In Kanpur, India, thousands of followers of the self-proclaimed godman Shobhan Sarkar showed up at his funeral. That wasn’t supposed to happen, because the area is under lockdown orders due to the pandemic. Police were powerless when faced with a mob that would follow neither reason nor direction. Said one law-enforcement officer,
“We tried to prevent the crowds but could not stop them from reaching the ashram. We made public announcements that only 20 people are allowed [at the] cremation/funeral but no one paid heed.”
But this isn’t over yet, he added:
“We have booked 4,100 [for] lockdown violation and we will identify them through video footage.”
In 2013 he caught the ear of government officials with a tale of a gold treasure buried on the dilapidated estate of Ram Baksh Singh, a 19th-century leader and folk hero. The location of the hoard, Sarkar said, had come to him in a vision. The origin of the gold was just as precious as the metal:
“It is the blood of my gurus which turned into gold. The blood drops had fallen on the earth when the mosquitoes had bitten my gurus.”
Somehow, the gold had then multiplied into a colossal cache of a thousand tons, Sarkar claimed.
Singh himself also visited the seer’s dreams:
“He comes to me on a white horse and requests me to liberate him from the cycle of birth and death. He is the custodian of the treasure. But he is tired of protecting it. He wants me to ask the Government of India to take it and improve the economy of the country.”
Free gold! Let the digging begin!
No, seriously. That’s what authorities at the national level decreed should happen.
“If this gold hunt ends in finding even a kilo of the yellow, we are doomed. An already overtly superstitious country will rush to self-declared saints and shower them with gold.”
The writer need not have worried. Government workers with spades were dispatched to the location, where they dug and dug, and after a month they’d uncovered… some bricks and old pottery fragments. No gold.
That took some of the sheen off of Sarkar’s image, but the godman held the fascination of tens of thousands who still believed his wild yarns, and who thronged to his ashram when he died, as if to prove that they could, too.