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Sri Pejawar Swamiji: A Life Dedicated To Dalit Upliftment And Hindu Unity

Whenever anyone actively works for the upliftment and strengthening of Hindu community and dharma, they get targeted by the usual suspects in the media and social justice warriors. The Pejawar mutt Acharya Sri Vishwesha Thirtha Swamiji of Udupi Sri Krishna Mutt is the new victim of such attacks by the Breaking India forces.

The contributions of Shri Vishwesha Theertha Swamiji towards ending discrimination and shaping ties between the different communities to cater to the needs of the contemporary Hindu society pose a substantial challenge to the Breaking India forces and their sinister plots to dismantle Hindu civilisation. Pejawar Swamiji has been vocal about the need for a revival of the Hindu spirit, which can gain rapprochement from the Muslim and Christian communities as well.  Along the lines of ‘Chalo Una’ movement and under the patronage of prominent figures of the NGO – liberal coterie, ‘Udupi Chalo’ was organised accusing the Udupi Mutt of discrimination against Dalits. Although Swamiji has worked his entire life for the marginalised and downtrodden in the society, the propaganda apparatus of the Breaking India forces relentlessly campaigned against him by accusing him of mistreatment of Dalits. To counter this propaganda, it is important to sensitize the public regarding Swamiji’s life and his work for the empowerment of the humanity transcending the barriers of caste, creed and religion.

The year was 1937. Six year old Venkataramana was playing near his house in Ramakunja when he accidentally fell into a pond nearby. Unable to swim, the young kid quickly started drowning. However, the grace of paramatma was on him and a boy passing nearby spotted the kid struggling to stay afloat. He raised an alarm which brought Venkataramana’s parents to the place and the kid was saved. The parents thanked the boy profusely for saving their son’s life.

The six year old kid also expressed his gratefulness and said “You saved my life today. I shall forever be thankful to you. However, I noticed you didn’t rescue me yourself but called for help. Do you not know swimming?” The boy replied, “I know swimming. But you are a Brahmin and I belong to the backward class. So I cannot touch you”. Those words of the young Dalit boy made a deep impact on the mind of the young Venkataramana. He never forgot the incident, nor did he forget the words of the boy.

Two years after that incident, as desired by Lord Vittala, Venkataramana had not only become a sannyasi, but was also appointed as the head of the Pejawar Matha, one of the ashta mathas of Udupi following the Dvaita Vedanta tradition started by Sri Madhwacharya. The young Sri Vishwesha Tirtha Swamiji, as Venkataramana would thenceforth be known as, began his extraordinary journey in making a deep and lasting impact on the Hindu society in the 20th and 21st century.

Immediately after his coronation as the peetadhipati of the Pejawar Matha at Chakrateertha, Hampi, Swamiji was accepted as a student by Sri Vidyamanya Tirtha Swamiji of the Bhandarakere Matha near Udupi. Sri Vidyamanya Tirtha was an extraordinary scholar of his times and being under his tutelage ensured that the naturally gifted boy turned into a profound scholar of Sruti, Smriti, Vedanta and other Shastras.

War on untouchability

Although the young Sannyasi’s time would primarily be occupied by religious and spiritual activities, he would never give up his ambition to work towards the upliftment of the Dalit and backward communities of India. Swamiji had utilized the incident in his childhood to create a goal for himself to reform Hindu society.

During the early part of the 20th century, untouchability was rampant. The madhwa mathas were no exception to this practice. However, the social reformer in Sri Pejawar Swamiji refused to accept the idea that some of our “own” could be kept away from social integration. He declared that the practice of untouchability was a blot on our dharma and society. “Once dalits accept other religions, we stop practicing untouchability with the converts. How is it then practiced with those still in our sanatana dharma fold?” – Swamiji questioned the hardliners thus. Dalits and backward communities were allowed access to have darshan and partake prasada in the Udupi Krishna Matha due to the efforts of Swamiji.

The initiatives of Swamiji were not limited to the precincts of the Udupi mathas. In 1970, he presided over a conference of over 40 mathadhipatis at Udupi. At a time when interaction with even the leaders of the non-brahmin communities were avoided, he invited and ensured participation of non-brahmin mathadhipatis in the conference. A unanimous resolution, declaring untouchability as being totally out of place in Hindu dharma, was passed in the conference. Swamiji called upon the entire Hindu community to throw out the practice completely out of their lives. Swamiji hugged a senior IAS officer belonging to the Scheduled Caste on stage to declare his war on untouchability.

He followed up his speech with concrete action. He visited a dalit colony in Malleshwaram, Bengaluru and participated in pooja over there. He also declared that he would undertake a fast whenever atrocities against the downtrodden occurred. He has kept up those words of his for the past 45 years.

Swamiji, the social activist

Sri Pejawar Swamiji realized quite early in his life the importance of providing quality education on religious and secular subjects. This realization has translated into Swamiji establishing, and successfully running, many educational institutions across the country. More than 20 schools spread across South India, special schools in Karnataka for the specially-abled children and a number of veda pathashalas in Karnataka are a result of his passion for providing education to children.

In Udupi and Bangalore, Swamiji has established hospitals that provide state of the art medical facilities at reasonable costs to all citizens without discrimination. Another cause that is dear to Swamiji’s heart is the protection of cows. A magnificent go-shala at Neelavara near Udupi is testimony to his efforts at protecting cattle. Over the decades he has held numerous protests and fasts demanding a complete ban on cow slaughter.

Swamiji has also been quick in providing relief to people affected from natural disasters. In the 1970s, a terrible hurricane stuck Hamsaladivi in Andhra Pradesh and thousands were rendered homeless. Dalits were the most affected by this natural calamity. Swamiji led the rehabilitation efforts and personally supervised the construction of over 150 homes. In another incident in Gulbarga, a famine stuck in the year 1975. Swamiji rushed to the villages of this district in Karnataka and setup numerous “Ganji Kendras” providing rice porridge to the suffering villagers.

