Followers of Frozen Religious Leader Waiting For His Return

Months after Ashutosh Maharaj died of a heart attack, his hopeful followers are patiently waiting for him to return to them.   Though doctors declared the founder of the Divine Light Awakening Mission to be clinically dead, his followers that he is in a state of deep meditation, or samadhi, and that he will awaken in time.   Due to concerns about the state of his body,  the Indian guru has been placed in a specially-prepared freezer in the town of Nurmahai, Punjab.  

According to Ministry spokesman, Swami Vishalanand, their leader will step out of the freezer on his own when he is ready.   "Mahara-ji (a Hindi term of respect) is still sending messages through followers in their meditative stage to protect his body until he returns," he said in an interview with the Daily Mail.  Vishalanand added that, "He is not dead. Medical science does not understand things like yogic science. We will wait and watch. We are confident that he will come back."

The decision to place the body in a freezer has sparked a fierce legal battle.   A man claiming to be his hitherto-unknown sonm, Dalip Jha,  is demanding the body for cremation while other critics are claiming that the body  is being preserved so that the followers can retain control over the Ministry's assets.    While the Mission is disputing Dalip's relationship with the Maharaj, they are also refusing to allow DNA tests or a formal autopsy to verify the death.   The Punjab state court has rejected calls for cremation by stating that it is up to the followers to decide what to do with the body.  

Founded in 1983, the Divine Light Awakening Mission is believed to have hundreds of centres and thousands of followers around the world.   Due to conflicts with Sikh leaders over religious issues, the Punjab government placed Ashutosh Maharaj under  full-time police protection in recent years.    Pending a revew of security policy relating to his death, police guards are still in place around Maharaj's ashram to prevent anyone from taking the corpse without the permission of the followers.  

In a previous case involving the death Indian guru, Balak Brahmachari, in 1993, police were forced to intervene when disciples insisted that their leader as in a "meditative trance".   After seventy days, the visibly rotting corpse was removed from the religious center by more than 400 police officers due to fierce protests by the devotees.   The body was later cremated by family members.

Unless Ashutosh Marahaj succeeds in returning to life, the current impasse is likely to continue.   Followers insist that only their Maharaj can appoint a successor for the Mission and remain confident that he will return to them.  




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