Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswathi, the 69th pontiff of the Kanchi Mutt, died on Wednesday in Tamil Nadu’s Kanchipuram. He was 82.
He had been admitted to a hospital after he complained of breathing problems. He had been in poor health for much of last year.
Born Sri Subramaniyam on July 18, 1935, Jayendra Saraswathi was head of the Kanchi Mutt or Hindu monastery established by Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th century and had a huge following in South India. The Mutt runs several schools, eye clinics and hospitals.
He had been named as the successor to the Mutt by Sri Chandrasekarendra Saraswati Swamigal and was given the title Sri Jayendra Saraswathi on March 22, 1954. Vice President Venkaiah Naidu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were among those who expressed their condolences.
In 1994, he became head of the mutt which during his stint rose to be a spiritual and financial power house, running several hospitals and educational institutions including a medical college. At one point, he was negotiating peace in the Ayodhya dispute and no Union Minister, Prime Minister and President of India would draw an itinerary to Tamil Nadu without a stop-over-darshan at the mutt.
The year 2004 must rank as the most forgettable year for the mutt in general and the senior pontiff in particular as it was in that year he was arrested in connection with the Sankararaman murder case. For the sensational murder of Sankararaman, who was then manager of Varadaraja Perumal temple in Kancheepuram, Jayendra was arrested on a Diwali day, on November 11, 2004.
The acharya had been in jail till January 5, 2005 when he was released on bail. He and all others were acquitted of all charges by a Puducherry special court in 2013. The territorial administration, which became the prosecuting state after trial was shifted out of Tamil Nadu, decided not to go on appeal against the acquittal.
The murder case and the shock arrest of both Jayendra Saraswathi and his junior pontiff Vijayendra Saraswathi robbed the spiritual shine of the Kanchi mutt so much that it stopped getting VVIP visits for several years thereafter. It was former President Pranab Mukherjee who broke the taboo when he made a visit to the mutt, weeks before he was to lay down his office.