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Last Updated: Friday, 12 November, 2004, 12:48 GMT
Top India cleric on murder charge
Jayendra Saraswathi
Saraswathi is a key Hindu Brahmin leader (Pix: Snaps India)
A prominent Hindu religious leader in India has been arrested over the killing of a temple official.

Jayendra Saraswathi was arrested near the southern city of Hyderabad and charged with killing a man who worked at the 2,500-year-old temple he heads.

The arrest has caused a sensation as Mr Saraswathi, 71, is a revered figure among Hindus in southern India.

The leader, whose arrest sparked anger among Hindu groups, was held in custody but has a bail hearing on Saturday.

The Hindu leader appeared in court in the holy town of Kanchipuram in neighbouring Tamil Nadu state and was jailed for 15 days while police investigate.

The court rejected an appeal for Mr Saraswathi to be placed under house arrest but the Madras High Court will hear a bail plea on Saturday.

The dead man was a former accountant who was killed inside the ancient Hindu temple in Kanchipuram on 3 September.

China visit

Kanchipuram police chief, C Premkumar, told AFP that Mr Saraswathi had been charged with murder and criminal conspiracy.

With the arrest of the great pontiff the authorities have declared open war on the Hindu religion
Praveen Togadia,
Vishwa Hindu Parishad

Mr Saraswathi's lawyer described the charges as baseless.

Police said they had arrested the Hindu leader on the basis of information provided by five people who were detained last month.

The BBC's Sampath Kumar in Madras says the dead former employee, Sankararaman, was a strong critic of the religious leader.

Sankararaman had gone to the courts to oppose a planned visit to China by Mr Saraswathi, saying it was against the traditions of the temple.

The religious leader later dropped the idea of visiting China.

Our correspondent says the arrest was a shock because the Tamil Nadu government headed by J Jayalalitha was considered to be close to Mr Saraswathi.

Angry response

Mr Saraswathi is an influential head of a sect of India's Hindu Brahmin community and the leader of the Kanchi Shankara Mutt, a religious establishment.

Jayendra Saraswathi is taken away in a van, 11 November 2004
Jayendra Saraswathi was arrested on Thursday night

Pro-Hindu groups reacted angrily to the arrest.

"It is unfortunate that the state government should resort to a midnight arrest and humiliate the pontiff in this manner," L Ganeshan, secretary of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) told AFP.

The hardline Hindu group, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, demanded Mr Saraswathi's release and threatened nationwide protests.

"This is politics of revenge to muffle the voice of Hindus in India," said general secretary Praveen Togadia.

"With the arrest of the great pontiff the authorities have declared open war on the Hindu religion."

However, the leader of the Tamil Nadu opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party, K Karunanidhi, welcomed the arrest.

He had earlier said that influential religious leaders somehow escaped punishment.

Mr Saraswathi is one of Hinduism's holiest priests and was close to India's former BJP-led government in Delhi.

Nepal's royal family count among Mr Saraswathi's followers and the leader is a frequent visitor to the Himalayan kingdom.

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