Government Work is Godman’s Work in Gokarna

The Om-shaped beacha at Gokarna

The Om-shaped beach at Gokarna

D.P. SATISH writes from New Delhi: In the run-up to the assembly elections in Karnataka and shortly after, B.S. Yediyurappa made an obscene number of visits to mutts and other seats of spirituality, falling at the feet of gurus, godmen and swamijis, big and small, and seeking their blessings to achieve his life’s ambition of becoming chief minister.

Now that he is in the saddle, is it payback time?

The conclusion is harsh, perhaps unjust, but inescapable.

The handing over of the Mahabaleshwara Temple in Gokarna (in Uttara Kannada district) to the Ramachandrapur mutt (located in Hosanagar, Shimoga district) on August 14 is the clearest indication yet that our so-called jagadgurus, who shamelessly cross the line from the spiritual to the temporal to the material, are now demanding (and extracting) their pound of the puliyogare.

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The temple transfer was reportedly made on the basis of documents that the temple was under the purview of the mutt till 1860. But by selectively and clandestinely “privatising” the administration and running of just one temple out of thousands in the State, Team Yedi has in one stroke, as it were, demonstrated that government work under the BJP is not God’s work but godman’s work.

Documents published in Gauri Lankesh‘s eponymous tabloid last week show that as recently as April this year, when the State was under President’s rule, the muzrai department had asserted that the Mahabaleshwara Temple was a “public temple” and that “there was no legal provision to transfer it to a private party or to a mutt“. So what changed between 1 April 2008 and 14 August 2008?

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Aside from the legality of the temple transfer, the issue throws up six larger questions:

1) If the Gokarna temple was under the purview of the Ramachandrapur mutt till the 1860s, then by extension it can be contended that almost all temples in the State were once a part of some mutt or the other. Is the government ready to outsource the running of all these temples back to the original mutts or claimants? If so, by when? If not, why not?

Is the government ready to allow Kurubas to take over the Sri Krishna temple in Udupi, if the kurubas make a similar demand? Will the Chamundeshwari Temple atop Chamundi Hills and the Sri Ranganatha Temple in Srirangapatna be transferred to Srikantadatta Wodeyar because they were built by the Mysore kings?

2) What is the connection between the Chief Minister’s Office and the Ramachandrapur mutt, aside from both being from the same area in Shimoga? Why has the mutt suddenly received preferential treatment, when Wodeyar says the Gokarna temple should have been transferred to the Shringeri Sharada Mutt, which has been around longer than the Ramachandrapur mutt?

3) In interviews, the head of the Ramachandrapur mutt and his devotees have been claiming that the temple transfer is part of a larger bid to clean up Gokarna, also known as Dakshin Kashi. The reference here is to the not-so-holy activities that take place on the holy beaches of Gokarna. If true, does the writ of the State no longer run here? And is only a mutt located in a neighbouring district qualified to rectify that?

4) Does such a midnight transfer of a public property into private hands threaten its democratic DNA? The Mahabaleshwara temple has always welcomed devotees from all castes and religions insides the shrine. They are even allowed to touch the ‘Athma Linga‘ and pray. Is the fear of lower-caste Hindus that they will no longer be allowed inside the ‘Garbha Gruha’ far-fetched?

5) Above all, the selective transfer raises troubling questions over transparency. As a profitable temple run by the muzrai department, the Gokarna temple’s administration, activities, programmes, were open to public scrutiny under the Right to Information Act. Will the public have similar access when a private mutt is given charge? The profits were earlier ploughed into the development of other, “poorer” temples across the State. Will that continue?

(An early indication of the shape of things to come. The mutt‘s representatives barged into the temple a day after the government issued the order and broke open the hundis. The mutt says it got just Rs 40 lakh; news reports say the collection was four to five times that sum.)

6) Will the Gokarna temple transfer open the floodgates? Sources say some Lingayat mutts are trying to grab at least two dozen profit-making muzrai temples in the State. Since nobody can now accuse Yediyurappa of favouring only Lingayats, will the path be paved by the government? And how much longer before Vokkaliga mutts, and Kuruba mutts, and mutts of other communities start putting in their applications?

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A website maintained by the Ramachandrapur mutt claims the mutt was established at Gokarna over 1,200 years ago by Adi Shankara who anointed one of his disciples Shree Vidyananda as the first pontiff. It is a mutt affiliated to the Shringeri Sharada Mutt. The heads of the mutt are known by the suffix, Bharati. They also have a title Gokarna Mahamandaladhishwara.

