Thursday, November 30, 2006

Brief account of Gaudapadacharya and Govinda Bhagavatpadacharya - 01

Hare Krishna Friends,

As mentioned previously, we will start today with a brief chronicle of the Paramaguru and Guru of Adi Sankara. Today is the holy day of Ekadashi/ Gita Jayanthi (some celebrate it as Guruvayoor Ekadashi). Let us constantly remember Jagadguru Lord Krishna.

The following has been collected from the book “Adi Sankara – His Life and Times” compiled by Sri. T.M.P.Mahadevan. The book covers the series of lectures by Kanchi Mahasvami on Adi Sankara.

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When Lord Nataraja (Shiva) was dancing, Patanjali and Vyaghrapada were standing on either side and enjoying the dance. In pictures and sculptures of Lord Nataraja we may see the figures of these two sages standing on either side. The lower half of the body of Vyaghrapada is that of tiger and the lower half of the body of Patanjali is that of the serpent.

Patanjali is an incarnation of Adi Shesha. He wrote the great commentary on grammar. As he was the son of Atri, he is called Atreya. His mother’s name was Ghonika; therefore is he also known as Ghonikaputra. He wrote three treatises.

A sutra (aphorism) on Yoga.
Commentary on grammar
A manual called Charaka, a work on Ayurveda (medicine), which is an Upaveda (an auxiliary to the Veda). This work has also the name Atreya Samhita.

Thus Patanjali wrote treatises on three sciences which concern the mind, speech and body. The Yoga-sutra is the work conducive to the mind. It explains the method by means of which the mind may be controlled and purified. The commentary on grammar is helpful for speech. With its help we learn to speak without any flaws. The medical treatise Charaka will be found instrumental to maintain bodily health. He is thus the author of three works which are useful for purifying the three instruments, namely, the mind, speech and body.

The commentary which he wrote on grammar is known as Maha-Bhashya (Great Commentary). There is a saying to the effect “Only Adi Shesha who is endowed with a thousand tongues should explain the Maha-Bhashya.” Adi Shesha can explain anything. Having come to know that he (Patanjali) had written a commentary on grammar, many students went to him for receiving lessons. The number of students was one thousand. Patanjali was in the hall of thousand pillars at Chidambaram (a place in Tamil Nadu where there is the famous shrine of Nataraja).

He resolved to give his teaching quickly to the one thousand students. Thinking that he could not remove the doubts raised by all the students with one mouth he assumed his original form as Adi Shesha endowed with a thousand heads. Even the sight of Adi Shesha or the contact with his breath would reduce people to ashes. Therefore staying behind a screen he began to teach. What could be done to prevent any student going out of the hall while teaching was on? In order to prevent this from happening he gave this order: “If anyone goes out without my permission he will become a Brahma-raksas”. Brahma-raksas is a being similar to a ghost. Those who have studied the Vedas well and die prematurely remains as ghosts endowed with the memory of the Veda. They are called Brahma-raksas.

After stating this, Patanjali who was Adi Shesha began teaching them with one thousand mouths from behind the screen. He had also enjoined that the students should not look in, lifting the screen. A doubt came to one of the students. “How does the teacher, being one, instruct so many of us at the same time?” He then lifted the screen and looked in. The sight of Adi Shesha and the poisonous air that emanated from him reduced all the students to ashes. The number of those who were thus destroyed was nine hundred and ninety nine. Only one student had gone out at that time. He was a little dull-witted and was not able to understand well what Adi Shesha was teaching. Therefore he thought he could go out for a while and return later. And he went out.

Coming to know that nine-hundred and ninety nine disciples had died, Adi Shesha assumed again the form of Patanjali and appeared sorrowful because of the tragedy that had happened. At that time the student who had gone out re-entered. He came in with trepidation wondering as to what would happen to him since he had transgressed the teacher’s injunction. Patanjali who saw him coming became a little happy although this student was dull-witted. Patanjali felt happy because he had survived. There was no time thereafter for Patanjali to complete his teaching. Therefore he thought that he would bestow his grace on this sole-surviving student. Addressing him he said: “May you get to know all that I know. Because you went out without permission you have necessarily assumed the form of a Brahma-Raksas. Yet there is a means of salvation for you from this predicament. When you come to impart the instruction you have received from me to a student who is fit to receive it, you will be released from this curse.” All these details are given in a beautiful manner by Ramabhadra Dikshita, the author of works like Janakiparinaya, who lived two hundred years ago. The student to whom Patanjali bestowed his grace was Gaudapada, the one who belonged to the Gauda country.

The region which is to the north of Vindhya Mountains is The Gauda Country. The region which is to the south is the Dravida country. Among the Gaudas there are five sections. They are referred to as Pancha-Gaudas. Similarly, there are five sections of Dravidas. The Brahmins who have gone from the south to Kashi are known as Dravida-Brahmins. In the history books that are written now there is a distinction made between Aryas and Dravidas. Because of this there arise disputes. The distinction that was made of old is the one between Gaudas and Dravidas.

As a result of his teacher’s curse, the student who escaped death became a Brahma-raksas. He began to fly in the air. A Brahma-raksas would eat up every day a Brahmin learned in the Veda. Having assumed a form, it would drag those who are skilled in reciting the Veda to a distance, and after putting them several questions which they could not answer, it would beat them to death. Gauda who had become a Brahma-raksas went to the banks of the river Narmada and sat on an old fig tree which was there. That place is in between the five Gauda countries and the five Dravida countries. Those who went from South India to the North or from North India to the South had to pass through this place. Gauda would ask the scholars traveling via that place a question in grammar and they would blink being unable to answer. In those times there was no Maha-bhashya for grammar. Immediately the Brahma-raksas would beat them up and eat them.

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We will continue the next day.


Monday, November 27, 2006

Advaita Guru-parampara

Hare Krishna Friends,

In order to instruct us in the disciplines that are necessary for removing sorrows and in order to enable the light of the Self to shine in its plenitude, there is required the line of succession of preceptors. A preceptor hands down to his successor the ability to continue the aforesaid mission. It is the series of preceptors who succeed one another in this manner that is called as Acharya-parampara or Guru-parampara. We should be grateful for this succession. The preceptors have preserved for us the wealth consisting of the path which leads to the gaining of the light of the Self. If we meditate on all the preceptors who have come in this succession line till today, we shall receive a profusion of grace. Therefore knowledge of Guru-parampara is of utmost importance. We have the following two main Guru-Parampara shlokas in the Advaita tradition:

sadashiva samarambhaam sankaracharya madhyamaam
asmadacharya paryantam vande guru paramparam

narayanam padmabhuvam vasishtam shaktim cha tatputra parasharam cha
vyasam shukam gaudapadam mahantam govinda yogindramathasya shishyam
sri sankaracharyam athasya padmapadam cha hastamalakam cha shishyam
tam totakam vartika kaaram anyan asmad gurun santatamanatosmi

In the first verse, starting with Sadashiva (Dakshinamurthy, the first guru), with Sankaracharya in the middle and finally all the Acharyas coming in Sankara lineage are saluted.

