1. Ichchadhari Sant Swami Bhimanand ji Maharaj of Chitrakoot
Shreemurath Dwivedi started out as a security guard at a five-star hotel in Nehru Place after arriving in New Delhi in 1988. From there he moved on to a massage parlor in Lajpat Nagar and was finally busted for running a prostitution racket in 1997. After being released from jail, Dwivedi started to present himself as a disciple of Sai Baba. He is now worth several crores and sits at the head of his own empire. He has released videos and written for magazines. He has also constructed a 200-bed hospital and a big temple in Chitrakoot.
2. Sant Rampal ji Maharaj
The founder of Satlok Ashram and a religious guru of Kabir Panth, Sant Rampal has a huge and devoted following in Haryana. He preaches that Kabir is the ultimate god of all religious texts (whether Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, etc), and his followers recognize him as an incarnation of Kabir. In 2006, after his criticism of Arya Samaj, fights erupted between the two sects and a member of the Arya Samaj was killed. In the following court proceedings, Rampal skipped court appearances 42 times. He evaded arrest with the help of his followers but was finally arrested on November 19, 2014 along with 492 devotees.
Chandraswami is a practitioner of tantra and gained fame as an astrologer and tantric due to his role as the spiritual advisor of Narasimha Rao, who became the Prime Minister of India in 1991. He is said to have given advice to Margret Thatcher, Sultan of Brunei, Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa of Bahrain and Elizabeth Taylor. Chandraswami has been accused of financial irregularities and was arrested for defrauding a London-based businessman. In a report of the Jain Commission, it has been alleged that he was involved in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.
4. Asaram Bapu
Asaram has over 400 ashrams in India and abroad. He has often courted controversy, including blaming the victim after the Delhi gang rape and being involved in land encroachment cases. In 2008, mutilated bodies of two boys studying in his gurukul brought forth allegations of black magic. There was public outcry and a demand for a CBI probe. In 2013 he was charged with sexual assault on a minor. A medical examination proved that the girl had been assaulted. While Asaram hid inside his ashram, his followers clashed with police outside it. He was arrested on September 1, 2013.
5. Gurmeet Ram Raheem Singh
The spiritual leader of the Dera Sacha Sauda holds rock shows and was seen in a movie called MSG: The Messenger (Messenger of God). There have been many clashes between the Dera members and members of the orthodox Sikh community. In 2002, Singh was accused of sexually exploiting women at the headquarters of the Dera in Sirsa. The Dera was also investigated in connection to the murder of journalilst Ram Chander Chatrapati, who was shot and killed. In early 2015, Singh was again in the news for encouraging 400 followers to get castrated to be able to meet god.
6. Swami Sadachari
At the height of his career, Swami Sadachari was the spiritual advisor and tantric for leading political figures, including Prime Minister Indira Gandhi – he was said to have performed rituals at her residence. But Sadachari fell out of favor with the bigwigs and was arrested for running a brothel . He had lain claim to performing miracles like lighting branches on fire just by looking at them, but this was debunked by Sanal Edamaruku in 1985 when he performed the same trick with the help of chemicals.
7. Nithyananda Swami
Nithyananda claims that when he was 9 years old, he met Arunagiri Yogiswara, an incarnation of Lord Shiva, who finally merged with him. In 2010, TV channel Sun News ran a clip which apparently showed Nithyananda engaged in sexual acts with Tamil film actress, Ranjitha. Nithyanand claimed that he was in a state of samadhi when the video was taken and that a mutation had made him incapable of sex. Arathi Rao, a former disciple, accused him of rape and claimed that she has filmed the video. In 2013, he was made Mahamandaleshwar of Mahanirvani akhara, which drew ire from some quarters.
8. Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal
The 69th Shankaracharya of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peethan has been accused of being behind the murder of Sankararaman, the temple manager and a former devotee of Kanchi mutth in 2004. He is also accused of ordering thugs to assault and murder auditor Radhakrishnan, who questioned him about the 83 kilograms of gold that was meant for the Kamakshi temple but had gone missing. He was acquitted in the Sankaraman case due to lack of evidence and the failure of Sankaraman’s daughter to identify the culprits in court.
9. Swami Premananda
Prem Kumar was originally from Sri Lanka but moved to India in 1984 with his disciples to escape the Sri Lankan Civil War. He was the founder of the Premananda Ashram in Tiruchirappalli in Tamil Nadu, which served as a shelter for women and orphans. In 1994, Arul Jyothi, a girl living in the ashram escaped and reported that she had been raped and was pregnant. During an investigation into the matter the murder of an inmate, Ravi, who was trying to expose the ashram was brought to light. He was finally imprisoned for 13 rape counts, 2 molestations and one murder
10. Swami Gnyanachaitanya
Swami Gnyanachaitanya of the Shiva Shringam Ashram in Kerala was accused by his “wife” Amanda Williams of sexual abuse and mental torture. The 24-year-old British girl and her family were followers of Lord Shiva and, when they faced troubles in business, were sent to the swami by an NRI. Here, Amanda was ordered to marry him immediately or face the wrath of Lord Shiva. After a life of torture, Amanda managed to escape and was taken back to England by her family. Gnyanachaitanya, whose real name is PM Sudhakaran, had earlier spent 14 years in jail for three murders.
11. Swami Shraddhanand
Murali Manohar Mishra, also known as Swami Shradhananda, was the second husband of Shakereh Namazie. When Sabah, Shakereh’s second daughter, couldn’t get in touch with her mother, she asked Mishra for her whereabouts but received no proper reply. In 1992, Sabah filed a habeas corpus but for three more years the Swami lived a lavish life on his wife’s money while the wife remained missing. In 1994, Shakereh’s body was found buried in her own courtyard. The discovery of the body revealed that Shakereh had suffocated to death and attempted to claw her way out of the coffin she was put in.
12. Baba Ramdev
Baba Ramdev is recognized as a yoga guru and founder of Patanjali group of institutions. He is a popular figure in the Indian religious scene and is now often visible on the political scene as well. He threw his weight behind the Modi government during the elections and tried to set up yoga camps for the same, but was stymied by the ECI. He has been accused of land grabbing and tax evasions. In 2005, workers alleged that the Divya Yoga Madir Trust used animal parts to prepare medicines. These allegations were confirmed by 2 separate sample tests. He also faced controversy for claiming yoga could cure AIDS.
13. Kuchumardhana Swami
Gottumukala Babu Rao was a primary school teacher in Karimnagar who was dismissed for misbehaving with girls. He changed his persona to that of Kuchumardhana Swami and moved to Parkal in 2002. Claiming to have attained the blessings of Lord Shiva in order to help childless women become pregnant, he soon became popular among female devotees. In truth, his own wife had left him because they were unable to have children. Babu Rao’s method of treatment involved women visiting him with material offerings and then getting their breasts massaged by him. He spent a year in jail and was then out on bail.