Grace of Sankara Incarnate
Dr. T.M.P. Mahadevan
Any one who has read the works of Sri Sankara would certainly want to know what sort of a person the great Master was. In all this extensive writings he nowhere makes any reference to himself.
The outlines of the story of Sankara's life could be gathered only from the Sankara-Vijayas and other narratives. In spite of varying accounts in regard to some of the details, the image of the Master that one forms from these sources, taking into account also the grand teachings that are to be found in his own works, is that of a great spiritual leader who renounced all worldly attachments even as a boy who was a prodigy in scriptural lore and wisdom, who spent every moment of his life in the service of the masses of mankind by placing before them, thought precept and practice, the ideal of the life divine, and who was a teacher of teachers, the universal Guru. Even as such a magnificent image is being formed, the doubt may arise in the minds of many: Is it possible that such a great one walked this earth? Is it possible that in a single ascetic frame was compressed several millennia of the highest spiritual human history?
This doubt is sure to be dispelled in the case of those who have had the good fortune of meeting His Holiness Jagadguru Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati, the sixty-eight Acharya in the hallowed line of succession of Sankaracharyas to adorn the Kamakoti Pitha of Kanchi. Anyone who comes into the august presence of His Holiness cannot but recall to his mind the image of Adi Sankara, the immaculate sage who was divine and yet human, whose saving grace was universal in its sweep, and whose concern was for all-even for the lowliest and the last. For sixty-three years Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati has been fulfilling the noble spiritual mission entrusted by Adi Sankara to his successors bearing his holy name. Numerous are the way in which he has given the lead for human up-liftment through inner awakening. When one considers his life of ceaseless and untiring dedication to the task of stabilizing and promoting the renascent spirit of India so that humanity may be benefited thereby, one cannot but conclude that it is the unbounded Grace of Sankara that has assumed this new form in order to move the world one step higher on the ladder to universal perfection.
'Chandrasekarendra Sarasvati' is the Sannyasa name given to Swaminathan when he was barely thirteen. It was the 20th of May, 1894, that Swaminathan was born in Villupuram (South Arcot District). His father, Subrahmanya Sastri, belonged to the Hoyasala Karnataka Smart Brahmana family which had migrated years earlier to the Tamil Country and had settled in Chola-desa. Subrahmanya Sastri served as a teacher for some time, and then entered the Educational Service. At the time of Swaminathan's birth, he was at Villupuram. Swaminathan's mother Mahalakshmi, hailed from a family belonging to Icchangudi, a village near Tiruvaiyaru. An illustrious and saintly person connected with the family, Raja Govinda Dikshita of the Sixteenth century, was minister to the first Nayak King of Tanjavur. Dikshita, popularly known as Ayyan, was responsible for many development projects in Chola territory; his name is still associated with a tank, a canal, etc. (Ayyan Canal, Ayyan Kulam)
Swaminathan was the second child of his parents. He was named Swaminathan after the Deity of the family, the Lord Swaminatha of Swamimalai. Two incidents relating to this early childhood period are recorded by the Acharya himself in an article contributed to a symposium on What life has taught me.
Reflecting on these experiences, the Acharya observes with characteristic humility: "I am prone to come to the conclusion that there lives none without predominantly selfish motives. But with years rolling on, an impression, that too a superficial one true to my nature, is dawning upon me that there breathe on this globe some souls firmly rooted in morals and ethics who live exclusively for others voluntarily forsaking, not only their material gains and comforts but also their own sadhana towards their spiritual improvement."
In the year 1900, Swaminathan was in the first standard in a school at Chidambaram. Sri M. Singaravelu Mudaliyar, the Assistant Inspector of Schools, visited the school on an inspection and discovered in the boy the makings of a genius. He asked him to read the Longaman's English Reader prescribed for a higher standard: and Swaminathan read it remarkably well. At this instance Swaminathan was promoted to the third standard.
The Upanayanam of the boy was performed in 1905 at Tindivanam to which place Subrahmanya Sastri had been transferred. It is significant that the sixty-sixth Sankaracharya of Kamakoti Pitha, Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati, who was at the time touring in South Arcot District, sent His blessing; and it was he that later on literally captivated the boy, and chose him as successor to the holy seat; and it is also significant that Swaminathan came to bear the sannyasa name of the sixty-sixth Acharya.
When Swaminathan was ten years of age, he was admitted in the Second Form in the Arcot American Mission School, Tindivanam. The prodigy that the boy was, he gave an excellent record of himself at school. He used to carry away many prizes, including the one for proficiency in the Bible studies. The teachers of the School naturally took a great liking for Swaminathan. They were proud of him and cited him to the other boys as a model student.
In 1906, when Swaminathan was studying in the Fourth Form, the school was arranging for a dialogue from Shakespeare's King John. The teachers who were responsible for fixing the participants in the dialogue could not find a suitable candidate from the age-group fixed for taking on the role of Prince Arthur, the central character in the play the Headmaster who knew Swaminathan's extraordinary talents sent for the boy who was only twelve then and assigned him the role after obtaining permission from his parents, Swaminathan rehearsed his part for only two days, and acquitted himself remarkably well as Prince Arthur in the dialogue, winning the appreciation of the entire audience. The acting was perfect and the pronunciation of Shakespeare's Classical English accurate. One of Swaminathan's friends had lent him the attire of a prince and Swaminathan really looked a prince. Many of the teachers went to Subramanya Sastri's house next day and expressed how greatly they were pleased with Swaminathan's superb performance.
In 1906 the sixty-sixth Acharya of Kamakoti Pitha, Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati was camping in the village Perumukkal near Tindivanam and was observing the chaturmasya-vrata there. Subrahmanya Sastri went to that village along with his family to have the Acharya's darsana and receive His blessing. Swaminathan saw His Holiness from a distance in a temple during the visvarupa-yatra.
His Holiness, the sixty-sixth Acharya, had the Navaratri Celebrations performed at Marakkanam village. After the Navaratri he was camping at Saram village situated on the Tindivanam-Madurantakam rail route. Swaminathan went there with a friend without informing his parents. He offered his homage at the lotus-feet of His holiness and requested his permission to leave. His Holiness insisted that Swaminathan should stay there itself. Two pandits attached to the Matha also asked Swaminathan to stay there. But Swaminathan said that he had to attend school and that he had not informed his parents about his coming over to the Matha. After Swaminathan had left, His Holiness informed the two pandits of the Matha his keen desire to install Swaminathan as his successor to the glorious pontifical seat of Kanchi.
His Holiness the sixty-sixth Acharya attained siddhi at Kalavai and Swaminathan's maternal cousin was installed as the sixty-seventh Acharya. He was the only child of Swaminathan's mother's sister.
When Swaminathan's parents received the news about his installation of the Pitha, Swaminathan's mother desired to see and console her sister whose only child had become an ascetic. The whole family planned to leave for Kalavai in a cart without proper escort. But they were advised to go to Kanchi by train and from there to Kalavai in a cart.
The epic journey to Kanchi and Kalavai and the providential manner in which Swaminathan came t be installed as the Head of the Kamakoti Pitha at a very tender age is recounted by the Acharya himself in the article "What life has taught me" already referred to in the following words:
"We traveled by rail to Kanchipuram and halted at the Sankaracharya Matha. There I had my ablution at the Kumara-Koshta-Tirtha. A carriage of the Matha had come there from Kalavai with persons to buy articles for the Maha Puja on the 10th day after the passing away of the late Acharya Paramagur . But one them, a hereditary maistri of the Matha 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 Matha itself! At first I thought that my elder cousin having become the head of the Math it might have been his wish that I was to live with him. I was then only thirteen years of age and so I wondered as to what use I might be to him in the institution.
