Time to recall two sex-obsessed swamis of south India, like Ram Rahim Singh
South India, popular for its temples, has seen its own share of swamijis and their criminal lifestyles.
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Even as Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s secret, extravagant, shady and criminal lifestyle comes to the limelight, I cannot help but recall such “godmen” from south India. Here are two such swamijis who led a fancy life and also perished like Ram Rahim Singh.
South India, popular for its temples, has seen its own share of swamijis and gurus, as they are called here. There was at least a handful of gurus in each district where people thronged to for solution to their problems. What's more, the slew of politicians and bureaucrats queuing up in front of these ashrams made them all the more powerful. Tamil Nadu devotees got a severe jolt when the powerful Swamiji Premananda was caught in a rape case.
Prem Kumar Sundaram, a Sri Lankan Tamil, started an orphanage and ashram in Sri Lanka and later moved to Tiruchirappalli (Trichy) in Tamil Nadu in 1984, due to the civil war in the neighbouring country.
He then established an ashram and became Swami Premananda. The ashram spread its wing to many countries as the long-haired and bearded Premananda, clad in saffron silk shawl, gave darshan to people. Like most of them, he too had some usual tricks up his sleeve - producing a lingam out of his mouth and vibhuti etc. Devotees revered him as he gave shelter to the destitutes. But that was only until 1994, when Arul Jyothi, who was in his orphanage, levelled the charges of rape against “Swamiji”. She was pregnant and later aborted the child.
Soon when the investigation began, two ashram occupants reported about murder of an inmate Ravi, who was trying to expose Premananda. Few more girls had come out with their stories of abuse by the swami. Some reports suggested that even skeletons were recovered from his sprawling ashram.
During those days, Premananada was all over magazine covers and newspapers which was curiously followed by the people of Tamil Nadu. Every day there was a story about Premananda’s lavish lifestyle and how he raped his inmates. Premananda became popular in Tamil Nadu as an Eelam Tamil when the civil war in Sri Lanka was at its peak. The state of Tamil Nadu was high on a sympathy wave for Eelam Tamils which Premananda exploited to the fullest.
According to some senior journalists who closely followed the case, Premananda had a fall out with a relative of a powerful Tamil Nadu political family during that time. So, the police jumped onto the case when 19-year-old Arul Jyothi complained against him.
P Thirumavelan, editor of Tamil magazine, Junior Vikatan, shared that people of Tiruchy were blinded by his magic, which were nothing but regular tricks. An illusionist proved that in an open court. According to Thirumavelan, the media started pursuing the case vigorously bringing out various victims of Premananda. Interestingly, this "guru" was also popular as “smiling swamiji” because he would hardly lose his cool. One of his last interviews before dying in prison in 2011 while serving a life sentence was to Junior Vikatan.
"My colleagues had interviewed him and he kept maintaining that he was innocent," said Thirumavelan.
Premananda apparently targeted the local people by promising to support the destitute. He slowly became a power broker in Tirchy and had acquired vast lands. His popularity spread because of the gimmicks which attracted many powerful people.
In 2010, a self-styled godman from Bidadi in Karnataka suddenly became popular. Swami Nithyananda - clad in saffron, with a vermillion bindi on his forehead, long hair and mala - became very sought after by those who were in pursuit of happiness and peace. His columns and lectures became equally popular as his broad smile. Youngsters from reputed institutions became his followers. I remember an aeronautical engineer-turned-disciple of Nithyananda coordinating with me during that time for his interviews.
Nithyananda, who hails from Thiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu, started his "spiritual" journey in his early teens. He went into deep meditations. Soon became popular as his wealth also grew in leaps and bounds. He was one of the first swamjis to use internet, TV and magazines effectively to reach out to his disciples.
Soon, there were allegations of sexual assault by his followers who spoke and even produced evidence of non-disclosure agreements which were actually "sex contracts". There was a rape case filed against Nithyananda in 2009, with the victim still waiting for a verdict. The non-disclosure agreements were for a select few of the disciples. According to a clause in the agreement, "the volunteer understands that the programme may involve the learning and practice of ancient tantric secrets associated with male and female ecstasy, including use of sexual energy for increased intimacy/spiritual connection, pleasure, harmony and freedom".
I had seen the agreement signed by a victim who spoke to me many years ago. The Karnataka Police had prepared a chargesheet in 2010, which talks about how Nithyananada convinced a female devotee to enter a sexual relationship with him for "spiritual enlightenment". The victim had narrated to me once how Nithyananda convinced them.
"I was asked to come to his room for spiritual enlightenment. He would ask me to go into meditation while he would abuse me. It was conditioning of mind. Many of us went to him for solutions to our problems which he took advantage of," the victim had told me.
The case against him is pending in Ramanagara sessions court. Meanwhile, Nithyananda is still touring across the world giving lectures and leading a lavish life.
These and more such cases from across the country make me wonder if it's so easy to fool Indians in the name of God? Good lord!