Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi, the Paramacharyal of Kanchi

Kanchi Seer

The period was sometime in 1955. The place was Punkunnam, near Trichur. The ground facing Sitaram Spinning and Weaving Mills wore a festive look. A Pandal had been specially put up and colourful decorations were made surrounding it with festoons and flowers. Devotees, smeared with Vibhuti on their forehead, men and women from different walks of life had assembled with great expectations. The three caparisoned elephants with Kolam and umbrellas were standing majestically. The Panchavadyam artists were playing their instruments with great skill. Pundits and Purohits were chanting Mantras. It appeared that the small village of Punkunnam was getting ready to accord a grand reception to one of the outstanding spiritual leader of the century.Before we proceed further, we would go briefly into the history of Pushpagiri village first.

Diwan Bhagadur TR Ramachandra iyer

Pushpagiri village, situated in Punkunnam near Trichur, is not well known to other parts of Kerala but it has a very glorious history. It was Sri T.R. Ramachandra Iyer who laid the foundation for this Agraharam. Sri Ramachandra Iyer received his formal education from the nearby town Triprayar and also from Trichur. He graduated from Kozhikode college and passed his B.L. Degree from the Law College, Madras. He was appointed as District Judge of Trichur High Court in 1892. While staying in Trichur, he used to visit the famous Vadakkunnathan temple daily. Standing before Lord Sri Ramachandra at this temple, he expressed a wish that there should be a temple for Sri Sita Ramaswamy at Punkunnam. Having received the blessings of the Lord, it became very easy for Sri Ramachandra Iyer to fulfill his dream. His brothers, relatives and friends all came forward and extended their helping hands. His dream became a reality and on 11th June 1899, while scholars and pundits from Tamil Nadu were chanting Vedic hymns, the consecration ceremony of Sri Sitarama Swamy temple was solemnised on a grand scale. Ever since, many changes have occurred to Sri Sita Ramaswamy Temple, its tower, (gopuram), its architecture, its surroundings and above all the flag-staff (Kodimaram) facing the shrine. Though these changes were part of the changes happening all over the world, one thing remained as it is; the tradition which Sri T.R. Ramachandra Iyer had established. Though the residents adopted the changes occurring all over, when it came to their culture and tradition, they stuck to it and did not deviate from it. I could realise it when I witnessed Ramanavami recently. The traditional practices which were followed from 1900 were strictly being adhered till this day; after a century.

Even whatever changes happened, they happened for the good. The flag-staff became golden. The tiled Oottuppura became a modern dining hall. The Kumbhabishekam ceremony was conducted on a grand scale. The subsidiary temples were renovated. Apart from Vasantha Uthsavam and Vaaram which used to be held even from the beginning, Bhanotsavam, Saastha Preethi and many more festivals were celebrated. However, the most spectacular event is of course, Sri Ramanavami. When Ramanavami dawns, almost all the residents residing outside would promptly come to take part in the celebrations and receive Lord Sri Rama’s blessings. The Ramanavami festival at Pushpagiri is unique because here alone one can witness the blend of Tamil culture (the majestic procession of Sri Ramachandra in chariot) and Kerala culture; the magnificent march of caparisoned elephants followed by Panchavadyam and Nadaswaram. Ramanavami celebrations for which Sri Ramachandra Iyer laid the foundation, is getting more and more delightful every year. The history of Sri Sitarama Swamy temple should be written in golden letters; literally, because from this year (2013), thanks to KALYAN, Lord Sri Ramachandra flanked by Sitalakshmi and Lakshmana would pass through the Pushpagiri Agraharam in golden chariot.

Coming back to where we have left, it became clear that whatever Sri T.R. Ramachandra Iyer desired, Sri Sita Ramachandra fulfilled. Iyer wanted all the residents of Agraharam and surrounding areas to live in happiness and prosperity. He wanted all the people to get employment and prosper. With this end in view, he established the Sitaram Spinning & Weaving Mills, the first of its kind in Kerala, which became a unique landmark in this region. In recognition of the various services he has rendered to the community, the Government has conferred him with the title “Rao Bahadour”. Sri T.R. Ramachandra Iyer has inherited a great tradition of devotion towards Lord Sri Ramachandra. His house, almost resembling a palace in Ayodhya, remained a resting place for many scholars, pundits, saints, Swamis and musicians. Whenever Acharya, Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swamigal visited Kerala, he made it a point to stay here and confer his benign blessings to the people of this locality.

