SYDNEY (AFP) - Violent discipline was an acceptable part of life at a yoga ashram in Australia where a young girl was allegedly raped by the founder of an international yoga movement, an inquiry has heard.
Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse began probing the Mangrove Mountain ashram this week, after earlier hearings into abuse within the Catholic Church, Salvation Army and other organisations.
The ashram north of Sydney was founded by a disciple of the Indian guru who established the Satyananda Yoga movement which helped spread the practice around the world.
The inquiry heard from a woman on Thursday who said as a seven-year-old in the 1970s she was subjected to an initiation in which she was stripped naked and held down. The skin between her breasts was cut by a swami who then licked the blood and raped her. "The ashram was the kind of place that if you scream, no one comes," she said.
The woman, known by the pseudonym APR, told the inquiry that five or six male swamis were present during her initiation in which the head of the ashram, the late Swami Akhandananda, raped her.
APR and another woman have also told the inquiry they were abused by the founder of the Satyananda Yoga movement Guru Satyananda Saraswati, who is also deceased.
"I have impressions of him being on top of me," APR told the commission.
"It makes me nauseous, but for years I have swatted away the thought that he raped me as my entire childhood I was raised to believe he was like a god."
On Friday, a woman who had formerly been the partner of Akhandananda apologised for hitting children at the ashram and said she was frequently slapped across the face and hit herself.
Asked whether the violence she was subjected to by Akhandananda was sometimes for no reason, she said: "Oh yes, sometimes just because."
The woman, now in her mid-50s, broke down as she talked about the hurt she had inflicted on the children, some of whom had lived on the ashram with their parents.
"I deeply, deeply regret and feel quite desperately sorry for anything that I did or that I didn't do that has caused any of these people and their families any pain whatsoever," she said.
The commission has heard that Akhandananda, who was meant to be a celibate guru, began a sexual relationship with the woman when she was just 16.