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Swami Premananda – an avatar imprisoned "Truth will finally win"

An inspiring report on the work and tribulations of a famous spiritual Teacher. 

A fine-featured Asian man with a dazzling smile and an expression of great sweetness on his face which is framed by a huge mop of curly, wiry black hair forming a halo round his head, Swami Premananda wears a bright orange robe and his movements are quick and graceful. His followers believe him to be a great soul, an avatar, a great spiritual leader, like his better-known counterpart, Sri Sathya Sai Baba to whom he bears an uncanny resemblance.

Born in Sri Lanka in 1951 Premananda's birth was foretold by an Indian sage. At a precociously early age he began to exhibit the signs traditionally associated with a great avatar. As he grew into a fuller sense of his extraordinary nature and gifts he dedicated himself increasingly to fulfilling his destiny and role as a server of the people.

An avatar is by definition a highly evolved being, who brings particular energies into the world, who embodies them or who anchors them in the world as a service to humanity. They have been known throughout history in Indian and other Asian countries as great ones who confer particular blessings on humanity.

In 1969 while he was addressing some 200 people who had gathered to listen, his body began to glow and an ochre-coloured robe suddenly seemed to descend onto him. The saffron- or ochre-coloured garb is that of an initiated monk. At the time he was only 18 years old but from then onwards he became known as Swami Premananda (prema means "love" in Sanskrit).

Three years after this miraculous event when he had formed an ashram – spiritual centre – Premananda decided to found an orphanage in Matale, his birthplace. The name given to the orphanage means "The place of peace for all faiths". He repeated this pattern again a few years later, only this time in southern India; 20 km from the town of Trichy a Swami Premananda ashram and orphanage were built. The ashram was officially opened in 1989. The orphanage caters for approximately 600 orphans. Here all the children are provided with food, clothing, shelter, schooling and medical attention free of charge.

A parallel but deeply significant thread running through his life has been the inner and spiritual aspect of his existence. It has been said that he is a reincarnation of a great and very learned scholar and sage, Vivekanda. It is also said that Premananda has the task of complementing and completing spiritual work begun by Sai Baba. When Sai Baba dies Premananda will take over certain specific tasks, although part of this process has already begun. Once a year, at the most auspicious time on the Feast of Shiva, Swami Premananda produces lingams as Sai Baba has done for many years. The producing of the holy lingam (miraculously manifested egg-shaped object of stone or metal) is a mysterious event which brings great blessings to all present at the time and those who venerate it at any time in the future. The lingams are often kept in temples and form a central focus of worship.

As often happens with great good lives, there are always those who seek to discredit them, at the very least. Swami Premananda has experienced this at first hand. As his reputation spread and devotees travelled from all over the world to see him and ask his blessings and advice, there was a simultaneous bid to blacken his name. Hence the great shock that his sudden arrest and imprisonment caused. He stood charged of all sorts of crimes, including rape and murder.

While his devotees are distressed and anxious it is interesting to note what equanimity Premananda brings to his plight. Detached, unruffled, good humour characterizes everything he says and does and gradually the prison has become an alternative ashram. Other prisoners come to him for guidance and help; visitors come to the prison daily. His guards are impressed and won over by his obvious spiritual stature.

Court cases against him have come and gone, the charges being examined and found to be false. At one time there were 32 charges against him, but one by one they have been disproved and subsequently dropped. Some charges have had to be withdrawn, and it would appear that police corruption may have played a part in the whole sordid affair. The media also seems to have added fuel to the fire by publishing what could be described as ëbadly-researched' articles about Premananda. The various hearings have even led to DNA-testing to disprove accusations of rape. It would also appear that the police used unnecessary force: a number of girls from the ashram were rounded up and taken into police custody until ëevidence' was forthcoming. It is reported that repeated DNA tests proved that Premananda could not have been the father of the child of a girl who was found to be pregnant. A number of the girls taken into police custody demanded to be returned to the ashram, and later announced that they had felt coerced into making statements incriminating Premananda. The murder charge was also dismissed on ample evidence to the contrary.

Despite the apparently dubious nature of all the charges brought against Swami Premananda he continues to be kept in prison – to the great consternation of his followers and associates. The holy man himself, however, simply smiles and says: "Truth will finally win."

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First published April 1999, Last modified: 15-Oct-2005