Ashram of hor­rors

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - Opinion - JESS VERRENDER

A YOGA re­treat with a dark past as home to a child-abus­ing sex cult is up for sale with hopes it will fetch $6 mil­lion.

The 99ha prop­erty at the foothills of Man­grove Moun­tain on the Cen­tral Coast grabbed head­lines four years ago when it was re­vealed chil­dren of yoga pa­trons were drugged, raped and beaten in the 1970s and 1980s.

The owner of the prop­erty is not-for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion Man­grove Yoga, re­branded from Satyananda Yoga Ashram — the orig­i­nal group that es­tab­lished the con­tro­ver­sial re­treat in 1975. The group said it would di­rect pro­ceeds from the Man­grove Creek prop­erty to a new well­ness foun­da­tion af­ter re­port­edly com­pen­sat­ing vic­tims of the sex­ual abuse last year.

The group sold off an­other prop­erty in 2016, al­legedly us­ing part of the $3.1 mil­lion sale price for the undis­closed pay­out to vic­tims.

As well as the yoga re­treat it­self, the prop­erty in­cludes about 35ha of farm­land. The ashram fea­tures com­mer­cial kitchens, ac­com­mo­da­tion and mul­ti­pur­pose rooms.

In 2014, the child sex­ual abuse royal com­mis­sion heard from 11 vic­tims who said they were as­saulted as chil­dren at the ashram.

The com­mis­sion was told ashram leader Swami Akhan­dananda Saraswati (pic­tured right) in­flicted sick sex­ual ini­ti­a­tion rites on young girls in his care.

One vic­tim de­scribed how she was stripped naked at seven years old and held down while her skin was cut by the swami, who later licked the blood and had in­ter­course with her.

The swami and his wife were said to have de­lib­er­ately cre­ated wedges be­tween par­ents and their chil­dren, sur­ren­der­ing their names and iden­ti­ties to trans­form them­selves into dis­ci­ples of the com­mu­nity. They then ma­nip­u­lated the chil­dren into be­com­ing “sex spies” and hav­ing sex with the swami.

Akhan­dananda was jailed in 1989 for in­de­cent deal­ing with four girls. The con­vic­tion was over­turned in 1991 and Akhan­dananda was re­leased. He died in 1997.

Man­grove Yoga said sell­ing the prop­erty was part of a process of “ex­plor­ing op­tions to es­tab­lish a new foun­da­tion with a fo­cus on well­ness”. Sell­ing agent Peter Vines of CBRE West­ern Syd­ney said he was con­fi­dent they would find a buyer who could “move on and cre­ate some­thing pos­i­tive”. “It’s had an un­for­tu­nate past but we are con­fi­dent that we’ll find a buyer,” he said. “This is a stun­ning site in one of the most mag­i­cal places in the world.”

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