Kancheepuram, (TN): Kanchi Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswathi, regarded as one of the most influential spiritual leaders of his time but whose shock arrest in a murder case robbed the spiritual shine of the Kanchi mutt, died here on Wednesday. He was 82.
The seer, who had been unwell for the past few months, had complained of uneasiness this morning and was rushed to the nearby medical facility sponsored by the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam.
Jayendra Saraswathi died of cardiac arrest, said sources at the Adi Bhagavadpada Cardiac and Dialysis Centre.
Jayendra Saraswathi's most challenging period came in 2004 when he was arrested on the eve of Diwali in connection with a murder of a temple manager, A Sankararaman, during the Jayalalithaa regime, sending shockwaves.
The trial court had later acquitted him and others including his deputy Vijayendra Saraswathi in the case.
A pall of gloom descended on this temple town, 75 km from Chennai, as soon as the news of the death of the 69th pontiff of Kanchi Sankara Mutt established by Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th century spread.
The seer is credited with taking social outreach programmes to the common people and who wielded enormous influence in matters affecting the Hindu religion in the country including the vexed Ayodhya issue.
His face in repose, eyes closed and hands folded, the body was brought in a chair to a hall in the mutt as grieving devotees began to pay their last respects to the revered Hindu seer.
Followers wept as the body of the Shankaracharya was placed at a vantage spot in the Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam so that his legion of followers could bid him goodbye.
"He was the 'jagatguru' (guru of the world)," a distraught woman devotee said.
The Shankaracharya's forehead was smeared with vibuthi (holy ash) and dotted with red kumkum and strings of garlands were wreathed around his neck.
According to officials, the body will be kept for public view till tomorrow morning after which the last rites will be conducted amid vedic rituals. The rites have been described as 'Brindavana Pravesha Karyakramam' in vedic parlance.
The saint will be laid to rest adjacent to his predecessor within the mutt premises tomorrow, its manager Sundaresa Iyer said.
The junior pontiff Vijayendra Saraswathi will succeed Jayendra Saraswathi, who was heading the mutt since 1994 after receiving the traditional mantle from his predecessor, the late Sri Chandrasekarendra Saraswathi.
Born as Subramanian in Irulneeki village in Tiruvarur district in Tamil Nadu, Jayendra Saraswathi was appointed as junior pontiff of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam in 1954 by Chandrasekarendra Saraswathi at a young age of 19.
He had his share of both glory and controversy, with the seer managing to overcome the ordeal of the infamous Sankarraman murder case.
Sankararaman, manager of the Sri Varadarajaperumal temple here, was brutally murdered in his office room in the temple on September 3, 2004, by assailants using sharp-edged weapons.
He had levelled charges of financial misappropriation in the mutt administration against Jayendra Saraswathi and Vijayendra Saraswathi.
The seer was arrested on November 11, 2004, from Mahbubnagar in Andhra Pradesh on charges of conspiring to murder Sankararaman.
The two seers were booked for murder and criminal conspiracy under the Indian Penal Code. They rejected the charges.
The senior pontiff was granted bail by the Supreme Court on January 10,2005, after he had spent two months in Vellore jail. Vijayendra Saraswathi was arrested from the mutt on January 10, 2005 and was released on bail a month later.
They later moved the Supreme Court and got the case transferred to Puducherry in 2005 on the ground that the atmosphere in Tamil Nadu was vitiated and there may not be free and fair trial.
In November 2013, the Puducherry Sessions Court acquitted both the seers. Besides them, 21 other accused were also acquitted.
President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi were among a string of leaders who condoled the death of the seer.
"Our country has lost a spiritual leader and social reformer of rare eminence," Kovind said on Twitter
"He will live on in the hearts and minds of lakhs of devotees due to his exemplary service and noblest thoughts. Om Shanti to the departed soul," Modi tweeted.
The pontiff had courted controversy in 1987 when he suddenly disappeared from the mutt. After 17 days, he had his homecoming, and was welcomed by thousands of devotees. He then kickstarted his social organisation, Jana Kalyan.
Jayendra Saraswathi was once considered close to the late chief minister J Jayalalithaa.