Saint & Sinner
Issue Anointment of controversial godman Nityananda as head of 1,500-year-old Madurai Adheenam
- Objection Arrested for sleaze video featuring a starlet, Nityananda had spent time in jail
- Controversy Paid Rs 1 crore in ‘dakshina’ to the math. Plans to pay an additional Rs 4 crore.
- Motive The Shaivite math is one of the richest in Tamil Nadu, owns 1,250 acres of land besides other property, including buildings
- Future Tense. Religious groups challenge anointment in court.
Swami Nityananda, the controversial godman who had gone into hiding after a sex video featuring him and actress Ranjeetha surfaced two years ago, was arrested from a Himachal village and sent to jail for 50 days, is back in the news. This time, he is defiantly defending his anointment as head of the Madurai Adheenam, a 1,500-year-old Shaivite math, one of the richest in the state, with control over 1,250 acres of land and other properties across Tamil Nadu. An income-tax raid at the math last week added sting to the allegation that the swami may have paid a price for the post. He denies the bribery charge; at the same time, he says he had already offered Rs 1 crore in dakshina and will be offering Rs 4 crore more.
The present pontiff, Arunagirinatha Gnanasambada, who named the swami his successor, says, “A divine voice told me Nityananda is the right person because he’s a learned and enlightened soul.” Other religious leaders are not amused. They say Thirugnana Sambandar, the saint who founded the adheenam, wore rudraksha beads; Nityananda prefers crowns of gold. Thirteen Shaivite maths and many Hindu groups have threatened to move court to challenge the arbitrary choice of successor.
Adheenams usually pick successors from among tambirans (junior pontiffs) trained in Shaivite philosophy and Tamil literature, but there’s an acute shortage as younger generations are not interested in a monastic life, says Ooran Adigal, a temple researcher. In any case, says M. Solaikannan of the Hindu Makkal Katchi (HMK), “Nityananda is the least qualified till he clears himself of the sex charge.” Significantly, the swami had visited the adheenam three weeks ago with Ranjeetha. And Arunagirinatha, nearly 70, had revealed during Nityananda’s anointment (overrun by protesters of the hmk) that in searching for a successor, he had visited Nityananda’s ashram, Dhyanapeetam, in Bidadi, near Bangalore.
T. Suresh Babu, president of Sandigeswara Nayanar Narpani Sangam, who represented Shaivite maths at the coronation, says that even after his protestations that the Shaivite world was appalled, Arunagirinatha was unmoved. “We suspect a conspiracy to grab the math’s properties,” he said. It’s an accusation Nityananda will not be able to shake off easily. There’s talk that Nityananda has a hold over Arunagirinatha, who said this week that “neither the courts nor maths have the authority to appoint my successor.” The statement is interpreted as an attempt to stave off litigation.
A belligerent Nityananda now says, “I am ready to have surveillance cameras installed in my rooms. But are those who oppose me willing to do the same?” Retorts V. Ranganathan, coordinator of the Tamil Nadu Government Trained Archakars Association, “Others aren’t on test here, he is. The government should take over the math.” That is also the prayer in a petition before the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court.
Nityananda is desperate to gain respectability and ride out the storm. He was seen so far only as a yoga guru and founder of Dhyanapeetam. But his elevation as the head of an ancient math will place him in a different league. But Arunagirinatha, who has been heading the math for the last 32 years, is an unusual swami too. He was a reporter in a Tamil eveninger before his current avatar, and has a penchant for wading into political issues, the last one being a march to Cumbum, on the border with Kerala, at the height of the Mullaperiyar controversy.