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Acharya arrest tells on grand shrine construction

Kancheepuram, Nov. 21: Close to the banks of the Palar, south of Kancheepuram, rough blocks of granite are strewn around. Sculptors are hewing them, but work is slow. Nearly 180 to 250 workers went home for Diwali and have not returned since news of Kanchi seer Jayendra Saraswati's arrest, said sources.

A cloud of uncertainty now hangs on the massive manimandapam (commemorative temple) being built at Orikkai village, 5 km from the temple town, where the late Kanchi mutt acharya, Chandrasekharendra Saraswati, spent a good part of his life.

The gloom thickened with mutt sources saying the seer is against moving the Supreme Court against the Madras High Court order denying him bail.

The temple is scheduled to be completed in 2007 to mark the centenary of the late seer's ascension to the Kanchi mutt gaddi in 1907 at the tender age of 13. 'We hope by the grace of the late Mahaswami, who was a spiritual beacon, this manimandapam will be completed in 2007 to help the Kanchi mutt regain its religious eminence and prestige,' said a key figure associated with the project.

Traumatised by the turmoil, devotees believe it is essential to revive memories of the Mahaswami's 'spiritual greatness' to restore the halo of glory around the mutt and completion of the temple is being seen as a means to that end. Initially, the Kanchi mutt was not associated with the project, taken up at an estimated cost of Rs 15 crore by the Chennai-based Sri Mahalakshmi Matru Butheswara Trust.

Sources in Kancheepuram said a few months ago, the seer was made patron of the temple committee, apparently as wealthy donors in the US were keen that the mutt lend its name to the project.

Begun in 1997, the project has been progressing sluggishly with only about 25 per cent of the work completed so far due to various hurdles like land acquisition, government approvals and a funds crunch.

The seer visited the site a couple of months ago and asked chief designer Ganapati Sthapathy to recruit more hands to hasten progress.

As a shroud of despondency wraps the temple site, the Kanchi mutt is striving to restore an air of normality in the institution. Junior acharya Vijayendra Saraswati has normalised all religious duties and appealed to devotees to offer special prayers.

Mutt authorities also sought to dispel any notion that it was a divided house, with spokesperson R. Sankaran saying: 'Sri Jayendra Saraswati will return (after release on bail) and resume his duties.'

But there was no immediate sign of bail as the seer spent his third day in police custody. The police said the seer 'is not in any angry or uncooperative mood', but was mostly replying in the negative to queries. He slept most of the time as he seemed exhausted.

As investigation in the murder continued with the police launching a hunt for Appu, the alleged kingpin of the gang that hacked Shankar Raman to death on September 3, the junior acharya told a website that he strongly believed his guru was 'innocent'.

He added that he wanted to meet the senior acharya as the mass of information emanating on the case was confusing. Later in the evening, the spokesperson denied that the junior acharya had spoken to the website, but confirmed that he wanted to meet the senior seer.

In a significant move, the mutt has published advertisements in the leading newspapers of Tamil Nadu, describing the seer as a 'swami with traditional values and modern ideas'.

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