In the tradition of the Udupi Krishna temple, no pontiff who has ‘crossed the seas’ and toured a foreign country can perform religious rites intimately connected with the idol of Krishna.
The pontiff, called Swami Sugunendra Teertha, whose turn it is to take over the leadership now, has ‘crossed the seas’, to travel to the US to bless his devotees there. The heads of the seven other mathas are unwilling to pass on the baton to him as he has violated the tradition.
Swami Sugunendra is unwilling to abdicate. His argument is that times have changed and so should religion that is steeped in traditions of an age long past. The devotees of the Udupi Krishna temple and followers of the eight mathas are divided on the issue. The date of the formal ‘coronation’ is January 18, 2008. It is not yet clear how the problem is going to be resolved.
If one looks back at the history of World Religions, monolithic religions have broken up, time and again, over such differences, and schisms appeared and broke up the sects further. Today, most of the major religions of the world have several sects claiming allegiance to them, with the differences among the sects of the same religion dividing them in perpetuity even as their religion unites them till eternity.
If we were to consider the curious case of the Udupi pontiff from a larger perspective, it gives rise to some intriguing questions:
Most of us are connected to an institution or a religion or a nation or some group – at least a family – which has some rules or guidelines or laws. Would we be right in breaking such of these laws as we consider unfair or repressive or backward while ‘belonging’ to the said group? Do such of those who break the rules of the group they are part of forfeit their right to continue in the group?
Change is eternal where gross things are concerned. But should such change affect traditions, customs and practices that have become law due to their observance over centuries? Do laws become unassailable by virtue of their having been in existence for ages? Do those who challenge the established norms deserve to be punished?
At the end of a debate, is it always the majority that should have its way? Is the majority always right? Is what is right always the best way?
What is right and what is wrong? What is good and what is bad? What should change and what should not? These are questions that cannot be answered in the heat of the moment. In fact, they may not even have a permanent answer, as the best course could change with time.
I tend to agree with what a much maligned Hindu seer of ancient times, Manu, said: “Laws are made for a particular time and situation. When circumstances change, laws too have to reflect the changed circumstances.” This is true for a family, an institution, a nation, and Mother Nature as well!