Remembering the West Hampstead 'holy man' and his cult of women

Historians Marianne Colloms and Dick Weindling write about the holy man who lived in West Hampstead and surrounding himself with a cult of adoring women:

Ham & High, UK/March 23, 2015

By Marianne Colloms and Dick Weindling

In June 1908, a 67-year-old man appeared at Marylebone Court.

He said his name was Mahatma Agamya Paramahamsa, and that he was a Brahmin, born in Kashmir, India.

He lived at 110 Goldhurst Terrace in West Hampstead, and the press labelled him the “Tiger Mahatma” because of his fierce approach to anyone who doubted him. Dressed in a turban and coloured robes, the public were intrigued by the case.

Agamya’s first visit to England was in 1900 when he went to Oxford to discuss his religious beliefs with Prof Max Muller and Prof John Estlin Carpenter. They were prominent thinkers in Eastern philosophy and were very impressed with Agamya, who they considered to be the first real Mahatma to visit England.

His boarding house at this time was in Maida Vale and Agamya astonished reporters and other witnesses when he was said to have stopped his heart for five seconds.

Doctors claimed to have felt his pulse slow, and then stop.

In August 1903, he travelled to New York to generate a spiritual following there. When asked why he had come to the US, he said: “You are very prosperous in all that pertains to money, but in spiritual things you are ignorant.”

But it was his return to England, and events leading up to his court case, that saw this apparent desire to be a spiritual leader for the West become mixed with a bizarre cult of female worshippers.

His views on women were controversial with one newspaper quoting him as saying American women were “silly fools and made slaves of men”. He also later allegedly said they had no souls and were pigs.

It was at his disciples’ new headquarters in Goldhurst Terrace that the Mahatma was then accused of indecently assaulting two young women, a charge profoundly shocking to his followers.

At the court case, an advert placed in The Daily Telegraph was shown. It read: “An intelligent lady typist wanted, 8s. a week; live in; nice comfortable home. Reply to Secretary: 110 Goldhurst Terrace.”

Several young women replied and were invited for interviews.

Suzanne Allaveue, 17, told the magistrate she was shown into a room by an older woman who said there was very little typing to do and that Agamya was not a man but a god, adding: “There are many ladies here and he loves them very much. If she pleased him he would love her too. It is heaven here and outside is hell.” The Mahatma then sat down besides Ms Allaveue and said: “This house is all love, and I will love you like I love the other ladies here.” He kissed her and forced her to sit on his knee.

A second young woman, Maud Anderson, also gave evidence that she had been to the house on the same day. The Mahatma told her: “There is no work to do, all you have to do is worship me all day long and be happy with the other five disciples who are here.”

When he touched her breast she ran out of the house. After her parents complained to the police the Mahatma was arrested.

The magistrate said he had also received complaints about the Mahatma’s behaviour. He gave him a lecture about the way women should be treated in England, saying he believed his “religious professions” had been a cover for “disgusting practices”.

Agayma pleaded guilty to common assault and was sentenced to four months hard labour. He said his work in England was finished and left the court, astonished by the judge’s remarks. His groups of disciples broke up and he seemingly returned to India.

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