- Maharaj was declared dead by authorities in January 2014
- His followers believe he will return to life after completing his spiritual mission
(CNN)His disciples maintain he is in a deep meditative state, others say he is dead.
Now a court in India has ruled that the followers of deceased spiritual guru Ashutosh Maharaj can continue to preserve his body in a commercial freezer, indefinitely.
Founder of Divya Jyoti Jagriti Sansthan (Divine Light Awakening Mission), Maharaj was declared dead by authorities in January 2014.
But disciples at his 100-acre ashram in northern India claim he is in a state of samadhi -- the highest plane of meditation -- and will return to life after the fulfillment of his spiritual mission.
A court battle over the body began almost immediately after Maharaj's death.
Dalip Kumar Jha, who claims to be Maharaj's son, had filed a petition demanding the right to cremate his father's body in line with traditional Hindu rituals.
But on Thursday, the Punjab and Haryana High Court dismissed his petition.
The court cited "freedom of religion" and a "lack of cremation laws" in ruling in favor of the continued preservation of Maharaj's body.
Maharaj was apparently born in the northern state of Bihar and left his family to become a religious preacher. He founded his sect in 1983 in Punjab to promote "self awakening and global peace" amid a period of militancy and armed conflict.
Maharaj is a controversial figure in Punjab, with local media alleging he had faced protests and threats to his life from conservative Sikh groups in the region.
His sect claims it has over 5,000 volunteers and conducts more than 40,000 events across the world. Its followers took to Twitter to celebrate the court's decision.
The court also overturned a 2014 ruling by a lower court that had ordered the state to cremate the guru.
In a 40-page judgment, the court remarked that since no laws existed to make disposal of a body by the state compulsory, no action could be taken against the ashram or its preservation of the body.
"We thus, find ourselves in a piquant situation where in the absence of any law or obligation flowing therefrom, to give any directions to dispose of the body even if one were to venture considering to do so," read the ruling.