Dr. Sree Sree Shivakumar Swamiji
A true Karmayogi
Sri Shivakumara Swamiji of Siddaganga Math has no faith in any religion other,than the religion of humanity. He has opened the doors of knowledge to the poor and the oppressed, and provided them with food and shelter. Chethana Dinesh meets the towering personality who dreams of a world where peace reigns unopposed.
“Buddhi, a high-ranking government officer wants to meet you,” whispers a man in Swamiji’s ears. “Buddhi, we’ll be greatly honoured if you visit our college today,” pleads a bunch of blue-coat clad college lads. “Buddhi, what shall we prepare for prasada today?” the cook wants to know. “Buddhi, a group of people from Jewargi are waiting to seek your blessings,” announces another man. The Swamiji, affectionately addressed as ‘Buddhi’ by people at the math, lifts his head slowly from behind the huge pile of files he is examining and answers them all patiently - “Seat the officer in the room. Alright, I’ll come. I hope you’re all studying well. Prepare anything of your choice. Let the people from Jewargi in because they still have a long journey back home.”
This is just two minutes in the day of Dr Sri Shivakumara Swamiji of Siddaganga Math. Even a few hours with the Swamiji is enough to acquaint us to the 18-hour work schedule of this 101-year-old whose passion for relentless service to humanity can put even a hi-flying professional to shame.
The Swamiji’s journey on the path of service started as early as 1930 when Sri Uddhana Shivayogi, the then pontiff of the math, initiated him into the viraktashram order. This choice of Sri Uddhana Shivayogi came as a pleasant surprise to Shivanna (as he was then called), who was still pursuing his third year degree course in the Central College, Bangalore. Not the one to be deterred by his special status, the Swamiji vowed to lead the math in the path of progress. And succeeded too. Today the math boasts of 128 educational institutions, offers free food, accommodation and education to over 8,500 students irrespective of their caste, community or religion, apart from the other developmental works it engages itself in.
But the long journey to sweet success hasn’t been an easy one and the humble 101-year-old doesn’t admit it too. “Daiveche (God’s will),” is all that he has to say. Prod him a little and he says, “I just carried forward the work initiated by my respectable gurus.”
By ‘Gurus’, he means Adavi Swami, the predecessor of Sri Uddhana Shivayogi, who started the practice of ‘dasoha’ or free feeding in the math at a time when the math had very little or no resources to boast of. Then followed Sri Uddhana Shivayogi, who not only continued the dasoha programme but also started a Sanskrit College way back in 1917, and kept its doors open to students of all communities and religions. That too at a time when even hearing, let alone uttering, Sanskrit words by the members of lower castes was considered a crime.
With such illustrious Gurus as his predecessors, Sri Shivakumara Swamiji says he knew exactly what to do and did not rest till he achieved what he set out to. “Not that he rests now,” says Mr Renukaradhya, a person who spends most of his time with the Swamiji. “Why should I?” the Swamiji seems to ask, as he says, “Kayakave Kailasa (Work is worship),” one of the philosophies of Sri Basavanna, renowned religious and social reformer of the 12th century. Yes, the Swamiji not only preaches Basavanna’s philosophy but also practices them religiously.
Way back in 1930, it did not take long for the Swamiji to realise the magnitude of responsibility that rested on his frail shoulders. So, off he went, on foot to the various villages around Kyathasandra, where the math is situated, to collect donations. Be it vegetables, pulses or cereals, the farmers gave him willingly and the Swamiji accepted gladly, to feed hundreds of hungry souls who, deprived of even one square meal a day at their homes, had taken shelter in the math. This donation of farmers, which started thus, continues to this day. The only difference being the farmers willingly visit the math with their donations and offer it to the Swamiji. “The first harvest is always reserved for the math,” says Mr Renukaradhya.
Feeding over 10,000 people comprising students, devotees and visitors to the math, thrice a day, is no mean achievement. According to members of the math, the monthly expenditure of running the math is close to Rs 30 lakh, met mainly by generous donations from the public. What about the government? “Well, government aid comes in the form of partial financial support in the maintenance of a few destitute children,” say sources in the math.
The practice of dasoha in the math has gained so much of popularity that many, including former president Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma, admit there is no other institute in the whole of India that is into service to humanity of this magnitude. Regular visitors to the math even wonder if Siddaganga Math is an ‘Akshaya Patre’ and the fire lit in the math kitchen is ever extinguished.
The idealist and humanitarian Swamiji is quite particular that nobody visiting the math should leave without having food. His parting words to people, at any time of the day, is - “Take the prasada before you go.” Be it a minister of the Cabinet rank or a poor farmer, they have to partake of the same prasada as the math stresses on social equality.
An otherwise gentle Swamiji, a devout and an ardent disciple of Basavanna, gets all fired up when talking about discrimination of every kind dogging the society. “This nation will not progress unless this meaningless caste system is abolished. Fighting in the name of religion is another social evil. When will it all end?” he asks, a question for which there are no answers.
But the Swamiji, who has no faith in any religion other than the religion of humanity, has been contributing in his own way for the eradication of social evils like discrimination on the basis of caste and the practice of untouchability by taking needy students, irrespective of their caste, community and religion, under his protective care.
When the Swamiji assumed the leadership of the math in 1941, after the demise of Sri Uddhana Shivayogi, there were only about 200 students in the math. The ceaseless and untiring efforts of the Swamiji has seen the growth of the math which now has over 8,500 students under its wings.
One of Swamiji’s fondest dreams is to establish a caste-free society, which was also the dream of Basavanna. The result? There are over 500 Vokkaligas, 69 Muslims, 8 Christians and over 2000 students belonging to the backward communities.
“The only prerequisite for joining the math is the willingness to study,” say volunteers at the math who also say the Swamiji never denies any needy student an admission in the math.
