Swami And Fiends
By S. Anand
23 November, 2004
Why He Got Caught
from the Shankara Math's manager's cellphone to contract killers
Two prime suspects
confess to interacting with Jayendra Saraswati on Sankararaman's murder
Police have evidence
linking Appu, who is said to be the man who organised the murder, with
it has proof of the money having been paid to the killers from a sub-trust
of the math
interview, saying: "My bhaktas could have killed Sankararaman"
This Diwali, darkness descended on the
Shankara math in Kanchipuram. The head of one of the most powerful religious
institutions in the country, Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati, was
arrested as the first accused on the charge of masterminding the brutal
killing of his detractor, A. Sankararaman, a former math functionary.
The arrest had the approval of chief minister J. Jayalalitha to whom
Jayendra Saraswati had played the role of raj-guru till about a year
When the police
arrested Hinduism's most public face in Mehboobnagar, Andhra Pradesh,
he was reportedly speaking on a mobile phone owned by an industrialist.
"He was not exactly performing trikala puja as was reported in
the media," a senior police official told Outlook. Public prosecutor
K. Duraiswamy says another industrialist had arranged a copter to help
the pontiff flee to the Hindu theocracy of Nepal. The prosecutor's words
were strong: "Jayendra Saraswati is the most undeserving criminal
deserving no special treatment. We are also devotees of the math. We
respect the seat but not the individual occupying it."
Over the years,
muck has been accumulating behind the math walls. Hard to believe, but
scandalous stories of sleaze, debauchery, greed and sex are doing the
rounds. The math, which has come to own assets worth Rs 2,000 crore,
courted powerful leaders as well as controversy. Accretion of property
necessitated contacts with rowdy elements, apparently leading to a Mumbai
underworld-style supari killing. In an interview to Nakkheeran, the
Tamil bi-weekly which first broke the murder story, Jayendra Saraswati
charged: "There are several complaints on the junior pontiff's
brother Raghu, including affairs with women." An investigating
officer confirmed: "There's a lot we found about the abuse of women
in the math and the financial mess. But our investigation deals only
with the murder and we have a watertight case against the pontiff."
Even as he was playing
peacemaker in the Ayodhya issue during the NDA regime, Jayendra Saraswati
had some serious firefighting to do back home with Sankararaman, 52,
a manager with the Varadarajaperumal temple. He has been estranged from
the math since the death in 1994 of Jayendra's predecessor, Chandrasekharendra
Saraswati. In October 2001, he had an altercation with Jayendra Saraswati
and math officials while paying respects at Chandrasekharendra Saraswati's
samadhi. Since 2001, Sankararaman had been expressing disapproval of
the "moral and financial decrepitude" in the math in letters
to the math and the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE)
department. He later began sending copies of his letters to Nakkheeran.
This year, Sankararaman
wrote a series of letters dated May 13, May 20, May 24, July 12, July
30, August 8 and finally on August 30three days before he was
murdered. He repeatedly referred to the misappropriation of temple-related
funds by the senior Shankaracharya, Jayendra Saraswati, and the junior
Shankaracharya, Vijayendra Saraswati, and to the "materialistic
and physical pleasures" the pontiffs were getting used to.
He ridiculed both swamis for being "closeted for long hours with
certain women".The pursuit of ungodly matters, he alleged, resulted
in the neglect of basic rituals like the 'Chandramouleeswara puja'.
Sankararaman also accused both sanyasis of not rising above familial
attachments: Jayendra Saraswati's brothers Visu and Ramakrishnan, and
Vijayendra Saraswati's brother Raghu play key roles in math affairs.
In his August 30 letter, ironically titled 'The Final Notice', Sankararaman
threatened to take the math to court and get Jayendra Saraswati sacked
under the HR&CE Act.
reports on Sankararaman's murder, Jayendra Saraswati gave an interview
to the magazine (September 25) in which he said: "I have bhaktas
who shed tears even if my toenail aches. Sankararaman is not the kind
of man you can talk to and convince. Unable to witness the constant
harassment, some of my bhaktas may have been responsible for Sankararaman's
end." First, the police misled the math stating that all they needed
was for the murderers to surrender.
On October 27, five
persons surrendered claiming to be the killers. Following interrogation
the police team arrested 10 people. Enquiries, confessions and material
evidence seized from them firmly established the pontiff's involvement.
The case registered against Jayendra Saraswati spans Sections 302 (for
murder), 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence or giving
false information to screen offender) and 205 (false personation for
purpose of act or proceeding in suit or prosecution). In all, 19 persons,
including Jayendra Saraswati, have been arrested so far. An investigating
officer told Outlook, "After Sankararaman's final letter, the Shankaracharya
seems to have got in touch with Appu and Kadiravan via Ramasubramanian.
