At the Ratnagiri rural police station, officials are chatting, every now and then, throwing a glance at a man seated in the lock up. “Tu polisach bara hota. Babagiri bhovli na, tula (You were good as a policeman. Becoming a godman cost you, didn’t it?),” one of them says, taunting him. Krishna Patil, popularly known in Ratnagiri as Swami Patil, is a former assistant sub-inspector. The 62-year-old was arrested on September 20 under the Anti-Superstition and Black Magic Act.
Until a few years ago, Patil was one of them, working as a driver in the Motor Transport Division of the Ratnagairi police. It was a job he had held since 1977. But spirituality wasn’t new to him.
Born to a farmer from Mirabunder village, Ratnagiri, a young Patil would accompany his father, a bhajan singer, when he performed at the local temple’s devotional gatherings. Soon, their fame spread, and they travelled to neighbouring villages to spread divine love through music.
Even after he joined the police department, Patil pursued his passion. “He would somehow manage to make time for bhajan singing after duty hours. He was devout, and played an active role in building a temple near Mandavi beach in Ratnagiri,” recalls Ramesh Vasaikar, former deputy superintendent of police for whom Patil worked as driver from 1997 to 2000.
His talent was good enough for those who heard him to remember it as mesmerising. Often, devotees, lost in the lord’s worship, would stand up and dance to his songs. It wasn’t uncommon for him to be invited by officers from other jurisdictions to sing at satsangs held at their local temples. “The crowds that turned up to listen to Patil sing made him realise that he held sway over people. Some of them would bow spontaneously before him. Gradually, his reputation as a spiritual personality was cemented and he was growing into a popular figure in the police department,” says a former colleague, requesting anonymity. “Slowly,” the colleague remembers, “he was transforming from policeman into an unexpected personality who was himself overwhelmed by the support he was receiving.” Over time, he began displaying palmistry skills too, and senior officers would call him over to their residence for a glimpse into their future.
Transformation is complete
It was around 2000 that his transformation into a godman was complete. Praise had turned into devotion, and visitors who earlier swayed to his bhajans now touched his feet. They’d load him with garlands, and perform the aarti for him. Soon, stories of his kripa (blessings) began circulating wildly, and Patil decided he needed to make dedicated time for his followers.
At the meetings, visitors would share their sorrows with him. Sometimes, they would plead that he find a solution. The congregation was usually held on Thursdays at a math (monastery) in Sanmitranagar area of Ratnagiri district.
Prahlad Gotad, a 43-year-old follower from Jharewadi village, and his wife had been battling depression. After four years of marriage, they had not been able to have a child. Every treatment in the book had been tried, Gotad claims. Then, they decided to approach Patil. “I told him, by God’s grace, I have everything a home, land, a job. Before I could complete the sentence, Swami interrupted me to say, but you don’t have a child. My wife and I fell at his feet. He didn’t know about our problem. We hadn’t shared it with anyone,” Gotad, an employee with Konkan Railway tells this reporter.
Patil is believed to have told Gotad that his wife would deliver a baby in nine months and nine days. “Call the child, Prasad,” Patil advised. The prediction, says Gotad, was accurate down to the date of birth.
Like several of his followers fed on stories of miracles, Pandurang Kalambate says Patil once blessed a woman and predicted that her son, who had been missing for two years, would return during Ganeshotsav. His bhavishyawani came true when the boy knocked on her door during the nine-day festival.
Now, as many as 4,000 people would turn up every Thursday at the math. This didn’t go down well with the locals, who gradually built the pressure for him to shift base. Shankar Kalambate, a senior citizen and ardent follower of Patil, belonged to Jharewadi, a village 21 km from Ratnagiri. He agreed to donate 21 guntha (2,125 sq m) of land to Patil and his followers for constructing a temple. It was time for him to move from Sanmitranagar to a new base in Jharewadi. This was in 2010. His followers now included senior government officials, bureaucrats, doctors, politicians and businessmen.
And then, Patil claimed to have performed a miracle only God could. A woman visited the Jharewadi math with the lifeless body of her young son. Patil, say his followers, gently inserted his index finger into the boy’s mouth, and soon, the young lad was up and about. This was proof enough for Patil to now sit on a throne, and get loaded with garlands by his bhakts.
