“Great men help lift the cultural level of the people of a country. They do so by propagating noble thoughts, high ideals and fine sentiments. When these taught, ideals and sentiments are widespread, they express themselves through the conduct and character of the people, their fine arts and the ideals they go by such as sacrifice and service and the virtues they practice such as charity and compassion. The mind enlarges in syspathy for all living creatures and love becomes the guiding principle of action. Selflessness, patriotism, and the feeling of oneness with the world – thoughts like ‘the whole world is kin – are all the result of a high level of culture.
The words of the greatest poet of a country are said to be the touchstone of that country’s culture.”
V. Sivaramakrishnan (V.S.R.K.) was in the Indian Economic Service before joining the Bhavan’s Journal’ in 1983. The Bhavan published his earlier book, ‘The African Mind – A Literary Perspective’ in 1990. He has also prepared a handbook called ‘Cultural Heritage of India’ for the students of Bhavan’s R.P. Institute of Communication and Management.
Besides creature comforts, man yearns for emotional, intellectual and spiritual fulfilment that lie beyond what Arts and Science can provide. What distinguishes man from beast is his capacity to think and evolve to a higher and higher level of life. In my view, Religion - whichever it is - played the most significant role in setting Man on his march towards civilized life. By inculcating nobler values like service, sacrifice, kindness, compassion - satya, ahimsa etc., Religion transformed a chaotic society into a harmonious one.
The Vedas and other scriptures of Hinduism and the Buddha, Jesus, Prophet Mohammed and others preached morality and righteousness as the basis of life and condemned all misdeeds. The Bhagavad Gita tells us that whenever Dharma declines and adharma predominates, God incarnates in the world for restoration of Dharma. The great Acharyas, Shankara, Ramanuja and Mad- hava, had thus come into the world to show the right path from time to time. His Holiness the Kanchi Mahaswami is one such saint and seer, a divinity who lived amongst us scattering pearls of wisdom, leading a kindly light and offering solace to the masses. In his 100 years of existence, he had spoken about every aspect of human life and guided mankind.
His Holiness was much more than an Acharya - he was a Guru who did not confine himself to one field of knowledge. As His Holiness himself had expounded at great length, the Guru per- formed all the three functions of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and more. In his own words, "The functions performed by Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra are only in keeping with our own Karma .As for the Guru, he helps us in expending our Karma and in wiping it away. Even when the Karma keeps yielding its fruits (Its consequences), he protects us by investing us with the armour of 'jnana'. His grace is capable of attenuating the severity of our Karma. Indeed the Guru may even take upon himself our Karma and lighten our burden". In Adi Shankara's "Prasnottara Ratna Malika" it is asked: "What is it that deserves full acceptance?" The answer is: "The instruction of the Guru"(PRM-2).
We love to refer to the Mahaswami as the 'Paramacharya' and 'Jagadguru'. In 'Kuchelopaakhyaana" (Srimad Bhagavatam) the Lord calls Himself 'Jagadguru'. The implication is that 'Jagadguru' is not just a title of a sacerdotal holder of an office. The person so called should deserve it by virtue of his 'jnana' and 'tapas'. The Mahaswami not only came in the great Advaitic tradition set by Adi Shankara, the Paramaguru, but by his personal example of austerity, love and compassion, drew us close to him as his disciples. He was our Jagadguru. Tasmai Sri Gurave Namah - Obeisance to the Guru.
This book represents one facet of the fascinating personality of His Holiness. He responded to the beauty of poetry with the heart of a Sahridaya and gave expression to his joy in several of his discourses. Poets and poetry have an exalted place in Indian literary tradition. It is said that none other than a Rishi could be a poet. As if to underline the importance of poetry, there are at least eight schools of literary criticism, which are well recognised. These are: 1. Riti, 2. Rasa, 3. Alankara, 4. Dhvani, 5. Vakrokti, 6. Guna, 7. Anumana and 8. Auchitya. Of these, Rasa and Dhvani are considered to be of prime importance because behind its form, however beautiful it is, poetry must be suggestive of that embodiment (or great fount) of beauty itself, Eeswara or the Supreme Being.