"But the maistri in regular face gradually began to clarify as miles rolled on, that the Acharya, my cousin in the purvasrama, had fever which developed into delirium and that was why I was being separated from the family to be quickly taken to Kalavai. He told me that he was commissioned to go to Tindivanam itself and fetch me, but he was able to meet me at Kanchipuram itself. I was stunned with this unexpected turn of events. I lay in a kneeling posture in the cart itself, shocked as I was, repeating RAMA RAMA, the only spiritual prayer I knew, during the rest of my 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!"
Permission for installing Swaminathan in the great pontifical seat of Kanchi was obtained from his father through telegram and every arrangement was made as quickly as possible for his installation. Swaminathan ascended the Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha on the 13th of February. 1907, as the sixty-eight Acharya, assuming the Sannayasa name 'Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati'. His Holiness went in a procession to the Siddhi Sthala and performed the Maha-Puja of the sixty-sixth Acharya.
From Kalavai the new Acharya proceeded to Kumbhakonam where the headquarters of the Matha were located. The transfer of the headquarters of the Matha were located. The transfer of the headquarters from Kanchi to Kumbhakonam had been necessitated by the unsettled political conditions in Tondaimandalam in the eighteenth century during the time of the sixty-second Acharya.
The Acharya made a brief halt at Tindivanam. One could well imagine what a proud day it should have been for the people of Tindivanam when they received their own Swaminathan as the new Acharya of Kamakoti Pitha. The town wore a festive appearance. The teachers of the American Mission School and the former school-follows vied with one another in meeting the Acharya and conversing with him. The Acharya had a good word for every one, and spoke tenderly to each one of the teachers.
The head of an Acharya-Pitha is looked upon by the disciples as the spiritual ruler, and is invested with all the regalia associated with a king. The disciples of the Matha desired to celebrate the installation of the new Acharya as the head of the Kamakoti Pitha with due ceremony. The installation was performed on a grand scale on Thursday, the 9th of May, 1907, at the Kumbhakonam Matha. That night seated in the golden Ambari on a regal elephant, sent by the Tanjore ruling family, his Holiness went in a grand procession through the main steels of Kumbhakonam. Thus commenced the Acharya's spiritual rulership as the Jagadguru.
Tours of victory (Vijaya-yatra), in the present context, mean the journeys undertaken by the Acharya to the different parts of the country to bless the people by his presence, to give them opportunities for participation in the daily Puja performed to Sri Chandramaulisvara and Tripurasundari (Paramesvara and Parvati), the presiding deities of the Matha and to impart to them the light of spiritual knowledge and the guidelines for conduct. Wherever the Acharya goes, the people of that place take the fullest advantage of his presence, celebrate the event as a great festival, listen to his soul moving discourses in pin-drop silence and find the very atmosphere a sense of exaltation.
The first tour undertaken by the new Acharya was to Jambukesvaram (Tiruvanaikka) in 1908. It was here that Adi Sankara had adorned the image of the Goddess (Akhilandesvari) with ear-ornaments (Tatanka). In 1908 arrangements were made for the Kumbhabhishekam of the temple there, after it had been renovated. Our Acharya was invited by the temple Sthanikas and the authorities to grace the occasion with His presence. The Kumbhabhishekam was performed with all solemnity and grandeur.
1909 was the Mahamakha year at Kumbhakonam an event which occurs every twelfth years. The Matha did its part in playing host to the pilgrims. On the day of the festival, it was a feast for the eyes to see the Acharya go for the ceremonial bath in the Mahamakha tank. In a grand procession he went seated in an Ambari on the back of an elephant.
Our Acharya was only fifteen years old in 1909. For two years, the learned pandit of the Matha imparted to Him instruction in Samskrit classics at Kumbhakonam itself. The management of the Matha felt that a less congested place than Kumbhakonam a place which would not be frequented by visiting crowds would be more suitable for study. Mahendramangalam, a quiet village on the northern bank of the Akhanda Kaveri, was selected for the purpose; a parnasala was put up near the edge of the river. From 1911 to 1914 the Acharya stayed there studying and receiving the requisite training. It was a strange relation between the teachers and the Matha. The Acharya showed the utmost consideration for and respect to the teachers who were entrusted with his training; they too were conscious of the unique honour that was theirs.
Whenever experts in Vedas and exponents of musicology met Him, he sought to improve his knowledge of this science and art through conversations with them. He used to snatch time to visit the nearby islands in the Kaveri to marvel at the natural scenery. Photographers sometimes took photographs of the natural surroundings. The Acharya evinced interest in the photographic art.
Some of the other areas of study of which he gained intimate knowledge are Mathematics and Astronomy.
In 1914 the Acharya returned to the Matha in Kumbhakonam. He was twenty then. He had acquired by then encyclopedic knowledge. Whenever scholars went to him, he used to put searching questions relating to their respective fields of fields of study and thereby gain a lot of information. When he was studying in Kumbhakonam, he made it a point to pay an annual visit to Gangaikondacholapuram and study the inscriptions to be found there and the niceties of temple-architecture. Thus, in a variety of ways, the Acharya equipped himself with the all-round knowledge and ability required for fulfilling the obligations of the leadership of the Kamakoti Pitha.
A new journal 'Arya-Dharma' commenced its publication under the auspices of the Matha. In October 1916, the Navaratri festival was observed at the Matha with a new fervor. The poet Subrahmanya Bharati wrote in one of his essays praising in the highest of terms, the manner in which the festival was conducted in the Matha. This is the annual festival at which worship is offered to the world Mother in her triple manifestations as Durga, Lakshmi and Sarasvati. So men are honoured with offering of gifts, as they are manifestations of Para Sakti (the Great Mother of the world). And ceremonial Puja is performed to girl, commencing with a two-year old, on the day. This is what is known as Kany-puja. Along with recitation of the Vedas. Parayanam of the Devi Bhagavata, the Ramayana, the Gita and other texts, the Chandi and Sri Vidya homas are performed during the festival.
Some of the very first measures taken by the Acharya for the promotion of classical learning and of social welfare yielded rich results and marked only the beginning of many more to come. Distinguished scholars were honoured by the award of titles such as 'sastraratnakara'. Essay competitions were held for college students on subjects relating to our dharma. Free studentship were instituted for the benefit of deserving students in schools and colleges. A free Ayurvedic dispensary was started in the Matha. During the Acharya's stay in Kumbhakonam from 1914 to 1918, almost every evening there were learned assemblies or music concerts.
Even professors, scientists, engineers, and administrators, went to him for guidance and encouragement. The followers of the other faiths found in the Acharya a deep understanding of their respective doctrines and profound appreciation of every type and grade of spiritual endeavour. Everyone who came into contact with the Acharya recognized in Him the Jagadguru.
