Police in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu have a difficult situation on their hands: a 13-year-old boy who has become a swami, or Hindu holy man, and founded his own monastery without the permission of his parents.
At the weekend, Bharanidharan, who has renounced all worldly goods, wears a rough robe made from a single cloth and carries a long wooden staff, was abducted while giving a speech on spiritualism in Salem, south-west of Madras.
Several men burst into a community hall in the town, where the boy was giving his address, and dragged him screaming from the hall. Some of the boy’s devotees tried to prevent the abduction, but the men fought them off. The child-swami, who has renamed himself Sri Haribharanidhara Raghavendra Swamigal, was then forced to make an undignified exit, bundled into the back of a car.
But the police’s confusion was to grow even worse when they discovered that the boy had been abducted by his parents, desperate to rescue him from his life of renunciation and bring him back to the family home in Salem. The parents, Pattabhiraman and Savithri, had paid a group of local toughs to abduct the boy during his visit to his home town.
But it appears the boy did not want to be rescued. He insisted on being allowed to return to the ashram, or Hindu monastery, he set up in the nearby town of Ayodhyapattinam and demanded police guards to protect him.
The boy’s parents said that they believe he is being used and “misled by someone wanting to make a fortune out of his ashram”. As he is still a minor, legally he is under the care of his parents.
The police were unable to persuade the child and his parents to agree a compromise and the case will now go to court. But in the meantime, the young swami has returned to his ashram, and the police have reluctantly decided they have no choice but to give him round-the-clock protection.
After his return to the ashram following his abduction, a large group of devotees gathered and chanted prayers late into the night to welcome their “guru” back. In a brief interview with The Hindu newspaper, the boy said: “I embraced this way of life for which I am ordained. That is the wish of the Creator.”
He said that he wanted to continue to lead “the life of a sage” and that he would not allow anyone to make money out of it. But the reporter noted that he was “taking his cue” from some of his devotees who stood around him as he spoke.
Those who renounce worldly goods and become sannyasi, wandering holy mendicants, as the boy claims to have, are greatly respected in Hindu society. But it is a practice more usually embraced by older men and for a child to take it up is extremely unusual.