#India: Karnataka’s 111-year-old revered seer, Shivakumara Swami of Siddaganga Mutt at Tumakuru, who had been in a critical condition for the last 15 days, has died.
He died at 11.44am on Monday. His cremation will be held at 4.30pm on Tuesday, January 22.
Three days of state mourning has been announced in the Karnataka state by Deputy chief minister G Parameshwara. Holiday declared in Karnataka tomorrow as part of the state mourning.
Known among his followers as a “walking god” and an incarnation of the 12th century social reformer Basava, the Lingayat seer also heads the Sree Siddaganga Education Society, which runs about 125 educational institutions in the state – from engineering colleges to business schools.
Many of the institutions offer free education and boarding facilities to poor students.
Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy visited the Mutt to enquire about Swami’s health. BS Yeddyurappa, MB Patil, KJ George and Sadananda Gowda were also present.
The Swami, who is said to be one of the oldest persons living in India, has been suffering from lung infection for the past few weeks. He has been in and out of hospitals over the last few years due to his advanced age.
Security has been tightened at the Mutt as hundreds of followers gathered, praying for the holy man’s recovery.
Born on April 1, 1907 in Veerapura village of Ramanagara district in Karnataka, the Swami is also involved in several philanthropic activities and was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2015.
Last week, Kumaraswamy demanded the highest civilian award, Bharat Ratna, for the seer as recognition of his service to the society.
Guidance without political ends
The Lingayat community is the largest in Karnataka, making the 600-year-old Siddaganga mutt a centre of immense political power. Many a politician – both from the state and the Centre – have arrived at its doorstep, in Tumkur, about 70 km from Bengaluru.
The seer welcomed every leader, but brushed off any request to endorse a single party.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted last week: “His Holiness Shivakumara Swami is a remarkable personality and has positively impacted crores of lives through his outstanding service. The entire nation is praying for his speedy recovery and good health.”
The swami was born in Magadi taluk around Bengaluru (then in the kingdom of Mysuru), and was inducted into the Siddaganga mutt in his early years. It is the stuff of modern legend in the state, how a boy born into a family of agriculturists grew up to become a beloved name among those whom he served and stood for.
The Swami took over the leadership of the Siddaganga mutt in 1930. The mutt was low on resources in those days, but the swami had a clear vision of education as the community’s road to emancipation.
As the mutt gained prominence and influence, he epitomised values that shaped the Lingayat dharma: service to humankind, imparting education to create awareness, treating all as equal and staying away from explicit political power.
The rare occasion on which the Siddaganga Swamiji did voice his opinion was the day the Babri Masjid was demolished. While others weighed their options about speaking against volatile sentiments, he condemned it in no uncertain words.
Even so, for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, the Gandhis across generations, former President Abdul Kalam and every Karnataka chief minister, it has been mandatory to visit and seek an audience with the seer.
A long lifetime of service
Instead of using its influence on politics, the mutt has run numerous colleges – for engineering, business management, nursing and pharmacy, teacher training and more – alongside Sanskrit and Kannada schools, and scores of primary and high schools along with pre-university campuses across the state.
He was conferred with Padma Bhushan and Karnataka Ratna. In recent years, his name has been strongly recommended by Karnataka politicians, across party lines, for the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award.
Even today, the mutt exhibits those principles of simplicity and service; it is devoid of any luxury. In his healthy days, until just a few months ago, the seer gave darshan to his devotees through the day. All were served prasada (meals) with no exclusion by caste or gender.
In addition, 8,500 students studying in the school and colleges on the premises are provided with food and education free of cost. According to mutt documents, the requirement of groceries on a typical day are 2,000 kg rice, 1,000 kg ragi flour, 200 kg tur dal, 200 kg vegetables, 200 kg onions, 400 kg cream of wheat, 50 kg salt, 50 kg curry and chilly powder, 60 kg tamarind, 25 kg green chillis, 300 litres each of milk and butter milk, 80 kg groundnut oil and 150 coconuts.
This volume shoots up by more than ten times on occasions such as the village fair organised by the mutt, when the kitchens run for 24 hours each day. Everything was contributed by community leaders and the students who are from poor background, are not charged anything. In fact, they receive support and monetary help from mutt well-wishers should they decide to follow higher educational goals.
A true Sharana (an enlightened Lingayat) just left for his final destination.