The highest spiritual authority of Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple, the Pushpanjali Swamiyar, is up against what he terms the “illegal encroachment” of the temple property by the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
The swamiyar, the present chief priest (moopil swamiyar) of the Munchirai Madom in Kanyakumari, wants the RSS to vacate the building it had been occupying on the far western side of the Padmanabha Swamy temple.
The Swamiyar claims the building, a sloping roofed structure with a small in-house courtyard and large airy rooms, belongs to the Munchirai Madom. The RSS spokesperson said the building was in the organisation's possession since 1968, and that the Sangh's charitable wing Sevabharati had been running an orphanage for boys (Ananthashayi Sadanam) in the building from 2007.
Gift for turning away Tipu Sultan
The building overlooks the Mithranandapuram pond, a vast artificial pond where the priests take their ritual bath before conducting pujas in Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple. According to the Swamiyar, the building was an offering made by Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma Maharaja in 1789 to Govinda Brahmananda Theerthar, the sage who established Munchirai Madom in Kanyakumari.
Lore has it that Brahmananda Theerthar had successfully invoked the wind and rain gods to prevent Tipu Sultan's foray into Travancore. Pleased, Karthika Thirunal Maharaja is said to have given him not just an abode near Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple but also made him the Pushpanjali Swamiyar of the temple. The Pushpanjali Swamiyar has the final word on temple rituals; the powers of the 'tantri' and the 'nambis' is said to flow from him.
Real estate mafia
“No one has laid claim to this place in the past 50 years,” said D Vijayan, the state secretary of Sevabharati. “We have 70 orphanages for boys and girls across the state, and this is one of them. Here we have 24 boys, from five years of age to those who are doing their BCom and BSc courses,” he said. The building was converted into Ananthashayi Balasadanam in 2007 after the RSS karyalayam shifted to a new building at the back.
Vijayan questions the motive behind the Swamiyar's “surprise claim”. He produced a 2008 letter written by the then temple executive officer to the revenue principal secretary. The letter states that the Pushpanjali Swamiyar (the predecessor of the present swamiyar) had sold some of the lands allotted to him by the temple. The letter further states that the Pushpanjali Swamiyar has no right to transact land allotted to him.
“We suspect that real estate fraud is the intention of this Swamiyar, too,” Vijayan said. He also alleged that the Swamiyar had the backing of the CPM.
The Pushpanjali Swamiyar, who has adopted Parameshwara Brahmananda Theertha as his name, said he only wants what was tricked out of Munchirai Madom. He now stays in the ground floor of an old, worn two-storied palace building that runs along the eastern side of the east entrance of Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple.
The RSS says that the Swamiyar is supposed to stay where he is, on the eastern side of the temple. There are two Pushpanjali Swamiyar for the temple. One from Naduvil Madom, who has been lodged on the western side of the temple, is called the 'padinjare Pushpanjali Swamiyar' (the West Swamiyar). The other, from Munchirai Madom, the 'East Swamiyar' has been given quarters on the eastern side of the temple. “Why does the east Swamiyar want to come to the western side. They cannot be on the same side,” Sevabharati's Vijayan asked.
The Pushapanjali Swamiyar smiled when he was told of this. “It is the east and west of the Mithranandapuram pond, not the Padmanabha Swamy temple,” he said.
Camel in the tent
According to the Swamiyar, the moopil swamiyars (chief priests) of Munchirai Madom occupied the building near the pond and conducted pujas till 1992. He said the control of the building slipped from the Madom during the tenure of the 44th Pushpanjali Swamiyar from Munchirai Madom, Eranoor Krishna Brahmananda. (The present Swamiyar is the 48th Pushpanjali Swamiyar.)
“The 44th Swamiyar was too old and weak that he thought it would be beneficial if he allowed the son of an old friend to stay with him in the Madom,” the Swamiyar said. This was how Anandapadmanabhan, an SBI employee, started to live with him.
Later, when the 44th Swamikal left for his annual visit to Kanyakumari, Anandapadmanabhan invited his friend E Narayanan Namboodiri to stay with him. The 44th Swamikal died when he was away and it took at least a year for the next Pushpanjali Swamiyar to take his place.
When the 45th Swamiyar, Kutamballi Swamiyar, arrived at the Madom behind the pond, he was not allowed inside. “Narayanan Namboodiri was then an active member of the ABVP (the student's wing of the BJP),” the Swamiyar said.
Kutamballi intimated this to the royal family and, as a stop gap arrangement, he was asked to occupy the ground floor room of a palace building on the eastern side of the temple. The East Swamiyars have ever since been living in this aged creaky building.
The Swamiyar said the 46th Pushpanjali Swamiyar, Choozhikunnam Swamiyar, had arrived determined to occupy the Madom's building. “He too was not allowed. BJP leader P P Mukundan was staying at the building then,” the Swamiyar said.
P P Mukundan told Onmanorama that the RSS had occupied the building with the permission of the royal family. “It is true that they had once occupied the building but then they had left the place long ago. When I first saw the building it was infested with bats and civets. It looked so abandoned that people used to call it 'Bhargavi Nilayam',” he said.
The Swamiyar claims that the building houses two tombs of his predecessors. “It is very important for us to do pujas there,” he said. Mukundan, who had lived in the building for at least seven years, said he had not come across any tombs.
Fight to the finish
When it was his turn in 2016, the Swamiyar said he first spoke to RSS and Sevabharati leaders before taking up his duties. “They assured me that I will be allowed to live in the building,” the Swamiyar said. “In fact, I lived there for two days but after that they asked me to leave,” he said.
This year, the Swamiyar decided to observe 'Chathurmasya' puja inside the building. Chathurmasya puja involves two months of intense penance when the ascetic is forbidden to meet people and go out, and two months of pilgrimage.
When Sevabharati officials refused, he conducted his penance in the narrow stone-paved road right in front of the Ananthashayi orphanage. The fasting old man did his prayers and rituals out in the open for a week.
The RSS says the Swamiyar had sullied the Mithranandapuram pond by secretly going inside the wall of the pond to eat and answer nature's call. “I was on a fast and if at all I needed to go to the toilet I would use the bathroom of the 'Nambi Madom' just a few feet away,” the Swamiyar said.
Will Hedgewar have the last word?
Thiruvananthapuram district collector K Gopalakrishnan had called a meeting on September 15 to sort out issues. The Swamiyar said he had submitted records that show that land taxes and electricity charges have been regularly paid by the Mutt and the temple. Sevabharati asked for more time to come up with relevant documents to prove their claim. The collector has given the RSS time till September 30.
However, the Sangh Parivar outfit is in no mood to vacate the building. When Onmanorama visited Ananthashayi Balasadanam, the building was being renovated. The first image that greets a visitor on entering the neatly kept orphanage is the moustached black-capped portrait of Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, the founder of RSS. “If we were worried about moving out should we carry out such extensive maintenance work,” Vijayan said.
The Swamiyar said he would launch a second fast in front of the building if he did not get justice by September 30.