For six days in January, the US city of Newark, New Jersey struck a sister agreement with a nation that doesn’t exist. Earlier this year, city mayor Ras Baraka invited what he thought were a group of representatives of the “Hindu nation of Kailasa” to Newark to strike a cultural trade deal complete with a official ceremony. Only a few days later he discovered that Kailasa is not a real country, but a place invented by the well-known Indian con man Swami Nithyananda.
Born in 1978 in India, Nithyananda is a charismatic and bizarre character: he founded a Hindu religious order and owns dozens of temples and sacred places around the world. Over the years he has claimed to have various magical powers, including the ability to delay dawn, make animals speak Tamil and Sanskrit, and to have taught his disciples dozens of paranormal abilities, including the ability to see through walls and to cure blindness. He has been repeatedly accused of sexual assault and harassment, and has been on the run from Indian justice since 2019 following allegations of rape and kidnapping.
The same year he bought an island off Ecuador and named it Kailasa: Nithyananda defines it «the Holy See of Hinduism» and claims all people who practice Hinduism as citizens. It is not officially recognized by any state, and is essentially a private island, but Nithyananda often tries to send delegations representing Kailasa in various official settings – such as the United Nations – in an attempt to gain legitimacy.
The Newark City Hall press secretary says the twinning deal between the city and Kailasa was canceled “immediately” when they discovered the place didn’t actually exist on Jan. 18. “While this was a regrettable incident, the City of Newark remains committed to partnering with people of diverse cultures to enrich each other with connections, support and mutual respect,” the spokeswoman said.
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