High Priests of Criminalization of Religion

— S V Rajadurai

Reacting to the death of Veerappan, the ‘forest brigand’ in the stage-managed ‘encounter’ of the Special Task Force of Tamil Nadu Police last month, Jayendra Saraswathi, the head of the Sankara Mutt in Kancheepuram described the event as the killing of Narakasura (demon-king), a veritable Diwali gift to the people of the state from the ever benevolent Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. One of the versions of the puranic myth holds that it was Vishnu who took the form of the seductress Mohini to lure the demon king into his trap. Given the symbiotic relationship so systematically cultivated over years between the Mutt and Poes Garden few would have suspected that while Jayalalithaa would stick to her part, the role of the demon king, at least for this Diwali, would be assigned to the very same person who invoked the metaphor. In the cinematic politics of Tamil Nadu there has never been a short supply of dramas, melodramas, suspenses, climaxes and anti-climaxes. But what marks the arrest of one of the ‘holiest of holies’ by the government headed by the one who benefited from the wheeling and dealing of the former is that this time she has surpassed herself in surprising herself.

That the arrest provoked only very feeble protest, that too only from the discredited and disgruntled elements of Sangh Parivar, notwithstanding the human rights articulations of the ‘Socialist’ Fernandes who came in a hurry to reassure his 30 year friendship with the ‘seer’, is indicative of the ‘molecular changes’ (to use a Gramscian term) brought about by the Self-Respect Movement of Periyar to sustain the popular anti-Brahmin consensus that has survived the opportunistic electoral alliances forged by the two main Dravidian political parties with the BJP. The most intriguing response to the arrest however came from Sitaram Yechury who lamented that the Shankaracharya’s stature was not kept in mind by the Tamil Nadu Government which flouted ‘guidelines’. To illustrate what these ‘guidelines’ mean, he said that “When the BJP leader L K Advani was arrested during his rathyatra he was put in a guest house but not in a jail”. He also added that his party was unhappy over the way the seer was treated. (The Hindu, Bangalore Edition, 17.11.2004).

Yechury has however subsequently denied this statement saying he had been misquoted.

We, the lesser mortals, are at a loss to understand what the ‘stature’ of Jayendra is, when we recall the outrageous comparison he made of widows with barren lands unfit for cultivation, or his ‘advice’ to dalits to take proper baths to cleanse themselves before entering the Hindu Temples in order not to pollute the divines spaces. Or his ‘stature’ as a self-appointed mediator in the Ayodhya dispute where he peddled thinly veiled Sangh Parivar solutions? Or as a political pimp who brokered the deal between the NDA and the AIADMK? Should we remember his ‘stature’ as one of the most powerful real estate dadas in Chennai capable of outbidding even those very close to the chest, if not the heart of Amma? If ‘stature’ means, at least in the case of Jayendra, a religious head of the Hindus, did he ever pass the tests to become one? How can one account for the deep resentments caused by his blatant interference with the religious customs and practices of faiths like Vaishnaivism and saivism within the so called Hindu fold?

By talking of the ‘stature’ of Jayendra, Yechury is only trying to perpetuate other myths connected with the Kancheepuram Mutt. Struggling to extricate themselves from the awkward situation in which they are caught, the Brahminical forces are now continuing with their refrain of the ‘2500 year old tradition of the Mutt’. Which mutt are they talking about? If they mean the ones founded by Adi Sankara himself, then the Kaancheepuram Mutt is surely not amongst them. He establish only four mutts – in Sringeri, Puri, Dwaraka and Kedarnath. Adi Sankara himself cannot be placed before 8 th century AD. To talk of 2500-year-old tradition, even if it is that of Adi Sankara, is a historical blunder of making him the contemporary of Budhha. Set up by the smart ‘smartha’ Brahmins of Tamil Nadu initially at Kumbakonam in Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu at the turn of the last century, it was shifted to Kancheepuram only in the late 1930s.

The other myth that needs immediate demolition is that unlike the present Shankaracharya (who stands before the public haze in all his nakedness), his predecessor Chandrasekara Sekara Saraswathi (the ‘Paramacharya’) was a great spiritual lamp. The kind of light this lamp was shedding is best exemplified by one of his articles that appeared in November 1989 issue of Bhavan’s Journal. Blaming the universal franchise for all the ills of modern India, the Paramacharya suggested that the voting rights be restricted only to the literates and property owners. The basic qualification as prescribed by that greater ‘seer’ for the legislators was that they should be well versed in all the Dharma Shastras particularly the Manu Shastra. This was his ‘stature’! q