An Indian guru officially declared dead has been kept in a deep freezer for nearly six weeks by followers who are confident he will come back to life.
Devotees have been watching over the body of Ashutosh Maharaj, who was reported clinically dead on January 29, in his ashram in northern Punjab state.
Maharaj, reportedly in his 70s, is a leader of the Divine Light Awakening Mission and claims to have millions of followers around the world.
Mission spokesman Swami Vishalanand insisted he was not dead, but was in a state of samadhi, the highest level of meditation, and was therefore still conscious.
Vishalanand said followers were now waiting for him to end his meditation. Until then, the ashram in Nurmahal town would stay open with followers performing their own mediations and spiritual sessions.
“Mahara-ji (a Hindi term of respect) is still sending messages through followers in their meditative stage to protect his body until he returns,” he said.
The decision to place him in the freezer was challenged in court by a man claiming to be his former driver. He said the guru’s followers were not releasing the body as they were seeking a share of his properties.
But the court rejected the man’s petition after receiving information from authorities confirming his death, reportedly from a heart attack, said Reeta Kohli, additional advocate general of Punjab state.
“The court rejected his pleas after the Punjab government said that the man is clinically dead and that it is up to his followers to decide what they want to do with the body,” Kohli said.
Senior district police officer Gurinder Singh Dhillon said police “cannot interfere” now that the court has made its ruling.
Maharaj’s website, which says the mission was founded in 1983 and has spiritual centres around the world, has thanked its followers for standing by the mission while the guru undertakes his meditation.
Vishalanand said scores of spiritual leaders throughout history have travelled to the Himalayas for months of samadhi in freezing temperatures before returning to life.
Another spokesman, who heads a nearby village where many of Maharaj’s followers are living, has told local media that they will simply wait.
“When we close our eyes, we can talk to the Maharaj, who has assured us he will come back,” Lakhwinder Singh said.