It is ironic that the Yogi from the Indo-Gangetic heartland is making forays into the South, not to learn any valuable lessons, but to teach them. His visit to Kerala must have seriously challenged his worldview, his vocabularies, and his socialisation, since it must have been an eye-opener to be in the one place in India where both Christianity and Islam have had roots since the very foundation of these religions. Now that he has risked taking his unique “messages” to poll-bound Karnataka, (though the home-grown Ananth Kumar Hegde is revealing his talents in ways that could put the Yogi’s performance in the shade), it may be appropriate to give the honourable chief minister of Uttar Pradesh an alternative optic on a very different part of the peninsula than the one where he has been nurtured.
Let’s begin with a particular Karnataka legacy, the monastic institution called the matha. Karnataka has literally had thousands of mathas — Brahmin, Lingayat, Jain — for hundreds of years. More recently, practically all castes, from Vokkaliga to the Other Backward and Dalit, have found it necessary to establish mathas of their own. By far, however, the Lingayat/Veerashaiva mathas, in existence since at least the 15th century, dominate. In a compendium based on his own fieldwork, Chandrasekhara Naranapura has meticulously documented the founding and activities of 1089 extant Lingayat/Veerashaiva mathas for which there are records (1878 mathas purportedly exist). As M.M. Kalburgi had noted, if Brahmin mathas were “dharmamukhi”, the Lingayat/Veerashaiva mathas, in particular, are enjoined to be “samajamukhi” or engage with the social in a wide variety of ways.
And this is indeed what they have done. The Murugharajendara matha in Chitradurga encouraged enterprising officials of the education department, such as Deputy Channabasappa, to take the lead in Bombay Karnataka (areas in Northern Karnataka under the erstwhile Bombay Presidency), by setting up a Lingayat boarding house in 1868 at Belgaum. At first drawn into providing hostels for their own adherents who attended government schools in Bombay/Mysore towns and villages, the mathas soon established educational institutions of their own.
So, at least since the first decade of the 20th century, Lingayat/Veerashaiva mathas have been directly engaged in building and expanding elementary and higher education, not just for the members of their own sect, but for rural and urban communities more generally. To take just the southern pioneers: Chitradurga’s Murugharajendra matha and Sirigere matha have become inseparable from the hundreds of educational institutions they have founded and run, as have the Suttur matha at Mysore with its huge JSS network and the well known Siddaganga matha of Tumkur. In the last 100 years, they have matched, if not surpassed, the work of the 19th century Christian missionaries in Mysore in bringing education to those who were kept away from such opportunities for centuries.
Nor is this “religious” education of the more sectarian kind. In effect, what the matha offers, apart from Basavatattva (principles of Basava) and the study of the Vedas in some cases, is a general government-recognised education, or training for higher professional degrees. Karnataka’s significant educational achievements today have in part been a result of this extraordinary investment in education made by the Lingayat/Veerashaiva mathas.
Others have followed the model: The Adichunchungiri matha, which the Yogi will visit, has also become a pioneer in education in the Mandya district. Once there, the Yogi may learn a few surprising things: That a somewhat inglorious nath panthi ancestor, another Adityanath, was, at the cusp of the 20th century, the subject of much (Mysore) governmental attention and censure, following complaints from the local rural populace. It took until 1928 to turn Adichunchungiri into a Vokkaliga matha, when Bhaktanathji was anointed as Gururamappa. The matha has gone from strength to strength, working closely in collaboration with another robust institution, the Vokkaligara Sangha.
The engagements of the mathadhipathis in the public and indeed developmental life of the state become evident in the wide range of other activities they have participated in or pioneered. A Nyaya Peetha functions every Monday at the Taralabalu matha in Sirigere, where cases ranging from family disputes, bounced cheques, environmental damage due to mining, or issues of livelihood are adjudicated by Swami Shivamurthy Shivacharya. The Sirigere and Adichunchungiri swamis, to name just two, have taken an active role in the desilting and recharging of tanks, vital to irrigation in the Karnataka region. The Swamis of the Tontadharya matha, Gadag and the Nidamamudi matha in Kolar have routinely worked for an end to sectarian violence and actively campaigned for Dalit/lower caste self redefinition. Swami Panditharadhya of Sanehalli supports theatre and annually hosts a national theatre festival and workshop. And this list can be endlessly expanded.
In other words, orange/saffron in Karnataka has long stood for a number of activities and practices that intersect with the state, non-governmental or community art/culture activities. The term “secular” would only poorly describe the work of the matha in Karnataka, and may even diminish it. But to use “Hindutva” as the rubric to make sense of this array of engagements would be a grievous error. Rallying around the cow may have been a pre-occupation of the Indo-Gangetic heartland from the late 19th century. In Karnataka, not only has the bull been the object of veneration, many Lingayat mathas have nurtured menageries, consisting of rare animals and birds, for the visual pleasure of their innumerable visitors and adherents.
Meanwhile, it should also become clear to the Yogi that the mathadhipatis of Karnataka, despite, or perhaps because of their considerable moral authority and large followings, have (at least thus far) chosen not to be tempted by the rewards of turning into electoral representatives. (This is not to deny that they wield considerable power in that domain.) All this extraordinary and rich flourishing should not come as a terrible shock to the system of one who has known only the moral equivalent of dysnutrition. Yogi Adityanath should, therefore, partake of his discovery of Karnataka’s worlds in homoeopathic doses, extending his education over a longer period of time than the few months left before the Karnataka elections.
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