Preceptors of Advaita
THE SAGE OF KANCHI
T. M. P. Mahadevan
M.A., Ph. D.
3. Ascension to Sri Kamakoti Pitha
We have already referred to the Sixty-sixth Acharya of Kamakoti Pitha, Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati. In 1906 he 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 blessings. Svaminathan 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. Svaminathan 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 Svaminathan should stay there itself. Two pandits attached to the Matha also asked Svaminathan to stay there. But Svaminathan said that he had to attend school and that he had not informed his parents about his coming over to the Matha. Thereupon His Holiness gave him permission to leave. Svaminathan left for Tindivanam in a cart belonging to the Matha. After Svaminathan had left, His Holiness informed the two pandits of the Matha his keen desire to install Svaminathan as his successor to the glorious pontifical seat of Kanchi.
His Holiness the Sixty-sixth Acharya attained siddhi at Kalavai and Svaminathan’s maternal cousin was installed as the Sixty-seventh Acharya. He was the only child of Svaminathan’s mother’s sister. And, he had lost his father when he was quite young. He studied the Vedas at Chidambaram, staying in Svaminathan’s family in the years 1900-1901. After that he was staying along with his mother in the Matha itself. When Svaminathan’s parents received the news about his installation to the Pitha, Svaminathan’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. But at the last minute, Svaminathan’s father received a telegram from Tiruchi asking him to attend an Education Conference at Tiruchi. And so, before leaving for Tiruchi, he desired the members of his family not to go to Kalavai in the cart because it was not quite safe to travel nearly fifty miles in a cart without proper escort; he asked them 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 Svaminathan came to 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:
“In the beginning of the year 1907, when I was studying in a Christian Mission School at Tindivanam, a town in the South Arcot District, I heard one day that the Sankaracharya of Kamakoti Pitha who was amidst us in our town in the previous year, attained siddhi at Kalavai, a village about ten miles from Arcot and twenty-five miles from Kanchipuram. Information was received that a maternal cousin of mine who, after some study in the Rig Veda had joined the camp of the Acharya offering his services to him, was installed on the Pitha.
He was the only son of the widowed and destitute sister of my mother and there was not a soul in the camp to console her. At this juncture, my father who was a supervisor of schools in the Tindivanam taluk, planned to proceed with his family to Kalavai, some sixty miles from Tindivanam in his own touring bullock cart. But on account of an educational conference at Trichinopoly he cancelled the programme.
My mother with myself and other children started for Kalavai to console her sister on her son assuming the sannyasa asrama. We travelled by rail to Kanchipuram and halted at the Sankaracharya Matha there. I had my ablution at 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 Paramaguru. But one of them a hereditary maistry 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 maistry 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 Matha, 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 maistry 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 Svaminathan 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. Svaminathan ascended the Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha on the 13th of February 1907, as the Sixty-eighth Acharya, assuming the sannyasa name ‘Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati’. His Holiness went in a procession to the siddhisthala 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 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. With the passage of time the responsibilities and the functions of the Matha increased. It is not a simple monastic institution. The Matha has to administer properties endowed for various religious and philanthropic purposes. The headship of such an organization, it is obvious, should be extremely difficult. The administration requires on the part of the Acharya great spiritual power coupled with worldly wisdom, the ability to fill the status of the Jagadguru, as well as minute knowledge of men and matters. It is pertinent to mention here that the paternal grand-father of Svaminathan, Ganapati Sastri, was closely connected with the Kamakoti Pitha as its manager (sarvadhikari) for over fifty years from 1835 onwards. It was under his stewardship that permanent arrangements were made for adequate sources of income to meet the expenses of the Matha. The duties of the Matha had enormously increased since then. And, the new Acharya lost no time in getting himself equipped for the tasks awaiting him. For this, he had first to go to the headquarters at Kumbhakonam.
Leaving Kalavai in the same year, i.e. 1907, the Acharya went to Kumbhakonam after making 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 Svaminathan as the new Acharya of Kamakoti Pitha. The town wore a festive appearance. The teachers of the American Mission School and the former school-fellows 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. After three days’ stay at Tindivanam, the Acharya resumed the journey and reached Kumbhakonam in the month of Chitra in the year Plavanga.
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. Her Highness Jeejambabhai Saheb and Her Highness Ramakumarambha-bhai Saheb, queens of Shivaji of the ruling family of Tanjore sent all the regal paraphernalia for the coronation. The ceremonial abhisheka was performed with jasmine flowers. First, the representatives of the Bangaru Kamakshi, Kamakshi and Akhilandesvari temples performed the abhisheka. This was followed by the representatives of the princely family of Tanjore, of the various Zamindars and of the several aristocratic families. Prominent scholars took an active part in the coronation. Seated on the throne of the Matha, the Acharya blessed all the people assembled there. That night seated in the golden ambari on the regal elephant, sent by the Tanjore ruling family, His Holiness went in a grand procession through the main streets of Kumbhakonam. Thus commenced the Acharya’s spiritual rulership as the Jagadguru.
Sage of Kanchi - Other Parts:
Sage of Kanchi
Preceptors of Advaita