Is JKP-Barsana Dham All Hype? Wikipedia Wants to Know.

On May 23rd, 2008, I started my first blog called “My Life in a Cult” using the nom de plume, Freedom Writer. It was my first time being completely free to speak out about my years inside the cult. After making 13 posts, I decided to block the blog until after the criminal trial of Prakashanand Saraswati. I will repost all of the blog posts here as an archive. The following was my fifth blog post on “My Life in a Cult.”

June 15, 2011 — There’s a saying in Texas about fake cowboys that could just as easily describe JKP-Barsana Dham: He’s all hat and no cattle.

The colloquialism refers to a cowboy who has the outward appearance of a cattle rancher (right down to an authentic cowboy hat), but in actuality has no cattle to back up his swagger.

I’m reminded of this adage when I read any of JKP-Barsana Dham’s copious amounts of self-promotion — which it seems to be self-generating on a daily basis these days (could this be to bury some particularly unsavory news on the Internet?).

It seems that I’m not alone in my skepticism regarding Barsana Dham’s claims to fame. These days even Wikipedia is wondering how much of Barsana Dham’s spiel is real and how much is sheer PR puffery.

I found what I consider to be a couple of very revealing behind-the-scenes Wikipedia Web pages this week. One of them cites that in early June 2008 Barsana Dham’s Wikipedia article was one of the Top 25 most edited articles on the Web site. In fact, since Prakashanand’s arrest on April 24, 2008, there have been over 50 edits to the Barsana Dham Wiki article by multiple sources.

Top 25! Wow — that’s huge considering there are currently 10 million articles posted on the online free encyclopedia. I’ll bet that’s one accolade Barsana Dham won’t be promoting.

Barsana Dham seems to exist in an insular world of its own making and may not be used to other entities telling it that it’s over the top. Perhaps it finds Wikipedia’s content rules to be too confining.

Wikipedia’s content guidelines are fairly simple: “content is intended to be factual, notable, verifiable with external sources, and neutrally presented, with external sources cited.” Since March 2006, a number of independent contributors and Wiki editors have been editing or proposing edits to the Barsana Dham Wiki article along these guidelines.

However, even with all the edits in the past two months, I’m still concerned that Barsana Dham may not be posting content within Wikipedia’s guidelines. Here are just three points (out of many) regarding citations that have me wondering about their neutrality:

  • “It is one of the largest Hindu Temple complexes in North America” (Barsana Dham cites a person who wrote a review of one of Prakashanand’s book and who is a holistic health researcher)

  • “Barsana Dham has become a place of pilgrimage for millions of Hindus living in North America” (Barsana Dham cites an article from “Hinduism Today,” even though the content appears to be from Barsana Dham’s own press release)

  • “Shree Radha Rani has many names” (Barsana Dham cites one of Prakashanand’s books as the source)

Due to its questionable content, Barsana Dham’s Wiki article was almost deleted all together in April 2008. Now Wikipedia notes at the top of the page that the article has multiple issues including:

  • Its tone or style may not be appropriate for Wikipedia.

  • It reads like an advertisement and needs to be rewritten from a neutral point of view.

  • It may need copyediting for grammar, style, cohesion, tone or spelling.

Barsana Dham will have to clean up its act soon — or go the way of three other Wikipedia articles that where recently deleted:

  1. Jagadguru Kripalu Parishat

  2. Jagadguru Kripalu Maharaj

  3. Swami Prakashanand Saraswati

I can only guess that on these three pages JKP-Barsana Dham either didn’t even try to ratchet back the blatant self-promotion or it had no way to describe these entities without using hyperbole.

If we cannot even trust the JKP organization to post Wikipedia content that meets the online encyclopedia’s egalitarian rules for truth, notability, and neutrality, what information can we trust from JKP-Barsana Dham?