CHANDIGARH, India (AFP) - Devotees of a dead guru who has been in a freezer in northern India since January won a court battle on Monday delaying his cremation for at least another seven weeks.
Supporters had approached the court in Punjab state seeking a stay on an earlier order for the cremation of Hindu "godman" Ashutosh Maharaj, whom authorities declared dead on January 29.
"The division bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court has stayed the cremation till February 9," Swami Vishalanand, a spokesman for the guru's ashram, told AFP.
Followers have insisted their spiritual leader is not dead but in a state of deep meditation, and will eventually return to lead them.
They have been guarding the ashram in the town of Nurmahal, where Ashutosh's body has been kept in a freezer as the months-long legal battle has been waged over his future.
Ashutosh, reportedly in his 70s, was one of India's many gurus and headed the Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan (Divine Light Awakening Mission) that claims to have millions of followers around the world.
Devotees have invoked freedom of religion under India's constitution as reasons against his cremation, which was originally sought in the courts by a man claiming to be the guru's son.
A two-judge bench Monday stayed the crematon order made by a single judge of the same court on December 1.
Ahead of its decision, thousands of followers massed in Nurmahal at the weekend in a show of support for the guru whom they said should be allowed to continue his "samadhi", the highest level of meditation.
Ashutosh's website, which says his mission was founded in 1983 and has spiritual centres around the world, has thanked followers for standing by the mission while the guru undertakes his "meditation".