By Prof. A.V. Narasimha Murthy, former Head, Department of Ancient History & Archaeology, University of Mysore
Gowri and Ganesha festivals have been celebrated in many parts of South India with religious fervour and environmentalists have been urging people not to use idols which are decorated by chemical paints. This is a good suggestion and everyone of us should follow this and government may enact a law in this regard. In fact Ganesha festival was used by Tilak and others at Bombay to unite people for attaining Swaraj. Thus Ganesha festival was a uniting force.
In our society temples and mutts have played and are playing even now a great social and religious role and guide us. One such Mutt is Suttur Mutt which is famous not only in India but outside the country too.
This Mutt had a series of holy pontiffs going back to great antiquity and Pattada Sri Shivarathreeshwara Swamiji was prominent among them. Then came Sri Shivarathri Rajendra Mahaswamiji. He was born on 29.8.1916 in Suttur. His father was Mallikarjunaswamy and mother Marammanni. Pattada Shivarathreeshwara Swamiji conveyed his wish that this boy should be allowed to become his disciple and ultimately take over the mantle as Jagadguru of Suttur Srikshetra. The parents felt happy and agreed to dedicate their son to the glory of Suttur Srikshetra.
Early period of Sri Shivarathri Rajendra Swamiji was spent in Suttur Mutt. His primary education took place in Suttur itself. The senior pontif ordained him to monkhood (Sanyasa) and announced that he would be the next (23rd) Jagadguru of Suttur Mutt. He was just twelve years then and this took place in 1928. People felt happy that Suttur Mutt had a worthy successor and the Mutt would develop by leaps and bounds and as we now see, it happened in ample measure.
But when the Swamiji came to Mysuru, he was worried about the plight of the students.Mysuru had become a great centre of higher education and poor students were coming from different parts to Mysuru. But the facility of boarding and lodging was practically inadequate if not nil. Unless the villagers and underprivileged people got education, the society will not improve and the political freedom will have no meaning. Thus he thought that this should be his top agenda. In the meantime he got an opportunity to go to Kashi where Sri Gowrishankara Swamiji was a professor at Kashi Vidyapeetha. Sri Rajendra Swamiji saw the plight of poor students even at Kashi and this strengthened his intention to serve the student community who were in need of all help. He never looked back after this.
He found hundreds of students who had no support and immediately jumped into the fray and started providing boarding to a small number of students. Thus the first prasada nilaya (boarding home) was started. He used to get provisions and vegetables from Suttur but they were not sufficient. Slowly provisions used to come to the hostel because of the respect people had towards the Swamiji. Thus the first students’ hostel of Suttur Mutt came into existence. This hostel was open to all castes and communities. Gradually the number of hostels increased and by 1950 three hostels were working in which students from primary school to University were there.
Slowly Suttur hostels came into being at Yelandur, K. R. Nagar, T. Narasipur etc. The food and other amenities were such that people began to say if you want to study, you should become a student of Suttur hostel.
He got another idea and that is starting of more schools and colleges and in 1954 came into existence Sri Shivarathreeshwara Mahavidyapeetha with Sri Rajendra Swamiji as its President. During his lifetime at least one hundred educational institutions were established, which included many types of schools and colleges including technical institutions.
Thus came into existence Sri Jayachamarajendra College of Engineering (SJCE) in Mysuru in 1963. Then came Sri Shivarathreeswara Medical College. In 1970 he had opened a medical centre which later became foundation for the JSS Medical College. Many Polytechnics were also opened. Thus JSS became a brand name and it became really a Maha Vidya Peetha.
Many Ministers and highly placed officials used to come to have darshan of the Swamiji. He used to give them advice to serve the society. However, daily dasoha was continued. He used to take great risk for feeding the students even by taking loan of food items from the merchants. Once there was a problem and there was no money with the Swamiji. He had a gold Karadige and to feed the students he pledged it and took money. Subsequently he paid back the money and got it back.
He was simple in his life style. Once he took part in a programme in a village near Mysuru. After the programme, dinner was arranged in a dalit’s house. Thinking that this is the best opportunity to teach these people the ills of caste system he made arrangements for food with dalits. The householder said ‘Sir you are an incarnation of Basavanna’. Once a householder of lower caste invited the Swamiji for the marriage of his daughter and thought that the Swamiji would not attend it. But on the day of the marriage, Swamiji attended it and showed that caste and community should not become a barrier for a purposeful living.
The fame of the Swamiji spread far and wide and many dignitaries called on him to get blessings. This list includes President Babu Rajendra Prasad, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan and many others.
Many devotees felt that the Swamiji should visit England and America, mainly with the hidden idea of a good health checkup. Swamiji did not agree in the beginning and ultimately agreed because it would help to unite the followers of the Swamiji to do more social service. He went there and saw many parts of America and inaugurated the ninth convention of the Veerashaiva Samaja which consisted of Veerashaivas who had settled in America. A medical checkup of Swamiji was done and it revealed that his condition was not satisfactory. Going to Chicago was cancelled and when he got back to the Mutt he was exhausted but the mind was highly receptive. But he knew that God wanted him to get relieved from the daily mundane life. He had assigned many aspects of the management to his would-be successor Sri Shivarathri Deshikendra Swamiji, the present Pontiff of the Mutt.
Doctors were advising Sri Shivarathri Rajendra Mahaswamiji to take good rest but he ignored it. He did many more useful things like organising Akhila Bharata Sharana Sahitya Parishat, etc. But his health was not satisfactory. In the year 1986 the Jagadguru became one with Linga (Lingaikya). The news of his demise spread like wildfire and thousands of people came there to pay last respects to the departed soul. The procession of the departed Swamiji was taken around in Mysuru and it reached Kadumatha and his Samadhi was arranged next to that of Mantra Maharshi Swamiji.
A great era ended with the Mahasamadhi of this savant. He is no longer there with us now but the works and services he did, the institutions he built eloquently testify to the greatness of a great savant. I and my family are beholden to this Jagadguru for many benefaction he has showered on our family for which we are grateful to him. Placing His Holiness Sri Shivarathri Deshikendra Mahaswamiji as the Jagadguru is his final contribution to the Suttur Mutt. This Jagadguru is following in the steps of his Guru and taking the Suttur Mutt and many educational institutions to greater heights. JSS has become a household name everywhere in the country and abroad. A worthy disciple to a worthy Guru and that is the tradition of Suttur Mutt.
There are many biographies of this Swamiji written by scholars who were close to him and knew him well, such as Dr. Thipperudraswamy, Dr. Chandrasekaraiah and others. They are worth reading. However, I have followed the booklet by Dr. Chandrasekaraiah which is at once illuminating and instructive. I am beholden to him.
I may end this article with a personal incident. My father, now late Viswanatha Sastry, was a part-time Sanskrit teacher at Kyathanahalli Pathashala. I used to go and meet my father for some errand there. His Holiness, Jagadguru Shivarathri Rajendra Mahaswamiji used to meet all persons and they were all prostrating before the Swamiji. In all innocence I asked the Swamiji, ‘Are you a God as people prostrate before you.’ He smiled and said, ‘Yes, everybody is God including you and me. You will not understand it now. Later in your life you will understand this.’ I smiled and came away. Kyathanahalli Swamiji who heard this told my father and I had to face his wrath.
I now join thousands of devotees in paying homage to Jagadguru Sri Shivarathri Rajendra Mahaswamiji on his 102nd birth anniversary on 29.8.2017.