‘Madi’, the mutt head, and the hand that helped


PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: The floods in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh have ravaged the lives, lands and houses of hundreds of thousands of people, and brought misery in a festive season. Our hearts go out to all those affected.

The floods have also brought the Raghavendra Swamy mutt in Mantralaya under the spotlight.

On the one hand, the water from the Tungabhadra and its tributaries cut off all access roads to the mutt. And, on the other hand, the unseemly hurry of the Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa to announce relief for a rich mutt in Andhra Pradesh even before reacting to the woes of his citizens, has raised eyebrows.

However, as far as I am concerned, there is a third, although very trivial and very peripheral, issue to debate, which is this KPN picture published by churumuri on October 2.

The picture has Sri Suyateendra Teertha swamiji, the senior seer and peetadhipati of the Mutt, being helped out of an Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopter after being rescued and airlifted from the flood-ravaged Brindavana of the Madhwa saint, Guru Raghavendra Swami in Kurnool district.

“…even the divine hand of Sri Suyateendra Teertha swamiji requires help from an air force hand to escape the wrath of nature,” read churumuri‘s caption.

That sent me wondering about the great leveller that is a natural disaster.

Madhwas, at least the many I know, are great believers and practitioners in madi. On the face of it, madi is a custom to maintain purity and gain strength to perform specific rituals or festivals.

It entails not eating in houses other than your own or in public places; it entails not having sexual intercourse.

It also entails not having bodily contact with other jathis.

By itself, madi may not be something any non-Madhwa can object to. After all, it is one community’s religious observance for rituals and festivals designed to protect the satvik nature of the priest, like it or lump it.

However, in its use in daily life, especially in the way it has come to be used by Brahmin priests especially of the Madhwa order, surely it is no sacrilege to suggest that madi has become a modern version of “untouchability”?

So, as I watched the picture—the swamiji and the IAF man not quite in physical contact but close—I was left wondering how an intimation of mortality can demolish some very old and strong rituals in even the most devout. And I was wondering if the swamiji went and had a bath after this interaction with someone from some other jathi.

The best case scenario is that the IAF man too was a Madhwa. And a good official defence is that the swamiji does not observer madi except when doing poojas, etc.

Probable, of course, but how likely?

Also read: Should swamijis travel abroad by air?

What role should swamijis, godmen play?

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