In May 2016, Jayendra Saraswati, the shankaracharya of Kanchi, granted Rediff.com an exclusive interview.
'We will never see such a government (Modi sarkar) in place again,' the pontiff, who passed into the ages on February 28, told Saisuresh Sivaswamy and A Ganesh Nadar.
IMAGE: Jayendra Saraswati, the shankaracharya of Kanchi, who passed into the ages on February 28, 2018. Photograph: Saisuresh Sivaswamy/Rediff.com
There is something unchanging about the Sankara Matam in Kanchipuram, 75 kilometres from Chennai, abode of the shankaracharya of Kanchi, Jayendra Saraswati.
The same, however, cannot be said of the senior pontiff of the fifth and last of the Advaita (non-dualism) Saivite mutts in the country.
At 81 years, Jayendra Saraswati appears more frail than the last time Saisuresh Sivaswamy had interviewed him many moons ago in the inner chambers of the matam.
Perhaps it was age, perhaps it has to do with the travails he faced when two criminal cases were slapped against him, one of them a murder case, from which he has been acquitted.
Unlike his predecessors, the 69th shankaracharya has always involved himself in temporal matters, in politics, notably in finding a solution to the vexed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue.
His legal troubles, however, seem to have had no impact on the flow of believers to the matam, of whom there is a steady flow of those keeping the faith.
When we reached the complex on Sunday morning, things seemed to be just as they have always been, with puja and prayers going on and eager groups of Tamilians dressed in veshti-shirt and saris thronging the place.
There is a queue to take the senior pontiff's blessings, and we are ushered into his presence for a quick conversation.
"Thodadheengo (please don't touch)," an aide exhorts us as we settle down on the floor near his chair, for an interview conducted in Tamil laced with Brahminisms.
Jayendra Saraswati spoke to Rediff.com's Saisuresh Sivaswamy and A Ganesh Nadar in his first interview since being acquitted recently by a court.
How do you find Narendra Modi as prime minister? Are you happy at his becoming prime minister?
Narendra Modi is a good man, there is no one like him, such a fine person. He walked with me on the padyatra for a year, when I went on a yatra across Gujarat.
But there's a lot of anxiety over his government, that he has not done...
If they say such things, it is their ishtam (wish).
...That they don't have any hope in his government, etc.
That is all very wrong.
You don't agree with them? Is there anything this government should do, that it has not done, you think?
This government is on the right track. We will never see such a government in place again.
On one hand temples and other places of worship report increasing number of worshippers, while on the other hand crime figures are ever increasing. Why is that?
Has faith failed to make us better human beings?
It is not wrong that everyone wishes to go to temples to pray. But if you take an individual's life, he will get the desire to do wrong. That is wrong.
There is an agitation going on to secure the entry of women into temples, court cases are going on, courts have upheld their right. What is your opinion?
The court cases are all wrong, all the various cases in the matter are wrong.
Why do you say that?
That is subaavam (nature).
Is it your case that Hinduism doesn't permit it?
No one should enter the sannidhi (sanctum sanctorum). Everyone can have darshan from outside (the sannidhi).
Men folk don't enter it, women folk can also do the same thing.
There is no sampradayam (tradition) in Hinduism to keep women out.
There is disquiet among sections of Hindus that while their places of worship are controlled by the government, other religions are not subject to such control. What is your view?
Everything has its ilaka (limit). There is a department that controls everything, and everything is done with its permission. That is how men and women can both enter the temple.
It is very right to be done. Because it is the right thing to do, a law has been brought in to ensure that.
(Misunderstands the question and repeats his answer about men and womenfolk, and an aide intervenes to explain the question to him.)
That is not right, no.
What is your view on spiritual leaders running a business empire and marketing not only spirituality and yoga but also selling things from toothpaste to shampoo, noodles to biscuits?
Whatever they do, it is all right. That is nyayam (just).
Everyone has the right to practise their profession, and this is their profession (laughs).
From one side, it is right. From another side, it seems wrong, rendum irukku (both are there).
I have known you for years now, since I was young. You used to have views on everything, including politics, but now you seem very quiet. Why?
No, that is not the case, I am always the same.
Are you still interested in politics? Do you follow what is happening?
(Nods his head in affirmative).
Everyday crores of rupees are being seized in Tamil Nadu, illegal money to be distributed to influence voters. Isn't this an attempt to undermine democracy through money power?
No. This is the money that is going there to be used. It is only being given to the people who can use, apart from that it is not being given to everyone who is around.
What you say may seem right, that the needy are getting the money, but isn't it buying votes with money?
I don't know.
I had last interviewed you many years ago, when you were involved in finding a solution to the Ram Janmabhoomi issue.
I still believe that the Ram Janmabhoomi temples should come up there.
Are you still involved with the issue, the movement?
So what is happening on that front?
Modi is a thangamaana manushar (wonderful person). He is working on it in the background. But we have not taken the lead, then we took the lead.
Now he is doing the needful in the background.
A solution will soon be found.
The Jayalalithaa government filed two grave cases against you, and you have now been acquitted by the courts in both of them. Do you feel bitter, angry about it, about her?
The cases were all wrong. They harassed me without realising it, not knowing it to be wrong.
It wasn't wrong (that they did it).
I don't feel angry or upset over it.
When the shankaracharya spoke to Sai earlier...