Three persons, including a teenager, immolated themselves inside the Sri Ganeshwar Avadhoot Maharaj Math at Chowli village in Bidar taluk of Karnataka in the early hours of Monday. The village is about 7 km from Bidar.

Jagannath Swami (30), Eera Reddy Swami (45) and Pranav Swami (16) are believed to have sat on a mound of firewood and set fire to it after dousing it with kerosene around 4.30 a.m., the police said.

They were all followers of Lingayat pontiff Sri Ganeshwar Avadhoot Maharaj, who died on February 28, allegedly after consuming poison.

Inmates of the math alerted the police about the fire. “Loud cries woke them up. They saw flames and alerted our constables. They called the New Town police station and the Fire Services personnel,” said a police officer, who was present at the math.

Firefighters arrived within minutes and struggled for nearly an hour to put out the blaze, he said. “We started removing the firewood and noticed the bodies. Only then did we know of the suicide,” he added.

While the reasons for the death of the 55-year-old pontiff remain a mystery, the three left a note stating their reasons for committing suicide.

In the two-page, partly printed and partly handwritten note, they stated: “Unable to bear the pain of separation” they were “going to meet their departed guru.”

They also stated that they have “no relatives, friends or foes in this world.” They said their “Guru’s spirit had instructed them to come to him through the route of Agni.”

A police van was stationed outside the math premises after the pontiff’s death and the police personnel were sleeping in the math’s community hall when the incident occurred, the police said.

“The Avadhoot had spoken of suicide before he actually ended his life on February 28. Some devotees told us that he had spoken of a mass suicide along with his devotees,” the police said.“The firewood was stocked for the mass feeding to be organised on the math’s annual fair scheduled for April 11,” Shantappa, a devotee from Bhalki said.

Aravind Patil, a devotee from Humnabad, said Jagannath Swami was the one who oversaw the math’s daily affairs. The police have registered a case of unnatural death. They had matched the handwriting of Jagannath Swami from the math’s account books and correspondence with the suicide note and are sure it was written by him.