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The Rediff Special/Shobha Warrier in Chennai
November 19, 2004
The question haunting all those following the arrest of the 69th pontiff of the Kanchi Math, Jayendra Saraswati Swamigal, is where all his devotees are.
When this correspondent tried contacting some of his high profile devotees, they said they did not want to be dragged into the controversy.
And what about all the women who, decked in expensive Kanchipuram silk saris and gold jewellery, prostrated in front of the seer? They too do not want to be associated with him now.
"Please leave us alone. We were bhaktas of the Math and not of any individual. We do not want any trouble," this is the common excuse.
Vanaja, a non-Brahmin lady who had once gone to see the Shankaracharya in Kanchipuram, said, "I had gone there to see the sanyasi, but did not feel wanted. The kind of looks Brahmin ladies gave me and my relatives were very painful.
"It is true that only now, after this Shankaracharya came as the head, that we people have started going inside, but the conservative Brahmins don't like this. I feel sad that the same people have now abandoned him. I also feel that a sanyasi like him should not have been treated like this."
On why the devotees have not reacted strongly to the arrest, Narayanan, president of the Tamil Brahmin Association, said, "It is not a question of not coming out in support. I have come out in support. What do you want us to do? We don't believe in violence. Our behaviour reflects the behaviour of our guru. If we protest, you will say Brahmins are taking the law into their hands, you will say Hindus are taking the law into their hands. But the truth is, we are shocked and disturbed."
Ramya (not her real name), one of the few devotees who came forward to air her opinion, but admitted that she was extremely shocked upon hearing the news, and for three days she could not even eat properly.
She said she never visited the Math regularly. "Still, I felt extremely pained. He is a sanyasi, and he occupies the top position in a spiritual institution. I respect him a lot, and I still cannot understand why such a misfortune has fallen on him. I believe that the mind of a sanyasi is very, very pure, and I cannot believe that such a mind would stoop to such a level."
She felt hurt because a spiritual leader was humiliated in public. "I strongly feel that without finding the real truth, a person of his position should not have been treated like this. You can punish him if he has done something wrong but here, he is being punished without any trial. It is very unjust and unfair."
But she has no clue why there has been no spontaneous reaction from any of his ardent devotees. "Maybe they are scared, maybe they are too shocked. I do not know why all those thousands of people who crowded around him till now are silent. It is a puzzle to me."
Mixed feelings flooded Krishnamoorthy's (not his real name) mind when he heard the news. "I was not shocked but the news pained me for quite some time. Why the news pained me was because an institution with a history of 2,500 years, an institution that you respect so much, has a black mark now.
"The allegations may be true or false but for the time being, it is a black mark. I feel there may be a conspiracy behind his arrest. I also feel he should have been treated with more dignity. I am sure he would not have run away."
He strongly feels the Shankaracharya should relinquish his position as head of the Math immediately. "I feel the law is the same for everyone. I feel he should face the trial as an individual, and not as the Shankaracharya of Kanchi. If the verdict is in his favour, he can go back to being head of the Math."
Krishnamoorthy also felt that the devotees had been callous. "I think that is the peculiarity of this section, of which I am also a part, sadly."
Wing Commander R Balachandran (retd) was shocked. "More than the arrest, I am pained at the way the Math was being managed in the last few years. There was a sort of groupism that was developing in the Math. There was strong favouritism. But I certainly don't approve of the way he was treated. He is not a criminal. I don't approve of the sensational arrest too."
The Shankaracharya's interest in politics has not gone down well with Balachandran. "Politicians were using the Math for their political survival, especially during the NDA rule. This should not have happened."
He too felt that Jayendra Saraswati should relinquish his position. "I feel he should not continue as the Mathatathipathi (head of the Math) anymore. He says he would react legally but I feel a saint should not depend on legal strength; he should depend on the strength of the Vedas, karma and dharma. What he should do now is, he should undertake a fast like Mahatma Gandhi and show how strong he is."
Headline Image: Rahil Shaikh