Sachin Tendulkar: Worshipped by Hindus as a living god

Indian artist Ranjit Dahiya works on a mural of cricketer Sachin Tendulkar on the wall of a sports club building in Mumbai on November 8, 2013 Sachin Tendulkar recently told his adoring fans he "is not a god as he makes mistakes and gods do not"

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As Sachin Tendulkar completes his 200th and final Test before retiring from cricket, the BBC's Rahul Tandon explores the phenomenon of Hinduism's living gods - a label that has been used to describe the cricketer.

If you ask anyone in India to describe Sachin Tendulkar the answer you will probably get is that he is the god of cricket.

The 40 year old, who is a devout Hindu, does not like the phrase. He recently told his adoring fans that he "is not a god as he makes mistakes and gods do not", but that had little impact on many of his disciples, because Sachin for some is an example of a living god.

Find out more

Tendulkar: The living god will be broadcast on the BBC World Service on 16 November at 03:32 GMT.

How do you become one? Nobody seems to know, it just happens. The public choose you when they think you have supernatural powers.

During Tendulkar's penultimate Test match at Eden Gardens in Calcutta I met Sudhir Chaudhary from the Eastern Indian state of Orissa. His whole body was painted with the colours of the national flag and at the bottom were three words: 'the god of cricket'.

Like a true disciple he follows Tendulkar wherever he goes. Sudhir has given up his job, some would say his life, to follow the man. When I point out that Tendulkar does not want to be called a god, he just shrugs his shoulders and says: "It does not matter. For me he is one".

As a Tendulkar fan and a Hindu, I have always been intrigued as to why my favourite player has been elevated by some to a divine status. It is a question I put to his friend and the man who is writing his official biography, Boria Mazumdar.

He says: "It is a bizarre kind of thing but it is a very Indian belief. It happened with the Mahatma Gandhi and also with Swami Vivekananda."

A picture of Sudhir Chaudhary showing off his Tendulkar body art Sudhir Chaudhary gave up his job to follow Sachin Tendulkar wherever he plays
'A supernatural power'

But, I ask, why does it happen here so much? Boria pauses to think and then responds: "What is a god it is just a belief. Have you seen God? I have not.

"But it's like a supernatural power that you seek refuge in to give you strength and hope. And that is what Sachin has been to many Indians and that is why some have elevated him to a demi-god."

Start Quote

It happened with the Mahatma Gandhi and also with Swami Vivekananda”

End Quote Boria Mazumdar Official biographer for Tendulkar

Sachin's mother-in-law, Annabel Mehta, agrees. Originally from Birmingham, she now lives in Mumbai.

She says: "For many people in India life is hard and they need something to help them escape from their mundane and daily existence.

"The cricketers and the movie stars do that, so some Indians try and thank them by worshipping them."

India is a complex and at times contradictory society. A mixture of the old and the modern, the spiritual and the materialistic. Mumbai, the city of dreams, represents all those characteristics.

It is wedding season here and 24-year-old Afsa is getting married. She is a Muslim and is out celebrating with one of her best friends, Sonia, who is a Catholic. The drinks are flowing and so is the conversation.

So do these two young Indian women find the concept of worshipping humans as gods outdated? Their answer is an emphatic no, and they also say it is not just a Hindu phenomenon.

Hindu gods

  • Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva form the Hindu triumvirate, or Trimurti
  • They are the three gods responsible for the creation, upkeep and destruction of the world according to Hinduism
  • Brahma created the world and all creatures and is the least worshipped god by Hindus today
  • Vishnu is seen as the preserver and protector of the universe
  • Shiva's role is to destroy the universe in order to re-create it

Afsa tells me: "Look, we the young are very educated now. We form our own opinions and this does not make us backwards. I think this actually helps unite this very divided country."

Sonia, who is listening carefully, is nodding her head in agreement. She smiles as she tells me that her friend's cousin who is an actress in South India has had a temple built so her fans can pray to her.

"That is mad," I say. Without a moment's hesitation she says: "It is a bit crazy. But look at the fans of [Canadian singer] Justin Bieber, the Beliebers. They believe he is a demi-god . Nobody calls them backwards and they even build shrines to him and that is the same thing."

The potential to be divine

Her comments reminded me of what a friend said to me when I told him I was looking at this subject.

"It is obvious," he said. "Hinduism has thousands of gods so a few more will not make any difference."

It was a simplistic view but was he right?

Professor Shubhada Joshi is the head of the philosophy department at Mumbai university. She lives in a traditional H extended Hindu household in the suburbs of Mumbai.

When I asked her what she made of my friend's theory I expected her to laugh, so I was surprised when she said that was right.

A picture of Sachin Tendulkar's mother in law, Annabel Mehta, in her flat Sachin Tendulkar's mother-in-law, Annabel Mehta, is originally from Birmingham and now lives in Mumbai

"Having another god does not matter here," she says. "And you have to remember that in Hinduism we believe that every human being has the potential to be divine.

"There is nothing wrong in it. Ours is a culture where we even worship the inanimate... Like the Himalayas and the Ganges."

Some have compared the worship of humans here as similar to the place that saints hold in Christianity. Professor Joshi disagrees: "It is more than that," she says.

"In Christianity all the saints emphasise the path of Jesus is supreme, whilst in Hinduism the saints will say there are many paths. Once you admit that you give the people more freedom to choose their gods."

If you want to see the clearest example of a man who has been elevated to a god like status, then Shirdi, 300km (186 miles) from Mumbai, is the best place to go.

It was where Sai Baba lived in the 19th Century. A simple man, he was a fakir or a wandering holy man. He never claimed to be a god but has become one.

Every day thousands of his followers come here to pray to him. The young and the old, men and women, the rich and the poor.

Start Quote

If you want to be head of the BBC, just sit in front of the idol of Baba with a pure mind and it will happen”

End Quote Ajay More Sai Baba temple member

Many have taken days to walk here. Their faith is moving. Ajay More, a member of the temple's executive committee, tells me that if you believe in Baba you will get what you want.

"If you want to be head of the BBC, just sit in front of the idol of Baba with a pure mind and it will happen," he says.

When I tell him that makes no sense, as Baba was a man not a god, he looks at me like I am mad and says: "That is because you have no faith."

The people around him nod their heads, including a man who is one of India's chief justices. When I ask him how he feels when he comes here, he says "energised" and "spiritually fulfilled".

Others describe how their lives have changed since they started praying to Sai Baba. For many its materialistic, they are now more wealthy, whilst others say their health has improved.

In spite of that I do not believe that Sai Baba is a god - I think he was a good man. And Sachin is special, but that clearly does not mean he is god.

But in this complex and divided country, these and other demi-gods do have an important role to play.

Because Sachin Tendulkar and Sai Baba unite people of different faiths in a country where religion often divides them.

Listen to Tendulkar: The living god on the BBC World Service at 03:32 GMT on Saturday 16 November or listen to it later on the BBC iPlayer.

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