Love for children:
Ask the Swamiji what in life he enjoys most and pat comes the reply - “Being with children.” His love for children is writ large on his face even when he speaks about them. He also makes it a point to enquire after each one of them personally. Concerned about their well-being, he is eager to make them feel at home in the math.
“His favourite pastime is to sit amidst children in the dining hall. He even admonishes children who, he feels, are not eating enough,” says Mr Renukaradhya.
The selfless love he showers on them and the deep concern he has for them brings most of these children back to the math, even long after their education. To this day, many employees at the math are beneficiaries of the math’s largesse, who have returned to willingly offer their service to the math to which they owe their very being.
In the words of Mr K S Shankaraiah, “I was nothing before I came to the math. Belonging to a poor family, education was just a dream, a mirage. Fortunately for me, my admission in the math meant an admission to the world of literates.”
Mr Shankaraiah, who finished his eduaction at the Siddaganga First Grade College, served as a lecturer in the college and retired as a professor. So are Mr P N Chandrashekaraiah, Mr P V Hucchaveeraiah and many others who are actively into the various administrative tasks of the math, long after their retirement.
The daily routine of students at the math is a healthy blend of education, spirituality and service. Waking up at 5.30 in the morning, these students have a mass prayer at 6 am. Then follows their Sanskrit class that begins at 7.30 am. Sanskrit classes are compulsory for all the inmates of the math as Swamiji considers it every Indian’s birthright to learn the ‘language of the Gods’. Their regular classes are held between 10.30 am and 5.30 pm. Post-school, these children engage themselves in various activities of the math, before assembling for their evening prayers at 6.30 pm. After their prayers is the study time.
Both the prayer sessions, officiated by the Swamiji, ends with a discourse on good morals and principles that is generally related in the form of stories.
“My endeavour is not just to provide them with shelter and education, but to make them into good citizens too, as the future of our country depends on them,” says the Swamiji.
The Swamiji’s commitment to the spread of good values is ably supported by over 128 educational institutes operating under the banner of Sree Siddaganga Education Society. These educational institutions, mostly established in the rural areas of the State, range from kindergarten to advanced technical education.
“Education is the only tool that empowers a human being. It is only through education that people can gain awareness,” says the Swamiji, who emphasises the fact that social awareness is what frees a man from the shackles of blind beliefs, superstitions and, above all, social evils.
The Swamiji, who firmly believes that farmers are the backbone of our society, organises many activities to bring about social awareness among them. One such regular feature during the Mahashivarathri festival is the annual cattle fair when farmers numbering over a lakh converge at the math with their cattle. A massive Agricultural and Industrial Exhibition also forms a part of this 15-day fair and serves as a platform for participants to learn about advancements in the field of agriculture and share their views and experiences with experts in the field. Needless to say, all the participants are provided with free food by the math.
Developmental works apart, the Swamiji lays equal emphasis on cultural activities too. Cultural programmes are, in fact, seen as effective tools to bring about social transformation. Drama is one such medium the Swamiji adopts to build social awareness and drive in the eternally relevant messages of Basavanna. Every year Basava Jayanthi celebrations are held in villages when the drama troupe of the math travels to the interior parts of the State and stages plays themed on Basavanna’s philosophy. These plays, that run through the night, always has the Swamiji as one of its patient audiences.
To this day, the Swamiji doesn’t wear glasses! His eyesight is still sharp enough to catch any mistake his accountant has made in the files pertaining to the administrative aspects of the math. His writing too is quite legible. However, the only support he takes is that of a walking stick, but still manages to walk briskly.
Ask him about the secret of his good health and all that you get is a benign smile that gives it all - hard work, concern for fellow beings and minimal eating habits.
In recognition of Swamiji’s relentless service to humanity, the Government of Karnataka has recommended his name for the prestigious Bharat Ratna Award.
But, the Swamiji? Well, celebrations, awards and accolades concern him the least. He continues to toil for the upliftment of the downtrodden, living up to his ideal ‘Kayakave Kailasa’.
A slice of Swamiji’s life
A simple man that he is, Sri Shivakumara Swamiji, even at the ripe age of 101, is both a light eater and a light sleeper. He sleeps only for three hours a day, from 11 pm to 2 am. His routine runs like this:
* 2 am - 3 am: Study.
* 3 am - 3:30 am: Bath.
* 3:30 am - 5:30 am: Meditation, pooja and the singing of bhajans, followed by breakfast.
* 5:30 am onwards: Participating in the prayer session of students, concentrating on the various developmental and administrative aspects of the math.
* 6 pm - 8 pm: Evening prayer session with students, followed by the singing of bhajans.
* 8 pm - 11 pm: Devoted to the study of various philosophers.
The Swamiji, who is known for the meaningful talks he delivers, is forever in demand and hence travels a lot.
His eating habits are also as simple as the man himself. He only eats one small idli with non-spicy dal and a piece of fruit for breakfast. His lunch is a small ball of ragi and a little rice with dal, while his supper is even lighter. Not in the habit of drinking cofee, tea or milk, he only drinks bevina kashaya (a concoction made of ground neem leaves).
A learned man that he is, the Swamiji never misses his morning newspapers. Keeping himself abreast of the happenings around the world, the Swamiji admits he is pained by the violence and gore that threatens the world.
* Year of Birth: 1908.
* Place of Birth: Veerapura, Magadi Taluk, Bangalore District.
* Parents: Patel Honnappa and Gangamma.
* Primary Education: Veerapura & Nagavalli.
* Secondary Education: Government High School, Tumkur.
* Pre-University & Graduation: Central College, Bangalore.
Location - About 64 kms from Bangalore on NH 4, the Bangalore-Poona highway.
Founder - Sri Gosala Siddeshwara Shivayogi.