Famous yoga master accused of abuse

A woman has told an enquiry she was sexually abused by Satyananda Sarswati – the man who founded the worldwide yoga movement with branches across the world including Australia.

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In a statement to a royal commission examining child sexual abuse at a NSW Satyananda ashram, Bhakati Manning said she was abused by two senior swamis in ashrams in Australia and “by the spiritual founder of Satyananda yoga”.

She said the abuse happened when she was 15 in Australia.

She was 17 when she travelled to the famous Munger ashram in India in 1976 to study with the respected yogi whom she had met in Australia.

Ms Manning said shortly after her arrival, he fondled her genitals and said something to the effect “this is our relationship, don’t tell anyone”.

He also taught her how to tie her dhoti – a traditional garment – so that it tucked between her legs.

He said something to the effect of “you have to protect what is mine from being seen”, she said in her statement.

The world-renowned yoga master died in 2009.

Ms Manning, now aged 55, will continue her evidence on Thursday, the third day of a hearing where six witnesses have told of being abused.

The commission has already heard that Satyananda’s disciple Swami Akhandananda, who was sent to lead the Mangrove Mountain ashram, used underage girls for sexual gratification.

It also heard celibacy was a requirement at the ashrams and Akhandananda would beat people who were found to be having sex.

Children were sent out on what one witness referred to as “F*** patrols”, to spy on couples and report back.

Akhandananda was jailed for sex abuse in 1989, but the conviction was overturned on a technicality in 1991. He died in 1997.

Witnesses whose parents brought them to the Mangrove ashram in search of a utopian life have told how they were subject to depraved sexual practices by Akhandananda, who often summoned them by loudspeaker or had his partner Shishy bring them to him.

On Wednesday, one woman, referred to as APL at the commission, said facilities at the Mangrove ashram were basic, with children often going hungry.

Their heads were shaved, they wore orange robes and were made to do hard labour.

APL later discovered the Swami and Shishy had a hot tub, a television and drank alcohol.

Several witnesses have also said the swami forced them to have sex and Shishy was often present.

They also said Shishy would beat them.

APL’s sister also gave evidence on Wednesday, labelling an email sent by the ashram claiming a healing ceremony for victims last Easter was successful as an insult.

She said it was particularly insulting that in the email the ashram was spouting rubbish about “ego and embracing the darkness”, because it was what Swami Akhandananda said when he was “f***ing little girls and stealing people’s lives”.

Solicitor for the Mangrove ashram Aaron Keraghan apologised at the commission hearing on behalf of his clients and told two abuse victims on Wednesday the ashram would like to financially compensate them.