The Kanchi Kamakoti Math in Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu, was recently in the news, amid the countdown to the Ram mandir Pran Prathishtha and also due to the unnecessary controversies surrounding statements made by a few Shankaracharyas.
Home to one of the most divine Shankaracharyas, Chandrashekharendra Saraswathi Swamigal, also referred to as Mahaperiyava, the Kanchi Math has played a significant role during the Ayodhya Ram Mandir dispute resolution. The then-pontiff Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal played a crucial role in this matter.
Who was Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal?
Jayendra Saraswathi, the 69th pontiff of Kanchi Kamakoti Math, actively engaged with the masses, especially the downtrodden, to prevent predatory Abrahamic conversions.
A fire-brand Shankaracharya who spoke his mind while also slightly deviating from the norm of restricting himself to Math activities, Jayendrar, as his devotees referred to him, was also involved in preventing the conversion of Hindus in Tamil Nadu, showcasing a proactive stance in social matters.
Jayendrar emerged as a strong advocate against illegal conversions, particularly highlighted by the mass conversion of 180 villagers in Meenakshipuram in 1981. This incident triggered nationwide debates on the need for anti-conversion laws. In Meenakshipuram, villagers were reportedly lured to Islam through false promises and monetary inducements from Islamic Gulf nations. The village, historically marked by caste violence, became a focus for Islamist conversion efforts.
A socialist at heart, Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal personally reached out to Dalit communities, starting with slum clusters around Kanchipuram Math. He established Mandirs in Dalit colonies, initiated charity programs, and engaged in widespread efforts to connect Dalits with the larger Hindu community.
In the mid-1980s, Jayendrar launched the Jan Kalyan movement, channelling donations received by Kanchi Math into educational institutions, hospitals, Veda paatashalas, and funding education for poor Hindus. The efforts bore fruit as many Dalits, including those from Meenakshipuram, returned to Sanatana Dharma. By 1991, 900 of the 1000 converted Dalits had re-embraced Hinduism, citing unfulfilled promises by Islamists.
His role in anticonversion
Following incidents of Dalits converting to Islam in 2002, the Shankaracharya urged the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, J Jayalalitha, to pass a law against forcible conversions. This led to promulgating the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion Act in October 2002. In response to protests against the anti-conversion law, the Shankaracharya led a rally at Marina Beach on October 31, 2002, when the Tamil Nadu Assembly passed the bill. He questioned the opposition’s objections to the legislation.
Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal engaged in a Hindu-Catholic dialogue in Mumbai, expressing concerns over religious conversion. In a closed-door meeting with Cardinal Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran, the Sankaracharya emphasised the need for the Catholic Church to cease conversion activities among Hindus. He drew parallels with a commitment made by the Pope to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel to refrain from missionary activities among Jews. The Sankaracharya urged the Church to assure Hindus that it won’t act in ways that hurt Hindu sentiments and proposed equitable distribution of funds received for charitable work, irrespective of religious affiliation. Additionally, he called for unity among Hindu organisations to counter conversion efforts, criticised external interference by organisations like the USCIRF, and advocated for the protection of India’s spiritual and religious soul.
His role in the Ramjanmabhoomi movement
The Shankaracharya was actively involved in the Ramjanmabhoomi movement in 1992, which led to the destruction of the Babri Mosque at the disputed site.
In 2003, the Ram Janmabhoomi movement seemed on the brink of resolution, with Sankaracharya Jayendra Saraswathi leading negotiations. The seer proposed a compromise whereby Muslims would relinquish the disputed spot in Ayodhya, where the Babri Masjid stood before its 1992 demolition, in exchange for Hindus abandoning claims on religious sites in Kashi and Mathura. The central government would provide land and funds for a new Babri Masjid away from the original site. Despite the optimism, Muslim leaders, particularly the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, expressed strong resistance, emphasising the non-negotiable nature of the Babri Masjid site.
