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When a Reporter Took On a ‘Messiah’

Netflix’s upcoming interval drama ‘Maharaj’ relies on the real-life 1862 Maharaj Libel Case, the place journalist Karsandas Mulji uncovered the alleged sexual misconduct of a non secular chief. Right here’s how Karsandas gained the sensational trial.

A high-tension courtroom crammed to the brim with onlookers keenly observing each transfer of the judges. The important thing gamers are a journalist and a famend godman dealing with allegations of sexual assault. Appears like a thriller, proper? What if we informed you this really occurred within the 1800s?

Filmmaker Siddharth P Malhotra’s upcoming interval drama on Netflix known as ‘Maharaj’ — Starring Junaid Khan, Jaideep Ahlawat, Sharvari Wagh, and Shalini Pandey — relies on the same incident.

Centred on the Maharaj Libel Case of 1862 within the Bombay Excessive Courtroom, the movie highlights the efforts of real-life journalist Karsandas Mulji to reveal the alleged sexual misconduct of spiritual chief Jadunathji Brijratanji Maharaj.

Choose Joseph Arnould dominated in favour of Karsandas, making it sensational information on the time. Within the phrases of Arnould, “A public journalist is a public trainer: the true operate of the press, that by advantage of which it has rightly grown to be one of many nice powers of the fashionable world—is the operate of educating, elevating and enlightening those that fall inside the vary of its affect.”

So who was this courageous journalist, and why did he contain himself in a authorized battle towards the ‘Maharaj’ — here’s a chunk of historical past.

A public servant

Born in Mumbai in 1832 to a household of the Kapol Caste, a buying and selling caste of Western India, Karsandas was all the time devoted to public service. He was an lively member of the Gujarati Gnanprasarak Mandalli (Gujarati Society for the Unfold of Data), based by the College students’ Society of Elphinstone Faculty. Amongst his classmates have been distinguished reformers equivalent to poet Narmad and educationist Mahipatram Neelkanth.

In line with an article by The Print, “In 1851, he penned an essay for a literary competitors, advocating for widow remarriage. When the information reached Karsandas’ aged aunt, who had cared for him following his mom’s loss of life, she promptly evicted him from her residence. On the time, Karsandas was married.”

Nonetheless, neither society nor familial strain may cease Karsandas from following his journalistic instincts. Desirous to be extra free together with his writing and concepts, he determined to start out his personal journal.

With the assistance of some buddies, he began a Gujarati weekly in round 1855 known as Satyaprakash to additional his work of social curiosity. The weekly journal was recognized for boldly confronting outdated Indian traditions and societal evils.

Netflix Film Maharaj
Netflix Movie Maharaj

In line with a report by, “The paper had a meagre subscription of 500, but its affect on Bombay’s conservative Gujarati Hindu group can’t be overstated. Within the 1850s, he went on to edit a sequence of newspapers.”

The Pushtimarg sect and Maharaj’s function

Karsandas was a follower of the Pushtimarg sect, based by Vallabhacharya within the sixteenth century, a distinguished Hindu devotional sect in western India. By the nineteenth century, Pushtimarg had amassed important wealth and affect, with its religious leaders, generally known as Maharajs, wielding appreciable energy over their followers. These leaders have been revered as dwelling incarnations of Krishna and loved a lavish life-style supported by the donations of devotees.

Nonetheless, the Maharajas usually confronted allegations of sexual impropriety and corruption, resulting in a rising rift between traditionalists and reform-minded people by the late 1800s.

He himself additionally began to query the viability of the religion via his writings. In 1861, he revealed an article titled Hinduono Asal Dharma ane Haalna Pakhandi Mato (The Primitive Faith of the Hindus and the Current Heterodox Opinions), which delivered the heaviest blow on the Maharaj.

Amongst different costs, it accused them of getting sexual alliances with their feminine devotees. The Print report states, “It led to the Maharaj submitting the well-known libel case within the Bombay courtroom; it was known as the “biggest trial of contemporary instances because the trial of Warren Hastings.”

A paper posted by The College of Toronto mentioned, “The article in query not solely denounced the Pushtimarg as heterodox, a latter-day corruption of the unique Vedic faith; it additionally particularly accused Jadunathji of imposing himself sexually on his feminine devotees.”

Jadunathji Brijratanji Maharaj filed a lawsuit price Rs 50,000 towards Karsandas for harming his popularity.

A historic ruling

Maharaj might need hoped that the Bombay Supreme Courtroom would clear his “good identify”, however he was sorely mistaken.

The trial of the case within the Supreme Courtroom was held earlier than a full courtroom, presided over by Chief Justice Mathew Sausse and Joseph Arnould. The case attracted important curiosity from the press, and 1000’s of members of the general public attended the courtroom proceedings.

 Karsandas Mulji
Karsandas Mulji

Karsandas who belonged to the identical group confronted plenty of strain and was threatened to be excommunicated. “Thirty-one witnesses for the plaintiff and thirty-three witnesses for the defendants have been examined; Jadunath Maharaj was dropped at courtroom, which in the end dismissed his defamation costs,” mentioned The Print report.

Throughout the trial, the sect’s philosophies have been examined and in contrast with different Hindu texts by missionary orientalist students and philosophers like John Wilson. Medical doctors, together with Bhau Daji who was a recognized Indian doctor, Sanskrit scholar and an antiquarian, testified that that they had handled the spiritual chief for syphilis, and a number of other witnesses recounted his erotic escapades.

The trial featured dramatic testimonies from varied witnesses, together with girls who claimed to have been exploited by the Maharaj. These testimonies have been essential in substantiating Karsandas’ allegations and painted a stark image of the abuses of energy inside the sect.

The case got here to a detailed on 22 April, 1862, with a judgment in favour of Karsandas Mulji. The courtroom awarded him Rs 11,500, as he needed to bear a complete expenditure of Rs 14,000 in the course of the trial.

Closing the case Choose Arnould said: “It’s not a query of theology that has been earlier than us! It’s a query of morality. The precept for which the defendant and his witnesses have been contending is solely this: That what’s morally fallacious can’t be theologically proper.”

Karsandas handed away in 1871 and is remembered fondly because the social reformer-journalist for his journalistic work.

(Edited by Padmashree Pande & Pranita Bhat)

How to Defame a God: Public Selfhood within the Maharaj Libel Case: by J Barton Scott, Printed on 18 August 2015
The Lengthy Historical past of Priestly Debauchery: By Anu Kumar, Printed on 9 September 2017
KARSANDAS MULJI – THE FORGOTTEN ‘INDIAN LUTHER’: By Indian Liberals, Printed on 23 July 2021
Karsandas Mulji led & gained probably the most well-known combat towards Gujarati Vaishnavite leaders in 1862: By Urvish Kothari, Printed on 31 October, 2023
Netflix & YRF’s Maharaj guarantees an intriguing story uncovering the truths of pre-Independence India!: By Reema Chhabda, Printed on 29 February 2024
Luther within the Tropics: Karsandas Mulji and the Colonial ‘Reformation’ of Hinduism: By J. Barton Scott, Printed in 2015

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