A religion that believes in the worship of UFOs and has 80,000 official followers worldwide is slowly finding a foothold in India, with official numbers growing from six to 60 in the last two years, and unofficial figures reaching 2,000
AS we walk into the one-BHK home of a 60 year-old architect in one of Mira Road's oldest neighbourhoods, we notice that the main door carries more than eight stickers of Hindu religious symbols. In the living room, atop a television that stands in a corner, sits the picture of a Hindu goddess, while murals of Ganesha hang on the walls. Lord Venkateshwara guards the door that leads to the rest of the house.
Sixty year-old Mumbai resident Bharat Panchal, and fellow Ra lian 21
year-old Jay Trivedi meditate in an attempt to connect with Elohim at
Panchal's Mira Road residence. Ra l's book, Sensual Meditation, describes
six different meditations that make full use of the lungs to oxygenate the
blood. The Ra lian imagines heat travelling upwards from toe to the head
and touches the other person's body to activate his senses. Pic/Sameer
To any other guest, this would appear to be a typical Gujarati house. Little would they know that this is where Bharat Panchal, the first Indian Ra lian, lives. Ra lism is the International UFO religion, and Panchal is the only follower in his five-member family.
The encounter in France
On the morning of December 13, 1973, while he was editor of Auto Pop, a a leading car-racing magazine, Frenchman Claude Vorilhon claims to have had a rather dramatic encounter with a being from another planet. This episode unfolded at Puy de Lassolas, a volcano park in France.
Ra lian movement founder Claude Vorilhon (in white) and French
chemist Brigitte Boisselier, at a ceremony in Rome in 2004. She is the
CEO of the controversial company Clonaid that made an unverified
claim about an American woman undergoing a cloning procedure that
led to the birth of a girl named Eve in 2002. Pic/ AFP Photo
According to Vorilhon, who was 27 at the time, the extra-terrestrial named Yahweh gave him a detailed explanation of the origins of mankind, and some information on how to organise the future. After six consecutive meetings with Yahweh in the same location, followed by taking down detailed notes of what was being narrated to him, the former sports journalist accepted the mission given to him -- that of informing humanity about this message, and preparing people to welcome their creators, the Elohim, without fear.
Vorilhon went on to change his name to Ra l ('messenger' in Hebrew), and began spreading the message within a year. His first book, The Book Which Tells the Truth, detailed his encounters and carried the message of the Elohim.
In September 1974, he organised the first Ra lian public conference in Paris, a meeting that attracted over 2,000 people. Shortly after, he founded MADECH, which consisted of a group of people interested in helping him, and stood for The Movement for Welcoming the Elohim, Creators of Humanity.
Ra l wrote Extraterrestrials Took Me to Their Planet in 1975, and since then he has authored several titles including Sensual Meditation, which forms the core of his teachings. Geniocracy advocates a more intelligent management of the planet, while Yes To Human Cloning explains the possibility of being eternal. By the end of 1974, his group had 170 members in France. Today, there are more than 80,000 members around the world, including Panchal.
The India chapter
Panchal, and India's brush with Ra lism dates back to 2004. And the episode unfolded at an iconic Mumbai landmark, Churchgate station. "I saw a crowd gathered around a Korean lady, who was holding a copy of The Book Which Tells the Truth. She was talking about Extraterrestrials," he recalls. Curious, he picked up a copy. "I came home and began reading it almost immediately, and couldn't stop. The next day, I went back to the same location, hoping to meet her."
Jinhee Kim, more popularly known as Yaho, India head of the Ra lian Movement, was there. Panchal says he had always been curious and sceptical. "I had doubts about Darwin's theory of evolution. I found the answers to all my questions in the book, and through subsequent interactions with Yaho. That's how I turned into a Ra lian," he says, seated on a diwan strewn with mirror work bolster cushions.
For those who imagine UFO-believers look like they've escaped from the sets of Avatar, Panchal is the man to meet. Or Anup Prasad.
Prasad's encounter with Ra lism was a shade more dramatic, though. A Commerce student from the Tinsukia district of Assam, Prasad was studying in Bengaluru. In 2007, while walking home from college, he spotted a mysterious object in the sky, emitting a bright light from its tail. His friends tried convincing him that it must have been a jet.
Online research led him to links about UFOs and extraterrestrials, and finally, Ra lism's official website. "I downloaded Intelligent Designs (the Bible of Ra lism) and finished reading it that same night. I was in search of knowledge, which the book offered. Each and every line in there was satisfying; it left me speechless," says Prasad over the phone from his Munirka residence in South Delhi.
The next morning, Prasad, who now works as a software engineer, mailed Yaho to clarify some doubts, and received a reply within four hours. The correspondence and his personal research continued, and in 2009, Prasad decided to become a Ra lian.
Meditate to connect
Ra lians are initiated into the religion through a process they call Transmission of the Cellular Plan. Cellular refers to the organic cells in the body, while plan refers to the genetic makeup of the individual. "Transmission is a scientific way to connect DNA frequencies of a human with the mother computer of the Elohim. Every DNA carries a different frequency. When I conduct Transmission, I am already connected with the mother computer. So, the frequency of the one to be initiated flows through me and reaches the mother computer. When his frequency is received by the mother board, he becomes a Ra lian," Prasad says.
