Sri Jayendra Saraswathi I knew

There were the sages of old and now there are the new age gurus with all the latest apparatus. Sri Jayendra Saraswathi was a little different from both. He was a sage from the old order willing to push the borders of orthodoxy to be in line with demands of contemporary India. He tried to — and succeeded to a large extent — in treading this delicate and dangerous tight rope.

He was a master of scriptures and shastras, accessible to all with his disarming smile and childish enthusiasm. He preached profound matters in simple terms. He combined piety with practical wisdom. Small wonder, he was a devotee’s delight and a very popular person.

At the same time, he understood the nuances and demands of the modern world. He believed that service to people is service to God. He felt that if Hinduism were to be relevant in the present and future it needs institutions as much as it needs temples and ashrams. For this, he hid not hesitate to bend, if not break, the Kanchi Order’s convention of the incumbent seer keeping himself restricted to the physical space of the Mutt.

The number of hospitals, hospices, colleges and schools and, not surprisingly veda patashalas, and temple renovations and rejuvenation are eloquent testimony to this strong belief of his. These will now be everlasting monuments of his memory.

It was ultimately his foray in to the material realm that cost him much distress. The last fourteen years were truly turbulent for the Kanchi Mutt and him. Treading on the unfamiliar and treacherous territory of politics, he stepped on some sensitive toes.

He became the target of an unrelenting political vendetta that saw him jailed for a few months. It humiliated him and sapped his body and soul. He was no match for a power-wielding chief minister who was bent on scoring political points at his expense. His Holiness lost out to Her Highness, or, more precisely, Her High-handedness.

All said, what will remain in memory are his services to humanity and Hinduism.

This personal anecdote is a good way to end this tribute: My wife Kausalya and I have had many interactions with him. During one such interaction last year, we asked him: ‘Does Karma chase sages too or are they exempt?’

His simple reply: ‘Yes, and I am fortunate to have been bestowed this janma. I pray that with all this suffering, my quota is over,’ he said and laughed his trademark child-like laughter.

I would like to think of that as probably his last laugh on those who hunted and haunted him and pray that his quota is indeed over.

(The article was first published in News Today on 28 February, the day on which Sri Jayendra Saraswathi passed away).

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