Who Is Elizabeth Gilbert’s Guru?
Eat Pray Love, the film based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir by the same name, isn’t due to release in India until October. However, the movie, which released in the US last weekend, has been in the news not just for Julia Roberts’ conversion to Hinduism earlier this month (Roberts play Gilbert in the film). The India leg of Gilbert’s travels, during which she retreats to an unnamed ashram (Gilbert pledged to preserve its privacy) on the outskirts of Mumbai, is the subject of much speculation and conjecture. An investigative report on Salon.com by Riddhi Shah has re-sparked debate on the identity of Gilbert’s guru. It suggests that her spiritual mentor could be Malti Shetty, better known as Gurumayi Chidvilasanada, the head of the Siddha Yoga Dham of America (SYDA), a new Hindu spiritual order based on the tradition of the Vedanta. Like the ashram in the book, SYDA is also located just outside Mumbai, in a small village called Ganeshpuri.
The report excavates allegations of financial misconduct and sexual abuse against the ashram’s leader, the late Swami Muktananda. While Gilbert refers to her guru’s master as a “world-changing” and “self realized” leader in the book, reports suggest that Muktananda was accused of sexual abuse, molestation and intercourse with minors. One report claimed that the septuagenarian guru, who portrayed himself as celibate in public, had a special area in his New York ashram for his sexual dalliances. The Salon article also draws attention to the website, Leaving Siddha Yoga, set up for former devotees to share their stories of abuse and mistreatment. A testimony by website founder Daniel Shaw suggests that the ashram was using “human conduits to ferry cash from US to India”, fuelling rumours of large amounts of money stashed away in Swiss bank accounts.
When contacted by Salon, Gilbert’s publicist at Viking wouldn’t confirm anything. “No comment. Liz has always made a concerted effort to respect the privacy of the ashram,” they said. Siddha Yoga also hit back, releasing this statement to Salon, denying all allegations. Expectedly, there is no mention of Gilbert except to say that the writer has used the release of the movie to “to discredit a path that has enriched the lives of so many”.