The second verse traces the lineage from Sriman Narayana (notice how even here Advaita is stressing the non-difference between Shiva and Vishnu). The Gurus mentioned in the second verse are as follows:

Padmabhuva (Brahmaji)
Gaudapada (Paramaguru of Sankaracharya)
Govinda Bhagavatpada (Guru of Sankaracharya)
Padmapada, Hastamalaka, Totaka, Sureshvara (vartika kaara)

Till Shuka, the succession was from father to son (Putra-parampara). Shuka was a Jnani even at birth. From him started the succession from preceptor to preceptor (Sishya-parampara). From the Puranas and other sources, we learn about the Acharyas till Shuka. The traditions regarding to the great gurus starting with Gaudapada are recorded in the Sankara-vijaya texts (biography of Sankara) and few other sources. There are five main Sankara-vijaya texts:

Madhaviya Sankara-vijaya (written by Sri Vidyaranya…remember the first quiz conducted by Hariram???)
Anandagirya Sankara-vijaya
Chidvilasiya Sankara-vijaya
Keraliya Sankara-vijaya
Vyasachariya Sankara-vijaya

It has been mentioned previously that His Holiness Pujyasri Chandrashekara Saraswathi Mahasvami used to deliver discourses at many instances. It was not mere speech, but a message from the heart each day. In one such occasion the Master delivered a series of discourses on the life and message of Adi Sankara, in Tamil. Sri T.M.P Mahadevan, professor of Philosophy and sincere disciple of the Mahasvami has translated these series of speeches into English and published as the book “Adi Sankara – His Life and Times” under the banner of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

Most of us know the life history of Adi Sankara, but may not know the details of his Guru and Paramaguru. I thought of sharing the particulars pertaining to Gaudapada and Govinda Bhagavatpada from the above mentioned book. The message of Advaita is beautifully interwoven between the stories. The Mahasvami raises some questions in between the stories (that can rise as doubts to the common man) and clearly answers those with appropriate quotes in his own characteristic style.

We will start with the same in the next email.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

Brief life sketch of Sri Chandrashekara Saraswathi Mahasvami – 07

Hare Krishna,

Today we will conclude with the Brief life sketch of the Kanchi Mahasvami. The email is a bit longer.

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The Mahasvami’s simple speeches to the masses flowed effortlessly, containing the most ancient wisdom and also latest research results. For him all religions were only facets of the Sanathana Dharma. He reflected that unity of Religions is needed, but not uniformity. The core of the Acharya’s life was the preservation, study and adherence to the Vedas, the common heritage of the entire Human race (please note, it is entire Human race, not just for Indians). As mentioned before, His discourses have been brought out in many volumes in Tamil as “Deivattin Kural”, these are known as the common man’s Veda. Some parts have been brought out in English also. He weaved together various branches of knowledge into one universal fabric. His insights were remarkable.

During the India-China conflict in 1962, the government wanted money for the war effort. The Acharya in a memorable appeal, called upon the people to rally to the defense of our country and offer at least a small quantity of gold to the temples of Goddess Shakthi from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. He said: “We should punish our enemies, but without malice”. During the Indo-Pak war in 1964, the Acharya arranged for the free distribution of thousands of copies of Hanuman Chalisa to our troops to sustain their morale and ensure victory.
Tiruvidaimarudur, also called Madhyarjuna, is a notable place of pilgrimage connected with Adi Sankara's Dig Vijaya. When Sankara visited this place, he desired that the Mahalinga at the temple should itself declare the truth of Advaita so that the doubt in regard thereto lingering in the minds of some people might be dispelled. In response to the Jagadguru's prayer, Lord Shiva appeared out of the Mahalinga, raised the right hand, and proclaimed the truth of Advaita three times thus: 'satyam Advaitam; satyam Advaitam; satyam Advaitam'. Mahasvami wished that this greatly significant incident should be adequately represented in sculpture so that people would easily remember it. A vimana (gopura/tower) over the entrance of the local Sankara Mutt was put up, and within it were installed sculptured figures of the Mahalinga with the right hand raised and of Adi Sankara with palms joined. In the central courtyard of the Mutt a shrine was constructed and in it was installed Sankara paaduka. The Acharya accompanied by Sri Jayendra Saraswathi Swami participated in the Kumbhabhishekam of this new memorial, which took place on the 5th of December, 1963.
Several foreign scholars and savants, spiritual seekers and religious leaders, exponents of the arts and even diplomats have had interviews with the Acharya, thereby gaining first-hand knowledge of the immortal tradition of India. What Professor Milton Singer of the University of Chicago said after meeting the Acharya, express precisely the feeling of all those from abroad who have had the privilege of conversing with the Great One. This is what the Professor said: "Before I went to India I had heard and read much about the great soul-force of its holy men and saints but I had assumed that this was something in the ancient past. And it was not until I had met the Sankaracharya that I realized it is still a part of the living force of Hinduism today".
His Holiness advised musicians and Harikatha artists to understand the meaning of the lyrics and sing them with devotion. Scores of eminent musicians presented their art before him and received his blessings. The Mahasvami composed the song “Maithreem Bhajatha” in Sanskrit about universal peace and harmony for being sung by the nightingale of India Dr.M.S.Subbulakshmi at the United Nations (Most of us would have listened to this master piece. If you have not, it can be downloaded from coolgoose/cooltoad site)
Sri Jayendra Saraswathi svamigal desired that the entire year 1967 be celebrated as the Diamond jubilee year of the Mahasvami’s accession to the Kamakoti Peetham. There were serene celebrations all over the land.

For the Mahasvami the day started at 4:30 with his ritualistic bath, which was itself worshipped by devotees. His Anushtaana, Japa and Pujas were predominantly Manasika in nature. After granting darshan to devotees, giving audience to visitors, advising religious organizations, addressing the public, giving instructions for the Mutts administration and his own reading, hardly the Mahasvami got 2 hrs of rest a day. Even on fasting days, his absolute serenity and poise were a marvel. The Acharya’s frequent observance of silence seemed to recharge his subtle powers. He adhered to tapas. His Atmabala was his invincible strength.

In one of the gatherings, the Acharya observed “Villagers migrating to cities and living beyond their means will only increase poverty. Value based quality of living is more important than the so called standard of living. Rights are only facilities for performance of our duties. Teachers should study the subjects to impart and not to sell knowledge. Respect for parents and teachers are essential. Avoid Ego, Anger and Arrogance. Humility with self confidence will lead to greatness in life. Students should acquire knowledge of world affairs without deviating from Education. Truth and Non-violence are the principles of Dharma for the entire humanity which is but one family.” When the then Tamilnadu Chief Minister M.G.Ramachandran (MGR) had a darshan, smilingly the Acharya told him that his power of attracting the masses should be used in a positive manner.

With the blessings of Mahasvami, Sankar Mutts were constructed all over India at various places. A magnificent stupa was erected at Kaladi in Kerala, the birth place of Adi Sankara. At Srirangam, the Mahasvami suggested building of a new Gopuram on the old base. This was duly accomplished in the 80s by the initiative of His Holiness Jeer Svamigal of Ahobila Mutt (Sri Vaishnava Sampradaam). The Mahasvami directed Kanchi Mutt to financially help in constructing one of the tiers. This is now one of the tallest Gopurams in our country.