The Mahaswami is not, of course, totally obsessed with the idea behind the form. He likes to tell us about the ways of the poets - their self-respect and sturdy independence. He is not also averse to the beauties of metre and rhythm. However, he would like us to appreciate any piece that would hold up a person of great devotion (Naarada, for instance) or exalt the path of devotion. Poetry that portrays the beauty ineffable of God (or the Goddess) has a special attraction for him e.g. Mookapanchashatee, Saundaryalahari and so on. He can delightfully expatiate on a verse of an Advaitin like Appayya Dikshita or on stray verses of unknown authorship. Thus we have a long procession of poets and their poetry - Valmeeki, Vyaasa, Kalidasa, Maagha, Bhavabhuti, Mooka and the legendary Patanjali. His Holiness can bring before us a vivid picture of Nataraja in His Ananda Taandava pose or Dakshinamoorti in his speechless eloquence.
His Holiness is equally at home with Tamil poets and their works, particularly the Aalvaars and the Naayanmaars. It is a marvel how he quotes them, to illustrate a philosophical proposition or emphasize the harmony of sectarian approaches to God.
It is my privilege to have been associated with the Bhavan for several years. I know that the Bhavan had always had His Holiness' blessings and guidance. Kulapati Munshi was one of the ardent devotees of His Holiness. His Holiness and the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan had a symbiotic relationship in the pursuit of Spirituality and Culture.
The 'Bhavan's Journal' had the good fortune of carrying the now famous article of the Mahaswami, 'What Life Has Taught Me' in 1961. It was also given to the Bhavan to publish an extraordinary essay by him on 'Gandhi the Great Redeemer of Hinduism' in 1961.
I am glad the 'Bhavan's Journal' took the initiative to publish the series 'Kanchi Mahaswami on Poets and Poetry' in the Mahaswami's centenary year. The articles are now published in book-form. It is appropriate that this book is being released on the auspicious occasion of the inauguration of the Bhavan's new building in Madras named after the Mahaswami in commemoration of his Shatabdi.
The Guruparampara has its origin in Lord Narayana Himself. The others who are mentioned in succession are: Brahma, Vasish- tha, Shakti, Paraasara, Vyaasa, Shuka, Gaudapaada, Govinda- yogeeswara, Shankaracharya, Padmapaada, Hastaamalaka, Totaka.
His Holiness Paramapoojya Brahmabhoota Sri Chandrasek- harendra Saraswati came in that illustrious line of our Gurus, whom we have had the privilege of seeing in flesh and blood. By precept and practice, the Mahaswami was unwearied in giving guidance to us, leading us along the pathway to God and in providing inspirational leadership by observing the prescribed and time-tested aachaara-s.
The Mahaswami was Virtue Incarnate. He shuffled off his mortal coil on January 8, 1994, during the 10ath year of his pilgrimage of life on this earth. In his physical departure from the world, mankind as a whole has lost one of its outstanding Moral Monarchs who, like a lighthouse, radiated ethical and spiritual values.
In the divine presence of this Tapasvin, one's ego got erased and one felt as if one was freed from the vice-like grip of Arishad- varga - Kaama, Krodha, Lobha, Moha, Mada and Maatsarya. One's attention was fully transfixed on his scantily covered frail frame; one's mind stood still as in the holy presence of Lord Venkatachalapati, Lord Guruvayurappan, Kanchi Kamakshi Amman and other ancient temples of our Punyabhumi - Bharat.
Adi Shankara in his Vivekachoodamani - Crest Jewel of Discrimination - spoke of the difficulty (durlabham) in securing three things - birth as a human being, intense desire for moksha and the opportunity to serve a Mahapurusha. The Bhavan was blessed with many opportunities of serving the Mahaswami and in some small measure, in promoting, with all our limitations, the great causes he espoused and stood for.
The Founder of the Bhavan, Kulapati Dr. K.M. Munshi, wrote about His Holiness:
"He is one of the most remarkable men I have seen; a tapasvin who reminds us of the great ascetics referred to in our ancient literature, giving validity to the concept of our ancient ideal of tapas, rising superior to the demands of the flesh. A profoundly learned man, he combines within himself sastraic scholarship with a discerning understanding of modern life and its problems".
The greatest blessing in life is the frequent darshan and satsanga with seers, sages and saints. The first of the many darshans I was blessed to have of His Holiness was in 1932 when he sanctified our humble village of Pushpagiri, Trichur District (now Thrissur) in Kerala and observed the annual chaturmasya at the invitation of the late Asthika Siroratna (an honour conferred by His Holiness) Diwan Bahadur Shri T.R. Ramachandra Iyer, a godly and good soul, who founded the Pushpagiri Village, with a temple and a tank in the centre of the settlement, as also a Veda Pathashala and endowed properties and funds for their running and maintenance.
