Mangalore: Call him a religious head, an educationist, a philanthropist, a visionary-he is all combined into one. Perhaps one may find short of words to describe the man behind the extra-ordinary development Sri Kshetra Dharmasthala has witnessed and the brain behind the educational and service projects initiated in the name of the Kshetra.
Dr.D Veerendra Heggade, Dharmadhikari of Shri Kshetra Dharmasthala, is a man of outstanding credentials. The head of a religious institution that draws millions of devotees from all over the country, his stature, however, doesn’t confine to a single field of achievement. A leader in the fields of social service and education, Dr. Heggade has been quite instrumental in spreading knowledge through the various educational institutions set up under the aegis of SDM Educational Society. As president of the Society, he is heading more than 40 institutions.
Dr Heggade has been successful in channelizing the immense power of Dharmasthala into welfare activities. While being modern in outlook, he retains a reverence for the culture of the land. As the Dharmadhikari of Dharmasthala his responsibility centers around the maintenance of Dharmasthala’s unique essence. As the guiding sprit, Heggade, despite his immense responsibilities, manages to involve himself deeply in every aspect of Dharmasthala’s wide ranging activities. Thanks to his efforts, today Dharmasthala stands as a place of perfect religious tolerance and as a Kalpavruksha for those who come in need.
Born on November 25, 1948, Dr. Veerendra Heggade is the eldest of son of Ratnamma Heggade and Ratnavarma Heggade, former Dharmadhikari. He was greatly inspired by his father in life. When the mantle of Dharmadhikari fell on his young shoulders at the tender age of 20, on October 24, 1968, while he was preparing for his graduation from Bangalore University, he accepted it with sincerity.
As the 21st in succession to the Dharmadhikari Peetha he has lived upto the great tradition. Since the past four decades, Dr Veerendra Heggade has dedicated himself to the service of God and man in religious, cultural and educational fields. He has launched several socio-economic programmes, which have directly benefited the poor. Free mass weddings which were started in 1973 have gained immense popularity over the years.
His first major act since he became Dharmadhikari was to realize his father’s dream by completing the carving and installation of the 39 ft., 170 ton monolithic Bahubali statue at Dharmasthala in the year 1973.It is second in height only to the colossal statue of Gomateshwara at Shravanabelagola.
Based on the philosophy of “Service to people is service to god”, Sri Kshetra Dharmasthala has put dharma in action by channelising all its energies and resources in charity and services in the form of Annadan (mass meal), Vidyadan (free/subsidized education), Oushadadan (free/ subsidized medical aid), Abhayadan (countering the fear of evil spirits) and Nyayadan (Justice based on truth and facts).
“Manjusha” a museum of beautiful antique objects, which is both educative and fascinating, has been established in Dharmasthala. A car museum houses a rare collection of vintage cars. Every year, a Sarva Dharma Sammelan is held at Dharmasthala, attracting spiritual leaders from various faiths and schools, and patrons of art and literature from all over India and also the world.
The increasing number of visitors to Sri Kshetra Dharmasthala is a proof of the good work being done here. What distinguishes Veerendra Heggade is that while being the head of a revered religious institution, he is, today, far more than that.His better half Hemavathi Heggade has been his pillar of strength and has been ably assisting him in all his activities. A milestone achievement was made with the setting up of the SDM Educational Trust and the SDM Educational Society. The Shri Kshethra Dharmasthala Rural Development Project ® (SKDRP), the poverty eradication programme conceived by Veerendra Heggade encompasses over 100 of villages and covers over 1.35 lakh families in agriculture, transfer of technology, women empowerment, housing, alternative sources of energy, income generating activity, micro finance, education and health. The beneficiaries are the poorest among the poor. The SKDRP has spent more than Rs.10 crore in developmental projects. This has generated more than Rs.90 crore besides creating rural employment improving the living standards of the people.
Another significant achievement was the establishment of the RUDSETI, the Rural Development and Self-Employment Training Institute in collaboration with Syndicate Bank, Syndicate Agricultural Foundation and Canara Bank. The institute set up in various places aims at imparting vocational training to needy youth. Heggade’s contribution towards health care is unlimited. Fully equipped mobile hospital is made available to deal with emergencies and provide medical treatment to the rural people. A modern T.B.Sanitorium has been built by Dharmasthala Manjunatheswara Medical Trust to give relief to the patients of tuberculosis. Ayurvedic Hospitals, Nature Cure Hospital and Eye Hospitals have also been set up.
Heggade is the President of - Sri Dharmasthala Manjunatheshwara Educational Trust (Regd.) and S.D.M., Educational Society (Regd.), Ujire; Sri Dharmasthala Manjunatheshwara Medical Trust (Regd.), Sri Dharmasthala Manjunatheshwara Dharmothana Trust (R.) and Shanthivana Trust (Regd.), Dharmasthala. He is the Director of Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI), Mumbai and an Honorary Rotarian of Belthangady P.H.F. He is also a member of - National Foundation for Communal Harmony, Delhi; Shree Amarnathji Shrine Board, Jammu and Kashmir; Advisory Board of National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development; and Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanams Development Advisory Council.
In recognition of Dr Heggade’s distinguished service to mankind, several awards have come his way. He was conferred the title ‘Rajarshi’ by Dr.Shankar Dayal Sharma, the former President of India. He is also a recipient of the ‘Rajyotsava Award’. Several religious mutts have conferred him various titles like ‘Dharmarathna’, ‘Dharmabhushana’, ‘Paropakara Dhurandara’ and ‘Abhinava Chavundaraya’. He is also a recipient of Indira Gandhi Priyadarshini Award. The Mangalore University has also conferred him an honorary doctorate.
Thus through his activities diverse Veerendra Heggade has built a legacy of his own, based on the strong foundation of the essence of religion combined with service to mankind.