Autobiography of a Bhogi: Part 4: Nithyananda’s Rudrakanyas

Rape and Chastity within an Indian Yoga Cult

Swami Nithyananda is a controversial self-styled godman from south India. Such is the popularity that this yoga guru claims to have 20 million devotees from 196 countries. Members of this cult staunchly believe that Nithyananda is a living avatar of the supposedly divine, Sadashiva. Can you not the see the resemblance?

You might ask, WHO IS H.H BHAGWAN SRI PARAMAHAMSA NITHYANANDA SWAMIJI? Well, one devotee explains that, His Holiness Sri Bhagwan Paramahamsa Nithyananda Swamiji, is a young Enlightened yogi and living Incarnation with unimaginable superhuman powers. He is part of a 5000-year-old lineage of enlightened yogic masters who live and train on the sacred mountain of Arunachala in Southern India. Swamiji is an adept in the mystical yogic sciences whose specialty is the awakening of the mighty Kundalini, our own highest potential energy. With a vision to raise the consciousness of our planet, He is working tirelessly to awaken individuals and communities to their highest possibility — a life of completion, power, bliss and Advaita, Oneness.’

Still, with all this omnipotence, Nithyananda, currently, is compelled under a non-bailable warrant to attend court proceedings against the allegations of raping a devotee. However, recently, he failed to present at the latest session of his trial. Even though his excuse is that he is performing some ceremony that cannot be interrupted; he is, in effect, currently a fugitive.

In his defense, one devotee started a petition to have all ‘fake and abusive content on H.H. Bhagwan Sri Paramahamsa Nithyananda’ removed from the Internet. The author of the petition claims a conspiracy theory (below) is the cause of her guru’s legal dilemmas.

Here is another critique of the conspiracy by a devotee, who claims that it is all against Hindus and Hinduism. The mass media is apparently corrupt, twisting truth only to make money.

Although, this is probably the most egregious of all the apologetic vlogs available on social media. In it, Ma Nithya Swarupriyananda, explains that, ‘The attack against Swamiji is not an attack against a man, or even against an avatar; it’s an attack against the possibility that he has been brought down to planet earth to tranform others.’

However, it all gets quite salacious, especially when one reads the non-disclosure agreement that participants are coerced into signing. Below, are some of the more relevant clauses:

Coming back to the conspiracy, it probably has nothing, at all, to do with this video of Nithyananda engaging in activities otherwise not considered appropriate for a person of his station.

But, there is some merit to the idea of a conspiracy. The apex body of sadhus (holy men) in India is like a union, of sorts. The All India Akhara Parishad ‘is a conglomerate of 13 akharas, or militant ascetic orders — seven of Shaiva persuasion, three each of Vaishnavism’s Ramanandi sect and Sikhism’ released a list of 14 “fake babas”’. However, as this article explains, for various reasons Nithyananda is not on the list. Also, ‘The Parishad’s “fake babas” list is aimed at restoring the credibility of sadhus after the arrest of several self-styled godmen on criminal charges, most recently Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh of Dera Sacha Sauda. Singh is on the blacklist, along with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh member Aseemanand, Asaram and his son Narayan Sai, Radhe Ma, Sachidanand Giri and Nirmal Baba.’

Regarding Nithyananda’s efforts to prove his innocence, he underwent an impotency test at a hospital; which he failed. That is, he was considered not to be impotent.

If one is curious, this is how impotency tests are carried out in India.i

The ‘Sex Swami’ also went on a media blitz to counter his image and tarnish the image of the woman making the allegations.

This resulted in further ‘fake news’ allegations by the organisation to counter the Delhi Court’s decision that the forensic analysis determined that it is Nithyananda in the ‘sleaze video’.

However, this is another version of the court’s findings.

It’s not, then, without a liberal dose of irony that, today, I came across this promotional video from Nithyananda’s organisation; which highlights the idea of the Rudrakanyas, or Girls of Rudra. These young women apparently represent the ideal virtues of …chaste…Hindu women. It has nothing to do, at all, apparently, with ritual worship of Sadashiva’s literal lingam.

