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The Ideal Prophet of our Age
Agnihotram Ramanuja Tatachariar
His Holiness Shri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati, the present Pontiff of Kanchi Kamakoti Petal is the ideal prophet of our times. The challenge of modern materialism based on experimental science necessitates a unique leadership in religion. In the holy person of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Acharya all our ideals about religion and religious leadership are fulfilled, especially in the context of the present era of science and materialism. A rethinking in the sphere of religion without, at the same time, violating the fundamentals of the hoary tradition is time, violating the fundamental of the hoary tradition is called for. It is a great boon for Hinduism to have in Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Acharya its religious leader par excellence.
Hinduism claims to be eternal and rightly so. But its main weakness is the absence of proper leadership and organisation. Hinduism has survived through the ages only on account of the enormous faith of our people and not because of the authority of any church as such. Very often this lack of sense of institutional authority has shaken the individual's faith and made him an east to convert to other proselytizing faiths
The distinctive feature of Vedic religion is its impersonal character. According to the Mimam-sakas and Vedantins the defects in one's personality are reflected in his thinking. So they decline to accept a religion which is founded by one or many prophets. The logic of the individual's defects compelled our people of yore to think of a pure religion without a person for its founder. But after Buddha and Christ, religions have come to be enormously supported because of the attachment of the masses to the powerful personality of the founder, apart from the principles governing that religion. Naturally, in the efflux of time, the Hindus also began to feel a thirst for a religious leader with individual merits, whom they can follow. The r merits by which one is entitled to become a religious leader are the power of his achara and anushtana, maintenance of strict religious purity and faithful adherence to tradition and traditional rites. But the modern man is not captivated by a person of achara and anushtana alone. The modern mind is trained only in the pragmatic field and hence it wants directly to enjoy divinity in the one whom he can call his religious leader.
The background being such, Hinduism stood a very poor chance of survival in the early years of this century. Added to this, the alien proselytizing religions exploited to the full the Hindu theory of a multitude of Gods. Religious conversion aggravated the disintegration of the Hindu fold. It was an uphill task to consolidate our religion torn as it was by a number of sub-faiths worshipping different Gods, and mutually abusing one another. If the true prophet had not emerged out in the earlier years of this century and driven home to the people the fundamental unity among the sub-sects of Hinduism, our religion would have been completely undermined.
By God's grace we had, and continue to have, that Prophet in the personality of Sri Chandrasekarendra Sarasvati. He comprises in himself all that modern world demands of religious leadership. First, he is the head of what comes very near to a seat of authority the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. Second, his powerful personality compels peoples' devotion and thereby automatically brings them together. Thirdly, though a powerful personality he is most impersonal and he is the finest representative of all that is best in the Hindu tradition. He may rightly be called the personal-cum-impersonal God. (He has actually been referred to as such by no less a person than the late Pontiff of the Parakala Math, Mysore, an equally important Matadhipathi of the Vaishnava sampradaya before an assembly of eminent scholars). Forth, with all his strict adherence to tradition, His Holiness is the most catholic-minded and, if one may say so, scientific minded. Above all the pre-eminently fulfils the modern man's pragmatic desire to see divinity in flesh and blood.
His Holiness is a rare historical phenomenon.
In his very person, especially in his eyes and in his smile, one fends the unmistakable imprint of divine luster. A darsan of His Holiness is itself sufficient to make one realise a touch of divinity, while a conversation with him almost drags one into the world of the divine. The resplendence of his body, born of Tapas, dazzles the unorthodox eye too, purifies the mind from its material entanglements and ultimately confers peace beyond words. He is a repository of spiritual and temporal knowledge, including knowledge of the modern sciences, while there is no doubt he ultimately represents that knowledge which is itself Realization.
But it is not his Tapas or knowledge that makes him the living God of the masses. He is to them the living God because he loves all people equally, his love transcending all barriers of religion, castes and creed. His aim has always been the welfare of the entire humanity. "Sreyo Bhooyat Sakala Jananam" (Let the whole of humanity attain excellence)-which is the concluding phrase of his benediction to the United Nations as sung by Smt. M.S. Subbulakshmi-is not just a grouping of words; it has always been his one and only thought.
For all his exalted divinity. His Holiness is not at all inaccessible. He inspires only love and not awe. He endears himself to one and all by his intensely human attributes. Sometimes it may even appear that he is almost as playful as a child. His Holiness to be the Eternally Divine Play Child.
A playful child, and yet the staunchest disciplinarian. We see in him the very image of Sanatana Dharma with all its rules and regulations followed with utmost rigor. With Kamandalu in one and the Danda in the other, his saffron - clad body radiating spiritual power, he walks on his mundane earth as the presiding deity of Dharma itself.
