Dec 9, 2010
Pics by Hemanath Padubidri
The temple town of Udupi is decked up for a 4 day utsav to celebrate the 80th birthday of Swami Vishveshateerta of Pejavar Mutt, one of the Ashta Mutts (eight seminaries) of Udupi. It was in 1938 a young 8 year old Venkataramana was initiated into sanyasa and became Vishveshteertha Swamiji to head the Pejavar Mutt. In the last 72 years of his sanyasa life he has won over the love, affection, admiration, respect and reverence of all people from commoners to those in the corridors of power at the highest level. His list of devotees and admirers are spread over the length and breadth of the globe.
Sri Vishvesha Theertha Swamiji, popularly known to all as Sri Pejavara Swamiji, is a highly admired and respected religious leader who is widely credited as the initiator of many social reforms. In fact he considered to be the true spiritual ambassador of Hindus of our country. He is known for his bold initiatives, revolutionary thinking and humanitarian activities and approaches, aimed at the betterment of the society. He is said to be the first Swamiji to emphasize the need of treating Dalits as an integral part of Hindu culture. He worked on that direction by visiting Dalit colonies and has been trying his best to remove the existing social barrier of classifying people on the basis of their birth.
Being a swamiji of the powerful Pejavar Mutt, Swami Vishveshateertha has not allowed himself to be confined to the religious activities of the temple like poojas and rituals. Rather he has plunged himself actively into social and charitable activities which have a bearing on the society and the living conditions of the people. Though frail, he is agile and active and travels widely, despite his advancing age. The agility, the alertness and the pace of his walk belie his age. He attributes these traits to his lean body to restricted food habits. He is easily accessible to all and mixes freely with everyone without any inhibitions.
The 4-day birthday celebrations in Udupi from 9 to 12th December 2010 include cultural, religious and social programmes and political and religious leaders from all over the country are expected to descend in Udupi for the celebrations. On the occasion of his 80th birthday celebrations, he spoke to daijiworld.com about his life in the last 80 years, the societal concern he has exhibited, the social awakening he has initiated, some of the revolutionary steps he has undertaken as the head of Pejavar Mutt and his views on a variety of burning topics concerning our country.
Q. What are your feelings at this stage when you are celebrating 80 years of active life?
A. There is nothing to call it as a great achievement as such. There are so many things to be done and lot more work to be accomplished and lot of ambitions remain unfulfilled. So my work has given me happiness no doubt but I don’t have the feeling of complete satisfaction in life of having done anything remarkable. I feel I could have done much more and should have started quite early.
Q. Though you are a religious personality you are known more for your work on issues of social concern. What inspires you to undertake such activities?
A. Dwaita philosopher Sri Madvacharya who established the Ashta Mutts had emphasized the importance of serving the disadvantaged sections of the society. Service to society is like paying compulsory tax to god, just like we pay tax to the government. I believe that by responding to the problems of the people an I will be able to mitigate their sufferings, and that will be the greatest service done to god. That is the source of my inspiration. It does not mean to say I compromise on the temple customs, poojas or rituals and other religious duties. I firmly believe in the dictum of service to humanity is service to god.
Q. Your help to the flood affected and earthquake victims or setting up of goshala in Udupi also comes under the realm of social activities?
A. It is. There should no be any doubt about that. I felt it was the need of the hour to reach out to the victims of earthquake in Latur or the flood victims of Karnataka and Andhra or people who were victims of natural calamities. It is nothing but showing human concern to a fellow human being. We are building the Neelavaram Goshala to shelter about 1000 aged cows, sick and stray cows as a gesture gratitude to these animals which feed us.
Q. You are the first Swamiji to treat Dalits as an integral part of Hindu society and you have undertaken padyatra to Dalit Colony. What prompted you to undertake such a social initiative?
A. This kind of social divisions like Dalits, backward caste etc., was not there in ancient India. This was brought into practice at a later stage due to some social happenings of the time. There is no justification to categorize people on the basis of their birth. I just wanted to see whether such a taboo and heinous practice is prevalent among people and if so, wanted to create awareness among the different sections of the society. I undertook the padyatra to bring together people of different strata of the society and ensure that the despicable practice of untouchablity is totally done away with.
Q. What is the feedback you have received from your visit to Dalit colonies? Is untouchablity still prevalent?
A. It is not widely prevalent in this part of the district. But some taboos and dogmas are still prevalent and we need to create the awareness among the general public and an awakening among the Dalits and the backward castes also is needed to to bring about a complete change towards this social evil.