The mutt is mostly frequented by Havyaka Brahmins, a minuscule community scattered over the Western Ghats—in Madikeri, Puttur, Sulya, Kasaragod, Sagar, Hosanagar, Soraba, Siddapura, Sirsi, Yellapura, Kumta, Honnavara and Ankola taluks–who and grow betel nut and spices for livelihood. The total population of Havyaka Brahmins is less than 3 lakhs although a Wikipedia entry pegs the figure at 1 lakh. Half of them now live in Bangalore and other parts of the world.

Generally speaking, heads of the Ramachandrapur mutt heads have always kept to themselves and rarely mingled with the public and politicians.

All that changed in when the present head of the mutt Raghaveshwara Bharti (in picture, left) took charge in the mid 1990s after the death of his predecessor Raghavendra Bharati, who had reigned for 50 years.

Raghavendra Bharati had strictly followed the mutt’s traditions. He had never entertained politicians and businessmen, and was known as ‘Doorvasa‘ or ‘Jamadagni‘ because of his mood swings and short fuse. But, he was a scholar and a man of integrity. Nobody had the temerity to question his character, integrity and intentions. He was both feared and respected by his followers.

But the 7th standard pass Raghaveshwara Bharati (born Chaduravalli Hareesha Bhat alias Hareesha Sharma), who reportedly sees some Lingayat and Vokkaliga swamijis as models to emulate, altered the mutt‘s image and public perception.

Devotees say following his ascent, the mutt became more like a business establishment.

The Shringeri seer is believed to have admonished him for indulging in non–religious and non-spiritual activities. It seems to have had no impact on his ambitions.

Raghaveshwara Bharati is alleged to have opened the doors of the mutt to all manner of people, including politicians, cinema stars, brokers, businessmen, shady journalists, real estate developers, among others. Insiders say some Havyaka Brahmin journalists, jealous of the clout enjoyed by fellow Lingayat and Vokkaliga journalists, used him to increase their clout in the corridors of power.

Result: the real followers of the mutt were made to feel like second-class /grade devotees. Those who questioned him were targetted and silenced.

One more result: From being a seat of learning, the Ramachandrapur mutt slowly became a political hothouse of the RSS-VHP. Not soon after, Raghaveshwara Bharati started dictating terms to BJP leaders.

Overnight, the mutt became the epicentre of the “Save the Cow” movement. The Vishwa Gou Sammelana, organised by the mutt, was telecast over several hours by the Bangalore centre of Doordarshan, with director Mahesh Joshi playing a stellar role in the coverage.

Once almost bankrupt and obscure, the mutt is now said to be worth over Rs 100 crore. Credit of this phenomenal growth should go to the skills of Raghaveshwara Bharati and his coterie, which also includes former top cop T. Madiyal, who headed the Special Task Force to catch Veerappan.

Yediyurappa, who is also from the same Hosanagar area, is one of the latest entrants into the swamiji’s fold. He started hobnobbing with him only in 2006. The 2008 assembly polls brought them closer, and the swamiji is believed to have exhorted his followers to vote for the BJP.

The transfer of the temple following the BJP’s victory in the elections, comes against this backdrop. Raghaveshwara Bharati was reportedly eyeing Gokarna and its economic potential for a long time. He studied Sanskrit at Gokarna for 12 years and knows the real worth of its temples.

In turn, Yediyurappa believes that the temple-transfer will consolidate BJP vote bank in Malnad.

In divesting the government’s muzrai department from the administration of the temple, the BJP ironically has fulfilled a key “secular” demand to keep “State” apart from “Religion”, but the fact that it has done so with regard to only one temple, raises more questions than provides answers.

Last Sunday, on a live, one-hour question and answer session on “Chandana”, with DD director Mahesh Joshi once again in the frame, Raghaveshwara Bharati looked smug and dismissive.

A caller from Kumta said: ‘Beedi nayi bogalidre, devaloka halagalla. Mahaswamigale, thaavu yaarigoo uttara needa-bedi (swamiji needn’t answer every barking dog on the temple transfer)”. Raghaveshwara Bharati approvingly nodded his head.

Does it mean that people like Siddaramaiah, S. Bangarappa, H.D. Deve Gowda, and Mallikarjuna Kharge, who are openly opposing the transfer, are no better than stray dogs questioning a divine deal?

Photographs: courtesy Outlook Traveller, and Gou Vishwa Kosha

Also read: What role should our swamijis, religious gurus play?

CHURUMURI POLL: Should swamijis go abroad?

Do our gods sanction our politicians’ silly games?

It’s true, God helps those who help themselves