Son born to Manchthaya Sreedhara Bhatt and Padmavathi Amma in 1940, Kesavananda Bharati took Sanyasa at the age of 19 and headed the Edneer Mutt as the Peetadhipathi until his death in 2020. He belonged to the Parampara of Thotakacharya, one of the first four disciples of Adi Shankara. He was a follower of the Smartha Bhagawatha tradition of Advaitha Pantha. As the head of the Mutt, he was referred by the honorific title, Srimad Jagadguru Sri Sri Sankaracharya Thotakacharya Kesavananda Bharathi Sripadangalavaru. He was one among the most significant contemporary seers in the Advaita Vedanta lineage and died early on Sunday at his ashram in north Kerala’s Kasaragod. The Mutt follows the unique Smartha Bhagawatha tradition of Advaitha Tradition which has more than 1200 years of the glorious history of religion, culture, art, music, and social service.
However, Swami Keasavananda Bharati was famous as a revolutionary leader who fought against then prime minister Indira Gandhi in the Supreme Court whose property rights case in the Supreme Court in 1973 helped define basic rights under the Constitution. Bharati had filed a case challenging the Constitution (29th Amendment) Act, 1972, questioning the Kerala government move to take over the mutt property. It came at a time when the Indira Gandhi-led government had made changes to the 24th, 25th, 26th, and 29th amendments of the Constitution to get the court to rule in favor of the government in bank nationalization and privy purses cases. Kesavananda Bharati’s case is known as a landmark case and many legal luminaries hailed him as the savior of the Constitution. Senior lawyer Nani Palkhivala fought the case for Bharati, an ardent follower of Advaita philosophy, in which the then chief justice of India Sarv Mitra Sikri formed a 12-judge panel to preside over the case. The Constitution bench ruled a wafer-thin 7-6 verdict that Parliament cannot alter the basic structure of the Constitution. He was the only Shankaracharya to have publicly issued a statement saying that it was a mistake for the government to open the vaults of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple. The case was heard for 68 days, the arguments commencing on October 31, 1972, and ending on March 23, 1973, by the largest ever Constitutional Bench consisting of 13 judges. There were 11 separate judgments. Upholding the validity of clause (4) of Article 13 and a corresponding provision in article 368(3), inserted by the 24th Amendment, the Court settled in favour of the view that Parliament has the power to amend the fundamental rights also. However, the Court affirmed another proposition also asserted in the Golaknath case, by ruling that the expression “amendment” of this Constitution in article 368 means any addition or change in any of the provisions of the Constitution within the broad contours of the Preamble and the Constitution to carry out the objectives in the Preamble and the Directive Principles. Applied to fundamental rights, it would be that while fundamental rights cannot be abrogated, a reasonable abridgement of fundamental rights could be affected in the public interest. The true position is that every provision of the Constitution can be amended provided the basic foundation and structure of the Constitution remain the same.
The significance of the judgment was that the Parliament had the power to amend the Constitution and it cannot delegate its power to some State Assembly, Therefore the State Government of Kerala headed by Achutha Menon had to eat the humble pie. Indira Gandhi did not take the judgment simply and chose the dissenting judge A N Ray for the top job in April 2013 superseding three of his seniors.
He stated that all the assets found in the temple’s vault were indeed the assets of the temple and the responsibility of managing assets should be handed over to the temple’s trust. This decision in the Kesavananda Bharati case changed the complete nature of the amending power in the Indian Constitution. The fundamental rights could now be said to be amendable, except, of course, those fundamental rights which could be considered by the court to be part of the basic features of the Constitution. Moreover, all provisions of the Constitution were now within the reach of the amending power, but subject to the condition that the basic features of the Constitution could not be amended. And, the question as to what are these basic features of the Constitution is left for the court to decide as and when a particular amendment is challenged before the court. This, of course, led to a lot of uncertainties, as the Parliament would now not know before amending the Constitution as to whether the amended provisions were going to survive the test of the basic features theory when challenged in the court.
He was spreading the Hindu religion and culture in equal solemnity. He also rendered all possible support to literature, culture, and art. He is a Carnatic and Hindustani vocalist and master of all sections of Yakshagana, the renowned art form, and also has penned many devotional songs and dramas. Kesavananda Bharati was a Carnatic and Hindustani vocalist, and master of Yakshagana, an Indian art and theater form. He supported the use of the Kannada language in the border district of Kasaragod Kerala. Under his guidance, the mutt had instituted a Kannada-medium school, an English-medium school, junior college, and a Sanskrit Veda Patashala. Kesavananda Bharati was awarded the Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer Award, in 2018 by the Governor of Kerala for his contribution to the social and spiritual welfare of people. He advocated Hinduism but showed people a correct path, without being communal or hater for others, he kept humanity above all. Such spiritual leaders are rare these days, in spite of having so much significance, wisdom, and huge existence he never indulged in petty politics or showed any inclination towards political parties. He left his body on 6 September 2020 at the age of 79. Such spiritual leaders are rare in today’s time.
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