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The Saintly Soul And The Material Man

The Kanchi math is now a Rs 2,000-crore empire. Not quite what the Paramacharya preached.

The Saintly Soul And The Material Man
The Saintly Soul And The Material Man
As several followers of the Kanchi math spend sleepless nights about the fate that has befallen Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati, there are those who believe that the present math head had failed to follow in the footsteps of his guru and predecessor, Paramacharya Chandrasekharendra Saraswati. Says Chennai's S. Krishnaswamy who made Jaya Jaya Shankara, a documentary film on the Kanchi math, ten years ago, "Chandrasekharendra Saraswati was an archetype of a spiritual person. He radiated divinity. We can't say this of Jayendra Saraswati."

In contrast to the 120-trusts-managed empire of more than Rs 2,000 crore that the Kanchi math became under Jayendra Saraswati, the Paramacharya was content with his Veda pathasalas and puja. Says a keen follower, "He was conservative in some of his views on women and the caste system. But he was clear about not dabbling in politics and business. Nobody could cast any aspersion on him." Agrees B. Nagalakshmi, manager with a publishing company in Chennai and a long-time devotee: "I saw the Paramacharya as an untutored child. It was a remarkable experience. But Jayendra Saraswati did nothing to me. Within the Brahmin community, the moment Jayendra ran away from the math in 1987, he fell in our esteem. Since the Paramacharya was alive then, sanity could be maintained in the math. After his death it has been a decline."

The late Paramacharya lived a frugal life, always travelled by foot, and rested in huts while on tour. In contrast, Jayendra Saraswati was used to upper-class comforts, rode an air-conditioned coach, was keen on a trip to China and was not averse to conducting business. No wonder Jayendra Saraswati's devotees are keen on special treatment for the jailed pontiff. Unlike his predecessor, he clearly is not used to a hard life.

There are some who are totally opposed to the system of initiating children into sanyasa. They feel that only those who have attained some level of maturity should be chosen. Filmmaker Rajiv Menon suggests a legal ban on children being given sanyasa. "The appointment of child lamas or Shankaracharyas is wrong. It's akin to child marriage and sati. When forced to take sanyas at 13, there's no exercise of free will. This is an agonising situation. It's a trap." A trap Jayendra Saraswati seems to have fallen in rather easily. Of course, it can be debated if it was due to his tender age or his demi-god status so early in life.

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