Q. You have also taken the revolutionary step of providing Vaishnava Deeksha to the Dalits??
A. Yes. I am willing to do that if they really wish to get into the Vaishnava way of life.
Q. No doubt it is a revolutionary and progressive step in the right direction. But the Ashta Mutts are still guided by the age old taboo of not allowing performing pooja to those swamis who cross the sea. How do you justify this?
A. There has been lot of changes in our approach to this custom also over the years. 50 years back swamijis could not even visit the houses of people who crossed the sea or such people could not even enter the temples. But I changed that tradition long back. The main reason for adhering to this tradition is that we believe that Swamijis who go abroad are not able to follow the traditional system of pooja and religious practices. They cannot strictly adhere to the rituals that are required to be followed as per our tradition in terms of food, cleanliness etc. In fact, Puttige seer (whose visit abroad had created lot of controversy) also opines that the atmosphere in foreign countries is not conducive to strictly abide by our rituals and sanctity required to be followed by the swamis. Puttige seer has respected our views and there is no any sort of duality with regard to this aspect. All controversies surrounding this are put to rest.
Q. Lack of uniformity in Panchanga followed by Ashta Mutts has created lot of confusion among the general public. Is anything done to bring about uniformity in following the panchanga?
A. The diverse views on following Panchanga are still prevalent not only in Ashta Mutts but in all mutts and temples in the entire country. While four of the Ashta Mutts of Krishna temple follow and strictly adhere to the simple thinking of ‘seeing is believing’, the remaining four mutts follow 600 to 800 year old practices without any changes. Both sides are adamant and are not ready to give up their beliefs. Change is required to bring about uniformity in the present system and remove the confusion. In fact, in a welcome development, there is going to be a meeting in Thirupathi on December 26, 2010 to discuss threadbare on this topic and I have been asked to preside over the closing ceremony. Hopefully, something better would come out of this discussion.
Q. What according to you, is true meaning of secularism?
A. According to me true secularism is nothing but sarva-dharma-samabhava. A secular government should not discriminate on the basis of religion. The system of minority appeasement and majority discrimination is not a trait of secularism. Let all religions preach about their religion. But there should not be conversions by enticing people as is being done in many places in this country. For Hindus, India is the only country which they can call as a Hindu nation. But here also in some of the states like Kerala and other North Eastern states Hindus are no more in majority and Hindus have a fear within them that they are going to be minority in their only land. Such fear for the majority is not a healthy sign. So I firmly believe that conversions should not be allowed. I believe peaceful coexistence is the need of the hour and no efforts should be lost to ensure peace and harmony.
Q. You were the leading light of the Ayodhya movement for building Ram temple at the disputed site at Ayodhya. Now that the matter is the Supreme Court do you believe any solution is in sight in the near future?
A. The recent High Court verdict has confirmed the contention of the Hindus that it is the birth place of lord Rama. Instead of going to the Supreme Court I wanted an amicable solution to the problem and would be happy to see an out of court solution. In fact for Muslims that place has no religious significance unlike the Hindus and what they want is a masjid. So I subscribe to the view that there should be some policy of give and take and had suggested that Ram Mandir should be built at the disputed site and the Muslims should be given an opportunity to build a masjid at a little distance from the temple site. However, VHP is obdurate and says there should not be any mosque in Ayodhya. The Muslims are also unyielding and are not pervious to any amicable solution for an out of court solution. When both the sides are adamant it is difficult to go ahead with any concrete solution. I have told the central government also to take some concrete measures in finding a solution. But no one is taking any initiative. Nonetheless, it cannot be denied everyone wants a peaceful solution to the problem.
Q. There is some murmur of protest following the state government’s recent ordinance of denotiying the Krishna temple and handing it over to the Ashta Mutts?
A. The government has just set right an erroneous notification and nothing else. This temple is a mutt because there is an attached temple to the mutt and also due to its denominational status and therefore cannot come under the Act of 2003 and do not come under the control of the Murzai department. What the government has done is to correct an earlier mistake.
Q. Recently you and other swamijis of various temples had openly argued in favour of the continuance of B S Yeddyurappa as the Chief Minister of Karnataka, which is termed as a favour returned following denotification of the Krishna temple…?
A. I had clearly said that the Chief Minister should not be crucified only on the basis of media reports. The BJP high command at the centre should conduct an investigation and take action against him if found guilty. Instead of waiting for the court to pronounce a judgment, I had suggested that the party should carry out its own investigation and act on that basis. There is no question of doing any favour as the government had just set right the wrong done by classifying the Sri Krishna Temple along with several other temples as government property. Since this is a mutt it has some relaxation and cannot be guided by the earlier Act.