After a three-year legal battle, an Indian court has ruled that followers of a deceased spiritual teacher may continue to keep his body preserved in a freezer.
Doctors declared Ashutosh Maharaj, founder of the Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan, or Divine Light Awakening Mission, dead following a heart attack in 2014. But his followers maintain that the guru is in a state of deep meditation, called “samadhi,” and will eventually return to life.
Disciples at Maharaj’s well-guarded, 100-acre ashram in northern India have kept the guru’s body in a commercial freezer since 2014.
“He is not dead,” the guru’s spokesman Swami Vishalanand told the BBC shortly after his death. “Medical science does not understand things like yogic science. We will wait and watch. We are confident that he will come back.”
State officials who were permitted entry to where the guru’s body is being kept described the body as dark and shrunken, “like an Egyptian mummy,” The Independent reported in 2014.
Once news of the guru’s death became public, a man claiming to be Maharaj’s son came forward with a petition to cremate his alleged father’s body in line with Hindu rituals. The guru’s followers assert Maharaj didn’t have a family, according to The Tribune. But Dalip Jha, his alleged son, has offered to do a DNA test to prove his identity.
A man named Puran Singh, who claims to be a former driver for the guru, filed a petition shortly after Maharaj’s seeking a post-mortem examination. Singh has accused followers of holding onto the guru’s body in an attempt to maintain control of his wealth.
Maharaj’s sect, reportedly established in Jalandhar, Punjab, in 1983, has attracted millions of followers and amassed a wealth of roughly $120,000,000, according to the BBC.
On Thursday, the Punjab and Haryana High Court ruled in favor of the guru’s followers, citing religious freedom in their decision to allow disciples to keep his body in a freezer indefinitely.
The court also argued that there are no laws requiring disposal of a body after death.
“We thus, find ourselves in a piquant situation where in the absence of any law or obligation flowing therefrom, to give any directions to dispose of the body even if one were to venture considering to do so,” stated the 40-page ruling, according to CNN.