Social reformer and educationist (1907-2019)

A much revered seer hailed as ‘Nadedhaduva Devaru’ (Walking God) by his legion of followers, Shivakumara Swami who passed away at Tumakuru in Karnataka at the ripe old age of 111 was born on 1 April 1907 at Veerapura in the Magadi Taluka, a part of the erstwhile kingdom of Mysore as the youngest of 13 children of Gangamma and Honne Gowda. Ardent followers of the deities Gangadareshwara and Honnamma his parents took him to the shrines in Shivaganga and kindled in him an interest in spirituality. He completed his matriculation in 1926 and enrolled in the Central College in Bangalore to pursue courses in arts, physics and mathematics. However, he had to drop out midway after he was designated as the successor to Uddana Shivayogi Swami to head the Siddaganga Mutt.

Incidentally, it was the Swami himself who anointed a young Shivakumara as his religious heir. Shivakumara Swami was appointed as the head seer of the Mutt on 11 January 1941, after the demise of the senior swami. Till his passing on the 21 January 2019 after a brief illness the seer remained as the pontiff of the Mutt. 

Proficient in three languages, Sanskrit, Kannada and English, the Swami who professed the Lingayat religion was first and foremost an educationist. During his tenure of over seven decades as the Mutt’s head, Shivakumara Swami founded as many as 132 educational institutions under the aegis of the Siddaganga Education Society that spawned across Karnataka state. From nursery schools to engineering, modern science, technology, arts and management as well as vocational training colleges, the Swami’s all-encompassing vision embraced a wide ambit and has been instrumental in affording opportunities to the youth to rise and shine in their lives. A Sanskrit scholar himself, Swamiji also introduced courses that had as part of its curricula the traditional learning of Sanskrit. Among his followers was the late President A P J Abdul Kalam, who visited the Mutt and lauded the seer for the initiatives that he had been taking in the sphere of education and also praised him for the humanitarian activities carried out by the Trusts run by the Mutt.

The Swamiji who at the age of 111 had earned the distinction of being one of the oldest living Indians was a lifelong esteemed adherent to Lingayatism, but commanded respect across all communities and religions as he firmly believed in the equality of all religions and faiths. The super centenarian was above all a humanitarian whose long innings as a spiritual thinker and educator endeared him to one and all. The Mutt’s philanthropic activities spearheaded by the Pontiff himself witnessed the setting up of a ‘gurukula’ where as many as 10,000 students from the age of 5 to 16 mostly from underprivileged and downtrodden backgrounds belonging to all religious groups are provided food, clothing and shelter and also education at the Mutt’s schools. His advancing age which brought in its wake a number of ailments never came in the way of his discharging his obligations to the Mutt and even till his last breath he remained a hands-on administrator overseeing the Mutt’s wide range of activities.

Shivakumara Swami was the recipient of several awards and honours during his long spell of service in the common cause. He was awarded a degree of Doctor of Literature by the Karnataka University in 1965 and was also conferred with the highest honour of the state ‘Karnataka Ratna’ in 2007, his centenary year by the Karnataka Government. In 2015, the Central Government awarded him the third highest civilian honour, the Padma Bhushan. The Karnataka Government and the seer’s followers have been urging the government to honour him with the country’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna but their entreaties have not yielded any dividend so far.

The Swamiji’s life was a long, unending saga of service to humanity and his firm belief in his faith and in his ability to turn around lives that had been torn asunder by privation and misery remained intact till the very end.

C.V. Aravind

The writer is a Bangalore-based freelance journalist.