The Proliferation of Hindu Cults Outside India
Published on April 04, 2006
It was a chance post by a member of these forums that drew me to the presence of a much feared Hindu cult, the Ananda Marg, in the USA. The post itself was a response to another member’s expressed relief that the Ananda Marg had been rooted out of the USA in the 1960s, something that the responder wanted to correct. He announced with barely concealed pride that his group had membership in 162 countries around the world including the USA, and that several offshoots had been recognized as NGOs and Non Governmental Voluntary Organisations by the United Nations. These were impressive credentials indeed for a group, one of whose monks, Acharya Tathbhananand Avadhoot, had been arrested barely a year earlier in a sensational arms drop case which had shocked not just India, but indeed, the whole world. Five others - Acharya Suranjananda Avadhoot alias Randy, Acharya Saiteswarananda, Acharya Jagadiswarananda Avadhoot, B. Rameshan and Daya M. Anand alias Deepak are wanted on Interpol no! tices and still elude capture while nearly every country in the world looks nervously to check if they live within it’s borders.
In 1995, the Ananda Marg arranged to charter a Latvian aircraft and air dropped a huge quantity of arms and ammunition at a long abandoned World War II airbase near it’s Inernational headquarters. The sheer ineptitude of the Indian officialdom allowed the arms to be dropped and while some were captured by the law enforcement authorities, a vast quantity remain unaccounted for until today, probably stored by the organization to use whenever it felt like using them. And, use weapons and kill people, it had, in the past. From investigations into allegations of the cult’s rituals of human sacrifice to bloody clashes between rival camps of the Marg itself in addition to it’s long standing state of conflict with the Marxist government in the state of West Bengal where it is based, there is a wealth of evidence about it’s violent history. And, like the Al Qaeda or any other violent group out to kill people, there is no saying where the Marg could strike. The difference between Qaeda ! and the Marg is that the Marg is recognized by the UN and flourishes almost openly while Al Qaeda is in hiding.
And it is not just the Ananda Marg that has a presence in the USA - The Kalki cult, a doomsday Hindu cult that takes it’s name from the prophesied tenth avatar of Vishnu who is supposed to destroy the world, has several chapters in the US, predominantly in the Silicon Valley area though chapters exist across the USA in Indian communities, especially among South Indians, a community that the founder, a former insurance salesman called Vijayakumar Naidu himself belongs to. Naidu proclaimed himself Kalki incarnate in the 1980s and built a huge ashram at Nemam outside Chennai. While the Indian authorities seemed happily unaware of the organization and it’s activities, it took a detailed investigation by The Indian Express to expose the sordid activities of the cult itself. Among other dastardly activities including the sexual abuse of several women devotees, the real fear was what the organization would do to try and prove it’s founder’s doomsday prophecies. At a time when Japan h! ad seen a frightening attack by a similar Hindu cult, the Aum Shinrikyo, on the Tokyo subway, there was a very real fear that this group would attempt something similarly vicious to “prove” it’s prophecies. The Tamilnadu state government cracked down on the cult systematically forcing Naidu to flee to the neighboring state of Andhra Pradesh where he has stayed until today. There were reports that the then Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, Chandrababu Naidu, was either related to Vijayakumar Naidu or was a devotee on the sly, something that had prevented his being arrested there. The cult now calls itself the Golden Age Foundation and it seems to have established itself quite well, conducting regular meetings and group prayers, though nothing dangerous, obnoxious or sinister has taken place - yet.
And that leaves what is possibly the most powerful Hindu cult in India today, a cult whose founder celebrates her birthday giving blessings to India’s President, former Prime and Home Minister and a long list of notables in addition to the country’s senior most leaders - Mata Amritanandamayi. Known as the “hugging saint” for her granting blessings to her devotees by hugging them, she has managed to pick her spokespeople well. From the nominally Christian former Chief Minister of the state of Kerala A K Antony to the nominally Muslim President of India, A P J Abdul Kalam. Internationally, she has established ashrams in San Ramon, Santa Fe and Ann Arbor and more than 80 worship groups across the USA, a formidable presence that seems to grow by the day. The group also has a dark past which has been documented by Srini Pattathanam, journalist and General Secretary of Bharatiya Yuktivadi Sangham. His book Mata Amritanandamayi: Sacred Stories and Realities has documented several h! ighly suspicious murders in and around her mail ashram in Vallicavu in Kerala, India, in addition to disproving several miracles that she claims to have performed. Amritanandamayi’s immense political power in India manifested itself quite openly when former Chief Minister of Kerala A K Antony, filed a slew of specious lawsuits against the author, the publisher and the printer of this book claiming that they were out to incite religious disharmony. This was nothing other than an attempt to silence the doubters using judicial intimidation. The International Humanist and Ethical Union worked hard to organise a letter writing campaign which rescued the rationalists by the skin of their teeth from Indian judicial purgatory. This was a formidable achievement in a country where elections were postponed in the vicinity of the Ashram so that the President could attend Amritanandamayi’s birthday celebrations. President APJ Abdul Kalam did not even bother to reply to e-mailed petitions ! requesting him not to attend these celebrations as, in a democracy, nothing could be more “sacred” then the exercise of public franchise. And, in a replay of the Ananda Marg’s UN affiliation, Amritanandamayi has made it a point to be seen with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on more than one occasion. She has also been awarded the Gandhi-King award for Non Violence at the UN Headquarters in Geneva in the past and also been a keynote speaker at the Millenium World Peace Summit at the UN General Assembly in New York in the year 2000.
While a vast majority of followers and members of these cults are law abiding citizens who may have some emotional association with these organizations and their ideologies, the past offers a compelling need for governments to be cautious about them. When countries like India whose constitution declares it a “sovereign, secular…republic” have the highest officers in the land kowtowing to some of them and when some others receive NGO status from the UN even while Interpol hunts some of their leaders for dangerous crimes only goes to show the clear lack of a commonsense approach to dealing with them. Their presence in the West only gives them an opportunity to collect money to fund their activities and endorsement by the UN a sense of legitimacy. It is not only to prevent this money and power from doing harm but also in order to safeguard it’s own people from possible future threats when one goes by these cults’ record in the past.
Mehul Kamdar is currently moderating Mukto-Mona forum. He is from Chennai, India, currently living in Wisconsin, USA. He was the editor of The Modern Rationalist under the late M D Gopalakrishnan; and associated with various rationalist movement.