At the heart of the opposition to Sri Sugunendra Teertha swamiji of the Puttige mutt (in picture, left) ascending the “Paryaya peetha” at the Sri Krishna Mutt in Udupi in January 2008 are his foreign peregrinations—the Samudra Yaana. According to the traditions of the Ashta mutt (eight mutts), of which Puttige is one, seers are not permitted to cross the seas, in other words go abroad. Even if he takes part in the Paryaya rituals, he should not offer poojas because of his saagarolanghanae, is the contention of Sri Vishvesha Teertha swamiji of the Pejawar mutt.
Sri Sugunendra, who is the international president of the World Council of Religions for Peace and has visited the United States and Chechnya among other places, has said that he only went abroad to propagate Hindu dharma and Dwaita principles, not for his personal purposes. “When I returned, the Pejawar seer wrote me a letter of commendation. If Mother Earth is divine, how can foreign soil be any less so?” he asks. “The Pejawar swamiji is apprehensive that swamijis who go abroad will not return.”
To be sure, this is not the first time the eight mutts have been rocked by such a controversy. Sri Vishvavijaya Teertha swamiji, the first disciple of the Pejawar seer, had to relinquish his post for going to the United States. And Sri Vibhudesha Teertha swamiji of the Admar mutt, too suffered the same fate for a similar offence, and had to make way for his disciplie Sri Vishwapriya Teertha swamji.
Questions: Should the Puttige seer be barred from the Paryaya—during which the pontiffs of the eight mutts take charge of the management of the Sri Krishna Temple by turns—or be allowed? Does it make sense in the 21st century to disallow foreign travel for swamijis? Is it a blind ritual bound in superstition or one worthy of observance even today? Should there be a writtten constitution for the Ashta mutt to prevent misinterpretation and to prevent a repeat of such controversies? If swamijis can take active part in politics, is going abroad to spread Hindu philosophy such a big crime?
Photograph: Puttige mutt seer Sugunendra Teertha Swamiji releasing a Hindu almanac at the Sri Krishna Brindavan in New Jersey.