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....
H.H. SRI CHANDRASEKHARENDRA SARASWATI
His Contribution to Hinduism
Dr. (Miss) S.S. JANAKI
H.H. SRI CHANDRASEKHARENDRA Saraswati Svamigal of Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha is undoubtedly the foremost and the most dynamic among the Acharyas of Sankara lineage and one of the most powerful personalities of the present times. It is indeed our privilege and fortune to be living during the times of this epochmaking saint-scholar. Writing about him in 1963. Dr. Albert B. Franklin, the then Consul-General of the United States of America at Madras, said, “His Holiness is every man, and he is as old as man’s ponderings. He is the man of faith, who has given away that he had and follows only his faith. He is a symbol of that renunciation which is at the heart of all religions.”
It is no wonder that the lowliest of the lowly, the highest among the high, the clever and the dull, the gentleman or the ruffian, the learned or the ignorant as well flock to have a glimpse of the Sage, whatever their purpose may be. And everyone who gets that yearned glimpse goes away with the satisfaction of a great desire.
In this connection it would be interesting to note that on 15th October 1927 the historic meeting of H. H. with Mahatma Gandhi took place during the latter’s tour in South India. The meeting was held at a cowshed in Nallicheri village. H.H. spoke in Sanskrit and Gandhi in Hindi. In their hour-long dialogue, they both affirmed their faith in a State founded on belief in God and spiritual power. The only point in which H.H. expressed his difference of opinion was on the question of temple entry by Harijans. A noteworthy thing that took place at this meeting of the two Mahatmas must be mentioned. It was getting to 5.30 P.M. As Gandhiji did not take anything after 6 P.M. Rajaji came and reminded Gandhiji of the time. Gandhiji said: “My conversation with Swamiji is my food today!” Swamiji gave Gandhiji a fruit which was with him and Gandhiji said it was a favourite fruit of his. Following Gandhiji’s principle H.H. always uses only Khadi material for his ascetic garment.
Besides Mahatma Gandhi many political leaders, heads of Mathas, artists, etc., had all enjoyed the benign blessings of H.H. Similarly many distinguished foreign scholars had the privilege of interviewing H.H. These include among others, Paul Brunton (author of The Search into Secret India), Arthur Koestler (author of works like Darkness at Noon and The Lotus and the Robot),and distinguished Professors in Religion, Indian Culture and Indology from all parts of the world. Whoever it was with H.H., he was attracted to his personality, conduct and scholarship. His beaming eyes which beam a benediction and his inviting smile which casts a spell of intimacy, leave an everlasting impression on all those who have had the good fortune to have his Darshan.
H.H. belonged to a great Hoysala Karnataka Rigvedi Brahmin family, with Kannada as mother-tongue and domiciled in Tamil Nadu. His ancestors had held offices in the Tanjore Nayak and Mahratta Courts. His grand-father Ganapati Sastri was Sarvadhikari of the 64th and 65th Sankaracharyas of the Kamakoti Pitha (1835-85). His mother came of the line of Govinda Dikshita, Minister of King Raghunatha Nayaka of Tanjore. H.H.’s Purvasrama name is Svaminathan.
True to his earlier name “Svaminathan” H.H. is a pastmaster in many branches of knowledge, languages and disciplines that include Sanskrit, English, French, Marathi, Tamil, theoretical and practical aspects of Vedanta and other Sastras, Vedic literature, astronomy, astrology, mathematics, temple-studies, music and epigraphy. In his school days he was a star-actor in Shakespeare’s plays. In every branch of knowledge he excels the specialist in the field on account of his uncanny and intuitive knowledge of many things and their subtle aspects, and this is something very extraordinary. The simple and easy manner with which he expresses his ideas on the varied topics to the commoner and the specialist is something unique and typical of H.H.
Born in 1894 H.H. was ordained in 1907 as the 68th Sankaracharya of the Kamakoti Pitha at Kalavai near Kanchi. The Golden and Diamond Jubilees of the spiritual ministry of H.H., His Shashtyabdapurti and 71st Jayanti were celebrated in a fitting manner; now we are fortunate to witness his birth-centenary. Of course these celebrations are immaterial to him personally. 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 symbolising our awareness of the reality he represents for us.
It is difficult for anybody to find a tribute in words for expressing one’s admiration and gratitude towards H.H. However it is a privileged duty for many of us to look on the life and contribution of H.H. during the last 100 years and share such ideas with others. I have had the privilege of being closely associated with the Kuppuswami Sastri Research Institute at Madras for more than 21/2 decades in varied capacities. I value this connection most for more than one reason. Firstly, the Institute is located in the campus of the Sanskrit College, Madras, which is sanctified by the presence of H.H. on many occasions during his visit to Madras since 1932. Secondly, the single hall that houses the Institute since it was started in 1945 is named after H.H. as it was originally the place where he stayed and performed his Puja during his visits to Madras. Thirdly, the large collections of the library of the Institute have been used by H.H. and finally many talks were delivered by H.H. in this vibrant atmosphere which were later published in three volumes under the title “The Jagadguru’s Upadesas”, and “Acharya’s Call”.