The Acharya's great tour of our sacred lane commenced in March, 1919. It was a long and strenuous tour but it was supremely worthwhile because of the opportunities it gave to people all over the country to meet the Acharya and receive his blessings. The Acharya never uses any of the modern modes of transport. He mostly walks and accepts the use of a palanquin only when it is absolutely necessary. An entourage accompanies him consisting of the officials of the Matha, panditas, vaidikas, servants and animal such as cows, elephants etc. Whenever the Acharya camps, lots of devotees gather and stay at the camp as long as they can in order to derive the utmost advantage from the Holy Presence. Besides the daily anusthana and Puja, meeting the devotees, receiving visitors, giving instruction to the people concerned for the conduct of the affairs of the Matha and of the many religious and welfare organizations occupy the Acharya's time reach day. He hardly gets two or three hours of rest out of twenty four. With frugal diet taken in between fasting days and with so much of pressing work day after day, it is a marvel how the Acharya meets the demands on his time and attention with absolute serenity and with perfect poise. No one will fail to note that the ideal of the Sthitaprajna, (the sage who has gained steady wisdom) has become actual in the soul-elevating person of the Acharya.
The long pilgrimage began, in March, 1919. During the first three years, the Acharya visited all the places of pilgrimage even remote and out-of-the way village in the Thanjavur District, the District in which Kumbhakonam is situated. The Chaturmasya in 1919 was in Vappattur village at a distance of five miles to the east of Kumbhakonam. During the chaturmasya the Sannyasins area to stay at one place so that no harm may be caused to insects and other creatures by treading on them when they come out on the ground in the rainy season. The Sannyasins camp at one place for four fortnights, pakshas. the observance starts on the full-moon day in the month Ashada which is dedicated to the worship of the saga Vyasa.
During His tour of the Thanjavur District in a village the Acharya saw about two hundred harijans waiting for his darsana, after having bathed, putting on clean clothes and wearing vibhuti on their foreheads. The Acharya spent sometime with them, made kind enquiries about their welfare and gave them new clothes. Similar events have occurred very often during the Acharya's journeys. His concern for the poor is great and unlimited and the never fails to exhort the better placed sections of society to go to their succor and asks the Matha to set an example in this direction.
The Acharya visited Rameswaram and collected a small quantity of sand for consigning it later on in the waters of the Ganga, which act is symbolic of the spiritual unity of India.
The Acharya then went to Jambukesvaram. In those early times according to legend the image of Akhilandesvari was manifesting the Goddess's fierce aspects. Sankara changed this state of affairs and enabled the beneficent aspect to express itself by adorning the image with a pair of ear-ornaments (Tatankas) made in the shape of Sri-chakra. When the ornaments fall into disrepair periodically, they are set right and re-fixed. This tasks is the sacred responsibility of the Kamakoti itha; and it is the Head of the Pitha that has the ornaments re-fixed. In 1846, the then Acharya of the Pitha and this ceremony performed. Now, again, in 1923, arrangements were made for the re-fixing of the Tatankas. Our Acharya went to Jambukesvaram for participation in this function. It was a great occasion for devotees to gather and pay their homage. Every detail of the ceremony was attended to with meticulous care. Opportunity was availed of for declaring open the renovated Matha of the Kamakoti Pitha there. A Vedapathasala and center for scriptural learning started functioning at the Matha.
During the Acharya's Chettinadu visit, a great Sivabhakta, Vainagaram Ramanathan Chettiyar similarly enjoyed attending the Puja and meeting the Acharya. The people of Chettinadu organised a grand procession at Kadiyapatti. During the procession the Acharya looked out for Ramanathan Chettiar, but he could not be seen. At the conclusion of the procession, the Acharya enquired as to where Chettiyar was. Chettiyar who was sanding at a distance in the crowd responded. Asked as to why he was not to be found in the procession, he replied with great elation that he had the privilege that night of being one of the Acharya's palanquin-bearers.
Many politicians and nationalist leaders met the Acharya during this period. Among these were Sri C.R.Das, along with Sri S. Satyamurti and Sri A. Rangaswami Aiyangar, and Sri Jamnalal Bajaj along with Sri C. Rajagopalachari, and others. The latter group met the Acharya in 1926 at Jambukesvara. Sri C. Rajagopalachari was staying out, sending in Sri Jamnalal Bajaj. The Acharya sent for C. Rajagopalachari and asked him why he had not come in. When the latter replied that the reason was that he had not bathed that day, the Acharya told him that those who were engaged in national work might not find the necessary time for daily bath etc., and Sri C. Rajagopalachari who had dedicated his life for the service of the nation could meet him at any time, and in any condition. The Acharya made it clear to the politicians and political leaders that he, as a Sannyasi, would not identify himself with party politics of any brand; but he was free to ask them all to keep the good of the people always at heart and to work towards its achievement, and also to do all they could to strengthen faith in God.
An incident which occurred in 1926 deserves special mention. The Acharya was proceeding to Pattukottai from Karambakkudi. Among the people who saw the Acharya off at the latter place there were some Muslims also. One of the Muslims followed the party, touching the palanquin with his hands as a mark of respect. After about three miles of the journey, the Acharya stopped and called for the Muslim gentleman and made kind enquiries. The Muslims placed before the Acharya some personal matters for his advice and guidance and then offered some verses of praise he had composed along with flowers and fruits. At the command of the Acharya, the Muslim read out those verses and explained their meaning also. When taking leave he expressed his joy in these words: "To my eyes the Acharya appears as the embodiment of Allah Himself. The Acharya's darsana is enough for a man who wants to get liberation from world bondage."
At Pondicherry, the officials of the French Government and the people gave the Acharya a royal welcome. In march the Acharya went to Salem and toured the district.
After visiting Coimbatore in April, 1927, the Acharya arrived in Palghat in the first week of May. Kerala which had given birth to Adi Sankara was now jubilant at the visit of an illustrious successor in whose life and mission the greatness of the Adi Guru was luminously reflected. The Acharya spoke to the Sishyas in Malayalam. The people who listened to him mistook him for a Keraliya.
In the latter half of 1927, Mahatma Gandhi was touring the South. He had heard about the Sage of Kamakoti Pitha and wanted very much to meet him. The meeting took place at Nallicheri in Palghat. They met in a cattle-shed in the Acharya's camp. It was a unique experience for the Mahatma. Here was an authentic successor of Adi Sankara, dressed in a piece of ochre cloth made of Khadi and seated on the floor. The Acharya too appreciated the occasion provided for getting to know at first had the leader of the nation who had adopted voluntarily the mode of a simple peasant's life. The Acharya conversed in Sanskrit and the Mahatma in Hindi. The conversation took place in a most cordial atmosphere. On taking leave of the Acharya, the Mahatma gave expression to the immense benefit he had derived from this unique meeting. How profoundly he was drawn to the Acharya will be evident from a small incident that occurred during the interview. It was 5-30 in the evening. Sri C. Rajagopalachari went inside the cattle shed and reminded the mahatma about his evening meal; for the Mahatma would not take food after 6 o'clock. The Mahatma made his significant observation to Sri C. Rajagopalachari: "The conversation I am having now with the Acharya is itself my evening meal for today."
In February, 1929, the Acharya began His tour of the South Arcot District. The Chaturmasya that year was observed in Manalurpettai. For about a month the Acharya was having fever. In utter neglect of the state of his body, He performed the daily worship, taking His usual bath. In due course the fever subsided, relieving the devotees of their great anxiety.
During the present tour, the Acharya was passing through Tandalam village. A cowherd of that place wanted to sell him small holding and give the proceeds as his offering to the Acharya. The Acharya dissuaded him from doing so; but the devotee would not go back on his resolve. He actually sold his piece of land to a rich man of the place and made his heart-offering of the Acharya. The Acharya, however, did not like that the cowherd should become a destitute. He, therefore, arranged through the local Tehsildar for the allotment of sufficient piece of puramboke land to the cowherd.
