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Thousands join Maharishi's funeral
by Gavin Rabinowitz

The Associated Press    Translate This Article
12 February 2008

The India Government accorded Maharishi a state funeral for his departing rites held at Prayag, Allahabad on 11 February, 2008. This is the first time this has ever been done for a spiritual teacher.

ALLAHABAD, India (AP) - Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the iconic guru who sought to blend Eastern spirituality and Western science to harness the mind's power and heal the world, was cremated Monday in a tumultuous ceremony at one of Hinduism's holiest sites.

Befitting the man who spent more than five decades establishing a meditation empire in the West with dozens of celebrity followers, the funeral was a mix of ancient Vedic tradition, modern Indian chaos and a touch of Hollywood-style theatrics.

It was anything but contemplative and peaceful.

Thousands of flag-waving followers beating drums, clanging cymbals and chanting hymns carried the flower-covered body from the Maharishi's ashram to a hilltop overlooking the confluence of the sacred Ganges and Yamuna rivers.

Baton-wielding police couldn't stop a surge of followers who broke through their cordon while the body was being carried. They rushed the site in this northern Indian city where several hundred of the Maharishi's Western disciples and a group of Indian holy men were seated.

Adding to the drama, a helicopter swooped in low, stirring up huge dust clouds and scattering posters of the guru as it dropped a scarlet cloud of rose petals on the funeral procession.

It repeated the dive five times despite frantic attempts by the Maharishi's successors to wave it away.

The Maharishi created the global Transcendental Meditation movement, or TM, in which he taught the West the ancient Hindu practice of mind control.

He gained medical respectability for meditation, with scores of studies showing that meditation reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and improves concentration. Skeptics, however, scoffed at his notion that group meditation could harness the power of the universe to end all conflicts and cure world hunger.

The Maharishi won international prominence for himself and his meditation techniques when the Beatles attended one of his lectures in Wales in 1967, and then visited his ashram in India in 1968. His beaming, bearded face became a symbol of 1960s hippie mysticism. Today, TM has more than 5 million practitioners.

The body was placed on a pyre built by the Maharishi's relatives out of sandalwood logs, bails of straw and dried cow dung. An Indian military unit honored the holy man, but out of deference to his pacifist views, the soldiers lowered their weapons to the ground instead of firing a traditional salute.

The family finished the ceremony by removing the white shroud from the Maharishi, anointing the body with ghee, or clarified butter, and covering it with saffron-colored powder. They then set it ablaze, sending plumes of white smoke into the air.

Contrary to Hindu tradition, the Maharishi's ashes were not immersed in the Ganges. In accordance with his wishes, a memorial will be built over them at the cremation site, said Bob Roth, a spokesman for the movement.

The Maharishi died, apparently of natural causes, last week at his headquarters in the Netherlands. He was believed to be 91.

About 2,000 followers from around the world came for the funeral but only men were allowed to attend the ceremony. Women watched a televised version from the ashram.

In attendance were Indian meditation guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Hollywood film director David Lynch.

``He was such a great teacher. He opened the fullness of life to me. He allowed me to experience the eternity and infinity within myself,'' said Royal Lillge, 58, a TM teacher from Boise, Idaho.

After the ceremony, his Western followers, most wearing cream-colored clothes, circled the pyre along with the movement's leaders, who were clad in ceremonial robes with gold medallions and crowns.

A group of 48 leaders of the TM movement, known as ministers and rajas led by Maharaja _ or Great King _ Adhiraj Rajaram, who succeeded the Maharishi, vowed to continue to strive for the Maharishi's goals.

Rajaram announced that dozens of schools or universities teaching TM and ``Yogic flying,'' showcased as the ultimate level of transcendence, would be built to continue the Maharishi's teachings as a memorial to him.

Rajaram's ``royal proclamation'' was read out by John Heglin, another senior leader of the movement. Rajaram does not speak in public because he believes he can better lead by silence.

Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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