The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Now, pay premium for a darshan

Hyderabad, Nov. 27: Godmen are adopting the methods of the market, especially in Hyderabad and Vijayawada, charging premiums for appointments and fixing rates for resolving other problems like locating lost children.

Several godmen, including Swami Bikshapati of Veeravalli in Nalgonda or Swami Pramananda of Seva Sadan, have started charging a premium of Rs 25 to Rs 100 from devotees for making an appointment. Many give about 50 to 100 appointments per day.

Bikshapati’s ashram is about 45 km from Hyderabad, but the godman has set up an office in the city and arranges for transport. His agents identify devotees and makes arrangements for the darshan.

If someone is in a hurry, he has to pay a premium above the normal rate. “This is an arrangement to help devotees come for darshan at a time of their convenience once they make an appointment after making a nominal payment,” says Swami Atmananda, a disciple of Paramananda. “We spend the money on improving utilities for devotees in the ashram.”

Swami Paramananda, who guarantees in writing the effectiveness of his mantras and the medicines he distributes, charges as much as Rs 500 per darshan. The godman also persuades devotees to make monthly contributions for the maintenance of his ashram and the welfare of some permanent residents.

“When I was his devotee, I used to give almost all my salary towards the upkeep of the ashram,” said Sushila Devi, a former devotee. She had even sent her son to a boarding school so that she could serve in the ashram.

Expensive instant solutions are another feature of the new trend. Swami Bikshapati of Veeravalli, near Yadagirigutta, who meets devotees for 15 minutes each, has fixed rates for solutions to various problems, such as Rs 5,500 for locating kidnapped children and Rs 2,500 for identifying thieves.

Though the problems remained unsolved in 40 per cent of the cases, the devotees do not attribute this loss to the godman for fear of invoking his wrath.

The godmen usually come out with their reputations intact. A godman of Secunderabad was arrested on charges of sexually abusing a devotee, but his popularity did not diminish.

A police cell has been set up to keep track of the godmen, many of whom are allegedly in league with drug dealers, and their loyalists.

“It helps us contain a lot of the organised crime and also the theft of properties,” says a senior deputy commissioner of police. There are, however, some swamis doing spiritual work as well, contend police.

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