GADAIPUR (India): Thousands of devotees are flocking to this town in the northern Indian farmlands on the outskirts of New Delhi for spiritual fulfilment at the feet of a rustic saint who dispenses tea and wisdom.
Baba Virsa Singh, 70 known to his followers as Maharaj (king) or Babaji is hosting a conference on The spiritual approach to peace and resolving terrorism at his sprawling ashram, or spiritual home, to mark his birthday today.
Russian opposition leader Sergei Glaziev is among those attending the event, which began on Thursday. Organisers believe that in the coming days about 15,000 people will join the celebrations.
Religious leaders, teachers, government officials, students and business people from all over the world including Bhai Mohan Singh, the founder of India's top drugs company Ranbaxy Pharmaceuticals, are scheduled to attend.
Among those already here are Indian parliamentarian and Kashmir royal Karan Singh, Hindu firebrand leader Ashok Singhal and Saudi Arabia-based Muslim leader Mohammed Rafiq Shariq Warsi.
Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians live and work together in this ashram under Babaji's inspiration, said American author Mary Pat Fisher, who wrote the popular book Living Religions.
He has no pretensions of being a guru. He comes from a poor Indian farming family, talks to his plants and is a brilliant farmer. He draws on examples of everyday life but with such humorous and surprising twists that his anecdotes are revelatory.
Charismatic religious leaders, who call claim to have supernatural powers, have long flourished in India. They usually attract hordes of disciples and preside over astonishing riches, land, fleets of luxury cars and even thoroughbred horses.
Some of them are so powerful that Indian leaders, such as former prime minister Indira Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao, had close ties to them. They are often invited by the government and local authorities to mediate in raging disputes.
Baba Virsa Singh was born to a poor family in Punjab. He refused school and then marriage, preferring to meditate. He found devotees at a young age.
In the 1960s, he founded an ashram to receive followers.
Baba Virsa Singh now presides over thousands of acres of farmland on the outskirts of Delhi and Uttar Pradesh which sustains the commune.
In 1989, he visited Russia and predicted the break-up of the Soviet Union on national television. That is exactly what happened in 1991, said Yuriy Ageshin, president of the Russian Chamber of Law. AFP