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'If You Cooperate, I Can Extend You All Benefits'

This is what the seer told this Tamil writer. Her account of what happened.

'If You Cooperate, I Can Extend You All Benefits'
G. Sivaperumal
'If You Cooperate, I Can Extend You All Benefits'
It was 1992. I had quit as editor of the Tamil magazine Shubamangala, and was editing another magazine, Valaiosai, which was not doing too well. It was at that point that I received a message from Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati suggesting that I edit a new spiritual magazine the math was planning to launch. I come from a family which holds the Kanchi math, especially Paramacharya Chandrasekharendra Saraswati, in high regard. My father felt this was an invitation from god. I readily agreed. A woman was deputed by the math to facilitate my meeting with Jayendra Saraswati.

During the first meeting, Jayendra Saraswati suggested that the new spiritual magazine be called 'Amma' and discussed its concept. There were to be further meetings which happened during the afternoon hours after the bhaktas completed their darshan. At these brainstorming sessions, there would be only three people in the room—Jayendra Saraswati, myself and the woman who mediated between us. This woman would fetch me in a car from Chennai and escort me to Kanchipuram.

The first four meetings were professional. During the fifth meeting, diverting from spirituality, Jayendra Saraswati started speaking vulgarly to my escort. Till then, I had been taking notes with my head bent. When I looked up I was shocked by the sight of her and the seer in close physical contact. I felt a storm had hit me. He then spoke in a lustful manner to me and expressed a desire for similar intimacy with me. I stood up, more shocked, and raised my voice and asked him, "Are you human?" To this Jayendra Saraswati did not offer a reply, instead he enquired of my escort: "As you usually do, didn't you tell this woman in advance about this?" The woman said no. Then the Shankaracharya pulled her up using abusive language.

I wanted to leave. But my escort physically tried to stop me. Jayendra Saraswati addressed me again: "Look, if you cooperate, I can extend you all kinds of benefits. This is my place. If you, who have lost your husband, can sport kumkum and be well-dressed, what's wrong if I desire you? If you talk about this incident outside the math, I will spread stories about your lack of character."

I rushed back home in a bus. I did not tell anyone about the incident. But I could not sleep. The next day the woman who had escorted me to the math and her husband came drunk to my home and they attacked me physically and verbally. I shared my grief with a woman police officer friend of mine. She asked me for a written complaint, but I desisted saying the math, and Hinduism as such, will suffer a loss of face. At that point I suffered a paralytic attack on my left leg. I even lost part of my speech because of the shock. It took me a year to recover. I continue to receive threats from Jayendra Saraswati and also offers of compromise.

I am often asked why I am bringing up all this now. I am not sharing my anguish and shock to strengthen the other cases against the Shankaracharya. Nor am I planning to make a formal police complaint. When Tamil magazines to which I had often contributed started associating my name wrongly with Jayendra Saraswati, I felt the need to set the record straight.

And this is not the first time I have tried to state the facts. In 1993, I was writing a weekly column, 'Speaking the Truth', for Dinamalar, the Tamil daily. After running 27 columns, they refused to publish my 28th since I had mentioned the Shankaracharya episode. The paper was under pressure from the math. At that point our society was not willing to believe what I was saying. I am sure several women have had similar harrowing experiences like I did at the math.

Yes, I am a Brahmin. But what happened between me and the Shankaracharya is an issue between a man and woman. I am a woman. He is a man. There are those who say that any attack on Jayendra Saraswati is an attack on Hinduism. That's rubbish. Even Veerappan was a Hindu. The problem is we have some expectations of a mathadipathi (head of a math), but Jayendra Saraswati does not live up to those expectations. He is an ordinary man with the needs and desires of any ordinary man. As a writer, I move in several circles. At a party, I know how to be on guard and protect myself from potential harassment. But when such a propositioning happens in a math and is made by the mathadipathi, it leaves one shocked and confused.

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