Guru Gone Viral
A video allegedly showing a swami having sex with an actress has shaken India.
Citizen journalism Web site truthDrive calls Swami Nithyananda "a victim of Indian social system." The idea that Indian leaders lead hidden romantic lives may not be widely documented, but it's certainly prevalent in India. Even in lesser camera-phoned times, Indian spiritual leaders faced similar, vaguely confirmed scandals like the accusation of the famed Puttaparthi Sai Baba and Swami Rama, one of the first pioneers of yoga in the West. Rama, accused of sexual abuse by some of his female students, garnered unsavory attention in Yoga Journal. The implications were never proven true, and some media apologized, but the cautionary tale remained. Spiritual musician and sitar prodigy Ravi Shankar, though not an ascetic, was berated for his affairs with his students and fans.
In the truthDrive article, the author posits that the public endorsement of Nithyananda as a perfect guru—an articulate, realized, and charismatic leader—led to the swami's climb to fame and eventual downfall. "Many politicians manage very well in maintaining their secrets," the article reads. "However it is [evident] now that Nithyananda did not master this technique well enough and has taken this sudden and steep fall."
What will become of the Dhyanapeetam ashram remains unclear. For now, Indian media will continue to deliver piecemeal speculation of the public sentiments and court trials. Unless, as Nithyananda says in his video statement: "If required, I will return and talk about all that had happened as an independent witness to my conduct, with a clean heart and pure soul, but also in a less prejudiced atmosphere."
As the last month of news foretells, decisions concerning the swami will unravel with plenty of drama and not a few complications. Time will reveal if a hidden camera will launch Nithyananda into post-scandal stardom, or bury his spiritual icon status in hopes of making room for a new realized soul.
Correction, April 5, 2010: This article originally misspelled Jim Bakker's last name. (Return to the corrected sentence.)
Ankita Rao is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.
Photograph of Guru Paramahamsa Nithyananda by Michael Buckner/Getty Images.