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Are You Willing To Be A Devotee Of Kumare?

Kumare is a real-life guru who never existed.

Kumare is the genuine invention of filmmaker Vikram Gandhi. Gandhi is an American whose ancestors came from India. He witnessed his grandmother continue the Hindu worship of her home country, and was asked to participate in some Hindu ceremonies during his childhood. As a young adult, however, he rejected Hindu beliefs and practices, along with religion in general.

vikram gandhiGandhi used the combination of his family’s Hindu identity and his own growing skepticism as the inspiration for Kumare, the made-up name of his new alter-ego. Gandhi grew out his hair, put on clothes commonly associated with those of Hindu ascetics, and used a fake accent based upon the verbal habits of his grandmother.

Gandhi then took the character of Kumare, and went to Phoenix, Arizona, where he began, with two assistants, to establish a real-life religious following. With a camera at his side to capture the reactions of his new devotees, Gandhi built the story of his hoax into a documentary.

In the storyline of his documentary, Gandhi explains that, though he concocted the doctrines and ritual practices of Kumare, he began to experience the benefits of them, feeling an increased sense of serenity and happiness… as long as he wasn’t thinking about the fact that he was lying to the people who looked to him for guidance, people with whom he was building relationships of apparent trust. In the end, Gandhi tried to convert the prank of Kumare into a sincere spiritual teaching – an exercise in leading people to believe in themselves rather than in gurus. This teaching culminated in Gandhi’s revelation to his followers of his true identity.

There are many ways to interpret Kumare. One could say that Gandhi’s conversion of deception into deeper truth was a cowardly cop out. One could say that he emerged from rejection of religion into something deeper. One could say that he that addressed a genuine crisis of meaning in American culture, providing his followers with the most relevant teaching possible. One could say that Vikram Gandhi is nothing more than a comedian pulling an imitation of Borat.

If you have watched Kumare, what interpretation do you make?

If you have not watched Kumare, will you? (It’s available for streaming on Netflix)

2 comments to Are You Willing To Be A Devotee Of Kumare?

  • What an interesting story. I plan to watch the documentary. Where do your interpretations settle out?

  • I can see several interpretations, and I haven’t settled on any in a fixed way. I think it’s a well-produced documentary, with a good storyline and excellent humorous pieces. What I haven’t concluded is whether I think that Vikram Gandhi started out with a strong perspective and allowed himself to get muddled, or he started out with a simplistic perspective and allowed himself to expand his vision to accept a more flexible version of reality. I’ve also got a mixed sense of the ethics of hoaxing, but I think I’m coming down on the side that adults, when they’re not strictly speaking cheated out of their money, have the responsibility to look at reality in a clear way themselves. Given all the earnest religious frauds out there, this one seems relatively benign as an exercise in manipulation.

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