In April 1978, at the age of 84, the Acharya suddenly left on an indefinite paada yaatra, walking nearly 25 km a day. This long tour extended for full six years, with pretty long halts for few months at some places, covering many parts of the States of Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and a sizable portion of Maharashtra also. He declined any form of paraphernalia of the Mutt. A few personal disciples accompanied him on their own initiative. Harijan men, women and children waited for his darshan on the road side. The Acharya made kind enquiries about their welfare and blessed them. His Holiness blessed countless devotees who saw him. At 84, he walked like a young man of 25. The rugged terrain, aggressive weather, utter lack of even minimum comfort did not disturb his spiritual trip and poise. Roads and rocks were his bed, sky was his roof, puja was part of his self. Some of the chosen objectives which constituted a significant part of the life-mission of the Great Guru, such as propagation and encouragement of the study of Vedas and Shastras, constructing new temples and renovating old ones, insisting people to lead a pure life and bringing to the memory of people the stupendous achievements of great preceptors like Sankara Bhagavatpada and Sage Vidyaranya continued to revolve in the mind of His Holiness, with redoubled vigor during the strenuous paadayatra. Though he had renounced the headship of the Kanchi Peetham in favour of his successor by June 1969, he never failed to do what a typical world preceptor should, for the moral and spiritual uplift of the people at large.

At Satara in Maharashtra a charming boy Sankaran had his first darshan of the Mahasvami and received his grace. In later camps, the Acharya put special questions to him and was happy with his response. After one such meeting, the Acharya svami casually remarked that the Mutt would soon have three Sankaracharyas. On 29th May 1983, charming 14 year old Sankaran was initiated into the Sanyasa order and designated as Pujyasri Sankara Vijayendra Saraswathi Svamigal, the 70th Peethadipathi of Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt. The unique trinities, the three Acharyas belonging to three different generations reflected the Mahasvami ensuring a smooth unbroken continuity in the 25 centuries old Ritualistic, Spiritual, Social and Administrative traditions of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. The Paramacharya himself supervised the initial training of the Bala Svamigal.
At the earnest request of the two Acharyas, the Government and people of Tamilnadu, the Mahasvami returned to Kanchipuram in 1984. One cannot but wonder when he ponders over this very long yaatra of His Holiness, covering a distance of about 4000 km on foot with such a frail body, with his food restricted in quality and quantity, who was 84 years old when starting from Kanchi and about month less than ninety on his return to Kanchi to have accomplished this feat. Definitely, here is felt the super human touch.
From 1984 the Sankara Mutt in Kanchi again turned out to be a place of solace for the care-worn, the sick, the mentally retarded, the poor and the needy, a pilgrim center for devotees hailing from far and near and a magnetic spot of spiritual attraction for a good number of foreigners seeking peace. Distinguished visitors during the 80s included Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the President of India Dr.Shankar Dayal Sharma and as well as their majesties, the King and Queen of Nepal. National leaders Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K.Advani and Murali Manohar Joshi paid their respects to the three Acharyas of the Mutt.
Once a widow of an army personnel had darshan of the Mahasvami. The Acharya shocked her by giving her Kumkum prasadam and told her that her husband was alive. Later the blessed couple came and fell at his feet. As a personification of humility the Mahasvami said “Many devotees identify divinity with me, though it may not be a fact. But perhaps they derive an inner feeling of communion with divinity due to their own dedicated perceptions.”
Almost till late 1990, the Acharya continued in the strict observance of His daily routine - Japa (meditation) for an hour or more before sunrise Anushtana (ablutions), Atmapuja, worship at the Adi Sankara shrine inside the Mutt, granting darsan to a vast mass of devotees and so on. He rarely missed going to Sri Kamakshi temple for darshan on Fridays. He perused at least two daily newspapers and at times read books of interest for even hours.
After 1990, Paramacharya seemed to be further withdrawing towards silence. Some attributed this to his failing health. His gracious smiles and queries to the doctors were full of meaning. Though His Holiness could not walk far, nor sit for long, he never disappointed the devotees flocking at the Mutt for his darshan, nor failed to hear the prayers of suffering people and bless them. Even his memory did not shrink till his last days. A committee was formed with Sri R.Venkataraman, the former President of India as its chairman to celebrate 1993-94 as the centenary year of the Mahasvami. In 1993 countless devotees satisfied their own desires by performing Kanakabhishekam to the Acharya, but this meant nothing for that great stitaprajna for whom gold and gravel made absolutely no difference. The Jivanmukta radiated divine grace to all those who came to him.
On 8th of Jan 1994, the Acharya looked very cheerful. At around 2:58 PM, the magnificent moral monarch glided out of his 100 years old mortal mansion on his own decision and attained Videha Mukti. An Avatar came to an end. The mission of preserving and reviving our Dharma initiated by Adi Sankara has been continued and consolidated in our times by the Centenarian Sage of Kanchi. This mission has no end.
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With this, we come to the end on the series of emails depicting the Biography of Kanchi Mahasvami. From the next email, we will see some of his messages.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Brief life sketch of Sri Chandrashekara Saraswathi Mahasvami – 06

Hare Krishna Friends,

As mentioned before, most of the following is a transcription of the video “The Sage of Kanchi”, depicting in brief the Biography of the Mahasvami. Let us tread further.

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His Holiness initiated a scheme of mass contact. More than 2000 mudradhikaris (honorary responsible members) were nominated in Tanjore alone. Some aims of this scheme were:

Social service by the village community.
Preserving temples by cleaning them.
Peaceful persuasive prevention of conversion of Hindus to other religions.
Cow protection.
Planting of trees and growing of vegetables.
Digging of tanks, wells and channels or laying of roads by people themselves without distinction of rich or poor.

Mahasvami convened periodical conferences of the mudradhikaris to instruct them personally.

The Vedas constitute the basic scriptures of the Hindus. It is through the preservation of the Vedas that Hindu Culture has been preserved in spite of the vicissitudes of history. In recent times, the cultivation of skill in Vedic recitation and Vedic studies has been neglected because of alien influence and conditions of modern life. In order to offset the forces making for deterioration, the Acharya constituted the “Veda Dharma Paripalana Sabha”. Under the auspices of this Sabha which was started in 1944, annual conference of Vedic scholars are held in the various parts of the country, examinations are conducted in Vedic Literatures, maintenance is provided for selected and deserving Vedic scholars, institution for teaching the Vedas are set up and run, and every possible assistance is giving for the preservation of Vedic culture.

The consolidation of Advaita through his Bashyas and numerous Vedantic manuals and through teaching by example and precept was the greatest gift Adi Sankara conferred on the entire humanity. The central mission of any institution which owes its foundation to the Great Teacher should be to spread the knowledge of Advaita. The Jagadgurus of Sri Kamakoti Peetham have in various ways, rendered invaluable services to the cause of Advaita. An important measure designed to promote studies in Advaita was taken in 1894 by the then pontiff of the Mutt by inaugurating the “Advaita Sabha”. In 1945, the golden jubilee of the Advaita Sabha was celebrated in the presence of Mahasvami. The Acharya commended the work of the Sabha, and explained the essentials of Advaita Vedanta. The basic truth of Advaita is that the Self (Atman) alone is real, and that all else is Mithya. Not understanding the implication of the words, Mithya and Maya, the critics found fault with Advaita. Although ultimately the world of plurality is not real, it is not that it is not useful. Until the onset of wisdom, it is vested with empirical reality (vyavaharika satya). It is in this world and while living in it, that we have to strive for and gain release from bondage. True Moksha is the attainment of All-Selfhood, in this very life, by the removal of Maya through knowledge. The followers of the different religions think that their particular mode of worship alone is the true mode. But we, who follow Advaita believe that it is the same God that is attained through any of the religious modes, and that devotion to God is essential for realizing the truth of Advaita. In conclusion, the Acharya referred to the fact that teachers of Advaita have appeared at all times and in all the different parts of the country, and have left behind immortal works on Advaita. He declared that it was our duty to study those works and gain the wisdom that is contained in them.

