The Life and Times of Baba Ramdev

The Life and Times of Baba Ramdev

Item Code: IHL396
Author: Ashok Raj
Publisher: Hay House
Edition: 2010
ISBN: 9789380480169
Pages: 236 (25 Color Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.8 inch X 5.5 inch
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The fascinating of a contemporary mass leader who sought out a vision and a method to amalgamate yoga and social transformation into the mainstream consciousness

Baba Ramdev's emergence as the new ideologue of a national and global spiritual resurgence is considered by many as a curious phenomenon. This work is a study on the making of the Ramdev spectacle with all its inescapable assertiveness, mass enthusiasm and, course, controversies. It seeks to locate his philosophy in today's socio-cultural milieu, while tracing its origins in Indian spritual history and also in the past landmark reformist movements. Such movements have been initiated in the country by earlier path-breakers including Sri Aurobindo, Swami Dayananda, Paramhansa Yogananda, Swami Sahajanad Saraswati, Bhagwan Nityananda, J. N. Krishnamurty and Sri Ramana Rishi. Indeed, Ramdev represents a renewed continuity to the great revival of the ancient Indian spiritual traditions and yoga that took place in the twentieth century and received recognition worldwide.

With his own verion of holistic yoga as a ploy for instituting the universal right to health, Baba Ramdev has proposed two distinct ideological alternartives to the current established order of the world -pranayama and the yogic way of life as the key to health restoration and well-being; and manifestation of an enabling spiritual environment for personal and social transformation.

Ashok Raj is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology and Jawaharlal Nehru University, both in New Delhi . He has conducted extensive research work in various fields such as science, society and culture, science and spirituality, ancient Indian science, indigenous knowledge traditions, and cinema and its impact on society. As consultant, he has carried a number of studies for the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Culture, Government of India, apart from UNESCO; the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM); the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); and the Center for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS),New Delhi .For CSDS, he has carried out a study on Indian cinema's depiction of the virtues of intercommunity tolerance. His book- Hero (Volume 1: The Silent Era to Dilip Kumar) and Hero (Volume 2: Amitabh Bachchan to the Khans & Beyond) - have been recently published by Hay House India. Ashok Raj has also written for several publications including the India International Centre Quarterly, Life Positive, Economic and Political Weekly, Mainstream, Contemporary Indian Literatur (Sahitya Akademi), Futures (London), Vidura (The Press Institute of India) and The Times of India.






Chapter I

Maharishi Patanjali, Guru Gorakhnath and Ancient Yoga Traditions


Chapter 2

Ramdev's Predecessors


Chapter 3

Ramdev's Path of Self-Discovery andYoga-Healing Philosophy


Chapter 4

Establishing Medical Efficacy of Yoga


Chapter 5

Ramdev's Mass-Awakening Doctrine


Chapter 6

Agenda for Global Rejuvenation


Chapter 7

Ramdev's Indigenous Hero's Ascent and the Fault Lines







When my nephew, Kaushal, gifted me a CD on Ramdev's yoga way back in 2002, the seer had just entered public life. I did not take him and his yoga seriously at that time as I have always been very sceptical about the Godmen and preachers holding a sway on the huge religious gatherings and TV channels. As a scientist, I have also been least bothered about the matters of God and the divine scheme of things. I thought he was yet another guru of the yore in the making, seeking the attention of gullible masses. But as he started stirring up people with his yoga and the way he began articulating the social concerns of our times with so much gusto and conviction, I soon became curious about this man in saffron.

Like his teeming followers, I soon found him very forthright and down to earth, empowered with a vision that was both very refreshing and mind boggling. I realized that this sanyasi had, at least, captured and articulated the ills of the Indian society and the world at large, despite his spiritual-Hindu affiliations. And what is more, he denounces religious dogmas and obscurantist views and presents yoga as a pure secular practice for health, and self- and social-empowerment He, in fact, has emerged as a powerful propeller for creating a morally strong, caring civil society that common man always dreams about.

