Inside the crazy world of Raelism, the cult which believes aliens created humans

The Times of India/August 6, 2017

By Debarun Borthakur

Forty nine-year-old Hyderabadi PS Anand Prakash clearly remembers the time and place when his brainwaves were linked to an alien computer stationed at an unknown destination in the outer space. No kidding! "It was August 6, 2016 in Mumbai," the software professional recalls. Since then, every time Anand looks up to the skies to pray, he doesn't invoke any god, for the object of his obeisance are aliens addressed by the name Elohim!

Reads like a scene straight off the Ancient Alien series on TV? Well, it isn't. Such ceremonies (or cellular transmission seminars as they are called) are an integral part of a cult called Raelism (not to be confused with Realism) or the Raelian movement and are regular affairs in India and around the world.

"Transmission ceremonies are conducted around the world today as it's auspicious for us. The initiation ritual is an acknowledgement that the person undergoing transmission has accepted the Elohim race as his creator," says Anand, who discovered the cult a couple of years ago on the internet.

"I was looking for research material about the extra-terrestrials when I stumbled upon the Raelian website. After I registered, I got a mail from Rishi Gangoly (a Mumbai-based Raelian) a week later, asking me to go to Mumbai for the transmission and I accepted his invitation," recalls the resident of Bowenpally.

Anand, however, is not the only Hyderabadi to pledge allegiance to aliens. Ravikiran Yallapragada, a 40-year-old IT professional, too swears by the faith and says, "I never could get my head around Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution as it is based on unproven assumptions (that there was nothing before the Big Bang through which all matter emerged and subsequently, all life was born out of). When I started reading about Rael, I found all answers to my questions in his theories," Ravikiran avers.

Admittedly, the duo was not immediately taken in by the Raelian philosophy. Only after reading the "three holy books" were they convinced that "aliens are the true creators of the human race". "There are three kinds of religions developed by humans — body-based, work-based and spirit-based. I found my calling in the spirit-based sphere and Raelian philosophy suited my perception perfectly. Raelism believes that extraterrestrials will pay a visit to earth before 2035 provided we do away with wars and terrorism," he says.

Apparently, substantial number of followers used to live in Hyderabad until recently. "We used to regularly communicate through a WhatsApp group. But most of them moved out of the city and today, two of us are the only active members left," says Anand. Ravikiran echoes, "Hopefully, soon more people will realise the truth and join the cult."

The Indian Inception

So how did this cult attract the otherwise God-fearing Indians? Is it an offshoot of similar cults such as the Aetherius Society founded by a spiritual teacher George King in 1955 (both believe aliens were the creators of the human race)? What are their beliefs? To find answers to all these questions, one has to get to the beginning in Mumbai.

It was a hazy evening in 2003 and then 51-year-old architect Bharat Panchal was returning home after work. He had just got down at Churchgate station and was walking on a crowded pavement when a woman of Oriental descent in mid-thirties caught his attention. She was holding a book and was surrounded by a seemingly curious crowd as she addressed them. An avid reader himself, Panchal joined the lot and borrowed the book she was holding unaware that his life was about to change.

"The book's title was Extraterrestrials Took Me To Their Planet. It was so unputdownable that I finished it overnight. I'm an atheist and it answered all my questions concerning religion, evolution and how we (the humans) actually came into being. I met her again the following day and was informed that a video presentation on the subject was scheduled at the Indian Merchant Chambers a few days later," Panchal says adding that after attending the seminar he became a Raelian and has remained one till date. The woman Panchal had met was a South Korean national named Jin Hee Kim who was the first to bring Raelism to India in 2003.

There are many like Panchal who abide by the rather outrageous-sounding Raelian theories. "Elohim (extra-terrestrials) say that if we don't stop wars on earth we will soon destroy ourselves with nuclear weapons. They want to give their 26,000 years of scientific advancements to make our life easier and happy but only if we live in peace and honour life," says 29-year-old IT professional Raelian Anup Prasad, who joined the cult on April 10, 2008 after undergoing remote cellular transmission, which he says was done by Rael himself. "Though I haven't met him (Rael) in person, he conducted my transmission through a special arrangement," he adds.

So, how do Raelians transmit brainwaves to their so-called alien computer? Prasad says that the process of transmission is administered by "guides" (read Raelian priests), who place their water-drenched hands on the foreheads of ought-to-be members. The ritual is believed to "transmit the new member's DNA configuration to an extraterrestrial computer". The initiation of new members happens on four "auspicious" days — the first Sunday of April, August 6, October 7 and December 13. December 13 is the date when the Elohim first contacted (cult founder) Rael," Prasad says.

Jesus, Prophet, and Buddha were all sent to earth by Elohim, claims Rael

Kanchanbala Gaikwad, former deputy director of Maharashtra's state education department, who has translated two books on Raelism, says it will soon replace religion. Gaikwad, who has translated, The Book Which Tells The Truth and Extraterrestrials Took Me To Their Planet into Marathi, says that the author (Rael) took references from all major religious books to substantiate his claim about Elohim.

"In Hebrew, the word Elohim means God, but according to Rael this word can also be used collectively to address the people coming from the skies. In his books Rael says that extraterrestrials have contacted humans many a time in the past and have sent their representatives in the form of Jesus, Prophet, and Buddha and so on," she says, adding that though she hasn't taken up official membership of the cult, she is mulling over the decision.

Raelism in nonsense: Critics

Madhu Khanna, former director of Centre for Comparative Religion and Civilisation, Jamia Milia Islamia University, believes that such cults are born out of "extreme alienation that people experience" in today's life. Contending that one cannot call it a religion, she says, "People who face extreme alienation in urban societal setups tend to fall for such cults to find some transcendence. Today people believe in all kinds of things and can go to any extent to substantiate their stand," she says adding, "I will advise people to keep their eyes and ears open before following such cults. These cults usually claim so many things and have very little to do with original religious sculptures. Don't be blind and chase so-called gurus but find what you want yourself," she says.

Dipankar Banerjee, associate professor at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore, who is currently working on a solar project, says that such cults are the new fad among uninformed people and have no relevance whatsoever. "I am an atheist and there is no science in this hypothesis. Till date, science hasn't got any proof about aliens' existence so the cult's basic concept is baseless," he says.

Raelians hold their ground

Since its inception, the cult has surely courted controversy for more reasons than one. Be it the use of 'Swastika-fused- with-the-Star of David' as its official symbol, promoting sexual freedom through sensual meditation or human cloning, Raelism has had its share of bad press.

The followers though have their defense ready. "What Rael is advocating is not sexual freedom. Do not try be hypocritical and pretend to be someone we are not, for what we resist persists the most, is what he says. Suppression of basic instincts leads to perversions in society where sex is considered taboo for open discussion," retorts Panchal, adding, "One of the major problems that the world faces today is that of ownership. What difference does it make if somebody says 'we developed the symbol first'? Ownership is the key to all the problems in this world."

In 2002, Raelism courted the biggest controversy when a company claimed to have cloned a human being. Though a lot was written about it then, slowly the company (Clonaid) and its claims faded into oblivion and not much is known about it today. "I don't understand why it's a big deal as genetic engineering is very much a part of science syllabus in educational institutes," retorts Prasad.

To each their own

Well, they say religion is the opium of the masses for a reason, it seems. No matter how absurd it sounds, looks like there are people who swear by alien gods and such sci-fi religious theories (if we may call it so). It might not be as big a phenomenon yet in India unlike in many other countries like Korea, France or the US, but it sure makes for an interesting story. As they say, to each their own!

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