Sankararaman Anantakrishnasharma worked with the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham -- arguably, South India's most respected Hindu Math -- for 60 years. He was among the four men who walked with the late Kanchi Shankaracharya Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati to Kashi from Kanchipuram. Anantakrishnasharma served Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati all his life.
The Shankaracharya provided Anantakrishnasharma a one room tenement in the temple town. This Anantakrishnasharma built into a three room house, of which one is a prayer room. When Anantakrishnasharma died, his only child Sankararaman took his place to serve the Kanchi Shankaracharya.
But Sankararaman did not apparently get along with Sri Jayendra Saraswati, the junior Shankarcharya, especially after the seer abruptly left the Peetham in August 1987, a decision that has never been adequately explained. Their relationship worsened after Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati died. Sankararaman stopped frequenting the Math as he used to.
He got a job at the Devarajasamy temple. His diligence paid off. For the last seven years he served as the temple's manager. He improved the temple's finances by charging an entrance fee at peak hours, enabling him to pay the shrine's staff on the first of every month. Earlier, the staff got their salary irregularly. The remunerative process became regular, thanks to Sankararaman's foresight.
He was an able administrator and a strict enforcer of discipline inside the temple. At home he was a quiet man and did not discuss temple matters or any other dispute with his wife or children.
"He never spoke about his life outside the house to me," his widow S Padma told rediff.com
His son Anandsharma studies in the final year at a Sanskrit college in Chennai. He plans to do an MA in Sanskrit and teach the language. His father always wanted him to study the scriptures, says Anandsharma. "He told me to be on the side of justice always," says the 20 year old who wears his hair in the Brahminical knot, the choti.
Sankararaman's daughter Uma is 17 and in Class X. She would not speak to this correspondent because she is fasting today, the second day of the Kandachasti fast, which lasts six days and nights. The fast is dedicated to Lord Muruga, Lord Shiva's son. "This is the first time she is fasting. Her father's death made her do it," says her mother.
In 2000, Jayendra Saraswati planned to travel to China. Sankararaman was aghast. The scriptures clearly dictated that a Hindu would lose his religion if he crossed the oceans. He moved the court to stop the Shankaracharya from going to China. He argued that if Jayendra Saraswati traveled by road he could go to China, but he should not cross the oceans. An ordinary Hindu could make a mistake, he argued, not the head of the Kanchi Math. The Shankaracharya canceled his trip.
In October 2000, Sankararaman's mother died. A year later, in October 2001, he decided to pray at the Math. For a year he had not visited the temple in his mother's memory. He decided to visit Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati's grave and then the Kamakshi temple. He was not allowed to enter the Math. That humiliation did not deter him. As he had served Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati for many years, every time he felt the Math was moving in a direction different from the senior Shankaracharya's time he would object, often in writing to Sri Jayendra Saraswati.
In his last letter dated August 30, 2004, which has since been reproduced in Nakkeeran, the Tamil magazine, he warned the Shankacharya: 'I am going to court to remove you from the leadership of the Kanchi Math. You are misusing your authority.'
At 5.30 pm, on September 3, 2004, five men attacked Sankararaman in the Devrajasamy temple and stabbed him to death.
Among those present at the scene were three temple employees who said they did not see the murderous assault; they said they only saw the backs of the killers.
T A Kannan, a friend of the family, told rediff.com: "We reached there at 5.45 pm. He was already dead. There was blood everywhere."
When they heard of the Shankaracharya's arrest on Friday morning, the family did not know how to react. "It only proves that everybody is equal before the law," said Kannan, adding, "Nobody opposed the Shankaracharya because of his political clout. Sankararaman was fighting a lone battle because of his proximity to Chandrasekharendra Saraswati."
Sankararaman was 52 when he died. He was an only child. His wife has many relatives but none are well off. The temple will give the family Rs 74,000 as a final settlement. A daughter in school and a son in college -- the family is clearly in dire straits.
Kanchipuram is famous for its Kamakshi temple, its silk sarees, and, of course, the revered Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. But the town now finds itself in the news for all the wrong reasons. And within its folds lives a vulnerable family that wonders how their poor but peaceful world was shattered one September evening.