Veerendra Heggade turns Dharmasthala into Hub for Social Service

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Veerendra Heggade turns Dharmasthala into a hub for social service

Mangaluru: Did you know that long before the present Prime Minister Narendra Modi started propounding his pet theme of Atmanirbharatha, the precepts of self-reliance or the sustainable economic development model and the poverty eradication were taken up and implemented in Karnataka’s leading pilgrim center, the Shri Kshetra Dharmasthala, under the egalitarian leadership of its Dharmadhikari, Dr D Veerendra Heggade?

These and several other little-known facts and the saga of developmental and welfare initiatives through a large number of path-breaking programmes with pain-staking research and interviews of hundreds of beneficiaries and scores of others involved in the various institutions are vividly brought out in the book, “Dharmasthala: Mantra of Development,” written by Nagesh Prabhu, a senior journalist, and writer. The book is published by the prestigious Manipal Universal Press (MUP) of Manipal University in Karnataka.

Dharmasthala is a holy place of pilgrimage tucked in the Western Ghats, 70 km from the coastal city of Mangaluru, the headquarters of Dakshina Kannada district, and about 300 km from Bengaluru in Karnataka in India. The focal point is the ancient temple of Shri Manjunatha Swamy, which attracts lakhs of devotees without barriers of castes, creeds, colour, and gender from across India every year. The presiding deity of the temple is Shri Manjunatha Swamy

The book is a well-researched treatise, largely based on extensive fieldwork and interviews of hundreds of beneficiaries by the author for more than a year on various social and anti-poverty schemes in different districts of Karnataka. It gives a new dimension to the “Dharmasthala Model of Development.” It dwells on the bottom-up approach adopted by Dharmasthala towards development and not the so-called trickle-down model followed by the Indian government and state government agencies.

The author explains the various facets of Dharmasthala’s model of development interspersed with ideas of secularism, socialism, and welfarism that are integral to the Indian Constitution.

Various Temple trusts headed by Dharmadhikari D. Veerendra Heggade, Padmabhushan awardee, have been implementing numerous socio-economic welfare programmes for the past 55 years for the upliftment of the poor, small and marginal farmers, women, and downtrodden people. He launched many anti-poverty, social, and cultural programmes much before the Indian and Karnataka governments started them, and implemented the welfare schemes, which largely come under the purview of the government.

The book explains how the Dharmadhikari institutionalized the charities of the temple by setting up the Shri Kshetra Dharmasthala Rural Development Project (SKDRDP) and the Rural Development and Self-Employment Training Institute (RUDSETI), which have branches across Karnataka. It depicts how Heggade has over the last four decades carried out his unique brand of service and the foresight in launching many start-ups. With close to six million SHG members, SKDRDP encouraged poor rural and urban women to take up livelihood activities, which improved their standard of living manyfold.

Both SKDRDP and RUDSETI, according to the book, have transformed many youths from job seekers to job providers through entrepreneurial training and financial aid. Both institutions played a vital role in replacing moneylenders and offered institutional support, financial aid to SHGs, scholarships for students, pensions to the destitute, and other basic necessities to people across villages in Karnataka and parts of neighbouring Kerala. There was no necessity for ‘phone banking’ for availing loans from banks for RUDESTI-trained youth. Close to 75% of trained youth have launched start-ups and become successful entrepreneurs.

Social and economic equality and justice and building a strong rural society through education are the hallmarks of the growth trajectory visualized by Heggade and the SDM Trusts. Dr Heggade’s thrust on empowerment as a bottom-up process and not imposed from above. The Trusts headed by him have touched the lives of thousands of rural and urban people in Karnataka in almost every aspect of life, be it education, housing, health, farming, banking, mass marriage, de-addiction, total sanitation, alternative energy, dairying, insurance, livelihoods amongst more. No sector remains untouched.

The book dwells at length on the unique economic experiments undertaken by the Dharmadhikari, which are termed ‘Heggadenomics.’ These ideas are not taken out of any textbooks but evolved over a period, mostly as a trial-and-error method followed by Dr Veerendra Heggade, who followed the ‘redistribution and growth’ model in ‘neglected’ sectors such as agriculture, education, and health by advocating human development, focusing more on education and poverty reduction not through chanting mantras but building institutions in social, education and health sectors in a multi-religious setting in India.

The Dharmadhikari is seen as a real ‘Karma Yogi’ as he has extended all kinds of services to the poor without expecting any returns. He firmly believes that the best service necessary from a religion – is to make people better human beings. The inclusive, participatory, and sustainable model has successfully contributed to the empowerment of women and farmers through the formation of SHGs and Pragati Bandhu Groups (PBGs), respectively, in remote villages and small towns in Karnataka. The programmes won many national and international awards.

Temple Trusts headed by Heggade runs close to 100 educational, rural development institutions, including schools and colleges, and a university, and has more than 75,000 employees. The book notes that SDM institutions do not apply the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.

The book describes the holistic approach towards development and how all programmes have been striving to achieve spiritual, human, social, and financial capital. Heggade and his family have been promoting spiritual capital through charity or daana, human capital through education and health, social capital through the network of SKDRDP in villages, and financial capital through bank linkages for undertaking sustainable livelihoods.

Model for others:

Following the success of the Dharmasthala Model of Development, the Indian government in 2004 adopted the Food for Work programme introduced by SKDRDP in the mid-1980s. RUDSETI has become a national model and the Indian government has implemented the model by setting up Rural Self Employment and Training Institutes (RSETs) in each district in 2007-08. Even NABARD and other agencies have followed the SHG model of SKDRDP. Similarly, Heggade promoted yoga and naturopathy, and green energy for providing lighting to poor households located in remote and interior regions much before the governments developed plans for solar energy.

The de-addiction programme run by the temple has helped not only to bring happiness to lakhs of families but also enabled incremental growth in income and asset creation. Many temples and educational institutions have introduced Annadaana and Gurukula systems of education based on their study in Dharmasthala.

The book narrates several pioneering initiatives and contributions of Dr Veerendra Heggade, who espoused naturopathy and yoga for healing diseases by setting up institutes in the late 1980s even as the Indian government began focusing on these aspects in recent years. The erection of the Bahubali statue in the vicinity of the temple, the accounts on the establishment of the Manjusha Museum, and the Motor Museum, and the efforts for preserving Yakshagana besides several other details covered in the book are worth reading.

Dharmasthala: Mantra of Development, is, not a religious book even though it revolves around the pilgrim center, the temple, and the various activities carried out by it which are documented in great detail.

The Author:






Nagesh Prabhu is a senior journalist and writer, settled in Bengaluru, India. He is the author of the books Reflective Shadows: Political Economy of World Bank Lending to India (2017) and Middle Class, Media and Modi: The Making of a New Electoral Politics (2020). He holds a PhD in Political Science.

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