The "swami" (or "sage") claimed to possess spiritual powers that enabled him to cure women of barrenness, Banares police chief Dinanath Pandey said. "Over the past six years, many childless couples had visited the sadhu and pleaded for help.
"The sadhu used to ask the women to stay back at his home for a few days, on the pretext of performing rituals.
"He would then administer drugs to the women and then rape them."
This underhand behaviour nonetheless often had the desired effect, according to the police chief, and many of Maharaj's victims subsequently became pregnant - with the sadhu's babies. And overcome with gratitude for the baby, they also became his ardent disciples, without realising that the father of their long-desired child was not their husband but the so-called holy man.
But Maharaj ran out of luck last week when his latest client regained consciousness while he was in the act of raping her and was able to run away.
All might still have been well for him, but the woman happened to be closely related to a senior police officer and an investigation was begun.
Sadhus have an extremely ambivalent reputation here.
Many simple people esteem them highly for their austere spiritual practices and apparent devotion to an austere life of meditation and mortification of the flesh.
But others regard them as decadent, dropped-out ruffians who crave nothing better than a large pipe of marijuana. This being India, both of these views are probably correct.
They are also regarded as the stormtroopers of militant Hinduism, and after the victory of the Hindu nationalist BJP in the general election this spring, massed naked sadhus rampaged through a major Hindu festival in the town of Hardwar in a frightening demonstration of strength, fighting with the police.
Their ascetic image took a knock a couple of weeks ago when a photograph in an exhibition in Delhi showed one naked sadhu masturbating another in public.Reuse content