Issue 16 / India's Radhe Maa and Her God (Wo)man Complex

India’s Radhe Maa and Her God (Wo)man Complex

Sep 18, 2015

Who is Radhe Maa? We take a closer look at the controversial self-proclaimed "god" personality who boasts expensive tastes and a celebrity following.  

Popular comedian and news host John Oliver recently addressed the prevalent issue of televangelism in his show, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, speaking of Robert Tilton, Kenneth Copeland and his wife, Gloria. These so-called ministers and pastors exploit people’s faith for monetary gains. Unfortunately, religious men and women taking advantage of the underprivileged is arguably a universal phenomenon and millions of underprivileged and poor in India, a society culturally defined by idol worship at many levels, are exploited.

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh
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This sort of behavior isn't new by any means. It's hard to forget the headlines Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (also known as Osho) made in the late '80s. While his followers indulged in sex and drugs, he procured an expensive collection of Rolls Royces and private planes, and even a helicopter when he moved to Oregon. According to the Oxford University Press Blog, his cult was accused of bioterrorism for attempting to poison his rivals with salmonella in order to increase the presence of Rajneeshees in Wasco County, thereby gaining more recognition as a cult. NY Daily News reported that Rajneesh and his many followers were deported back to India after many accused his cult of criminal activities. He denied this.

Osho had a tremendous number of celebrity followers including The Beatles, yesteryear star Vinod Khanna, former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and late Sikh author Khushwant Singh, many of who have spoken about and admired Osho’s teachings and philosophies. According to an interview with the Times of India, Khanna has spoken about his work as Osho’s gardener. He recalls, “I am one of the few Indians to have stayed with Osho in Rajneeshpuram, the city he built in America. Osho was always known as a sex guru since he was the one who exposed Indians to therapy groups — but he taught us to transcend sex and use it to heal ourselves. I spent four years with Osho. I was his gardener; I cleaned the toilets; I did the dishes; and his clothes were tried out on me because we were, physically, of the same stature.”

Vinod Khanna with Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.
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Fast forward to today. This past August, we all got to know self-proclaimed goddess Radhe Maa who was at the center of controversy after being accused of dowry harassment in a police report lodged by Nikki Gupta. So exactly is Radhe Maa? Forty-six-year-old Radhe Maa is from Mukerian in the Hoshiarpur district of Punjab and was born Sukhvinder Kaur. She was married in the early '80s at the tender age of 17 to Mohan Singh of the same district. She initially worked as a tailor prior to gaining religious fame. Her interest in religion began when her husband migrated to the Middle East as a labourer. From being a traditional housewife, she assumed the role of Radhe Maa at 23, when she was introduced to spirituality by Shri Mahaan Ramdeen Das. According to the Indian Express, people in her neighbourhood do not remember her having any religious inclinations as a young girl.
Radhe Maa in her younger years.
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One of her relatives told the newspaper, "People would invite her to their homes for satsang. As her reputation grew, she started dressing up like a goddess." There is even a temple built in her name, 2 kilometers away, in Khanpur village. In the 1990s, many people objected to her being a goddess, leading to tensions between other religious groups who rejected her claim as the reincarnation of Goddess Durga in Phagwara and she moved to Mumbai in the 2000s. DNA reported that it was Mumbai businessman Sanjeev Gupta who played a key role in her success as a godwoman. Gupta encountered her and got her "first blessings" about 12 years ago, according to The Hindu. Her transition to Radhe Maa was complete. 
                           Radhe Maa giving blessings to her devotees.                            
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Radhe Maa is known for having a lavish lifestyle, for sporting dark red lipstick and heavy makeup, and for dancing to Bollywood songs while wearing mini skirts, which, to an extent, is symbolic of Indian modernity. Apart from donning red traditional garbs with scintillating gold jewellery, she runs two communes and owns a fleet of luxury cars. She too has a celebrity following of actors and prominent politicians including FTII Chairman Gajendra Chauhan and Rahul Mahajan, son of BJP leader Pramod Mahajan. Reknowed filmmaker Subhash Ghai and his wife are devotees of Radhe Maa. Ghai told Indian Express, "Being the devotees of mata Vishnu Dev, my wife Mukta and I have been visiting Radhe Maa to take her blessings since last year at mata ki chowki at Borivali Bhuvan by her old devotees. Even we held one mata ki chowki at our residence and invited her to bless us and other devotees. She has been very affectionate to both of us and treats us like her parents." 

However not everyone was looking for her blessings. "OMG – Oh My God!" Bollywood star Paresh Rawal tweeted, "People shouldn't compare this fake Hindu Godwoman with Rakhi Sawant . . . Rakhi earns her living by hard work . . . she doesn't fake religion for that." 

Social media has, to a great extent, has also played a key role in exposing Radhe Maa's shady practices. Radhe Maa is also facing fresh allegations, made by model and actress Arshi Khan, of running a sex and hawala racket. According to an interview with IBT Times, Khan remarked, “They have been collecting funds via online donations. There is absolutely no account of the money collected by Radhe Maa and her associates over the last 13 years. A woman who travels around in a Rs 80 lakh Jaguar car must have lots of money, of course in benami (unregistered) accounts.”

After filing a complaint against Radhe Maa, Khan tweeted that she was threatened with rape, violence, and even an acid attack by her followers for exposing this scandal. "Radhe Maa's followers threaten to rape n kill me, throw acid on my face via FB n @twitter for exposing her n M M Gupta/Sanjiv Gupta PL RT" — Arshi Khan (@ArshiKOfficial). 
However, she is not the only one benefiting from this disturbing enterprise. And there have been numerous others over the years, including Sant Rampal, Asaram Bapu and Satya Sai Baba, who have also been accused of rape, murder and targetting younger boys sexually. 

It is indeed our individual decision to follow the religion we choose to follow. That being said, many of these self-proclaimed god men and women prey on the innocent and vulnerable and misuse religion to gain monetary wealth. 

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Nidhi Shrivastava


Nidhi Shrivastava (@shnidhi) is a Ph.D. candidate in the English department at Western University and works as an adjunct professor in at Sacred Heart University. She holds double masters in South Asian Studies and Women's Studies. Her research focuses on Hindi film cinema, censorship, the figure o...


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