A closer inspection of the publicity spots reveal it to be Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, one of India’s leading spiritual gurus and marketing geniuses of today.
‘Sri’ is an Indian honorific given to spiritual leaders. Ravi Shankar gave the title to himself — twice — after the sitar player of the same name complained about someone else using his famous moniker.
In 1982 Shankar established the Art of Living Headquarters in Bangalore, India which commonly considered the Silicon Valley of South Asia. The placement was ideal to later cater to India’s legions of tech workers who were suffering from a new ailment: American-style corporate stress.
In the thirty years since, Shankar’s Art of Living foundation has established centers in 152 countries around the world. Shankar also founded the International Association for Human Values, a non-governmental organization engaged in rural development and relief work.
In 2010 Forbes magazine ranked Shankar as the fifth most influential person in India. He’s been nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize and, lest anyone doubt his popular appeal, has appeared on MTV.
Ancient Indian Knowledge for Export
Though he has millions of followers worldwide, Shankar has his detractors even at home, where some say that he is a ‘false guru’ profiting from ancient teachings derived from Hindu texts.
Shankar studied under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, one time guru to the stars, who also led Deepak Chopra into mega-stardom. But unlike Chopra, Shankar later distanced himself from Maharishi. The reason is unknown, but it is uncommon in India, where someone’s spiritual lineage is like their umbilical cord to God.
Fundamental to Shankar’s teachings are meditation and pranayama, or breathing exercises that he coined Sudarshan Kriya®. Following the path of his guru Maharishi, who trademarked his transcendental meditation techniques, Shankar has also registered a trademark for his breathing exercises.
Since 2003 Shankar has enjoyed a presence in Argentina through his prison rehabilitation program. His local representatives say that over 5,000 Argentine prisoners have learned Shankar’s meditation techniques.
Today Shankar’s ‘El Arte de Vivir’ courses have become popular among some upper middle class Buenos Aires residents and even Argentine celebrities. The guru has also joined forces with the city’s PRO party government.
The bourgeoisies’ interest in New Age philosophy is a recent phenomena in Argentina, where no other Indian guru has ever really gained a strong following.
On Sunday, Sept. 9 Shankar will lead an anticipated crowd of 100,000 in a group meditation in Palermo.