If the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham positively deviated from its celebrated traditions during the past quarter century, the ancient Hindu monastic institution owes it to Jayendra Saraswathi’s charting an independent course for it after becoming the 69th Shankaracharya. This, sadly, led to an uncharitable campaign against the pontiff but least stopped his spirited efforts in transforming the ritualistic Math into a socially vibrant centre of knowledge and activity.
Back in early 1994, the grammar of the inward-looking Math in northern Tamil Nadu began changing into one of high-pulse activity. Jayendra, who had taken over as the sage of Kanchi five days before the death of Chandrasekharendra Saraswati on January 8 that year, often tested the limits of orthodoxy. The new swami extended the areas of Math’s reach beyond its traditional adherents, exploring areas of social thrust. Jayendra was instrumental in the Math’s direct service to people, beyond being a mere spiritual fountainhead. Today, it runs dozens of schools and hospitals besides a deemed university. Jayendra also reached out to untouched bastis, attracting new devotees. His popularity swelled and brought multitudes of social, political and cultural leaders into interaction with him.