Monday, June 25, 2007

Times News: ‘Prophet’ held as doomsday passes

From The TimesJune 25, 2007

‘Prophet’ held as doomsday passes
Jeremy Page in Delhi

Police in Nepal have detained a self-styled holy man who sowed panic across much of the country by prophesying that a massive earthquake would kill 300,000 people in South Asia last week.

Bishweshwor Chaudhari, a former builder, had his followers distribute thousands of pamphlets last month forecasting that the earthquake would strike at 6.15am on June 22 and last until July 10.

The prophesy caused such widespread alarm that the home ministry and council of astrologers were forced to issue statements in denial.

When Friday came and went without the slightest tremor, angry residents of the city rushed to Mr Chaudhari’s house and beat him up, declaring him a charlatan and demanding that he be punished. Police intervened and detained him for disturbing the peace.

The incident illustrates how deeply superstitious much of Nepal remains and how easy it is for the unscrupulous to exploit the millions of Nepalis who have little access to basic education and healthcare.

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, but the predominantly Hindu nation also has one of the highest tallies of religious festivals and holidays — including several to mark solar eclipses.

Mr Chaudhari gave up his job as a builder three years ago and moved to Kathmandu, where he set himself up as a holy man. He grew his hair long, wore a crown and flowing yellow robes, and claimed to have divine powers. He also claimed to be able to heal the sick with a trident.

Nepal is full of similar holy men, who earn money by making prophesies, delivering blessings and selling quack remedies. The country is also the site of frequent alleged miracles, among the most recent being a religious idol that “sweats”, a stone that “grows” and a girl who produces glass from her head.

In the past week thousands of people have been thronging to the town of Vyas in western Nepal to see three trees that are said to have been gushing water since a woman worshipped them in May.

A group of Buddhist lamas and shamans visited the trees last month and performed a ritual that stopped the phenomenon, according to local media. But the trees were reported to have started gushing water again on Saturday after another woman worshipped them.

One of the most famous “miracles” occurred two years ago, when a teenager was said to have meditated for several months under a pipal tree without eating or drinking. Local authorities accused his supporters of cheating tens of thousands of people who paid to see Ram Bahadur Bomjan, dubbed the “Buddha Boy”. Mr Bomjan, 17, is now meditating in a bunker. He claims he will not eat, sleep, or drink for three years.

Backwards and forwards

— Guru Meher Baba, from Poona in India, declared himself to be the incarnation of God. He predicted “riots, wars and natural disasters” before beginning a vow of silence that lasted 44 years until his death in 1969

—Guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, from Central India, said that a series of disasters would destroy Tokyo, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Bombay

—Shoko Asahara, founder of the Aum Shinrikyo group that attacked the Tokyo subway with sarin gas in 1995, claimed to have met survivors of the Third World War after travelling forward in time — to 2006


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