Lakshmivara Theertha Swami, the chief of Shiroor Mutt in Udupi, passed away on Thursday morning. He was 55.
According to sources in the mutt, he complained of severe stomach ache after attending a Vanamahotsava programme in Shiroor village on Monday.
He was admitted to Kasturba Hospital in Manipal on Wednesday. An official press release by Kasturba Hospital revealed that the seer was admitted in the hospital at 1:05 am on Wednesday and that he was found to be "critically ill with breathlessness, severe hypertension and massive gastrointestinal bleed."
The hospital’s press release also raised suspicions about poisoning. "There is suspicion of poisoning and toxicological samples have been sent. However, his condition continued to deteriorate rapidly in spite of the best efforts of the medical team," it said. However, some reports say that the seer could have food poisoning, doctors at the hospital told TNM that nothing could be concluded until the toxicology reports are out.
He was declared dead at 8.30am on Thursday. A postmortem is underway.
Dr Avinash Shetty, Medical Superintendent of Kasturba Hospital in Manipal confirmed to TNM that the seer was brought in with "heavy internal bleeding". "We were focused on stopping the internal bleeding and the suspicion of poisoning emerged much later. As soon as we came to know of it, we informed the police," said Dr. Avinash, speaking to TNM.
Dr Shivashankar Bhat, who treated the seer, told Times of India,"His blood work revealed he may have been poisoned, hence as per the norm, we have informed the police and as per their direction we have sent the body for post mortem."
Laxman Nimbargi, the Superintendent of Police (SP) in Udupi declined to comment on the issue until it was fully investigated.
The suspicion of poisoning by doctors has led to theories that there could be foul play. The lawyer of Lakshmivara Theertha confirmed to TNM that the Lakshmivara Theertha Swami was preparing to file a criminal case against Vidyadheesha Theertha Swami, the chief of Palimar Mutt who currently holds power at the Krishna Temple in Udupi.
"I spoke to Lakshmivara Theertha Swamiji and he told me to file a criminal case against the chief of Palimar Mutt over the issue of returning an idol that he had given to the Krishna Temple during the elections. We were also going to file a caveat against six other swamijis in the Krishna Temple," says Ravikiran, a Kundapura-based lawyer who represents Lakshmivara Theertha. A caveat is a notice that certain actions may not be taken without informing the person who gave the notice.
The Shiroor Mutt is one of the eight mutts in the historic Udupi Shri Krishna Temple. Lakshmivara Theertha had created a ruffle earlier in the year when he announced that he would contest in the state Assembly elections if he was given a ticket by the BJP.
After BJP opted to give a ticket to Raghupathi Bhat instead, the seer decided to contest as an independent candidate. He later withdrew his candidature just weeks before the polls.