Pushpanjali Swamiyar: A Shankaracharya trying to reclaim his Mutt from encroachment
Whole world knows about Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple as world’s richest temple. We regularly hear politicians and influential people passing opinion on what should be done with the treasure. But nobody really wish to know and understand about the functioning of the religious customs and traditions associated with the temple. As a community we have turned too callous to put some effort to learn about the traditional institutions of Sanatana dharma and contribute to the survival of the skeletal framework of Dharmic society, the Guru parampara. Recently, pictures and video of Shankaracharya of Munchira Madom, the Pushpanjali Swamiyar of Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Shri Parameshwara Brahmananda Teertha performing Chaturmasya puja sitting on a dirty street, under police protection in Thiruvananthapuram went viral in Social Media. Such a miserable plight of a religious head of a Dharmic Sampradaya is a blot on the conscience of Hindus as a society. It is unfortunate that a Pushpanjali Swamiyar who is considered as the defacto religious head of the princely state of Travancore is not known to many today. This article aims to throw light on the significance of Pushpanjali Swamiyar and what happened to him.
There were four Mutts in Kerala that belonged to the Sankara Parambara – Thekke Matha, Idayil Matha, Naduvil Matha and Vadakke Matha. A branch of Idayil Matha was established in a village named Munchirai (near the ancient university of Kanthalloor Sala) in the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu which was then part of the Travancore Kingdom. The Peetaadhipathi of Munchira Matha has been jointly holding the right to perform the Pushpanjali ritual for Lord Padmanabha Swamy in Thiruvananthapuram with Naduvil Matha. The Matha has a property in Thiruvananthapuram near the Mithranandapuram Temple, which is the residence of the Swamiyar. Seva Bharati is squatting in this Thiruvananthapuram property for a couple of years. They run an orphanage in the Shankara Matha. Meanwhile the Swamiyar lost the control of the Matha property in the Munchirai Village in Tamil Nadu also, due to TN HR&CE high-handedness. Both the usurpers not only misbehaved to the Acharya but also refused to give his home back and threw him to sleep in the Thiruvananthapuram Railway station like a homeless beggar.
The Munchira Matha has an illustrious history. Legends of Kerala say that Adi Shankara Bhagavatpada attained jeeva samadhi at Thrissur Vadakkumnathan Temple in the presence of his four prominent disciples – Padmapada, Thodaka, Sureshwara (Mandana Mishra) and Hastamalaka. The Shanku-Chakra thara opposite to the Rama Shrine of Thrissur Vadakkumnathan temple is widely believed to be the Brindavana of the great acharya who reclaimed Sanathana Dharma in all corners of the country. As a sign of commemoration of the establishment of four Amanaya Mathas (Sringeri, Badri, Dwaraka and Puri) across the country, the Chera King offered four Mathas to the four disciples of Shri Shankara, in Thrissur. Thus, Padmapada, Thodaka, Sureshwara and Hastamalaka acquired Thekke Matha, Idayil Matha, Naduvil Matha and Vadakke Matha respectively. The four shishyas of Adi Shankara started the Guruparampara of these illustrious Mathas by giving sanyasa to four of their most prominent namboothiri disciples.
Sri Sureshwaracharyar appointed Sri Vilwamangalathu Swamiyar as the first Moopil (senior) Swamiyar of Naduvil Matha. Born as Divakara Sarman, Sri Vilwamangalathu Swamiyar was a great devotee of Krishna since childhood. After attaining Sanyasa, he travelled across Kerala and defeated various erudite scholars in debates. During one such visit to Kasaragod, the Swamiyar was residing in Ananthapuram Temple. Sri Anantha Padmanabha Swamy of the temple used to appear before him in the form of a child. One day while the swamiyar was performing his pujas, the child took the salagrama of the swamiyar and put it in his mouth. Angered by this act of the boy, the Swamiyar took the salagrama out of his mouth and pushed him away furiously. Immediately the child disappeared, saying that if the Swamiyar wanted to meet him he can come to his abode at Ananthankadu (Thiruvananthapuram).
