A young girl was raped by the head of a global yoga movement, Satyananda Sawaswati, on his visit to a New South Wales ashram, an inquiry has heard. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse hearing into the Satyananda Yoga Ashram at Mangrove Mountain on the state's central coast was also told a group of swamis abused the girl in a ritual setting. The girl, known as APR in the hearing, moved to the ashram with her mother, father and sister in the late 1970s. The abuse started when she was three years old.
"The ashram was the kind of place that if you scream, no-one comes," she said. At the ashram, family relationships were broken down and parents separated from their children, who were routinely beaten, sexually abused and deprived of adequate medical treatment and food. Attendees were referred to as "Innamtes" by the head of the movement, handed their assets to the ashram, shaved their heads, and wore orange robes. "I feel the entire ashram was groomed into a place of powerlessness," APR said. "My mother, who was a beautiful, strong and creative woman, was somehow brought to the point where she couldn't trust her ability to make decisions." APR recalls that when she was no more than six years old she was taken into a dark room lit with candles. There were five or six male swamis in the room, some of whom she recognised from the ashram.
During the ritual, she was held down and raped by Ahkandananda, the India director and spiritual leader of the ashram. "While he was doing that, Ahkandananda cut the skin between my breasts with a knife and then licked the blood. He threw it into the fire," she said. APR said she was then assaulted by several of the men and still has a scar down her chest.
Satyananda still worshipped as a guru
Founder Satyananda Sawaswati was the head of the organisation until 1988 and is still worshipped as a guru.
APR said that on one of his visits to the central coast ashram he raped her during an initiation ceremony. "For years I have pushed away the thought that he had raped me, as my entire childhood I was raised to believe he was like God, pure love," she said. The allegation follows earlier testimony given by another former child resident of the Satyananda Yoga Ashram, Bhakti Manning, that Satyananda abused her in India.
APR said she was also abused at night by older boys at the ashram when she was five or six years old. She said the boys would zip her sleeping bags to theirs and perform sexual acts with her, and that this happened to other girls as well. "I could see other girls in the room were also being put in the bags like I was," she said.
Pornography and drugs given to children
APR said pornographic magazines were put in the children's section of the ashram's library and that adults would give children a hallucinogenic drug called mungen brought from India. "The adults used to egg us on to take bigger and bigger hits of it until we passed out on the floor, and no-one ever stopped this," she said.
APR detailed the horrific effects of the ashram on her life. She suffers from chronic insomnia, flashbacks, and regressions to her childhood when she does not know who she is. She said the effects of her upbringing really hit home when she had her own daughter. "I would hold this tiny girl in my arms and try to understand how anyone could take advantage of someone so small," she said.
Parents 'need to own the choice they made'
The royal commission is expected to hear from a number of former adult residents and parents over the next week. "I want to see the ashram actually protect children and not just be a guru fan club where people leave their brains at the door," APR said. She told the inquiry she wanted the ashram shut down and said the adults that were there at the time were partly to blame for the abuse. "The adults need to own the choice they made - they were the ones that put the kids in that situation," she said.
"They were the ones who stayed, and by staying, made it impossible for us to leave."