Dead, Or Meditating? An Indian Court Is Figuring Out Which One Ashutosh Maharaj Is

Devotees of an Indian spiritual guru are locked in a bizarre, high-profile court battle with the guru's surviving family members. Millions of dollars hinge on whether a court rules Ashutosh Maharaj is dead, or is just meditating — really. Maharaj is believed to have died of a heart attack in January, but his followers have been promoting a very different claim: That their leader is perfectly alive, but is simply deep in low-temperature meditation.

This isn't a satisfactory answer to Maharaj's family, thanks to the medical analysis performed on his body. He was declared clinically dead, showing no pulse, no heartbeat, and a flat EKG reading. But his adherents are having none of it, which Maharaj's family believes to really be about control of his $170 million estate. If he's dead, that money would enter the control of his family. As it stands now, with Maharaj's followers claiming he's meditating — while they keep his body locked in a commercial-grade freezer, which doesn't inspire much confidence — the money is still tied up in his organization.

For their parts, his followers don't seem to find this as improbable as everyone else does. One aide to Maharaj, speaking anonymously to The Telegraph, insisted this is nothing new and nothing to fear:

Maharaj has been in deep meditation. He has spent many years meditating in sub-zero temperatures in the Himalayas, there is nothing unusual in it. He will return to life as soon as he feels and we will ensure his body is preserved until then.
Brendon Thorne/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The organization which Maharaj left — or didn't leave? — behind is called Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan (DJJS), a spiritual group which has been around since Maharaj burst onto the scene in Punjab, India in 1983. It's a sprawling organization, boasting 110 properties throughout India. Their litany of beliefs is admittedly somewhat opaque to an outsider, but by their own claims their mission is as follows:

To usher into a world wherein every individual becomes an embodiment of truth, fraternity, and justice through the eternal science of self-realization – 'Brahm Gyan', uprooting in its wake all social evils and threat.

Of late, however, in spite of such lofty goals, a lot of attention's been getting sucked up by this strange and macabre story. Beyond even the wrangling between Maharaj's family and followers, it's raised questions about the conduct of police as well. When a trio of high-ranking police officials responded to news of Maharaj's death, they failed to personally inspect his body, a decision state superintendent of police Jaspreet Sidhu defended, saying they were unable to intervene in a faith matter.

A message posted to the DJJS' website more or less gives their side of their argument.

Shri Ashutosh Maharaj ji entered into the state of Samadhi (deep meditation) on 29th Jan. DJJS requests all its members to practice meditation to benefit from the positive energy being created by Shri Ashutosh Maharaj ji's state of Samadhi.

Image: Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan/YouTube