With the sudden disappearance of the boy Swamiyar realized that he was none other than Lord Anantha Padmanabha. Hence he immediately rushed to Ananthankadu to find the boy and seek forgiveness. On reaching the forest of Ananthankadu, he saw the boy running into an Iluppa tree which immediately fell on the ground assuming the form of Sree Padmanabhaswamy reclining with his head at Thiruvallam, navel in Thiruvananthapuram and feet at Thrippadapuram. At the request of the Swamiyar to reduce his size to thrice the size of his danda (stick) so that he can have a proper darshana at a single place, Sree Padmanabhaswamy reduced to the size in which he is still residing at his abode in Thiruvananthapuram. The Swamiyar then came around the Lord, prostrated before him and offered salted mangoes in a coconut shell as naivedyam (offering). This coconut shell is still preserved in the temple at Thiruvananthapuram and salted mangoes are offered as naivedyam daily at noon to Sree Padamanbhaswamy in the same coconut shell. After the construction of a grand temple to Sree Padmanabhaswamy at the very place where he gave his darshana, Vilwamanagalathu Swamiyar stayed in a Madom near the temple and offered pushpanjali to him daily thus attaining the title of “Pushpanjali Swamiyar”.
Several centuries later, when the Samoothiri of Kozhikode rose as the prominent King of Kerala, he requested the Idayil Matha Swamiyar to shift his Matha to Samoothiri kingdom as the king wished the honor of having the presence and guidance of a great Shankaracharya in his kingdom. The Swamiyar accepted his invitation and moved to Trikkaikkattu in present day Malappuram. Trikkaikkattu Mana, the Nambuthiri illom there submitted 1000s of acres of land for the Matha. Since then, Idayil Matha came to be known as “Trikkaikkat Matha”.
Samoothiri’s kingdom had to face the major brunt of Islamic atrocities during the invasion of Malabar by the Sultans of Mysore. Tipu Sultan demolished many temples across Malabar till Aluva where he was defeated by the forces of Travancore. When Tipu came to plunder the Matha, the Trikkaikatt Swamiyar and his disciples moved south to Travancore to safeguard their scriptures and murtis. On reaching Aluva, the Swamiyar found the Periyar river flooded because of incessant monsoon rains. Tipu’s forces were also moving south behind them. To overcome this situation of grave danger, the Swamiyar who was a great devotee of Shri Rama, sought his divine help for protection by holding the aradhya Rama idol of Idayil Matha in his hand. He then started walking on the turbulent waters of Periyar with his associates and reached the other side of the river where the forces of Travancore were preparing for a final battle against Tipu.
On hearing about this divine incident from his soldiers, Dharma Raja Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma of Travancore rushed to the Swamiyar to seek his blessings for victory in the battle and asked him to stay in Travancore Kingdom. After vanquishing the large forces of Tipu in Aluva by the heroics of Kunju Kutty Pillai and the 300 nairs of his regiment, Dharma Raja entered Thiruvananthapuram with the Trikkaikkattu (Idayil Madom) Swamiyar. Overwhelmed by the divine grace of the Acharya, Dharma Raja constructed a Madom for him at Munchirai in the present day Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu. He then also offered the joint rights to perform Pushpanjali for Sree Padmanabhaswamy along with Naduvil Madom Swamiyar who had acquired the traditional rights to perform Pushpanjali as the descendant of Sri Vilawanagalathu Swamiyar. Thus, the Munchirai Matha Swamiyar became the de facto religious head of the princely state of Travancore through his rights to perform Pushpanjali to Sree Padmanabhaswamy.
Soon, Tipu’s forces had to retreat from Malabar due to the combined attacks by Travancore, Maratha and English forces from all three sides of Mysore Kingdom. During that time the Sannyasa parambara established by Trikkaikatt Swamiyar at Munchirai Madom continued to perform Pushpanjali to Sree Padmanabhaswamy. Thus Munchirai Madom Swamiyar became a branch of Idayil Madom and continued to perform Pushpanjali to Sree Padmanabhaswamy.