In 1946, there was communal frenzy following the unfortunate demand for splitting the country. Hindu women of Bengal were molested and converted. There was an indiscriminate killing. The Acharya said “as per our shastras, those who have been molested and forcibly converted should be allowed to return to our religion and rehabilitated without any stigma. We should honor those Muslims and Hindus who rendered assistance during these disturbances.”

1947 saw the dawn of independence for India. The Acharya’s central message to the people was “Our flag contains Dharma Chakra. It links us not only with Emperor Ashoka but also with Bhagavad Gita which says ‘Evam Pravartitam Chakram’ that is our Dharma shines as the Chakra which symbolize the constant interaction between the human being and the cosmos. This freedom has been obtained by long struggle and sacrifice. Let us pray for a future of peace and prosperity. People should stick to truth at any cost and completely eschew communal strife. Each one of us should think about the welfare of others. Control of the mind leads to Self Realization and that is real independence.”

When Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in Jan 1948 the Acharya said “It is a great loss to our value system. Gandhiji’s views on Rama Naama, Varnashrama Dharma, food habits and definition of God are spiritually profitable even to the most faithful Hindu.” The Acharya asked the people to pray for his soul. He instructed that 2nd October, the Birthday of Gandhiji must be observed as a day of prayer in temples, mosques and churches.

With Advaitic understanding, it will not be difficult to realize that, it is the same God that is worshipped under different names and forms. The special contribution of Hinduism to the world's history of religions is the truth that there are as many modes of approach to God Head as there are minds. And, yet on account of misunderstanding and narrowness, the followers of the different sects of Hinduism have indulged in quarrels sometimes. In South India, exclusive claims have been advanced, for instance, on behalf of Vaishnavism and Shaivism. While the Alwars and Nayanmars were universalistic in their outlook, their later followers introduced narrow distinctions and dogmatic partisanships. The Acharya wanted to give a concrete form to the movement for unity and co-ordination between the Vaishnavas and the Shaivas in Tamilnadu; and accordingly, the idea of “Tiruppavai-Tiruvempavai Shadanga Conference” was hit upon in 1950. Andal's Tiruppavai (praising Lord Vishnu) and Manikkavachakar's Tiruvempavai (praising Lord Shiva) are sung in the Vishnu and Siva temple respectively in the month of Margazhi (Margasirsha). The Acharya had a conference of scholars in these sacred texts organized at Tiruvidaimarudur in December, 1950. The unity-movement has been gaining in popularity since its inception.

When the Indian constitution was taking shape, His Holiness sent communications to about 4000 legislators to ensure that our legislation should confirm to our culture which is our Dharma. This serene sanyasi convened a conference of Mutts from allover India, the first of its kind. The concept of religion as a fundamental right saw the light of the day. Stalwarts like Pandit Nehru, Sardar Vallabhai Patel and Ambedkar appreciated and respected the suggestions of the Acharya. They incorporated the important suggestions of the Acharya.

The Sage of Kanchi spelt out a simple but brilliant scheme to help the poor on a mass scale with people’s involvement. Every house wife is to deposit a hand full of rice (called Pidi Arishi in Tamil) and a coin in a pot before she starts cooking each day. This will be collected periodically by volunteers who will give it to the nearest temple where it will be cooked adding salt, tamarind and curd. After offering to the deity, it would be distributed to the poor. This scheme will benefit those who give as well as those who receive. Those who give will have the satisfaction of having made their daily offering to God and their less fortunate brethren; and those who receive will have their hunger satisfied and thought purified through partaking of the consecrated food.

In 1954, the Acharya nominated as his successor 19 year old Subrahmanyam who was trained in the Mutt itself and who was known for his piety, exemplary behavior and intelligence. He was ceremoniously initiated to Sanyasahrama as Pujyashri Jayendra Sarasvati Swamigal, the 69th Sankaracharya of Kanchi kamakoti Peetham. To ensure undisturbed training for the young Acharya, he was secluded to Ambi a remote village near Kanchipuram where there is an Adhishtanam of one of the Sankaracharyas of Kanchi. The Paramacharya himself conducted training.

1957 marked the Golden Jubilee of the Acharya’s accession to the Kamakoti Peetham. A biography of the Sage written in Tamil by Sambamoorthy Shastrigal was released to mark the occasion.

The Mahasvami blessed renovation of numerous temples. He guided the Kumbhabhishekam of Akhilandeshwari temple at Thiruvanikkaval. The ancient spacious Mutt at Thiruvanikkaval was renovated and a Veda patashaala was started here. His Holiness arranged for covering the Vimana (Tower top) of Kanchi Kamakshi temple with Gold. The temple is the center of the ancient arts and crafts. Architecture, sculpture, and iconography go into the building of temples and the making of images. The directions for these arts are to be learnt from the Agamas - Shaiva, Shakta, Vaikhanasa and Pancharatra. It is from the same sources that the Arhchakas (temple priests) have to know the correct procedures of temple rituals and worship. The Acharya wanted to institute an organization which would work for the revival-leading to a renaissance of the ancient skills and arts relating to the temples. In 1962, the Mahasvami convened the first “Vyasa Bharatha Agama Shilpa Vidwat Sadas”, a unique historical, cultural and academic assembly of scholars and artists from all over India and abroad. The topics discussed included Temple Architecture, worship and evidences of Hindu religion at various regions of the world. Scholars were honored. The Acharya said “Our ancient cultural heritage was prevalent at Egypt in the West to Java in the East. Buddhism did not accept rituals, but with its stress on Ahimsa and Satya, it is only one of the Upanishadic aspects of our religion. We should rediscover our cultural ties with our neighboring countries, including West Asia. Western interests have concocted the Race theory dividing our people into Aryans and Dravidians for which there is absolutely no sanction in our own sources. We must be fully aware of our solidarity.” The Sadas has become now a permanent annual feature.

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We will continue the next day.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Brief life sketch of Sri Chandrashekara Saraswathi Mahasvami – 05

Hare Krishna Dear Friends,

With deep sorrow I would like to mention the departure of Mukund, the 10 year old son of Sri Sankar (presently settled in Trichy). Mukund was having protein leaking problem and the conditioned worsened over the last few days. By 5.00 PM IST on 15th November, Mukund left his body. The whole family was very supportive for the child and ensured that he remembers the Lord always. Sankar is one of my close friends whom I met here in Melbourne. He is one of the kind persons responsible for introducing me to the books of the various Acharyas and Ramana Maharshi. Let us all pray Lord to give enough courage to Sri Sankar, his wife and the rest of the family to pass through this very tough time.

Continuing with the Divya Charitram of Kanchi Mahasvami.

