Charles Manson - the man who masterminded one of the most heinous murder sprees in American history is no more.
The notorious cult killer, the wild-eyed head of the infamous ‘Manson Family’, whose name itself became associated with evil died after nearly 50 years in prison. The high-profile murders he was convicted for stunned the world not so much for the gruesomeness of the act as for the motivations behind them.
Manson’s desire to kickstart an apocalyptic race war he called ‘Helter Skelter’ stemmed from the belief that the tensions between blacks and whites in the counter-cultural boiling pot of the 1960s would erupt into a cataclysmic race war eventually ending with the Manson Family’s rule over the survivors.
Obsessed with the pop-group Beatles’ White Album, which included a song called ‘Helter Skelter’, Manson became impatient after his race war failed to materialize. He then told his followers that they needed to ‘ignite Helter Skelter and bring in Charlie’s kingdom’.
What followed were the Tate-LaBianca murders - an example of extreme depravity!
The death of Charles Manson should nevertheless serve as a timely reminder to the modern generation about the follies of being influenced by the depraved logic of cult-leaders to justify their anti-establishment, do-your-own-thing ethos.
However, the legacy of Charles Manson, and many after him, lives on! For, such characters, with their shades of grey, continue to occupy a dark and persistent place in our society and are known to sufficiently manipulate the masses to build-up a staggering following of their own.
Although not oblivious to the presence of bizarre religions and cults around the world preaching debased philosophies, it is a great source of relief that India has not been stigmatized by the presence of such organizations, at least not yet.
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh advocating the idea of ‘free love’ to his disciples did create ripples in the country, but the fascination did not last long and the love-affair of Indians with the Osho commune died a premature death.
The Koregaon Park in Pune as the epicentre of Rajneesh Movement saw quite a lot of activity in the seventies which bordered on the indecent, at least from the local perspective. But then, Indians in those years were not able to digest the brand of westernization that came to be associated with our desi scriptures which formed the basis of all spiritual teachings and termed it rather brazenly as a vulgarization of our holy texts.
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), otherwise known as the Hare Rama Hare Krishna movement, only served to stir the devotion of those unaccustomed to the dazzle and glitter associated with religions in our country.
The ‘hippie-culture’ of the 60s and 70s as a global phenomenon remained the sole symbol of anything that stood in opposition to the conventional social mores of the society. With many of the disgruntled youth in the country embracing the fad to show their embitterment against authority, the anti-establishment tirade gained a fresh lease of life.
But that was about all and no events thereafter merits any mention in so far as the influence of any cult-following having wrecked peace in the country!
Hence the expose on Baba Ram Rahim and the terrible affairs at his Dera Sacha sauda shook the very foundations of a conservative society that had so far reconciled itself to the vile ways of some of the so-called spiritual gurus who were regularly grabbing headlines for their unholy deportment.
While evidences of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh exerting undue influence on his followers is no doubt alarming, the ruckus outside the court in Panchkula in August this year over his conviction in a rape case once again raises visions of people’s fascination with cults gaining ground in the country.
Social misfits being venerated as Gods signals a trend where evil is getting the better of the good in society. People like Asaram Bapu, and other claimants to the high seat of power in the country’s spiritual world, thrive only because of the blind faith their followers have reposed on them.
Seemingly, the global cult phenomenon has had a remarkable effect on the Indian psyche and the proliferation of Godmen by the dozen, busy expanding their spiritual empires, suggests an alarming development that could see them exercising an unholy hold on the public imagination in the near future.
Yet, what is the secret behind the public frenzy generated at the mere mention of their names! Is it a cult following we are witnessing here! If the followers of these Babas and Swamis are not only ready to accede to their spiritual commands but are also ready to comply with their diktats when it comes to matters of exercising their franchise or financial matters for instance, it does not require a lot of brains to gauge the extent of the hold the spiritual masters have over their minds.
For a Charles Manson who could pulverize a nation with his notions of a race war and get his select band to run amok after his doomsday predictions showed no signs of materializing; one fears to think of the fate of a country where various communities live in perpetual fear of each other threatened by communal clashes over the silliest of reasons.
But do we really require maniacs like Manson or some creepy cults to terrorize our souls when the country abounds with pretenders in a completely different avatar for whom mastering the souls of their ‘devotees’ comes so very easily. Either through exploitation of their faith or through fear, with their ingenious ways, the subjugation of the ‘disciples’ is near complete!
It is necessary to understand that an extremely thin line separates cult from religion which inevitably inspires intrigue. There are elements in a religion that are also found in a cult, such as the elements of worship, dogma and authority. That is why cult is defined as a formal religious veneration, a great devotion to a person or idea.
To argue in the same breath, a wafer thin line separates reasoning and madness. In that context religion would be a set of sane practices that unites the society, whereas cults tend to destroy them through the propagation of their lunatic ideas.
It is however amazing that in an age where humankind has made giant strides in the field of science and technology, efforts to dispel fear and ignorance arising out of superstitious beliefs are yet to bear fruits. Until such time, charlatans will have no compunctions over playing God to the gullible.(Published on 27th November 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 48)