Acharya Sri Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal who melded spiritualism with social outreach

Yet another chapter in the 2,500-year-old Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam came to an end on Wednesday with the demise of Sri Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal, 69th Shankaracharya of the Peetam.

Published: 01st March 2018 03:50 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st March 2018 03:50 AM   |  A+A-

Devotees waiting outside the Kanchi Math to pay last respects to Jayendra Saraswathi on Wednesday | Martin Louis

Express News Service

CHENNAI: Yet another chapter in the 2,500-year-old Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam came to an end on Wednesday with the demise of Sri Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal, 69th Shankaracharya of the Peetam.
His 65-year-long ascetic life was equally marked by controversies as well as activities of expanding the social outreach of the Peetam well known as Kanchi Math.

In the process, he eased the centuries-old rigidity of the math restricting itself to the service of the Lord and study of the scriptures, and moved out to address the needs of the people in terms of education, health etc.

Another significant aspect of his tenure was the Kanchi Math’s increased proximity to power. He took initiatives to resolve the Ayodhya  temple issue and held talks with all stakeholders, including Muslim representatives.  

Most of the high-profile politicians as well as leaders — ranging from the President of the country to the Prime Minister and Chief Minister — made it a point to visit the Kanchi Math, at least once in a while.
Born as Subramaniyam on July 18, 1935 at Irulneekki in Thanjavur district, Jayendra Saraswathi had his Veda adyayanam at Tiruvidaimarudur under the direction of his guru  Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Swamigal, fondly known as Mahaswamigal, and was initiated into sanyasa on March 22, 1954. He was declared as successor to the Mahaswami and given the sanyasa name, Sri Jayendra Saraswati Sri Pada. Like the Mahaswami, he too travelled extensively across the country.

With Jayendra Saraswathi at the helm, the Peetam expanded its footprint in education, health, employment, temple renovation etc. It is due to his efforts that the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam established religious and social institutions in many parts of the country.

He visited Manasarovar and Kailash in 1998 and became the only Shankaracharya to do so after the Adi Shankara. There he installed the idol of Adi Shankara.

Jayendra Saraswathi
The saint’s body will be kept for public view till Thursday morning, after which ‘Brindavana Pravesha Karyakramam’ will be conducted. He will be laid to rest within the math premises

One of his important contributions is founding of the Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Viswa Mahavidyalaya, a deemed university in the name of his guru.

However, his tenure as a junior pontiff of the Peetam as well Peetathipathi was mired in controversies. The first one, which made headlines in 1987 across the country, was his sudden disappearance from the Kanchi Math.

On the dawn of August 23, 1987, Jayendra Saraswathi left the Math  without informing his guru.  His sacred ‘danda’ and ‘kamandalu’ were found in the Math. Significantly, he moved out of the Math  during the ‘Chaturmasya’ period during when a monk is supposed not to move beyond more than 200 yards from where he is staying. This drew objections from other Peetams of Adi Shankara and they said that Jayendra Saraswathi should no longer be regarded as Shankaracharya. However, after an intense search, Jayendra Saraswathi was found at Thalakaveri, the source of the Cauvery near Coorg and he returned after some days. Meanwhile, the 18-year-old Sri Shankara Vijayendra Saraswathi Swamigal was anointed as junior pontiff on August 24, 1987.

However, the Paramacharya of the Kanchi Math downplayed the disappearance. He played it down, saying, ‘’After all, he had gone there only for some deep and peaceful meditation.” After returning, Jayendra Saraswathi launched the Jan Kalyan Jan Jagran movement, which he described as a socio-religious and non-political outfit aimed at public welfare and awakening.

Controversies aside, Jayendra Saraswathi was undoubtedly responsible for expanding the social outreach of the Math, which was considered as having followers largely from Brahmin community.  He visited Dalit colonies and even helped them in renovating their temples and assisting them in other ways. Every year, he used to honour experts in various fields from all communities.

On March 23, 2011, he launched two new political outfits — Hindustan National Party and Thamizhaga Desiya Aanmika Makkal Katchi — in the presence of BJP leaders L Ganesan and former Union Minister Maneka Gandhi. The Kanchi seer said the new political outfits were the outcome of his longtime deep thinking. Advocate KV Krishnaswamy (founder of HNP) and P Ravichandran (founder of the TDAMK) have been seeking his permission for starting such political outfits for years, he said, adding that both parties would strive to safeguard the cultural tradition of India and propagate the importance of patriotism.

Krishnaswamy told Express that Jayendra Saraswathi had many plans to execute through the HNP and the most vital one was to unite the Hindus cutting across castes. However, due to many circumstances, the plans did not work.

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