This day (1955) was another such occasion when people of Punkunnam were eagerly waiting for the arrival of the great spiritual leader, His Holiness Jagadguru Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Mahaswamigal, the Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam. As the sun was slowly setting on the western horizon, another sun, as brilliant as the setting one, had appeared.  The Jagat Guru in his characteristic serenity and divinity had set his foot on the Punkunnam soils.  The people of Punkunnam felt elated and blessed that their small Agraharam could get the grace of Paramacharya. As the Pundits chanted the Veda Mantra, the Sage of Kanchi came towards the Pandal and accepted with humility the honour of Poorna Kumbham.  The head that radiated the brilliant light of knowledge had bowed down to receive the Tulsi garland. The chest, adored by chain of Rudraksha beads, were strewn with flowers. Somewhere from a distance, the bursting sounds of the crackers were heard. The percussion artists played their instruments at high pitch.  The Paramacharya, the cynosure of all eyes, was escorted in a procession, followed by Vedic chanting, bhajan and Nadaswaram. When the procession reached the ancestral house of Sri Ramachandra Iyer, Maha Swamigal gave Darshan to all and bid farewell in his characteristic smile. All those who participated in this event experienced a great sense of fulfillment and dispersed, hoping to immerse themselves in the grace of Paramacharya the next day.

Sri T.R. Ramachandra Iyer’s house was a joint family where not only family members but also friends and neighbours stayed and moved about freely.  As night fell, everyone went to their respective place.  They all slept unaware of the fact that they would be in for a surprise the next day.  Next day, gradually the house and the residents came to activity.    A member of the family who knew that Swamigal was in the habit of rising early, gently knocked on the door to enquire whether Swamigal needed anything but found that the door opened by itself.  As he peeped, he found there was none inside.  Soon, word spread that Swamigal was missing.  A search was on and everyone went here and there to spot Swamigal but Swamigal was no where to be seen.

One person who went out and walked up to the front gate of the Mill, almost a kilo meter away, found out that Swamigal had gone inside the factory.  It soon transpired that Swamigal had got up early and silently walked unto the gate of the Sitaram Mill, the same spot where he was given a reception a day before.  The gate-keeper who was witness to all the goings-on yesterday was surprised that the man who was the cynosure of all the eyes yesterday is standing just before him.  He could not believe his eyes.  Swamiji was asking him permission to go inside the Factory.   Knowing the greatness of Swamiji from the kind of reception he received, the gate keeper readily agreed and instructed another fellow employee to guide and conduct the Swamiji.  Swamiji went inside the Factory, saw every section, and came out with the knowledge how from a mere thread a big sheet of cloth is being weaved.

What is the driving force behind all great men?  What helped them to achieve and what made them great?  If we pursue this question further, we will realize that all great men; great in different fields, had one common character; the power of observation.  Take any great man, study their life and you will be convinced that before they acted, they observed.  It is only by observing why an apple should fall from the tree; Sir Isaac Newton discovered the law of gravity.  All great thinkers observed every phenomenon in earth from their own perceptions and arrived at their own conclusion. Ramana Maharshi observed the phenomenon of death by assuming himself to be dead and came to the conclusion that while body alone dies, Atma never dies and lives on. Most of those who were closely associated with Maha Swamigal were not aware that Maha Swamigal was a keen observer.   He observed even minute things. Swamigal, who was the embodiment of knowledge, had reached the end of knowledge. He was God incarnate (Nadamadum Deivam) and there was nothing for him to know. Yet, like a detached witness, he observed the ways of the world; the way people conducted their duties and guided them to the path of Karma Marga.

It was some time in 1965.  The place was Calcutta.  I was called for an interview at Diana Rolling Shutters for the post of Stenographer.  The gentleman who interviewed me, seemed highly qualified.  His sophistication has made me even a little nervous.  He spoke English very eloquently in its correct accent that I could not make out which State he hailed from.  As I was doubtful about my performance, I did not carry much hope and went about my own way of looking for some other job.  Other than searching job, I had another activity; to engage myself in service to the local Saastha Samooham.  I was on a collection drive along with my friends for the Saastha Preethi celebration.  We used to visit the South Indian houses, hand over the programme and request for donation.  We devised our own strategy of identifying a South Inndian House.  If there is a Rangoli (Kolam) in front, it could be assumed to be that of a South Indian.

