The seer of the Shiroor Matha in Karnataka’s Udupi, Lakshmivara Theertha Swamiji (55), died at the KMC Hospital in Manipal Thursday, two days after he was hospitalised for suspected food poisoning, acute stomach pain and vomiting. One of his brothers has filed a complaint at the Hiriadka police station in Udupi, alleging that his brother was poisoned.
Lakshmivara Theertha headed the Shiroor Matha, one of the eight mathas or the Ashta Mathas linked to the Udupi Sri Krishna temple, and was at loggerheads with the seers of the other mathas.
The artistically inclined Lakshmivara Theertha Swamiji, who revelled in music and played the guitar, was unlike the other seers of the Ashta Mathas in outlook.
They had opposed him recently for a statement he reportedly made, suggesting that he had sired a child. He had also reportedly said that many of the other seers had also sired children in contravention of rules of the Matha.
The Shiroor Matha seer fell ill on July 17 after he reportedly attended a Vanamahatosav program at Shiroor and ate some snacks served to him and other participants including children. He was taken to the Kasturba Hospital in Manipal the same day where he later died.
In a statement, the hospital said: “There is suspicion of poisoning and toxicological samples have been sent. He was declared dead at 8 am on July 19.”
“On arrival, he was found to be critically ill with breathlessness, severe hypotension and massive gastrointestinal bleeding. He had a history of diarrhoea prior to this episode.”
The seer’s brother Lathavya Acharya has filed a complaint with the local police stating that he suspects foul play in the death of the seer and has demanded a high-level probe into the death.
Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy said that an inquiry will be ordered if necessary as some people had called the seer’s death suspicious. “He became the head of the Matha at the tender age of eight and conducted three paryayas (a biennial ritual at the Sri Krishna temple conducted in turn by seers of the eight Ashta Mathas). He was also accomplished in several art forms,” he said.
The Shiroor Matha seer was embroiled in a controversy with the seers of the Ashta Mathas at the time of his death over a television clip that emerged in March. In the video, he reportedly stated that he was the father of a child and that many of the other seers had also fathered children. Later, the Shiroor seer had denied that statement and had claimed that the video was fake.
The seers of the other Ashta Mathas had not taken kindly to Lakshmivara Theertha’s generalised remarks about them and had sent a legal notice to the seer and had been boycotting him.
In the last week of June and in the first week of July, the seers of the other Ashta Mathas held meetings to contemplate disciplinary action against the Shiroor seer and a decision was taken to ask Lakshmivara Theertha to step down as the head of the Shiroor Matha and to appoint a new head seer.
Following his death, the head of the Pejavar Matha Vishwesha Theertha Swami — best known of the Ashta Matha seers — rejected the theory that the Shiroor Matha seer may have died due to poisoning.
“Why would anyone kill the Shiroor seer? His brothers have said that it was food poisoning,” he said in Hubbali.
Lakshmivara Theertha Swamiji had initially filed his nomination to contest the May 2018 assembly polls in Karnataka as an independent after initially seeking a BJP ticket. He later briefly seemed to support the Congress candidate before withdrawing his nomination and backing the BJP.
In 2007, Lakshmivara Theertha was at the centre of a storm after he went against other seers of the Ashta Mathas to back the Puttige Matha head seer Sugunendra Theertha to conduct the paryaya at the Sri Krishna Temple when the Puttige Matha head was being opposed since he had travelled to foreign countries by crossing the seven seas against the norms of the Matha.