Sri Jayendra Saraswathi Swamy | Photo Credit: V. Ganesan
His tenure witnessed many tumultuous moments.
The 69th head of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham, Sri Jayendra Saraswathi, passed away on Wednesday morning. He was 83. His end came in a hospital near the mutt in Kancheepuram where he was taken after suffering from breathlessness.
Born as Subramaniayam in Irulneeki, a small hamlet near Mannargudi, in Tamil Nadu, he was initiated into sanyasam by his predecessor at the mutt — the late Sri Chandrasekarendra Saraswathi in 1954. Sri Jayendra Saraswathi was 19 years old then.
Unlike his predecessor, Sri Jayendra Saraswathi sought to reach out to various sections of society and in the process, is said to have departed from the well established traditions of the mutt. His tenure witnessed many tumultuous moments.
Sudden disappearance in 1987
The Kanchi Acharya first found himself in a controversy in August 1987 when he suddenly disappeared from the mutt. It shocked its devotees and a country-wide search was launched. He was finally traced to Talacauvery after three days. By this time, Sri Vijayendra Saraswathi, who had already been chosen as his successor, was anointed as the 70th head of the mutt. The post was restored to Sri Jayendra Saraswathi on his return.
Later, explaining his decision to leave the mutt, he told Frontline, “It was not sudden, though I did not take leave of anybody. I got the Lord’s message on two things when I meditated at Tirupati in early July. The first was to launch a national movement for spiritual, economic and national awakening of the people and the second was to take a sankalpa (solemn vow). If I had told anybody about my departure, they might have stopped me or persuaded me to put off my departure. That is why I had to go unannounced.”
Subsequently, he launched the movement ‘Jana Kalyan Jana Jagaran’ with the motto: service to the people and awakening the masses. He explained that the movement was not communal, claiming that some Christians and Muslims had joined it too.
Closeness with political leaders
The Kanchi Acharya gradually became a very influential personality and was close to political leaders, particularly BJP leaders, and former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, though she later ordered his arrest in connection with the murder of Sankraraman, the manager of the Kanchi Varadaraja Perumal temple. His proximity to Jayalalithaa could be explained by the fact that she sought his blessings before releasing the list of her party candidates for the 1996 general election.
He was appointed head of a State level committee on protection of temple property in Tamil Nadu. It was widely believed that he played a major role in convincing Jayalalithaa to promulgate an ordinance against ‘forcible religious conversions’. His suggestion on changing the rituals in Tirupati temple evoked strong protests from heads of Vaishnavite mutts.
The BJP rule at the Centre offered him a space in national politics and he even tried his hands in finding an amicable solution to Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute.
Sankararaman murder case
But the murder of Sankararaman and his subsequent arrest set a shadow on his image and the respectability of the mutt, though subsequently he was absolved of the charges. He was arrested on November 2004 on a Deepavali Day at Mahabubnagar, Andhra Pradesh, in connection with the case.
The Principal Sessions Judge of Puducherry acquitted the two Sankaracharyas of the mutt and 22 other accused in the case.
Of late, he had been suffering from ill health and hospitalised once recently.