In December, 1930, at Tirukkalukkunram (Pakshitirtham), an address of welcome was presented to the Acharya on the behalf of the All-India Sadhu Mahasangham. The address referred in glowing terms to the invaluable service that the Acharya was doing to Hindu dharma and society, both through precept and practice, following faithfully the grand tradition of Adi Sankara.
From Chingleput, the Acharya went to Kanchi, the seat of the Kamakoti Pitha. This was His first visit after He had assumed the headship of the Pitha. The ceremonial entry into the holy city was made on Sunday the 25th January, 1931. The city wore a festive appearance that day. The citizens offered to the Acharya a reverential and enthusiastic welcome.
The Chaturmasya in 1931 was in Chittoor. After that the tour was resumed. While the Acharya was camping in Arani, a party of about two hundred volunteers of the Indian National Congress wanted to have His darsana. Those were the peak days of the struggle for freedom. The British Government would come down upon anyone who showed any hospitality to the volunteers. Therefore, the officials of the matha were hesitant in the matter of receiving the volunteers. When the Acharya was informed of the intention of the volunteers, He immediately asked the officials to admit them and arrange for their hospitality. He made individual enquiries of the members of the party and gave to each one of them vibhuti-prasada.
In March, 1932 the Acharya went to Kalahasti for the Maha Sivaratri. During his stay there, he walked round the Kailasa hill, a distance of about thirty miles along difficult forest terrian. From Kalahasti, the Acharya proceeded to Tirupati and Tirumalai; vast concourses of people listened to his daily discourses in chaste Telugu.
In Nagari, the Acharya was presiding over a discussion on Vedanta among scholars. One day the Manager of the Matha received a telegram from Kumbhakonam carrying the sad news of the passing away of the Acharya's mother on the 14th of June, 1932. As the Manager was approaching, the Acharya enquired if it had come from Kumbhakonam, to which the Manager replied 'Yes'. The Acharya made no further enquiry, but asked the Manager to get back. He remained silent for some time and then asked the assembled scholars; "What should a Sannyasin do when he hears of the passing away of his mother?" Guessing what had happened, the scholars were deeply distressed and could not say anything. The Acharya got up and walked to a water-falls at a distance of two miles followed by a great number of people chanting the Lord's name. He took his bath; the others too did the same. The passing away of the Mother of the Jagadguru was felt as a personal loss by every one of the Sishyas.
There is a spot of natural beauty near Nagari, called Bugga. In the same temple here, there are the shrines of Kasi Visvanatha and Prayaga Madhava. A perennial river flows by the temple; and five streams feed the river Commencing from the 17th of July, 1932, the Acharya observed the chaturmasya at this fascinating place. During his stay the temple was renovated and Kumbhabhishekam performed on a grand scale.
Before we follow the Acharya to Madras, let us record here the epic of a faithful and devoted dog. Since 1927 a dog was following the retinue of the Matha. It was a strange dog-an intelligent animal without the least trace of unclean lines. It would eat only the food given to it from the Matha. The Acharya would therefore enquire every evening if the dog had been fed. When the camp moved from one place to another, the dog would follow, walking underneath the palanquin, and when the entourage stopped so that the devotees of the way side villages could pay their homage, it would run to a distance and watch devoutly from there, only to rejoin the retinue when it was on the move again. One day, a small boy hit the dog; and the dog was about to retaliate, when the officials of the Matha, in fear, caused the dog to be taken to a distance of twenty-five miles blindfolded and left there in a village. But strange as it may seem, the dog returned to where the Acharya was, even before the person who had taken it away could return. From that day onwards the dog would not eat without the Acharya's darsana and stayed till the end of its life with the Matha.
The citizens of Madras had the great privilege of receiving the Acharya on the 28th of September, 1932. During the four months' stay of the Acharya in the city, the people felt in their life a visible change for the better. In crowds they flocked to the camp at the Madras Sanskrit College and later in the different parts of the city, and drank deep of the elevating presence and the soul moving speeches of the Acharya.
The Navaratri in 1932 was celebrated at the Sanskrit College. During this Puja festival, the Acharya fasts and observes silence on all the nine days. Thousands observe silence on all the nine days. Thousand people participated in the Navaratri festival at the Sanskrit College and received the Acharya's benedictions.
After the Navaratri the Acharya delivered discourses every evening after the Puja. Thousands of people listened to these in pin-drop silence. Seated in the simhasana, the Acharya would remain silent for some time. Then, slowly he would commence to speak. It was not a mere speech; it was a message from the heart, each day. With homely examples, in an engaging manner, he would exhort the audience to lead a clean, simple unselfish and godly life. The essentials of Hindu dharma, the obligatory duties, the supreme duty of being devoted to God, the harmony of the Hindu cults, the significance of the Hindu festivals and institutions, the cultivation of virtues, and the grandeur of Advaita, formed some of the themes of these discourses.
For a long time the Acharya had the intention of visiting Chidambaram. But about a hundred years past no previous Acharya had gone there, the reason being that the Dikshitars of the temple of Sri Nataraja would not let even the Acharyas of the Sankara Matha take the sacred ashes straight from the cup as was the custom in all other temples as a mark of respects shown to the Pitha. Many of the devotees of Chidambaram, however, wished very much that the Acharya should visit Chidambaram; and the Acharya too wanted to have Sri Nataraja's darsana. Accepting the invitation of the devotees, he arrived at Chidambaram on May 18, 1933. A great reception was accord to him by the inhabitants of Chidambaram, including the Dikshitars. The devotees of the Acharya were rather apprehensive of what might happen when the Acharya visited the temple in regard to the offering of Vibuti. The Acharya, however, was utterly unconcerned. All that he wanted was to have Sri Nataraja's darsana as early as possible. He resolved to go to the temple early in the morning. Having asked one of his personal attendants to wait for him at the tank, he went there alone at 4 a.m., had his bath and anusthana and when the shrine was opened he entered and stood in the presence of Sri Nataraja absorbed in contemplation. The Dikshitar who was offering the morning worship was taken aback when he saw the Acharya there. He sent word to the other Dikshitars, and all of them came at once. They submitted to the Acharya that they were planning for a ceremonial reception, and that they were pained at the fact that none of them were present in the temple to receive him that morning. The Acharya consoled them saying that he had gone to the temple to have the early morning darsana of Sri Nataraja, known as the visvarupadarsana and that He would be visiting the temple several times during his sojourn in Chidambaram. The Dikshitars honoured the Acharya in the same manner as he was honoured in the other temples. And at the earnest request of the Dikshitars, the Acharya stayed in the temple for a few days and performed the Sri Chandramoulisvara Puja in the thousand-pillared mantapa. The devotees had the unique experience of witnessing Puja performed, at the same place, to two of the five sphatika-lingas brought by Sankara, according to tradition, from Kailasa - the Moksha-linga of Chidambaram and the Yoga-linga of Sri Kamakoti Pitha.
The preparation for the Acharya's northward journey to Kasi had by now completed. Aged Sannyasins like Brahmananda Sarasvati and revered scholars including Mahamahopadhyaya Ananda Saran and Pratap Sitaram Sastri, Agent of the Sringeri Matha, sent their letter of invitation to the Acharya of the Kamakoti Pitha on behalf of the citizens of Varanasi.