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Traveling via various places in Kerala and Tamilnadu, the Acharya reached Tiruvannamalai in December, 1929 to have darshan of the Karthika Deepam. Tiruvannamalai is a very famous religious centre and is one of the Pancha Bhootha Kshetra (the Agni Kshetra). To symbolize the Lord in his glorious form of Jyothi (fire), a huge Deepam is lit on top of the hill on the day of Karthika (usually falling in late Nov/early Dec every year). A little bit about Tiruvannamalai is as follows:

The Lord here is called Arunachaleshwara and goddess goes by the name of Abhithakuchalamba. The pilgrim centre is also known for having been sung by Appar and Sambandar (the famous Nayanmars, Tamil Shaivite saints). There is also a story in the puranas that once the sages requested Mahavishnu and Prajapathi Brahma to measure the height of Lord Shiva (this is as per one version of the story). Shiva took the form of a flame extending infinitely upwards and downwards. Mahavishnu took the form of the Boar (Varaha) and went to the nether worlds to see the end of Shiva’s magnificent form. Brahma in turn took the form of a Swan (his vehicle) and flew towards the sky in search of Shiva’s head. It is said that both of them traveled great distances and still could not see the end of Shiva’s form. Finally the Lord appeared as a Linga (Arunachaleshwara) and blessed all who were assembled there. This incident is said to have occurred in Tiruvannamalai. There is also another story involving Lord Subramanya teaching Arunagirinathar (a saint) here. Many great siddhas and saints are associated with Tiruvannamalai.

In recent times, the name closely associated with Tiruvannamalai is that of Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi, the world renowned Jivanmukta. As already mentioned by Hariram, Kanchi Mahasvami had immense respect for Ramana Maharshi and vice versa. It is recommended again to go through the page (if you have already not done so) for a beautiful account of the high esteem each had for the other.

When the Mahasvami visited this place for the first time, the people gathered together in great devotion and welcomed him. Svamigal stayed there for almost a month, during which time, he went around the Hill (This is called as Giri Pradakshinam/Giri Valam and is considered very meritorious) and had darshan of Arunachaleswara several times.

Paul Brunton, an Englishman who had immigrated to America, came to India in search of a fully realized soul. He was traveling around the country meeting the Yogis in order to obtain their blessings. After completing his travels in Northern India, he came to Madras with the intention to tour South India. With the assistance of Sri.K.S.Venkataramani, a famous English writer residing in Madras, Paul got the opportunity to meet the Sage of Kanchi who was then camping at Chengulpet (which is about 35 miles from Chennai). Paul Brunton started asking his questions and the Acharya replied to all of them, with Venkataramani acting as the translator.

Towards the end of the conversation, the Acharya told him “There is an indwelling divinity in every man which will bring him back to god. Be humble you will find what you seek. Go to the revered Ramana Maharshi at Tiruvannamalai”. Paul Brunton has mentioned all about the meeting in his book ‘A Search in Secret India’. Later he met Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi at Tiruvannamalai and got what he was seeking. Paul Brunton has been credited with introducing Ramana Maharshi to the West through his books "A Search in Secret India" and "The Secret Path".

In one of the gatherings in Chennai, the Mahasvami suggested the following three ideas to reduce poverty.

Everyone including women should wear dresses that are the most inexpensive.
Instead of coffee, people should drink wheat porridge in the morning.
Parents of groom should refrain from getting dowry in the weddings. Marriages can be celebrated in a simple manner without extravaganza.

If we recollect, the Acharya had collected sand from Rameshwaram and as a religious rule the sand had to be dissolved in Ganga at Prayag. In order to comply with this rule the Mahasvami decided to go to Prayag as soon as possible (as we know, Jivanmuktas are never bound by any rules, what so ever. They seemingly act as per rules so that common folks like us can learn and follow). He traveled through Sri Shailam, Hyderabad, Nagpur, and Jabalpur and reached Allahabad (Prayag). He covered the entire route of over 2000 km by foot with the summer heat at 120 deg. Where ever he went, he had a ritual bath in the nearby sacred river and darshan at the respective temple thereby silently demonstrating the psychic unity of Bharath. The common folk and elite thronged to receive him with all honors. The Acharya spoke to the people in their own language. He used to deliver lectures on a variety of spiritual subjects like Vedas, Vedanta, Puranas, Dharma Shastra, Life History of Sankara Bhagavatpada, the Sthala Puranas of the holy places that he visited etc (we will learn about some of these in the mails to follow).

At Allahabad he was ceremoniously received by a committee lead by the Vice Chancellor of Allahabad University Mahamahopadhyay Ganga Nath Jha. In July 1934, at the Triveni confluence he mixed the sand gathered by him at the Sethu seashore in 1922. After bathing, he collected water from Ganga for Abhishekams of deities in South Indian temples.

In Oct 1934, the Mahasvami reached Varanasi (there are two rivers called Varana and Asi that come and join the river Ganga. The land between these two spots along the banks of Ganga is Varanasi, also known as Kashi) and received a hearty welcome from the public lead by the Maharaja of Kashi and Pandit Madan Mohan Malavya, Vice Chancellor of Benaras Hindu University. He had Darshan of Lord Vishwanatha and Goddess Annapurna. The Gauda Sanyasis of North and Dravida Sanyasis of South offered their respects to him. At the Benaras Hindu University a grand welcome address in Sanskrit was presented by the Vice Chancellor. The Acharya made a rather long reply in Sanskirt. His main words were “The aim of Education in ancient India was to attain inner peace. This alone can ensure happiness for society. Education based on our Dharma will confer immortality”.

A conference of eminent scholars of Bengal invited the Acharya to Calcutta. En route to Calcutta from Kashi, at the pilgrim center Kastar Mahadev numerous old sanyasis welcomed the Acharya with reverence. He was honored with public reception at Patna and Gaya. The Mahsvami addressed the people in Hindi. At Bodh Gaya, the Acharya worshipped the Bodhi tree and Buddha. At Calcutta, he received a colorful reception jointly organized by several linguistic groups. Moving forward, at the Jagannath temple in Puri, the Sage of Kanchi was requested to occupy the ancient Mukthi Mantapa Presidential seat. He requested the pundits of Jagannath to be leaders for our nation and work towards spreading our dharma in this world.

Walking through various towns in Orrissa, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, he reached Rameshwaram in 1939. With the Ganga water collected by him, he did Abhishekams to Ramalingeshwara. Thus his Ganga Yaatra was considered complete on that day. The Acharya returned to Kumbakonam after his unprecedented yaatra for 21 years covering over 5000 km, all the while emphasizing that the philosophy of Hindu society is collective well being and the final goal is Moksha.

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We will see the rest of the account in the next email.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Brief life sketch of Sri Chandrashekara Saraswathi Mahasvami – 04

Hare Krishna Friends,

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On the way back from Rameshwaram, the Acharya visited many holy places sung by the various Nayanmars (Shaivite Saints) and Alwars (Vishnavite Saints), did the Tatanka (ear ornament) Pratishta for Sri Akhilandeshwari at Thiruvanikkaval (a place near Trichy).

