Heat, dust, haze, noise, fireworks & damp squibs

MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: Breathless chatter and cacophony have become the leit motifs of the modern Indian media echo chamber, regardless of the issue on hand. But is there any illumination when the fireworks go off in the studios? Do we know anything more than we did? Or is it all dust, haze and hype?

A good example is what has been dubbed the paryaya row in Udupi.

For close to a month, we were subjected to end-is-nigh coverage. Articles, pictures, interviews, piece-to-cameras, studio discussions, speculation, rumours, were all dished out in a dizzying flurry by newspapers, TV stations and websites such as this one. The day of reckoning, January 18, has long come and gone. Are we any wiser?

The paryaya row was and is a matter pertaining essentially to the Ashta mutt, the family of eight mutts in the temple town, who, according to a more than 700-year-old tradition established by the proponent of the dwaita philosophy Madhwacharya, get a turn by rotation every two years to perform the pooja of Lord Krishna.

The issue was whether Sri Sugunendra Swamiji of the Puttige Mutt, whose turn it was to assume the peetha in continuation of the tradition, had earned the disqualification to do so because of the foreign trips he had undertaken, which is a taboo for the ascetics belonging not only to dwaita but also to adwaita and vishisthadwaita schools too.

In a manner of speaking, it was a family matter. It was up to the family members to sort out the issue, since it involved the interpretation of the code of conduct for the ascetics.

Besides it concerned only one Brahmin community, namely the followers of Madhwacharya, since Udupi happens to be lone pilgrim centre where Madhwa traditions are followed. The resolution of the issue either way would have hardly impinged on the right of the visitors to have the unhindered darshan of Lord Krishna.

But wittingly or otherwise, the media went for the overkill and the proactive stand taken by it blew up a small matter into a major controversy, distorting it beyond imagination.

It got projected into a blazing controversy over the issue of foreign travel of the seers per se, and/or as a tussle between the Puttige seer and the venerated Pejawara swamiji, Sri Visvesha Teertha, who, as the seniormost of the pontiffs, was trying to voice the opposition to maintain the tradition.

Efforts were also made to paint the venerable nonagerian swamiji, the most visible face of the social reforms in the community, as the villain of the piece, who was trying block the Puttige seer’s ascension by sticking to outdated traditions. This was persisted with even after the swamiji made it repeatedly clear that sticking to tradition in the performance of the pooja at the Krishna temple had nothing to do with social reforms or modernism.

The upshot of all this was a public debate that raged across the State and beyond the seas, with everyone beginning to offer gratuitous advice to the swamijis.

May be the campaign was aided and abetted by the protagonists and antagonists of the Puttige swamiji. But was the media justified in swallowing everything hook, line and sinker, and allow itself to be used by the interested parties?

A few direct questions to the Puttige and Pejawar swamijis, could have put the matter in proper perspective, would have pricked the bubble of the controversy. But the media with its fetish for keeping the controversy alive was certainly not prepared to give up the opportunity, deliberately or otherwise.

When the Puttige swamiji suo motu assumed charge in wee hours of January 18, with the seers of the remaining mutts staying away, even as a couple of swamijis including the Pejawar seer ended the three-day hunger fast on the afternoon of that day, the media went to town describing the event as historic, and as a victory for the dogged Puttige swamiji.

But in reality it was not so. The Puttige swamiji has not been able to touch the idol, which was the bone of contention, and has been performing the pooja from a distance, with some colleague-seers pitching in to help him out in the performance of the duty. But you don’t hear too much of that in the media, do you?

The media has never been known to admit that it has tripped. Undeterred, it has now turned its spotlight on the efforts to bring about a written code of conduct among the swamijis. The outcome of such efforts has hardly any bearing on the people visiting the temple-town. But the media remains unwavering in its pursuit of one more headline.

Also read: Should swamijis go abroad?