His thoughts duality often saw him walk the tightrope

Last Updated 30 December 2019, 02:44 IST

In January 2012, Vishwesha Theertha declared that he lived with the tag of “Dwandwacharya,” a banter he used on himself to say that the world always saw him as someone who straddled between contrasting thoughts.

“My confused person tag is because I have tried to respect (Hindu) religion and the Constitution,” the seer had said.

His ascetic life saw him become a known face of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. His association with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) was there for all to see. He was considered one of the VHP’s founders and he was a regular participant of the Dharma Sansad.

In parallel, Vishwesha Theertha also held seemingly liberal or progressive views that left the Hindu right-wing seething with anger. Thus, the “Dwandwacharya” tag.

It was in the temple town of Udupi where the Ram Mandir movement gained steam - the 1985 Dharma Sansad held there gave the ‘Tala Khol’ clarion call, to open the temple site, and the ‘Mandir Vahin Banayenge’ slogan.

Vishwesha Theertha was one of the trustees of the Ram Janmabhoomi Trust that operates under the VHP. In 2018, he demanded that the Modi administration promulgate an ordinance to build the temple or pass a law for it in Parliament.

On the fateful day the Babri mosque was demolished, the seer was at the disputed site and was twice arrested while attempting to perform prayers there.

The seer also stood for the cause of the cow, demanding that it replace the tiger as India’s national animal. In all this, the seer was naturally seen as close to the BJP.

While these ticked off the progressive thinkers, Vishwesha Theertha efforts to eradicate untouchability and promote communal harmony annoyed the conservatives. It is widely believed that Dalits and backward classes were allowed darshan and prasada at the Udupi Krishna Mutt due to the efforts of the seer.

In 2017, during his fifth paryaya, a gathering of Muslims broke their Ramzan fast at the Annabrahma dining hall in the Krishna temple complex, a first such event that courted much controversy. This was Vishwesha Theertha’s ‘Souharda Upahara Koota’, or iftar, which he defended even in the face of backlash. Apparently, the seer even had three Muslims as his drivers for over a decade.

The seer was also quite the activist, spearheading a movement against illegal quarrying at Pajakakshetra, the birthplace of Madhwacharya. Also, he consistently mounted pressure on the government to denotify about 2,035 acres of agricultural land earmarked for a special economic zone in Mangaluru.

Despite this, the seer was often targeted by the progressives. For instance, Vishwesha Theertha was seen as soft on the controversial ‘Made Snana’ ritual, which involved devotees rolling over leftover food on plantain leaves partaken by Brahmins. Still, it was he who sought to end the practice by suggesting the Yede Snana, a modified version that seemed less despicable.

The seer never shied away from public debate on such matters. It was during one such debate on ‘Made Snana’, where he was confronted by representatives of various other mutts, the seer summed up his approach: “I’m not willing to compromise religion over the Constitution. But should there be a conflict, I’ll uphold the ideals of the Constitution without disrespecting religion.”

(Published 29 December 2019, 17:23 IST)

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