Therapy, sex and a 64,000-acre ranch

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his followers have been dogged by controversy since he set up his first ashram in Poona in 1974, drawing thousands of hippies in search of easy enlightenment. He initiated tens of thousands of disciples, each of whom received a new Sanskrit name as a sign of transformation. By 1980, some 100,000 people a year were passing through the community's gates, drawn by an eclectic blend of daily discourses, therapy groups and the lure of free sex.

In 1981 the Bhagwan's American disciples bought a 64,000-acre ranch in Oregon. The saga of Rajneeshpuram, home to 6,000 followers, was told in a thousand exposes. The commune emerged as anything but a model society: the guru's personal secretary, Ma Sheela, along with several leading commune members, were exposed for a series of crimes, including embezzlement, poisoning, arson, and even attempted murder. Sheela served a prison term, but the affair rumbles on. Two British women residents from that period, Sally Croft and Susan Hagan, still live under the threat of extradition for alleged conspiracy to murder. They say the charges are absurd, and recently won the right to challenge the extradition order. The tabloid media had a field day over revelations from the commune. Much was based on conjecture. Few really knew what went on inside.

In November 1985 Rajneesh was deported from the US on a charge of immigration fraud. Persona non grata in 30 countries, he roamed the world in search of a new base before reluctantly landing back in India. In January 1987 he returned to Poona, renaming himself Osho. The ashram entered a new period of expansion, but its leader was ailing. His followers claim he had been given slow-acting poison while detained in the US. After three years of suffering from a variety of ailments, Rajneesh died on 18 January 1990.

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