Running into Nadiad's Pope

Apr 18, 2005

Walking into a huge beautiful temple, after 28 kilometers of walking, I semi-walk into a room, and notice the back of a chair with two elbows on the side. We walk around and walk in, to find the Pope-like figure of this temple -- Santram Maharaj -- who happened to be accepting audiences at that time.

Not knowing any protocols, we walk in. Within a minute, he calls us to the front and almost immediately says: "Know Thyself. If there is one thing you remember from me, it is that. Can you sit cross legged?", he asks me pointedly. "Yes," I say. "Then you meditate," he tells me. A totally off-the-wall statement from a guy with a huge temple, where people think God is in the idols.

But first he sent us off to lunch. Then, during a random conversation, per Guri's nudging, I ask to interview him. He agrees, surprising all around him. I bust out my laptop and he asks me to put it on the short stool where he generally places his feet (and which is considered holy by his devotees). Everyone cracks up.

The half an hour interview flows effortlessly. Instead of us asking him for more time, he would look at us jokingly and say, "Ok, go ahead, one more question." And we laid it all on him, including "If you want us to know thyself, why entertain these huge temples with idol worship?" and "What makes you smile?".

Santram Mandir has a fascinating history, millions of devotees across all faiths, and crores of rupees dedicated to service of mankind. Ramdass Maharaj is the 8th successor of the seat, and till his death, he will not leave the temple premises. To see him, you have to come there.

Twenty years ago, my grandma had brought me here once. And today, Guri and I are back. Funny business. Both of us instantly felt that he was the "real deal". Just as we did when we came in, we ran into him on the way out: I folded my hands together, with my shoes hanging from the side, and did a semi-bow. From a distance, he smiled and so did I.

[ Read the full Q&A (transcribed from a taped interview) ]

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