From godman to God
His garb slowly changed, and he decided he’d dress like divinity. Sometimes, he would become lord Krishna or Shiva. Chandrakant Gotad, sarpanch of Jharewadi village has been Patil’s firm critic. He speaks of a renowned Shiva temple of Marleshwar in Konkan. Every year on January 14, devotees throng it to celebrate Makarsankranti and perform a marriage ceremony for the celestial couple, Shiva and Parvati.
Inspired by the tradition, Gotad says, Patil chose to do the same. He claimed he was an avatar of lord Shiva, and on the holy occasion of Makarsankranti, he would marry a woman. His followers would arrange for a bride every year. “It was like a real wedding with a baraat. No one knows what happened to those girls,” Gotad says.
Anil Gotad, another Jharewadi resident, agrees with the sarpanch. “Swami Patil would conceive a new nautanki and attire every day. Sometimes, he would dress in a suit, and on other days he would turn into a saint. He would make women followers dance to vulgar songs.” Videos of Patil’s antics circulating on the net stand proof. He is believed to have often showcased Michael Jackson’s moves.
While his persona changed, abuse, say critics, was standard. He claimed to be an avatar of 19th century Maharashtrian saint Swami Samarth, who legend says, had a short temper. “He would not only dress like him, but also display arrogance and abuse his followers. People accepted the vulgar language as ‘prasad’,” says Jaywant Kalambate, a local.
By 2012, Patil had grown a large enough following to consider quitting his police department post. He sought voluntary retirement and became a full-time self-anointed godman. Soon, Jharewadi’s residents too found him a nuisance. “He would give sermons on loudspeaker, abuse his devotees in public, his followers would cause traffic jams and spread filth in the surrounding area,” says Chandrakant Gotad. He calls the miracles hearsay. “His followers never allowed a phone or camera into the monastery.”
Ironically, his fame cost him. Videos of aartis secretly shot on spy cameras were often accompanied by proof of abuse.
In September 20, 2017, a female follower who visited Patil at the Jharewadi math with her husband was verbally abused. She went straight to the local police station and lodged a complaint. But, Patil managed to acquire bail in the case. For his followers, his offensive behaviour was simply ‘swamiji’s leela’.
And then came an incident that may have unfolded thousands of miles away in Harayana, but it had an impact on Patil. On August 28, Dera Sacha Sauda chief Ram Rahim was convicted of rape and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. The man once considered invincible was now a petty prisoner pleading for mercy.
The cry against superstition grew stronger across the country, training the spotlight on others like Patil. Notorious, he could not escape the glare of the media, who began running stories of his misdemeanors. When organisations at the forefront of Maharashtra’s anti-superstition movement mounted pressure, the police was compelled to arrest him.
While Patil got bail in the September 20 incident, he was subsequently booked under a more stringent law Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and the Black Magic Bill 2013, also known as the Anti-Superstition Bill, Black Magic Bill. Each clause of the Act carries a minimum sentence of six months and a maximum sentence of seven years, including a fine. The offences are non-bailable and cognizable.
The investigation officer of the case registered under this act has to be a police officer greater than the rank of a police inspector. It is under these sections that Patil remains in the lock-up.
Deputy Superintendent of police Ganesh Ingale, who is also the investigating officer for the case, said, “During interrogation, Patil claimed that he was innocent and not a swami or baba. He claimed he never wanted to be one, but his followers had insisted. He also said he had not performed any miracles or brought a dead person alive.”
He is a bhondu baba’
Vinod Waygankar, district head of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (Committee for Eradication of Blind faith founded by rationalist Narendra Dabholkar in 1989) of Ratnagiri, said,”It’s all a result of illiteracy. When they fall ill or suffer a medical challenge, villagers turn to babas instead of doctors. In rural India, it will be tough to find good doctors, but every village will have a fraud or’bhondu baba’. Swami Patil didn’t perform miracles. He had admitted it.”No one saw his magic, but everyone believed the stories he spun. It’s only after videos of the drama inside the math went viral, that he was exposed.”