BACK IN 2011, an amusing incident occurred during one of the satsangs organised by the godman Swami Nithyananda. The Swami, having claimed he could make people levitate, was providing a demonstration. He would blow his breath towards a group of people seated on the floor and these individuals, quite inexplicably, began to leap in the air. It wasn’t quite levitation but an unsuspecting visitor might have been fooled into thinking the Swami’s breath had something to do with all the jumping.
A person from the crowd is then picked for that demonstration. It isn’t clear in the YouTube video if the Swami was aware the person was a photojournalist. An unexplained device is strapped on his head, but the Swami fails to lift him. The photojournalist is then seen standing on the dais. “What rubbish, I did not jump,” he shouts. “It does not work,” he says. The Swami laughs but he looks upset and says, “He doesn’t want to cooperate.”
Nithyananda is known to make bogus claims, from the ability to delay sunrise and make animals speak to make some alleged third eye open up in humans. Many godmen make similar claims in front of unsuspecting and managed crowds. What had worked against him was that he was probably not used to the scrutiny he was coming under. Just months before, he had become something of a viral sensation—played out on TV news channels and social media—where a hidden camera had recorded him with a woman, alleged to have been a former actress. It isn’t quite the ‘sex tape’ it was made out to be. But it does show that the guru, who claims to be beyond gender and lust, is actually quite normal. Nithyananda tried to defend himself by claiming some parts of that video were morphed.
Although several more cases followed, Nithyananda largely dropped off from the public spotlight. He’s back now, because he is absconding and also because—here comes the incredulous part—he has established his own country called Kailaasa.
Today’s Nithyananda is also quite visibly different. His satsangs are only online. Gone is his androgynous appearance with a clean-shaven face and long black hair. His hair looks close-cropped now, or is tied up neatly. He has also grown a beard. And his videos have him sitting on a throne, wearing large chunky beads, a metallic snake upright beside him, as he hurtles through a special effects cosmos. He seems to be evoking the god Shiva.
It is not clear how seriously one should take his claim of having established a country of his own. This new country of Kailaasa apparently has its own flag, constitution, passport, economic system and recognised languages (Sanskrit, Tamil and English). The passport may not get you past immigration in a real country, but it will, as its website puts it, allow its holder free entry in 11 dimensions and 14 lokas. Applications for citizenship are open to practising and aspiring Hindus.
According to media reports, Nithyananda has established the country on an island purchased from Ecuador and located close to Trinidad and Tobago. But as The Indian Express points out, Trinidad and Tobago is located between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, while Ecuador is located on the other side of the South American continent, bordering the Pacific Ocean. One TV station claimed the island was ‘bought from Vladi islands from Ecuador’. But Vladi Islands, The Indian Express reports, is a website that claims to sells private islands. Could Nithyananda have shopped online?
The current case against Nithyananda is about a month old. A father lodged a complaint against him for the abduction and confinement of his two minor daughters at an ashram in Ahmedabad. Both girls, and a few others, the police say, were subsequently rescued from the ashram.
There have been other cases and accusations against Nithyananda over the years, chiefly by female devotees, claiming he abused them at his religious retreats. According to some reports, he used to get women at his ashrams sign a non-disclosure agreement which state that their programmes may involve sexual activity.
The police claim he hasn’t been seen at his ashrams for almost a year. Last week, he appeared in an online satsang where he said, “Some people… are looking for me. But I am in the Himalayas, in Kailaasa.” Either that or in some studio sitting in front of a green screen.