Bengaluru: It was a rare sight of unity as leaders of all three major political parties in Karnataka sat in a huddle on Monday, setting aside their differences and public spats that have dominated headlines in recent weeks.
Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy sat in the centre with the junior pontiff of the Siddaganga Matha, one of the holiest spiritual centres of the Lingayat community, flanked by Union minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and deputy chief minister G.Parameshwara of the Congress. Other leaders like M.B. Patil and former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa looked on, as they discussed the best way to break the news of the death of Sree Sree Sree Sivakumara Swami, the 111-year-old head seer of the over 500-year-old Siddaganga Matha in Tumakuru.
The picture of the leaders together, forgetting their differences was almost a befitting tribute to the seer, rare religious personality viewed not solely through the prism of politics.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to condole the death, pointing to his efforts in helping alleviate poverty, hunger and social injustice while Congress president Rahul Gandhi said the pontiff’s passing leaves behind a deep spiritual void.
The seer died on Monday of respiratory illness.
Considered one of the most influential personalities among the Lingayat-Veerashaiva communities and referred reverently as the ‘walking god’, Sivakumara Swami commanded a following that transcended party lines in caste- dominated Karnataka.
“He was beyond politics, religion, caste," Ramjan Darga, eminent Lingayat scholar and political analyst said.
Though the seer himself did not associate with politics, politicians always found benefit in being seen around him, analysts said, adding that he was consulted by governments on important policy matters.
“Politicians were using him but he was not politically inclined," said S.M. Jamdar, a former IAS officer who was at the forefront for the demand for minority religion status for Lingayats.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national president Amit Shah and Congress chief Rahul Gandhi were only some of the top leaders seen paying their respects to the seer in the run up to the May 2018 assembly elections that had much to do with trying to reach out to the Lingayat community, believed to be the single largest caste grouping in the state.
Now political parties have united again around a demand to confer the Bharat Ratna on the seer.
The seer, one of the senior-most among his contemporaries, was ordained in 1930 and assumed full responsibility of the Matha in 1941 after the death of his Guru Sree Sree Uddanda Swamiji.
The Siddaganga Matha also runs the Sree Siddaganga Education Society that has established more than 130 schools and colleges with over 45,000 students, including 9,000 poor children who are provided free food, accommodation and education without any discrimination.
The education complex consists of schooling from pre-primary to high school, a Sanskrit college, and schools for the blind and differently abled children.
The seer, whose body will be kept for public viewing on Tuesday, will be laid to rest with full state honours.