Obituary: Siddaganga Seer Shivakumara Swami Embodied Lingayat Dharma

While he stayed away from exercising political power, the Swamiji did voice his opinion on the day that the Babri Masjid was demolished.

Tumkur: Considered a ‘walking god’ by those who follow him, or who admire his contribution to children across communities over the last eight decades, the Lingayat seer Siddaganga Sri Shivakumara Swamiji passed away on January 21, 2019 – at the age, mutt officials says, of almost 112 years.

The Siddaganga mutt, under his guidance, educated and hosted lakhs of students from economically deprived backgrounds.

His passing will leave Karnataka’s Lingayat community in mourning, along with others who loved him for his service – from dasoha or anna dana (offering food) to vidya dana (offering education) free of cost to generations of students.

In December 2018, the Swamiji underwent a liver transplant at a private hospital in Chennai. His health hung in the balance until his passing on January 21.

Chief Minister of Karnataka, H. D. Kumaraswamy, announced that the final rites will take place at 3pm on Tuesday, January 22. He will be present alongside his rival, BJP leader B. S. Yeddyurappa – who was, until just the day before, attempting to break the Congress-JD(S) alliance supporting the government in Karnataka. That effort was set aside, in part, due to the news of the seer’s declining health.

A junior pontiff of the Siddaganga Mutt, Siddalinga Swamiji, is expected to take over the leadership and continue the works initiated by Sri Shivakumara Swamiji.

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.

Also read: Making Sense of the Lingayat vs Veerashaiva Debate

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.

Also read: BJP’s ‘Operation Kamala’ in Karnataka Interrupted By Lingayat Seer’s Health

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.