Swami Nityananda’s 35th jayanti celebration was held in his Dhyanapeetam, on Pradakshina Road, at the west end of Arunachala, on 20 December, 2011.
It looks like the Swami is making a comeback after his disgrace from a sex scandal in March of 2010, and subsequent arrest. As part of the Swami’s response to the situation he stepped down from the management of the various Nityananda organizations that had grown around him. He was going to resume life as a simple sadhu, or so the world was told. One visible change after this is that the Nityananda posters that one would see frequently in various locations throughout India seemed to disappear. He seemed more quiet and less visible. (I say this as someone who did not follow him closely.)
I can’t really write with any clarity about the scandal. There were sexually suggestive videos aired of Nityananda and an Indian starlet (that were pretty mild compared to what is seen in the USA). The controversy is that Nityananda is a sannyasin, a renunciate. This is why he dresses in orange. Indian renunciates give up, among other things, all possessions, and all sexual activity. So he is seen by some as a hypocrite, unable to live up to his own words and vows. The charges on which Nityananda was arrested, rape and unnatural sexual acts, do not seem valid to me. There were claims from Nityananda’s supporters that this was a part of a conspiracy against the Swami, driven by Christians and Dravidians that were opposed to the success of Swami’s “Temples on Wheels” program, where small villages without Hindu temples would be visited, and people would become recommitted to Hinduism rather than convert to Christianity. It’s not clear to me why Dravidians were opposed to him.
Related to his teaching, I understand that many techniques have been adopted by Swami Nityananda from the Shiva Sutras and Kashmir Shaivism. The 112 verses of Vijnana Bhairava, an ancient Kashmir Shaivite book of yoga that describes 112 yogas that use “sensory inputs” to experience the Highest. They are part of the Tantric thread of Hinduism that was suppressed by the Christians associated with the British colonization of India. There are a few of these verses (5 of 112) that use physical sensations between two people, and we are told that Swami Nityananda was experimenting with these verses to see if they could be used as spiritual teaching tools in modern times.
Now Nityananda seems to be reclaiming his visibility. Signs have started appearing again, and we hear about his big events, like this birthday celebration at his ashram in Tiruvannamalai, the city of his birth and childhood.
The jayanti (birthday) was on December 20th. By the day before, the 19th, preparations were in earnest.
In front of the ashram they were erecting a pandal of white cloth with an orange stripe on a frame of wooden poles. Nityananda seems to have adopted orange as his identifying color, I guess accenting his status as a sannyasin.
Parked across the street was a truck loaded with furniture. I think they were bringing this for the swami, who was to stay here for two nights.
They have set out signs outside the ashram. This one advertises a book, selling for Rs. 50, I guess discounted from Rs. 300.
I approach the truck to get a better look. One thing I see is a big double bed mattress and fancy headboard. I notice that orange cloth was used to cover some items. The trademark color again.
And I see in the truck a chair or something that is covered with gold! I have to say that I am surprised by this. I do not recall any stories of Sri Ramana Maharshi with golden furniture. Oh well, maybe times are different now, calling for different actions (and marketing).
In the back of the ashram are the 1008 lingams, the Dhyanapeetam.
The big lingam in front usually wears an orange turban, like Nityananda. Today it is also covered with flower malas.
The central shrine, in the background in the photo below, also looks nicely decorated. The objects in the foreground are additional hanging decorations that were placed all around the ashram.
Now it is the morning of 20 December, the big day.
On the street are large billboards (called ‘hoardings’ in India).
This sign is entirely in Tamil, so not at all for a Western audience.
Here are Happy 35th Birthday greetings (in English) from 13 Indian men.
Under one of the hoardings sits a group of policemen. Since the ‘incident’ last year, there have often been police near the ashram, I guess protecting it from possible upset followers. Damage was done, I think, to one of Nityananda’s other ashrams.
Inside the ashram, a stage has been set up. On it is something large, covered in orange cloth, maybe something from the truck.
Men carry a sign, setting up the ashram space for all the visitors they expect. There are many chairs, I think more than 1000 already set out, with more to go.
The ashram entrance, with the orange and white pandal with lights atop it. Banana stalks line the entrance. To Tamils, these signify prosperity.
You can see Parvati Hill, the west end of Arunachala, in the background.
When Carol went through downtown Tiruvannamalai in the middle of the day, she saw huge groups of Nityananda followers near Arunachaleswara, the Big Temple. She passed two different groups walking in procession around the Big Temple, each with more than 1000 people, many of whom carried orange flags. In the crowd, there were many women carrying pots on their heads. These pots contain milk, an offering to the gods. Carol also saw another group forming near the temple of perhaps more than 2000 people. The traffic was chaotic and roads were blocked off to accommodate the crowd. The procession included at least two “parade floats,” large vehicles with people standing on top. Many buses displaying Nityananda signs jammed the streets. The photo below shows one such sign, although this particular vehicle was one of many parked up the street from Nityananda’s ashram.
