Sri Sri Selvam Siddhar, also known as Dr Commander Selvam, is one of the few swamis who gives money away, as opposed to taking it from his devotees.
The Apple Valley, California-based swami, who claims to have assets worth $1.5 billion, recently donated $5 million to build a Shiva temple in Norcross, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta.
"The temple will be unique," the swami, who earlier was a police officer and a commander in the Home Guards in Chennai in the early 90s, said. "It will house 108 Shiva murtis, not Shiva lingas as in other temples.
"The main shape of Lord Shiva is in the form of the lingam but his human form is not seen anywhere in the world. The panchaloha (five-metal) idol of Shiva as presiding deity will be seen in our temple."
The swami claims that it was only after several years of research that he came across the various human forms of Shiva, such as Sugasanamoorthy, Krodha Rudhrar, Akora Rudhramoorthy, etc; it is these forms that will be represented, in idol form, in the upcoming temple.
The Hindu Temple and Community Center of Georgia, a non-profit organisation, will take responsibility for construction of the temple. A ten-acre plot with a 45,000 square foot building that was formerly a Catholic church has been purchased for the purpose.
This facility will be converted into the temple; it is also proposed to construct a new, 100,000 square foot building on the land. There will be separate temples for Guru (Jupiter) and Shani (Saturn). Hindu goddesses like Jagan Mohini, Soolini, Neeli, Chandi, and Akora Bhairavi will also be housed in the temple complex.
The project is estimated to cost $20million, of which $3 million will be donated by the Sri Agasthiayar Siddar Peetam, based near Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, of which the swami is the 26th matathipathy (head). The rest will, he said, be contributed by his devotees worldwide.
The swami said he had decided to construct the temple following a revelation; the site was also shown to him then, he said. "Many people asked me why I could not build the temple in California or in major centers like New York or New Jersey. I told them about the darshan," he said.
A native of Palghat in Kerala, Siddhar was initiated to sanayas by his guru Maharishi Chinnappa Siddhar. He came to the US a decade ago with a few hundred dollars. He began speculating in real estate, and made a lot of money. "I am a good speculator. Every day, two or three properties are purchased or closed," he said.
Is money-making a fit activity for a sanyasi? "Without my life being successful, how can I make others successful?" he counters.
Though a 'swami' himself, he detests his tribe, especially those based in the US. "They all come for money. If they only want to help people, why should they come to the US? They pretend to solve problems. If they could do that, why can't they solve the problems in India?"
The 35-year-old swami is believed to be an expert in Atharva Veda, the fourth and most arcane of the Vedas. He has, he says, also been trained in Siddha Vaidya, an indigenous medical system like Ayurveda. At his Apple Valley ashram, he helps his devotees through jyothisha and tantric rituals. The ashram, which is valued at an estimated $83 million, has 48 priests who attend to the needs of devotees worldwide.
His main work, he says, is to use tantric rituals to solve people's problems mental and material. He is, he claims, the only Indian spiritual parapsychologist in US who specializes in the occult sciences, and the only one qualified to solve problems such as the attack of evil sprits, the spirits of the dead attaching themselves to the living, voodoo, black magic, bad luck, and such.