The contribution of the many-faceted and vibrant saint-scholar through his interviews, talks and his own exemplary conduct to diverse branches of knowledge and to human life itself are vast and varied. The rich information on this subject is available in more than 70 monographs, books and articles in journals. To carry out his teachings and instructions nearly 40 organisations have been set up in different parts of India at the instance or under the inspiration of H.H. All these details are available in the special issue of the Journal of Oriental Research brought out by the Kuppuswami Sastri Research Institute in 1973, as a commemoration volume for H.H. on his completion of 60 years of the ministry as Sankaracharya of the Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha.
We may now see in brief a few gleanings of the unique contribution of H.H. to religion, especially Hinduism, through many interesting ways that only H.H. can think of. Some of the modern Western Sanskrit anthropologists like Prof. Milton Singer, University of Chicago, U.S.A., have remarked that they “learned more about the essential foundations of orthodox Hinduism from H.H. than their study of it for two years or more at the universities”. H.H. in one of his interviews, has said. ‘The distinctiveness of Hinduism does not rest in its philosophy, ethics, or theology, things which tend to be common to all schools and all religions. Hinduism adds to these a hereditary discipline based on family and caste, and the growth or decline of Hinduism is directly dependent on the social disciplines”.
As a leading Acharya and an exponent of Hinduism H.H. was concerned with all religions, and practised religious tolerance throughout his headship of Kanchi Matha. During his first tour of India itself in 1919 he received followers of Islam and Christianity, and also Harijans, and discussed freely religious questions with them; and this attitude is being continued in the present times too.
H.H. had staunch Muslims as his devotees. In 1926 during his stay in Chettinad, when he was going for a sea-bath in a palanquin, a Muslim clung to the palanquin. When H.H. stopped, the Muslim read out verses in Sanskrit he had composed on the Acharya, wept, and told him, that he saw Allah himself in H.H. There was another Muslim who, hailing from a Sanskrit-knowing family, offered to H.H. at Salem in 1927, a set of verses, on H.H. composed by himself, one of which was set in the difficult pictorial design (Chitra-bandha) in the form of Siva-linga. Yet another sincere Muslim devotee of H.H. who contributed for the spread of Vedic studies considerably at Kumbhakonam in an organised manner, was Sri Kamaluddin, a sub-judge during 1961-63.
Repeatedly in his speeches too H.H. has maintained that there is no bar in religion. He felt that only spiritual understanding between one nation and another, and between rich and poor, would produce good-will and thus bring real peace and prosperity. When some scholars from India and the West were skeptical on this point, H.H. as a great optimist said. “There is still God”.
According to H.H. Hinduism is a “nameless religion” that existed long before the founded religions. The very name “Hinduism” was unknown to our ancestors and is also not known to the common man among us. “Hindu” is a Persian word to denote an “Indian”. Hence it is both a racial and religious term as first used by the foreigners after they came to know of the region of Sindhu. Hence ‘Hinduism’ is both a way of life and a highly organised social and religious system that has come down to us from times immemorial. According to H.H. Hinduism is obviously “the only religion in the world ministering to the spiritual needs of mankind as a whole”.
Time and again H.H. has emphasised the fact that Hinduism can survive only by the Anusthana, the observance of religious rites of its votaries. These practices may slightly differ from one another, but it is preferable to perform them sincerely according to the practice in vogue (sampradaya)in one’s family or as learnt from an authentic teacher. In order to inculcate the importance of such habits in the minds of different types of people H.H. suggested various ways imaginatively. A few of these implemented by H.H. during 1940-69 are –
- During 1939-42 he toured the villages of Tanjore, Tiruchi, Pudukkotlai and adjacent areas for organising the Mudradhikaris’ scheme. In each village or part of a town or major street of a city, a Mudradhikari or a representative of the Math was appointed. The ideals of the Sangham or Association of these Mudra dhikaris included social service, fostering temple-worship, care of cows, sacred trees and holy waters, reading of Puranas. etc. Over 2000 of these units were established.
- Sent a message wilt reference to the communal riot in Bengal and on the forcible conversion of Hindus to Islam and violation of Hindu women by Muslims; H.H. directed that those forcibly converted or violated be taken and honourably received with due expialory rites.
- Advice to write out Rama-nama every day and bring or send the notebooks to the Math, and the Math giving or sending Prasada to such devotees.
- Started in 1950 more than 100 associations called Vaara Vazhipaadu Sangam for doing devotional recitations, etc.
