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Shivakumara Swami, the Siddaganga Mutt chief pontiff every PM from Indira to Modi courted

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Shivakumara Swami of Siddaganga Mutt, a leader of the Lingayat community, died Monday at 11.44 am.

Bengaluru: Shivakumara Swami, the chief pontiff of the famous Tumakuru-based Siddaganaga Mutt, has passed away due to age-related illness. He was 111.

The seer, who breathed his last at 11.44 am Monday, had been shifted to Chennai in December 2018 for a recurring liver-related infection, for which he later underwent a transplant.

As news of the pontiff’s poor health gained ground, state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief B.S. Yeddyurappa along with senior party leaders such as V. Somanna rushed to Tumakuru to enquire about his health. Janata Dal (Secular) supremo H.D. Deve Gowda and deputy chief minister G. Parameshwara of the Congress, a Tumakuru native, had visited the pontiff just before he breathed his last.

Popularly known as the ‘Nadedaduva Devraj’ or ‘Walking God’ for his humanitarian work, Shivakumara was a religious figure who played an important role in Karnataka politics.

From Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi to Narendra Modi, and senior leaders across party lines, everyone made it a point to visit the influential senior seer each time they touched down in Bengaluru.

For the larger cause

Born on 1 April 1907, Shivakumara was an ardent proponent of Lingayatism. He became a monk at the age of 23.

It was while pursuing his higher education that he realised the need for a proper educational institution that catered to students from all socio-economic backgrounds.

He set up a boarding school for children of the lower income group, which operates free of cost. Over 60 years since it was founded, the boarding school today accommodates close to 10,000 children between the ages of 5 and 15.

The school is operated on donations from devotees of the mutt, which also runs various engineering and medical colleges in Tumakuru.

Even in his final years, until his health deteriorated in the last few months, the seer would begin his day at 3 am. His eyesight even now was so sharp, he would pore over the mutt’s account books without the help of spectacles.

He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2015 and the state’s highest civilian award, Karnataka Ratna, on his 100th birthday in 2007, and local leaders of the Congress as well as the BJP had been demanding a Bharat Ratna for him.

Also read: Ganga crusader GD Agrawal, on fast since 22 June, dies in Haridwar

A guide for all

The 70-km drive from Bengaluru to Tumakuru, where the Siddaganga Mutt is located, never seemed to be a long and tedious one for political leaders, who flocked to the shrine for advice from Shivakumara.

Prime Minister Modi visited the seer on various occasions to seek his blessings, personally and politically.

File photo of Swamiji with former PM Indira Gandhi | Shankar Bidari
File photo of Swami with former PM Indira Gandhi | Shankar Bidari

When she was Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi came too, as did former Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Incumbent Congress president Rahul Gandhi called on the pontiff just after his 111th birthday in April last year, arriving with a gift of 111 roses for him.

Impressed by the work done by the seer, the late Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam had visited him while he was the President of India.

Also read: Why did Siddaramaiah lose? It’s not the Lingayat factor alone

Neutral till the end

Several Lingayat seers have made their political leanings clear in the recent past, but Shivakumara Swami was unlike them. He took no sides and is said to have given balanced guidance to all the leaders who visited him.

His decision was considered the final word, especially among the Lingayat community, one of the largest in Karnataka.

When the Lingayat controversy broke in Karnataka just before the assembly elections last year, with the Congress according the community the status of separate religion, the pontiff didn’t weigh in. If he had sent word that he supported or rejected the minority tag for the Lingayats, his word would have been the final decision for most voters.

File photo of Shivakumara Swami with H D Kumaraswamy | Shankar Bidari
File photo of Shivakumara Swami with H. D. Kumaraswamy | Shankar Bidari

“I am deeply saddened,” said Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy of the pontiff’s demise. “His services of providing food, shelter and education to the needy and poor were a model for everyone beyond the borders of region, language, caste and religion,” he added.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted, “I am sorry to hear about the passing of Shivakumar (sic) Swami Ji, pontiff of the Siddaganga Mutt. Swami Ji was respected & revered by millions of Indians, from all religions & communities. His passing leaves behind a deep spiritual void. My condolences to all his followers.”

Former Karnataka director general of police Shankar Bidari said the pontiff had always worked for humanity without bias.

“From 1930, he worked to give education, shelter and life to children of all communities, regardless of religion or region,” he added. “From now on, he will be a star in the sky and a source of inspiration… for humanity.

“I was personally associated with him from 1981,” he added. “He came to my house for my birthday for 24 years, until 2015… His passing away has left my family with a huge vaccum….we owe all that we have to his blessings.”

This report has been updated with quotes from Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy and Congress president Rahul Gandhi.

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