The Sankaracharya’s formula reached the Board before its July meeting, prompting mixed reactions. Some, like Maulana Sajjad Nomani, showed openness, suggesting that discussions could be considered an honourable proposal. However, others, including Kasim Rasul Ilyas, dismissed any compromise involving relocating the masjid. The negotiations, initiated by the Sankaracharya in 2002, faced scepticism from both sides, with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) vehemently opposing any concession.
The VHP adamantly rejected the compromise, asserting that Ayodhya, being a Hindu holy town, should not host a mosque. The VHP’s stance, backed by the RSS, posed a challenge to the BJP, which struggled to convince its parivar members of the viability of Sankaracharya’s proposal.
Despite his efforts, Jayendra Saraswathi became a target for Islamists, Christian missionaries, communists, and some claiming to be ‘rationalists,’ facing criticism, ridicule, and a fabricated murder case. Now, let’s focus on the fabricated murder case and how Sonia Gandhi allegedly played a role in it.
How Sonia Gandhi Was Instrumental In Causing Harm To Hindu Institution
The Sankararaman murder case, as it was called, made headlines all over the country and left devotees shocked when the names of the accused came out.
Jayalalithaa, facing electoral challenges, repealed the anti-conversion law in May 2005, appeasing evangelists and Islamists. This move was seen as an attempt to regain support lost due to the enactment of the law.
The murder case, which occurred in November 2004, led to the arrest of Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswathi of Kanchi Peetham on murder charges. The arrest, orchestrated by Tamil Nadu Police during Diwali, shocked the nation. Jayendrar was accused of murdering temple manager Sankararaman, with allegations of corruption and a supposed sex CD.
Jayendrar engaged in a lone legal battle to clear his name, highlighting a lack of support from Hindu organisations and society. After two months in jail, the Supreme Court granted bail in January 2005, transferring the case to Pondicherry. Trials began in November 2007, lasting six years until November 2013, when Shankaracharya and all accused were acquitted. During the trial, 189 witnesses were examined, of which 83 turned hostile.
Puducherry Principal District and Sessions Judge C.S. Murugan acquitted the seers and 21 others, stating that the witnesses failed to support the prosecution case. The pontiffs of Kanchi Math, Jayendra Saraswathi and Vijayendra Saraswathi were acquitted in the murder case for want of evidence. The seers’ counsel argued that the prosecution failed to prove the conspiracy charge, and witnesses, including Sankararaman’s daughter, failed to identify the accused.
As mentioned above, Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal, a reformist, had initiated various charitable activities, focused on Dalits, and worked against religious conversions. His arrest was believed to serve the interests of parties practising Dravidian politics, those promoting the north-south divide, and those supporting religious conversions, potentially orchestrated by Sonia Gandhi. Despite requests from figures like Subramanian Swamy and former President Pranab Mukherjee, they remained in custody. The arrest impacted religious conversion rates in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
Now, why is Sonia Gandhi’s name cropping up? The book “The Coalition Years”, written by former President Pranab Mukherjee, has a paragraph on this exact episode. These are the words in the 10th Chapter of the book. The Chapter is titled “To Rashtrapati Bhavan”. It says, “Nothing exemplifies my temper more than the episode that involved the arrest of Jayendra Saraswati, the Shankaracharya of Kanchi, on November 12, 2004. It was a time when the entire country was celebrating Diwali. During the cabinet meeting, I was extremely critical of the timing of the arrest and questioned if the basic tenets of secularism of the Indian state were confined to only Hindu monks and seers. Would the state machinery dare to arrest a Muslim clerk during Eid festivities? M.K. Narayanan, then special adviser to Prime Minister, also agreed with me, I immediately issued instructions for the Shankaracharya to be released on bail”. These words appear in the Chapter filled with anecdotes about Sonia Gandhi.
Pujya Shankaracharya passed away in 2018 after taking samadhi, leaving a legacy of religious and social contributions.
Today, a few statements by Shankaracharyas are making Hindu Samaj question the entire Hindu religious ecosystem. Savants and initiators of change like Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal, who tried to challenge the status quo with regard to conversions and bringing back those converted to the Hindu fold, are hardly spoken of.