The Independent Archive 29 September 1987 : India's `godmen' charged with hanky-panky

`How long can dark clouds hide the sun?' India's rich gurus are in trouble, writes Bruce Palling from New Delhi. The taxmen are after them
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IT HAS been a bad time for India's gurus, or "godmen", as they are called in the sceptical local press.

Chandra Swamy, the jet- setting guru and confidant of Adnan Khashoggi, Tiny Rowland, Elizabeth Taylor and other seekers after spiritual truth, has been detained by India's tax inspectors for possible foreign exchange offences. Earlier, charges were brought against the foundation of the sex guru Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh under the Foreign Contributions (Regulations) Act of 1976.

The Telegraph of Calcutta has just printed a lengthy investigation into the deaths of five boys in the heavily guarded ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the wealthy guru who was the religious teacher of the Beatles two decades ago.

Chandra Swamy, a 39-year-old southern Indian, is known more as an adviser and fixer for the rich than as a religious teacher. Earlier this month, he was detained at Madras airport for questioning about where he gained the foreign exchange for his hectic international life style. He explained that "as far as the money is concerned, it is no problem. Donations and contributions are aplenty." He hinted darkly that there were many secrets he could reveal about his numerous friends in the Indian political scene. "Let me tell those in power that my shoulders are very broad. I can carry the weight of all sorts of allegations on them. But one day the truth will emerge."

The swami next turned up with Devi Lal, chief minister of Haryana. They were the star attractions in the holy town of Kurukshetra, where hundreds of thousands of worshippers turned up to witness a partial eclipse of the sun.

Further investigations by the revenue officials had to be curtailed as the swami announced he was taking part in a nine-day meditation, on a diet of honey and water, and would only be free to talk for a few hours in the evening. He did not appear too concerned about the charges but was more pessimistic about the future of India: "How long can dark clouds hide the sun? I have already predicted that the next two years are very bad for the country. There is going to be more trouble. I just want to tell those in power that there is a bigger power and he is God."

The future of Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh is equally uncertain, since his return to India nearly two years ago after fleeing from his commune in the United States. Residents at his original ashram in Pune were not pleased to hear of his return, and for the first 18 months he stayed in a resort in the Himalayas with a Western disciple, explaining that a return to Pune was out of the question because "bhagwan is allergic to dust and to temperatures above 17 degrees Centigrade".

Rajneesh has toned down his act and no longer practises what he termed "dynamic" meditation in which a couple would copulate in front of an audience so that they could "transcend desire". He denies he was ever a guru of sex, saying he was merely trying to transform people's sexual energy into spiritual energy. Since his secret return to Pune earlier this year, there are only about 100 affluent Western devotees left at the ashram, which is facing charges of allegedly forging documents to avoid paying income tax to the tune of pounds 2m.

The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi lives behind 6ft walls with barbed wire, and is guarded by more than 100 people at his ashram on the outskirts of Delhi. The Telegraph of Calcutta alleges that five boys died after being used as guinea pigs in the ashram's "medical institute" searching for cures for cancer, heart ailments and Aids. Delhi police have charged the ashram's authorities with culpable homicide after a youth died last June. The case was only registered after 16 youths marched to the local police station to stop the ashram authorities cremating the body before a post- mortem was performed.

The Maharishi, who has amassed a considerable fortune, is rarely seen in public. The last time was in June, when he had to leave the ashram and stay in a New Delhi five-star hotel, after his employees went on strike for an increase in their wages of pounds 10 a month.

From the Foreign News pages of `The Independent', Tuesday 29 September 1987