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  • The adventures of a Swami, and his friends

    An always smiling, upwardly mobile 34-year-old Swami is allegedly caught on tape in a secret romp with a Tamil actress; his ashram is under siege; a former devotee who secretly filmed the video files a police complaint against him for alleged rape and harassment; the Swami goes on the run; he is finally arrested from Himachal Pradesh; and an ashram clause referring to tantric sex surfaces.

    Since March 2, 2010, when a sex video surfaced on prime time TV in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, titillating stories and salacious charges concerning Paramahamsa Swami Nityananda have not ceased streaming in.

    Apart from sexual allegations, there are tales about the smiling Swami healing the persistent back pain of a policeman who went to arrest him in Himachal Pradesh. And there are stories of the police, hard pressed to find rape and harassment evidence, asking him during interrogation to at least wipe off that famous smile.

    Meanwhile, a seven-year-old, rapidly flourishing spiritual movement that originated in Tamil Nadu as the Nityananda Dhyanapeetam and has spread to the US as the Life Bliss foundation, is in pause mode as its chief proponent deals with earthly matters like bail and court cases. While the alleged sex video has since been barred from being telecast - on a court injunction sought by Nityananda - his 22-acre ashram located on prime land in Bidadi, 32 km from Bangalore, has been steadily losing devotees.

    Numbers at the India operations of Nityananda Dhyanapeetam have dwindled from a steady 300 permanent residents to merely 50 now.

    Among those left holding the fort for the return of Nityananda are a bunch of young, articulate, well-educated men and women - among them foreign nationals - who gave up careers in software, investment banking and advertising to follow a spiritual calling. Nityananda himself is a mechanical engineering diploma holder who once went by the name A Rajashekharan.

    His followers gave up jobs in companies like Intel and Hewlett Packard, salaries in the range of Rs 70,000-plus for "their spiritual master". These Bidadi ashram inmates have since dug their heels in, and launched Internet and YouTube campaigns to clear Nityananda's name against charges primarily framed by former ashramite Lenin Karuppan a.k.a. Swami Nitya Dharmananda.

    "Why should a sex scandal knock down a pile of achievements in yoga, meditation and public service? You can see that a game is going on when allegations of gold and tiger pelts smuggling are being made," says Sri Nityananda Dheere, a middle-aged US national who has been with Nityananda's movement for over five years.

    "We all come from good backgrounds. Do you think we are stupid to leave that and come here to get some cheap thrills?" says Ma Nitya Shantananda, a former Indian software engineer who joined Nityananda's Life Bliss Foundation in Los Angeles before moving to the Bidadi ashram.

    "When we read in the media that he abuses women, it shocks us. Every woman here will vouch for the character of Swamiji," says Ma Nitya Priyananda.

    Kannada actress Malavika Avinash, in a blog post, backed him too. "Who better than an actress like me to testify that Swamiji did not display any behaviour that caused discomfort to me as a woman?" she wrote.

    Nityananda himself has dodged questions on his presence in the screened sex video, saying he was "in the spiritual state of samadhi".

    Lenin Karuppan, who facilitated the making of the video allegedly featuring Nityananda and actress Ranjitha, has in his complaint accused him of sexually assaulting a male devotee, Sri Vimalananda Swami, and another devotee, Nityananda Gopika, at the Bidadi ashram. The CID in Karnataka, however, has been unable to get statements from the two.

    According to Karuppan, Nityananda preached celibacy but did not practise it. Ashram inmates, however, say Nityananda never professed celibacy but left it to individuals to choose their paths. What has added to the consternation is a non-disclosure agreement that participants in some programmes had to sign that made specific references to possible use of tantric sex practices.

    There are also allegations regarding the mysterious death of a 58-year-old Canadian national, Melvyn Diamond.

    Called in to investigate a case that largely hinges on social and moral issues, the CID police have been at their wit's end, says a senior police officer. "We are trying our best to establish a case, but it is difficult," says a senior Karnataka police officer.
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