There are hundreds of religious gurus in India, but a controversial new “godman” has been making headlines over the past two weeks.
Supporters of Dhirendra Krishna Shastri, also known as Bageshwar Dham Sarkar, believe he possesses supernatural abilities and can heal the ill, cure individuals possessed by spirits, and assist people overcome business and financial difficulties.
The 26-year-old top priest of the Bageshwar Dham temple in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh dressed in colorful robes and wears caps similar to those used by Maharashtra’s 18th-century Peshwa emperors, and his adherents include important government ministers and politicians. He’s a TV and social media phenomenon.
Hundreds of hours have been spent to the guru and his alleged powers by India’s Hindi-language TV stations in recent weeks. And his statements on contentious matters like as religious conversions and inter-faith marriages are suddenly being covered as “breaking news”.
His social media following has grown swiftly to 7.5 million, including 3.4 million Facebook followers, 3.9 million YouTube subscribers, 300,000 Instagram followers, and 72,000 Twitter followers. Some of his most popular videos have been seen three to ten million times.
Mr Shastri shot to national prominence in January after a well-known rationalist questioned his claims to have healing skills and the ability to read people’s minds.
Shyam Manav, who heads an anti-superstition campaign via his organization Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, promised to pay Mr Shastri 3 million rupees ($36,500; £30,000) if he successfully read the thoughts of ten persons he picked.
The challenge was issued while Mr Shastri was hosting a camp in Nagpur, Maharashtra, Mr Manav’s home state.
Some speculated that Mr Shastri fled the city after declining the assignment.