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Clockwork orange Indian gurus and their Swiss watches: a history

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev wearing a Victorinox Swiss Army Cavalry watch at the World Economic Forum in 2007. 

(Keystone / Virginia Mayo)

Wealthy devotees often ensure that their spiritual leaders have the best of everything, Swiss watches included. Here’s what five well-known Indian gurus wore on their wrists.

Indian mystics were once famous for their scant material possessions. Their orange robes, deer hide mats and begging bowls were often the only things they had. They would travel on foot to different pilgrimage sites, stopping to rest and giving discourses on spiritual matters along the way.

Today, their flock is global thanks to the influence of pioneers who went to the West starting in the the late 19th century, as well as a growing Indian diaspora. Their schedule can often rival that of a head of state or Fortune 500 CEO. A good watch can help them navigate time zones and stay centred.

Osho (1931 to 1990)

Osho, or Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, famously referred to himself as the “rich man’s guru”. The Indian spiritual guru gained a following in Mumbai from 1970 onwards before relocating to nearby Pune where his followers built a retreat for him. He gained notoriety for preaching against religious orthodoxy when it came to wealth and sex. It was his relocation to the US external linkthat upped the stakes on displays of extravagance. At one point he claimed that his followers had gifted him over 90 Rolls Royce cars.

Watches were another indulgence. In India, he wore relatively modest Swiss timepieces like an Omega Seamaster Memomatic and a Rado DiaStar. When he moved the Rajneeshpuram commune in Oregon he was seen sporting more extravagant watches. In 2015, a Rolex Oyster Perpetual worn by Osho sold at auction for CHF40,000. The dial and case were set with diamonds and rubies. The strap alone had around 31 carats worth of diamonds. 

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev (1957)

Sadhguru sporting his Cartier Pasha Seatimer.

(Courtesy Youtube)

The founder of the Isha Foundationexternal link supervises over 200 centres around the world that transmit “inner engineering” training to seekers. Sadhguru travels the world to give discourses and is a regular speaker at the World Economic Forumexternal link in Davos. A fan of motorcycles and colourful Indian textiles, he is recognised for his flamboyant style.

When it comes to watches, Sadhguru likes them sporty. At the World Economic Forum he wore a vintage Victorinox Swiss Army Cavalry watch. It’s not a pricey timepiece, as second-hand Quartz models go for as low as $40 (CHF40) on eBay.

Occasionally, Sadhguru wears a more expensive watch: a Swiss-made Cartier Pasha Seatimer. The model was launched in 2006 and sold for around CHF4,500 at the time.

 Paramhansa Yogananda (1893-1952)

Yogananda wearing his Hamilton watch. 

(Self-Realization Fellowship SRF)

Yogananda is widely credited with spreading interest in meditation around the world. He left India for the US in 1920 and founded the Self-Realization Fellowshipexternal link there to disseminate meditation and yoga teachings. His book “Autobiography of a Yogi” has sold millions of copies and was even handed out at Apple founder Steve Jobs’ memorial serviceexternal link on his instruction.

Yogananda possessed a Hamilton watch. Hamilton was an American company at the time but now belongs to the Swiss Swatch Group.

 

Satya Sai Baba (1926-2011)

As a 14-year-old, he proclaimed himself to be the reincarnation of a famous mystic. Sporting an Afro, he attracted large donations from his followers which were funneled into charitable projects like schools and hospitals in India. One of his wealthy donors was Isaac Tigrett Burton, the co-founder of the Hard Rock Café. In 1991, Burton gave INR3 billion (CHF43 million) from the sale of his stake in the Hard Rock Café chain to Sai Baba for the construction of a hospital via his Zurich-based Rama Foundation.

Sai Baba allegedly materialising a Rolex watch for a disciple. 

(Saibaba.ws)

Sai Baba did not wear watches, but his disciples claimed he had conjured Rolex watchesexternal link from thin air along with other objects like ash, necklaces and other jewellery. Skeptics denounced his materialisations as a common sleight-of-hand trick used by magicians.


 

The 14th Dalai Lama (1935)

The Dalai Lama with his Patek Phillipe pocket watch. 

(Senator Patrick Leahy via Facebook)

Tenzin Gyatso, the exiled spiritual head of Tibetans, has been living in India for 60 years. Among the items that he brought with him from Tibet is a rare Patek Philippe reference 658 pocket watchexternal link that was given to him by US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1943. It was one of the most complicated timepieces produced at the time with a chronograph, perpetual calendar with moon phase and minute repeater. A similar pocket watch sold at a Christies auctionexternal link in Geneva in 2011 for CHF243,000.

His Holiness also wears Rolex watchesexternal link. However, they are difficult to identify as he wears them with the dial side facing him. He also prefers Spiedel Twist-O-Flexexternal link watch straps instead of the original ones, making it even tougher to ID the watches.


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