Fifteen years ago, I had the opportunity to accompany my late father, MV Venkatappa, the then Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, to Siddaganga Mutt. There, our family was blessed to meet His Holiness Sri Sri Sri Shivakumara Swamiji.
We were particularly impressed by what we saw at the Mutt. There were thousands of children being given free education, food and shelter (Trivida Dasohi), irrespective of their caste, creed and religion. That was what Swamiji had dedicated his life to, the education of the poor and the marginalised. He succeeded in transforming the lives of lakhs of children.
It is, therefore, a huge loss to humanity itself that such an inspirational figure, a living deity, is no more with us. He passed away on Monday, 21 January, in Tumkur at the ripe age of 111.
Epitome of ‘Work Is Worship’
Born on 1 April 1907 to a family of farmers in Magadi taluka’s Veerapura village, just outside Bengaluru, Swamiji focused on translating Basavanna’s philosophy of “Kaayakave Kailaasa” or Work is Worship into reality.
His zeal for education and his vision to eradicate social injustice through education led him to establish nearly 125 educational institutions all across Karnataka, under the aegis of Sree Siddaganga Education Society.
So great is the reverence for his wisdom and far-reaching is the impact of his work that political leaders from across the spectrum have come together to jointly address the media in mourning.
Swamiji’s Influence Transcended Politics and Religion
This is entirely fitting. Swamiji’s ability to unite people transcended the pressures of politics and religion.
In the recent Lingayat versus Veerashaiva debate, Swamiji stayed above the fray even while tensions rose and pressure mounted on him to take a stand on the issue.
His sense of moral uprightness truly shone through in India’s difficult moments. When the Babri Masjid was demolished, he was one of the few holy seers who condemned it unequivocally.
Politicians, prime ministers and presidents regularly flocked to Siddaganga Mutt to gain his audience and thereby send a signal among the substantial Lingayat community to which he belonged. However, he never took sides.
Hopefully, these political leaders were able to open their eyes to what was truly saintliness. Instead of trying to win votes by being seen with the Swamiji, they would have been better off learning from his life’s work in educating those left behind by society.
Exemplar of Basavanna’s Doctrines
This quality of Swamiji’s makes us, lesser mortals, see exactly why he was chosen to be the head of the 600-year-old Siddadanga Mutt. As a follower of the 12th century social reformer and saint, Basavanna, Swamiji was a true embodiment of his doctrine of renouncing “all the ties born of vanity and riches” and taking a firm stand against caste and gender discrimination.
Ever since taking over the Siddadanga Mutt in 1930, Swamiji has spent almost 89 years wholeheartedly and determinedly fighting against social injustice by imparting education to all.
United Call to Confer Bharat Ratna
In recognition of his social work, he was conferred with India’s third-highest civilian award, Padma Bhushan, in 2015, and the Karnataka Ratna in 2007. Karnataka’s political leaders across party lines are united in their call for conferring of the Bharat Ratna on Swamiji.
My state of Karnataka has had the fortune of being the birthplace of other centenarian nation builders like Bharat Ratna M Visvesvaraya, an engineer who played a crucial role in building modern Mysore and India. Swamiji would be above such awards but the Bharat Ratna would remind India’s citizens about the inspiring life of this Jewel of India.
There is a Sanskrit blessing ‘Dheerga Ayushmana Bhava’, which means, may you live a long life. Whoever blessed Sri Sri Sri Shivakumara Swamiji with these words decades ago would have been happy to know that not only did he live to 111, but spent that time working towards the betterment of the people of Karnataka. May the example of this God who walked amongst us continue to inspire us to greater impact in all our constructive actions.
( Prof M V Rajeev Gowda is a Congress Member of Parliament and Chairperson of the AICC Research Department. He can be reached at @rajeevgowda The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)