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Culture/Religion Editors Pick

Swami Nithyananda: A victim of Indian social system

Anyone could wonder about the topic which should be reading the opposite way. But I would like go into the depths of the real truth surrounding Swami Nithyananda and the Indian social system which is directly responsible for the rise and fall of Swami Nithyananda.

Swami Nithyananda who climbed the top of international fame was suddenly thrown overnight by a television media which showed video clips of Swami Nithyananda indulging in sexual activity with a popular actress. The video clip sent shockwaves across the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Many of his devotees were not able to comprehend what they saw in the video clips. Since the video were broadcast, there have been mass agitations by Hindu outfits who ransacked several of Nithyananda’s ashrams. Few of the outfits called for immediate arrest of Nithyananda and insisted the Government to freeze the Multi-Million dollar assets of Nithyananda. 

Nithyananda runs ashrams not just in India, but across the globe. His assets are worth several Million US Dollars. His network spreads across continents and he managed more than thousand ashrams. There are more than thousand videos of the Swami posted in internet sites including Youtube. His presentations were recorded and sold as DVD’s which drew thousands of devotees all over the western world. He is also known for his intellectual discourses that have gained him popularity not only among ordinary people but also among top notch professionals from global corporations such as Microsoft and research foundations such as NASA. His television interviews in the US channels captured the interests of many Americans and NRI’s. NASA and Microsoft professionals were dumbstruck and mystified when they attended his highly elevated lectures with strong scientific backing. His knowledge of Tamil, Sanskrit and English gave him an added advantage for articulating his thoughts to deliver mesmerising speech. He showed the way towards enlightenment. This keyword ‘enlightenment’ was enough to capture millions of people and also for making millions of dollars.

Now I would like to examine what made the rise and fall of Nithyananda. What is the background of Nithyananda?

Nithyananda’s real name is Rajasekaran  (age 33) and he was born to a farmer in the temple town of Thiruvanamalai in northern Tamil Nadu. From early childhood Nithyananda was spiritually inclined and frequently visited temples and had a strong desire for becoming a “Sanyasi” which literally  means an ascetic. He completed his schooling and college education in Thiruvanamalai.

He was often sighted near by the caves and hillside of Thiruvanamalai practicing meditation. This created a small group of followers who constructed an ashram for him. This was the first ashram founded by Nithyananda which started to attracted not just Indians but also foreigners. Nithyananda now moved to next level by narrating his experiences of Samadhi to the visiting foreigners who were curious to know about this mythical and super natural state. As Nithyananda was very articulate to explain about his Samadhi experience, devotees and spiritual aspirants multiplied in hundreds. Soon he started to spread his wings across the USA and India by starting ‘Dhyanapeetam’ or meditation centres. Many locations for such centers were donated by his devotees and several were purchased by his management trust. This accumulation of wealth was running to the tune of Multi Million dollars. Very soon he rose to prominence among many God-men or ‘sat Grus’ and he was seen in par with Swami Vivekananda in inspiring the younger generation.

Nithyananda’s posters were common in the streets of the cities and towns of Tamilnadu and Karnataka. His seminars, lectures and practical classes attracted many youth and spiritual aspirants. His devotees were no ordinary people. Many were powerful politicians, popular movie actors and business tycoons. He organised mega spiritual tours and events which made people to follow him in blind faith. His words were powerful enough to move mountains. His lectures were based on Vedanta and scientific findings. The Hindu spiritual elite approved and recognised his lectures and thoughts which was a milestone for Nithyananda’s journey to name and fame.

As some sections of Hinduism believes in the supreme authority of Vedas and Vedic beliefs, it was quite easy for Nithyananda to capture the mindset of such spiritual followers who firmly believed Vedas word to word. Blind following of Veda amounted to firm belief that what Veda says are truth and nothing but truth. Similar to cult following , No one is encouraged or entertained to question the authority and authenticity of the sacred Vedas. If someone challenges Vedas, they will be considered as anti-Hindu and unintelligent amongst the spiritual circles. This section of the spiritual followers are brainwashed to firmly believe some of the versus in the vedas such as

“Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Guru Devo Maheshwarah! Guru Sakshat Param Brahma Tasmai Sri Guruve Namah”.

Meaning the guru is the embodiment of the creator, operator and the destroyer. Guru is exactly the supreme God himself and therefore hail the guru.

