The 15 single women that served her husband, also known as Yogi Bhajan, were his personal staff, his closest administrative assistants.
Peraim Kaur, one of his personal staff members, in her testimony for another lawsuit in Oregon described how she worked long hours for little pay. She told the court she had no vacations and was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It also is common knowledge that his personal staff was discouraged from having outside relationships.
According to 3HOhistory.com, Yogi Bhajan immigrated to Canada in 1968 and settled in Los Angeles to teach Kundalini and White Tantric yogas to the hippie counterculture of California and New Mexico. His family soon followed. “…(The couple then) created a new culture of Sikhi as founded by Guru Nanak, the first Guru of the Sikhs,” the Web site says.
Although the community kept the outward appearance of Sikhs, the bana of beard and dastaar, and now calls itself ‘Sikh’ Dharma International, many of its practices - such as faith-based yoga, idol worship, gem magic, astrology, tarot reading, tantric numerology, and following Yogi Bhajan’s rehit, also known as his “technologies” - contradict the fundamental teachings of the Sikh faith.
As Yogi Bhajan’s new religious community grew, so did his fortunes. His businesses and other assets are together worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to published reports.
In 1986, Yogi Bhajan and his wife, popularly known as Bibiji, formed a living trust. It was amended in February 2004, about eight months before the yogi’s death, so that part of his assets would go to his long-time personal assistants.
After he died in October 2004, Bibiji claimed that much of her inheritance was taken away from her and her family.
She disputed the distribution of her husband’s assets to his assistants.
In May 2005, Bibiji’s lawyers sent a letter to the assistants that “…it appears Yogiji made charitable contributions totaling nearly $3.2 million between 1996 and 2004, alone, without Inderjit’s knowledge and consent.”
And in January 2006, the assistants received another letter that “…in excess of $3.7 million are either missing or unaccounted for or were dissipated from Inderjit’s share of the joint estate, without her knowledge or approval.”
This led the yogi’s personal assistants to begin legal proceedings against his wife.
In October 2007, the administrative trustees of that part of Yogi Bhajan’s trust - Sopurkh Kaur Khalsa, Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa and Ek Ong Kar Kaur Khalsa – representing 15 beneficiaries, including themselves, filed a lawsuit, Khalsa vs. Puri, in the New Mexico District Court in Santa Fe.
None of the trustees are related to each other. Khalsa is the surname Yogi Bhajan gave to all his followers.
The Khalsas’ lawyer, J. Katherine Girard, did not return SikhNN requests for comment. But according to their complaint, they claimed that Bibiji had received all assets of the trust that belonged to her, including her share of the community’s property, retirement accounts, life insurance proceeds and some real estate in New Delhi. And they were given the responsibility to create a company that would distribute the remaining assets. But Bibiji’s disputes have put a hold on those assets.
The question became: “How much of the trust assets was available go into the LLC (company),” said Surjit P. Soni, Bibiji’s lawyer and nephew. The money was to provide estate income for the personal assistants for the rest of their lives, and then go to a charitable foundation upon their passing, he said.
Bibiji filed a counter complaint in April 2008, Inderjit Kaur Puri vs. The Estate of Yogi Bhajan, claiming that she was “excluded from decisions concerning the assets of the community and was required to sign documents that she was not allowed to read or maintain copies, after signature.”
“The issue comes about that Yogi Bhajan made a number of discretions without her (Bibiji),” Soni said.
In addition, when Yogi Bhajan suffered some significant physical and mental impairments in 2004, “assistants to Yogi Bhajan signed his name to documents,” the counter complaint says. One of those documents, dated July 26, 2004, was allegedly Yogi Bhajan’s amendment to the living trust. It provides for “significant distributions to Shakti Parwha and Sopurkh Kaur, and friends or relatives to these two successor co-trustees.”
Bibiji is asking for the removal of all the trustees.
In February 2009, Judge Steve Herrera ruled against the trustees’ original lawsuit. A trial date has not been set for Bibiji’s counter lawsuit.
When it is resolved, “100 percent of what remains could go to Bibiji,” Soni said. They have spent their inheritance in initiating and fighting court cases, he added. “They have no money left.”
“The situation remaining (now) is 50 percent of the intellectual property.”
In a separate lawsuit that she won on July 29, Bibiji became the owner of the ‘Yogi’ and ‘Yogi Tea’ trademarks.
According to the trust, royalties from the trademarks were to be split, with 50 percent going to his wife and the other 50 percent going to his personal assistants.
In Bibiji Inderjit Kaur Puri vs. Golden Temple of Oregon, Bibiji sued the food company in February 2010 after it stopped paying royalties to both Bibiji and the assistants. An arbitration panel concluded this summer that upon the yogi’s death, the trademark ownership rights passed to his heirs, Bibiji and their adult children: Ranbir Singh Bhai, Kamaljit Kaur Kohli and Kulbir Singh Puri.
The estimated value of the royalties from January 1, 2009 through December 31, 2010 is more than $1.6 million, according to court records. Bibiji will receive half of that value, in accordance with the trust. The other half will be decided by the verdict in Bibiji’s counter lawsuit.
As a result of her winning the Golden Temple lawsuit, Bibiji also assumed ownership of the ‘Golden Temple’ and ‘Peace’ brand names. These and the other trademarks were sold to Hearthside Foods of Illinois in 2010 when Golden Temple sold its cereal division.
Hearthside filed its own lawsuit against Bibiji on Oct. 15, defending its rights to all the brands.
It may be a long time before all the lawsuits are settled, and Yogi Bhajan’s assistants see any of their royalties.
“Yogi Bhajan provided for his assistants, a gift of life-income coming from the trademarks,” Soni told SikhNN. “It was not (enough to) kick back and to live off (but they are) entitled to receive income of whatever share.”