Head of Udupi mutt dies. Hospital suspects he was poisoned

Udupi, Karnataka: Lakshmivara Tirtha, the high-profile and sometimes controversial pontiff of the Shiroor mutt in Karnataka’s Udupi, died in a hospital on Thursday morning amid suspicion that he had been poisoned. The state government said it would order a probe if necessary.

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Tirtha (55) who had severe differences with six other seers, was admitted in Kasturba Hospital in Manipal on July 18 after he complained of food poisoning. A statement released by the hospital said he died at 8.30 am on July 19.

According to the statement, Laskhmivara Tirtha arrived at the hospital also complaining of breathlessness. He suffered ‘massive’ gastrointestinal bleeding and died despite receiving dialysis and blood transfusion, it said.

“There is suspicion of poisoning and toxicological samples have been sent for examination,” the statement said.

The pontiff’s lawyer, Ravi Kiran added to the suspicion by claiming that Lakshmivara Tirtha had approached him at the end of June to file a case against six other seers of Udupi.

“Lakshmivara Tirtha Swami came to my office on June 28, and discussed differences of opinion with six seers,” Kiran said. “He had even told me that he feared for his life,” he added. “There should be a scientific investigation into his death as doubts have been raised about it.”

Earlier this month, the seer filed a caveat in a civil court against six of the eight mutts of which his is one. The dispute concerned idols of the presiding deities of his mutt that he had left at the Sri Krishna mutt due to ill-health. The seers of the six mutts decided not to let Tirtha take back the idols until he appointed a junior seer.

The eight mutts are considered holy by the Madhwa brahmins, a small but influential community in Karnataka.

The trouble among the mutts started when the Shiroor pontiff made public his intention to contest the Karnataka state assembly elections. He asked the Bharatiya Janata Party for a ticket to contest the Udupi seat. When the party rejected his overtures, he threatened to join the fray as an independent before being persuaded to withdraw amid fears that his candidacy could affect the BJP’s prospects.

Around the same time, a video of him bad-mouthing the heads of the other mutts emerged. Tirtha claimed this video was doctored, but it ruined his equation with the other pontiffs.

Inducted into the Shiroor mutt at the age of eight, Tirtha was a colorful personality who loved to swim and collect antiques. He also played the drums and was trained in martial arts.

Deputy chief minister G Parameshwara who also has additional charge of the home portfolio, said the seer’s passing was unfortunate. “I am aware of the doubts raised about the circumstances of his death. Some have even hinted at poisoning. If it is necessary we will definitely launch a probe,” he told reporters in Bengaluru.

BJP MP from Udupi, Shobha Karandlaje expressed grief at Tirtha’s death. “Shocked & sad to hear about the demise of Shiroor Mutt seer Lakshmivara Tirtha Swami, a spiritual teacher who spent his whole life for giving the message of peace and humanity. My heartfelt condolences..,” she tweeted.

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