Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

The Late Sri K. Balasubrahmanya Aiyar

P. Sankaranarayanan


By the death of Sri K. Balasubrahmanya Aiyar which occurred on the 30th of September, South India has lost a person of great intellectual eminence, of high moral stature and of deep spiritual instincts. Fortune had provided him with a noble lineage whose benefits he enriched by assiduously cultivating the opportunities that came to him for the perfection of his personality. His father had made his mark in the public life of this part of the country not only as an eminent lawyer, a great jurist, a famous judge and an able administrator, but also as one who, with a profound knowledge of the treasures of our classical culture, had an abiding passion for everything that was enduring in it and dedicated himself to its preservation and enrichment. Intimate association with his father during the formative years of his youth enabled Sri Balasubrahmanya Aiyar to imbibe these traits which stood him in good stead as an inheritance superior in value to the wordly goods that were bequeathed to him. Practically every all-India leader of distinction, when he came to Madras, used to stay with Sri V. Krishnaswamy Aiyar in his “Ashrama” in Mylapore. Among these, to mention a few, were such illustrious personages like Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, Ranade, Gokhale, Baba Bharati and Subrahmanya Bharati. Of those who ‘discovered’ Swami Vivekananda, the earliest was Sri Krishnaswamy Aiyar who watched him during his frequent visits to his residence with perspicacious penetration into his spiritual personality.

As he grew up to early manhood, Sri Balasubrahmanya Aiyar’s mind was moulded after these great men and received the impress of their superior scholarship, of their intense patriotism, and of their culture and character. In those days, and for a long time since then, Mylapore was the intellectual hub of Madras and in Adyar, not far from Mylapore, was springing up a global institution : reared by the versatile personality of Dr. Annie Besant. The great men of those times were Sri S. Subrahmanya Aiyar, Sri V. Bashyam Ayyangar, Sri P. S. Sivaswami Aiyar, Sri T. Madhava Rao, Dewan Bahadur R. Raghunatha Rao, S. Kasturiranga
Ayyangar, Sri G. Subrahmanya Aiyar, A. Rangaswami Ayyangar, the Rt. Hon’ble V. S. Srinivasa Sastri and a host of others, each eminent in his field, who shed lustre in their spheres of activity and earned the reverence and admiration of their contemporaries. Sri Balasubrahmanya Aiyar was an intelligent and discriminating observer of these great men who were friends of his father and with some of whom he was more intimately associated, and he greatly profited by such association.

Amazing as it would appear, taking compulsory respite from the busy life of his profession, Sri Krishnaswami Aiyar found the time every day to drink deep and full out of the springs of our Sanskrit lore and attracted to himself outstanding savants in whose company he used to spend many a fruitful hour acquiring a knowledge of our classics, secular and spiritual, a distinction shared by few of his profession in his time. Realising that the roots of our culture lie imbedded in Sanskrit, and that the home is the nursery of spiritual education, he insisted that his sons and daughters should acquire scholarship in that language and literature and grow up with an abiding sense of reverence for our country’s past and the will to utter it in their modes of thought and forms of life. Sri Balasubrahmanya Aiyar responded most willingly to this desire of his father and through the years acquired a proficiency in handling that language with effortless ease both in its understanding and in its expression. In tune with this, he had the benefit of another inheritance which his father bequeathed to him. Sri V. Krishnaswami Aiyar found the fulfilment of his yearning to promote the study of Sanskrit by the establishment of an institution wholly devoted to it. That was the first endowment of its kind from the benefaction of a private individual. Scholars of great repute and distinction, rarely equalled in the areas of studies which they had made their own, were appointed to the staff of the Madras Sanskrit College. Among them were eminent Mahamahopadhyayas like S. Kuppuswamy Sastrigal, Padmanabha Sastrigal, Chandrasekhara Sastrigal, Srinivasa Sastrigal, Krishna Sastrigal and others. Both as the son of his father and later as the Secretary of the college, Sri Balasubrahmanya Aiyar availed himself abundantly of this opportunity that came to him to learn from them all and from others who came after them and acquire such grasp of the various sastras as to enable him to expound them himself with remarkable facility and to participate in the deliberations of learned assemblies in which subtle and intricate subjects were discussed.

In the pursuit of his literary and sastraic studies, Sri Balasubrahmanya Aiyar was aided by two circumstances which he converted to his advantage by dint of his will power. The first was the death of his wife when he was just thirty-five years of age. Any other person of his youth, affluence and status would have married again. But he made this event the turning point of his domestic life. He sought the advice of the Kanchi Acharya to control the impulsions of sex and, as instructed by him, engaged himself ever after in meditation on Siva the vanquisher of Kama. This disentanglement from connubial life which came to him so early in his years gave him the leisure and the bent to spend his days in the company of the masterminds of all times and sublimate his thoughts and feelings to the region of the Spirit. Secondly, unlike most others, even when he was ascending the rungs of a promising professional career, he retired from it in the prime of his life and diverted his faculties to the quest of things more enduring and so more worth while.