A representative Committee had been formed at Varanasi headed by His Highness the Maharaja of Kasi, with Pandit Madanmohan Malaviya, the Mahamahopadhyayas, distinguished scholars and other eminent men as members. The citizens of the Spiritual Capital of our country were eagerly looking forward to the visit of our Acharya, who had already made the sankalpa for kasi-yatra.
In conformity with the best practice observed by the previous Government, the Government of Madras issued a notification to the Governments of other States, and the native States to accord due honour and all facilities to the Acharya and his entourage during his journey to Kasi.
The journey commenced in the second week of September, 1933. The Acharya proceeded northwards, covering about twenty miles each day. While camping at Kurnool, the Acharya thought of going to Srisaila which is regarded as the Southern Kailasa.
Taking with him only a few attendants, the Acharya went by boat up to Peddacheruvu and from there walked the remaining distance eleven miles uphill. He reached Srisaila on the 29th of January, 1934, went to the temple, and stood before the deities for a long time reciting verses from the Sivanandalahari and the Saundaryalahari. After spending a few days at Srisaila, the Acharya returned to Kurnool. During the difficult Srisaila journey through dense forests, the Chenchus, members of a wild hill-tribe, gave every assistance and protection to the visiting party. They considered the Acharya's presence in their midst a great blessing.
Crossing the Tungabhadra at Kurnool, the Acharya entered the Hyderabad State. He reached the capital of the State on the 12th February, 1934. The people and the State officials including the Chief Minister vied with one another in paying their homage to Jagadguru. At the command of the Nizam, the State Government undertook to meet on day's expenses of the Matha.
As the journey from Hyderabad northwards would be a difficult one-through wild forests and uninhabited areas a large part of the entourage consisting of carts, cattle, attendants and others, was left behind; this part rejoined the group that accompanied the Acharya, after four years, in Andhra Pradesh.
After spending two weeks at Nagpur in June, the Acharya traveled through the country of the Vindhya mountains. It was an arduous journeys in burning summer through practically waterless tracts. The members of the party braved all difficulties with cheer, their sole aim being to serve the Master in the fulfillment of the resolve to complete the pilgrimage to Kasi. After crossing the Vindhyas, the Acharya reached Jabalpur on the 3rd July, 1934 and had his bath in the sacred river Narmada, Journeying quickly thereafter the Acharya arrived at Prayaga (Allahabad) on the 23rd of July 1934. At the outskirts of the holy city, the prominent leaders of the place headed by Mahamahopadhyaya Ganganatha Jha received the Acharya with due ceremony. Thousands of people lines the route of the procession, uttering the words "Victory to the great Guru!" (Gurumaharajki jai).
On the 25th July, 1934, the Acharya immersed the sacred earth he had brought from Rameswaram in the holy waters at Prayaga, the place of Triveni-Sangama, the confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna and the subterranean Sarasvati and gathering the holy water in vessels, he had it sent to the places of pilgrimage in South India. By these significant ceremonial acts, the Acharya made it known to our people how custom and tradition are expressive of the spiritual, as well as geographical, unity of India. On the 26th of July, the Acharya commenced the Chaturmasya at Prayaga. During the chaturmasya period, a conference of scholars was held in the immediate presence of the Acharya. Several Pandits in the Conference received the Acharya's blessings.
From Prayaga (Allahabad) to Kasi-a distance of eighty miles - the Acharya traveled by foot. He entered the most holy city of Kasi on the 6th of October, 1934, and was received by the citizens in their thousands, headed by the Maharaja of Kasi, Pandit Madanmohan Malaviya and others. About a lakh of people participated in the procession that day, many of them uttering the full-throated cry of victory, "Jagadguru-maharaj-kijai!' Unprecedented crowds a records in the history of the city-gathered to greet the visiting Acharya.
It was this Kasi near Manikarnika Ghatta that Adi Sankara wrote his commentaries. It was Kasi that proclaimed him as the Jagad-guru. It was from there that he started on His dig-vijaya. And so our Acharya's visit to Kasi was full of supreme significance.
On the 9th of February, 1935 in response to Pandit Madanmohan Malaviya's request the Acharya paid a visit to the Hindu University. In his welcome address consisting of five verses in Sanskrit, Pandit Malaviya referred to the fact that the Acharya was adorning the Kanchi Pitha established by Sri Sankara and that his name and grace born of his great wisdom, austerity, compassion, generosity etc., has spread far and wide in this sacred land. The Acharya pointed out that the end of education is to gain peace of mind and that it is by acquiring wisdom that one realizes immortality. The Acharya said that the main objective of Astika education should always be kept in view in planning the details regarding the courses of study etc., and expressed the wish that the University would train and send out leaders of thought and action who would set an example in ideal living for the masses of the people to follow. In his concluding speech, Pandit Malaviya said that while from the legends regarding Adi Sankara they knew that the great Master visited Kasi and saved the world through his wondrous words, they now had the rare experience of seeing with their own eyes in Kasi the Acharya who was a avatara of Adi Sankara
A conference of the Pandits of Bengal led by the grand old Mahamahopahyaya Kamalanayan Tarkaratna was held at Calcutta. Over one hundred and thirty scholars met. The conference sent as its representative Sri Mahamahopadhyaya Durgasaran to Varanasi to invite His Holiness to visit Calcutta and to convey its considered view acclaiming the high status and the greatness of Kamakoti Pitha at Kanchi.
Leaving Kasi on the 18th of March, 1935, the Acharya reached Patna (patliputra) on the 24th of April. The next important place of visit was Gaya.
After brief halts en route, the Acharya reached Calcutta on the 13th July, 1935. The premier city accorded him a rousing welcome. The Acharya observed the chaturmasya from the 17th of July at Kanchi Ghat.
Navaratri or Dasara (called Puja in Bengal) is the most important festival for the Bengalis. The Acharya performed the Navaratri Puja in September-October at Calcutta, delighting the hearts of thousands of devotees there. In the third week of October, the All-India tour was resumed. A steamer took the Acharya and the entourage across the rivers, Damodar and Rupnarayan which are tributaries to Aadi Ganga. The Acharya reached Midnapore in response to the earnest request of the people of the place on the 27th of October, 1935. Midnapore at the time was the spearhead of the revolutionary nationalist movement. Many young men-especially college students-were behind prison bars as detenus. And the town was under curfew restrictions. The authorities, however, relaxed some of the restrictions to enable the people to received the Acharya and participate in the religious functions connected with the unique visit. Coming to know of the Acharya's presence in Midnapore, many of the detenus desired to meet him. They obtained permission from the British officer in charge of the prison for this purpose; but the conditions imposed was that they should return to the prison before 6 p.m. that day. When the detenus reached the Acharya's camp late in the evening, the Acharya had just then retired for a brief rest after the day's Puja. After waiting for some time, the young men started going back to prison, disappointed. Meanwhile, the Acharya came out and on learning about what had happened, sent for the detenus. They came again, prostrated before the Acharya and prayed to Him for His blessing for the gaining of independence for the country and for the welfare and happiness of the people.
Entering Orissa through Jaipur on 4th April, 1936, after visiting Sakshi-Gopal, the Acharya proceeded to Puri Jagannath. At the end of a grand procession, a ceremonial reception was given to him at the Govardhana Matha. The other Advaita Mathas of Puri, viz, Sankarananda Matha, Sivatirtha Matha and Gopalatirtha Matha, also associated themselves with this function and co-operated in the arrangements connected with the Acharya's visit. The Acharya visited the temple of Jagannatha and at the request of the scholars of the Mukti-mantapa Sabha, sat on the Pitha in the Mantapa and blessed the assembly. In a speech delivered in Samskrit, the Acharya said that he regarded the honour shown to him as belonging to Adi Sankara whose Holy Feet are worshipped by all and who made the false doctrines disappear from the land by establishing the supreme truth.
