Godman is an Indian colloquial term used in a derogatory fashion for a type of charismatic guru in India. They usually have a high-profile presence, and are capable of attracting attention and support from large sections of the society. Godmen also sometimes claim to possess paranormal powers, such as ability to heal, ability to see or influence future events, and ability to read minds.
The origin of godmen and their popularity today can be traced back to guru-shishya tradition of Hinduism. Godmen are revered as special human beings and often worshipped by their followers. Some godmen come from established schools of spirituality, but often they don't belong to any religious order. In Hinduism there is no centrally established religious authority, so people tend to follow such charismatic personalities. These gurus tend to live in their own ashrams. Many of these godmen acknowledge having had a guru themselves, and as per the guru-shishya tradition, speak of their great debt to their own guru whom they claim responsible for their own spiritual qualities through the process of shaktipat. In recent years, many godmen have gained followers outside of India, which has increased their fame and wealth.
Satya Sai Baba (1926–2011) was a notable godman with a very large following. He was known for his miracles like materialising sacred ash (vibhuti), and other objects like watches and jewels. He was also involved in charitable works, which include a hospital and a university.
There are also female gurus who are considered divine and are revered by their followers. Some of them are spouses and collaborators of notable gurus, examples of such include Sarada Devi (1853–1920) and Mirra Alfassa (1878-1973). Other female gurus who are considered to be divine or saintly by their followers are Anandamayi Ma (1896-1982), Mata Amritanandamayi (1953-) and Mother Meera (1960-).
Although few godmen have allowed their powers to be examined scientifically, Swami Rama became famous by participating in the biofeedback research conducted by Elmer Green at the Menninger Foundation around 1970.
Several godmen have found patronage among politicians and other high-ranking officials. Sathya Sai Baba had several devotees in the political field. They include BJP leader L. K. Advani and former President A. P. J. Kalam. In 2001, an official letter was issued that defended Sai Baba against accusations, the signatories included then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, former Chief Justices P. N. Bhagwati and Ranganath Misra, and former Union Minister Shivraj Patil.
In 2006, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by an US Congressman Joseph Crowley. In June 2007, former President of India Pratibha Patil claimed to have had a visitation from Dada Lekhraj (1876-1969) giving her the premonition of her nomination as the President.
In September 2013, Shobhan Sarkar, claimed to have dreamt of gold buried under the palace of Rao Ram Baksh Singh, a 19th-century chieftain. One of his disciples contacted Charan Das Mahant, then the Union Minister of State in the Ministry of Food Processing Industries, who in turn convinced various other officials. Later, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) conducted surveys to the site on 12 October and announced an excavation on 15 October. On 18 November 2013, ASI stopped the excavation and began filling up the trenches.
The Indian Rationalist Association denounces the purportedly supernatural feats of godmen as “well-packaged gimmickry.” This group performs demonstrations of magic tricks which replicate the effects achieved by godmen, such as walking on coals, producing sacred ash from thin air, exploding stones with "mental power," levitating, or turning water into blood. However, the Indian Rationalist Association faces a difficult task to shake the faith of Hindu devotees in their godmen.
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By far the most famous Godman of today is Sathya Sai Baba.
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I first came in contact with him shortly after my incarceration in the Bangalore Central Jail during the 1975-77 Emergency. After that I have been meeting him frequently.
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