| Police officials escort Jayendra Saraswati outside a court in Kancheepuram. (Reuters)
Kancheepuram (Tamil Nadu), Nov. 12: The grill gates and the large wooden doors to the Kanchi mutt were firmly shut early this morning and a few worried-looking mutt officials were on guard.
They, along with the security staff and some disciples close to the Kanchi Sankaracharya, Jayendra Saraswati, were sending back the people who thronged the mutt.
They had just heard of the sankaracharya's arrest by the Tamil Nadu police near Hyderabad late last night.
'You know it, it is written all over our faces,' a disciple said, referring to their distress in trying to explain why visitors were being barred, at least temporarily.
'Both the acharyas, including junior seer Sri Vijayendra Saraswati, are not here. What is the charm without them' the disciple added.
Some journalists sneaked in on the pretext of offering pranam at the samadhi of the late sankaracharya, Chandrasekharendra Saraswati. Eerie silence greeted them.
Some security personnel rushed to check with whom the reporters were talking. They told some mutt devotees not to entertain the media.
Even the main hall, where the acharyas offer daily puja to the presiding deity ' Sri Chandramouleeshwara 'was empty. Behind was a big stone statue of Adi Shankara that had been covered with cloth.
The explanation was that the deity's idol had been carried by the acharyas and they would offer puja to it wherever they happened to be.
'Both the acharyas left the mutt premises over 15 days ago. They first went to Madurai to celebrate Navratri, then moved to Salem before going to Hyderabad,' said Kannaiyan, a mutt attendant for the last 67 years.
'It is painful to hear about the sankaracharya's arrest,' he added, in tears. His father and grandfather had been mutt 'palanquin bearers'.
A devotee said: 'It is unthinkable that such a thing should happen to him.'
As confused as several devotees was Padma, the widow of Shankar Raman, in whose murder case the seer has been arrested.
A strip of vibhuti (sacred ash) on her forehead, the white-clad Padma dashed her head against the compound wall of her small house on South Mada Street in nearby Vishnu Kanchi locality.
'Please don't ask me anything. I do not know anything except what the police say. We heard of the sankaracharya's arrest only this morning,' she said in Tamil.
Raman, the 52-year-old manager of the Varadaraja Perumal temple in Vishnu Kanchi, was murdered in his temple office on September 3.
'I do not go out anywhere. What the police say is all there is to it,' Padma said when asked if the arrest had sullied the image of the Kanchi mutt.
Their son, Ananda Sharma, a student of Sanskrit College in Chennai, was measured in his words. 'We cannot say anything as investigations are on. It is for the police to come out with the truth about the murder. Appa (Raman) never told us anything.'
But both said Raman had fallen out of the mutt's favour in 2001.
Though largely shocked, many people, including Padma's neighbours, accepted the arrest, saying 'everybody is equal under the law'.
The All India Organisation of Imams of Mosques has termed as 'reprehensible' the seer's arrest and demanded a 'credible and impartial' probe.