Bikram Choudhury, the founder of the Bikram school of hot yoga, told a student "I need to spiritually enlighten you" as he raped her, according to one of a blizzard of lawsuits against him
December 5, 2013
The 67-year-old Indian yoga master is being sued by five different women in the California courts, alleging that he used his guru status to lure in victims and then "crush anyone who speaks against him".
Mr Choudhury's method of Bikram Yoga, practiced at 105F (41C) heat, has become wildly popular in Britain and the US and its celebrity devotees include Jennifer Aniston, Lady Gaga and David Beckham.
Yet court documents describe a cult-like atmosphere where the charismatic Mr Choudhury would tell young women training to be instructors they had been "touched by God" before forcing himself upon them.
He "used his status as a guru to identify and victimise the most vulnerable women from among his flock, grooming them, breaking down barriers, and ultimately assaulting them when they were at their most physically, emotionally, or financially vulnerable," according to court papers.
The lawsuits - which contains allegations of rape, sexual battery, fraud and false imprisonment - are also levelled against 25 unnamed members of Mr Choudhury's inner circle who allegedly knew of his behaviour "yet did nothing to prevent this from happening".
Mr Choudhury has previously denied the charges but neither he nor his staff responded to a request for comment.
The Calcutta native founded the Bikram Yoga system in the early 1970s and is practiced by millions across the world, generating a fortune that Mr Choudhury has turned towards Rolexes and Rolls Royces.
Among his fleet of cars is a Royal Daimler he said once belonged to the Howard Hughes, the reclusive millionaire, and includes a toilet in the back seat.
But his yoga empire is now under siege in the Los Angeles courts, where four former students and his ex-legal advisor are pursuing him.
One woman, named only as Jane Doe 2 in court documents, said she enrolled in a $13,000, nine-week instructor training course taught by Mr Choudhury, where he insisted students wear "tight, skimpy clothing" and banned them from having green clothes.
Students were allegedly taught that Bikram Yoga could "cure cancer" and "enable practitioners to live to be 100 years old" and that Mr Choudhury "is on the same level as Jesus Christ or the Buddha".
Mr Choudhury allegedly singled out Jane Doe 2 among his students, telling her: "You will be greater than Mother Teresa, but you have to follow me."
On the night of November 18, 2010, Ms Doe alleges that the guru invited her to come to his room to discuss a job offer at his headquarters.
Moments before raping her, Mr Choudhury said: "I need to spiritually enlighten you. In order to do that, we need to become one," according to court documents.
Larissa Anderson, another of the plaintiffs, claimed she "found herself drawn into a cult and made a victim of gender violence".
Ms Anderson claims that Mr Choudhury sexually assaulted her on Halloween, 2011, and "subsequently retaliated against...her business as a result of refusing his advances".
The Bikram Yoga school is tightly-controlled and has filed lawsuits against yoga studios that it believes are copying its methods.
Ms Anderson alleges that after she resisted him, Mr Choudhury refused to endorse her studio or allow it be listed as an official Bikram Yoga practice, causing damage to her business.
In June, Minakshi Jafa-Bodden, Mr Choudhury's former legal advisor filed suit against him, saying he presided over "a hyper-sexualised, offensive and degrading environment for women".
She alleged he was ordered not to investigate claims that a student had been raped during one of the teacher-training courses.
During a separate investigation of alleged sexual assault by male trainers, Mr Choudhury allegedly told her "those boys didn't do nothing to that stupid girl".
Mr Choudhury released a statement in March in response to one of the first lawsuits, saying he was "disappointed by the false charges" but would not comment further.