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Sunday , December 21 , 2008
- A little-known spiritual group can summon up enormous temporal power
The murder of its high priestess in April was neither the beginning nor the end of trouble for Ayachak Ashram, a Hindu religious sect.
When SamSanhita Devi, known as Mamoni to the devotees, was knifed to death by Kalipada Das, a member of the sect, during evening prayers at Gurudham, the group’s headquarters at Kankurgachhi in north Calcutta, there were dark hints of the hand of rival factions.
The ruling faction in Akhanda Mandali, the sect’s nodal body, alleged that Das was a mere pawn who played out the dance of death at the end of a rope being pulled by disaffected former and present members.
Das, who had claimed he was Mamoni’s husband, was killed by members of the sect that evening after he had murdered the woman and her female companion, Dulu, with whom she was sitting in an upstairs room supposedly watching TV and knitting as prayers were being said on the ground floor.
The conspiracy theory suggested that the rival faction sought to bump off Mamoni to grab control of the sect, which, apart from enjoying the spiritual — and worldly — support of some 25 lakh followers, owns sprawling properties at several locations in India and Bangladesh.
If the murder was the consequence of a struggle for control, Mamoni’s death did not draw the curtains on that tussle, though the police called it an “open-and-shut case” since the killer had been caught and lynched.
An officer at Lalbazar, who probed the murder, said: “We didn’t investigate their property holdings as it doesn’t concern us. But since they have many followers, it is possible that differences arose between some and the sect became divided. But we haven’t got any evidence against any person or group.” Police are still investigating the case.
Within four months of Mamoni’s death, a breakaway group, Sarba Bharatiya Akhanda Sangathan, led by Amalendu Sarkar and Jyotirmay Sen, served a legal notice on Tapan Brahmachari, who had taken over as the head of the sect, asking him to send them a copy of the trust deed of the organisation registered in 1953.
Greeted by silence, the group filed a case against Tapan Brahmachari in a lower court in the first week of December, challenging his right to head Ayachak Ashram and give diksha. Sen said: “We said if there was a will empowering him to head the organisation, let the will be produced in court. A will has to be probated in court for it to be valid. We see no record of that. We also want him to produce the original trust deed in court.” The date of the hearing is yet to be announced.
An Akhanda Mandali office-bearer admitted having received the lawyer’s notice but said the dissidents had no case since the sect was in possession of the will appointing Tapan Brahmachari as Mamoni’s successor in the nearly century-old organisation founded in Bangladesh’s Chandpur in 1913.
The feuding started in 1984 when Swami Swarupananda, the founder of the sect and better known as Babamoni, died, and Samhita Devi took charge. Samhita had been under the Swami’s charge since the age of five when her Lucknow-based wealthy merchant father, Hrishikesh, handed her over after his wife’s death, a tragedy that impelled him to take sanyas.
The dissident Amalendu Sarkar, a retired railways officer actively involved with Akhanda Mandali since 1952, has a different story to tell. “She was three or four years old when she came to the Ashram and we never knew who her parents were. But there was definitely no property that she brought with her.”
She grew up under the care of Swarupananda and one of his first disciples, Sadhana Devi, joining the sect when she came of age. Her properties, said to be substantial in the official version of events, were transferred to the sect. Ayachak Ashram, which means a society that doesn’t ask for anything, grew with time to become a spiritual group that could summon up enormous temporal power (see box) Although it didn’t seek – the organisation’s instructions say, “this ashrama never raised subscriptions for defraying its multifarious expenses” — generous devotees didn’t wait to be asked. Disciples voluntarily donate money every month according to their capacity, which could be even Rs 10.
real estate list
The organisation has properties in Varanasi — four buildings on Swarupananda Street, plus a medicine plant and a publishing unit
Pupunki ashram in Jharkhand, built on 1,000 bighas. It houses schools and hostels for boys, a water purifier plant and land for cultivating herbs
Prime properties in Agartala, the first of which was bought in 1995 for Rs 1 crore
21 bighas in Andal in Burdwan, where a school and a hostel for girls would be set up
Over 5 bighas in Haltu, where a hospital is to come up
Ashrams in different places in Bangladesh
Ashram (in picture) and guesthouse in Kankurgachhi
Ashram in Silchar spread over 2 bighas
8-10 cottahs in Lucknow
4-5 cottahs in Bokaro
Animal care centre in New Delhi
The organisation won’t talk about money. A devotee said: “My family sends Rs 100 every month. I think donations make up a large share of the Ashram’s financial strength.”