All was good until the Munchira Matha faced an existential crisis as the peetadhipathi of the Matha attained siddhi in 1992 without appointing a descendant. The position remained vacant for a while. However a new Acharya was selected. Because of his old age, the new Swamiyar decided to stay in the palace complex near the temple at Thiruvananthapuram. Meanwhile Seva Bharati established an orphanage in the Matha premises at Thiruvananthapuram. The new Swamiyar attained siddhi within a few months after his ascension and the next Swamiyar also met the same fate. As a result, the peetham of Munchirai Madom remained vacant for two decades awaiting its rightful Shankaracharya.
An erudite and pious namboothiri from Thiruthur mana, named Shri Mohanan attained Sannyasa deeksha from Trikkaikkattu Matha Swamiyar and became Shri Parameshwara Brahmananda Teertha. He ascended the Munchirai Peetham and attained the right to perform pushpanjali for Sree Padmanabhaswamy in 2016. However, a terrible fate awaited him as he entered Thiruvananthapuram as the new Pushpanjali Swamiyar. The Supreme Court appointed Administrative Committee which is currently managing the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple refused to immediately accept his rights to perform Pushpanjali despite being recognized as the Pushpanjali Swamiyar by Idayil Matha Moopil Swamiyar, Padmanabhaswamy temple Tantri and Royal family. Actually, the Ascension ceremony of the Pushpanjali Swamiyar is performed by Azhvanchery Thamprakkal who is the supreme authority of the traditional religious matters associated with the Brahmin rituals in Kerala. Adding to the misery of the new Swamiyar, when he went to his Matha at Munchirai village he found out that the properties of the Matha had been encroached and sold away by the manager of the Matha who was maintaining it in the absence of the Swamiyar. Dejected by these developments, the Swamiyar then went to his Matha at Thiruvananthapuram near the Padmanabhaswamy temple. It has been used by Seva Bharti as an orphanage named Ananthasai Balasadanam. Swamiyar asked the Ananthasai orphanage officials to return him back the Matha premises and stated that he will send the children in this orphanage to another orphanage established by himself in his Purvasharma and run by his family members. The Ananthasai orphanage authorities refused the proposal by the Swamiyar and forcefully threw him out of the Matha premises.
Hearing this shameful insult endured by the new Peethadhipathi of Munchirai Matha, the Travancore Royal family requested him to use the palace complex near the temple. Heartbroken by the denial of his rights as the Pushpanjali Swamiyar and the atrocious misbehaviour by the members of the Hindu society, the Acharya refused to accept the offer by the Royal Family and spent nights at the platforms of Trivandrum Central Railway Station for about two months. By this time, the Administrative committee approved his rights as the Pushpanjali Swamiyar as a result of the interference by the Trikkaikkattu Matha Moopil Swamiyar, Tantri and the Royal Family. Still the Swamiyar didn’t get a positive response from the forces who illegally encroached his abode. Since the temple administration committee recognised his ritual rights and the royal family earnestly requested, the Swamiyar accepted the offer of the Royal Family and started residing in the palace complex near the temple.
Thus, a Shankaracharya who belongs to the illustrious lineage of Adi Shankara Bhagavatpada and is considered as the de facto religious head of Princely state of Travancore had to live like a refugee ever since he attained sanyasa. We can not blame any minority groups for the mistreatment the Acharya had to face. It’s only the collective failure of Hindus as a community to maintain their rights in the Secular state that enable these rogue elements belittle the Hindu holy men. We must remember that a Shankaracharya is equivalent to or greater than the status of Grand mufti, Cardinals, etc in the traditional Hindu society. Nevertheless, there’s nothing done to educate the Hindus of the secular state regarding the technicalities or value of the religious personalities and institutions of the Hindu community.
