Well-known singer Sonu Nigam may have stoked a controversy with his tweets on self-styled god woman Radhe Maa, currently in the eye of notoriety but some of his comments do raise questions we could answer never mind which side of the Radhe Maa debate we are on. I am definitely a skeptic and find Radhe Maa or the former Sukhvinder Kaur of Hoshiarpur who tailored clothes for a living (as an Indian Express story revealed) a delusional personality given her televised satsang appearances. Besides with her status as a spiritually superior woman questioned by some people, with serious charges leveled against her for indecency, obscenity and deceit, she surely has a lot of answering to do.
All the same, Sonu Nigam’s comments could help dig into the Radhe Maa controversy more carefully. For one, Nigam is right about the dominance of the Twitter Mob. Chaotic and aggressive opinions obfuscate the fundamental debate. Some of us may dislike Radhe Maa, but that sentiment is unlikely to make her guilty if she is indeed innocent of the charges leveled against her. Nigam is also right that the number of clothes on a person’s body cannot be seen as the proportionate barometers of their spiritual quotient. The lady’s photographs in a short red dress with knee high boots that have been doing the rounds is no reason either to turn her into a subject of pornographic ridicule.
Nigam’s arguments are rational but Radhe Maa’s devotees too may have some answering to do. Not to the police but as people easily blinded by divine claims. That personalities like Radhe Maa emerge, get absorbed, feted and hailed by a certain section among us reveals our constant need for spiritual and divine reassurances and perhaps the need to find “living” beings who we can propitiate, worship and indulge. The large phalanx of Hindu gods and goddesses aren’t enough, we have a need to “connect”, to relate to, to listen, to be charmed by. It is another matter who is it that we decide to connect with. Numerous godmen and women in India have been accused of wrongdoings, ethical, moral and legal. So we dump one, but don’t stop hankering for the next prototype to keep ourselves in a constant, spiritual frenzy. The term “self-styled” itself has an inbuilt warning. It should make us question who we follow and why. Have you ever heard of a self-styled nuclear scientist or a self-styled cancer specialist? Would we ever accept one? Only god men and women are “self-styled” and we accept most of them.
Radhe Maa comes across as a peculiar oddity in red lipstick and decorative bridal garments and heavy jewellery. A woman who throws out diamonds, no less. Who knows, in another country she may have been referred to a psychiatric unit. But here we oscillate between her Goddess status versus the “obscene” charges made against her and want the police to tell us which one to believe! Even in its most simplistic form, isn’t the path to spiritualism supposed to be diverse from the one filled with gold dust, riches and decorative excess? Dressing up as a “bride” in “new expensive lehngas” every time she meets her bhakts may connote an alternative godwoman branding exercise, or creating a visual spectacle to attract the gullible but it certainly doesn’t signal the path of simplicity, detachment, quietitude and inconspicuousness known to be a part of spiritual pursuit.
Radhe Maa’s bridal appearances may, in fact, be disturbing for some. Nuptial fantasies, bride’s garments, sindoor in hair, chooda bangles, red lipstick, red velvet bedcovers (as visible in the photos), dripping jewellery reveals her obsession with virginity, fertility, wifehood and wealth. So it is perfectly valid if some us ask how can these elements denote divinity?
Beyond that, crime is a matter of fact. Whether she is culpable of inciting dowry demands as has been claimed by one of her former followers or if she has behaved indecently with any of her devotees, male or not, has little to do with her freaky appearance or the way she dances and swoons around her devotees.
This fortnightly series is a comment on popular culture statements made through actions or words. Shefalee Vasudev is the author of Powder Room: The Untold Story of Indian Fashion.