Sheikh Saud bin Al Thani is a passionate collector of art. Over the past few years, the sheikh — a cousin of the emir of Qatar — has been frantically buying artworks and objects related to the erstwhile Maharaja Yeshwant Rao Holkar II of Indore, another passionate patron who led a flamboyant lifestyle in the early part of the 20th century. But there is a reason why the sheikh is so interested in the Holkar: he believes he is the reincarnation of the maharaja, who died in 1961.
Whether or not the sheikh is the maharaja reborn is a matter of speculation. But increasingly, more and more people are beginning to believe in the concept of reincarnation. “Objective evidence of reincarnation is growing, based on an increasing number of cases of people remembering their past lives,” says Walter Semkiw, a San Francisco-based physician, who has established the Institute for the Integration of Science, Intuition & Spirit to research reincarnation and related phenomena scientifically.
To understand whether human beings come back in another body is a fascinating — and controversial — subject that has attracted a lot of debate. Till the past few decades, it was dismissed as bunkum, fit only for potboilers and masala movies. But many, according to Semkiw, are taking reincarnation more seriously now — and coming around to the acceptance of rebirth as a natural phenomena. “This is primarily because of the extensive research done by Dr Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia, who studied almost 3,000 children who claimed to have past life memories. In 700 of these cases, memories were so detailed that he was able to factually validate them,” he says. Stevenson’s book “Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation”, first published in 1966, is regarded by many as a classic work of reincarnation research. “Anyone who reads “Twenty Cases” with an open mind will develop a belief in reincarnation,” says Semkiw.
In India, belief in reincarnation is nothing new. The concept of karma — the principle of cause and effect — has been firmly entrenched in the Indian ethos for a long time. New Age practices like past life regression (PLR) — made popular by American psychiatrist Brian Weiss — are reinforcing the belief. “Over the last few years , there has been an exponential increase in awareness of this therapy. A lot more people are willing to experiment and there is a lot less fear regarding exploring past lives,” says Gurpreet Singh, an ex-Army officer who now dabbles full time in PLR. The number of trained regression therapists in the country has also increased. “From a few hundred in the last decade, it’s close to more than 5,000 now,” says Rock Furtado of Ritana Books that publishes material on spirituality.