The next part of the journey though the Chilka Lake area was an arduous one. High mountains, thick forests and sandy wastes had to be crossed. Walking at the rate of twenty five miles a day, the Acharya with the tour part arrived at Chatrapur on the 17th of May, 1936; at this place at the southern end of the Lake, there is a temple of Adi Sankara where He worshipped.
Simhachalam is an ancient pilgrim center in Andhra. On a picturesque hill is situated the ancient temple of Sri Varaha Narsimha. On the 4th of November 1936, the Acharya visited this shrine and spent some time in mediation near the Gangadhara falls. Three days later, the Acharya reached Visakhapatnam, the harbour-town.
The Andhra districts to receive the Acharya next in sequence were Krishna, Guntur and Nellore. After visiting Venkatagiri, he went to Kalahasti and Tirupati again. In April, 1939, Sri Sankara Jayanti was celebrated at Bugga. After having Sri Subramanya's darsana on the Tiruttani hill, the Acharya reached Kanchi on the 2nd of May, 1939.
From Kanchi, the Acharya proceeded to Chidambaram en route the Rameswaram. The sand collected at Rameswaram in September, 1932, it will be recalled, was immersed in the holy waters at Triveni Sangama (Allahabad) on the 25th of July, 1934. The sacred water of the Ganga that was gathered there was now to be offered to Sri Ramanatha as abhiseka. One the 10th of June, 1939, after bathing in the Agni-tirtha the Acharya went to the temple, and the abisheka was performed. With this was concluded the Acharya's Ganga-yatra.
From the next day onwards, for over six months, the Acharya observed silence. But the tour-schedule was continued, as also all the activities connected with the Matha. The Acharya returned to Kumbakonam from where He had started out on his vijaya-yatra twenty-one years earlier. The 29th of June 1939 was a red-letter day for the citizens of the town; there was no end to their joy in receiving the Acharya again into their midst.
The twenty-one years, All India tour had paved the way for taking concrete steps towards the consolidation and furtherance of our ancient dharma. In the years that have followed, the Acharya has given the lead in several directions for bringing together the different sections of Hindus, for the promotion of Vedic and Vedantic studies, for the due observance of religious ceremonies, and rules of conduct as prescribed in the Sastras, for deepening the spiritual life on the people, for rendering service to the sick and the disabled and for universal welfare.
In 1939, the Acharya had an organization of mudradhikaris set up with a view to serve the people in a comprehensive way. The mudradhikaris are representatives of the Matha in the different places. Among their functions are: to enlist the co-operation of the people in keeping the temples in good repair, see to it that temple-worship is performed in the proper order, to arrange for popular expositions of the Puranas on Ekadasi days, to bring together all classes of people in such corporate activities as digging tanks and wells, dragging the temple-car on festival days etc., and cattle-care. In order to implement this program and ensure the best possible results, the Acharya toured the villages in the Thanjavur District and other places several times and convened periodical conferences of the mudradhikaris to instruct them personally.
Under the guidance of the Acharya, several of the old temple came to be renovated, and Kumbhabhishekams were performed.
In order that the evils caused by the Second World War may not oppress the people and distort their minds, the Acharya suggested to the temple-authorities, and management of religious charities in 1942, that the Sri-Rudra and Sri-Vishnusahasranama be recited and archanas performed in the temples; this suggestion was carried out.
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 have been neglected because of alien influence and conditions of modern life. In order to offset the forces making for deterioration, the Acharya caused to be organized 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 Vedic scholars, institution for teaching the Vedas are set up and run, and every possible assistance is giving for the preservation of Vedic culture. In January, 1955 at Kanchi where the Acharya was staying at the time, a conference of eminent Vedic scholars was convened and seventeen pandits in Rig, Yajus and Sama Vedas were selected from all over the country and honoured with presented shawls and awards.
The consolidation of Advaita through his bhashyas 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 Pita have in various ways, rendered invaluable services to the cause of Advaita. An important measure designed to promote studies in Advaita was taken when the Parama-guru of our present Acharya inaugurated, in 1894, at Kumbhakonam, the Advaita Sabha. The Golden Jubilee of the Sabha was celebrated in February, 1945, at the Kumbhakonam Matha in the presence of our Acharya. 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. The 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; and he declared that it was our duty to study those works and gain the wisdom that is contained in them.
Ten years later, in March, 1956 the Diamond Jubilee of the Advaita Sabha was celebrated at Sivasthanam near Kanchi, where the Acharya was staying at the time. Addressing the conference, the Acharya observed that the aim of the Advaita Sabha was to spread the light of the self as revealed in the Upanishads, that those who adopted Advaita as their way of life should took upon all beings as they would on themselves and render some service or other everyday to the afflicted and the distressed and that they should investigate the cause of dispute among religious cults and seek to eliminate it.
It is one the basis of Advaita that the conflicts among religious cults could be removed. With sympathy and 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 cults of Hinduism have indulged in quarrels sometimes. In South India, exclusive claims have been advanced, for instance, on behalf of Vaishnavism and Saivism. While the Alvars and Nayanmars were universalistic in their outlook, their later followers introduced narrow distinctions and dogmatic partisanships. Our Acharya wanted to give a concrete form to the movement for unity and co-ordination as between the Vaishnavas and the Saivas in Tamilnadu; and accordingly, the idea of Tiruppavai-Tiruvempavai-Shadanga-conference was hit upon in 1950. Andal's Tiruppavai and Manikkavachakar's Tiruvempavai are sung in the Vishnu and Siva temple respectively in the month of Margali (Margasirsha). The Acharya had a conference of scholars in these sacred texts organized at Tiruvidaimarudur in December, 1950. It was a unique experience to listen to the Vaishnava and Saiva scholars speak from the same platform.
The unity-movement has been gaining in popularity since its inception. Encouragement is given for children to learn to recite the two poems.
Religion is the basis of Hindu culture; spirituality is its back-bone. What are considered elsewhere to be secular arts, such as sculpture and dancing, are here in India regarded as sacred. Hindu culture in all its aspects spread far wide in the past. The evidences of its influence are even now to be found in widely distant countries from Egypt in the West to Java and Bali in the East. Speaking about the pervasiveness of Hindu culture at a meeting at the Kumbhakonam Matha in January, 1947, the Acharya dwelt on the need for the resuscitation of the traditional arts and crafts. These should be revived and popularised, bearing in mind that all of them serve the purpose of strengthening faith in God, faith in spiritual values. 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 learns from the Agamas-Saiva, Sakta, Vaikhanasa and Pancharatra. It is from the same sources that the arhchakas have to know the correct procedures of temple-rituals and worship. Popular discourses on the Epics and Puranas used to be given mainly in the temples and on occasions of temple-festivals. The fold-songs, dances etc., have for their themes the religious stories as related in the Epics etc. 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. He had a sadas arranged for, for the first time in 1962, during the chaturmasya at Ilayattangudi-the Akhil-Vyasa Bharata-Agama-Silpa-Sadas. Scholars and specialists in the various fields covered by the wide scope of the sadas were invited to present papers and give expositions at the sessions of the conference. Besides the traditional pandits in the Agamas and experts in Silpa, some foreign scholars also took part in the Sadas. The Archakas were asked to discuss and settle points relating to rituals and worship. Arrangements were made for cultural programs consisting of the folks arts of the different regions. The Sadas has become now a permanent annual feature.
