‘Guruji’ Sri A.S. Raghavan

Though he took up a position in office at Bombay, it was music that was pulsating in his heart. He got the opportunity to learn music from Sri Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, a great Pundit. Even while doing his duties, Sri Raghavan ruminated what was the role Senthil Andavar had assigned for him. That was the time when temple Othuvars, bhajan singers, musicians were rendering Thiruppugazh songs in their own way. “Why not we set Thiruppugazh to classical style of music and conduct Thiruppugazh recital in a systematic way?” The suggestion which came from his friend, Narayanan appealed Sri Ragahvan. He felt that the musical talent gifted to him was to be used for hailing the glory of Muruga. He recalled the lines from Kandar Anubhuti which said that the knowledge and talent blessed to him was meant to be given back to Muruga (Yam Othiya kalviyum…17). Sri Raghavan took up Thiruppugazh study seriously. The more he studied, the more he got absorbed in it. As the grace of Muruga guided him through, Sri Raghavan and friends sat together, selected certain songs and gave each one a distinct tune (Carnatic based raga) and thala on the lines of Chandam. Sri Raghavan established a standard formula of ragas and talas for each Thiruppugazh. Soon, Sri Raghavan started conducting classes. More and more devotees joined in his class. A method of conducting Thiruppugazh form of worship (Thiruppugazh Vazhipadu) was also prescribed. Thiruppugazh Isai Vazhipadu was conducted at temples and residences. Having seen his devotion, dedication and his knowledge and the Thiruppugazh movement he created, he came to be known as ‘Guruji’. Those who learned from Guruji started conducting classes elsewhere.

Thanks to the leadership and guidance given by Guruji and the overwhelming participation of devotees, the Thiruppugazh Recital became the most popular form of worship. “It is a great wonder that a single man’s initiative has created so much awareness and involvement in Thiruppugazh throughout the nation and beyond,” said a devotee. “It appears, just as Arunagirinathar was blessed by Muruga to compose Thiruppugazh, Guruji Sri Raghavan has been blessed by Muruga to sing Thiruppugazh,” said another devotee. “Give me the avocation of singing Thiruppugazh always,” said Raghavan quoting a line from Kandar Anubhuti (Paadum Paniye Paniyai Arulvai). Those who heard him became his ardent disciples. He not only rendered the song but also explained the philosophy behind Thiruppugazh.

Arunagirinathar gives us the message that only through the path of love; one can reach the Lotus Feet of God. (Anbaka Vandhu Un thaal panindhu….Tiruchengodu}. In another song, Arunagirinathar prays “Give me a mind by which I worship you with love”. (Anbodu thuthikka manam arulvaye….ainkaranai otha manam). In another song done at Virinjipuram, Arunagirinathar says: “Oh! Muruga, when I do not think of you with love, how I can hope to reach you” (Uruki anbinodu unai ninainthu….”Maruvum anju pootham”). It is the love kindled in the heart of devotees that unites them all. Wherever they are located New Jersey or New Delhi, they are all bound by the common bond of love. “Devotion towards Muruga and love towards all”; that seems to be their aim. Guruji was also a symbol of love and he appropriately named all those who sing and follow the Thiruppugazh way of life as “Thiruppugazh Anbargal”.

During the Karthigai festival, the main lamp inside the Puja room is lit. Then another small lamp is also lit from the main lamp. This small lamp is carried outside and innumerable small lamps kept in front of the house are also lit and soon the whole area gets illuminated. Similarly, having learned from Guruji, one Anbar passes on the light of knowledge and talent to other students. Other students pick it up, become teachers themselves and pass on the Thiruppugazh culture to the whole community. Many areas like Kolkata, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Coimbatore, Thiruvananthapuram, Palakkad and Thrissur came under the shade of the great banyan tree planted by Guruji and even to overseas countries.

Guruji was held in high respect and reverence by devotees in general but also by saints and sages.  He was blessed by Sankaracharyas of Kanchi and Sringeri. There was an instance when Sringeri Acharya listened to his Bhajan and blessed him.  It happened at Calcutta where Jagadguru Sri Abhinava Vidya Teertha Maha Swamigal of Sringeri was to preside over a devotional program.  Among the many program planned, there was a Bhajan also. When the Math authorities consulted Maha Swamigal in advance, Swamigal said: “Invite Sri Raghavan, the Thiruppugazh wizard”. Accordingly, on the date specified, Sri Raghavan and his Thiruppugazh Anbargal came and started performing on the stage. Guruji has rendered the ‘Kaithala Niraigani”, songs invoking the blessings of Guru and of Lord Ganesa and proceeded. Even while rendering, his eyes were looking for the arrival of Maha Swamigal, but Swamigal was not found anywhere. It is only at the concluding stage, Guruji saw Maha Swamigal coming and occupying his seat. After rendering the Mangalam song, Guruji joined the queue to receive the blessings from Maha Swamigal. When his turn came and he stood just in front, Maha Swamigal said: “Your Bhajan rendering was excellent. I enjoyed it immensely.” Guruji was baffled. Her mustered courage and told: “Swamigal, while I was singing, you were not there, then how could you say ……” Before Guruji could finish, Swamigal said: “I was very much there. Few moments after the commencement of your recital, I have come. If I had entered the hall straightaway, it would have created disturbance among the audience. The devotees would get up and start standing up in the queue to receive blessings and Prasad from me. In the absence of the peaceful atmosphere required for rendering Thiruppugazh, you would have been compelled to stop the rendering. Therefore, after taking a seat in a corner outside the hall, I was listening to your Thiruppugazh. Only when you were doing the concluding song, I entered the hall.” Guruji prostrated before Maha Swamigal and received the blessings. Later, Maha Swamigal said that Thiruppugazh contains the essence of Vedas and Upanishads. Render Thiruppugazh and highlight its value and importance to all.” Sri Abhinava Vidyathirta Swamigal bestowed his blessings and conferred the title of ‘Thiruppugazh Thondar’ to Guruji on the occasion of the Sashtiabdapurti of Guruji which was held at Sringeri.

Awards and appreciations came pouring in but Guruji always remained humble. He held the view that everything happened by the will of Lord Muruga and he was only a tool. Having satisfied that he could take Thiruppugazh to the tongue, ears and hearts of many devotees, on 17th May 2013e, Guruji attained the Lotus Feet of Muruga