BANGALORE: It pays to have God on your side, especially if you are Swami Paramahamsa Nithyananda. Sex-CDs allegedly showing him in compromising positions with a Southern starlet, accusations of cheating and even jailtime, is no obstacle for religious reincarnation. Nithyananda has been declared the 293rd pontiff of the venerable Madurai Aadheenam, one of the most ancient Shaivite mutts in Tamil Nadu. The 292nd pontiff, Arunagirinatha Sri Gnanasambanda Desika Paramacharya Swamigal declared at the ‘cornonation’ ceremony: “We hereby crown him (Nithyananda) with the title His Holiness, the 293rd Guru Maha Sannidhanam Srila Sri Paramahamsa Nithyananda Sri Gnanasambanda Desika Paramacharya Swamigal.” Strangely, although an incumbent pontiff has the right to choose his successor, traditionally the chosen one is revealed only after the master’s lifetime.
“The religious heads of the Aadheenam usually choose their successors from one of the Thambirans and write his name in a document which is kept inside a safe. After his demise, the safe is opened and the successor’s name is to be read out,” says a prominent Shaivite scholar. For most Shaivite scholars, the appointment came as a shock.
Nithyananda has been visiting the Madurai mutt frequently, notwithstanding the scandals. A fortnight ago, the young godman—who belongs to the Shaiva Vellar community which has been managing the Madurai Aadheenam—had visited the mutt along with Kollywood actress Ranjitha. Then, Arunagirinatha Gnanasamandhadesikar presented a gold-plated silver scepter to Nithyananda. It was a sign the mantle would be passed on to the controversial godman.
A visit to the Madurai Aadheenam showed that all the followers of the pontiff have accepted his choice, by sporting around their necks a chain with a coin embossed with Nithyananda’s image. However, all scholars do not agree.
“The announcement goes against the tradition of Shaivite mutts,” says a religious expert. “Our custom is to appoint the Thambiran (lord) to head the Shaiva mutt only after giving him proper Sivadiksha. All the Thambirans posted in the temples under the mutt are trained in the Shaivite philosophy, Tamil literature and related customs.”
But Arunagirinatha himself has been somewhat a controversial spiritual head. In 2004, before Nithyananda, he had anointed a Class XI student named Swaminathan as the 293rd pontiff. However, in 2007, the boy was asked to leave the mutt since Arunagirinatha was unsatisfied with his conduct.
Arunagirinatha Gnanasamandhadesikar was a reporter with a Tamil evening daily in Madurai before he was initiated into the Dharmapuram Aadheenam as the Thambiran. Apart from religious activities, he has been taking part in Tamil nationalist politics and had recently organised a march towards Cumbum when the Mullaiperiyar dam issue was at its peak.
During Nityananda’s coronation ceremony, Arunagirinatha placed a gold-plated crown on the godman’s head to “officially declare” that he will take charge of the Madurai Aadheenam. The pontiff also declared Nithyananda his “lawful successor” to deal with all movable and immovable properties of the Aadheenam, which include over 1,250 acres of land, several temples and various properties in India and abroad. In reply, Nithyananda vowed to fulfil all responsibilities of the Aadheenam, revive the Shaiva tradition and make the mutt an international religious organisation.
The Madurai Aadheenam has been in existence for several centuries. It was revived about 1,500 years ago by Thirugnana Sambandar, one of the four visionary saints of South Indian Shaiva Siddhanta philosophy. The Aadheenam’s history dates back to the Tamil Sangam period. It is the oldest mutt in South India.
Nithyananda is currently out on bail given by the Karnataka High Court in June 2010, after being arrested on April 2010 at Solan in Himachal Pradesh.