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Away from prying eyes they pray

The two Kanchi Shankaracharyas spent their four-month retreat praying at Tirupati, reports Renuka Narayanan.

india Updated: Jan 20, 2006 08:53 IST

A year ago, the press and police milled around the two Kanchi Shankaracharyas; Nepalese wrestlers and prisoners in Coimbatore jail fasted for their release and the Ulema spoke up for them.

Since their release from Vellore Central Jail on bail last January, senior Kanchi Shankaracharya Srisri Jayendra Saraswati and the junior pontiff, Srisri Vijayendra Saraswati, have spent a year of quietude that recalls the even tenor of their lives 15 springs ago— before they became embroiled in national politics. They spent their customary four-month retreat, chaturmasya (July to October), meditating and praying at Tirupati.

Kalavai, their chosen retreat while their case is being decided, is a village about 120 km from Chennai. It draws a trickle of visitors, no more than 20 a day, compared to the hundreds that once thronged the fortress-like Kamakoti Mutt dominating the temple town of Kanchi on 1, Salai Street. Deep amidst paddy fields, coconut groves and jingling carts is the one-and-a-half acre Sankara Mutt.

A few small, low hutments are set amidst neem trees and in the largest room, both swamijis sustain their habitual long daily pujas to Shiva as Sri Chandramouliswara, presiding deity of Kanchipuram, with only a handful of attendants — and uniformed security guards at the gate.

The junior swami maintains moun vrat though he smiles cordially at visitors, while the senior swami is willing to tell those who ask the historical resonance of this retreat. Just published at his behest is a colour monograph by eminent archaeologist R. Nagaswamy, on this 7th century Pallava dynasty village. Later, Chola kings called it scholars' settlement. It lost its status during the Raj but retains spiritual lustre as the burial place of two previous Shankaracharyas and the spot where the senior swami's predecessor, the Paramacharya, took sanyas in 1907.

"I feel my guru's grace around me here," says the senior swami, who discourses on how Adi Shankara's message remains relevant to modern Hindus through his Bhaja Govindam. "This poem has existential verses warning believers to seek God since the world flocks around only so long as one has wealth and power," he says.

"This is a peaceful place, we like it here," says a mutt official. "Hopefully, the worst is over."

First Published: Jan 20, 2006 01:12 IST