NEW DELHI — The family and followers of one of India’s wealthiest Hindu spiritual leaders are fighting a legal battle over whether he is dead or simply in a deep state of meditation.
His Holiness Shri Ashutosh Maharaj, the founder of the Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan religious order, with a property estate worth an estimated pounds 100 million, died in January, according to his wife and son.
However, his disciples at his ashram have refused to let the family take his body for cremation because they claim he is still alive.
According to his followers, based in the Punjab city of Jalandhar, he simply went into a deep Samadhi, or meditation, and they have put his body in a commercial freezer at their ashram to preserve it for when he wakes.
The late – or living – guru, who was in his seventies, established his sect in 1983 to promote “self-awakening to global peace” and to create a world “wherein every individual becomes an embodiment of truth, fraternity and justice through the eternal science of self-realisation”.
Today the group has thousands of followers around the world and owns dozens of properties in India, the US, South America, Australia, the Middle East and Europe, including its British headquarters in Hayes, Middlesex. While the guru is thought to have died from a heart attack on Jan 29, his devotees believe he has simply drifted into a deep form of meditation.
Punjabi police initially confirmed his death, but the Punjab High Court later dismissed the police report. Local governmental officials said it was a spiritual matter and that the guru’s followers could not be forced to believe he is dead.
Now his wife and son have filed a court application calling for an investigation into his death and for his body to be released for cremation.
His son Dilip Jha, 40, claims his late father’s followers are refusing to release his body as a means of retaining control of his vast financial empire.
DEAN NELSON – THE DAILY TELEGRAPH