RS 1,000 crore are riding on a freezer in a small town in Punjab’s Jalandhar district — that and how alive a person who was declared “clinically dead” one month and nine days ago is. That’s the time dera head Ashutosh Maharaj has now spent in a deep freezer in Nurmahal town as his close aides, lakhs of followers, and lately a “son” fight over whether what lies inside is a body or a divine being in “Himalayas-like meditation”.
Eighty personnel of the Punjab Police keep guard outside the Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan dera spread over 100 acres, a team of the dera’s security wing has barricades deployed on the road leading up to Nurmahal from Nakodar to ensure that no “unauthorised” person can enter, while another team of doctors regularly monitors Ashutosh Maharaj for “signs of life” inside the freezer in a chamber that no one else has access to. Religious discourses every other day as well as a mega discourse every Sunday on the campus, meanwhile, continue. Forty days later, few have lost hope.
“Maharaj has been in meditation previously too and come back to life,” says Swami Vishwa Devanand, who manages the dera’s affairs.
One of the spokespersons, Swami Vishalanand, says “the Maharaj has gone into a samadhi”. “His soul has gone to the Himalayas while we are preserving his body, waiting for him to return. Medical science is not complete in itself. Such a state is called suspended animation, taught in forensic science.”
Lakhwinder Singh, the sarpanch of village Divya Gram, housing the Sansthan’s followers and named after it by the Punjab government, agrees. “Where science ends, meditation begins. History is full of instances of people with divine powers going into meditation. When we close our eyes, we can talk to the Maharaj, who has assured us he will come back,” he says.
The belief holds sway in the neighbouring villages too. “The Maharaj has changed my life,” says Gurpal Kaur of Kotla, who visits the dera daily. “I am sure he will return soon.” If not, the followers are willing to wait months.
A follower named Lakhwinder is among those who have left their families to live at the dera. “It has been over 12 years since I have been serving mankind here. I manage cattle and meditate.”
Apart from the cattle shed, the premises house a health centre, a religious discourse hall, and a room for community meals. At any given time, around 500-600 people are on the campus, including the dera’s staff and “swamis”. With Ashutosh Maharaj a State protectee, because of a perceived threat from hardline Sikhs, there are policemen to guard him too.
The nearabouts 7 ft by 3ft freezer is one of two special refrigeration chambers continued…