If 25 lakh devotees (figure stated by Supriyo Kar, the joint secretary of the West Bengal chapter of Akhanda Sangathan) give Rs 10 each, the collection every month would run up to Rs 2.5 crore. For a group that started life in Varanasi, where Swarupananda would sell books and practise ayurveda to stay afloat and Sadhana Devi would make toys that someone else peddled, that is no small worldly success.
Swarupananda was the supreme leader who had no challengers. Not so Mamoni. Yugal Brahmachari, who heads the Ashram’s Bangladesh unit and apparently hoisted the flag of independence by allegedly transferring all the property in Bangladesh to his name, recalls having been disappointed in Mamoni’s behaviour after Swarupananda’s death.
“Within a few days of Babamoni’s death, she announced she would take to wearing ochre robes. This was against Babamoni’s wishes since he himself wore white all his life, condemning those who exploited ochre to evoke sympathy,” he said.
Kar, however, had alleged that Yugal Brahmachari and Hareram Debnath (also a member of the dissident sangathan) had ganged up on Mamoni. “Yugal transferred the organisation’s property to his name and she (Mamoni) had planned to visit Bangladesh in May (but was killed before that).”
A day after the murder, Kar had held Yugal Brahmachari, Hareram Debnath, Amalendu Sarkar and Asim Brahmachari of Kolaghat — who had set up his own ashram — responsible.
Kar had said then that last year Mamoni had moved court against Debnath accusing him of defrauding devotees in Tripura. A measure of the money at the organisation’s disposal can be understood from the fact that in 1995 it spent Rs 1 crore to buy property in Agartala. An ashram office-bearer revealed they are still adding to their list of properties.
The root of the quartet’s clash with Mamoni lay in their independent decision to give diksha to devotees while she felt she alone had been bestowed the right by Swarupananda. Traditionally, disciples offer guru dakshina (often a gift of money) after taking diksha.
Only the evil-minded will call this spiritual conflict over who had the authority to give diksha a battle over money. But whether God ordained it or not, a link has somehow developed.
Asim Brahmachari, who says he was driven out of the sect because he was close to Swarupananda and the ruling group feared he might try to take leadership, dismisses the claim Mamoni alone had the right to give diksha. According to the founder’s teachings, three monks have to come together to give diksha, he says.
“I had been with Babamoni during tours and I had seen how devotees would donate Rs 20,000-30,000. That donation is the secret of their property,” Asim adds.
He himself is an example that money is usually not a bar for a religious leader. “A part of our ashram at Kolaghat was built with money from donations. My disciples have given me the two cellphones I use and I travel frequently for prayer meets by air. The cost is borne by my disciples.”
Jyotirmay Sen alleges that the accumulation of wealth started after Swarupananda’s death and that the stories about Mamoni having brought with her substantial property were started later to explain the sect’s growing prosperity.
“Babamoni only accepted voluntary pranami from those he had already given diksha to,” he says. He alleged that after Swarupananda’s death, the Ashram authorities started raising funds in the name of Babamoni’s unfinished projects.
One of them is the Akhanda Temple adjacent to Gurudham. “Many NRI followers donated huge sums …but the temple was not finished because that would kill the cause for raising money. I myself gave around Rs 3 lakh,” says Amalendu Sarkar. Another is the so-called multi-varsity at Pupunki near Bokaro.
Sarkar and Sen say Mamoni was advised and aided by a group of loyalists, against whom they have now taken up arms. “Babamoni had made a deed of trusteeship for his property where he had said it was all for the welfare of the people. We have served a legal notice on the ashram to produce the documents.”
At Gurudham at Kankurgachhi, on the ground floor lie the three samadhis of Swarupananda, Samhita and Sadhana. As the battle rages, at least one of them may be turning in the grave to the accompaniment of the ceaseless barking of over a hundred stray dogs Mamoni had sheltered upstairs.
POULOMI BANERJEE WITH INPUTS FROM PRONAB MONDAL
|Comments on this page:|
|Comment posted by Manik lal chaudhuri( manik.chaudharyhilti.com ), 09/13/2013 at 12:14pm (UTC):|
I have no clear idea about all the fact written above. I have taken diksha from Asim brahmacharya.
he is my guru. he is best
|Comment posted by Satyajit Roy ( src_joyyahoo.com ), 07/08/2008 at 10:56am (UTC):|
No doubt.....it was pre-planed murder.....& definately one more persons of Guru Dham are involved with the murder.
|Comment posted by Mong Bando( noneedtomailgmail.com ), 06/18/2008 at 2:00am (UTC):|
My query is this:-
Who killed Kalipada?
On a group killing normally Police arrest some persons, here none, why?
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