He is at once the greatest man of action and also of contemplation. He performs pooja of hours on end with overflowing Bhakti, and the very atmosphere is then surcharged with the purity of his single-mindedness. We see the happiest union of Bhakti and Jnana in him.
Hinduism has of course produced many great thinkers. But unfortunately most of them have, in a way only helped to divide Hinduism, each of them stressing the importance of his own school of thought. It is this separatism that has damaged our religion. At the critical juncture when Hinduism stood in the most pitiable state, in the advent of Kamakoti Paramacharya alone saved the situation. Right from the beginning of his spiritual reign, even from the time when he was in his teens, he has been stressing the unity among the diversity found in Hinduism. He has propagated not only the unity among the sub-faiths of Hinduism but all religions of the world. His unifying vision ever seas some underlying points of harmony among the various religions and the various subjects of Hinduism. It is only because of him that the great Savia and Vaishnava Sampradayas in South India have come together and have begun to appreciate each other's doctrine. The Tiruppavai-Tiruvembavai movement has caused a revolution by inviting the Vaishnavites and Saivites. The revolutionary character has been suffused in the sweetness of harmony. It requires the deepest conviction and the greatest perseverance to bring together two sects which have been fighting mutually for centuries. The earnestness, sincerity, conviction and perseverance of this physically frail individual has undone the skirmishes of centuries, almost silently. "Unity in diversity" is the basic point of Vedic thinking and it has been given fresh breath only by Shri Kanchi Kamakoti Paramacharya.
Open-hearted as he is, His Holiness appreciates the spiritual truths embedded in any religion. He sees all the religions as but facets of the one and only Eternal Religion, Sanatana Dharma.
Another great aspect of our Paramacharya is that he is not at all a visionary. Though he has attained the ideal state, he is a teacher with a practical approach. The schemes he draws for regenerating our religion are very simple and most easy to follow. His thinking is always materialised into successful action because of its utter simplicity. His one mission for the past 80 years has been the maintenance of our religion in its pristine purity. But for him, the words Dharma and Sanatana Dharma would have become extinct. All the divergences in Hinduism are resolved into a homogeneous system by his loving, harmonising touch.
The Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham over which he presides is of course a great institution. But even apart from it, His Holiness himself is an institution. His power is not based on the material affluence of the Peetham. His tapas and loving concern for humanity alone have made for his great influence.
I feel myself blessed in that I have been carrying out his commands in my little way for over three decades. His penetrating vision and the earnest consideration for the future of the country dragged me to him. I saw in him the succor of the forlorn (Deenabhandhu). Wherever he went, I saw the lowliest and the last assemble around him and seek his blessings. On many an occasion I have seen him as the very picture of compassion amidst Harijans, making very kind enquiries of their condition with motherly affection. He has arranged for the feeding and clothing of many Harijans.
His love flows are naturally towards the Harijan as towards the Vedic Pandit. It is said that the principal purpose of an Avatar is to uphold the Vedas. In that sense His Holiness is certainly an Avatar. But for him, Vedic studies would have utterly collapsed. It is he who has created a new interest in Vedic studies by his munificent grants of pupils and teachers who take to the Vedas.
The Mudradhikari system meant for the improvement of social life in the background of our religion has united all the different classes of our people.
If we wish to have a proper assessment of His Holiness's important role in the revival of religion we have to look back to the days of the Freedom Movement.
Being a Sannyasin he did not, he could not, enter active politics. But in his hear of hearts he supported National Freedom in the truest sense, for he wanted not only the foreigners to go, but also the foreign outlook of our people to go. He has been wearing khaddar right from the days of Gandhi's boycott of mill-cloth. Unfortunately, the freedom-fighters relegated religion to the background and made politics their sole concern. His Holiness rightly feared that by the time the freedom-fighter succeeded in getting political independence of our country, India would have heavily lost her spiritual and religious instincts. He actually warned many political leaders to this effect. But, alas, they did not feel the importance of what he said. So His Holiness himself had to work out schemes incessantly for the upkeep of religion at those critical times when politics alone was all in all. But, for his statesman like vision at the time of framing our constitution the very important articles touching religious freedom and the maintenance of religious institutions which are now happily enshrined in our Great Charter could not have been there. I wish in particular to bring to the notice of enlightened people the silent and stead fast work he did in his direction. I wish in particular to bring to the notice of enlightened people the silent and stead fast work he did in this direction. For not less than five full years, I know personally, he was immersed in the one thought of getting constitutional authority for religious freedom and the upkeep of religious institutions. I remember vividly that midnight in Melur near Kumbhakonam when he solemnly and seriously advised and warned us to take the initiative in protecting religion through the Constitution. We failed to grasp his point. Suddenly he electrified us with the stern mandate that it was high time for us to dedicate ourselves to the great task.
