Chequered history of Madurai mutt keeps succession row alive!

The 292nd pontiff of the Madurai Adheenam Sri Arunagirinathar who died on August 13, was a colourful and controversial swami. From being caught carrying arms, to taking on a minister and promoting godman Nithyananda despite sexual allegations against him, the pontiff had a brazen way of doing things.

A less-known incident took place on October 17, 1983, when he brandished a revolver at a public meeting in Tamil Nadu, after which the Trichy police filed a case against him and his security personnel. Among the charges made against him were possession of rifles and a revolver without licence.

The pontiff had then made a call for support to the Sri Lankan Tamil militants’ struggle for Tamil Eelam. He also sent telegrams to the Prime Minister and the chief justice of the Madras high court demanding the removal of the minister for Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments, R M Veerappan, who he said was instigating the Trichy police to foist a case against him.

The telegram of the Adheenam head was admitted as a writ petition. As per the documents filed in court, the telegram from the pontiff warned Tamils of the genocide in Sri Lanka and urged them to stand against it despite the Sinhalese violence. Police report recorded the seizure of three weapons after a search of the mutt premises, the pontiff’s ancestral house and the house of one Rajomani Ammal. The inspector said in his counter-affidavit that the allegations that the HR&CE minister had instigated police to foist a case were unfounded. The court later turned down the demand for removal of minister Veerappan and dismissed the petition.

The pontiff had been known to make statements of a political nature from time to time, initially a supporter of the DMK, and later of the AIADMK, when J Jayalalithaa was chief minister. Sri Arunagirinathar also took part in an agitation in 1985 demanding retrieval of Katchatheevu island from Sri Lanka.

Before coming under the aegis of the mutt, Arunagirinathar was a reporter of Tamil daily ‘Tamil Murasu’, and was seen every day at the police commissioner’s office premises in Egmore to gather crime news. After his father reportedly developed strong contacts in the Adheenam, Arunagirinathar was appointed junior pontiff. His elevation was fast. After the death of the 291st guru, he was appointed pontiff on March 14, 1980.

The pontiff’s most controversial move was the appointment of Nithyananda (above) as his successor in 2012, when the self-styled godman was facing charges of having a relationship with a mutt inmate. (Bengaluru police had arrested him in Shimla in 2010 in connection with various cases. He was later let out on bail). After Sri Arunagirinathar received a donation of ₹1 crore from Nithyananda, the latter was crowned and presented a sceptre. Nithyananda took charge and began performing all the religious and spiritual duties, and performed ‘annadhanam’ too. However, after several writ petitions challenged this appointment, and 13 Shaivite mutts opposed the coronation, Sri Arunagirinathar had to revoke the appointment. The HR&CE department also quashed the appointment.

Nithyananda was restricted by the court from entering the mutt, but this order was partially modified allowing him to enter the mutt as a devotee. Nithyananda’s petition seeking to quash the Adheenam order revoking his appointment, besides other petitions are pending in the courts. The issue of successor to Sri Arunagirinathar may continue to be fought in courtrooms as Nithyananda makes a fresh bid. Even as the end came near for the 292nd pontiff last week, his chamber at the Madurai Aadheenam was sealed by the pontiff of the Dharmapuram Adheenam, Masilamani Swamigal from Mayiladuthurai, seen as a bid to prevent Nithyananda from occupying the seat of the Adheenam.

The Adheenam seeks to elevate junior pontiff, Sundaramoorthy Thambiran, as the 293rd guru. He had earlier served in the Shaivite maths at Kundrakudi, Dharmapuram and Thiruvaduthurai. The other Shaivite Adheenams of the state are exerting pressure on the Tamil Nadu government to support their choice of a pontiff in keeping with the Shaivite traditions of the Madurai Adheenam, and preventing a comeback bid by Nithyananda.

The Tamil Nadu government, which usually stays away, had in 2012 told the court that it would take over the mutt in view of the various charges against the institution, and that the appointment of Nithyananda as pontiff was illegal. It remains to be seen if the present DMK government would continue on the same line and take over the Adheenam or back the move of the other Adheenams to have a new pontiff of their choice.

Meanwhile, Nithyananda who issued a statement from the land of ‘Kailasa’ condoling the death of Sri Arunagirinathar, announced 13-day mourning, and said he would confer sainthood on Sri Arunagirinathar. He also declared himself as the 293rd pontiff of the Madurai Adheenam and announced that he had taken charge.

Over the past few years, Nithyananda has created a buzz by declaring that he had set up a Kailasa nation, with its own currency, and invited people to join the nation as e-citizens. All these pronouncements were made using the Twitter handle, even as the Union government said it had no knowledge of his whereabouts. This invited derisive comments from netizens who have trolled the godman for his claims, as well as the Union government for its ‘inability’ to track down the man. The events in the next few months could get curiouser and curiouser.

Courtesy: TOI

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