108th Jayanthi Mahotsava at Suttur Mutt in city tomorrow
By Prof. A.V. Narasimha Murthy, Former Head, Department of Ancient History & Archaeology, University of Mysore
Temples and Mutts have played and continue to play a significant social and religious role in our society, constantly guiding us. One such Mutt is Suttur Mutt, which is well-known both inside and outside India.
Since great antiquity, this Mutt has had several holy pontiffs, Pattada Sri Shivarathreeshwara Swamiji being prominent among them. Then came Sri Shivarathri Rajendra Mahaswamiji, who was born in Suttur on Aug. 29, 1916, to Smt. Marammanni and Sri Mallikarjunaswamy. Pattada Sri Shivarathreeshwara Swamiji had expressed his desire to take the youngster as his pupil and eventually succeed him as the Jagadguru of Suttur Srikshetra. An overjoyed parents decided to dedicate their son to the glory of Suttur Mutt.
Sri Shivarathri Rajendra Mahaswamiji spent his formative years at Suttur where he had his primary education. He was given sanyasa by the senior pontiff, who also named him the 23rd Jagadguru of Suttur Mutt in 1928 while he was only twelve years old. People were pleased that Suttur Mutt had a qualified successor and that the Mutt would grow rapidly under his able leadership and guidance.
When Rajendra Swamiji arrived in Mysore, he observed that numerous underprivileged students came to Mysore from various places as Mysore had become a prominent centre for education. He was deeply concerned about the plight of the students, especially rural students, who were having difficulty in finding boarding and lodging. He strongly felt that without education for the rural and impoverished population, society would not advance, and having political freedom alone would be meaningless.
In the meantime, the Swamiji had a chance to visit Kashi, where Sri Gowrishankara Swamiji was teaching at the Kashi Vidyapeetha. Even at Kashi, Sri Shivarathri Rajendra Mahaswamiji saw the struggles of the less fortunate students, which further strengthened his resolve to support the students who were in dire need of education, food and housing.
First Residential School
Upon his arrival back in Mysuru from Kashi, he stepped right into action and began offering boarding to a select group of students who had no assistance. As a result, the first residential school,Prasada Nilaya, was established. Suttur Mutt used to provide it with food and vegetables, but they weren’t enough. As a result of the respect that people had for the Swamiji, food supplies used to arrive at the hostel gradually. Thus, the first students’ hostel of Suttur Mutt came into existence. This hostel was open to students of all castes and communities. Gradually the number of hostels increased and, by 1950, three hostels were functional and catered to students from Primary School to the University.
Such was his compassion for the poor students, that he once pawned his golden Karadige and with that money, he brought rice and other ingredients to feed the hostel students.
Slowly hostels were started at Yelandur, T. Narasipur, Ramapura, Holenarasipura etc. Food and other amenities were such that people began to say, “If you want to study and be educated, you should become a student of Suttur Hostel.”
Recognising the importance of education to uplift the society, Rajendra Mahaswamiji founded JSS Mahavidyapeetha in 1954. As the Founder-President of Mahavidyapeetha, over a hundred educational institutions were established — including many types of Schools and Colleges comprising Technical and Medical institutions that catered to students beyond caste, creed and communities.
Thus came into existence Sri Jayachamarajendra College of Engineering (SJCE) in Mysuru in 1963 followed by Sri Shivarathreeswara Medical College. In 1970, he started a medical centre which later became the foundation for JSS Medical College. Many Polytechnics were also started and JSS became a brand name.
Swamiji was a vocal proponent of social reforms and actively campaigned against social ills such as caste discrimination and untouchability. Once he took part in a programme at a village near Mysore. After the programme, dinner was arranged. Swamiji used this opportunity to educate people on the ills of caste system and decided to have food with Dalits. The householder and the villagers said, ‘Swamiji, you are an incarnation of Basavanna.’ Swamiji also attended many marriage ceremonies of people from lower strata of society and the downtrodden and showed that caste and community should not become a barrier to purposeful living.
