A famous anecdote about Sri Siddeshwar Swami of Jnana Yogashrama in Vijayapura, who passed away on Monday (December 2), is about his visit to the USA in the early 1990s.
A group of Kannada speakers had organised his month-long discourse in a northern American town and arranged for his stay in the house of an entrepreneur. The seer travelled alone and carried no luggage, as usual. He wore a jubba that famously had no pockets, not even to hold his glasses or a pen. He got off the plane and entered the airport lounge. He sat on a bench reading a book, in the chilly weather, without a woollen sweater.
After some time, the airport staff asked him why he was not leaving, to which he responded that he was waiting for someone to pick him up. Could he not go to the address by himself, he was asked. No, said the seer, as he had no money with him. This response left them puzzled. How could a man in plain clothes cross the seas without any luggage or money? And what would happen if no one came to pick him up? But none of this seemed to bother the seer, who went back to reading his book.
After about 10 hours, a team of local Kannadigas came to the airport. They apologised profusely to the swami and to the airport staff. In those days of landline phones, a miscommunication between the organisers had caused the delay. Channabasappa Halahalli, former president of the Karnataka Rashtriya Education Society in Bidar, whose relatives were among those who organised the event, recalled this anecdote.
Another oft-quoted anecdote is when the swami requested some horticulture officers who had arrived to celebrate Vana Mahotsava in Jnana Yogashrama, not to choose fruit-bearing trees, as that could lead to quarrels about sharing the harvest.
Born Siddagonda Ogeppa Patil Biradar on September 5, 1940, the seer found himself drawn to spirituality at an early age. His father was a zamindar and a self-taught painter, who had three sons and three daughters. Siddagonda was the eldest.
Siddagonda was drawn to the discourses by Vedanta Kesari Sri Mallikarjuna Mahashivayogi of Vijayapura (then Bijapur), who used to visit Bijjaragi, Tikota and nearby villages. He spent hours meditating in his family’s sugarcane fields and the Rameshwar Math near Bijjaragi.
One day, he decided to leave home to become a celibate monk and told his father. The family’s reaction to the eldest son wanting to leave home was not easy. They refused and asked the village seer to counsel him. On two occasions, when Siddagonda went to Vijayapura to join Sri Mallikarjun Swami’s ashrama, they brought him back.
Finally, when he was 14, he broke his piggy bank, took the ₹3 he had saved, and left home. He walked to Vijayapura and never came back. He did not even attend the final rites of his parents in later years. Sri Mallikarjun Swami ordained him and renamed him as Sri Siddeshwar Swami.
Sri Siddeshwar Swami got admitted to school and Pre University in Vijayapura, and BA in Karnataka College, Dharwad. However, his studies were not limited to the university syllabus. They were wide ranging and deep. He studied Indian philosophy, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Zen and Confucius philosophy, tribal cultures and the native ideologies of aboriginal groups of south America.
However, what made him a known face the world over were his speeches. His month-long discourses were held in villages and towns across the country. He spoke primarily in Kannada, but also in Marathi and Hindi. Every Sunday, he made speeches in English. They were shared on the Jnana Yogashrama’s social media channels.
They were peppered with anecdotes, quotes and examples from the lives of prophets like Jesus, Mohammad and Abraham. He picked lines from Shankaracharya, Madhvacharya and Ramanujacharya and explained their meaning in Kannada. One day, in Chikkodi, he recited a Ghazal in Urdu, that spoke of the impermanence of power, when a minister was among the audience. But his focus remained the Kayaka-Dasoha ideologies of Sri Basaveshwara and other Sharanas. He has also written over 20 books, that are mostly critiques and explainers about Vachana Sahitya and Indian philosophy.
Last year, he courted controversy on social media when he described Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a “Yogi” at a book release event in Mysuru.
Simple life, no awards
The seer lived a simple life, in a two-room house in the Ashrama premises. His bedroom had a large window, but no fan or air conditioning. His belongings were few, contained within a wooden box and a khadi shoulder bag. He was very particular about keeping his clothes and surroundings clean. He suffered from dust allergies and used to wrap a shawl around his nose when travelling.
He stayed away from awards and felicitations. The Ashrama inmates recall that he refused Padma awards thrice in the past, despite pressure from ministers and followers. The Jnana Yogashrama founded by him, does not run any for-profit or professional education institutions.
He suffered a fracture after falling in the home of a devotee in Kerur village in Belagavi district in January, 2022. Though the wound healed after surgery, he continued to suffer from its complications. Later, he limited his travels and spent most of his time in Vijayapura.
When his health began to deteriorate in the last week of December, he stopped taking food and refused medication. He requested the team of doctors led by Mallanna Moolimani to give him no medicines, except painkillers. He passed away on the night of January 2, 2023.
Contents of the will
His will, called “Antima Abhivadana Patr” and typed in Kannada, was prepared in 2014. It was signed by two district judges, A S Pachhapure and S S Sultanpur, as witnesses. He states that his mortal remains are to be offered to the flames and not be buried. No religious rituals are to be conducted and his ashes are to be scattered in a river or sea. No monument or building is to be erected in his memory. He says he is grateful for a fulfilling life and that he will accept death as a simple phenomenon as a lamp being blown off, a wave subsiding or a cloud melting down.
He says, “Life is a flood of experiences. It is enriched by a wide world view and the pursuit of truth. It is made beautiful by a mind without hatred and unlimited empathy. I have learnt from spiritual masters and commoners alike. I have learnt from nature and surroundings, scientists and philosophers. I have believed that spreading this knowledge among others was my Dharma and lived by it. I write this letter as a measure of gratitude for a wonderful life.”
He does not invoke God or name any individual in the letter, though he credits ‘several people’ from whom he learnt the lessons of life. He does not speak of anointing any successor to the Ashrama. He ends the letter with a Vachana of Allama Prabhu that speaks of the need to negate established beliefs.