Pontiff who took Kanchi mutt to new heights in spirituality

The Shankaracharya, who died of heart attack today aged 82, had made a vain bid to resolve the vexatious Ayodhya temple issue by mediating in 2002

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Kancheepuram (TN): Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati of Kanchi Sri Sankara Mutt is credited with taking the highly revered religious institution to new heights in the sphere of spiritualism, community service, education and healthcare.

The Shankaracharya, who died of heart attack today aged 82, had made a vain bid to resolve the vexatious Ayodhya temple issue by mediating in 2002.

Jayendra Saraswati, anointed the 69th pontiff of the mutt in 1994 succeeding Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Swamigal, was considered a transformative force who reached out to all sections of people, including Dalits, and undertook social service.

He also strived to reach out to the underprivileged sections of the society and founded two outfits — ‘Jan Kalyan’ and ‘Jan Jagran’ — with the objective of carrying out service-oriented activities.

The bodies supported the renovation of temples in Dalit neighbourhoods besides setting up new ones.

The mutt, under his charge, focused on welfare assistance for the destitute women and free tuition for underprivileged students.

He was instrumental in establishing a string of (Shankara) schools under the aegis of Shankara Educational Trust.

A deemed university for Ayurveda was also being run by the mutt, VRV Ramanujan, closely associated with ‘Jan Kalyan’ movement, said.

TG Ganesan, a spiritual activist associated with the mutt said, “He (Jayendrar) was the first pontiff from Kanchi mutt to make it a regular practice to meet the common people, especially Dalits in their dwellings.”

“In 1982, when a section of people decided to quit Hinduism and embrace another religion in (Meenakshipuram) Tirunelveli district, the pontiff reached out to them and took conciliatory efforts to settle the caste related issues and promote peace,” he said.

He also established hospitals, including in Assam (Shankara Devanetralaya) and Andhra Pradesh.

In, Meghalaya and Andaman and Nicobar islands the mutt were engaged in community service currently.

An ‘Aagamapaadasala’ (school for grooming priests) in Seerkazhi and a ‘Tamil Paadasala’ in Chetpet, Chennai, were established, mutt manager Sundaresa Iyer said.

Prayer services for the sick were organised through ‘Hindu Samayamandram.’

On the historical significance of the mutt, historian and Archaeologist S Ramachandran said, inscriptions relating to the pontiff of the mutt dating back to 14th century AD were found in the Kamakshi temple in Kancheepuram and Shiva temple in Vandavasi.

Asked why the mutt is sometimes referred to as Kumbakonam Mutt, he said during the late 17th century, it shifted to the southern town which was under the Maratha rule at that time.

“They were believed to have shifted because Kancheepuram and some other parts of Tamil Nadu came under the control of Mughal ruler Aurangazeb’s army general Zulfikar Khan,” he said.

The mutt, which has got a long tradition of propagating Shankaracharya’s preachings, came back to Kancheepuram in mid 19th century.

However, Saraswathi has been associated with few controversies also. In 1987, Jayendra Saraswathi mysteriously went missing for three days and was found at Thala Cauvery, the origin of Cauvery river in Karnataka.

In 2004, he was arrested in a case relating to the murder of Sankararaman, a devotee of the Mutt and the manager of Varadaraja Perumal temple in Kancheepuram. Later, he and other accused, including his junior Vijayendra Saraswathi, were acquitted in 2013.

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