Pejavar Mutt seer Vishweshwa Tirtha Swami has denied that he had deliberately avoided touching Vellapally Natesan, head of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam, when the latter recently launched his padayatra.
The seer’s flagging off of the SNDP’s Samathwa Munnetta Yatra in Kasargod on Monday came in for much criticism from former Kerala chief minister VS Achutanandan, who alleged that the seer practices untouchability.
Vishweshwa Tirtha Swami has been associated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad for decades, the high point of which was his support for the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. Pejavar Mutt is one of the eight Mutts – called the Ashtra Mutts – set up by Madhwacharya, a proponent of the Vaishnavaite Dwaita philosophy. Madhwacharya himself set up the Krishna Mutt, where today, the right to offer pooja to the Krishna idol is given to the head of each Mutt for a period of two years in rotation. However, among the seers of the eight Mutts, the Pejavar seer is considered the most socially influential seer.
On Wednesday, Achutanandan ridiculed Natesan for inviting the seer. He said that the SNDP yatra should be called “Chaturvarnya Samrakshna Yatra” (preservation of the varna order) on account of the invite to the Pejavar seer.
Achutanandan claimed that the seer had deliberately avoided touching Natesan when handing over the flag to him on Monday because Natesan belonged to the Ezhava community.
The seer, however, has denied these allegations. Speaking to The News Minute, he said: “They told me to give him the flag, I gave it. I did not know that Natesan is an Ezhava.”
Referring to the Billava (toddy-tapping) caste in coastal Karnataka, which borders Kasargod, the seer said, “In any case, Ezahavas are not untouchables. They are the same as Billavas, who are not untouchables.”
He added, “I have been fighting against untouchability for the last 40-45 years. I was the first seer of a Mutt to go to a Dalit keri (as a Dalit colony is called in Karnataka). They do pada-pooje, (a type of puja that involves touching feet).”
Some years ago, as the Krishna Mutt’s position on Dalits came under increasing criticism, the seer went on a much publicised visit to Dalit colonies. However, one factor that many people pointed out, was that he never shared meals with Dalits on any of these visits.
Asked about this the Pejavar seer told The News Minute, “I do not eat with other Brahmins also. In the Udupi temple, there is saha-pankti bhojana (inter-caste dining arrangement).”
Asked about a non-Brahmin woman being asked to leave a particular dining hall in the Krishna Mutt in Udupi last year, the seer denied it. To a question on the practice of separate eating arrangements for people of upper castes in the Mutt, he said, “No. Everybody eats together in the Krishna Mutt. I know it.”
Last year, a woman named Vanitha Shetty had told The News Minute how she had been to the temple with four other women friends but she was the only one who was asked to leave the dining hall in the Krishna Mutt. However, she had said that she did not want to pursue the matter further. The incident had been reported in the media.
In Karnataka, the Pejavar seer is considered controversial, even within the community of religious leaders. Many among his critics have accused him of working to benefit the BJP indirectly.
“Those are all baseless (statements).They called me, so I went. After I went there, I learned that there was a padayatra,” the seer said. However, he said that he was a “marga-darshaka” for the VHP and that he attended the organization’s meetings. He denied attending any BJP meetings.
He said that he had been invited by the SNDP through a committee of the Krishna Mutt and added that he was not aware of it being a political event.
The padayatra will culminate on December 5 in the formation of a political party, as yet unnamed, of the SNDP.
He added: “I spoke about Hindu dharma. It was raining. I don’t know Malayalam, and they (audience) don’t know Kannada. They translated my upanyasa (religious lecture) after I left.”
Vellapally’s yatra about untouchability and the caste system mocks VS Achuthanandan.