The outgoing seer is an influential public figure and has been closely associated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in the past.

Outspoken controversial in the news Pejawar seer finishes term as Udupi Paryaya Swamiji
news Religion Thursday, January 18, 2018 - 17:48

With Paryaya celebrations underway in the temple town of Udupi, Wednesday marked the end of Sri Vishwesha Theertha Swami's fifth term as the 'Paryaya Swamiji'. 

No other seer has ascended the ‘Paryaya Peetha’ five times since the system of transferring power between the eight mutts surrounding the Udupi Sri Krishna temple began in 1522.

Before offering his final prayers at the Udupi temple, he embraced the ‘appreciation and criticism showered on him and said that difference of opinion sparked debate on various issues’.

The outgoing seer is an influential public figure and has been closely associated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in the past.

Over the last two years in his tenure as Paryaya Swamiji, he has divided opinion for his plain-spoken remarks.

Defending Pankthi Bheda

The first flashpoint in his final term as the Paryaya Swamiji occurred in the fall out of the ‘Chalo Udupi’ protest rally organised by the Dalita Damanitara Swabhimani Horata Samiti in the district in October 2016.

Chalo Udupi Rally in October 2016 || Picture Courtesy: Facebook

The rally closely mirrored the ‘Chalo Una’ movement in Gujarat and was led by Dalit leader Jignesh Mewani. Mewani. In his speech in Udupi, Mewani demanded that the practice of ‘Pankti Bheda’ should be eradicated within two months at the Udupi Krishna Temple and also threatened to lay siege to the temple.

‘Pankti Bheda’ is a historical practice in which priests of the Brahmin caste are served food separately in the Krishna Temple in Udupi .

Vishwesha Theertha swamy accused the activists including Mewani of maligning him and targeting the Krishna Mutt but the issue did not end there. 

Few days later, ‘Kanaka Nade’ cleanliness programme was organised at the Udupi Krishna Temple by writer Chakravarty Sulibele and the Yuva Brigade to clean the areas surrounding the Krishna temple.

Incensed by Yuva Brigade’s statements that progressive groups had “polluted” the city, the Dalit-Damanitara Swabhimani Horata Samiti asked the district administration not to give permission to the event. Dalit activists also called for the ‘Swabhimana Nadige’ in response on the same day.

Both events were denied permission by the police but the ‘Kanaka Nade’ programme went ahead with the volunteers of the Yuva Brigade cleaning the goshala, Rajangana and parking areas of the temple premises where permission from the police was not needed.

Vishwesha Theertha Swamy maintained that the Kanaka Nade was planned months ago and was not in response to the Chalo Udupi movement but the timing of the “cleansing drive” taking place a mere two weeks after the rally raised doubts about the statements.

Campaigner of Dalit rights?

At the time, the Pejawar seer defended his efforts to help Dalits. "I've always fought for equality and stood with Dalits at all times. Muslims and Dalits love me and call me for all their programmes. However, some people are trying to spoil the relationship between Brahmins and non-Brahmins, in the name of Pankti Bedha and communal harmony and so on. The temples at Dharmasthala, Subramanya, Sringeri and some other places have a separate food-serving system. Why is only the Krishna Mutt being targeted?” he had asked.

But Dalit activists in Udupi have questioned the Pejawar seer’s commitment to the upliftment of Dalits and accused him of paying lip service to the question of Dalit rights. “The efforts to help Dalits is a publicity gimmick to ensure that Dalits remain within Hinduism” said Jayan Malpe, District Head of the Karnataka Dalit Sangharsh Samiti.

He also questioned the seer’s idea of development for Dalits in the society. “Have they installed a handpump or streetlights in any Dalit colony? Or given free education to Dalits in any of their educational institutes,“ he asked.   

Iftar in the temple premises

A year later in July 2017, the Pejawar seer was in the news for organising an Iftar at the Udupi Krishna temple for the first time ever. He invited Muslims to break their fast during Ramzan in a ‘Souharda Upahara Koota’ (harmony breakfast meet) in the temple premises.

Iftar conducted at Udupi Krishna Temple in July 2017

The seer’s decision to hold the iftar in the temple premises invited the wrath of pro-Hindu groups like Sri Ram Sena and the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti. Members of the two groups held protests in Udupi against the decision while Sri Ram Sene chief Pramod Muthalik criticised the Pejawar seer for his gesture.

The seer had earlier firmly advocated that organizing the iftaar and the namaz at the Mutt were not unnatural, owing to an ancient understanding between people of the two faiths in the region. “God is one to all mankind. Hindus and Muslims should live together in harmony. When there was an attempt to gherao Sri Krishna Temple, Muslims came forward to defend the Mutt. There is history where both communities have co-existed peacefully in Udupi. It should become the model for people in Karnataka,” the seer said.

Pejawar Seer Vishwesha Theertha during Krishna Janmashtami celebrations in Udupi

‘Lingayats are Hindus’

Later in the same year, a different nature of the seer was brought to the fore once again as he traded words with SM Jamdaar, the retired IAS officer spearheading the Lingayat movement seeking separate religion status.

He remarked that Lingayats should stay within the Hindu religion as its followers worshipped Lord Shiva and agreed to engage in a debate about the issue with Jamdaar after the Paryaya festivities.

‘Minority rights to majority’

At the Dharma Sansad in Udupi in November 2017, Vishwesha Theertha Swamy reportedly claimed that benefits and privileges given to minorities should be given to the majority. 

Pejawar Seer Vishwesha Theertha in conversation with Narendra Modi

The seer’s statements were opposed by Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah who accused the seer of ‘sowing the seeds of caste and communal hatred’.

The influential seer’s candid comments about religion and caste is in sharp contrast with other seers in Udupi who generally prefer to stay silent on issues surrounding caste and religion. This has led to criticism from both Hindus and Muslims, and Brahmins and Dalits, in Karnataka.

After stepping down from the ‘Paryaya Peetha’, the seer has said that he will "devote his energy to spreading the spiritual message and promote education and healthcare services in the society" but with his tendency for uninhibited views on culture and politics, it may not be long before he is in the news again.