The sudden demise of the colourful and controversial Lakshmivara Teertha swamiji of #Shiroor Mutt in Udupi—one of the eight monasteries (‘Ashta Mutt’) set up by Madhvacharya in the temple town of Udupi—has led to a deluge of speculation.
Every Kannada newspaper doffs its hat to the progressive, outlying swamiji, the 30th in the line who was ordained at the age of eight, and who steered clear of the normal role expected of a monk in his words, actions, and deeds.
Every newspaper, except Vishwa Vani, which leads with a personal account by the film journalist Ganapati Bolgere of an incident dating back to 1998.
Ganapati recounts the deceased swamiji’s role in opposing a tour of the United States of America by Sugunendra Teertha swamiji of the Puthige Mutt (one of the other seven mutts), crossing the seven seas, as it were, a strict no-no.
Ganapati writes (loosely translated):
“The cover story of the 11 January 1998 issues of Taranga (the weekly published by the Pai family of Manipal) was headlined ‘The Simmering Eight Mutts’. It was written after meeting the heads of all the eight monasteries, and after discussing it with the chief editor Santosh Kumar Gulwadi and managing editor Sandhya Pai.
“Taranga then sold 1.32 lakh copies. Even before the issue hit the stands, some well-wishers had read the piece and communicated its contents to the mutt. Before the copies could be distributed the next day, a 1,000 people surrounded the press, climbed the trucks, protested outside the gates, burnt tyres.
“The Pais received phone calls. ‘Hand over that son of a widow (boli maga in Kannada) Ganapati who wrote the piece against the mutt. Or else, we will protest across the state. There will be a blood bath.’ The man who made these threatening calls was none other than Lakshmivara Teertha swamiji.
“At the same time, the swamiji telephone my home and told my wife. ‘Where is your husband, that b*** m***? I will chase him and hunt him down.’ I was away on another assignment. My house was surrounded by thugs in jeeps and on bikes, banging on the doors, shouting swear words.
“Sandhya Pai called me and tole me to stay under the radar for a few days. Despite the article covering all bases, including an interview with the swamiji, the Taranga issue was withdrawn from the market and a new cover story was hurriedly written up. After a fortnight, I returned.”