Years before she became Radhe Maa of Mumbai, she was Sukhwinder Kaur of Mukerian town in Hoshiarpur, Punjab. Residents there remember her as a teenager who stitched their clothes to back up the earnings of her husband, who worked in the sweetshop of his brother.
Radhe Maa, now 46, is at the centre of a controversy after a Mumbai woman complained to police that she incited her in-laws to harass her for dowry. Another complaint, filed by a lawyer, is about alleged obscenity; videos show her dancing to Bollywood numbers and being lifted by followers.
“We never saw any religious inclinations in her before she was married,” said a neighbour in Dorangla village, Gurdaspur, her parents’ home. The Indian Express found her parents’ house locked. “Her father, Ajit Singh, who died last year, worked with Punjab State Electricity Board. She was one of two brothers and three sisters,” the neighbour said.
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She was 17 when she married Mohan Singh of Mukerian in the mid-1980s. Her religious pursuits began after her husband went to the Middle East to work as a labourer. A relative said she started visiting the local Paramhans Dera and participating in satsangs. “People would invite her to their homes for satsang. As her reputation grew, she started dressing up like a goddess.”
Today, she has a temple to her name and an ashram in Khanpur village, 2 km from Mukerian. Her aides and followers gave her the name Radhe Maa sometime in the 1990s, locals say. “A few religious organisations objected to her portrayal as a goddess. After a dispute in Phagwara where religious leaders warned her, she shifted to Delhi in the early 2000s,” said Ashok Kumar, a follower. From Delhi, she shifted to Mumbai in 2003.
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Radhe Maa lives in a palatial ‘Radhe Maa Bhawan’ in Borivali. Every fortnight, the complex hosts mata ki chowki, jagaran and satsang that attract possibly hundreds of followers, including film personalities. Her followers include Subhash Ghai and Gajendra Chauhan.
Some invite her home for rituals. They offer her money and gifts, while Radhe Maa herself is known to gift lavishly to needy followers. A trust in her name organises charity events, blood camps and an annual divya darshan on open grounds, drawing thousands of followers by estimates.
Sanjeev Gupta, the businessman whose bungalow is now ‘Radhe Maa Bhawan’, described her arrival. “After attending a satsang in Delhi, some devotees requested her to visit Mumbai. And our family requested her to make our house her permanent home.”
The Gupta family owns Global Advertiser, which puts up hoardings and uses these to promote the divya darshan too. Radhe Maa stays at the house for seven or eight months a year. When the controversy broke, she moved in briefly with the Purohits of Walkeshwar. Their house has permanent gufas (cave-like rooms) decorated for her and even impressions of her feet.
Nikki Gupta, the woman who has made the dowry allegation, is related to Sanjeev Gupta. She talks of the clothes and makeup Radhe Maa wears. Sanjeev Gupta explained, “Devotees will not let her wear the robes of a sanyasi and offered her these clothes.”
Followers claimed Radhe Maa wears the jewellery a few times and then gives it away, usually to needy brides. “I recently visited her in Mumbai and she gifted a diamond set to my wife,” said a follower in Mukerian.
Nikki Gupta has named Radhe Maa and seven others, including her husband Nakul Gupta, in her complaint to Kandivali police. She has alleged that Radhe Maa helped arrange her wedding, instigated her in-laws to demand a huge dowry, and was present during frequent assaults. “I was sent to serve her in her bhawan and she treated me like a servant,” she alleged. Sanjeev Gupta said it is a matter between the two families and Radhe Maa has nothing to do with it.
Police have questioned Radhe Maa over both complaints. The one on obscenity was filed with Borivali police by lawyer Falguni Brahmbhatt, who has also filed a PIL in Bombay High Court, with the first hearing scheduled on August 25. Sanjeev Gupta defends the dances at rituals: “In Maa’s opinion, every song or story can be seen from a spiritual perspective.” A disciple, Mahesh Rawat, said the rituals help avert bad luck.
Brahmbhatt has also filed an RTI application with the Charity Commissioner for information about Mamtamai Shree Radhe Guru Maa Charitable Trust, of which Sanjeev Gupta is a member. “The reply states there is no such trust of this name registered with their office,” Brahmbhatt alleged. “They have been organising so many events in the name of this trust and collected so much money. I have added this to my PIL.”
Residents of Mukerian speak of her yearly visits on Janmashtami, when she would take out a large procession clad in a saree whose worth they estimate at several lakh rupees. When in Mukerian, she stays in the temple and ashram. “She only communicates with followers with signs and her sister, Rajjo Massi, who looks after her temple, explains what she wants to say,” said a follower.
Radhe Maa has two married sons and two grandchildren.
AMONG HER FANS
“I come from a very cultured family and strongly believe in saints and gurus. Hence I visit a lot of saints and gurus all over the country… I visited her and she blessed me by giving a flower. I am not here to judge anybody, I have faith in our judicial system which will deal with her case if she is wrong”
Gajendra Chauhan, FTII Society chairman
“…Me and my wife Mukta have been visiting Radhe Maa to take her blessings since last year at mata ki chowki at Borivali Bhavan… Even we held one mata ki chowki at our residence and invited her to bless us and other devotees… She had told us that she goes abroad and loves shopping and moves around as a normal girl contrast to her attire as Devi Maa. We feel devotees believe in her and her blessing power strongly but surely we also felt that she could be misunderstood by her childish and contrast life in public. I Hope she clarifies herself on this controversy soon. And God bless her.”
Subhash Ghai, on Facebook