One night, we identified such a house and knocked at the door.  As the house owner opened the door, I found to my surprise that he was none other than the one who interviewed me. He warmly received us and offered us seat.   It was his turn to get surprised now.  “I had seen you somewhere.  Where was it”? he asked looking towards me.   I said I was the one he interviewed.  He was glad to know that apart from Stenography connection, I had this Saastha Samooham connection too.  After giving a liberal donation, he said:  “Come tomorrow and collect your Appointment Order”.  Profusely thanking him, I left his house with my friends.  ‘So, it was not the Stenographer in me but the devotee in me that got me the job’, I told myself.  I became an employee of Diana Rolling Shutters but rather than the company connection, it was my acquaintance with Narasimhan that gave me a satisfaction.

Sri S.V. Narasimhan was very gentle, understanding and friendly. He can be called an Officer and Gentleman.  Above all his qualities, it was his devotion that characterized his personality. He had many identifications; proprietor of Hauer Trading Company, Partner of Diana Rollinng Shutters, President of South Indian Bhajan Samaj, founder President of Ved Bhavan, President of Excellesors Club but above all, the one identification he wished to cherish was that of an ardent follower of Maha Periyava.  He used to visit Kanchi very frequently and one would think, he derives his strength from the Mutt there or rather he gets charged by going there.  I deem it a great privilege to narrate certain instances which occurred in his life and which proved that Maha Periyava was indeed a God Incarnate.

Once, I stood before Sri Narasimhan with a request for leave for going to my native place at Trichur.  While granting me leave, Sri Narasimhan put a small rider; that I should break my journey atMadras, go to Kancheepuram and see Maha Periyaval.

It was over three years since I left my native place, Trichur.  I was too eager to see my parents, breathe the air of Trichur and I wanted to rush over there without losing any time.  This advice has dampened my enthusiasm; firstly because visiting Kancheepuram would deprive me of two days of my precious leave which otherwise I would be spending with my people and secondly because I had no precise idea of Maha Swamigal at that time and I was not clear of the result of such a Darshan.  However, I said ‘yes’ because with Narasimhan, I could not say ‘no’.   .

I never knew that Narasimhan was in fact planting the first seeds of devotion in my heart.  I was like any other youth, spending time with friends, going to cinemas and coffee houses and thinking of material advancement.   As Arunagirinathar said, I did not study scriptures, I did not chant the name of Muruga and I did not seek the grace of Gurus (Padikkinrilai Pazhani Tirunamam….Kandar Alamgaram 75).  Without even a mark of Vibhuti on my head, I stood in the queue to see Maha Periyaval.  I visualized the scenario in advance. ”When my turn comes, Swamigal would see me, signal his blessings and look for the next man in the queue. It is going to be a casual affair and the sooner it is over, the better”, I thought. as I reached him, I readied myself to go through the formality of paying obeisance and receiving the blessing. 

But a closer look at the Sage of Kanchi has brought an enormous impact on me. Then came the surprise to me, who thought it was going to be a ‘see and go’ affair.  I was stunned when he, the Jagat Guru, asked me to sit before him.  He asked me where I was working in Calcutta, what my activities were and what brought me there. When I told him that it was Sri Narasimhan who sent me, he was pleasantly pleased.  “Sariya Pochu” he said smilingly. As his benign eyes fell on me, I was transformed into a new world of awakening.  I now felt I was sitting not before the great Sage of Kanchi but before a friend. Now all the wrong notions that I carried before have disappeared. The various barriers I had built around myself had tumbled one after another. As I talked to him, I felt as if we have known each other for quite long time.  It was an experience that is inexplicable. It was as if some innate seed, lying latent in my heart, suddenly bloomed in splendour.  The same me who earlier wanted to get over this matter quickly now wanted this to prolong as long as possible.  Nothing mattered, neither the parents’ love nor the Trichur air, than being in the presence of Maha Swamigal.  As I moved forward, a strange thought passed through my mind. “Would he have read my mind? Has he known what was going on in my mind while I was standing in the queue.” It is quite likely. That is why he is called ‘the Avatar Purusha’, ‘the Nadamadum Deivam’ (God in human form) The incident which happened around 50 years before is as fresh in my memory now as it happened yesterday; the memory I would like to cherish all through my life. I am very grateful to Sri Narasimhan for showing me the way to the gates of Guru. Guru comes in one’s life in many forms.  Sometime God comes as Guru.  Sometime, Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Swamigal of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam comes as Guru and sometime the boss himself comes as Guru.

