Mangalore, Dec 2: In an eagerly awaited judgment, the Supreme Court of India today rejected the Special Leave Petition of Kashi Math Junior Swamiji Raghavendra Theertha and upheld the High Court order recognizing Senior Swamiji Sudheendra Theertha as the legitimate head of the Math.
The Gowd Saraswat Brahmin (GSB) community all over India is celebrating the Supreme Court Verdict, which hopefully will bring the dispute to a decisive conclusion. At Venkatramana Temple, Car Street, the celebrations took the form of bursting of crackers sky high. The jubilant crowd thronged to pay respects to the one person who was forced to stand trail by fire at the ripe old age of 73. Now after a tense legal battle spanning almost ten years, the court has finally ruled in his favour, vindicating his position as the supreme authority of the 500-year old Kashi Math Samsthan. Sudhindra Thirtha Swami, the person in question, is the twentieth pontiff of this venerated institution and has held this position for the last 60 years since succeeding his guru in the year 1949.
During his lifetime, he has earned widespread respect as a charismatic and erudite spiritual leader of the Gowd Saraswat Brahmin (GSB) community. He enjoys iconic stature among his devotees. His religious order, Kashi Math Samsthan is based at Varanasi on the banks of River Ganga and it owns 30 temples at various places across the country. His personality is the glue that binds the GSB community and gives it identity. Ten years back, in an unprecedented development, this supreme edifice of the community’s confidence was dragged to court by Raghavendra Thirtha, his disciple and future successor.
The renegade shishya’s open rebellion had sent shock waves in the community and threatened to fracture the Math’s following.
However differences soon cropped up between the Guru and Shishya amidst charges of the disciple’s insubordination. There were also allegations about him being controlled by a coterie, immoral behaviour and misappropriation of the Math’s funds. The degeneration gradually plunged to such depths that he even became a common caricature in street gossip. Realizing the enormity of damage to the Math’s identity, the senior swami distanced himself from his sishya and relinquished him of his position through a formal proclamation. He had based his dismissal on an earlier communication from Raghavendra Thirtha requesting permission to abdicate his responsibilities.
But it was too late. By the time the proclamation came, the junior swami had changed his mind and challenged the senior in court claiming complete authority over the math. The resulting conflict had taken a toll on the GSB community’s morale and there were many conflicts between the Guru’s devotees and the junior’s miniscule following. The junior was ostracized by the community and forced to live an isolated life.
The matter finally found its way to the law courts. Two years back, after prolonged judicial proceedings, the Fourth Additional District Judge of Tirupathi T. Sundara Ramaiah finally gave his verdict favouring the senior swami. The court upheld the status of the senior swami as the ‘Matadhipathi’, accepted the junior’s abdication and directed him to return all belongings of the Math and refrain from interfering in its affairs. The items to be returned include the Vyas Raghupathi idol which signifies authority of the ‘Matadhipathi’. Subsequently Raghavendra Thirtha had challenged the judgment in the High Court, where too he had lost. Now, the Supreme Court, his last resort, has also turned down his plea and it is doubtful whether the dispute can be dragged any further.
Besides being a legal victory, this has also been a moral victory to Sudhindra Thirtha Swami, which reaffirmed the community’s faith in his leadership and proved that his lifetime contribution as a spiritual guide and figurehead had not gone in vain. It is to be seen what will be the future course of action for the rebel swami. Will he accept defeat? Or will he seek out other alternatives to keep the embers alive?
For the moment, the Supreme Court verdict favouring Sudhindra Thirtha’s has allowed the GSB community to heave a sigh of relief, as a lasting solution finally seems certain. The Supreme Court Judgment was delivered by Justices Tarun Chatarji and H. L. Dattu.
Pic: Manju Neereshwallya