The pontiff of Shiroor Mutt—one of the eight monasteries set up by Madhavacharya, the 13th century Hindu philosopher, in Udupi—died suspiciously suddenly last week, at the age of 56, allegedly due to “food poisoning”, per the hospital doctors.
Strangely, or perhaps not, the death of Lakshmivara Teertha swamiji has not received the kind of attention in North Indian media, especially television, that Nityananda, the swamiji who was caught in flagrente delicto with an actress, did.
In the last three days, Kannada newspapers have reported eye-popping details of the licentious life and times of the deceased Brahmin “monk” who was confined to an ascetic life at the age of seven and commanded a considerable following.
Aside from the humongous financial and real estate dealings (valued at Rs 1,500 crore), the stories, told mostly by third and fourth hand, are remarkable for the carnal pursuits and quests of the monks of the ‘Ashta Mutt’, questioning their advertised celibacy.
What impact, if any, these revelations leave on the minds and hearts of devotees, knows god. But there is a brazen attempt to deflect attention from Lakshmivara Teertha swamiji’s premature death by casting aspersions on his personal life.
Equally remarkably, Kannada media (barring Praja Vani) which eagerly buried the sexual peccadilloes of Raghaveshwara swamiji of the Ramachandrapur Mutt seems over-eager to hang the death of Lakshmivara Teertha swamiji on a woman.
# The pontiff of the Pejawar Mutt—one of the eight mutts comprising the ‘Ashta Mutt’—Vishvesha Teertha swamiji has hinted at a squabble between two women: “Earlier, the Shiroor Mutt head was close to a woman. Then a second woman entered the scene.”
# The former manager of Shiroor Mutt, Sunil Sampigethaya, has alleged that a devotee Ramya Shetty, 32, was the cause of the pontiff’s death. The monk and the devotee, he says, stayed together in the mutt at night and speculated on a sexual relationship.
# A leaked audio clip suggests that the Shiroor Mutt head had developed a liver problem due to a weakness for alcohol. “He had been admitted to a hospital for two months. Every day, he required an injection that cost Rs 9,000,” is one of the claims on the audio.
# “Not just me, all the heads of the Ashta Mutt have sired children,” Shiroor Mutt head Lakshmivara Teertha swamiji had said on a video tape leaked a few years ago, whose audio has been broadcast again on mainstream Kannada media (above).
# Local TV channels have played a video in which the Shiroor Mutt head talks of an illicit relationship that the Puthige Mutt head, Sudheendra Teertha swamiji, had with a woman, which produced a son, who took deeksha.
# In the same video clip, the Shiroor Mutt goes on: “Ajja (shorthand for Vishvesha Teertha swamiji of the Pejawar Mutt) also has three children. One of them was a doctor in Chennai, who passed away recently. She has three children, who are ready for a DNA test in case of a dispute.”
# “The Adamaru Mutt head Vibhudesha Teertha swamiji had sexual relations with a Konkani woman. They had two children. His guru Vibhudapriya too had links with a woman. His predecessor Vibhudamanya was killed over a woman.”
News stories and leaked video clips have also speculated on the Shiroor Mutt’s links with real estate developers and loans that went kaput.
The Shiroor Mutt head Lakshmivara Teertha swamiji was controversial, colourful and in a sense left little to the imagination, as a result of which he stood ostracised by the key functionaries of the ‘Ashta Mutt’.
But it is what he reveals about his peers and predecessors in the other mutts that takes the breath away—and questions the place of celibacy in modern society, especially when you are pushed into a life, not of your choosing, at a very young age.