GOD OF CON­TRO­VERSY

Self- styled god­man Swami Nityananda’s anointment as pon­tiff of one of In­dia’s old­est mutts kicks up a row

India Today - - NATION - By R. Ra­ma­sub­ra­ma­nian

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.

LENS

NITYANANDAAT MADU­RAI AD­HEENAM

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