With a Grant from the Cultural Trust, Rajneeshpuram: An Oregon Experience, premieres November 19, 8pm on OPB-TV

Like it or not, the Rajneesh is a part of Oregon’s recent history, a community and a series of events that had a profound impact on the people of Wasco and Jefferson counties.

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s disciples may have come to Oregon with honorable intentions in 1980, with dreams of a utopian community where they could practice their spiritual beliefs. They built a city on what had been the 100-square-mile Big Muddy Ranch between Antelope and The Dalles, which they called Rajneeshpuram.

Avarice and political ambition soon ran amok, however. Followers of The Bhagwan wrested control of the Antelope City Council in 1984 and changed the city’s name to Rajneesh. In August of that year, the sect began bussing in homeless people and registering them as Wasco County voters. In an attempt to seize control of The Dalles during the November 1984 election, the Rajneeshee allegedly planted salmonella in restaurants to poison Dalles residents, sickening 751 people and hospitalizing 45. After that, The Bhagwan and some of his followers fled to North Carolina, where he was arrested, brought back to Oregon to stand trial, convicted, fined $400,000, and deported to India. The ranch was sold to new owners and Antelope got its name back in 1986.

The new one-hour episode of OPB’s Oregon Experience, Rajneeshpuram, funded in part by a grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust, explores the four plus year lifespan of the Rajneesh community, from both within and outside the commune. Local officials from Antelope and The Dalles tell how the Rajneeshees, as they began to encounter obstacles to their city-building plans, grew ever-more aggressive. Several former commune members, who remain active in their spiritual practice today, appear in the program to describe the seldom-heard perspective from the inside.

Rajneeshpuram was written and produced by Eric Cain and Nadine Jelsing, edited by Lisa Suinn Kallem.