Above all, he had the inestimable good fortune of close proximity with two saintly personages, Their Holinesses, the late Sankaracharya of Sringeri and the present Sankaracharya of Kanchi. This “mahapurusha samsraya” dowered Sri Balasubrahmanya Aiyar with a grace abounding which invested him with an honoured place among the disciples of these Jivanmuktas of modern times. Sri Chandrasekhaia Bharati of the Sringeri Peetha evinced more than once a special consideration for him, blessed him with a mantropadesa and gift of his padukas for his worship. To Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati of Kanchi, Sri Balasubrahmanya Aiyar was the first and foremost of his lay disciples on whom he used to confer special marks of loving benediction and consult him frequently on all important matters in which the Math had concern in some manner or other. So deep was his attachment to his Guru in love and reverence that at the very mention of his holy name or during the narration of incidents connected with him, Sri Aiyar would falter in his speech and shed tears of devotion which he could scarce suppress.

This gurubhakti was matched only by his passionate devotion to Sri Adi Sankara all of whose works he had studied in the traditional way under competent teachers all his life and he delighted to discourse on them with a fervour born of clear understanding and deep conviction.

All this contributed to fashion his personality which expressed itself in diverse ways in various aspects of public life which he enriched by his wise counsel and active participation. Starting from even before the time when he was made Treasurer of the Madras Session of the Indian National Congress in 1927 to the moment of his death, he was connected with a large number of public institutions and the charge of their funds. His management of them all was marked by a fidelity which, much to the impatience of his colleagues, would not permit him to take risks, and by a supreme integrity in the handling of these funds. As if to fulfil the ‘curse’ which an elderly friend of the family pronounced on him, his cash box at home used to be smothered with a large assortment of cheque books relating to a variety of trust funds in his keeping. No wonder that the Jagadguru of Kanchi invested him, with the title of “Dharmarakshamani.” Like his father, he would delight in the company of scholars with whom he would hold long converse unmindful of the passing hours. When there was none with him to talk to, he used to beguile the weary hours by studiously diving into books of grave import in Sanskrit, English or Tamil. Belonging as he did, to a generation that went to school and college before English fell out of favour in the scheme of education and, what is more, when proficiency in that language was the hallmark of an educated person, Sri Balasubrahmanya Aiyar used to feast his mind by reading over and over again the masters of that literature. And, long before Tamil books became the fashion, he used to read and sing the poetic hymns of the Saivite and Vaishnavite saints whom he would quote profusely in his public discourses. Thus, in a very true sense, he was a linguistic Triveni embodying in himself a confluence of Sanskrit, Tamil and English. For this reason he was very popular with all sections of people and was much sought after by every organisation wedded to the preservation and promotion of the verities of our Sanatana Dharma.

Sri Aiyar’s contribution in the fields of legislation and education will be fresh in the public memory and will not need iteration. As a member of the Madras Legislative Council for sixteen years, he brought to bear on its deliberations the insight of his legal mind to stave off much of hasty and ill-conceived legislation and evinced the deep concern of his heart to prevent the perpetration of hardships on his helpless fellowmen. The members of the Treasury Bench used to listen very deferentially to the points that he made both in the open sessions of the Council and in the committees in which he participated. In the field of education, his contribution was no less valuable. Serving on the Senate of the Madras University for about 40 years and on its Syndicate for more than half that period, he guided the deliberations of both those bodies with an eye to the maintenance of the prestige that the University had built up during the century and more of its glorious career. Both in respect of the University and of the Indian Bank of which he was Director continuously for 44 years, he applied to their working his steadfast conservative mind and never permitted himself to be hustled towards the spectacular in scorn of what was sure and sober. In this, Sri Aiyar was a much misunderstood–one had almost said, maligned-man. People were not wanting who used to accuse him of lack of independence and referred to him in much harsher words. He was patient to live down all that calumny and was generous in his treatment of those who could not understand him.

Those who have moved with him intimately will bear testimony to his instinct for loving friendship with like-minded persons who were drawn to him and whom he would take into his confidence. In his own measure, he was a generous patron who gave freely in appreciation of scholarship or to succor the indigent. A remarkable feature of his character was that he never permitted personal differences to come in the way of the over-riding interests of the institutions committed to his care. He often used to say that, as the guardian of an institution, he could not afford to make any enemy. In domestic life, as the surviving senior of a large and widespread family, he exuded a spirit of fostering care and affection in respect of every member, counselling them in their difficulties and consoling them in their afflictions. His strong faith in God and robust devotion to his Guru were the sheet-anchor of his life lived in perfect peace and Contentment.

Such was the good and noble person that we have lost. Admitted that he had certain defects, (who has not?) for instance, his occasional irritability and impatience. Even these softened during his last days. But these spots did not dim the lustre of a rich and plentiful life marked by discipline and dedication. He was one of the lingering rearguard of our ancient culture and his presence will be missed for a long time wherever scholars and good and godly men gather in this part of our country. So far as he was concerned, he died a “kritakritya”. Thinking of Sri Balasubrahmanya Aiyar, one quickly recalls the Kural which says:

“The son’s greatest filial service is so to conduct himself as to make men say in wonderment, ‘Great must have been the father’s good deeds to be blessed with such noble son’.”

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