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Last Updated: Friday, 12 November, 2004, 11:17 GMT
Jayendra Saraswathi: Revered cleric
Jayendra Saraswathi
Mr Saraswathi, an insulin-dependent diabetic, has a colourful past
Jayendra Saraswathi, who has been charged with murdering a temple official, is one of Hinduism's holiest priests and a revered figure among worshippers in southern India.

The 71-year-old is the influential head of a sect of India's Hindu Brahmin community and the leader of the Kanchi Shankara Mutt, a key religious establishment.

The organisation in based in the holy temple town of Kanchipuram in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Mr Saraswathi is also known as the Shankaracharya of Kanchi.

There are five Shankaracharyas - or seats of Hinduism - in India, based respectively in the north, south, east and west of the country.

Wide following

The Kanchi Shankara Mutt runs a clutch of charities, hospitals, homes for the elderly and disabled, cow shelters and a university.

Mr Saraswathi, an insulin-dependent diabetic, has a colourful past.

He once ran away from the Kanchi Shankara Mutt in the 1980s following differences with a senior cleric.

His brief disappearance was headline news then.

Though he belongs to a minority upper caste Hindu Brahmin sect, Mr Saraswathi has many followers cutting across caste, and his counsel is sought after by many political leaders.

Mr Saraswathi was close to the former BJP-led government that lost the general election in May.

Opposition parties in Tamil Nadu have accused Chief Minister Jayalalitha of running the government on the advice of Mr Saraswathi.

The shankaracharya also tried to mediate in the dispute at Ayodhya in northern India where Hindu hardliners want to build a temple on the site of a mosque torn by Hindu militants in 1992.

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