Delightful truths of cult leaders

Devdutt PattanaikBaba Rampal is just the latest in the long line of cult leaders. To be a cult leader you need to have fans who believe everything you say, evidence notwithstanding, and are willing to attack, sometimes violently, those who criticise you or your ideas. Baba Rampal certainly fits the bill. He declared Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma, the three sons of Kaal Niranjan and Ashtangi Aadi Maya were spreading a false web to waylay humanity and that the true path to the true God, or Sat Purusha, was him, the spiritual successor of the true saint, Kabir. Thousands of people believed these stories, drank the kheer allegedly prepared from milk used to bathe him, and were willing to kill for him, and die for him.

Illustration/Devdutt Pattanaik

Before we start believing that all cult leaders are Indian, we must turn our gaze to America’s televangelists who have a long history of telling bizzare stories that their fans accept as the truth. They reject the idea that Jesus saw value in poverty and suffering as the Catholic Church claims, or that he valued the simple life as many Protestants believe. These Prosperity Preachers insist that Jesus wants everyone to be rich, that greed is good and godly, and that giving money to their Church is a quick way of attracting the Lord’s fortune.

Not all cult leaders are religious. There are quasi-academic quasi-political cults, like the one led by Rajeev Malhotra, who shot to fame by initiating the witch-hunt against Wendy Doniger in USA (who also has her fan following that believes every word she writes is the truth and nothing but the truth). Fuelled by that success, this NRI now imagines himself as an ‘intellectual kshatriya’ who is going to ‘save India’ from those Western and Indian scholars, dead and alive, who he imagines as conspiring to ‘break India’. He positions himself as the source of all ‘path-breaking’ Hindu wisdom, yearns to be invited to meetings and literary festivals, itching to debate and demolish. Ignored, he mocks imagined challengers as ‘colonial sepoys’ and he brands imagined rivals as ‘mediocre’ and ‘plagiarists’. His fans enthusiastically agree. For them, he is the saviour, prophet and martyr of Hinduism, and they fail to see the irony of such qualifications! Perhaps the most fascinating cult leaders are the ‘rational’ ones and their ‘rational’ fights, the most acrimonious being the decade-long feud between Richard Dawkins and Deepak Chopra. Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist, famous for coining the term ‘meme’; he is what is best called a militant atheist. Chopra is a mind-body guru, popular among Hollywood stars, who questions the scientific status quo by speaking about ‘consciousness’ and ‘quantum healing’. Both Dawkins and Chopra, call each other names like fraud, fundamentalist and bigot. Both inspire great admiration and irritation, in equal measure, as they make room for no other truth but their own.

Cult leaders are not liars; they do present powerful and profound truths. But the problem is that it eventually stops becoming about what they are saying, it becomes about them! They become attractive, evoking the animal within us, our desire to be part of a pack or a herd, our desire to follow an alpha and protect a territory against rivals. They also appeal to our human side, the side that yearns for some meaning and purpose, that wants to reject others, indulge the self and feel superior, by association to grand personalities.

The author writes and lectures on relevance of mythology in modern times, and can be reached at

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.



  • Amit Sharma13-Jul-2015

    Guys reading this article just make a simple comparison - Devdatt Patnaik writes 500 word article accusing Rajiv Malhotra in 350 words with 0 references to support his claimsRajiv Malhotra writes 500 page book elaborating "intellectual sepoy" army with 150 pages of references to support his wordsI rest my case here. Amit

  • porus15-Jul-2015

    Mr. Patnaik needs to stop the ad hominem attacks and try to propose counter arguments to Rajiv Malhotras arguments. Otherwise, he just shows up as a whiny kid. But I can understand intellectual rigor is not Mr. Patnaiks forte.

  • kajaruddin gandhi13-Jul-2015

    RM is the current vishwamitr as swamyji says. devdasi (read in the terms devdasi tradition is projected) patnaik should stop continuing the degradation of our sanskriti. RM is doing the great work of restoring the truth by headon logic against western spin-doctors. patnaikji, kripaya devdatt bano, na ki devdasi.

  • 6amig26-Dec-2014

    Patnaik does a great job of writing on mythology and its business significance. He should continue doing that and leave other serious matters of dharma scholarship to real scholars like Rajiv Malhotra, Devdutt should be advised to comment on the contents of Rajiv Malhotra's work which are based on solid research and verifiable references rather than make baseless judgemental statements just to deride him. While commenting on cultish behaviour Mr. Patnaik seems to falling into its traps himself.

