By Saurabh Sharma Aug. 29, 2017
Life inside Dera Sacha Sauda is underpinned by peaceful satsangs and boisterous Roobaroo Nights, where Gurmeet Ram Rahim makes an appearance like a rock star on his superbikes.
Here’s what we know by now about self-styled God-man Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and the cult-like following of Dera Sacha Sauda. We know he has just been sentenced to 20 years in prison for raping two of his female followers. We also know that the followers, who call themselves “premis” or “Insaan”, wreaked havoc in Panchkula when their “papaji” was convicted. We also know that the Dera’s followers – several of them lower-caste and -class men and women in semi-urban Punjab and Haryana – consolidated under his leadership with the prospect of leading their lives with dignity.
What we don’t know, and what we’re coming to slowly learn, is what life inside the Dera looks like. Dera Sacha Sauda is centred in two ashrams in Sirsa; one is closer to the city of Sirsa, while the other is an 800-acre modern township, some distance away. This is the one that’s stoking media interest thanks to the two-storey glass building equipped with state-of-the-art gadgetry known as Babaji Ki Gufa, outside which a queue of supercars and bikes “designed” by the beloved Pitaji rest. Babaji Ki Gufa is where the rapes are supposed to have taken place.
Among this township’s modern buildings, multiplexes, and super-specialty hospitals scattered around, the focus of the site map remains the large congregation halls where the satsangs take place. It is the satsangs that undergird every activity at the Dera. In fact, to become a member of the Dera, a person has to first attend a Sunday satsang followed by the “Gurumantar” ceremony.
During the little ritual, Ram Rahim Singh reads out a chant to the aspiring devotee, securing a pact between him and his devotee. The pact includes becoming vegetarian, abstaining from alcohol, and containing lust for the opposite sex. At the end of the ceremony, the aspirant is given a sweet “Jamma insa” concoction to drink: After that, one is a certified Insaan, a real human being and is given a locket with a unique number (Dera Devotee Count), which s/he is supposed to wear at all times. The children of a devotee inherit their parents’ faith and unless a follower gets the axe for “immoral activities” – such as using the Dera’s name for personal aggrandisement or violating the pact – you’re a lifelong member.
According to Geeta Insaan*, a lifelong member, life inside the Dera is underpinned by these peaceful satsangs and they are the highlight of a devotee’s life. The satsangs begin in the morning and can go on late into the night when people dance to devotional numbers. Male and female devotees sit in separate rows, while a line of followers is always on the prowl to control the surge. This peace is punctured only when “Pitaji” happens to be in town. This happens only when he is not filming, brokering political deals, or meeting the wheeler-dealers of Indian economy and thus the event is special and celebrated.
“I have seen people pay several times the worth of a 50,000-rupee necklace just because Pitaji had touched it.”
Pitaji usually appears for these special satsangs riding his imported motorbikes or driving his customised supercars. On these nights, there is a fight for seats closer to the dais. “There are people who are willing to pay even a lakh rupees for a front-row seat at Pitaji’s night shows,” said Insaan.
In the past, if Ram Rahim Singh touched any of the fancy items kept on stage, they’d be considered priceless. “I have seen people pay several times the worth of a 50,000-rupee necklace just because Pitaji had touched it.” According to Insaan, some big-ticket followers include politicians, bureaucrats, even policemen. “Almost all big names of the Congress, BJP, Indian National Lok Dal, and Shiromani Akali Dal have been Dera guests, especially during election time when they kneel in front of Pitaji for votes,” she said.
According to Geeta Insaan*, a lifelong member, life inside the Dera is underpinned by these peaceful satsangs and they are the highlight of a devotee’s life. Image Credit: 101 Reporters
According to Geeta Insaan*, a lifelong member, life inside the Dera is underpinned by these peaceful satsangs and they are the highlight of a devotee’s life.
Image Credit: 101 Reporters
In Ram Rahim Singh’s absence, the satsang is led by a team of holy men. But his presence always looms large, even when he isn’t there: The satsang team plays only devotional songs, mostly bhajans written by the Godman. Each of the bhajans is followed by loud repetitions of “Dhan dhan satguru, tera hi aasra,” a chant familiar from Ram Rahim Singh’s series of MSG movies.
The hysteria in the ashram goes up a few notches on big days. Insaan recalled the recent August 15 celebrations of Ram Rahim Singh’s birthday, through a week-long festival. The week-long mela was “an effort to resurrect a life gone by, a heritage lost to time” and saw him riding his fancy bikes and descending from heaven, to give his “premis” darshan. There were performances of folk dances and some of Singh’s greatest hits from his films on “Roobaroo Nights”, which is a kind of devotional music concert. The video of the superhit “Love Charger” – a song featuring actual Dera Sacha Sauda devotees that has close to 3.5 million views of YouTube – is an example of what goes on during a Roobaroo Night.
In the past, if Ram Rahim Singh touched any of the fancy items kept on stage, they’d be considered priceless Image Credit: 101 Reporters
In the past, if Ram Rahim Singh touched any of the fancy items kept on stage, they’d be considered priceless
Image Credit: 101 Reporters
By day, there were sports competitions. The benevolent Pitaji played gilli-danda and tug of war with even the ordinary devotees, Geeta Insan gushed, and then to prove that he’s just as ordinary as they are, he even pulled tractors. According to Geeta, Pitaji is good at every sport and she’s never seen a better roller-skater or a hockey player or a yoga guru. It is for his excellence in many fields that he is called “Coach Papa” on campus.
Since Ram Rahim’s arrest the mood on the campus has been sombre. Satsangs have lost their fervour and Roobaroo Nights have been put on hold indefinitely. There’s only one prayer on the lips of every premi: Pitaji ko maafi de do!
* Names have been changed to protect privacy.
With inputs from Sat Singh. Edited by Karanjeet Kaur.