Vaulting ambition coupled with jealousy could lead to downfall, seer Mruthunjaya Swamy, 45, of the Kannur Matha at Magadi in Karnataka’s Ramanagara district learnt the hard way.
The swamy was among three people arrested on Sunday, 30 October, for allegedly abetting the suicide of Basavalingaiah Swamy, aged 44, of the Kanchugal Bande Matha.
The police identified the other two accused as 21-year-old Neelambikae alias Chandu, a second-year student of an engineering college at Doddaballapura, and 62-year-old Mahadevaiah, a school teacher-turned-lawyer.
Basavalingaiah was found hanging from the window grill of the matha’s puja house at Kempapura village near Magadi, around 45 kms from the state capital, Bengaluru, on 24 October.
Basavalingaiah Swamy had been the head pontiff of the four-century-old matha since 1997.
Events leading to the suicide
Investigators learnt about the incidents that preceded the Swamy’s suicide after questioning the arrested trio, Mruthunjaya Swamy, Mahadevaiah and Neelambikae.
Incidentally, Mruthunjaya and Basavalingaiah were cousins. Both the mathas are affiliated to the Siddalinga Matha in Tumakuru. The police said Mahadevaiah and Neelambikae, too, were related to the swamys.
Basavalingaiah soaring popularity made Mruthunjaya jealous, and the latter considered the deceased as a hurdle for his further growth in the matha hierarchy, the police said. The dead swamy was reportedly close to the chief seer of the Siddalinga Matha.
Mruthunjaya, who was third in command in the matha hierarchy, felt that he would never rise through the ranks as long as Basavalingaiah continued at the helm. Both men were of almost the same age.
Mruthunjaya allegedly hatched a conspiracy with Mahadevaiah to tarnish Basavalingaiah’s image to sideline him. As part of the plan, Mahadevaiah roped in Neelambikae to lay a honeytrap, police said.
The young woman got close to the swamy, and the duo reportedly indulged in loose conversations over the phone and WhatsApp video. Unknown to Basavalingaiah, the woman was recording their conversations, and passing the clips to Mruthunjaya.
The police said Mahadevaiah and the seer edited the clips, which were then forwarded to Basavalingaiah and the matha administrators.
The accused allegedly blackmailed the dead seer as well, forcing him to take the extreme step, the police said.
The audio and video clips were edited to make Basavalingaiah believe that his phone had been hacked into and to protect Neelambikae, the police said.
An investigator told South First that the men assured the woman a top position at the matha and money in exchange for trapping Basavalingaiah.
How the police cracked the case
Basavalingaiah had left a two-page suicide note in which he had named his tormentors. The Kudur police’s probe corroborated the names mentioned in note. It was also subjected to technical analysis.
Further probe led investigators to Kannur Matha’s head pontiff and the three people were arrested. The police have charged them under Indian Penal Code sections 306 (abetment to suicide) and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence).
Second suicide in two months
Incidentally, Basavalingaiah’s was the second death by suicide of a Lingayat seer in less than two months in Karnataka.
Basava Siddalinga Swamy, the head pontiff of Sri Guru Madiwaleshwar Matha at Neginahala village in Belagavi’s Bailahongala taluk, had died by suicide. The 28-year-old seer was found hanging in his living quarter early on 5 September.
A note found pointed at a controversy against him and referred to an audio conversation between two women who accused the seer of involving in immoral activities and misusing his position for personal gains. The audio clip had gone viral on social media.
Basava Siddalinga Swamy’s death came close on the heels of the police arresting Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru, the head pontiff of Murugha Matha in Chitradurga. He has been accused of sexually assaulting six minor girls, who had been staying in the matha’s hostel.
In December 2021, the head pontiff of Chilume Matha in Ramanagara, also named Basavalingaiah Swamy, was found hanging in his room. His deteriorating health was said to be the motive.