Thousands bid adieu to Karnataka pontiff

Last Updated: Mon, Jan 14, 2013 16:30 hrs

Bangalore, Jan 14 (IANS) Thousands of people from all walks of life, including religious heads and politicians, in Karnataka Monday bid a tearful farewell to Adi Chunchunagiri Math pontiff Balagangadharanatha Swami, as his mortal remains were laid to rest at a state funeral in his ashram in Mandya district.

The 68-year-old pontiff, an influential seer with a large following across the state, mainly from the politically powerful Vokkaliga community, died here late Sunday after a brief illness.

Minutes before the pontiff's body was buried in a sitting posture in the ashram near Nagamangala amid chanting of Vedic hymns by a dozen priests and prayers by hundreds of his devotees , his will was read out, anointing Nirmalananda Swami as his successor to head the popular Math.

The new pontiff, who hails from Tumkur district, about 70 km from here, is a post-graduate structural engineer from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Chennai.

The last rites on the auspicious Makar Sankranti festival, which heralds spring and marks the harvest season, was performed after the pontiff's body was honoured with three rounds of gun fire by the state police in the presence of Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar, Deputy Chief Minister R. Ashoka, a few state ministers and several dignitaries, including cine star Ambareesh.

Among the spiritual and religious heads present on the solemn occasion were Art of Living founder Sri Ravi Shankar, Suttur Math pontiff Shivarathri Desikendra from Mysore and representatives of various sects.

About 2,000 baton-wielding policemen were deployed in and around the math premises since noon to regulate the influx of frenzied people, including hundreds of devotees who thronged the venue for a last glimpse of the seer's body, draped in saffron clothes and kept in a glass coffin covered with the national tricolour on top.

Earlier, the seer's cortege was brought to the ashram in a motorcade procession from the math's branch in northwest Bangalore, where it was kept since late Sunday for allowing people to pay homage throughout the night.

From the political fraternity, former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda, his two sons - former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy and former minister H.D. Revanna, Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) Lok Sabha member from Mandya Cheulvaraya Swamy, former external affairs minister S.M. Krishna, who hails from Mandya, Leader of Opposition in assembly Siddaramaiah, former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa and state Energy Minister Shobha Karandlaje were present on the occasion.

The pontiff was admitted to BGS (Balagangadharanatha Swami) Global Hospital here Saturday after he complained of chest pain. He was also suffering from heart disease and kidney problem.

The Swami headed the Adichunchunagiri Math since 1974, which has a branch in Varanasi and was awarded Padma Bhushan, India's third highest civilian award, in 2010 for his contribution in various fields, including religion, education, health and social welfare.

The Math runs a string of educational institutions from primary school to engineering and medical colleges and hospitals across the state.

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