Blending spirituality with social service throughout his life, the 111-year-old Shivakumara Swami of the Siddaganga Mutt on the outskirts of Tumakuru, 60 kilometres from Bengaluru, stood for the uplift of the poor and oppressed.
Holding the reins of the five-century-old mutt for about 75 years, the Swami who died on Monday following a prolonged illness, left an everlasting impact with a wide range of philanthropic services ranging from providing free education to inspiring many to take up social service.
Hailed by devotees as the modern reincarnation of 12th-century social reformer Basaveshwara, the swami reposed his faith in Jnana (knowledge), Kayaka (work) and Dasoha (service) — the three principles propounded by the Sharanas during the beginning of the medieval era.
Born on 1 April 1907 in a remote hamlet of Veerapura in Magadi taluk of Ramanagaram district, Shivakumara Swami was chosen by the then seer and his guru Uddana Shivayogi as his successor. Taking charge of the mutt, that follows the ‘Virakta’ tradition, at a young age in 1930, the Swami started with just 60 students. Today, the mutt provides free education to more than 10,000 students coming from various parts of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu regardless of caste and creed.
Taking forward his mission of providing education to the poor from rural areas of the state, the Swami set up the Siddaganga Education Society and opened more than 125 centres of learning in both traditional subjects like Sanskrit and modern learning like technology, nursing, pharmacy and other disciplines.
Devoted to the social cause, the Swami worked relentlessly in the fields and took up cultivation like any other farmer. The food that was produced, was again fed to the needy and children at the mutt. Going a step further, during the annual fair of the mutt, the Swami organised technical exhibitions, taking modern technology to the grassroots level.
Adhering to a strict diet which was the secret behind his healthy lifestyle, Shivakumara Swami devotedly performed ‘Shiva puja’ thrice a day. The Swami’s devotion was such that even during his hospital stay, he smeared vibhuti on his forehead and offered prayers.
The phenomenal growth of the mutt over the years exerted a strong influence on the state’s political scenario and several prominent leaders from state to national politics often descended on Siddanganga Mutt.
True to his ideals, Shivakumara Swami treated every leader with the same spirit and at times chided a few over their actions. He condemned the demolition of Babri Masjid with strong words. Similarly, his stand on the recent squabble over seeking separate religion tag for Lingayats also surprised many as he stood non-committal to any group.
For the strides he made with his unique way of social service, the Swami was conferred with several awards. While Karnataka University conferred him with an honorary doctorate, the state government bestowed him with Karnataka Ratna — the highest civilian award of Karnataka. The Union government too conferred him with Padma Bhushan and there has been a demand from various quarters to award him the Bharat Ratna.