Shivakumara Swamiji, the 111-year old head of the Siddaganga Math in Karnataka, known as ‘Walking God’ among his countless followers, died on Monday after prolonged illness, the seminary said.
The senior pontiff who had undergone a surgery at a hospital in Chennai recently for liver complications, had shown signs of improvement but his condition deteriorated in the past few days, said doctors who attended on him.
Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy and the education society run by the Swamiji announced the demise of the seer, plunging lakhs of his followers across the state into grief.
“I am deeply saddened to announce that the walking God, Parama Poojya Siddaganga Sri, has passed away. It is an irreparable loss to the state.
“His contribution to the society transformed lakhs of people from across the state. He shaped future of many people,” said Kumaraswamy as he announced the seer’s passing away in Tumakuru where the mutt is based.
The Siddaganga Education Society founded by the seer said, “The seer left for the heavenly abode leaving his mortal body at 11.44 am.”
The highly revered pontiff of the influential Lingayats, the major community in Karnataka, is a recipient of Padma Bhushan and Karnataka Ratna, the highest state civilian award.
Kumaraswamy announced a three-day state mourning and government holiday on Tuesday.
The last rites of the seer will be performed on Tuesday at 4.30 pm at Tumakuru, the mutt said.
According to the mutt website, the swamiji was born on April 1, 1908 in Veerapura village in Karnataka.
The website of Sree Siddaganga College of Education, founded by him, mentions his date of birth as April 1, 1907.
The seer was considered by his followers as an incarnation of social reformer Basaveshwara, the founder of Lingayat sect in the 12th century AD.
Shivanna, the premonastic name of Shivakumara Swamiji, was the youngest among the 13 children, including five sisters, of his parents, Honnappa and Gangamma. At the age of eight, he lost his mother and that made him spiritual.
The seer, who remained a celibate throughout his life, founded the Sri Siddaganga Education Society that revolutionised the education scenario in Tumakuru district.
His philanthropic activities helped thousands of people get food everyday. The Gurukula he had founded provides free shelter, education and food to thousands of children.
He has a huge following in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and border regions of Maharashtra.
In 1930, the Swamiji became the successor of the prestigious Siddaganga mutt, which was founded in the 14th century AD by Haradanahalli Gosala Siddeshwara Swamiji to promote the teachings of Basaveshwara.
The seer with a saffron turban used to perform the daily ablutions and worship ‘Ishta Linga’, a small Shivalinga which he held close to his heart, till his condition worsened.
Chief ministers and governors of Karnataka and of other states, politicians of all hues, educationists and eminent scholars used to visit him and seek his blessings.
The then president A P J Abdul Kalam had participated in the 100th birthday and Guruvandana celebrations of the Swamiji held on April 8, 2007 at the mutt.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had called on the seer in September, 2014.
In the run-up to the May assembly elections last year, presidents of BJP and Congress Amit Shah and Rahul Gandhi respectively had visited the seer.
Condoling the seer’s death, President Ramnath Kovind said he was extremely sad to learn of the passing of spiritual leader.
“He contributed immensely to society particularly towards healthcare and education. My condolences to his countless followers,” he tweeted.
Modi tweeted, “His Holiness Dr Sree Sree Sree Sivakumara Swamigalu lived for the people, especially the poor and vulnerable.
“He devoted himself towards alleviating ills like poverty, hunger and social injustice. Prayers and solidarity with his countless devotees spread all across the world.”
“The wide range of community service initiatives being done there are outstanding and are at an unimaginably large scale,” Modi said.
In his condolence message, Rahul Gandhi said the Swamiji was respected and revered by millions of Indians, from all religions and communities.
“His passing leaves behind a deep spiritual void. My condolences to all his followers,” he said.
BJP state president B S Yeddyurappa said: “The soul of ‘Walking God’ will continue to guide crores of his followers. He gave the boon of education to lakhs of followers and made them stand on their feet.”
Demand grew for bestowing the country’s highest civilian honour Bharat Ratna on the seer.
Soon after the demise, people started making a beeline to pay their last homage to their guru.
The seer’s body was kept on a platform for people to pay their last respects after being brought on a palanquin in a grand procession around the mutt.
A thick security blanket has been thrown all over the district, especially in and around the mutt.