There is an incident connected with Thiruvanikkaval. This place also known as Jambukeshwaram is one of the Panchabhoota Pilgrim centers. Here the Lord (Shiva) is symbolized in the form of water. There is perennial oozing of water from underneath the Shiva Linga in the sanctum sanctorum which is emptied at regular intervals (Thanks to my close friends at Trichy, I was fortunate to visit Thiruvanikkaval in March this year). The Lord in this holy place is called Jambunatha while the Devi is known as Sri Akhilandeshwari. It appears that the Goddess here was very fierce and with her ugra-kala (fury) used to burn everything before her. Even the priest who opened the temple doors early in the morning was reduced to ashes and the people, unable to put up with such fierceness, eagerly availed themselves of the opportunity afforded by the presence in their midst of the great Adi Sankara who came to this kshetra in the course of his tour and implored him to draw out the ugra-kala of the Goddess and thus appease her ferocity. Accordingly, he established a temple of Ganesh just opposite to that of the Goddess so that when the temple doors were opened in the morning the first person to catch the eye of the Goddess would be her own favorite son. This in a way reduced the ferocity, but not satisfied with this, Bhagavatpada prepared two Sri Chakras in the shape of two Tatankas (ear ornaments) and drew forth all the ugra-kala of the Goddess into these two Tatankas and consecrated them on her two ears thereby appeasing her and approachable to her numerous devotees. From that day forth, the Devi has been adorned with the Tatanka. And whenever this ornament got into disrepair, it was repaired by the spiritual descendants of the great world-teacher, who adorned the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham and again put on the ears of the Goddess after due Pratishtha. The Sage of Kanchi followed the same time honored rule.

It was a time when Indians, under the leadership of various patriots were fighting to free India from British Rule. When National leaders Desha Bhandhu Chittaranjan Das and S.Sathya Murthy sought his blessings, the Acharya said “All political parties should conduct politics in such a way that the religious faith of the general public is not harmed or affected. Though as a Sanyasi, I cannot identify myself with any party, I certainly look for the country attaining freedom soon. I want not only the foreign rule to go, but also the foreign outlook of our people to go”. Many other freedom fighters met the Swamiji and sought his blessings. They marveled his knowledge and concern for public affairs. Spiritually, the Acharya was also a freedom fighter, fighting for the freedom of people from the cycle of birth and death. But he felt that by the time political freedom was obtained our people may perhaps further lose their spiritual instincts.

When the Government of the then Madras regency brought a bill to regulate Hindu religious endowments and temples, the Acharya guided some eminent advocates to draft a memorandum. The chief minister, Raja of Panagal of Justice Party thanked the Acharya for his valuable suggestions.

Acharya was an authority on Vedanta and Mimamsa and could communicate with clarity to the people. He studied World History, particularly the impact of Hindu culture on humanity at large. In the course of his travels, the Acharya studied many relics, scriptural inscriptions, musical inscriptions etc at various places. He found that Indian culture and practices were prevalent in Java and Bali islands which are now called Indonesia. Swamigal had previously read about two thousand pages of the book ‘Raffle’s History of Java.’ There are temples in Indonesia for Ganesh, Shiva, Ambika and Vishnu, similar to the ones in India. However, the Shaivite and Vaishnavite religions that were prevalent before have disappeared and Islam has become the national religion.

The Tamil savant Poovai Swaminatha Iyer who retrieved many relics from decaying Palm leaves received the title “Dakshinathya Kalanidhi” from the Acharya. His Holiness had command over 17 languages including some foreign languages. Praising Sir Annamalai Chettiyar for establishing the “Annamalai” university, he shared his concerns over the pernicious dowry system which was impoverishing many families. Wherever he went, a huge procession followed. And many in the procession were devotees from religions other than Hinduism. The Acharya had enormous compassion for each and every one.

In 1926, the Acharya was camping at a village near Trichy. Seth Chamanlal Bajaj, a Congress leader, was touring Tamil Nadu and wanted to have Darshan of the Acharya. He conveyed his desire to Dr.T.V.Swaminatha Shastri, then Congress leader at Trichi, who in turn consulted with Mutt officials and made arrangements for the meeting. On the appointed day, Bajaj, Chakravarty Rajagopalachary (Popularly known as Rajaji, who was a Writer, Statesman, Devout Hindu, Second Governor General of Independent India, Chief Minister of Tamilnadu and Bharath Ratna recipient. Most of us would have heard his introductory speech to the Bhaja Govindam Song rendered by Late Smt. M.S.Subbulakshmi), Dr.Shastri and V.Jayarama Iyer, a lawyer went to the camp site. Bajaj, Shastri and Iyer went upstairs to where Swamigal was staying. When they prostrated and sat down, Swamigal inquired if anyone else had accompanied them. They replied that Rajaji had come with them, but was standing outside. The Acharya sent Jayarama Iyer and asked him to bring Rajaji to the room. Rajaji came in to the room and prostrated before the Acharya as per practice. When Swamigal asked him why he did not come in before, he replied that he had not taken a bath yet and was planning to come have Darshan of Swamigal after completing his ablutions. Swamigal looked at him and said that people who are devoted in the service of the country would not get the time or the opportunity to cleanse their body in a timely manner. Their tireless service is their prayer and Vrata. Rajaji was a person with a pure heart and was eligible to have his Darshan at any time. Rajaji informed Swamigal about the national freedom struggle, Hindi Prachar and Gandhiji’s service to the nation. Swamigal also conveyed his opinions to the leaders gathered there. They prostrated to Swamigal and said this Darshan would enable them to do both worldly and religious service.

At a cowshed in Nallichery (Palakkad), a village in Kerala a historic meeting of two great persons took place on 15th Oct 1927. The 57 year old Mahatma Gandhi was drawn to the 33 year old Sanyasi sitting on the floor, clad in a Khaadi cloth. The Acharya was also happy to meet a respectable National leader leading a simple life with spiritual emphasis. Gandhiji prostrated before Acharya as per tradition and his heart immersed in the glowing presence of the Jivanmukta. Then Swamigal spoke in Sanskrit, invited Gandhiji to come nearby and take a seat. Gandhiji sat down on the floor and replied that he could not speak in Sanskrit, but can comprehend Sanskrit words. Swamigal conversed in Sanskrit and Gandhiji in Hindi. Swamigal conveyed his appreciation to Gandhiji on his service to the nation keeping in mind that political rule based on spirituality would nurture a nation and one based primarily on human strength would lead to destruction. He praised Gandhiji for preaching this principle to the whole world. The conversation lasted for nearly an hour. Finally, when Gandhiji took leave, he said he was greatly benefited by having darshan of Swamigal and would keep his suggestions in mind and act upon them as much as possible. That evening, Mahatma was asked to reveal the details of his conversation with the Swamigal when at a public meeting in Coimbatore. Gandhiji refused to reveal the conversation as it was a private meeting and matters close to his heart were discussed and that is why the press was not allowed in the shed. Swamigal also did not divulge any details about this conversation.

In the course of his travel, the Acharya visited the small village of Vadvambalam situated near Vizhuppuram. The 56th Acharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam, Sri Atmabhodhendra Saraswathi Swami had attained Siddhi in this village. He had stayed in Kashi for a long time and was known for his commentary on Rudram (the centre portion of Yajur Veda). There was no marking in that town to identify the place where the Acharya had attained Siddhi. His Holiness roamed the village’s fields, groves looking for signs of the spot and finally stopped at a place and asked the ground to be dug there. The village folks were following Swamigal around during his search. They said that they had dug places around there for various other reasons and did not see any signs of anyone attaining Siddhi there. However, Swamigal insisted and ordered that place to be excavated. A few feet into the ground, a skull was found. At that time, one of person who was digging (Kumaramangalam Sambamoorthy Shastri) fell down shouting “Stop, Stop” and went into a trance like state. He regained consciousness after a long time and recounted the amazing vision that he saw. “I saw a Sanyasi wearing saffron robes, having a Dhandam in his hand, wearing Rudraksha maala around his neck and was as tall as the sky. There were several Brahmins around the Sannyasi chanting Upanishads. The huge figure then ordered the chanting to be stopped. Moreover, I heard the figure say, “Don’t dig don’t dig in my ears”. The figure became smaller and smaller and disappeared. I just heard someone chanting “Sadashivam, Sadashivam” in my ears. And that too stopped in a little while, at which point I regained consciousness”. The village people were astonished to hear his vision, prostrated before the Acharya and requested his guidance on how to proceed further. As per Swamigal’s wish, the piece of land was donated to the Mutt and a Brindavan was built there with the help of one of the local Reddy. Daily pujas are being conducted there.