Integrating Dalits into the Hindu mainstream

Swamiji’s activism towards Dalit upliftment has continued unhindered for more than 7 decades. In the 90s, a school in Dharwad, which was providing education to Dalits and the children of Devadasis was undergoing several hardships. Swamiji intervened personally to ensure that the Government of Karnataka accorded recognition to the school so that the children who graduated from it faced no difficulty in getting themselves admitted for higher education elsewhere.

At the dawn of the 21st century, Swamiji came up with another new initiative to increase the intermingling of the various communities within Hinduism and remove segregation. He personally started visiting numerous Dalit colonies.  Swamiji would undertake a “paadayatra” into these colonies and would engage with the residents there. He would enter their houses, bless the residents, receive their “pooja” and give them guidance. Another important ingredient of these visits was the orientation given by Swamiji to the residents on various aspects of Hindu religion. He would direct them on worshiping Hindu Gods and guide them with easy steps to follow Hindu rituals and customs.

A part of this program was the giving of the “Vaishnava Deeksha” or initiation into Vaishnavism by Swamiji. Upon receiving this deeksha, Dalits become Vaishnavas and follow the ‘Bhakti Marga’ propagated by great Saints of the Vaishnava tradition such as Sri Madhwacharya. An excellent role model for this is the great bhakti proponent Sri Kanakadasa who, in spite of being born in a lower caste, became a great devotee of Sri Krishna and composed hundreds of “padas” or songs in the Vaishnava tradition. Swamiji has stated on many occasions that this Vaishnava Deeksha initiative of his is to ensure that Dalits are also fully accustomed to Hindu rituals and traditions. It not only gives them a sense of belonging but also deepens their bond with Sanatana Dharma. Swamiji firmly believes that a strong connect with Hindu rituals will remove the inferiority complex in them.

Swamiji has also arranged programs that complement the visits to Dalit colonies. Swamijis of Dalit gurupeethas undertake paadayatra to areas which are pre-dominantly Brahmin inhabited. During this paadayatra, the leaders of the Brahmin communities welcome the Dalits and give them traditional honors. Once again, such programs initiate the exercise of rooting-out centuries old rigid dogmas persisting in communities and help all sections of Hindus integrate with each other.

Resistance against evangelism

Sri Swamiji realized that if Dalits are not reassured of their belongingness in Hindu society, then they would become open to the call of the missionaries and evangelists. The loss, he felt, would be only of the Hindu community, if Dalits deserted Hinduism. With this in mind, Swamiji has, for decades, undertaken work to ensure Dalits do not leave Hinduism.

In 1981, a series of conversion activities were reported from Meenakshipuram area of Tamilnadu. A huge controversy erupted over these activities. Swamiji immediately rushed to Meenakshipuram and led an effective campaign to nullify the efforts of the missionaries. His active involvement succeeded in putting an end to the conversion efforts there. At the end of this incident, Swamiji did not forget to deliver an important lesson to fellow Hindus. “One must realize that the deeply rooted religious dogmas being persisted by Hindus has led to the current situation” – he thundered.

Swamiji’s involvement in the Rama Janma Bhumi movement is well recorded. But his efforts related to Hindu Centers is not restricted to only Udupi and Ayodhya. Around 2005-06, a controversy arose in Tirumala Mahakshetra when some missionaries were found engaging in evangelism on the holy hills. Swamiji sprung into immediate action and reached Tirumala. At the time, he was also the vice-president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Using that authority, Swamiji constituted a 5-member fact finding committee under the Chairmanship of Justice Bhikshapathy, a retired Judge of the AP High Court to investigate the activities. Based on the findings of the committee, Swamiji pressurized the AP Government to ensure strict implementation of its laws preventing any non-Hindu activity on the 7 hills.

Spirituality – for all Hindus!

Swamiji has enthusiastically promoted the religious leaders of other non-brahmin communities as well. In 2016, he gave ‘Sanyasa Deeksha’ to 34-year-old Bharath Raje Urs, who belonged to the Kshatriya community. Post Sanyasa, the new sannyasi, now known as ‘Vishwadhiraja Tirtha Swami’, became head of the Sri Rajarajeshwari Samasthana Kshatriya Peetha.

More than 450 years ago, the great Haridasa Poet Sri Kanakadasa visited Udupi and desired to have darshan of Lord Krishna. History is witness to the difficulties the dear devotee of Krishna had to face in order to see HIM. At that time, it was only the divine power and determination of Sri Kanakadasa, which enabled him to finally get darshan of his Lord.

Nearly 5 centuries later, in April 2017, Sri Vishwesha Tirtha Swamiji of the Pejawara Matha gave Vaishnava Deeksha to a Dalit right inside the premises of the Krishna Matha in Udupi. It was a revolutionary and transformative moment in the history of Hindu religion. And the symbolism of the location simply cannot be ignored. The credit for this attempt at radical transformation can go to none other than Sri Pejawar Swamiji.

If the social justice warriors and champions of Dalits were earnest in their cause, they would have marched behind Swamiji and Udupi mutt by supporting the efforts of the mutt in building harmony and peace in and around Udupi.  But the English language media and the elite socialites always had different priorities. They pitch on caste fault-lines, to defeat the revival of the Indic civilisation. Anyone who is denying them an opportunity to crush ‘Hindutva’ will be attacked using tooth and nail.

May Sri Pejawar Swamiji continue to lead Hindu religion out of its dogmas and reach its glorious spiritual and cultural heights!

(This article was published by IndiaFacts in 2017)

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