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Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: The New Age guru

By Nikita Puri
March 11, 2016 20:53 IST
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From reaching out to the Jat community and requesting them to not harm the country's assets to trying to mediate on behalf of the women protesting against Shani Shingnapur temple authorities, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has made his presence felt. Nikita Puri examines the rise of the New Age guru.

While he was still in school, Ravi Shankar Ratnam knew he wanted to be a guru. His mother would ask him to play football with other children, but he told her he could not kick anything with his feet and instead preferred to spend time meditating.

This boy, when he was only four, would recite parts of the Bhagavad Gita, and now has become the man in flowing white robes who loves to take on a 'cynical world.'

A reason for his large following is that "he speaks to the heart," suggests Parveen Chopra, who studied advanced meditation in Tirupati alongside the high-profile guru.

Groomed under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (also the spiritual adviser to The Beatles), Ravi Shankar was a shy and quiet man.

"He was just Ravi Shankar then. Maharishi picked him up because he was a unique combination of modern education and Vedic studies," says US-based Chopra, the founder-editor of Life Positive magazine and editor of various community-specific publications.

Maharishi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation, took Ravi Shankar to Switzerland, the headquarters of his movement.

"He must have moved up the hierarchy there. Ravi Shankar broke away in time and emerged as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar," says Chopra.

Today, as the founder of Bengaluru-based Art of Living, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar reportedly has an estimated wealth of $184 million (1,232 crore). Over 300 million people across 151 countries subscribe to his vision of a 'violence-free, stress-free society'.

A cursory glance at Sri Sri's Twitter feed tells you this: the guru expects about 20,000 guests from 155 countries to show up for the World Culture Festival on the banks of the Yamuna, and that he is no less than a deity to those who've put their faith (and wealth) in him.

One follower recently said that every living creature has got life and shelter through the guru's efforts. "Pranam guruji," writes another devotee, a gynaecologist. "Thank you for bestowing my daughter with a cute baby."

There are those who seem to be on Twitter primarily to retweet what guruji says. He has 1.42 million followers on Twitter; the guru doesn't follow anyone.

When asked about the prefix 'Sri Sri,' he reportedly said he did not want to be confused with Ravi Shankar, the distinguished sitarist, and 108 would have been too many Sris.

Reportedly, a few TV channels actually carried the spiritual leader's photo when the legendary sitar maestro passed away.

The shy man has now become the guru who speaks on socio-political issues -- right from reaching out to the Jat community and requesting them to not harm the country's assets to trying to mediate on behalf of the women protesting against Shani Shingnapur temple authorities, he's made his presence felt.

His statements over the National Green Tribunal questioning the clearance to his event on the Yamuna floodplain and imposing a fine for the changes made to the river bed have been unbecoming, in the least, for a guru.

"I just have one question for those making hullabaloo over the event. Why are you not concerned about the environment at Batla House? Commonwealth Games village was also built ... two wrongs can't make one thing right, but what I am saying is that there is some motive behind this sudden protest," he said. He added that he will go to jail but not pay a penny.

Awards and honours aside, there's also a politician in the New Age guru.

Conferred with the Padma Bhushan this January, his name was also doing the rounds for the Nobel peace Prize for peace negotiations in Colombia.

Awards and honours aside, there's also a businessman in the New Age guru.

Independent journalist Sanjay Austa, who met the guru years ago, points out to Sudarshan Kriya, one of AOL's breathing techniques.

"He's tweaked it, but meditation is something that has been handed down over generations, how do you copyright something like that," asks Austa.

Interestingly, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Sri Sri's guru, had also copyrighted his Transcendental Meditation technique. Inner peace isn't always free.

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