Not one to shy away from taking a political stand, the Pejawar seer had written a protest letter against the Emergency in 1975 saying he was ready to go to jail for taking a stand.

 Pejawar seer a staunch supporter of Ram Janmabhoomi a social reformer and a man who influenced politics
news Pejawar Seer Sunday, December 29, 2019 - 12:24

Behind his frail build, barely audible voice, and saffron clothes, the Pejawar seer, Vishvesha Theertha swami, was a powerful personality. He has helped many people, been a mentor for political figures, countered opposition from the community for breaking many traditions, and was a strong votary of the Ram Janmabhoomi Ayodhya movement. 

Vishvesha Theertha swami of Pejawar mutt in Udupi district of Karnataka, who passed away on Sunday, was considered one of the most liberal among all the seers of the Ashta mutts in temple town Udupi. A multi-faceted personality, who did not confine himself to performing the rituals at the Sri Krishna temple whenever he was appointed as the Paryaya – one who runs the administration and performs puja at the temple – he was also a social reformer, and one who had a significant say when it came to politics in Karnataka.

In 2010, he walked into Dalit colonies in Mysuru and offered Vaishnava Deeksha (initiation) which he felt was one way to end untouchability, and religious conversions. He was also largely instrumental in stopping the conversion of Dalits in Meenakshipuram.  

The late seer was against the controversial ‘Made Snana’ ritual – made in Tulu is left over and snana in Kannada is bath – which involves devotees from marginalised castes rolling over plantain leaves with leftover food eaten by Brahmins. Later, these devotees take a dip in the nearby Kumaradhara river and the belief is that this rids them of bad karma and skin diseases. In 2016, the seer took the lead in organising an alternative to Made Snana called Ede Snana, where devotees rolled over prasadam prepared for the deity. In 2017, he banned Ede Snana as well. 

Former Deputy Prime Minister and BJP patriarch LK Advani, an ardent disciple of the seer took Sri Vishvesha Theertha’s blessings before starting on his rath yatra to educate the people on the Ayodhya movement in 1990. Those who were witness to the event recall the late swamiji telling Advani, "You are the sole Krishna of Kaliyug and have to guide the Arjunas."

As a member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's steering committee constituted to pursue the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, the seer was clear that the goal can be achieved only by taking the Muslim community into confidence. His frequent statement at meetings is said to have been, "Today's Muslims are not Mughals, but Indians. While we have to be marathon runners on the issue, the onus of convincing Muslims to give up the demand for the Babri masjid is on the Hindus,'' according to SA Hemanth, a journalist who closely followed the Ayodhya movement.

BJP MP representing Udupi Lok Sabha constituency Shobha Karandlaje said the seer’s commitment to seeing the construction of Ram Mandir and other issues was immense. "Until the day before he was admitted to the hospital, swamiji had travelled to Hassan, Ramakunja and other places as he wanted to be active till his last breath," she added.

Former Union minister Uma Bharti, who has been camping in Udupi since the health of the seer deteriorated, took Sanyasa Deeksha from him in 1992. "He is not only my guru, but also a father to me,'' she told the media.

Not one to shy away from taking a political stand, the Pejawar seer had written a protest letter against the Emergency in 1975 saying he was ready to go to jail for taking a stand, but wanted authorities to let him continue his dharmic practices.

During his fifth term as the Paryaya, he drew flak from members of the Dalit community for the Pankthi Beda (segregation of communities in serving food) in the temple. The seer defended the Pankthi Beda saying the Krishna temple does not observe any discrimination while mass feeding on a dialy basis, but some Brahmins had demanded a separate place to eat as they follow certain rituals before having a meal. Later in 2017, a section of Hindus were against him for hosting Iftaar during the month of  Ramzan. 

Born at Ramakunja in Udupi in 1931 to a Shivalli Madhwa Brahmin family, his pre-sanyasa name was Venkataramanna. He was initiated as a sanyasi at the age of eight and was appointed as the Paryaya – chief administrator – of the Pejawar mutt for the first time in 1952. He got the name Theertha as it is the practice that at the time of anointment of seers to the eight mutts to suffix Theertha to their names.  

Naheed Ataulla is a journalist who covered Karnataka politics for over two decades and is former Political Editor of The Times of India.

 

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