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We will continue the next day.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Brief life sketch of Sri Chandrashekara Saraswathi Mahasvami – 03

Hare Krishna Friends,

Let us continue from where we stopped previously.

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A few concerned devotees had petitioned the District court that the Administration of the Mutt should be taken up by the court while Swamigal was a minor and until he reached the age of twenty one. Even though there was not enough property in the Mutt to be administered, the court considering the benefit of the Mutt, ordered the Mutt to be administered under the “Guardian and Wards Act”. On the day of Sankara Jayanthi in the year 1915, the Acharya took over the Administration of the Mutt on the completion of his 21st year and streamlined it. The Sankara Jayanthi celebration in the year 1915 was celebrated in a grand manner with devotees pouring in from all parts of the country. The Acharya arranged for the publication of the History of the Mutt in various languages. He got the leading Epigraphist, Sri. T.K. Gopinath Rao to examine the centuries old copper plates, and other artifacts relating to the Mutt, collate it into a book and publish the same.

The Acharya arranged for the erection of suitable Adhishtanams for his Guru and Paramaguru at Kalavai where he was initiated into the Sanyasa order. Even at the young age of 23, he loved academic discussions with pursuit of knowledge. He convened a Vidwat Sabha and conferred titles on scholars. He arranged essay competition on Dharma for students. Deserving students were given scholarships. An Ayurvedic dispensary was started by Swamigal in those days with the aim of providing free health care to the poor and needy. Swamigal had respect for any religion that accepted in the supremacy of God. He was of opinion that everyone should follow the scriptures and sayings of their own religion. His acceptance of all religions and broad mindedness was well known amongst other leaders.

He strongly believed in the cultural unity of Bharath, from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. He showed serious concerns for the country to become free from foreign rule. In 1918 when Khadi cloth was propagated under Mahatma Gandhi’s swadeshi scheme, the Acharya himself switched over to Khadi for the rest of his life.

The Acharya started his first Vijaya Yaatra in 1919 to visit holy places, take dip in holy waters and grant audience to his devotees around India.

(I am reminded of a story here. Not able to recollect where this is quoted though. It is true that folks like us take a dip in the holy waters and wash off our sins. Unfortunately, the river/theerth retains some of our sins. How is this cleansed? This is cleansed when Jivanmuktas take a dip in the water? They purify the water which has been polluted by so many sinners and make it holy again……Probably this is the reason why Mahans like Kanchi Mahasvami and Sringeri Acharyas go on holy pilgrimage.)

He traveled initially in a simple palanquin. Later he switched over to Pada yaatra totally, till the end of his life. He thought of touring through the entire south of the country, go to Rameshwaram and there make the sankalpa (resolution) to visit the sacred Varanasi. It was a long and strenuous tour but it was supremely worthwhile because of the opportunities it gave to people allover the country to meet the Acharya and receive his blessings. The Paramaguru camped at various places during the course of his travel blessing the disciples, irrespective of their caste or creed. He used to strictly observe the various rituals like Chaturmasya (during the Chaturmasya, coinciding with the rainy season in India, sanyasins must stay at one place so that no harm may be caused to insects and other creatures by treading on them, when they come out in the rain), Vyasapuja, Navarathri Puja and others.

In the year 1921, Swamigal repaired to Patteeshwaram (a village in Tamil Nadu) for a sacred bath in the Mahamagham tank in Kumbakonam on the Mahamagham day, coinciding with the Kumbhamela of North India. The Madras Muslim Youth Association sent 200 volunteers to help the large gathering of devotees. In appreciation of their service, the Acharya gifted a silver cup to them.

Swamigal reached Rameswaram, traveling via Uppur, Devipatnam etc. To visit Rameshwaram, he dared to cross the 3km long rail bridge by foot. There was no road bridge at that time (I think taking a boat to cross the sea is a taboo for the Acharyas). The authorities of the temple, priests and hereditary Pandas gave a grand welcome to Swamigal (what a beautiful way to express National Integration, the Priest in Rameshwaram is a Panda from Uttar Pradesh, the Chief Priest in Kedarnath is a Nambudri from Kerala. There are many more instances like this.). He had Darshan of Sri Ramanatha and Devi Parvatavardhani in the temple. At Sethu, he gathered sand from the sea for immersion in river Ganga which he reached 12 years later, a tradition rooted in the physical, psychic and religious tradition of this country.

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We will continue with the narration the next day.

Hari Om,

Monday, November 06, 2006

Brief life sketch of Sri Chandrashekara Saraswathi Mahasvami – 02

Hare Krishna Friends,

Continuing from where we had stopped previously. As mentioned before, most of the following is a transcription of the visual “The Sage of Kanchi”, depicting in brief the Biography of the Mahasvami.

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In the eighteenth century, under the rule of Maharashtra kings in Tanjore, the official site of the Kamakoti Peetham was moved temporarily from Kanchipuram to Tanjore owing to the conflicts in the place during that period. Since that time, Kumbakonam was the temporary place of Administrative headquarters of the Kanchi Mutt.

After being pontificated, the young Acharya left for Kumbakonam from Kalavai. The first priority of the Acharya was learning the Vedas, Shastras and various classics. The Mutt’s scholars were engaged to teach and train the Swamigal.

An interesting episode during his study while staying at Kumbakonam is as follows. This is as told in an article by Sri A.Kuppuswamy.

One of those who taught the Acharya during this period was Painganadu Ganapathi Shastrigal (Painganadu is a place near Mannargudi in Tamil Nadu). He was a versatile scholar. Before he was forty years of age, he had written about a hundred works, in Sanskrit – short and long. He was awarded the title of ‘Mahamahopadhyaya’, by the Government of India, posthumously – just ten days after his demise.

Ganapathi Shastrigal was residing in a house opposite to the Sankara Mutt in Kumbakonam. He would go to the Mutt early in the forenoon and teach the teen-aged Acharya for about an hour. In the evenings, lessons in Shastras, Sanskrit, Chandas (prosody) etc. were imparted to the Acharya. In the spring season, the teacher and the student would sit for an hour or more, on the sands of the dry bed of the Cauvery, near the Mutt and there the lessons used to be carried out.

One evening the tutor was teaching. The Acharya was frequently thrusting the fingers of his left hand in the sand. Ganapathi Shastrigal observed this. The next morning he went to the Mutt as usual. After prostrating to the Acharya, he said “Please permit me to leave Kumbakonam and go to my village”. The young Acharya was much surprised and he asked the teacher, “What is the reason for this sudden request of yours?” Shastrigal’s reply was a bit stern. He replied, “A student, desiring to acquire knowledge, should be quite attentive when lessons are going on. Concentration of the mind is essential. My guru used to tell his pupils that one sitting on sand but not touching it and one having a knife on his hand, but not doing anything with it and one having his mind fixed in something worthy, as examples for a “sthita-prajna’ (one with a steadfast mind). Yesterday evening Your Holiness was a bit inattentive to what was being taught”.