It was the first unforgettable experience of my life. As a part of the welcome and homage to His Holiness, we, the children of the village, were taught by the Acharyas of the Veda Pathashala to recite in chorus the Guruvandanastotra: Narayanam, Padma Bhuvam, Vasishtham.
In 1954, after the second session of the Sanskrit Vishva Parishad - World Academy of Sanskrit - held at Tirupati, some of us of the Bhavan - Shri Charandas Megji, Mahamahopadhyaya J.H. Dave, Acharya Bhaishankar Purohit and myself - went to Kancheepuram at the behest of Kulapati Munshi to report to His Holiness the proceedings of the sessions, seeking his guidance and blessings. He made searching enquiries of the founding session of Sanskrit Vishva Parishad coinciding with the consecration of Somnath - the Shrine Eternal- by Free India's first Rashtrapati, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, who was also a Founder Member and Honorary Member of the Bhavan. The session was inaugurated by His Highness Maharaja Padmanabhadasa Bala Rama Varma, then Rajpramukh of Travancore-Cochin and presided over by Rajarishi Tandon. His Holiness also recalled his visit to our village over a quarter of a century earlier and enquired by name, the welfare of several of the Sanskrit scholars and others, who had come in contact with him during his visit.
In the year 1958, when His Holiness was camping in Madras, Kulapati Munshiji, accompanied by the late Shri S. Anantharamak- rishnan, Dr. R.R. Diwakar and myself, called on His Holiness and sought his guidance in the matter of starting our Madras Kendra and the selection of its first office-bearers.
His Holiness himself graciously suggested the name of the distinguished scholar-statesman, veteran educationist and the then doyen among Vice-Chancellors, Dr. A. Lakshmanaswami Mudaliar, as the first Chairman of Bhavan's Madras Kendra. And Dr. Mudaliar not only heartily accepted the invitation, but continued to guide, for over 16 years, the Bhavan's Madras Kendra as its first servant till his demise on April 15, 1974.
The next darshan was in the year 1961. His Holiness was then camping at Elayattangudi in the interior of Tamil Nadu. He lovingly sent for me from Bombay, enquired about the Bhavan's progress and particularly of the 'Bhavan's Journal'. He made searching enquiries about a scholarly article in the 'Bhavan's Journal' about the historicity of Sri Krishna. He then graciously gave two significant guidelines:
(a) The 'Bhavan's Journal' should resist the temptation of appear- ing to be too scholarly and research-oriented and it should primarily be a vehicle to foster ethical and spiritual values, and instrument to usher in Bhakti-renaissance.
(b) What was important was the wide dissemination of the message of Sri Rama and Sri Krishna, Valmeeki and Vyaasa, Shankara and Ramanuja, Madhva and many other Path- finders and World Teachers - not so much the details of their year of birth, place of birth, etc. Bhakti, the Acharya stressed, is the central theme, the keynote of the life and work of all Dharmacharyas; that intelligence and learning without Bhakti are useless, even dangerous; that Bhakti is the full flowering of all learning, knowledge and wisdom; that Bhakti alone would lead to unselfish, altruistic action; that only on the foundation of Bhakti - devotion and dedication - an egalitarian and equitable social order could be built up and sustained.
On June 24, 1975, the day when National Emergency was declared, I happened to be in Madras. As was our wont, I had planned a pilgrimage to Kancheepuram. Acharya Vinoba Bhave had then decided to go on a fast for 'Goraksha' (to secure a ban on cow Slaughter). He sought His Holiness' blessings. When Acharya Vinobaji's wishes were conveyed to the Paramacharya, he said: "I am in full agreement with Vinobaji in his objective of 'Goraksha'. It is certainly very important. But if Vinobhaji wants to stake his life, he should do so, at this juncture, for the restoration of the basic 'freedom' of India."
