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Deccan Herald » Sunday Spotlight » Detailed Story
Battling for a spiritual seat in Badrinath
Shishir Prashant in Dehra Dun
The Jyotirpeeth mutt, the seat of the Badrinath Shankaracharya is in the eye of a storm.
Controversies seem to follow seers nowadays. The latest row after the Kanchi Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati episode is a legal dispute over the control of the prestigious Jyotirpeeth mutt, the seat of the Badrinath Shankaracharya. The three shankaracharyas – Swami Swaroopanand of Dwarka Shardapeeth, Swami Vasudevanand of Badrinath Jyotirpeeth and Swami Madhavashram of Badrinath are embroiled in a longstanding legal battle to stake their claim for the special, religious seat of the math established by the great seer Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th century.

Ugly face

Unwittingly, the three shankaracharyas have laid bare the ugly face of religion.

The fact is that it is just another power game not very different from the dirty politics of politicians. There is no murder charge in the Jyotirpeeth case but the theft charges against Swami Swaroopanand and Swami Vasudevanand have once brought to the fore politics in religious places. “This is a very sad chapter in our religion; even shankaracharyas have to face a test, and prove that they are the true leaders,” said Swami Parmanand Saraswati, head of the Juna Akhara in Hardwar. It’s dirty politics in post-independent India.

Muslim kings

“Hinduism faced assaults from Muslim kings frequently during the medieval period. But what is happening now is a low point,” said Subhash Baru, an expert on Indian history.

Badrinath, which is also known as Vishal Badri, is one of the ‘chardhams’ in the country. It was built by Adi Shankracharya in the eighth century, dedicated to lord Vishnu, and renovated several times. It was restored in the 19th century by the royal houses of Scindia and Holker. The tradition of nominating a new successor to the shankaracharyas was smooth till the early 1950s. Jyotirpeeth Shankaracharya Swami Brahmanand passed away without nominating a successor.

This triggered off a controversy. While Swami Shantanand was still controlling the Jyotirpeeth, Swami Swaroopanand established his own mutt close to Jyotirpeeth in Joshimath in Chamoli district where the Badrinath temple is located.


The tussle to control Jyotirpeeth began when Swami Shantanand nominated Vishvadevanand as his successor in 1979, much to the displeasure of Swami Swaroopanand, who claims he is the seniormost disciple of Swami Brahmanand, a highly respected man. Swami Vasudevanand claimed that he was the true successor of Swami Brahmanand and Swami Shantanand. This was the beginning of litigation: both the shankaracharyas accused each other of encroachment.

Meanwhile, Swami Madhavaasharam declared he was the new shankaracharya three years ago – the local people in Garhwal backed him. Without losing any time, he laid claim to the Jyotirpeeth by declaring he was the “real” Shankaracharya.

BJP protest

On February 16 this year, the Chamoli district administration, apparently under pressure from the Congress government which supports Swami Swroopanand, declared a closure of the Jyotirpeeth Mutt. Realising the importance of the issue, the BJP held rallies in Joshimath against the decision.

As it hotted up, the government, pressurised, handed the Jyotirpeeth Mutt back to Swami Vasudevanand, who is backed by the BJP. In order to settle a score, Swami Vasudevanand also filed an FIR in the Joshimath police station charging the supporters of his rival shankaracharya with theft of ornaments and other valuables belonging to Goddess Purnadevi temple in Jyotirpeeth. “We are investigating the theft case. But I cannot comment now,” said Superintendent of Police Chamoli Ashok Kumar Tamta. The matter will be resolved only when the final verdict is given as so many cases are pending, experts said. The issue has been politicised. Jagat Singh Bist, CEO of Badrinath-Kedarnath Temple Samiti, said: “Political parties should stay away from temples and mosques.”

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