Chennai/Madurai: The war of words between controversial Karnataka-based spiritual leader Nithyananda and those opposing his anointment as the 293rd pontiff of the over 1500-year-old Madurai Aadheenam Mutt late last month is turning murkier by the day. The latest is the decision of actor Ranjitha Menon to file a defamation suit against the Hindu seer Kanchi Sankaracharya Jayendra Saraswathi for his comments on the selection of Nithyananda as junior pontiff of the Madurai Mutt, a leading monastery of the Shaivite order.
The Kanchi seer, who is opposed to Nithyananda's anointment, told reporters that the tradition of the Madurai Aadheenam is for its seers to tonsure their heads and wear a rudraksha, but a woman by the name of Ranjitha was with Nithyananda. "Jayendra has said a woman by the name of Ranjitha seems to be with Nithyananda. This comment is certainly unwarranted in the context of his opposition to the choice of Nithyananda as the junior pontiff of Madurai Aadheenam. His comment defames my client and hence the suit," Murugaiyan Babu, the lawyer for Menon, told IANS.
Reacting to the Kanchi seer's views, Nithyananda said Jayendra Saraswathi has no locus standi in the matter as he himself is facing murder charges. The Kanchi seer is facing charges in the 2004 murder of Sankararaman, a Kanchi mutt temple manager.
Those in Jayendra Saraswathi's camp are calling Ranjitha's suit a publicity stunt. Valasai K. Jayaraman, spokesperson for the Kanchi Mutt, told IANS: "Nithyananda needs publicity now. He could have simply said Ranjitha is just his disciple and the matter would have ended there and then. We will face the defamation case." He said Nithyananda had met Jayendra Saraswathi recently at Kashi and told him that only the latter had the power to control him.
Ranjitha's decision has angered Hindu outfits, which are already seething with rage at Nithyananda's appointment as the junior pontiff. S. Jaisankar, founder president of the Vijaya Bharatha Makkal Katchi, told IANS: "There is nothing defamatory in what the Kanchi seer has said. It is just an advice to Nithyananda citing the tradition of the Madurai Mutt."
Two years ago, a video clipping showing Nithyananda in a compromising position with Menon was telecast by television channels. Soon after, Nithyananda was on the run and was arrested in Himachal Pradesh and released on bail later. Recently Nithyananda had challenged the heads of other mutts to install cameras in their bedroom and said he was willing to set an example.
Madurai Aadheenam is said to be over 1,500 years old. It acquired a halo when it was patronised by the seventh century Shaivaite saint Thirugnana Sambandar, one of the 63 'nayanmars'. Sambandar was instrumental in the revival of Hinduism in Tamil Nadu where the popular faiths were Jainism and Buddhism. According to legend, Sambandar brought the Jain Pandya King Koon Pandya into the Hindu fold.
The Madurai Aadheenam is said to own properties worth several crores of rupees though no clear estimation is available. "The Madurai Aadheenam is intended to spread the Saivaite philosophy. A person is chosen as a head of mutt only to propagate its ideals. Nithyananda is already a peedathipathi, setting up his own peedam or organisation. How can one expect Nithyananda to spread the Shaivaite philosophy?" questions Arjun Sampath, president of the Hindu Makkal Katchi.
According to him, Nithyananda had stayed at the Madurai Aadheenam two weeks prior to his anointment as the junior pontiff. "At that time we were told that Nithyananda was there to discuss the Shaivaite philosophy. Later the head of the Madurai Mutt went to Nithyananda's Dhyanapeetam international headquarters in Karnataka," Sampath said.
On April 27, Sri Arunagirinatha Gnanasambanda Desika Paramacharya, the 292nd pontiff of Madurai Aadheenam, declared Nithyananda as his successor at a ceremony held there. Two days later a similar event was held in Madurai.
While the current head of the Madurai Aadheenam stressed his right to choose his successor, Nithyananda termed the ones opposing him as land mafia who were busy enjoying its properties. Nithyananda also termed the raids by the Income Tax Department at the Madurai Aadheenam office as instigated by the DMK, an allegation which the latter has dismissed.