GOD OF CONTROVERSY
Self- styled godman Swami Nityananda’s anointment as pontiff of one of India’s oldest mutts kicks up a row
Self- styled godman Swami Nityananda is back in business as the 293rd pontiff of the 1,500- year- old Madurai Adheenam, one of India’s oldest Saivite mutts. His anointment in April comes after nearly two years of lying low following a damaging sleaze video with a Tamil starlet that played out on TV in 2010. The high- profile following of politicians like Narendra Modi, B. S. Yeddyurappa and actors like Juhi Chawla, Vivek Oberoi did not help when the Bangalore Police arrested the 34- year- old. Nityananda spent over a month behind bars on rape charges before he was granted bail.
The fifth century Madurai Adheenam has a huge following in Tamil Nadu and was set up as a seat for popularising Saivite traditions and promoting its literature. But it is not doing much of those now.
Many Hindu outfits and heads of other adheenams ( mutts) in Tamil Nadu are fuming and claim that Nityananda’s ascension is a nearcoup. His first act after coronation was to hand over a Rs 1- crore donation to Arunagirinatha Gnanasambandha Desigar, the senior pontiff who crowned him. Besides the sleaze taint, his detractors say he is not even a Saivite from the Saiva Vellala com- munity, which has traditionally held that position. The godman’s detractors have petitioned the Madras High Court against his anointment. It comes up for hearing in June. “This mutt belongs to the people. Its pontiffs are mere trustees. The adheenam owns Rs 1,200 crore worth of property and Nityananda just wants to grab all of it,’’ said Arjun Sampath of Hindu Makkal Katchi, one of the organisations which is protesting against his anointment.
Nityananda’s devotees rubbish the claim. “His anointment strictly followed spiritual rules and rituals. It is not necessary that all rituals are performed in public,’’ his secretary Sri Nityapradananda told INDIA TODAY, adding that the rumours were the creation of those peeved at the godman for declaring he would evict all encroachers from the mutt lands.
In the wake of reports about the vast wealth and property owned by the mutt, Income Tax sleuths raided it on May 5. Mutt followers, however, see a Tamil Nadu- based Union minister’s hand behind the raid. Nityananda has threatened to drag other adheenam heads to court for denigrating him. But for now, he is making the best of the Madurai godsend.
NITYANANDAAT MADURAI ADHEENAM