The speech delivered by His Holiness Jagadguru Sri Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam at the Tiruppavai-Tiruvembavai Conference held at Kancheepuram on Sunday, January 31, 1960.
In recent times, the Nattukottai Nagarathar community served our religion and earned merit (<Tamil>) by renovating several temples, including those about which our saints have sung praise. This sacred service (<Tamil>) was undertaken in the past by the Chola Kings. The service done by those kings were continued by these Nattukottai Chettiars. But for them, several of our temples would have gone into ruins. I am telling this not to praise any particular person present in this gathering – I am telling this because by expressing appreciation of the good work done by others, a little of the merit (<Tamil>) earned by them will attach to us also.
A person who has done a meritorious deed will lose the resulting merit if he listens to the praise of others or himself boasts of his deeds. I am praising the community because those responsible for the renovation of temples and other meritorious deeds are not present here.
How did the community get the incentive to perform such merit-earning deeds? Forty or fifty years ago, it was difficult to find even a single Nattukottai Chettiar without smearing sacred ashes and without wearing a rudraksham around his neck. For that Sri Sundaraswamy, who was living on the banks of the Tambraparani, was responsible. He was a great devotee of Siva and had gained spirituality by his religious observance (<Tamil>). There was none to equal him in devotion and performing sacred services (<Tamil>). He was responsible for the Kumbhabhishekam of seven temples in Tiruvarur on a single day. Several Gujaratis who had settled down in the Sowcarpet area of Madras City were his disciples and they also used to wear Rudraksha round their neck. This Swami has his Samadhi at Chettinad. The seed of devotion to Siva sown by him grew into a tree and bore fruit.
About 50 years ago, there lived in Koiloor in Chettinad, another equally great Swami, known as Veerappa Swamigal. He was also a person of great devotion and purity of life. But he was subject to fits of anger (<Tamil>).If he cursed any person in his anger, it had disastrous effect. So the Nattukottai Chettiars dreaded him. If he directed any person to do a particular service, like renovation of a temple or the starting of a Veda Patasala or the endowment of a choultry, that person implicitly carried out the direction. In that way, through the instrumentality of Veerappa Swami, several temples were renovated, several patasalas started and several choultries founded. The seed of devotional service implanted by Sri Sundaraswamy grew and flourished because of the influence of Veerappa Swamigal.
As I said, this Veerappa Swamigal had one drawback and that was his susceptibility to temper. We pray God that we should have no enemies. But what greater enemy can a person have than anger? Veerappa Swamigal was greatly worried over this drawback and was wondering how he could overcome this internal enemy, temper. Now, this Veerappa Swamigal had a Brahmin companion named Subbaraya Iyer. This Brahmin used to read out to Veerappa Swamigal the Puranas, Nyaya Sastra and other works. Veerappa Swamigal asked this Brahmin whether he had come across in any of the Puranas or temple legends (Sthala Purana) a method to get rid of anger. This Brahmin said that he was acquainted with several Sthala Puranas and there was one particular legend which may be applicable to the Swami.
Now, it is a pity that there is a tendency to dub Sthala Puranas as fiction, invented to exaggerate the importance of each temple. Even some Asthikas (religiously minded persons), fall for this kind of argument and regard these Sthala Puranas as having no particular significance. But the fact is that these Sthala Puranas contain a fund of information and supply many a missing link. The story of a particular event in one Purana may be found amplified in another Purana and the version in a Sthala Purana may confirm and provide evidence for the veracity of this story. That is why great Tamil poets in the past took trouble to sing in Tamil a number of Sthala Puranas written in Sanskrit. In fact, these temple legends will provide particulars establishing close connection, say, between temples in widely separated places like Benares, Mayavaram, and Kuttalam.
The Brahmin mentioned to Veerappa Swamigal the legend associated with the Tirukkoilar temple near Tiruturaipundi. If you go to that temple, you will find the figure of Sage Durvasa facing the deity. The story is that Durvasa worshipped at this temple and got rid of his anger. The figure of Durvasa radiates peace.
Veerappa Swamigal proceeded to this place and through his efforts the temple was renovated, and its tank was repaired. Houses also sprang up all round the temple. The Swamigal himself residence in a hut in the street to the north (<Tamil>) of the temple. The Swamigal found that the temple lacked a car (<Tamil>). So he had a beautiful car made. The artisans who constructed the car desired that before putting it into service, a goat, or at least a fowl, should be offered as sacrifice, so that the car may move smoothly and without interruption. Veerappa Swamigal who was opposed to such a sacrifice, directed that the car should be dragged without any such offering. On the appointed day, the deity was placed inside the decorated car and the people of the place dragged the car. After moving a short distance, the car came to a stop and would not budge an inch in spite of the best efforts of the devotees. They came to the Swami and entreated him to permit an animal sacrifice so that the car may move and return to the starting point.
The Swamigal told them: “If a lamb or a fowl is killed, there would be its mother to weep over it. While you take away one life, you also cause grief to another life. Therefore, it is better that all of you go to the temple and pray with sincerity that the car may move uninterruptedly. If the car does not move even then, and if there is no other way, then I will offer myself to be sacrificed under the wheels of the car, for, there is no relation to shed tears for me.” The devotees prayed to God accordingly and pulled the car again. To the great relief of all, it moved again. When it came opposite his hut, the Swamigal was overwhelmed by this manifestation of divine grace and he stood before the Lord and praised His solicitude for the welfare of these devotees. At the moment, lighted camphor was waved before the deity and Veerappa Swamigal shedding tears of joy, praised the great mercy of God and collapsed dead in the arms of Subbaraya Iyer who was standing behind.
