The unavoidable noise pollution that ensues during the election period for the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabha does not touch the village of Chalkewadi, which remains unperturbed and unaffected by it. – Chakravarthy Sulibele
– Translated By Sunitha
Off late, there has been an extensive debate about saints and seers. They have become easy targets to indiscreet judgments and hardcore opinions. Some even use this opportune moment to dismiss religion on the grounds that it thrives on blind faith. But then, it is also just the right time to connect with the likes of an extraordinary Seer, His Holiness Shri Kaadu Siddheshwara Mahaswamy, and the Pontiff of the Kanheri Math near Kolhapur, situated at a distance of 100 km from Belgaum. Swamiji, who is aged 48, has large devotees following him. Just the previous year, he surrendered his role as a Pontiff, to a 22 year old youngster. This is the first and the foremost lesson to be imbibed by the Pontiffs of other Maths, who otherwise tend to hold on to their respective position for a lifetime.
Swamiji’s passion for agriculture is such that any devotee, who visits him, receives a fist full of native seeds as a blessing from the Swamiji, who insists that these seeds be sowed and grown into a crop, and the seeds that sprout from the crop are to be further donated to as many as possible. If any part of the village is found lacking in cleanliness, Swamiji leads from the front by himself picking up a broom to sweep the streets. He is friendliness personified as can be seen in the affectionate manner with which he interacts with the village youngsters, being down to earth and unassuming, even enjoying a lunch with them, sometimes. Having heard about Swamiji’s native expertise on rural development, I decided to meet him. On reaching Kanheri Math, I humbly requested him for a detour of one such village reformed by him. With a smile, Swamiji beckoned one of his close aides to take me to a village called Chalkewadi. By the way, it was evident that Swamiji was fluent in Kannada, Marathi and Hindi.
There are just about 60 families in Chalkewadi with inhabitants spanning a little over 200. All houses appear alike due to the color uniformity. Every house has a toilet, which is adjoined by a Gobar gas unit, a compulsory measure implemented in each of the houses. Using the road sides for passing urine and feces is strictly prohibited. With Gobar gas as a compulsory unit, cattle rearing have become a natural requirement in every house. It is no surprise that the settlements of this village give a feeling of an urban township. A clean gutter runs in front of every house. Each house has in its front yard adorned by tall trees and plants. This alone would not have made the village as extraordinary as it is, but for the fact that the villagers have never encountered events and incidents of the type that would compel them to lodge their grievance in the police station. Infact, the nearest police station to the village, may not even be familiar with the village’s name. Swamiji’s interaction with the villagers has turned them into vegetarians who do not seem to have any reservations of promoting vegetarianism even to their guests. Alcoholism and Gutkha consumption has been completely eradicated. Swamiji’s affectionate companionship has transformed the village youths who have completely given up the use of alcohol. Though unbelievable, these are plain facts! In the last decade the population has increased by just 20 people, implying that the villagers practice a healthy restraint. The little children of the village are not laidback either. They not only attend school but also are involved in growing nursery and its maintenance. They have already grown a lakh of saplings and are competent enough to sell the saplings in the Panchayati market.
This village has never seen an election. Whether it is a Committee formation or even a Gram Panchayati nomination, the villagers unanimously choose their leader. The unavoidable noise pollution that ensues during the election period for the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabha does not touch the village of Chalkewadi, which remains unperturbed and unaffected by it.
As each of the reformative stories began to unfold, the impact of their results were simply spell-binding! On asking Swamiji as to how this was possible, he gives the credit to the women of the village. By taking the women folks into confidence, Swamiji goaded them to be totally responsible for the welfare of their respective husbands and the household. As soon as the women took the reins of the house hold into their hands, the entire village has woken up. It can be said that women are the head of the family now, proving that Swamiji not only stands apart but stands tall amidst those for whom women emancipation is more an vociferous ranting. The government has awarded the village of Chalkewadi towards the role played by the women towards the development of the village.
Before adopting the village, Swami Kaadu Siddheshwarji initially gave away 4 saplings to a few youngsters of the village in order to gauge their level of dedication in growing those saplings. It was only after observing the youngsters’ dedication and commitment, did Swamiji take up the task of reforming the village. Many villagers have been a witness to Swamiji being physically involved, be it while cleaning the road, cleaning the cowshed or renovating the school village. During the occasions when the saplings had to be planted in front of the village houses, Swamiji would personally supervise by being present at the venue right from 8.00 am in the morning upto 12.30 am in the night. The eyes of the village Panchayat shine while recounting the above event, a shine expressing the confidence of a legacy begotten from his Master.
The implementation of toilet system is one of the foremost success stories of the village. Initially, there was one toilet for every 8 to 10 houses. These toilets were located together in a row. In every weekly inspection, those that poorly maintained the hygiene and cleanliness of the toilet had to pay a penalty, and this collection of payment was in turn rewarded to the ones that maintained cleanliness and hygiene. This worked so effectively that eventually every house managed to have a toilet, further to which a gobar gas unit was attached. Swamiji would personally inspect each kitchen to make sure that gobar gas was indeed used as the fire for cooking. Knowing Swamiji to be a vegetarian, the villagers gradually chose to be vegetarian too, so that they could invite Swamiji for lunch/dinner. Hence the slaughtering of goats, sheep and chickens came to a complete stop. It is even more interesting how alcohol consumption was eradicated in the village. There was a prize of Rs.100/- for those who would red-handedly catch any villager addicted to drinking. The villager who was caught drinking was fined Rs. 500/- out of which Rs.100/- was the prize money and the rest of the Rs. 400 was utilized towards rural developmental programs. Gradually alcohol addicts were rehabilitated making Chalkewadi the most ideal village. Swamiji’s healing touch has doused all kinds of mob conflicts that normally occur in the villages. Irrigational activities have effectively been implemented and improved. Thus, a peaceful life has settled in the village. The villagers would lay down their life but would never let Swamiji’s vision to diminish.
There is a specialty and super-specialty hospitals built near Kanheri Mutt, by the grace of Swamiji. The hospitals have the facility of providing not only Cardiac and Neurological treatments but also has a facility for treating Cancer, that too at a 60% discounted cost with respect to the other hospitals functioning in Kolhapur. Though Swamiji took up this project without a penny in his possession, he managed to gather funds by receiving donations from those villages that agreed to donate one lakh rupees to have the revered Swamiji visit and transform their village to the heights of Chalkewadi. Knowing the significance behind Swamiji’s visit, people voluntarily managed to amass 4-5 lakhs of rupees instead of just one lakh of rupees. Thus, Swamiji managed to gather sufficient funds to build the two hospitals. Patients thronged the hospital, so did the medical doctors who were paid well for their caliber and expertise, unlike the way it existed in the other hospitals of the city. Swamiji too, completely abstained from utilizing the benefits that the hospital gained and instead would distribute the excess funds amongst the hospital staff. Hence, there has never been an act of labor strike by the hospital staff towards salary raise etc.
It is an endless chain of success stories. There is a museum in the Mutt premises that exhibits the Indian heritage, showcases the significance of various festivals and celebrations and the rural reformation etc, which takes us back to the era of our long lasting ancient traditions.
The essence of Kanheri Mutt continues to linger even after my return. One cannot escape being engulfed by the Swamiji’s aura, though a simpleton at heart but an embodiment of boundless enthusiasm and vibrant thoughts. Amidst the glaring oddities of the society, the fact that this saffron-clad Swamiji stands as a torch-bearer, brings an immense relief and comfort. Do visit the Kanheri Math on one of the weekends to gather the precious experience of progress, hope and peace.