What happened within the next few days revealed his prophetic vision. The Parliamentary Delegation of the British Government came to India to negotiate points touching Indian Freedom an din particular to suggest a new Constitution for the nation. Except for the head of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham all other Peethadhipatis seemed to be in utter darkness about the delegation and the need to place before them convincingly our suggestions and the present and future status of religion and religious institutions. We wondered whether at all the delegation would give us an interview. Anyhow according to his instruction we sent a number of telegrams to the delegation, which as we expected wee not all responded to. But somehow His Holiness seemed to be optimistic and his optimism was a enigma to us all. The fools we were! Was he not the author of the Divine Plan?
Quite unexpectedly a telegram called me forth to Madras in connection with a different purpose. When I entered into "The Hindu" Office in Madras on that quite different errand, the late lamented Kasturi Srinivasan, the then Editor of "The Hindu", sprang a surprise over me by telling that the Parliamentary Delegation would be visiting "The Hindu" Office in the next few minutes. A tea party was arranged in honour of the delegation at the Hindu Office. And so, I stood face to face with those eminent people, who did not even reply to our numerous telegrams. The secretary of the delegation entered first and Sri Kasturi Srinivasan introduced me to him. It told him that our telegrams were not responded to. He was kind enough to advise me to place our points personally before Mr. Sorenson (M.P.) who was the most important member of the delegation. As matters were so quickly developing I had no time to prepare any written memorandum. I explained by word of mouth to Sorenson and desperate condition of our religion and religious institutions and drew his attention to His Holiness' ides of getting Constitutional safeguard for these. Sorenson was kind enough to ask me to meet him once again in Delhi.
I returned to His Holiness to break the news of this wonderful turn of events. After a little meditation His Holiness advised to prepare a memorandum touching religion as a fundamental right. Fundamental right! It was a time when not much was thought about fundamental rights in general, and still less about religious belief as a fundamental right I may not be wrong if I say that this was the birth of Fundamental Rights in the Indian Constitution itself.
I met Mr. Sorenson at Delhi and submitted our memorandum. He was deeply impressed with, nay moved by, His Holiness' concern of our people and for his very practical wisdom.
Of course, the Parliamentary Delegation was not a success. But the idea of enshrining religious belief as a Fundamental Right had unmistakably and unassailably and unassailably struck root, thanks to the foresight of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Paramacharya. The ball has definitely beet set rolling!
Then came the Cabinet Delegation. When we once again moved the Head of the Delegation, Sir Stafford Cripps, to our suggestion, he said that ultimately it was only the leaders of India who were going to frame the constitution, and so advised us to meet them.
Even as I recall those days, I am thrilled to think of the divine power of the Yogi then living in a remote village in the far southern part of the country. We were just instruments. It was his power that revealing itself through us.
It was the peak hour of India's Freedom Movement when nothing but politics seemed to be worth attention. Anyhow we made bold to meet Sardar Patel and spoke to him about religious freedom. He just flared up to say that Hinduism spoke with different tongues and was not fit for survival. It told him about the efforts of His Holiness to bring to the forefront the underlying unity among what seemed to be different tongues. Sardar Patel was highly impressed and said that he simply could not believe that there could be a Mathadhipati in India who did not just think in terms of his own Siddhanta but thought of the generality. he said that something could be done towards what we wished, if only we really made efforts to unify the different sects of Hinduism.
Then started our holy pilgrimage through out India to bring together all the Siddhantins and make concerted efforts. With the miraculous Tapo-sakti of His Holiness we were able to meet all the religious Heads of India, and for the first time in our history were able to bring them together under one label. "The All India Maths Conference". This coming together of religious sects gave a new strength to the plea regarding religious belief as a Fundamental Right and getting constitutional safeguard for religious institutions.
India became independent. The Constituent Assembly was set up to frame our Great Charter. In the great excitement of those days none seemed to pay any attention to religion and religious institutions as subjects to be covered by the Fundamental Rights of the Constitution. The tapasvin of Kanchi was then camping at Ambi village. He called forth eminent lawyers of Madras to suggest suitable clauses concerning religion and religious institution for inclusion in the Constitution. These great lawyers prepared lengthy clauses at great pain, but only to be rejected by the Adviser of the Constituent Assembly. The Adviser suggested a simple clause, but His Holiness's legal knowledge was superior to that of the Adviser and so he found out over subtle defects even in that simple clause. His Holiness himself made a very important change in it. The suggestion of His Holiness was welcomed by Constitutional pandits wholeheartedly with a sense of wonder at His Holiness' astonishing legal acumen.