Since the early fifties, when I had the first 'darshan' of the Mahaswami of Kanchi, I used to read whatever appeared in print as his 'Upadesha'. 'The Hindu' happened to be the main source of my information about His Holiness and his teaching for many years. Needless to say, apart from what His Holiness had to say about personal conduct, very little stuck to my mind. Then came the 'Kalaimagal' publications containing the Mahaswami's discourses in Tamil. Reading these discourses helped me appreciate certain aspects of our religion - Sanaatana Dharma - and, more so, the beauties of certain familiar 'stotras' (hymns) and 'shlokas' (verses) of Sanskrit literature. Then came in a series from 1976 Ra. Ganapati's monumental volumes (six so far), 'Deivattin Kural' (The Voice of God), containing the Mahaswami's illuminating exegesis of the Veda, philosophical thoughts and fascinating accounts of gods and their ways, temple legends and religious festivals duly classified with reference to their subject-matter. What Vyasa did to the Vedas, I am inclined to think, Ra. Ganapati did to the Mahaswami's discourses. He took up what was already available in print and on tape, edited the material, amplified it through discussions with the Mahaswami himself and scholars who could clarify points in doubt, and presented it to the world as 'the sixth Veda'. Few will grudge the praise due to him for his enormous labour and infinite patience. For me, Ra. Ganapati's volumes came as a boon and a blessing, being a revelation of the essentials of a life that should have for its lodestar the Veda. I could get a comprehensive idea of the religion of my birth, with its principles lucidly explained and the different aspects of it cogently narrated. I could not but agree with Shri A. Tirunavukkarasu of the Vanati Patippakam, who wrote in his publisher's note in the first volume of 'Deivattin Kural': 'By reading this, the layman will become learned and the learned will become scholarly'. Though he added that man could become God, I could at least convince myself that man could become a better man, selfless and devoted to God and fellowmen.
Equipped with such knowledge as I gained from 'Deivattin Kural' and other works, I wanted to write a series of articles on the Mahaswami's life and teaching during the centenary year, not in the spirit of 'I know better than you' but by way of sharing what I considered to be my very precious acquisition. But I was over- whelmed by the flood of publications on the Mahaswami during the period. The three volumes of 'A Hundred Years of Light', published by Shri A. Kuppuswami with rare devotion, turned out to be more than a formal tribute to the Jagadguru. I realised that the Mahaswami had more than one facet to his personality - spiritual, intellectual and, above all, human; the order in which I had always thought of him. When I was seized with the human aspect of his saintliness, I was struck by a sentence in the late Shri N. Raghunathan's essay on the Mahaswami, 'Beacon-light To The Millions'. After referring to the Mahaswami's exposition of a verse from Avvaiyar's 'Vinayakar Ahaval', Shri Raghunathan said: 'It is this poet's heart that makes even his (Mahaswami's) most casual observation glow with an inner fire; just as it is the aroma of goodness that marks the saint, which opens all hearts to him".
I plunged again into the Mahaswami's discourses, into the 'poetic heart', now held up to me by 'Ragunathan, the Rasikan'. The exploration was worth the while. I discovered a fresh, new world of delights. The Mahaswami had a rare perception of beauty in the works of poets in Sanskrit and Tamil. He seemed to offer his perceptions on a platter as it were to us so that we may share his own joy of literary appreciation. We may amuse ourselves with his stories of Kalidasa and Kamban; we may lose ourselves in ecstasy as he talks of Mooka's adoration of Kamakshi; we may feel the depth of devotion of a Narada as His Holiness expatiates on averse in Maaghaa's 'Sishupaalavadha'; we may dance with Nataraja as we repeat the words of "Nateshaashtakam'; and we may be moved to our depths as His Holiness brings up the picture before our mind's eye of the silent Teacher, Dakshinamurti. At the end of it all we realise what is real and unreal, the importance of bhakti and the glory of advaitaanubhava. Poetry, according to His Holiness, represented 'Kaantaasammita'-the gentle words of persuasion of a wife in contrast to a friend's advice or the command of a superior in authority. "Poetry, in the place of the wife; the Vedas, in the place of superior authority; and the Puranas, in the place of a friend. The three teach us dharma in different ways".
This book contains my articles in 'Bhavan's Journal', from May, 1994 on the Kanchi Mahaswami's expositions of poets and poetry. The approach, as will be seen, is not academic; it is elucidatory with a touch of piety. But this may well be the starting point for many readers to pursue their study of the great poets. If such an interest could be kindled, this publication would have served its purpose.
I have relied heavily on Ra. Ganapati's 'Deivattin Kural' and 'Sri Acharya Swamigal Upanyaasangal' of Kalaimagal Kaaryaalayam. In my enthusiasm to show the readers of 'Bhavan's Journal' the rich vein of ore I discovered, I did not take the formal permission of the authors and publishers of the Tamil books. I hope I have their indulgence.
I am thankful to R.G.K. for having gone through the proofs. It was very gracious of him to have done so despite the fact that he had his own work on hand - a book of about 800 pages on the Mahaswami's exposition of Sanaatana Dharma.
Shri. S. Ramakrishnan, Executive Secretary of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, has once again laid me under a deep debt of gratitude. I don't have adequate words to thank him.
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