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,


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