A prominent Hindu seer and his disciple have been acquitted on the charge of murdering the manager of a temple in a case which caused a sensation when it occurred nearly 10 years ago.

Jayendra Saraswati, the seer, and his protege Vijayendra Saraswati, of the Kanchipuram Sankaracharya Mutt near the southern provincial capital of Chennai, along with 21 others were let off the hook by a court in neighbouring Puducherry on Wednesday.

The court acquitted all the accused, as the prosecution was unable to provide evidence to back its charge. Witnesses too turned hostile during the trial.

On September 3, 2004, A Sankararaman, manager of the Sri Varadarajaperumal temple in Kancheepuram in southern Tamil Nadu state, was murdered. There were as many as 24 persons accused in the case. One of the accused was hacked to death earlier this year.

'Nobody above law'

Jayendra Saraswati has a large following particularly among Brahmins, who comprise the so-called higher caste among Hindus. He belongs to a long line of seers, who are followers of the first century Hindu religious saint Adi Sankaracharya.

Following the murder, Jayendra Saraswati was arrested and imprisoned in the central jail in Vellore town, near Chennai.

The Hindu newspaper, in a leader comment at the time, said the arrest made it clear that "nobody, however high in religious or temporal matters, shall be above the law."

The victim, Sankararaman, was a close follower of the Kanchi Mutt. But he fell out with Jayendra Saraswati and had accused him of financial irregularities, nepotism and in general had turned into a fierce critic of the seer. The murder happened in these circumstances.

Followers were aghast at the arrest since the seer was considered beyond normal human failings. Some were quoted as having said that they were more concerned with the image of the institution that was presided over by the seer, and worried it could do damage in the long-term.

Source: Al Jazeera