As any Dharmic enlightened person, the Swamiyar decided to fight against the injustice forced upon him and the legacy of the institution of Munchira Matha. He wanted to take on the encroachers of his Matha. The Manager of the Matha in Munchirai on hearing about the Swamiyar’s ascension to the peetham had given the keys of the Matha and the associated temple, to the Tamil Nadu HR&CE department so that he can keep the encroached properties for himself. The Swamiyar filed a case in Madurai bench of the Madras High Court against this illegal occupation of the Matha and its other properties in Munchirai. In reply, the HR&CE has made the manager to file a plea denying the Swamiyar’s appointment as the peetadhipathi. This case is currently pending for hearing before the Honourable Court.
Further, the Swamiyar started writing to the top leadership of the BJP and RSS about the rogue elements of Seva Bharti in Thiruvananthapuram who pounced on him and threw him out of his Matha premises. He even met several members from the top leadership of the organisation and urged them to act. Despite not witnessing any action on these rogue elements, the Swamiyar continue to have talks and write letters with the top leadership as a he doesn’t wish to defame elements associated with the Sangh, especially in a Communist state like Kerala. However a few weeks back, the Swamiyar was traumatized heavily when he found out that the aradhya Rama of the Matha had gone missing from the Matha. It was this Rama murthi, which Trikkaikkattu Moopil Swamiyar held in his hand while crossing the flooded Periyar river during Tipu’s invasion. It was housed in a room in the Matha all these years even during the absence of a Shankaracharya in the peetham. Saddened by this utter disregard for the sacred by rogue elements of the Ananthasai Balasadanam management, the Swamiyar took the first legal step to remove the encroachers away from his Matha by submitting a number of petitions to various authorities of the district administration. As expected, the Communist establishment decided to maintain silence in this issue concerning a Hindu yati.
Hence, the Swamiyar decided to assert his rights to perform Yogeshwara puja to the brindavana of his predecessors inside the Matha premises of Thiruvananthapuram. He formally requested the Ananthasai Balasadanam management to facilitate the pooja performance in the Matha property. They locked the building and disappeared. Then the Acharya went and sat outside the Matha building on Guru Purnima which marked the beginning of Chaturmasya of this year. Recognising the gravity of the situation, the local police asked the Swamiyar and his followers to not forcefully enter the Matha citing law and order issue. So the Swamiyar had no other way but perform Chaturmasya puja on the dirty street in front of the mutt. Chaturmasya vrata is a four month long fasting, penance and rituals performed by practitioners. Its very important for the Sannyasins to observe this holy period with regular religious observance. It’s been almost a week now that the Religious head of the Travancore Kingdom is performing his religious rituals in a dirty street as the Hindus of the secular Democracy became progressive enough to trespass and evict an elderly seer to homelessness.
Interestingly, barely any media reported this appalling dishonour of a Hindu religious head. Those who reported the story tried to side with the balasadanam management by questioning the legality of Moopil Swamiyar’s claim on the property. However, revenue records shows Munchira Matha as the owner of the property. Moreover, RTI application reveals that nobody really applied for license and registration for running any institutions in the Matha property near Mithranandapuram Temple.
One should wonder if this is the respect with which our country is treating a Sanyasi who belongs to the line of Adi Shankara Bhagavatpada, how can we expect equal treatment for ordinary Hindu citizens?
While we are celebrating the regime of a government which is expected to be sympathetic towards the Hindu cause, a Shankaracharya has been made to fight his way out in the streets for the past 3 years. There was no one to even to throw light on his misery when he had to sleep in the Trivandrum Central Railway Station. The local Hindus are also afraid of supporting the Acharya in public fearing the wrath of the organisation which is squatting in the Matha property. If the so called saviours of Hindus themselves are stealing the property of the traditional institutions of the Hindu community, what resumption are we waiting for to happen? Will those in top leadership listen to the Shankaracharya’s claim and control the rogue elements who have subjected him to all kinds of mental torture? Only time will tell.
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