The Acharya quickly interposed and said, “I was attending although I was thrusting my hand into the sand off and on. I shall now repeat all of what was taught yesterday evening”. Ganapathi Shastrigal who was struck with wonder at the amazing memory and precociousness of the young Acharya, said, “I feel that I am not necessary hereafter. Your Holiness can learn everything without the aid of a tutor and I can go”. The Acharya was loath to part with such an erudite teacher. And Ganapathi Shastrigal continued as teacher for about 10 more months.

The learned and the academicians of the day were surprised at the brilliance and sharpness of Acharya’s intellect. But constant visits from a large number of devotees and followers of the Mutt caused a lot of distraction to the training. It became essential to find a quiet place to continue studies effectively. The Mutt officials chose the beautiful and secluded village, Mahendramangalam on the banks of river Cauvery in Tamilnadu for his stay and studies. It became a pilgrimage for the great scholar teachers who were astounded by the extra ordinary grasping power of the young Acharya. In a short duration, the Acharya mastered Mimamsa, Vedanta, Tharka Shastra, Vyakarana etc.

On top of all these, with his love for the rich traditions of the Tamil language, the Acharya studied its grammar and literature. Additionally he was studying English, French and Marathi languages on his own. He had deep interests in fine arts, particularly music. Though he did not allocate any time to learn fine arts, in his free time (I can’t think how he could find any free time at allJ), he used to discuss the nuances of music with the excelling artists and absorbed the intricacies involved therein. He was good in singing and playing the Veena.

The Acharya often went to the small islands on the middle of the river Cauvery and used to get blissfully absorbed in meditation in the beautiful surroundings. He loved to take photographs of picturesque sceneries. On few occasions, a disciple would follow the Acharya with a camera and take pictures under the guidance of the Swamigal.

His other interests included History, Epigraphy, Archeology, Astronomy and Sculpture. He also learnt the Puranas and Sthala Puranas (short Puranas pertaining to particular places). He absorbed all knowledge from scholars and subject matter experts who visited him and also applied that knowledge to investigate and analyze the basis of such subject matter.

The Acharya was 20 years of age when he returned back to Kumbakonam. He was fully equipped with knowledge required for his high position as the head of an ancient spiritual organization.

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We will see the rest of the account in the next email.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Brief life sketch of Sri Chandrashekara Saraswathi Mahasvami (1894 - 1994) – 01

Hare Krishna Friends,

Thanks to those who have been involved in the creation of the video “The Sage of Kanchi” depicting in brief the Life History of Mahasvami. Most of the content below has been picked up from the narration in the visual.

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Swaminathan, as Kanchi Mahasvami was known in his purvashrama, was born on the 20th of May 1894 at Vizhuppuram in Tamilnadu as the second son of Sri Subramanya Shastri and Mahalakshmi Ammal.

Subramanya Shastri had training in Vedas and Carnatic music. He served as a government supervisor for education. Apart from Swaminathan, the blessed couple had four sons and a daughter. Subramanya Shastri taught the kids music and the mother fed them with slokas that she knew.

The family was closely associated with the Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt. From his childhood days, often Swaminathan was taken by his parents for the darshan of the 66th Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham (Sri Chandrashekara Saraswathi - VI). The swami observed some divine vibration in the child and predicted that he will be a Maha Purusha (Perhaps the Acharya saw in this boy a worthy successor to himself). During these frequent meetings, the grace of the Guru started flowing in full abundance over the young Swaminathan.

Swaminathan started his primary education in Vizhuppuram. His excellence in studies got him a double promotion. In 1905 Upanayanam was duly performed for him and he started receiving coaching in Sanskrit.

With the father’s transfer, Swaminathan joined the 2nd form in Arcot American Mission School in Tindivanam. He stood first in all subjects, including the one for recitation of the Bible.

Swaminathan’s elder cousin Lakshmikanthan was a disciple attendant of the 66th Sankaracharya of Kanchi. He was getting trained in Rigveda. Just by listening to him regularly, Swaminathan had the sharpness to learn the verses properly. He also used to keenly observe the work and puja rituals of Lakshmikanthan.

In the year 1907, due to some unexpected turn of events, 13 year old Swaminathan was installed as the 68th Acharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt. An excerpt of how he became the 68th pontiff was best told by Acharya himself and published in Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s Journal, Bombay (Mumbai).

“In the beginning of the year 1907, when I was studying in a Christian Mission School at Tindivanam, a town in South Arcot District, I heard one day that the Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam who was amidst us in our town in the previous year, attained siddhi at Kalavai, a village about 25 miles from Kanchipuram. Information was received that a maternal cousin of mine (Lakshmikanthan) who, after some study in Rig Veda had joined the camp of the Acharya offering his services to him, was installed on the Peetham.”

“He was the only son of the widowed and destitute sister of my mother and there was not a soul in the camp to console her. At this juncture, my father who was a supervisor of schools in the Tindivanam taluk, planned to proceed with the entire family to Kalavai, some 60 miles from Tindivanam, in his own bullock cart. But on account of an educational conference at Tiruchinapalli, he cancelled the programme.”

“My mother with myself and other children started to Kalavai to console her sister on her son assuming sanyasa ashram. We traveled by rail to Kanchipuram, and halted at Sankaracharya mutt there. I had my ablutions at the Kumara-koshta Tirtha. A carriage of the Mutt had come there from Kalavai with persons to buy articles for the Maha Pooja on the 10th day after the passing away of the late Acharya Paramaguru. But one of them, a hereditary Maistri (Administrator - Munirathna Mudaliar) of the Mutt, asked me to accompany him. A separate cart was engaged for the rest of the family to follow me.”

“During our journey, the Maistri hinted to me that I might not return home and that the rest of my life might have to be spent in the Mutt itself. At first I thought that my elder cousin having become the head of the Mutt, it might have been his wish that I was to live with him. I was then only 13 years of age and so I wondered as to what use I might be to him in the institution.”

“But the Maistri gradually began to clarify as miles rolled on, that the Acharya, my cousin in the purvashram, had fever which developed into delirium and he had also attained siddhi after only 8 days of initiation that was why I was being separated from the family to be quickly taken to Kalavai and installed as the next Sankaracharya. He told me that he was commissioned to go to Tindivanam and fetch me, but he was able to meet me at Kanchipuram itself. I was stunned by this unexpected turn of events. I lay in a kneeling posture in the cart itself, shocked as I was, repeating the words ‘Rama Rama’, during the rest of the journey.”

“My mother and the other children came some time later only to find that instead of her mission of consoling her sister, she herself was placed in the state of having to be consoled by someone else.”

“My robes of sanyasa were not the result of any renunciation on my part, nor had I the advantage of living under a Guru for any length of time. I was surrounded from the very first day of sanyasa by all the comforts and responsibilities of a gorgeous court.”

Thus Swaminathan was installed as Pujyasri Chandrashekara Saraswathi, the 68th Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt on the 13th of Feb 1907. Though Subramanya Shastri had consented for his son’s sanyasa (telegraphic consent was obtained from him prior to the initiation of Swaminathan), he and his wife were stunned to see their 13 year old son turned to a sanyasi when they met him in Kalavai. The charming Acharya requested them to permit him to assume his new responsibility, which was obviously god’s wealth.

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We will continue with the rest of the narration in the next email.

Hari Om,