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June 28, 2000
Is this shankaracharya for real?
M I Khan in Bhubaneswar/Puri
Is the man claiming to be the shankaracharya of the Govardhan Math in Puri a fraud? Is he a shankaracharya at all? Apparently, he is on a 'fact-finding' mission in Jammu and Kashmir and has been talking to Hurriyat Conference politicians about the strife in the valley and possible solutions.
A statement issued by Swami Gopalanand Saraswati, official spokesman of the Govardhan Math, said the Puri shankaracharya, Swami Nischalanand Saraswati, is touring Uttar Pradesh and is likely to return on July 1. He told rediff.com that the person claiming to be the Puri shankaracharya was not Swami Nischalanand Saraswati.
Swami Gopalanand said the imposter's real name was Adhokshjananda Tirth. He hails from Varanasi (Benaras) and claims to be a disciple and successor of Swami Niranjandev Devatirtha, the previous shankaracharya of the Puri Math.
"The Puri shankaracharya is aged about 60 while the person whose picture appeared in some newspapers is about 28 years old," he said adding that the latter had nothing to do with the Govardhan Math. He said news about the Puri shankaracharya meeting Kashmiri politicians was misleading.
The Govardhan Math is one of four holy shrines established by Adi Shankaracharya. Swami Niranjandev Devatirtha, the previous shankaracharya, had bestowed the title on Swami Nischalanand Saraswati. Swami Gopalananda said the Orissa government recognises Swami Nischalanand Saraswati as the shankaracharya of Puri. "Even the United Nations recognises him," he said.
Apparently, this is not the first time Adhokshjananda has claimed to be the shankaracharya of Puri. About six years back, he appeared in Puri to stake claim to the title. Finding no takers, he left after a short stay.
At that time, Orissa Law Minister and Janata Dal politician Narasingha Mishra had revealed that the last 144 shankaracharyas of Puri had held the title of devatirtha. Swami Niranjandev had willed Nischalananda as his successor only on condition that he would earn the title devatirtha before becoming a full-fledged shankaracharya because he was only a saraswati.
Mishra told rediff.com that the endowment commissioner, nevertheless, recognised Swami Nischalanand Saraswati as the shankaracharya.
Sources in Puri said that Adhokshjananda has the support of some unscrupulous persons, including a few politicians. Last January, the personal assistant of former prime minister P V Narasimha Rao, N K Sharma, allegedly accompanied him during his Puri visit. While Swami Nischalananda Saraswati enjoys the support of the Sangh Parivar, Adhokshjananda has the backing of the anti-Sangh Parivar group in the Bharatiya Janata Party and outside.
He has been misleading people by claiming to be the Puri shankaracharya. Apparently, some sadhus from Varanasi are projecting him as the shankaracharya, and even some pandas (priests) of the Puri Jagannath temple support him.
People even speak of a conspiracy to provide him a seat on the rath (chariot) during the world-famous rathyatra with the help of some pandas. The yatra will be shown on television and Adhokshjananda will be projected as the real shankaracharya, sources said.
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