This instance of divine grace and mercy is within the personal knowledge of many people. Even those who treat puranic stories as imagination and fiction cannot deny this incident narrated by me. Veerappa Swamigal conquered his only weakness, temper, and divine grace fell on him and he got freed from future births and deaths.
There is also the story of Mooka Kavi. He was dumb from birth; but obtaining the grace of Sri Kamakshi he burst forth into exquisite poetry. He sang 500 verses in praise of Sri Kamakshi in five satakas of 100 verses each. In the first sataka, known as Arya Sataka, occurs the following verses:
Siva Siva pasyanti samam,
Sri Kaamaakshee kaatahshitaah purushah
Vipinam bhavanamimitram mitram
Loshtom cha yuvathi bimoshtam.”
Great men, blessed by the Kataksha (Grace) of Sri Kamakshi, regard with equal unconcern forest and palace, foe and friend, a piece of stone and the captivating lips of damsels. What a wonder O! Siva O! Siva.
In this verse, the poet indicates the test by which we can find out whether a person has been purified by the benevolent look of the Divine Mother or not. If he has received the grace of the Mother, he will be in a state of mind free from anger, enmity, desire, and fear, and such a man will view with equal indifference a piece of tile and a piece of gold or a young woman. He will be attracted by nothing, desire nothing, hate nothing, and fear nothing. God alone can work this miracle of ridding us of all passions. We need not go to puranic stories to find instances of such divine grace; we can see such instances even in the present times. That is why I narrated to you the story of Veerappa Swamigal.
We speak of Siva as He who burnt Kaama by the look of his eyes and kicked Kaala with his leg (<Tamil>). Kaala and Kaama are responsible for our endless births. One feels hungry and is unable to find food in the right way, i.e., earning food by honest labor. So he takes to wrong paths to satisfy his hunger. He suffers for his wrong deeds and is born again and again. Kaala is responsible for our birth and death and Kaama is responsible for our various desires prompted by our senses. If we surrender our hearts to Siva, the destroyer of Kaama and Kaala, we will become free from the promptings of the senses and when we are so free, there will be no more births. We will get merged with Isvara. That is why our seers have asked us to worship Siva, the Liberator from birth and death. (<Tamil>).
Some may argue that they can, using their intelligence and effort, control their passions. Such an attitude puts a premium on the ego and such persons will come to think highly of themselves. Instead of enthroning God in their hearts, they will putting the feeling of “I” there. It is like putting in a place reserved for a great man (<Tamil>) a foot-wear (<Tamil>).
God is the embodiment of knowledge (<Tamil>) and love (<Tamil>) and He alone is capable of filling us with that knowledge and love. Veerappa Swamigal had faith in the puranic story. He placed trust in God and conquered his temper. The result was that his soul left the mortal coils just when deeparadana was being performed to God. The inner light in him got merged with the divine light that pervades the Universe.
It is this faith in God and adherence to path of righteousness that had earned for India the reputation of a land free from thefts and also produced great men who spurned the transient joys of this world. One of the persons who accompanied Alexander the Great to India, 2500 years ago, has recorded in the Greek language that if any valuable article is dropped on the wayside, it will remain untouched. He has also recorded the existence of a great man (<Tamil>) who consigned to the flames valuable gifts presented to him.
We must train our people from an early age to study the lives of great men who led an unattached life, free from debasing passions like lust, anger, greed and fear and, following their example, develop faith in God. This will help them to grow up into dutiful and honest citizens, disciplined to lead a moral and ethical life. If the Government also takes sufficient interest in making provision for teaching moral and spiritual values to children, it stands to gain much. For one thing, expenditure on police and law courts will get reduced. They will also be free from the troubles arising from strikes and other forms of student indiscipline.
On the ground that free India is a secular state, the Government failed to make provision for religious and moral instruction in educational institutions. One line of justification adopted for this failure is that India being a land of many religions, the state cannot favor any particular religion. The mistake has now been realized. A few days back a committee appointed by the Government of India (Sri Prakasa Committee), has submitted its report. The committee has expressed the view that “many ills in the educational world and in society as a whole today which have resulted in widespread disturbances were mainly due to gradual disappearance of the hold of religion on the people.” The committee wants “the inculcation of moral and spiritual values in the minds of the people from the early years” and has emphasized “that it is most desirable that provision should be made for the teaching of moral and spiritual values in educational institutions. “
Love of God should be implanted in our people during their impressionable age. We must bring up our children with faith in God. Then alone will get the courage to resist evil thoughts and to stand firmly by moral and spiritual values. It is with this object in view that our ancients introduced the Pavai Nombu (<Tamil>). It was this training that was responsible for the absence of theft in the land about which the Greek visitor has recorded. Twelve valuable years after the attainment of freedom have been lost. If teaching of spiritual and moral values had been introduced as soon as India became free, the Government, whichever party may be in power, would have been saved the troubles which arose from language differences and student indiscipline. It is only now that the Government has realized its mistake, and feels the need for religious hold (<Tamil>) on people. We have attained freedom. We must retain it. The reason why nations have lost their freedom in the past can be traced more to the internal enemies (<Tamil>) that got established in the people’s heart, than to external enemies. The removal of mental dirt (<Tamil>) is as important as the removal of bodily dirt. The soap that can remove internal dirt is faith in God (<Tamil>). If we keep God constantly in our heart, no internal enemy can approach us. We have a duty to drive out our internal enemies (<Tamil>). The attempt in this direction should be made by teaching our children faith in God. That is the significance of the Tiruppavai-Tiruvembavai movement.