It takes a small monetary contribution too. Every Transmitted Ra lian in India pays Rs 1,000 as initiation fee.
Prasad and Panchal are among three Ra lians in India (the third is a man called Ashraf, and is based in Jaisalmer), all upper-level clergy who can transmit people to Ra lism, and call themselves Guides.
The process of Transmission is similar to that of Baptism, says Panchal. "We wet our hands with water so that there is better connectivity with the mother computer. I place my right hand on the back of the member's head, and the left one on his forehead. And I tell the Elohim, so-and-so person has accepted them as creators."
The mother computer that Panchal refers to is believed to hold genetic information of each and every creature on earth. The Elohim, they say, will use this data available to judge if an individual who has come to the end of his life, deserves to be reborn.
For Ra lians, meditation is a daily practice which they indulge in on waking up, and before every meal. The mind is awakened when the body is, they say, and meditation helps them achieve that. "We meditate and feel the sensation of our body. Consequently, our minds become sharper," says Panchal.
The practice of meditation is elaborated upon in Intelligent Designs, a book that urges members to get in touch with fellow Ra lians to attempt telepathic communication with the Elohim. This is religiously followed by the 10-12 Ra lians who live in Mumbai and Delhi, at meetings they hold every Sunday.
God didn't make us
The Elohim are important for Ra lians because it's they who created all creatures on earth, following experiments. "It's not God who created us. The genetic structure of our bodies is unique. There has to be a higher scientific intelligence behind our design," says Panchal, sharing that the Elohim are 26,000 years more advanced than human beings.
Active followers of Ra lism have exhibited their anti-war views through outdoor contacts such as elaborate parades. Humans are destroying Mother Earth, the say, and are capable of destroying pretty much everything the Elohim created through a nuclear war. "In 1942, we experienced the Hiroshima blasts. The Elohim watching us are scared that we will destroy ourselves. They want to come to Earth, they want us to create an embassy and speak to our world leaders on how they should utilise their time to make our lives easy and peaceful," explains Prasad.
And if these leaders happen to be from the world's largest democracy, the Elohim may just have a problem. Ra lians don't believe in democracy. They believe in Geniocracy, a practice that says the world would be better if geniuses had an exclusive right to govern. "Geniocracy (the fifth book written by Rael in 1980) says we don't believe in political parties that rule us. Geniuses, people who have a higher IQ than the rest, should rule the world. Geniuses wouldn't be power hungry. They'd help the poor and treat everyone equally," says 21 year-old Mumbai-based Ra lian, Jay Trivedi.
India is getting hooked
And Trivedi's ilk are gathering support. Till 2009, there were only about six Ra lians in India, most of them in Mumbai. "We now have more than 60 official members across the country, not just in the metros but also in Lucknow, Jharkhand and Jaisalmer," says Trivedi.
The reason for the rise in numbers, they say, is growing awareness about extraterrestrials. When curious individuals run online searches for the same, they often stumble upon the Ra lism site. What's encouraging, say the Guides, is that these are official figures.
There are over 2,000 closet Ra lians in India; members who believe in the concept but refuse to Transmit fearing a backlash from family, friends and society. And there are those who join for 'benefits', says Panchal. By that he is referring to Ra lian tenets of free love and open sex. "India is conservative. The concept of free love is bound to attract people but Ra lism is not only about that," clarifies Prasad. "There are those who attend the first few meetings, realise they won't get what they are looking for, and never return," says Panchal.
But for those Indians like him, who have Transmitted, social criticism can't be escaped. Being the butt of jokes is a reality they live with. "Some of my friends accuse me of brainwashing and conversion. I want to convince them that we are not converting people. We are only converting their thoughts," says Prasad.
Panchal's 30 year-old son isn't exactly happy with his choice but years of adjustment has made him come to terms with his decision. Panchal's wife takes him to the temple, and Panchal complies because he doesn't wish to upset her. But he doesn't believe.
The question marks
Panchal, although a Guide, doesn't have all the answers. If Ra lism considers Buddha, Moses and Christ as messengers sent by the Elohim, why not mention any Hindu god? "During the six-day conversation that the Elohim had with Ra l, they made no mention of a Hindu god," is all Panchal can say.
A question seeking information about where Ra lian funds lie, doesn't beget a clear answer either. Panchal, like all true Ra lians, donates towards the larger cause. He is meant to donate one per cent of his annual earnings towards the building of the Embassy for Extraterrestrials, an agency that will support official contact with extraterrestrial Elohim.
The building plan includes an aseptic chamber leading to a conference room for 21 people. The landing pad for the embassy is meant to fit a spaceship 12 metres in diameter on its terrace. While most would call these plans outrageous, Sudha Amin, sociology professor with Mumbai's KC College, is fascinated by the romanticism of a religion that urges its followers to use scientific means to create a better world.
"As long as you are not harming anyone, you can believe in any religion you wish. Several religions co-exist in our country and the world, and some are primitive. How can we deny Ra lians the right to practise? If they protect the Earth from destruction, we'd have new species of plants and animals, and the air would be cleaner. How lovely that would be," she says.
Do we see a smile on Panchal's face?