To his countless thousands of followers across India and around the world, Nithyananda Swami was nothing less than a true guru – a genuine holy man who could lead people to spiritual happiness. A message from the young leader posted on the website of his organisation, Dhyanapeetam, or Knowledge Centre, says: "Be blissful".
But then a video emerged that appeared to show the leader getting a little too blissful with two shapely south Indian women.
His followers were furious and his ashram in the city of Bangalore was attacked by crowds angry that the guru's pursuits appeared to include the carnal as well as the sacred.
The handsome 32-year-old has claimed there is a plot against him and said the video, which shows him frolicking with the women and was widely broadcast on Indian television, is "a mix of conspiracy, graphics and rumours".
Now, however, he has decided to stand down as the head of his organisation, and instead lead a "life of spiritual seclusion for an indefinite time".
"In view of this, and to enable the Dhyanapeetam to function with such amended agenda as may be necessary, I am resigning as the head of the Dhyanapeetam and from all the trusts associated with it," he said. "Whenever, if required, I will return and talk about all that had happened as an independent witness to my conduct with a clean heart and pure soul, and also in a less prejudiced atmosphere. I thank you all. Be blissful!"
Yet the matter may not go away so easily. Police have launched an investigation to determine whether the spiritual leader had "outraged" the feelings of his followers.
The case has already come before the courts. The guru, who has also established ashrams in the US and Europe, sought to quash the initial police investigation. He filed a petition accusing his former driver and purported disciple, Karuppa Lenin, of seeking to defame and damage the organisation by making false claims against him.
By the standards of other material readily available on the internet, the video featuring the religious leader is not especially spicy. Indeed, at one point, a woman seeking to rub the guru's feet appears to struggle to get his attention because he seems more interested in watching television.
Yet the allegations about a man who claims big-name movie stars and politicians among his followers have shocked and upset thousands of people, coming amid a flurry of incidents involving religious leaders. Police last month arrested one guru for running a brothel involving air stewardesses and college students, and charged another with kidnapping a minor.
In a recent interview with the Times of India, Nithyananda Swami insisted that he had been in a "state of Samadhi", or trance, when the footage had been recorded late last year. He claimed the actress was a volunteer at the ashram and had been looking after him because he was unwell.
"There's a lot of misinterpretation, manipulation and morphing. Now, we are working to find out which part was recorded and which was manipulated," he said. "When that video was taken, I was in a state of trance. My personal life has been misrepresented and my privacy has been invaded. The media has even taken pictures of me when I am changing my clothes after a bath. This has been done to defame me."Reuse content