1957:  Once, when Narasimhan came to Madras, he learned that Acharya was camping at a place called Kattupalli, a village some distance away from Madras. He had planned a short stay at Madras, but having come to South, he decided to visit Kattupalli and pay his obeisance to Maha Swamigal.  When he reached Kattupalli, he found the sage engaged in Puja. Narasimhan wanted to get back to Madras same day to attend to some important work.  He wanted to meet the saint after the completion of the Puja and there after proceed to Madras. Quite unexpectedly, after the Puja, the sage returned to his room.  Since Maha Swamigal had already noted the arrival of Narasimhan, he sent a message that Narasimhan could rest for a while and then take food.  A disappointed Narasimhan had no other alternative but to wait.  It was 3 PM, the time by which he hoped to be back in Madras.   Narasimhan felt even a bit restless.  At last, Maha Periyaval appeared at 5 PM but rather than meeting Narasimhan, the Pontiff was entertaining all other visitors.  It was only at 6.40 Narasimhan’s turn came.  “Ever since you came in the morning, I have been observing that you were in a hurry.”, said Swamigal.  Narasimhan was surprised because Swamigal had not seen Narasimhan most of the time and yet knew what was going on in Narasimhan’s mind.

Generally, the leaders do all small work first and keep the most important work last so that they can do the important work freely without any disturbance.  It transpired later that Swamigal had a vision, a dream project in mind and wanted it to be executed by the hands of Narasimhan.  He wanted to establish a Veda Patasala at Calcutta where Bengali students could get opportunity to learn Brahma Vidya, the Vedas and Upanishads.  “It is only an idea and you think of how we can translate it into reality”, Swamigal said. “You are the source from where all the ideas spring and you are the source from where all the powers flow that would transform the idea into reality”, Narasimhan said to himself

Narasimhan realized that he had been entrusted with a great work by a great personality.  He thought he was too small to implement such a project but the very fact that Maha Swamigal considered him the right man to do such a job was an honour.  He started making all the moves.  Gradually he realized that there was a greater power that functioned behind him, the grace of Maha Periyaval.  He was merely being a tool, meeting people and praying..  Narasimhan realized that without himself making much efforts, things automatically started moving.  Money started flowing.  A donation of Rs.50,000/- came from Annadurai Ayyangar.  Even a deal has been struck for the purchase of land with a gentleman called Ashutosh Mukherjee and everything seemed to be moving smoothly.

But there is nothing called a smooth path.  Any path has its own obstacles.  Only one who is determined and who ever sets his eyes on his goal succeeds.  Suddenly, the land-owner backed off putting all the efforts of Narasimhan out of gear.  The land-owner said he wanted to give the land to one of his relation.  The development came like a bolt from the blue and Narasimhan proceeded to Kancheepuram, met Periyaval and explained him the whole thing.  The response from Periyaval was his usual characteric smile.

There is something unique, something divine in that smile.  It was a disarming smile.  There are different people meeting Swamigal with different problems.  Some may be even in crisis.  But the smile of Maharshi put them all at ease.  It has a message.  All problems arise out of mental disturbance.  When there is no other thought except that of God, there is love and peace. The smile comes only in a heart filled with devotion.  At one stroke, it removes all misgivings.

Acharya said ‘You proceed to Calcutta, see him again; let us see how things turn out”.  After taking blessings from Paramacharya, Narasimhan returned toCalcutta.  He did not share the optimism displayed by Maha Swamigal.  He knew that the landlord was very uncompromising.  There was no chance of his change of mind.  Anyway, he decided to knock at his door.  He was even prepared that the doors may be slammed on seeing him.

Narasimhan got the biggest surprise of his life when he was received with great warmth and hospitality.  He could not believe his ears when the landlord said that he was in fact looking forward to his arrival and was now ready to offer the land to him.  When Narasimhan enquired what caused his change of mind, he said that Kali Ma, the God he loved and adored came in his dream and ordained him to give the land to the same person with whom he agreed originally.  It was evident that His Holiness had come in the form of Mother Kali and told the land lord to put the deal through.  Today, Ved Bhavan, the building which serves as the platform for imparting Vedic knowledge, stands as a landmark monument in South Calcutta.