We can see the props on the stage as they remove the orange cover. I think it is a golden throne.
Outside on the street, local pushcart vendors are expecting lots of people. Here are watermelons and papayas.
I am not sure what these small fruits are, but they often have them. Does someone know?
Naturally, sugar cane to crush for juice. We haven’t tried it yet, since we have been warned about dangerously dirty cups.
In an area off the road, maybe 200 meters from the ashram, there are many people.
They are eating lunch. I would expect the ashram to serve food to whoever came. Thousands of meals today. I think that free meals are part of the reason that South Indian people attend these functions. Most family functions include meals for all attending. This jayanti is like a big family celebration, so food is a part of it.
A group of women walk to the ashram after eating. The young woman to the left is wearing a fancy saree for the big day.
There is more activity around the ashram now, more vehicles, more people arriving.
Buses are being parked down at the big lot on Perumbakkam Road, about 3 km. away, in addition to those parked near the ashram itself.
The buses all have the Nityananda banners.
More people walking towards the ashram.
The buses park and unload the people. Then the crowds walk to the event. If you look closely you can see that many of the attendees are wearing some kind of paper badges or name cards. So if they all have their IDs, this is very organized.
The street in front of the ashram.
What a crowd! This is about 4:30 in the afternoon. I think several thousand people are here.
On stage sits Nityananda on his golden throne. The throne is bedecked with colorful flower malas.
The crowd includes both men and women. It seems like a lot more women, though.
After a few minutes there is a roar from the crowd.
And now NItyananda has donned his golden crown.
It is pretty big, bigger than his head.
A few hours have passed and it is nighttime. Carol and I make another trip to see what is happening now.
Lights are lit, and more crowds of people move towards the ashram.
Outside is a big lingam in lights.
Also a projection TV, showing the proceedings inside.
People milling around the entrance,
Inside the gate there was this golden chariot…
…with a life-sized statue of Nityananda riding on it.
The only place that I have seen vehicles like this is at the Arunachaleswara Temple, where the gods are taken out in procession riding in golden chariots. Does this golden chariot say that Nityananda is of the same status?
Though the crowd of several thousand people has been here for more than four hours, Nityananda is still on stage.
He sits in his golden throne, greeting people who are now lined up to have the darshan of the master.
The throne is elaborately decorated. Wonderful care and attention have been given to the decoration.
It seems that even after hours on stage, Nityananda continues to radiate positive energy and happiness.
Here is a queue of people waiting to say happy birthday to Nityananda, snaking into the night.
The line seems to be mostly women, with the exception of a couple of men here and there.
Again all I see is women in this line, and wondered if the men lined up first or something. There are many cases in temples (and temple-like settings) where men and women are separated.
By the entrance there was a booth selling Nityananda products.
Ayurvedic products, “Nithya Oil,” “NIthya Cream,” “ Nithyananda Hair Oil,” etc. Nityananda products for your life.
By the entrance, the police are still on watch. They are standing up now. And rickshaws, waiting to take people back to town. I noticed for the first time in this photo that the rickshaw driver outfit is similar to the policeman’s, just no brass on the collar and no cool police hat. Oh, and the police wear thick belts.
The street is lighted by a long row of fluorescent lights, hung on wooden poles that are dug into the side of the road. These go on for about 1000 feet along the road. Probably by tomorrow night these will all be removed.
The next day all the buses are gone, but there are piles of plates and other trash that have just been left there by the devotees.
Two days later a crew came by and picked up some of the plates, put them into a big pile and then burned them. We in the neighborhood appreciated this gesture, although the plastic trash is still there.
I still do not know what to think of Nityananda. I have heard again and again that he is a gifted spiritual teacher, and that those who come to his teachings have deep spiritual experiences while there. I do not know what happens after they leave, though. Is the deep experience then something that they are able to return to, or is it just a passing thing? I would be interested to hear what people have to say about this. When someone would come to my own teacher, Nome at SAT, he would ask, “Is it permanent?” I know now that reality is permanent. If it comes and goes, then it is not the deep, lasting reality shown by, say, Sri Ramana Maharshi.
I look at the simple life of Sri Ramana, who was not even officially a sannyasin, and compare it with what I see of Swami Nityananda, with the marketing and the golden throne, and it sure looks different. Maybe that is just the difference in today’s times? In this modern day of media, is more of a splash needed? Or maybe, how can there be any difference in the timeless reality? I have to say I feel like after the recent scandal, where Nityananda is said to be going back to a simple life of a sannyasin, sitting on a golden throne and being worshipped by thousands of people does not seem to me to be sannyasin’s life. But then I also know that I do not know. Maybe these are just phantoms of my mind, projecting what it thinks is reality (which I then take to be real)?
To see more similar posts that you may be interested in, please look at this link: Spiritual Teachers and Teachings