  • SR28-Dec-2014

    This article merely casts aspersions on Shri Rajiv Malhotra that he imagines himself of being an 'intellectual kshatriya' and trying to 'save' India from breaking forces. The author of this article would've got more credence had he substantiated and refuted with proper examples that Shri Rajiv Malhotra has been speaking about in various forums. Next time before writing Mr. DevadattPatnaik, please understand that an empty rhetoric is unscholarly and a futile exercise!

  • Bharat29-Dec-2014

    I used to follow your articles earlier... However, Rajeev Malhotra's excellent books "Breaking India", "Being Different" and "Invasion of the Sacred" have opened my eyes to the sepoy culture being encouraged in India by the West. Authors like you are practicing a subtle subterfuge, wherein we are spoon-fed a historical interpretation that slowly poisons our mind against our very own culture. You are a self-admitted "friend" of Wendy Doniger, who in all her books displays a salacious malice.

  • Sam28-Dec-2014

    Ah! caught you ,I was searching you for long time, give my money back damn I wasted my money buying your book.

  • Neeraj Gupta28-Dec-2014

    Rajiv Malhotra is doing original, groundbreaking work. Everything he says he analyzed and dissected by people and only accepted if found to be true. Obviously, he is ruffling feathers of those who want status quo. Mr Devdutt rings hollow and bitter.

  • ajit sahu29-Dec-2014

    this patnaik belong to odisha where such stupids are found abundantly. Hence everybody knows how least performing state is odisha. I am ashamed of being a odia because of people like devdutt patnaik. there was one more joker in mumbai popularly known as police commisoner also belonged to patnaiks khandan.....hope all have umderstood.

  • Bharat29-Dec-2014

    Talk about the kettle calling the lamp black. You have developed a cult following of secular people who are interested in easy bites of Hinduism, without taking the trouble to open their eyes and see the forces which are trying to malign Hinduism by selective interpretation of the religious texts. Most of your articles are self-reliant, with no sources cited for your inferences.On the other hand Rajeev Malhotra cites authoritative references for all his statements. Please point out any mistake

  • Amar30-Dec-2014

    Devadatt Pattanaik, Sepoy at work for Master. Rajiv Malhotra did his research and presented shortcomes and biases in western academia. I don't see any example or reference by Devadatta of any incorrect information by Rajiv.

  • Santosh Gairola26-Dec-2014

    Since Devidatt makes his living out of anecdotes and sayings, let me remind him;If you spit on sun, it comes back on your face. Don't do it.

  • Jalansaab26-Dec-2014

    DP attacking RM is like Rahul Gandhi attacking Narendra Modi!! Hilarious!! :)

  • satya26-Dec-2014

    Moral of the story - Wendy Doniger is a cult figure and pulping her books is probably ok. Thanks Devdutt for the insight. I can also ignore all her cult followers as well.

  • Anshul Saxena28-Dec-2014

    Oh wise one, where were thee? DDP trying to be DDT and kill the weed of Hindu ignorance. Doniger must be in tears (of joy) after watching her 'dattak putra' coming out like this.Rajiv Malhotra's views are at least evidence based, and consistent with the views of enlightened Hindu sages and seers. Unlike you, who would write anything to sell your books. Speaking of which, I think you are just using this opportunity to be in the limelight till your next book comes out. Good luck with that!

  • Hari Thapliyal29-Dec-2014

    Devdutt, I appreciate you work on mythology. But what is this? You may have personal grudge against RM but then why coming openly in field for that. I do not think that Indian intellectuals should go against each other in the same market. You can sit together and settle the issue otherwise this will destroy your image more than RM's. I have seen your work and RM's as well and I understand the kind depth of research he does.

  • Yella26-Dec-2014

    I am a fan of Rajiv Malhotra. So, I am one of those whom you mentioned to be enthusiastically agreeing to all RM said. Are there any factually incorrect statements that RM made in his books or videos? Why don't you give examples to back your statement? If you don't have any, then you must be one of the sepoy fulfilling western interests in the country.

  • Pramod13-Jul-2015

    What is this? I never expected this from Devdatt Patnaik. Sir, you are good at mythology and its relevance to present context - life style, society and business. Please continue with the good work that you have mastered in. Rajeev ji is doing his own research with meticulous and precise details, facts and references. If you want to refute you are welcome to write a review on his book. Empty critics like this have no room in the scholarly world. Thank you.

  • Unmesh Dave20-Dec-2015

    Respected Devdutt Pattnaikji, It would be good if you can debate Rajivji

  • Nupura27-Dec-2014

    Until I read Rajiv Malhotra, I never could decipher what drives Indian intellectuals. I understand they collaborate with westerners, aspire to go west. If you think, it is marxism - They would agree to a marxist criticism. You think it is sociology, post-modernism - they will agree to a criticism. Eventually they would disown you as Brahminical. BTW Devadatta's book is crap - he doesn't get hinduism.

