. He attained enlightenment on October 7, 1964. And Asaram was born. Now there was no grief, no sorrow, only bliss. For seven years he meditated in the caves of Mount Abu, Rajasthan, India. Blessing him, Leelashah said: ‘See this rose, if you sniff it, it will be the fragrance of rose. So spreads this fragrance everywhere, don’t look at the negativity, the thorns, see only the positivism, the fragrance.’ After that there was no looking back. Asaram Bapu began attracting attention when he brought a dead cow to life. People came to him with all kinds of problems and to listen to his discourses. ‘But this was predetermined for in his past life his guru had told him about all this. He was a Bengali saint in Mount Abu that time,’ says Narayan Sai. ‘He used to love rice and milk’. Asaram Bapu finally went back to Ahmedabad in 1971. In 1972, he built a small cottage on the banks of Sabarmati, unmindful of the robbers and the thorny land. And from there he began to spread the ‘fragrance of the rose’ through Vedanta, yoga, divine love, bhakti (devotion). All of which leads to salvation. Today, there is a flourishing ashram on the same site. Asaram Bapu has traveled to many countries to spread Indian culture and tradition. In 1993, at the Parliament of World Religions, he was elected a committee member in the assembly of Global Religions. A large number of people claim to have benefited from his teachings. In fact, a Swiss woman left her hometown about nine years ago to join his ashram. ‘He came to me in a dream,’ says Ursula. Ursula ran an organic food store back home and her spiritual quest was strong even then. She would do yoga and meditation. Some 11 years ago, she was visiting India with a friend. ‘We were planning to get married. And when we visited Swamiji’s ashram, there were wishing trees there. We wished to get married, but he refused. Surprised, we came back.’ Two years later she came to India again and never went back after her initiation. A firm believer in Vedic astrology, she claims that an ascetic’s life was predicted for her. According to Ursula, westerners find it difficult to understand how a spiritual master can help you. ‘Their ego does not let them bow down to the universal energy. And this is reflected in their attitude.’ The regimen at the ashram is simple. Early in the morning there is puja (prayer), yoga and meditation. There is no emphasis on idol worship. But study of the scriptural texts—Yoga Vasistha, Bhagvad Gita and the Vedas—is encouraged. You have to cook
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