One of the most vague and unclear ideologies that exist in the world today, a cult is nothing but a large group of people with deviant behaviour and novel beliefs that is by large considered to be socially unacceptable. Their eccentric behaviour may occur due to strange religious beliefs or otherwise. And India, a country with a great history of its own, has been known to have its own share of social misfits. Here we list out some of the most bizarre cults this country has had to offer through the ages, some of which still exist today.
I. Bhrama Kumari
Years Active: 1932 – present
Originally called the Om Mandali, the Bhrama Kumari was started in 1932 by a retired diamond dealer called Lekhraj Kriplani and it is one of the largest oragnisations in India today. In the mid 1930’s, Kriplani, then in his 50’s, claimed that the spirit of Shiva spoke through him, and began to be perceived as a medium of God. He then went on to amass a multitude of followers, most of which were rich women who pledged their fortunes to him, his cause and made celibacy oaths. This created quite a furore, and pissed-off families and husbands who called for the organisation to be banned.
Fearing persecution, Kriplani moved base from Hyderabad to Karachi. After the partition of India, they moved to mount Abu, and have been there ever since. After Kriplani’s death in 1969, they started expanding to other countries, gathering thousands of followers along the way. The lifestyle “recommended” includes celibacy (in or out of marriage), a strict lacto-vegetarian diet and an abstinence from alcohol, tobacco and non-prescription drugs. Today, the Bhrama Kumari claim to be a spiritual organisation that also doubles up as an NGO. They claim to have 4,500 centres across 100 countries, with a membership of close to 450,000, 80% of which are women. They are now affiliated with the UN and have won several peace messenger awards.
Did you know : Former President of India Prathibha Patil raised a few eyebrows in 2007 when she said on camera that she spoke to “Baba” (a term used to describe Lekhraj Kriplani, who passed away in 1969) who told her that a huge responsibility was coming her way. Whether he also told her that it would be accompanied by great power is unknown.
II. Aghori Babas
Years Active: 14th Century – present
The Aghori are a group of Shaiva sadhus, who dwell on various cremation grounds in nothern India. This in itself might seem abnormal but it only gets crazier. The Aghori are known to perform various crude rituals, some of which include eating rotten food and animal faeces, drinking from a begging bowl shaped out of a human skull, and lastly, eating decaying human flesh.
Though it sounds cannibalistic, they only eat the remains of decaying bodies that shore up on the banks of the river Ganga and weird as it may seem, this is a completely normal practice for the Sadhus. This is their way of showing detachment from the mortal, normal life. Daubing themselves with ashes from cremation grounds, these dreadlocked Babas walk around bare-bodied, smoking marijuana and opium, above and beyond the ordinary, unremarkable emotions of the average human being.
Did you know : Certain members of the Aghori claim to have “tantric” powers. They claim to be well-versed with black magic, and can use it to eliminate diseases. However, they never do it, because they adore and respect Mother Nature, and don’t want to create an imbalance in the environment. Over to you, Mr. Jairam Ramesh.
Years Active: 15th Century – Present(?)
Believed to have begun in the 15th century in the Harangul village in Latur, Maharashtra, Daayan literally means “witch”. While most of them were supposed to be wiped out by apparent witch-hunts, rumour has it that a small group exists in Harangul even today, and various others have scattered across the county. They communicate using a secret symbolic language, and their hair is supposed to be their most powerful tool, having mystical and magical powers. The belief that the Dayaan exists is strong in the rural parts of Bihar and Jharkhand even today, with cases of witch-hunts being occasionally reported.
Did you know : The terms Daayan and Chudhail are NOT synonymous. While the Daayan is a human being, a Chudhail is actually a ghost with supernatural witch-like powers. Next time you curse someone, know the difference.
Years Active: 1356 – 1830’s
Responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent travellers, Thugee refers to a group of people who were professional assassins. The thugees, or thugs, travelled in groups across India for several hundreds of years. They would befriend a group of unwary travellers and would proceed to murder them, dispose their body, and steal their valuables. In history, they are described as a cult of people engaged in mass murder. In fact, the thugs also feature in the Guiness Book of World Records, with over two million kills attributed to these merciless wolves.
They all had divided roles: One would be a hitman, another the lookout and one would act as the getaway driver (probably in charge of the horses). They would strangle the unsuspecting victim with a “rumaal” and take off with the valuables. The thugees supposedly worshiped the Goddess Kali, however, the fact that there were plenty of Muslim Thugess complicates that theory. Eventually, after the British invaded India, they set up a department to eliminate the thugs completely. Major William Sleeman was in charge, and after a lot of efforts, they eventually succeeded in destroying the organisation, thus, after millions of killings, bringing the Thugee era to an end.
Did you know : The English word “Thugs” is derived from the Thugees. In the movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Amrish Puri plays the role of a Thugee leader called “Mola Ram”. The movie was even banned in India for a while due to alleged racism.
Years Active: 1970 – 1990
What started as basic motivational speaking in the 1960s quickly turned into the advocations of the “Guru” by the 1970’s. By the 80’s, it had turned in a mass international following. This is the story of Chandra Mohan Jain, or as his followers call him, Bhagwaan Shree Rajneesh. An unorthodox, untradional guru, he was known to embrace all the earthly pleasures, as opposed to renouncing them. The story of “Osho” begins in the 60’s, where he toured around India speaking about philosophy and sex. He set up headquarters in Pune in 1974, and began his congregation in India. However, he largely promoted indulgence in sex, thereby facing hostility from India and Indians in general.
However, he managed to get recognition in the U.S for the very same reasons. Therefore, he left India in 1981, and set up a huge base in Oregon. By 1985, he built his own city on a plot of land called Rajneeshpuram which harboured over 2,500 people. However, what followed next, was right out of a Bollywood movie. Sheela, Rajneesh’s spokesperson and a member of his inner circle, was found guilty of carrying out a bioterrorist attack on a local restaurant along with the other members of Rajneeshpuram. The attack left 45 in the hospital and over 750 people with a severe bout of food poisoning. This subsequently led to Sheela being extradited from Germany and charged for her crimes, and Rajneesh was deported back to India, where he lived until his death in 1990.
Did you know : The plot of land that Rajneeshpuram was built on cost $5.75 million in 1981 (close to $15 million in today’s money). The sex guru also had a fleet of 93, yes, 93 Rolls-Royce cars.
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