Sri Jagath Guru Chandrasekarendra Saraswathy Swamigal(Paramacharyal-1956) By Artist, Silpi

1967  There was business as usual.  Narasimhan’s business ventures expanded into shipping, exports, manufacturing, agency etc.  But in the midst of all these developments, Narasimhan stood detached.  His only interest was not business but Swamigal.  It seemed there was a powerful magnetic power at Kancheepuram which always attracted him.  Once Acharya was undertaking Chaturmasya Vrita at Andhra Pradesh.  Narasimhan went alongwith 50 devotees, saw Maha Periyaval and offered Biksha.  They had already made reservations for returning toCalcutta same evening.  However, they waited to have a personal audience with Swamigal.  The train was to leave at6.30 PM. but there was no opportunity to meet Swamigal.  Narasimhan could not think of leaving without seeing Swamigal.  He decided to remain there alongwith his wife and requested the Biksha group to proceed by that evening train toCalcutta.  It was not before6 PM that Narasimhan and his wife were able to meet Maha Swamigal.    They discussed many things.  When Swamigal queried about their departuire, Narasimhan explained that since they were late, he allowed his group to leave and decided to stay there for the night.  Then, the smiling Maharshi said:  “You go now and try”.  ‘There was no point in trying’, Narasimhan thought because it was already nearing 7 PM while theCalcutta train would have left at6.30 PM.  However, just to honour Periyaval’s words, Naraimhan did not want to disobey Swamigal’s words.  He knew the train would have left and yet he went to the station just for honoring Swamigal’s words.  When he reached and his wife reached the station they found that the train was waiting for departure.  Apparantly, the train was late and Mahaswamigal knew it in advance.

He was called as Jagatguru because he served as a teacher for the entire universe. A class teacher may be able to guide a student on the subject on which he is specialized, like chemistry or mathematics. But a universal teacher like Jagatguru Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swamigal would guide the whole humanity on the underlying reality on which the universe operates and provide answers to all the problems being faced by humanity.

People from all strata of the society called on Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam to find answers to various aspects concerning their very survival, welfare and upliftment. Some people went to him for alleviation of their sorrows and sufferings. Some people went to him for progress and prosperity. Some people went to him for emancipation from the world of materialism and liberation. But Jagatguru fulfilled all their aspirations and ultimately led them to the path of perfection. If a man is suffering from poverty, Jagatguru knew that he needed some economic security first and then only he could make gradual progress in spiritual world. Though the Kanchi seer had renounced everything and was subsisting himself with essential needs of food, clothing and shelter, he agreed that people in general needs a better standard of living and encouraged them to pursue that line while at the same time underlying the importance of devotion, abstinence and renunciation.

Kanchi Acharya

There was an interesting incident, narrated by Sri Ganesa Sharma during a discourse, which showed Paramacharya’s understanding of human problems and the instant solution he provided. A musician, who was facing some financial problems, went to Acharya. After paying obeisance to Maha Swamigal, the musician said: “I have been suffering because income I get from performing music recitals is very meager and I seek your blessings and advice. “You are a devoted singer”, said Acharya. “You know many Stotras that would ensure prosperity”. The musician could not remember any song that could resolve his financial problem and stood silently. Then Maharshi said: “You know Arunagirinathar’s Kandar Anubhuti. Recite the concluding lines”. The musician then rendered the lines:

Uruvai Arulvai, Ulathai Ilathai
Maruvai Malarai, Maniyai Oliyai,
Karuvai Uyirai, Gathiyai Vidhiyai
Guruvai Varuvai, Arulvai Guhane

These are the lines which shine as a crowning glory of the Kandar Anubhuti. Kandar Anubhuti is the essence of all Thiruppugazh songs composed by Arunagirinathar. The musician thought himself: “How a great work of Jnana, such as Kandar Anubhuti, would help me to tide over my immediate financial needs”? As if reading his mind, Swamigal then asked the musician to sing the lines by giving a pause after the word ‘Guruvai’. Having rendered ‘Guruvai’, the musician stopped for a while and then rendered: “Varuvai Arulvai Guhane”. “Now, do you get the meaning?”, Swamigal asked the musician. It then dawned on the musician that he was asking the blessings of Guhan for income (Varuvai).