I thus found this people's indigenous hero of our times a fascinating and yet intriguing subject for study. I, therefore, decided to study the yoga and mass-awakening doctrine as being propounded by him that could help in locating this doctrine in the past spiritual traditions as well as in the critical milieu of our times. But the problems were many. Foremost was the spread of this demagogue's philosophical and ideological tenets over innumerable discourses and writings characterized by much repetition and verbose. Also, there were no serious academic studies that could inform me in developing a theoretical framework of my work. Therefore, it became pertinent for me to identify his ideas on spiritual and social life from the vast repertoire of his sayings and speeches, and present them as a unified comprehensive work on this avid thinker and crusader.

No words can be enough to convey the debt of gratitude that I owe to Ganesh Khetriwal of Patna for generously throwing open his entire personal collection of Baba Ramdev's photographs for use in this book. His contribution to this volume is of immense value.

I express my deep gratitude to Ashok Chopra of Hay House for choosing the manuscript for publication, virtually instantaneously and for offering me his immense guidance for restructuring the work so as to enhance its appeal and contemporary relevance. I convey my deep thanks to Raghav Khattar, Padma Pegu and Aeshna Roy of Hay House for lending a very valuable scholarly and editorial expertise for this work.

I must thank my sister, Aruna Mahendru, a keen follower of Ramdev, for assisting me in keeping a track of the rapid progress the seer has made in the development of his ideas and actions for the past ten years. I also thank my colleague, Rakesh Kapoor, for his invariable comments on the draft of this work and offering me highly useful reference material.

I also thank my colleagues and friends—Surendra Prakash (a spiritual master in his own right), Shradha and Ravi Kashyap, Manju, Sankalp and S. K. Sharma, Rumjhum and Girish Kumar (and their sons, Charu Kartikeya and Kirti Vinayak), Tanvi and Ankit, and Professor Pradeep Biswas — for their immense support for this work.

Thanks also to the library staff of the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, New Delhi; Jawaharlal Nehru University; the Sahitya Akademi; and the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi.

No author can escape acknowledging the love and care bestowed on him by his wife in difficult and anarchic times of writing a book. To Madhu, I present this work for her extremely worthy support and enforcing on me a strict writing schedule to honour the deadlines. And what to say about our impatient son, Pallav — he kept pestering — 'Oh daddy! When will I be able to impress my teachers and friends by showing-off this book of yours?'

Ashok Raj


(In today's world, the perpetual sickness of the human mind and body, and the disparate search for true happiness and a genuine feel of sukkha have become the most wishful longing for all of us. The growing deteriorations in the very quality of life have intensified a quest for a better way of life through a world view that could become a viable alternative to the dominant materialistic milieu which determines how we perceive the world and ourselves. This quest is focused on rediscovering and reinstating the lost ancient wisdoms and a host of alternative ideas and practices from the treasures of traditional knowledge — which, it is argued, could inspire the making of 'happy individuals and happy society'.

Amidst the frantic ideological and spiritual movements currently spearheaded the world over by some of the best thinkers and practitioners towards setting a spiritual-ecological-equitable-integral agenda for global society, there has arrived, rather all of a sudden, a curious man from nowhere. Baba Ramdev has emerged as the new ideologue of the global spiritual-consciousness movement, seeking to link it with the ideals of the current ecological and anti-materialistic campaigns. With his own version of holistic yoga as his ploy for instituting the universal right to health, he wants to unleash an euphoria of human resurgence to cure the world of its maladies and install a caring and morally vibrant civil society all around. For this, the seer has proposed two distinct ideological alternatives to the current established order of the world — pranayama (breathing exercise) and the yogic way of life as the key to health restoration and well-being; and manifestation of an enabling spiritual environment for personal and social transformation.