Swamiji was a strong advocate of women’s education and empowerment. Many of the educational institutions founded by him provided opportunities for girls and women to receive quality education.
Recognising the ecological challenges of his time, Swamiji promoted environmental conservation and sustainability. His teachings emphasised the importance of living in harmony with nature.
He founded Hospitals and Healthcare Centres to provide quality medical care to underprivileged. His efforts in healthcare extended beyond providing medical services; they also included healthcare education and awareness programmes.
Swamiji was known for his philanthropic endeavours. He initiated various social projects to alleviate poverty and offer relief during natural disasters.
He also established many Trusts and Societies, such as JSS Medical Service Trust, Sri Shivarathreeshwara Rural Development Foundation, JSS Sangeetha Sabha, Shivarathreeshwara Endowment Trust, Akhila Bharatha Sharana Sahitya Parishath, etc. that catered to many social needs.
Due to his untiring service to society, the name and fame of Swamiji spread far and wide and many dignitaries called on him to get his blessings. The list includes the first President of India Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan and many others. Several Ministers, top officials and businessmen too used to visit the Mutt and have darshan of the Swamiji, who used to give them advice to serve the society.
Many devotees believed that the Swamiji needed to visit England and America. Swamiji did not agree in the beginning but ultimately agreed as it would help to motivate 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 in America. When he got back to the Mutt, he was exhausted, but the mind was highly receptive. He perhaps 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.
Though many doctors advised Swamiji to have adequate rest, he ignored it and continued to work for the benefit of society. He attained his heavenly abode (Lingaikya) in 1986. The news of Mahaswamiji’s demise spread like wildfire and thousands of devotees came to Suttur Mutt to pay their last respects. The funeral procession of Swamiji was taken around various streets of Mysore and his holy Samadhi was arranged next to that of Mantra Maharshi Swamiji.
An era ends
A great era ended with the Mahasamadhi of the great savant. Swamiji is no longer with us physically, but the good works and social service he rendered, and the institutions he built, eloquently testify to his greatness. Maharaja Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar conferred the title of ‘Rajaguru Tilaka’ in 1970 as a recognition of Swamiji’s immense contribution to society.
Sri Shivarathri Rajendra Mahaswamiji was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Mysore in 1989 posthumously.
Today JSS has become a household name in Karnataka and many parts of India and abroad under the dynamic and spiritual leadership of Sri Shivarathri Deshikendra Swamiji. A worthy disciple of a worthy Guru and that is the tradition of Sri Suttur Mutt.
Many biographies of Mahaswamiji have been written by scholars who had the opportunity to see the Swamiji from close quarters like Dr. H. Thipperudraswamy, Dr. Chandrashekariah and others.
I conclude this article with a personal incident. My father, late Sri Aradikoppa Viswanatha Sastry, was a part-time Sanskrit teacher at Kyathanahalli Pathashala. I used to go there and meet my father sometimes. Jagadguru Shivarathri Rajendra Mahaswamiji used to meet people who visited the Patashala; they were all prostrating before the Swamiji. As a young boy, with 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. Much later in life, I realised the meaning of the profound words of Swamiji.
Dr. Sri Rajendra Mahaswamiji’s legacy endures through the institutions he founded, the lives he touched and the principles he espoused. His teachings continue to inspire countless persons to lead lives of purpose, compassion and service to society. His commitment to education, social reform and humanitarianism serves as a guiding light for generations to come, reminding us that a life dedicated to the well-being of others can leave an everlasting legacy.
I join thousands of devotees in paying homage to Jagadguru Dr. Sri Shivarathri Rajendra Mahaswamiji on his 108th birth anniversary being celebrated on 29.8.2023 for his single-minded devotion, dedication and sacrifices aimed at the welfare of society. CM Siddharamaiah will inaugurate the Jayanthi Mahotsava at Suttur Mutt in city tomorrow at 10.30 am.