One of the most significant achievements in the last few years is the bringing together of the Heads of the Dharma-Pithas in South India in periodical conference with a view to formulate and execute concerted measures for the safeguarding and furtherance of Hindu institutions and practices. This has become possible through the initiative and leadership of our Acharya. The objectives of the conference of the Heads of the dharma-Pithas are to strengthen the forces that make for astikya, to project before the people the true image of Hindu dharma, to work for the consolidation of the Hindu society and to persuade its members to follow the path of virtue.
The 'rice-gift' scheme formulated by the Acharya is being implemented in several areas. According to this scheme, in each household, everyday before starting to cook rice, a handful of rice along with a paisa should be put into a pot kept for the purpose. Once a week the rice and coins should be collected by the Association in each street r locality constituted under the scheme. The rice thus gathered should be handed over to the temple in the neighborhood for being cooked and offered to the deity as naivedya. The cooked rice that has been consecrated should be sold in packets to the poor people of the place at a nominal charges of 10 paise per packet. The amount collected thus and the gift coins gathered from the charity-pots should be utilized towards meeting the cost of firewood and for paying the temple-cook for his services. 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 purifies through partaking of the consecrated food.
One of the most distressing phenomena is the crude way in which Corporation or Municipal servants dispose of the dead bodies of Hindu destitutes. The Acharya has repeatedly exhorted the well-to-do-Hindus to do their duty to those who are unfortunate in life and unfortunate in death also. Arranging for the proper cremation or burial of the dead bodies of the destitute is of the greatest importance. This is one of the function of the Hindu-mata Jivatma-Kainkarya Sangha organised at the instance of the Acharya. Among the functions of the Sangha are: weekly visits to hospitals for distributing the Acharya's prasada (vibhuti and kunkumam) to patients and making them think of God who is the Great Healer, offering the tulasi leaves, Ganga-water etc., to those who area on the verge of death and performing Sri Ramanama japa staying by their side; going to the villages on day every week for explaining to the people the essentials of Hindu-dharma; and arranging for frequent talks on ethical living and spiritual disciplines for the benefits of the those who are behind prison-bars.
Some of the other activities and institutions which owe their inception to the Acharya, in recent times, are: the institution of "Weekly Worship" enabling the Hindu community of each place to visit the local temple collectively once a week and perform bhajana, the setting up of Amara-bharati-pariksha-samiti for arranging for instruction in Samskrit for beginners, conducting periodical examinations and awarding certificates and prizes, the starting of the Madras Samskrit Education Society at Nazarethpet near Madras for the promotion of studies in Samskrit.
One of the major causes for our cultural decline was foreign domination. This cause was removed when our country gained political independence from British rule on the 15th of August, 1947, under the leadership of Mahatama Gandhi. But political emancipation cannot be an end in itself; it must lead on to a new flowering of the Soul of India. In a message issued on the independence, the Acharya said: "At this moment when our Bharata Varsha has gained freedom, all the people of this ancient land should with one mind and heart pray to the Lord. We should pray to Him to vouchsafe to us increasing mental strength and the power for making spiritual progress. It is only by His Grace that we can preserve the freedom we have gained, and help all begins in the world to attain the ideal of true happiness...For a long time our country has striven for freedom; by the Grace of God, by the blessing of sages, and by the unparalleled sacrifices of the people, freedom has come to us. Let us pray to the all-pervading God that He may shower His Grace so that our country will become prosperous, being freed from famine-conditions and the people will live united and without any communal strife". The Acharya also appealed that the people should cultivate the cardinal virtues, ridding themselves of passions and violent desires and that they should by inward control and spiritual knowledge seek to realize the Self.
The Acharya wanted to select a successor to the Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha and train him for the great tasks and duties associated with the headship of the Pitha. The choice fell on a young disciple, Subrahmanyam by name, the son of Sri Mahadeva Aiyar who was an official of the Southern Railway at Tiruchi. From his early boyhood, Subramanyam had been receiving Vedic education at the Matha itself. He was about nineteen years of age in 1954. the Vedic rituals connected with initiating him into sannyasa and imparting to him the mahavakya upadesa by the Acharya took place at Kanchi from the 19th to the 22nd March, 1954. Thousands of people had gather in the city for witnessing the unique ceremony on the 22nd of March. The young disciple stood hip-deep in the Sarvatirtha Tank as soon as the Acharya had arrived there, and discarded the insignia and attire of the purvasrama. Then he donned the kashaya cloth and repaired to the Shrine of Sri Visvesvara where the Acharya imparted to him mahavakya-upadesa. He was given the yoga-pattam, 'Sri Jayendra Sarasvati.' From that day onwards he has been with the Acharya as the First Disciple, receive the necessary guidance in the performance of the many duties associated with the Pitha and its ever increasing sphere of spiritual service to the people.
On the 18th May, 1954, the Acharya's shashti-abda-purti (sixty-first birth day) was celebrated all over the country. In a message to the disciples who had gathered at Kanchi that day, the Acharya asked them to do their utmost to preserve the Vedic lore, to spread the spirit of devotion among the people, and to make endowments of land etc., for charitable purposes. To mark the auspicious occasion Sri Sankara's Brahma-sutra-bhashya with notes was published by the Kamakoti Kosasthanam.
The Golden Jubilee of the Acharya's ascension to the Kamakoti Pitha was celebrated on the 17th of March 1957, at Kalavai where he had ascended the Pitha in 1907. In the course of a message, the Acharya observed.
"We know today that half-a-century has passed. There is not much use in reviewing all that we have been able to do in the past fifty years. On the contrary, we should bestow our thoughts on what we have to do in the remaining years that are given to us by God in this life. What is it that has to be done by us? What has to be done is to be gain the state of freedom from all action. But, in the Bhagavadgita, the Lord declares repeatedly that the state of freedom from action cannot be obtained by remaining quite (without performing our duty). It is by performing action that the state of actionless-ness can be realized. What is the action which is very intense, by which actionless-ness is to be achieved by us? In answering this question, we recollect and remind you of the Bhagavatpada's command: 'Let us thus perform our allotted actions. It is the performance of our allotted action that constitutes service to the Lord, worship of Him becomes the means to obtain His Grace. Therefore, performing our respective duties, and thus worshipping the Lord, we shall gain the Supreme God."
In the history of city of Madras, the year 1957-59 constitute an unforgettable chapter; for, during these years, the Acharya stayed in the city-visiting it after a lapse of twenty-five-years-and blessed the people by his benign presence, by the daily Puja performed to Sri Chandramoulisvara and Sri Tripurasundari and by His post-Puja discourses.
Every moment of His Holiness's life is spent in the service of Adi Sankara, in conveying the Great Master's all-comprehensive and soul-saving message to the people at large. With a view to remind the people of Sri Sankara and his spiritual mission, His Holiness has been causing Sankara Memorial Mantapas to be constructed during the last few years, at important places of pilgrimage. The first to be so constructed is the one at Rameswaram. After participating in the Kumbhabhishekam of Sri Bangaru Kamakshi at Thanjavur on the 7th of April, 1963, the Acharya proceeded to Rameswaram for the consecration of the first Sankara Memorial Tower there. The consecration ceremony took place significantly on the Sankara Jayanthi Day, the 28th of April, 1963.