Ramdev's arrival once again underlines the continuing significance of Oriental spiritualism the world over as it offers perhaps the most promising insights for the creation of a 'new spiritually awakened man' — a man at ease with himself and with the world around him. As is well known, the Indian spiritual traditions have thrown up highly revered masters in the past — Sri Aurobindo, Swami Vivekananda, Swami Dayananda, Lahiri Mahashaya, Paramhansa Yogananda, J. N. Krishnamurty, Raman Rishi, Swami Sivananda, Swami Shivananda Sarasvati, Shri Yogendra, Meher Baba and Osho, among others. Several new thinkers also arrived on the scene to heal the wounds of a suffering humanity. They include the yoga legends B. K. S. Iyengar, K. Pattabhi Jois, Bhagwan Nityananda, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Swami Niranjanananda and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

Ramdev has gained mass adulation in a short span of time. As the propeller of an indigenous mass health movement, this celebrated man of our times has caught the public imagination perhaps as vividly as, say, Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Dayananda, Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Swami Vivekananda did in the last century. As his yoga discourses have become a national passion, he has acquired a mass following that only a few other celebrities have had in independent India. Despite sporadic criticism, Ramdev continues to gain ascendancy as the new indigenous national hero. The spectre of his popularity is, indeed, comparable with that of our icons in some other fields — Bismillah Khan, M. S. Subbalakshmi, K. L. Saigal, Dilip Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, Amitabh Bachchan and Sachin Tendulkar, among others.

Ramdev, with his unique package of pranayamas, claims to cure virtually all diseases including even the deadly ones like cancer and AIDS. The seer has adopted a two-pronged strategy to bring in people within his healing domain. First, he asks them to introspect their lifestyle in the context of today's wild consumerism, and second, using the 'neighbourhood sport club' model for his yoga camps, he inspires them to shake off their lingering lethargy to rejuvenate themselves both physically and mentally through his brand of yoga. With his quick, virtually off-the-cuff, assuring solutions for innumerable health problems, the master has created his own niche in the health-care domain of the country. He has also initiated among his followers a process of self- discovery geared towards a wider cultural and spiritual self-confidence and assertion.

Ramdev s highly inspiring discourses also represent the first-ever mass mobilization built around a highly effective use of modern media technologies to establish and sustain the outreach of his messages. In his orange robes and jet-black, long flowing hair and beard, and with his lean physique and oodles of energy, this ever-smiling, unassuming talker with an earthy sense of humour shows not a single streak of the arrogance of an intellectual or a thinker. He reminds us of those jovial, friendly teachers in school who with their sheer spontaneity and zeal would create an intimate rapport with their students.

Surprisingly, Ramdev seems to have created a space for appreciation not only among the laity but also among the country's intellectual class, corporate think-tanks, scientists and doctors, and even some radicals having allegiance with the country's Left. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, his world-renowned contemporary, says, 'If an individual can be credited with reviving yoga in this country, it is solely Swami Ramdev. He has spread yoga to such an extent that sooner or later, one has to embrace it.'

Yet, Ramdev is not merely a healer of the individual. This saffron-clad yoga revolutionary seems to have set for himself a higher purpose. With his package of yoga and holistic living as his ploy, he wants people to undergo a process of self-discovery and contemplation to build a collective cultural consciousness and nationalist feelings, and become proactive partners in the processes of national reconstruction.

The seer's holistic doctrine reflects, adherently or inadvertently, significant ideological influence of several past spiritual masters and social reformers, the foremost being Swami Vivekananda, Swami Dayananda Sarasvati, Sri Aurobindo, Swami Sahajanand Sarasvati and Mahatma Gandhi. Though the seer appears to be lacking the profound philosophical depth of these thinkers, he has imbibed and articulated some of their basic tenets in his discourses. In this way, his work represents a valuable synthesis of the ideas and actions of his predecessors' great minds.

However, despite Ramdev's emergence as the new ideologue of a national and global spiritual resurgence, he is still to find a place in academic discussions. This work is an attempt to fill the gap. It is a study on the making of the Ramdev spectacle with all its phenomenal success, mass enthusiasm and adulation, and controversies. It seeks to locate his philosophy in today's socio-cultural milieu, while tracing its origins in Indian spiritual history, and the past landmark reformist movements that have been initiated in the country by earlier path-breakers. This work also examines the building of the seer's transnational image as the new-age world guru seeking to install with all his romantic and upbeat fervour an agenda for global rejuvenation.

Man is unhappy
and distanced from peace
because he has forgotten the
very idea of well-being
amid the pulls of
a materialist culture.

Yoga is the best vehicle
to discover and realize one's Self,
pure consciousness and
internal brightness.

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