  • Prassoon Suryadas27-Dec-2014

    muahahahaha someone started feeling the heat :)) ..... paid badmouthing begins... lol I have seen this peculiar type of behavior in Kerala, where Mappilas and Nasranis go paranoid when we talk about history beyond 150years; up to 150 years of history they love and embrace it, but if you go beyond that they will call you all kinda names and abuses mentioned above!!!

  • Manish M25-Dec-2014

    A mediocre follower of the cult of the obnoxious Doniger is calling Rajiv Malhotra names. Irony died a million times.

  • sudarshan26-Dec-2014

    Devadatt Patnaik is one among the long list of parasites who inspite of taking everything fromthe society and state they live in spit back poisonous message full of self fulfilling messages to serve their hypocratic life styles. They have their own back scratchers who are self styled thinkers and call themselves secularists so that they get all the honours and recognitions for their below average work.if they do not do it, their unscholarly work will not be branded scholarly.He is no more saner

  • Rahul27-Dec-2014

    I wonder how are hypocrites and opportunists like Devdutt getting published? And why? The distortion of hindu texts has never been more amplified and it is tragic to see people reading it. This is some permanent damage he is doing.

  • Raj Sharma27-Dec-2014

    Patnaik will turn into the same cult leader that he criticizes if he isn't one already. It is all about him at this point.

  • srinivas27-Dec-2014

    Devdatt pattnaik seems to be Wendy's shishya in disguise.. He should not be taken seriously...what credentials does he has to comment on Rajiv malhotra..

  • suraj03-Jan-2015

    Now after reading this artilce Devdutt comes under many question's like why he uses gods in his examples ?, and why he calls RM as "cult leader"? . Devdutt after calling RM 'cult leader" falls under his own trap.

  • Siddharth28-Dec-2014

    What a load of rubbish you wrote here which neither makes sense nor has any basis. Are you practicing to write English or trying to make some legit point. You seem to be living in your own secularised cocoon who thinks that they are very rational thinkers, but alas it is the other way round ...

  • Varun05-Jan-2015

    I whole heartedly agree with several people criticizing Mr. Devdutt Patnaik. Sir if you really want to cast aspersions on Mr. Malhotra's work, please publish an article with point to point criticism of his work backed by solid references and scientific inquiry. Only when you make logically sound arguments, will someone trust your words. Just lambasting someone and making statements about someones work without any justification, clearly means you are writing with some pre-determined agenda.

  • Prashant28-Dec-2014

    Devdas Pattanaik writes an extremely biased article while attempting to give it a veneer of academic neutrality. He is entitled to his opinions and biases as any lay person. But then he is precisely that and cannot be qualified to write such an article that peddles utter nonsense. While starting with Ram Pal and making a dubious broadside at Hinduism, the space Pattanaik devotes to some targets reveals his agenda very clearly and he resorts to name calling, branding and labeling.

  • Ranjith Vadiyala30-Dec-2014

    After reading this article, I understood that all you need to write an article is good English and nothing else. This is completely filled with opinions without a mention of any proof to substantiate the claims made. I did watch a few of Rajiv Malhotra's videos and they make 1000 times more sense than this article. If you really want to do some good to the readers, then please come up with some evidence. At the worst case, at least try to sound a little logical. Mere claims don't do any good.

  • Kribbs Naidu26-Dec-2014

    People who have achieved mediocrity in all they have attempted find it easy to criticize people of true excellence. The monumental works of Rajiv Malhotra are having a profound impact all over the world in revealing the truth and therefore many people with false agendas in comfort zones, like Devadatt Patnaik, are running scared. Durban South Africa

  • mechprince26-Dec-2014

    Another pseudo-intellectual article from a pseudo-secular, self-hating, westernized Indian sepoy. His furious attempts to sound intellectual falls flat on its face. One can even create a template for such articles. The common themes are always these: 1. Act intellectual and neutral, 2.Bash anything Hindu, 3.Hate yourself and your country, 4.Pepper the article with sophisticated words that you learnt from a western article, 5.Repeat ad-nauseam.

  • Subramani27-Dec-2014

    It does not take a highly intellectual mind to figure out where his leanings are. All that one can make out from this "Mumbling-Naik" is a lack of coherent narrative on what the he is propounding. In the end, all that remains is "Rajiv Malhotra" is the devil; or some thought similar to that. Words conveying desperation like those of a Soldier forgetting the perfect drills in a "Life and death" situation. Since when did debate become a dirty word?

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