On Friday, Baba Ashutosh Maharaj will complete two years in a frozen state in Nurmahal town of Jalandhar district. The baba, also known as Mahesh Kumar Jha, was declared “clinically dead” on January 28, 2014. His followers, for their part, declared him “spiritually alive”. The following day, officials of Divya Jyoti Jagriti Sansthan, the religious sect Ashutosh founded, put his form put into a refrigerated room. They continue to claim he will come out of samadhi soon.
On Wednesday, there were no visible activities to mark the anniversary on January 29. A group of 20 to 25 women arrived, many of them from Uttar Pradesh and seeking to enter. Like all other unfamiliar people, they had to face a barrage of questions. Visitors are invariably turned away, unless accompanied by known devotees.
The police checkpost on the road stops no one. The questioning takes place at the security “control room” run by dera followers at the entrance. CCTV cameras too are in place. These checks were set up when the body was kept under special conditions.
The dera’s stand, as declared in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, is that the baba is in a state of samadhi, or deep meditative sleep. The day after four doctors, three of them devotees of the dera and one from Apollo Hospital, Ludhiana, declared the baba dead, the dera booked two portable mortuary chambers from Baba Bhooth Nath Mandir Committee. This was to ensure sub-zero temperatures as “sadhus and yogis normally head to the Himalayas when in samadhi”. Later, an air-conditioned chamber was prepared for the baba.
The high court is hearing a case over his last rites. On December 1, 2014, a single-judge bench directed the state to conduct the last rites within 15 days; on December 15, a division bench stayed that order.
“We have the right to preserve the samadhi of Maharaj, as he will come out of the samadhi,” said Swami Vishalanand, a dera official. “We have done nothing to create a law-and-order or a health problem.”
Law and order is a concern cited by the state government. Solicitor general Ranjit Kumar, appearing for the state, had submitted in the high court that the government is bound to respect the belief of the sect that Ashutosh Maharaj is in samadhi, else it could create a law-and-order problem.
On September 29 last year, a division bench observed that courts cannot decide such religious issues and left it to the dera to take a decision about the manner in which it wanted to dispose of the baba’s body. The dera has not yet filed a reply. The next hearing is on February 24.
Dalip Kumar Jha, a resident of Bihar’s Madhubani, has added another dimension to the controversy. Claiming to be the baba’s son, he has sought the court’s permission to undergo a DNA test so that he could perform the last rites.
Baba Ashutosh’s sect:
> Dera set up in 1983 by Ashutosh
> Main building has rooms for around 400 to 500 resident devotees, a main hall and rooms for officials along with a large langar hall. There is a separate building where Ashutosh Maharaj used to live. The gau shala has around 700 cows. Dera has its own hospital, and ayurvedic pharmacy.
>36 centres in Punjab and 109 centres elsewhere, including a few abroad.
> Dera has several hundred acres agricultural land, the farming done by followers.
> Amid controversy over its preachings, the dera’s programmes were banned for some time in the 1990s by then CM Amarinder Singh.
> Punjab government in 2014 carved out a new village, ‘Divya Gram’, named after the sect. Its population is 525, including 264 voters, mostly sadhus, sadhvis and sewadars of the dera.
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