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The question marks that hung over Swami Nityananda, 34, head of the Bangalore-based meditation centre Dhyanapeetham, after a sleazy sex video surfaced two years ago, momentarily disappeared when he was named the 293rd pontiff of south India’s oldest Shaivite math, the Madurai Adheenam, in April. But old allegations are back to haunt the controversial godman again, following a spill-all TV interview by a former lady devotee, Arati Rao. Jailed for assaulting a journalist and released on bail, he spoke to Deepak Thimaya in Madurai. Excerpts:
Have you let your devotees down and put them in a shameful position?
No. The devotees who have experienced the spiritual transformational benefits from me are very clear that it is an attack on us. It is persecution of me and my devotees. All spiritual leaders have gone through such problems some time or the other.
You very specifically said that different spiritual movements have gone through persecution at different times. Agreed, but never persecution based on the spiritual leader’s personal conduct, personal character or personality itself. In most cases the persecution was related to the ideological differences.
No. I can give thousands of examples where the personality was attacked. See, if it is only ideology, it is very easy. Attack on ideology is always the beginning. But in course it is always the personality that is attacked. Ideology is nothing but the expansion and the extension of the personality. Whether the Buddha, means the master, or the Dhamma, his message, or the Sangha his organization – all these three are ultimately the expansion or the extension of the same source. So, I feel all attack was always on all three for all masters.
One of your disciples, Arati Rao, has gone on record to say that in 2009 she had heard people talking about things not being right in the ashram.
Whatever she says is a lie. I am not accepting even one word of what she said. There may be so many vested interests. Somebody maybe using her, to defame me. If you listen to Arati Rao’s words two to three times, you can make out clearly that she is lying.
Who are these vested interests?
There are many people who are fighting with our organisation. There are some civil suits and some attempts to grab the ashram’s property, they maybe using her.
Some of your supporters say that among many reasons for targeting you, the few are that you are from Tamilnadu living making a living in Karnataka, you a non-brahmin swamy, you are a threat to other people’s interests. What are the reasons you identify?
I can say I have been targeted for various reasons. Some target me for being non-brahmin. If I mention names, they are too powerful people and once before I took some names and you know what I landed in. Just for the sake for satisfying an interview, I will not be able to mention names now.
To tell honestly, I never felt that in Karnataka I am a linguistic minority. I was always welcomed, respected and revered by Kannadigas. Even recently when there were problems the local people in Bidadi did not do anything against me. The trouble mongers were hired and brought. I have never gone against the interests of Karnataka at any time. I always worked for bring peace and understanding between Kannadigas and Tamilians.
How does it feel to be called Sex Swamy?
It is a complete lie, I don’t bother about it.
"There are attempts to grab the ashram’s property...a part of it can be a Christian conspiracy too."
In 2010 when the sex scandal broke you said that it was a mixture of conspiracy, video graphics…
Four experts who give witness using methodologies of the highest standard in the US said the video was morphed, manipulated and misrepresented. I can give all the four reports to you. They are ready to come to court in any country and present the result of their analysis.
But isn’t the video with you and actress Ranjitha in it beyond any doubt genuine even for a layman?
A simple man can understand it is morphed, can’t you understand? It is very clear the scene that never happened was created. People who created it have confessed to the Tamil Nadu CID, that they created it.
There are many swamis who get physically intimate with their devotees. Could something like that have happened?
No. I have not done anything like that. Nothing like that has happened.
Is there any possibility?
No. I have a healing stick and when people come to get healed I touch their heads with it.
Is it possible that in some cases you have touched people a little harder with your healing stick?
No, no. (laughs)
It is said that Arati Rao was named Nityananda Premeshwari, means the person who has the right to Nityananda’s love? Was she a sanyasi?
I don’t change devotees’ names. People are named according to their mental set up. A group of devotees select the names. Only for the sanyasis I choose the name. She was not a sanyasi and her name was not given by me. You must ask the group which gave that name.
Is it possible that the group saw something that made them think that name was suitable?
See there are many people who are given names. There isn’t any special significance.
When Arati Rao made the allegations this June, why did you flee the ashram?
It was not an escape. People who came into the ashram were not interested in law and order. They started beating my ashram inmates in the presence of the police. Some of the ashramites suffered big wounds and the police did not do anything. There are eye witnesses.
Aren’t you playing to the gallery, sometimes even dressing up for role-playing?
In Hinduism there is something called bhaavaa. When you enter into the bhaavaa, an altered state of consciousness, you just express that energy. It just feels very nice. When you meditate on Shiva it is nice to wear the rudraksha, when you meditate on Devi it is nice to wear kumkum on your forehead.
You have been talking about yourself being beyond gender.
I can say about my personal experience about me is beyond all three orientations. Physically I am in the male body but physiologically and psychologically a mutation has happened in my system.
You said you were ready to subject yourself to tests. What kind of tests?
Whatever is needed when the right agency asks me to go through.
You said that if such a test were to take place, it would be proven that you are a person who could not take part in an alleged act like that. What does it mean?
Whether this body is capable of indulging in a sexual act or not.
Arousal, erection and ejaculation?
Yes. That, my body is not capable of all those things.
Why would it not be capable if it is a complete male body.
It is a male body, but some particular spiritual experiences have happened at the age of 22 which have effected such a mutation.
Is it possible that you may have got one of your devotees to test you?
Till now I have not got any of my devotees to test me.
Is it something that you would not like to tell us?
I have not told any of my devotees to test me about this.
From spiritual beings to sages to ordinary people everyone has libido. Are you saying that you never had libido?
Because of my spiritual experience this libido has completely disappeared. I never had, and if I had I would have married.
Have you ever felt some kind of sexual inadequacy?
In my case I have been trained by my guru through some special yogas and lifestyle and this is the way my body has flowered. I am happy about it.
What do you feel when people constantly call you a rapist, a molester, a sex maniac?
That is the reason the day they arrested me, I requested them to do a medical test on me and present the report. I don’t know why they did not do it at that time.
Has anyone shown physical interest in you? Have you ever been approached by a woman to get physically intimate with you?
No, no, no, no…. I have already made a statement to the public that I am living in a space where it is beyond the body.
A shorter, edited version of this interview appears in print. The protest photo was changed online, after publication. You can read the full, unexpurgated text of the interview here.