Preceptors of Advaita
THE SAGE OF KANCHI
T. M. P. Mahadevan
M.A., Ph. D.
5. Study and Training
Our Acharya was only fifteen years old in 1909. For two years, the learned panditas 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 taught. The teachers were the disciples of 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 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 at Kumbhakonam. He was twenty then. He had acquired by then encyclopaedic knowledge. Whenever scholars went to him, he used to put searching questions relating to their respective 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 Gangaikonda-chola-puram 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.
Since the Acharya had not reached the age of majority, the Matha was managed under the direction of the Court of Wards from 1911 to 1915. When the Acharya completed twenty-one years of age in May 1915, he took over the management of the Matha under his direct supervision. But the actual execution of the affairs of the Matha was by duly appointed officers and agents. Even in the papers granting power of attorney to the agents, the Acharya would not sign-–this is in accordance with custom and usage. Only the official seal of the Matha would be affixed.
The Sankara Jayanti Celebrations that year were performed on a grand scale. A new journal ‘Arya-dharma’ commenced its publications under the auspices of the Matha. In October 1916, the Navaratri festival was observed at the Matha with a new fervour. 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. Learned panditas came from all over the country to participate in the sadas. The foremost exponents of music gave concerts in the presence of the Acharya. At the conclusion of the festival on the night of the tenth day, the Acharya went round the town at the head of a huge and colourful procession.
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 the titles such as ‘sastraratnakara’. Essay-competitions were held for college students on subjects relating to our dharma. Free studentships 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. Panditas and sangita-vidvans yearned for the Guru’s grace. 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.
Sage of Kanchi - Other Parts:
Sage of Kanchi
Preceptors of Advaita