Satsangs: The Showmanship that Fuels India’s Religious Obsession

Social Commentary

Satsangs: The Showmanship that Fuels India’s Religious Obsession

Illustration: Ahmed Sikander


eligion is the opium of the masses,” said Karl Marx. You may have had a glimpse of this addiction in action if you ever happened to surf channels in the pre-Netflix era and accidentally landed on one of the dozens of religious/spiritual channels, which have dedicated their existence to making sure Grandpa never runs out of things to watch when Arnab is not screaming on-air. But television, like other such simulations, is a poor substitute to the real thing – a pale imitation of an insanity that is beyond all rational explanation and description.

I got a taste of this addiction when I was dragged, kicking, and screaming, to a seven-day-long satsang — the kind where a random but charismatic preacher narrates the stories already iconised by Ramanand Sagar, embellished with an extra helping of patronising moral lectures, misogyny, and toxic patriarchal bullshit masquerading as Indian values. This is the kind of satsang where the preacher derives his legitimacy not from his personal status as a Godman (unlike a Sadhguru or Sri Sri), but the holy book (Ramcharitmanas or Bhagwad Purana) he claims to be a master of. It is like a performing art, or as my brother puts it, a live gig where the preacher is the rockstar. And because the target audience doesn’t usually Google his credentials, the one with the bigger hoardings and better penchant for grand theatrics is the one who draws the largest audience.