Anyhow political leaders were not prepared to give unchecked freedom to religion and religious institutions. So this freedom was diluted by the addition of the phrase "in accordance with law'. This would mean that the State could thoroughly interfere in religion and religious institutions, because this condition would bind religious institutions with whatever new law a none-too-religious Government may bring forth. At His Holiness' behest a representation was made to, members to suitably amend the clause at the stage of the second reading. When we met Dr. Ambedkar in this connection, we did not have any hopes, because we knew of his staunch and stern views. But behold the power of Paramacharyas' penance Dr. Ambedkar told in all earnest that he was for religion and religious institutions. He declared that religion and religious institutions was split into four parts by the framers of the Constitution, so that the restrictive phrase "in accordance with law" applies only to fourth part.
Now in final form Article 26 of the Constitution reads as follows:
"...Every religious denomination or any section thereof shall have the right (A) to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes (B) to manage its own affairs in matters of religion (C) to own and acquire moveable and immovable property and (D) to administer such property in accordance with law."
If such a constitutional guarantee has been got for the independent running of religious institutions it is in no small measure due to the initiative of His Holiness Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Paramacharya. Originally the wording was only "Every religious denomination shall have the right" etc. Nobody found any discrepancy in this wording, including the august Constitution-makers. His Holiness alone saw that this was not enough. No Hindu thinks that he is first and foremost a Hindu. He thinks only a terms of his subsect. e.g., that he is a Vaishnavaite, a Saivite, a Smartha or a Saiva Siddhanthin and son on and so forth. Similarly no religious institution in India is running under the label of Hinduism. We only have Vaishnava, Saiva, Smartha, Saiva Siddhantha, etc. etc., Maths and Monasteries. So the word "religious denominations" could not have constitutional application to many of these institutions. Therefore His Holiness felt that the wording should be changed as "every religious denomination or any section thereof shall have the right, etc." His supreme will was ultimately carried out!
In all this His Holiness remained behind the screen. But he was the one moving spirit and great political leaders, eminent lawyers, distinguished parliamentarians and experienced jurists just carried out his prophetic schemes for the maintenance of our religious belief and for the constitutional safeguard for our religious institutions. This aspect which has not seen the light of the day till now deserves to be written in letters of gold in the history of our religious; perhaps also of our Constitution - making.
In particular I want to draw the attending of the public to two great incidents, which will ever remain fresh in my memory.
When we were meeting the Matadhipathis through out India, myself in company with some others, had an unforgettable audience with the then Pontiff of Sri Sringeri Sarads Peetham-Poojya Sri Chandrasekhara Bharathi. He was divine personality. Though the Head of a Math he was very often immersed in deep meditation. He appeared before us as a huge mass of divine consciousness. His very first question to us was, "Where did Shri Kamakoti Acharya perform Vyasa Puja?" We replied that it was at Madhyarjuna (Tiruvidaimarudur). His Holiness Sri Sringeri Sankaracharya made glorious reference about His Holiness. We narrated to him the politico-religious situation and about our Kanchi Kamakoti Paramacharya's efforts to unify all the religious institutions in order to make a concerted move to get constitutional safeguard for our religion. He replied with a beaming face, "Only Sri Kanchi Acharya understands the atmosphere precisely and knows what is fittest to do in the prevalent atmosphere. We all depend on what he does in this regard. We are very grateful to him. If the Hindus are able to maintain Dharma even to this extent it is primarily due to Sri Kanchi Acharya."
Then and there he called one Shri Sangameswara Sastri and ordered him to accompany us to other Maths having connection with Sri Sringeri like Theerthamukthapuri to help us in persuading those Mathadhipathis to join hand in our Paramacharya's schemes.
We returned to Sringeri after visiting these Maths and conveyed our gratitude to His Holiness Sri Sringeri Acharya. In turn His Holiness asked us to convey His gratitude to Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Acharya for his task towards religious revival.
Another incident of great importance. Originally the Drafting Committee has included religion and religious institutions in the "State List" of the Constitution. When His Holiness Sri Kanchi Acharya's attention was drawn to this he said "Religion of India is one. It does not differ on the basis of States. Similarly the religious institutions also belong to the whole of India. Therefore this item should be transferred from the State List". Though His Holiness did not put it in words, it is possible that he also saw prophetically that some day even parties professing ir-religiousness may come to power in some of the States in which case religious institutions would have to suffer very badly.
We conveyed the views of His Holiness to the members of the constituent Assembly, but they were afraid to take up the issue because even then Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was feeling that the Central List was overburdened. Anyhow as the Tapo-shakti of His Holiness would have it, somebody made bold in the party meeting to refer to the amendments we wanted. And the wonder of it! No less a person than Jawaharlal Nehru himself changed his opinion on the spur of the moment, and proposed that religious institutions should be included in the Concurrent List. The proposal was moved all at once. This was a very great gain, but it was a great gain for Hinduism, and for that matter, any religious which has a following in India.