Rudrakanyas are apparently ‘a lineage of temple dancers that Sadashiva, living and breathing in the form of Paramahamsa Nithyananda, is reviving now.’


A quick search in the DCS finds this term, rudrakanya, only a handful of times. Interestingly, it does not appear in Monier Williams’ Sanskrit Dictionary.

One can learn the 64 Vedic arts; which, it seems, includes dancing to dub step. Interpreting the video below, it seems that one can go from being a lonely girl sitting on a bench in a park to being transformed to a higher potential.

This ideal Rudrakanya explains below, that:


The following excerpts are taken from a book chapter written by Shaman Hatley, titled, Śakti in early tantric Śaivism: historical observations on goddesses, cosmology and ritual in the Niśvāsatattvasaṃhitā. Some of the footnotes mentioned in the paragraph, below, follow.

Positioned higher in the series are yogakanyās, ‘yoga maidens’, deities of the sixth and seventh netherworlds. Here described merely as ‘possessing great power’ (mahāvīryāḥ),47 goddesses of this particular collocation are not well-attested in Śaiva textual sources familiar to me. Yet as powerful, youthful goddesses connected with yoga who transcend the Skull Mothers, these ‘yoga maidens’ appear to prefigure the deities later referred to as yogeśvarīs, ‘female masters of yoga’, or yoginīs. This connection is drawn much later by a Kashmirian, Kṣemarāja, in commenting upon a parallel passage in the Svacchandatantra; he understands yogakanyās as yoginīs who possess their yogic powers from the very moment of birth.48 This seems consistent with the term’s use in the Harivaṃśa, where it describes the goddess Ekānaṃśā as the infant girl substituted for Kṛṣṇa.49 It hence appears that the Guhyasūtra describes a hierarchy of divinities encompassing goddesses with typological similarities to those later brought within the rubric of the yoginī: multiple categories of Mother-goddess, the Sisters, and maiden goddesses possessed of yogic powers.50

It seems that one could, through entering the reconstituted training offered at Nithyananda’s training centre, become a great ‘yoga maiden possessed of great power (yogakanyaa mahaaviiryaas).

But, then, I wonder what the point of paying tens of thousands of dollars and moving all the way across the world might be to live, purportedly, with Sadashiva, himself; if he has absconded from justice and will likely remain in hiding for quite some time. And, if found, will be put in jail for breaching his bail conditions. The other option seems to be that, if he does return to the ashram, there is a possibility of sexual assault. Even if an intimate moment happens between two supposedly consenting adults, the power imbalance erodes that ethical boundary in ways that only unravel for many, post facto. And, well, also, it is interesting that Nithyananda hasn’t asked any rudrajarjalas (rudra’s old women) or any rudrabandhakis (rudra’s barren women) to come to the ashram. Either way, it certainly puts a spin on this Sanskrit verb I just came across in the dictionary:

जीवन्तिशूलाम् करोति

jiivantishuulaam karoti

impale a woman alive

I wonder in which context this verb is used? Does it involve a trident or a lingam?

It does seem to beg the question: If Nithyananda really is Sadashiva, why would he bring this all upon himself? Why would he not get everyone to dance to a different tune, other than the legal sagas he has been embroiled in for a decade, which has seen him imprisoned already? Since, after all, is he not Nataraj?

Patrick McCartney, PhD is a JSPS Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Graduate School of Global Environmental Studies, Kyoto University, Japan; a Research Associate at Nanzan Anthropological Institute, Nanzan University, Japan; and a Visiting Fellow at the South and South-East Asian Studies Department, Australian National University, Australia.

Building upon an anthropological premise, Patrick’s work intersects the commodification of desire and consumption of yoga-inflected lifestyles. It explores the consumption of global yoga through the politics of imagination and the sociology of spirituality. Patrick’s current project focuses specifically on the Japanese yoga industry, which includes understanding the aspirations of Japanese yoga consumers and how modern yoga is reconstituted in unique ways into Japanese culture. You can follow this project at Yogascapes in Japan, and also find his articles and films there too.

Patrick McCartney

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