Jayendra Saraswati

Kanchi Mahaswami Jayendra Saraswati Sankaracharya in Mumbai, Dec. 20, 2013. (Sandeep Mahankal/IANS photo)

CHENNAI — Swami Jayendra Saraswati, the Sankaracharya of Kanchipuram Mutt in Tamil Nadu, who passed away Feb. 28, was a colossal spiritual figure and initiated innumerable program for the downtrodden across the country.

Although he fell foul of the law over the murder of a Kanchipuram resident before being cleared of all charges, Saraswati had a huge following both in India and abroad.

Many compared him with Ramanuja – the legendary Vaishnavite guru and a social reformer. Saraswati, the 69th pontiff of the Sankara Mutt in Kanchipuram, was a Saivite – a follower of Lord Shiva.

Focused on the uplifting of Dalits, the 82-year-old guru was also interested in developing healthcare and educational facilities for the people, as well as spreading spiritualism.

He was the first Hindu seer to be involved in efforts to find a solution to the Ram Janmabhoomi issue.

"We have not seen Ramanuja. But we have seen Kanchi Mutt seer Jayendra Saraswathi. At the Sankara Mutt, there was no caste discrimination. Before meeting him, I had strong views against Sankara Mutt. But later, I realized that Jayendra Saraswati or the mutt does not discriminate on caste basis," Tada Periyasamy, managing trustee of Nandanar Trust told IANS.

"Jayendra Saraswati had a good sense of humor and used to pull my leg. Once he told me you are Periyasamy (periya-big person) and I am a chinnasamy (chinna-small person)," said Periyasamy.

Vinayagar V. Murali, secretary of Sri Chandrashekara Saraswati Swamigal Goshala, said: "Perhaps he was the only Hindu sanyasi who had visited the most number of slums and Dalit colonies in the country. He visited the inner most parts of the Dharavi slums in Mumbai and several other slums and Dalit colonies."

According to Murali, the Kanchi seer strongly supported the Goshala and was opposed to any move to shift it.

He said the seer supported the anti-conversion law brought by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government headed by late Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa.

"He addressed a big rally on the Marina beach in support of the law addressing a crowd that numbered over 20,000 on a rainy evening.

"The seer had also travelled across India on foot thrice and had visited various jails to meet the inmates there. He used to send sweets and 'prasad' to prisoners, inmates in old age homes," Murali added.

Valasai Jayaraman, who was associated with the Sankara Mutt for a long time, said that the seer used to visit the Dalit colony.

"Citing the Nadar community that came up in the society through hard work and education, Jayendra Saraswati used to advice the Dalits to follow Nadars to come up in life and not depend on others," Jayaraman said.

Saraswati also helped in renovating various Hindu temples, he said.

K. Srinivasan, a former banker who was associated with the seer, said: "He was instrumental in the revival of the famous Child Trust Hospital here. Similarly, he was involved in the setting up of a famous eye hospital." 

Srinivasan said a Saraswati was capable of handling any kind of media questions.

Born M. Subrahmanyam July 18, 1935, in Irulneekki village in Thanjavur district, Saraswati was chosen as the junior seer in 1954. In 1994, he became the Sankara Mutt head after the death of his iconic senior Sri Chandrashekara Saraswati Swamigal.

While Sri Chandrashekara Saraswati Swamigal was focused on spiritual side, his junior Jayendra Saraswati was interested in societal activities as well and was also involved in some controversies.

As a junior pontiff, Saraswati had left the mutt for some days without informing anybody alledgedly owing to some difference of opinion with his senior. However, later he came back to the mutt and reassumed his position.

But the major test of his life was when he was arrested by the Tamil Nadu police in November 2004 on the eve of Diwali over charges of his involvement in the murder of Sankararaman, an official of the famous Varadharaja Perumal temple in Kanchipuram.

Saraswati was jailed for quite some time by the state police and later was acquitted of all charges.

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