The three conspired with Jayendra Saraswati and hired six assassins
who bludgeoned Sankararaman in the Varadarajaperumal temple premises
on September 3."
Math officials told
Outlook that differences had cropped up between the two pontiffsJayendra
and Vijayendra Saraswatiover the last two years. The power struggle
in the math dates back to 1983 when Paramacharya Chandrashekharendra
Saraswati appointed 13-year-old Sankaran (rechristened Vijayendra Saraswati)
as Shankaracharya because of his differences with Jayendra Saraswati.
Three Shankaracharyas for a single math was unprecedented. On the night
of August 22, 1987, Jayendra Saraswati abandoned his holy staff and
"disappeared" from the math and was traced to Talacauvery
in Karnataka. On August 25, 1987, the Paramacharya formally anointed
Vijayendra Saraswati as the math head. The treasury key and account
books were handed over to the teenage pontiff. When Jayendra Saraswati
returned after 17 days, a compromise was worked out. So, when Chandrasekharendra
Saraswati died in 1994, the Kanchi math was left with two heads.
Chandrasekharendra Saraswati and Jayendra Saraswati arose essentially
over the latter's enthusiasm for politics and keenness on a larger role
for the math, rather than puja and Vedic studies. Vocal in his pro-Ram
mandir views, Jayendra Saraswati started the Jan Kalyan and Jan Jagaran
movements. In 1989, he even announced that Jan Kalyan would participate
in elections. He began to attract several people in powercabinet
ministers, bureaucrats, judges, industrialists and nri Brahmins sympathetic
to the emerging Hindutva movement. The Shankaracharya's national ascendance
coincides with the ascension of Hindutva. Not surprisingly, his decline
comes when Hindutva is waning. Says N. Ram, editor-in-chief of The Hindu,
"In his personal and political actions, he aspired to be Hindusim's
first pope. This unfortunately got intertwined with the VHP's agenda".
This is not the first time Jayendra Saraswati seems to have organised
an attack through goons.In September 2002, Radhakrishnan, earlier associated
with the math, was attacked by a two-member gang allegedly at Jayendra
Saraswati's behest. Journalist K.P. Sunil recalls that in 1989, after
he filed an interview with Jayendra Saraswati, he was threatened by
thugs sent by the math.
One of Sankararaman's
basic chargesfinancial irregularitiesseems to be a natural
outcome of the math's propensity to amass wealth. "Senior math
officials are hand-picked Brahmins retired from banks, the income tax
and police departments.They are considered competent to 'fix' problems,"
In the 1990s, the
math entered the businesses of education and healthcare. Besides Veda
pathshalas and 17 Oriental schools, the math today runs 38 Sankara schools.Within
two years of its establishment, Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swami
Viswa Mahavidyalaya in Kanchi was bestowed deemed university status
by then prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao in 1993. The math also runs
several hospitals, including the Kamakoti Child's Trust Hospital in
Chennai. In April 2003, the Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Sankara Charitable Trust
acquired the super-specialty Tamilnadu Hospitals for Rs 45 crore. The
math had also been pursuing the idea of establishing medical colleges.
However, these institutions
were not run professionally. According to a senior doctor with Child's
Trust, the math administered hospitals like it did temples. When asked
about the high fees charged at Child's Trust Hospital, Jayendra Saraswati
said, "We must first recover the Rs 9 crore invested and then think
about charity." In 2001, there were reports about discrimination
between Brahmin and non-Brahmin students at the university run by the
math. In June 2004, V. Balasubramanian, correspondent of Sri Sankara
Vidyalaya School in Pondicherry, wrote to the director of education:
"The school is run with commercial motive, but admission to Christian
and Muslim candidates has been avoided. Ponmalar, a periodical, is imposed
on every student on the recommendation of Sri Ramakrishnan, brother
of His Holiness, just to promote sales."
But now Jayendra
Saraswati being named as the first accused in a murder case has dismayed
many of his followers. Says S. Krishnaswamy who made a documentary film
on the Kanchi math ten years ago: "Jayendra Saraswati Swamigal
must relinquish his post. Devotees should allow the legal processes
to proceed. We should not close our eyes. The math should also not throw
its weight around by meeting vvips." Well-wishers of the math seem
to have decided to let the law take its course and are trying to launch
a salvage operation. This has led devotees like Cho Ramaswamy to defend
Jayalalitha and those like former president R. Venkataraman to maintain
silence. "The math should now concentrate on its spiritual work
and look ahead. The institution must not be allowed to die. The math
has several followers and it must continue to function," says Ram.
had cast aspersions on the junior pontiff Viyayendra Saraswati as well.
The boat has been rocked, a new captain has set sail, but the leaks
are yet to be plugged.
(India) Private Limited 2004