The entire Memorial is a graceful structure with representations of holy sages and preceptors whose sight would bring back to one's memory the unique grandeur of India's culture. As one rises from the Agnitirtha after a sanctifying bath, one beholds the Memorial Tower and the various features thereof. Each aspect elevates. The figure of Sri Adi Sankara surrounded by his disciples impresses the pilgrim as representing all that is best and noblest in India's heritage.
In connection with Kumbhabhishekam, a Sadas was held that night. Addressing the audience, the Acharya explained the significance of the installation of Sri Adi Sankara. With a smile, he observed in a lighter vein. "Sri Adi Sankara was a wandering Acharya moving quickly and frequently from place to place. He had traveled throughout his sacred country. Today Sri Adi Sankara has assumed a fixed seat in Rameswaram, the dakshinamnayakshetra, the southern-most dharma of all the Dharmas of Bharatavarsha. To the four corners of India he carried his message; but from all over people will be coming to him at Rameswaram and after touching his Paduka placed in front of the Mantapa, will receive the message and inspiration from him." The Acharya thus gave the reason why Rameswaram has been chosen as the first place for the installation of Sri Adi Sankara.
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, the Lord Siva appeared out of the Mahalinga, raised the right hand, and proclaimed the truth of Advaita three times thus: 'satyam advaitam; satyam advaitam; satyam advaitam'. Our Acharya wished that this greatly significant incident should be adequately represented in sculpture so that peopled would easily remember it. A vimana over the entrance of the local Sankara Matha 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 Matha a shrine was constructed and in it was installed Sankara-paduka. Our Acharya accompanied by Sri Jayendra Sarasvati Swami participated in the Kumbhabhishekam of this new Memorial, which took place on the 5th of December, 1963, a special feature of the ceremony was the archana performed to the Paduka with 108 laced shawls, which were subsequently presented to the Pandits.
In the Sri Matha at Kanchi, a new sixteen-pillared hall was constructed and therein were installed the images of Adi Sankara and his four disciples and the Guru Paduka. The Acharya arrived at Kanchi on the 26th of February, 1964, after a tour of the southern districts. On the next day, the 27th, of February, the consecration ceremony was performed.
At Kanyakumari, the land's end, where the eternal Virgin Mother presides, a Memorial Mantapa for Sankara was built. The Kumbhabhishekam for this was performed on the 31st of May, 1964.
Srisaila, the Holy Mountain in Andhra Pradesh is one of the most sacred Sivasthalas. We have already referred to the visit of our Acharya to this place in 1934 during His vijaya-yatra and to the fact that Adi Sankara had also visited it. A fitting Memorial Mantapa for Sankara has been built there. And, our Acharya went to Srisila in March, 1967, the Sankara Jayanthi day.
At Kurukshetra, the images of Sri Sankara and of the Gitopadesa have been installed. Among the other places of pilgrimage where arrangements are in progress of Sankara-Memorials are: Trayambaka where the Godavari has its source, Prayaga where there is the confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna and the invisible Sarasvati and Badari on the Himalayas where Nara and Narayana observe perpetual tapasya for the welfare of the world.
During the period of the Acharya's stay in Kanchi in 1953-57, His second visit to the city in 1957-59 and in subsequent years several foreigners 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 in 1955, 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 Sankaracharya that I realized it is still a part of the living force of Hinduism to day".
In his book, The Lotus and the Robot, the well-known writer Mr. Arthur Koestler records his impression of a meeting which he had with the Acharya in 1959, and speaks in glowing terms of the smile that transformed the Acharya's face into that of a child; "I had never seen a comparable smile of expression; it had an extraordinary charm and sweetness".
Miss Eughina Borghini, of Buenos Aires, Argentina, who was among those who attended the first Agama-Silpa-Sadas at Illaiyattangudi in, 1962, has this to say about our Acharya:
"I consider the day I first saw His Holiness as a day of great fortune in my life. I consider that in him Jesus has come again into this world. He is an image of love. From the moment I saw him, the light of his grace gave me maturity to understand clearly some of the aspects of spiritual life and religious teachings. His Holiness lives just like Jesus, homeless and devoted to a life of renunciation and with his contemplation, worship, penance, and teaching is working for the welfare of mankind. I shall bow at His feet and be always adoring him."
Dr. Albert B. Franklin, formerly U.S. Consul-General in Madras, saw the Acharya for the first time in the Madurai Meenakshi temple during the Kumbhabbhishekam in 1963. In these striking words he records what he saw and the deep impression it made on his mind:
"A stir in the central portion of the temple-yard before the glided Vimanam under which the Goddess Meenakshi is henceforth to stay, attracted our attention. The V.I.P. in that area parted respectfully to let an old man with a beard and a long stick come through. He approached the ladder leading to the top of the Vimanam. It was the Sankaracharya. The old man approached with halting steps, his head turning from side to side as if he wanted not to miss any detail of his surroundings, Who was he? He has a name, he has a dwelling place, he has an age, but in fact, he is Every man and he is as old as man's ponderings. He is the man of faith. He is the symbol of that renunciation which is at the heart of all religions and which Christ himself demanded when asked by the rich young man "What must I do be saved?" So, here, at this time, in the temple, he is more than the most highly placed of the V.I.P. guests. With a vigour surprising in so old a man, he seizes the railing of the ladder in a long fingered, bony hand and rapidly climbs seven or eight rungs to a point from which he can reach the top of the Vimanam with his stick. He remains a central figure throughout the ceremony".
Presiding over a meeting held in Madras as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, on the 28th February, 1967, he paid the following tribute to His Holiness:
"The greatest miracle of the human spirit is the sum of knowledge found in the body of lore which we collectively term the Vedanta. His Holiness, sixty years ago, abandoned the multitude of other levels of human existence, contest, involvement, to devote himself to this Truth."
"If we meet here to-day to honour him because of the sixty years of his accession to the title of Holiness, I believe that this is immaterial to him. I believe that he is as far beyond the titles and honours of this world as we, on our side, are in need of honouring him as a way of symbolizing our awareness of the Reality he represents for us."
"It is hard for me to find a tribute in words which expresses my feeling of admiration and gratitude towards His Holiness. Those of us who deal in words as commodity or as a tool of trade, learn to mistrust them. Especially do we mistrust words as a means to describe a living, changing force, or personality and like your remote ancestors we learn to mistrust words as a means of describing ultimate things."
"It gives me pleasure to be able to say, in these circumstances, that though some of my ancestors were in their day the subject of controversy because of their beliefs, just as Emerson was in his day, yet not one of them would question the appropriateness of my being here this evening. For them as for me, the Spirit whom we are celebrating, represents the highest aspirations of mankind."
It is difficult to reduce to words what one feels about the unique greatness of our Acharya. His very presence in our midst is a blessing. The solace that countless devotees receive from his words is inexpressible. When one thinks of His Holiness, one is reminded of the definition of "The Guru" given by Adi Sankara in his Prachnottara ratna-malika:
"Who is the Guru? He who has realized the Truth, and who is always intent on the disciples' good".
For sixty-three years, His Holiness Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati has adorned the ancient Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha as the sixty-eight Acharya in succession to Adi Sankara. May this spiritual rulership continue to shower its many blessing on the entire world!
© Copyright Shri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham
No part of this web site may be reproduced without explicit permission from the Peetham. Some material put up on this web site are protected by individual copyright(s) of the concerned organisation(s)