Who is a sannyasi? Is a sannyasi one who wears ochre robes, remains celibate and chants mantras all the time? Or is a sannyasi one who remains detached in every action of his, surrendering every action of his to Brahman? Or is he one who treats pain and pleasure, wealth and poverty, all contrasts as the same and remains Sthithapragnya? One look at the life of Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal and the reader will know instantly about the mettle of a Bharatiya sannyasi. Adi Shankaracharya wrote the Kaupeena Panchaka Stotram which outlines that the only property of a sannyasi is the Kaupeena or loincloth which he gets from his Guru. A sannyasi’s only wealth is his spiritual wealth, which again he does not store, but uses for the welfare of mankind. Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswathi has spoken many times about the ‘Kaavi (kaashaya) Vastra’ that he used to wear, as his only possession.
Countless articles have been written about the Swamigal in the English media and to my mind, one thing stands out – almost all articles aim at speaking more about his unjust incarceration than his activities for the welfare of mankind. Most of the articles even call him as just ‘Saraswathi’ or the ‘Pontiff’ (actually meaning leader of the Roman Catholic Church) – the respect that one who is a shrotiya (knower of all Vedas), one who is realized, is just plain missing. The TV media has just brushed him aside completely – choosing to concentrate on Sridevi’s demise or arguments on Karthi Chidambaram’s ‘unjust’ incarceration. What could be more tragic in Bharat, the land of the Bhagawad Gita, that using the excuse of TRPs, the public is forced to learn more about glamour and crime instead of piety and detachment?
Coming back to Swamigal, he was a sannyasi who used his spiritual wealth to reach out to all sections of society. He was equally at ease with the politicians & business class as he was with the poorest of the poor. It was path-breaking when he reached out to the Dalits and gave them his blessings and mantrakshate too. He did not allow caste barriers or narrow thoughts to keep away those who genuinely had faith in him. It was path-breaking when he attracted fund collection in the Shree Matha and used the funds to build hospitals, Vedic Pathshalas and modern educational institutions. It was path-breaking when he used funds to renovate old temples not run by Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham and/or give offerings to them – he offered a golden palanquin to Goddess Mahalakshmi of Kolhapur. He performed a kumbabhishekam to Mahalakshmi Temple in 2002 for the first time; he gave 9 golden kalashas to the temple and the dhwajasthamba is also dedicated to him. He also tried to broker a solution for the Ram Janmabhoomi issue.
Subramania Mahadeva Iyer was born on July 18th, 1935 at Irulneeki village in Thiruvarur district of Tamil Nadu but he renounced this life when he was chosen at the young age of 19 (22nd March 1954), to be the successor to Maha Periyava Shankaracharya Sri Chandrashekhara Saraswathi of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. From then on he was known as Sri Jayendra Saraswathi and in 1994 he became the 69th Peethadeesha of the ShreeMatha. Lakhs of devotees lined up to take the final darshan of Swamigal since his samadhi on the 28th of February, 2018. On the 1st of March, he has been laid to rest at the Brindavana next to his Guru (sannyasis are not cremated like householders; they are buried and their burial site is known as Brindavana – a tulsi or a shivalinga is usually placed over the Brindavana). Kabaalamoksham ie. breaking of a coconut (symbolising the breaking of the skull) marks the end of the ritual of burial.
Swamigal will be remembered for his ability to attract followers, his simple life, his adherence to the vows of sannyasa, his tapas, his use of wealth for the benefit of society, his work for the upliftment of the downtrodden & for his ability to attract rains – he was invited often to areas where there were droughts, to pray for rains. He is succeeded by Shankaracharya Vijayendra Saraswathi, who incidentally was also selected by the Maha Periyava in 1988.