- Adopted steps for the popularisatton of the Ramayanas of Valmiki, Kamban and Tulasidas.
- Presented Rudrakshamala to deserving devotees.
- Started in 1953 an association for providing funeral arrangements for the dead bodies of the destitute Hindus.
- In 1950 gave a message on the importance of the recital and exposition in Margasirsha month of the two hymns of Andal and Manikkavacakar, the Vaishnava and Siva saints, the Tiruppavai and the Tiruvempaval. Held big Tiruppavai-Tiruvempavai conferences for eight days, with programmes of recital and exposition of these two hymns which caught the hearts of the people and became most popular all over the Tamil country. The Tamil Siva Maths of Tamil Nadu co-operated with H.H. in this movement. Almost all the leading Tamil scholars, Bhagavatas and religious leaders have been taking part in these conferences. The movement helped to bring on the common platform of Bhakti the Vaishnavas and Saivas. The printing of these two poems, getting them by heart, their translations and setting them to tunes, singing them, gramophone records of these, all increased as a result of this movement. A central organisation was also set up for this and registered. In this connection H.H. drew public attention to the most interesting fact that the Tiruvempavai festival was being held every year, to this day at Bangkok, in Thailand. Select psalms from Devaram and Tiruvaimoli were printed and sent to over four lakhs of Tamil-speaking people in India. Ceylon, Burma, Malaya, etc.
Sent Srimukhas and circulars on the need for religious practices to legislators, Congress-members, temple-authorities, school-managements, etc. and also distributed pamphlets to the large gatherings during temple-festivals in various centres. Free copies of Tiruppavai-Tiruvempavai were distributed by thousands to boys and girls; similarly copies of Bhaja Govindam, epitome of Bhagavata, Avvaiyar’s Vinayakar Ahaval, Tirumuruhaiirupadai, etc.
- In 1963 consecrated the Sankara Matha and images of Adi Sankara and his four disciples in marble at Agnitirtha at Ramesvaram. The entire monument is conceived by H.H. with great originality and imagination and is an epitome of Hinduism and Indian culture.
- In October 1965 H.H. gave the message through the All India Radio that service to the country (Desa-seva) was on par with service to God (Isvara-seva). H.H. had a lakh of copies of a Hindi Stotra on Hanuman printed and circulated among the Jawans for courage and victory; appealed to the nation to contribute literally to war fund and himself gave a contribution in gold.
- In April 1966, H.H. promulgated the Pidi-arici-tittam, of everyone setting apart “a handful of rice”, the same to be collected at a local temple, cooked and offered to God and then distributed to the poor.
- In August 1969 H.H. arranged for the distribution of a booklet containing the gist of the Bhagavadgita to all the graduates at the convocation of the Madras University.
- Temples, holy lakes and pilgrimage-centres (Kshetras and Tirthas) abound in all parts of India. They are all loaded with symbolism and are the chief constituent institutions of Hinduism, and have a unifying influence. H.H. as a specialist in this field has explained the significance and essence of the above in many of his lectures and interviews. In order to communicate the ideas to a larger audience effectively, H.H. conceived of a new annual conference for inculcating values of Hindu Dharma through the time-honoured means of literature, folk arts and fine arts and the temples. The first of these was organised in 1962 on a grand scale for a week beginning on 13th September, at H.H.’s camp at Ilayattangudi in Chettinad, where there is the Samadhi of H.H.’s great grandpreceptor and predecessor. For the first time, Sivacharyas versed in Saiva Agamas, Bhattacharyas versed in Pancharatna and Vaikhanasa Agamas, came in large numbers and from all parts of Tamil Nadu and discussed the Agamas and temple-practices. For the first time again, traditional Sthapatis who built the temples and temple-cars gathered in large numbers and discussed Silpa texts and temple-architecture and sculpture and the building of temple-cars. Scholars came from all over India and outside and spoke on different aspects of Indian culture in the epics and their versions in regional languages, and on Indian culture in countries outside India. In the nights there were demonstrations of folk arts, dance-dramas like Yakshagana, Bhagavatanataka and forms of similar arts from Kerala and Tamil expositions of the epics, etc. The proceedings of the Sadas were later published in 1963 with numerous illustrations.
Similar informative conferences were held subsequently.
Such is the concern of the Mahaperiyavaal for the common man and the scholar. Rightly is he devoutly adored by his disciples and held in reverential esteem by numerous others for his scholarship in the Sastras, knowledge of modern developments, for his saintliness and for his inclusive universality of outlook and attitude. He is variously considered as a god-man, an incarnation of Siva, as an intuitive scholar and a superman. He is all this and much more. No doubt he remains the central figure in the universe, with the greatest consideration for mankind. May we be fortunate for many years to come to continue to enjoy his blessings and elevate oulselves!