Belief and affirmation on the “Guru” made life very simple for Nithyananda as he was able to portray himself as a perfect guru. His ability to discuss on Bhagavad-Gita and Vedas clearly found a permanent place in the hearts of a section of the Hindu faith. Such an endorsement from the elite spiritual groups made the other sections of Hindu’s to blindly follow their footsteps. This phenomenon of approval and following has been the trend in the Indian society since ancient times. One thing Nithyananda was careful about all the time was that he never preached Thirukkural, Naladiyar or Avvai Kural though he was a Tamil. He knew the pulse of the people who controlled the Hindu spiritualism. Sections of the Hindu religious structure do not advocate Tamil treatises to stand at par with Vedas or Upanishads. With the help of his followers, Nithyananda climbed to the pinnacle of name, fame, wealth, spiritual and social authority. He wanted to become the next Vivekananda by shaping the minds of youth to follow the Vedanta path.

It was also alleged that Nithyananda was posing a great threat to Saibaba and Ravi Shankar Swamiji in terms of stealing their devotees mainly from the western world. Many of the devotees in USA started flocking Nithyananda retreat instead of Saibaba or Ravi Shankar’s gatherings. Nithyananda became a strong rival and alternative for other spiritual giants of India. In a surprisingly short span of time Nithyananda reached great heights which his rivals had accompioshed in a long time. He almost achieved the supreme state of fame and was just few hundred yards away from his goal of becoming the undisputed spiritual master.

Only at this juncture, Nithayananda has been caught red handed in the sex scandal when his video was released by a television network. It is also widely suspected that this incident took place because of business rivalry among the spiritual gurus. His spiritual kingdom crumbled overnight. As a former spiritual aspirant, I could understand Nithyananda more than anybody else. In my opinion, he should have been extra careful in hiding his secrets. If his scandal wouldn’t have leaked out, he could have continued as a torch bearer for the nation. He would have done wonders in directing many youths towards spiritual path. He was quite unlucky that his secrets came out too early.

Many politicians manage very well in maintaining their secrets. Be it any Indian Chief Minister, deputy Chief Minister or MP, all of them are invariably clever enough to hide their secrets. Spiritual guru Puttaparthi Saibaba has managed to come out of scandals few times in the past. Though BBC reported with established evidence about Saibaba and his homosexual affairs, Saibaba cleverly planned and walked out of those traps. Saibaba is doing very well today among his followers and millions of Hindus. God-man Kalki Bhagwan has several charges, but every time he has managed to come out of those allegations. The greatest of all techniques is simply hiding one’s own fault perfectly. However it is evident now that Nithyananda did not master this technique well enough and has taken this sudden and steep fall.

A scholar quoted that every one in this world is a culprit, but what makes the difference is one who is caught and one who is not.

Would anybody follow Swami Vivekananda, if they knew that he was a chain smoker? Would anybody follow Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, if they knew that he was a tobacco addict? Thank god that there were no hidden cameras those days, otherwise these spiritual leaders would have been caught on the tape and India would have lost great spiritual leaders.

This is a fine lesson to all the social and spiritual reformers that they should be careful in public life and protect themselves from the candid cameras. Otherwise India will lose many more Swamijis like Nithyananda in the coming years. The rise and fall of Nithyananda cannot be attributed to his personal behaviour but has to be attributed to the social system which promotes and then and ditches them for some reasons.

People want an all-perfect leader which they imagine with selected qualities and when these gurus fail to deliver this all-perfect image, the same people trash them.  This is not only with the case of Nithyananda, but also with all the eminent swamiji’s and guruji’s of India. Therefore the mistake lies with the people and not with the Gurus. I hope that Nithyananda will come out of this scandal and continue his journey to spread spirituality among innocent Indians.

The Indian society accepts spiritual knowledge only if it is sugar coated with Veda, and the individual projects a Brahmin like lifestyle. Our society believes that true spiritual knowledge can come only from people who practice religion in a particular format. In essense, we do not seek true spiritual knowledge but a fake one. Nityananda rode well on the path set by the group that markets spiritualism. Had he not chosen to project a fake lifestyle and lived true to his heart, he could have had the freedom to live his life the way he wanted and at the same time spread his knowledge.  As long as we let a small group of our society dictate who an intellectual is, we may not see real intellectuals come to light.