Udupi’s Madhwa mutts face turmoil as claim of swamis violating vows of celibacy takes centrestage

Ascetism be damned. Celibacy double damned. Contesting elections is the new spirituality. So is having a family on the side, according to one of the heads of the eight (Ashta) Udupi mutts set up by Madhwacharya, the 13th Century founder of the Dwaita (dualism) school of philosophy.

Swami Lakshmivara Thirtha of Shiroor mutt (the mutts are named after the village where they were originally set up) has stirred trouble for the Madhwa Brahmin community, particularly the swamis of the eight mutts, by claiming in a TV interview that he, as well as some of the other swamis, had families.

A screengrab of Swami Lakshmivara Thirtha. Image courtesy: Youtube

A screengrab of Swami Lakshmivara Thirtha. Image courtesy: Youtube

Demands to remove the Swami from his post arose almost immediately. The council of Ashta mutt swamijis along with seniors and scholars of the small one-lakh strong but tradition-bound community of Madhwa Brahmins are considering ways to force the swami out. One option being considered is called dwandwa, or pairing, wherein the Shiroor mutt administration will be handed over to another mutt till this matter is resolved.

“Our first lesson when a shishya is taken is to renounce worldly pleasures," said Ramakrishna Acharya, a well-known scholar of Madhwa Radhdhanta (texts explaining the Madhwa philosophy).

Asked Prasad Rao, former President of the Bengaluru-based Akhil Bharata Brahmin Maha Sabha says that Lakshmivara should step down immediately.

“The swami, who has admitted that he has a family, is not a sanyasi, so how can he be a muttadhipati. The right thing for him to do is relinquish his muttadhipati status and make way for a sanyasi to take up the mantle." The Shiroor muttadhipati, however, is unmoved by such arguments.

Controversy over asceticism and celibacy is not new to the Ashta mutts. But in the past, the swamis who violated these edicts quit their posts on their own. A junior swami of Pejavar mutt had eloped with the daughter of a former MLA and migrated to America in 1982 while the 'singing saint' Vidyabhushana of Kukke Subramanya mutt had relinquished the peetha in 1999.

“They relinquished their posts honourably,” said Raghupathi Thantri Jalancharu, a respected elder of the Madhwa Brahmin community.

Swami Visvesha Thirtha, the senior religious leader of the Pejavar mutt, told this correspondent that contesting elections is Lakshmivara's constitutional right and totally his call.

However, it is still not certain that the swamiji will contest. “I had decided to contest only had I got a BJP ticket,” said Lakshmivara. But the state party leadership has not responded to his request. The swami, however, has not lost hope as the party is yet to name the Udupi candidate.

But more serious than contesting elections, are Lakshmivara's allegations of other swamis having families. "Casting aspersions on the other seven swamis has hurt the council of the Ashta mutts which cannot be tolerated. The council has given him a notice to which he has not replied satisfactorily. The swami of Sode mutt which is the dwandwa (paired) mutt of Shiroor mutt can take action in such circumstances,” Visvesha added.

Traditions, oral and written as explained in the teachings and writings of Madhwacharya, have guided the decision making of modern muttadhipatis. Which in itself has led to other controversies in the past, like in 2017, when the former junior swami of Pejavara mutt Vishwa Vijaya had filed a lawsuit against the Ashta mutts demanding a written constitution.

Vishwa was ousted by the Ashta mutts 30 years ago for undertaking a foreign tour, and is now questioning why Sugunendra Thirtha, head of the Puthige mutt, who has taken the Madhwa philosophy abroad and set up Krishna temples in various cities across the United States, Canada, and Australia, is continuing in his post when it is considered absolute sacrilege for a swami of Udupi Madhwa lineage to set foot on a foreign soil.

In this latest controversy unleashed by Lakshmivara, the allegations that some swamis in the mutt are violating their vows of celibacy has angered the Ashta mutt council. It has also raised serious concerns among the larger Madhwa Brahmin community over the perceived 'degeneration' in the conduct of the Ashta mutt swamis.

The Madhwa community elders are now studying the conventions in Advaita (Adi Shankara) and Vishista Advaitha (Ramanujacharaya) texts for guidance. They are also seeking legal opinion on filing a public interest litigation against the Shiroor mutt for breaching the trust of the followers of the Shiroor mutt, in particular, and Udupi lineage of Madhwa Brahmins, in general.

Other Brahmin organisations like the Krishna Prajna Prathistan, Akhila Bharata Madhwa Maha Mandala and Yuva Brahmin Sabha have written to the senior swami of Pejavar mutt enquiring how the council of Ashta mutts will tackle the tricky situation.

“We have no doubt that the council will do its best, but the best is not enough,” said an office bearer of the Madhwa Maha Mandala. “The way the swamis conduct the Ashta mutt affairs is under a cloud and coming generations will start suspecting the entire system," he added.

The author is a Mangaluru-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters

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Updated Date: Apr 22, 2018 08:26:38 IST

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