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Compassion and objectivity of H.H. Paramacharyal
Dr. P.K. Sundaram
It was when the Pope had come to Madras and a conference on the Religions of the World had been organized by the leaders of Christian religion in the Rajaji Hall, Madras, Distinguished representatives of all major religions had been invited in the usual formal way by a letter with a request to intimate the consent to participate a delegate-speaker along with a passport size photograph so far there was nothing singular or sensational. Only when it was known that the Jagadguru Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham was one of those so formally invited and asked to send a passport-size photograph, the shock-wave spread and many a pious follower of Sankara felt deeply upset at the affront. There were outspoken comments and criticisms duly conveyed to the authorities concerned.
The Christian leadership rose to the occasion by deciding to undo the damage before it was too late. The responsible representative of the Archbishop of Madras at that time wad deputed to meet His Holiness the Paramacharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham and explain the mistake and tender apologies to Him. The role of taking this Father fell upon my weak shoulders, due to the good offices of a professor in a College in Madras who happened to know me.
The Father took me in his car to Kanchi and I promptly contacted the Math Manager and appraised him of the delicate mission. He took action at once and the next thing that happened was the direction from Sri Bala Swamigal, His Holiness Jagadguru Sankara Vijayendra Saraswati to take the Father to Him.
His Holiness Sri Sankara Vijayendra Sarasvathi Swamigal gave a benign audience to the Father and learnt from him the circumstances and purposes of the visit. His Holiness fully appreciated the spirit of the move and blessed him,
A few minutes later the Father along with me was ushered in the presence of His Holiness Jagadguru Paramacharya Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvathi Swamigal. The sight was breath-taking and contrary to what we expected. His Holiness was running high temperature, was lying on the ground covered, not with any woolen blanket, but with a raw mat. His head alone was visible but the eyes were closed. Because he was in that posture, we were not allowed to prostrate in homage.
The Christian father and other stood transfixed around the Paramacharya at a respectable distance. At a gesture from the Paramacharya which was hardly noticeable to the onlookers, an authority of the Math asked me to explain the purpose of the visit of the Father. Succinctly I traced the origin of this strange mission and resultant visit undertaken at the instance of the Archbishop in which the mistake was regretted and the Father was there to express it in person and to receive the blessing of the Paramacharya for the success of the conference at Madras. All the time, it was evident, the Paramacharya was listening to every word that was being uttered. For, the moment the statement ended, the Paramacharya shot both His arms out of the mat and blessed the Christian Father with folded palms moving them up and down three times.
It was at once known that the blessings sought for had been given. No one understood better the message with all its significance than the Father himself, as he confided to me on the way back to Madras.
The Father received all the Math honours due to a distinguished guest, among them a beautiful shawl profusely laced. The Father had the shawl on him throughout the journey till he want back to the Archbishop to report the outcome to his errand. When it was suggested by me on the way back to Madras that he could remove it if he felt warm, the reply was that he was overwhelmed by the grace of the sage and had decided to have the shawl as a mark of that grace till he presented himself to his superior.
To think the entire episode was taking place when the Paramacharya was laid flat with temperature scorching him and that too at that advanced age throw into bold relief the high seriousness of his inherent humanity, charity and understanding. That was a clear instance of the spirit winning decisively the battle against the flesh.
Again, to me, a simple academician for one, the matter for great astonishment was the analytic power, incisive thought and impeccable judgment that the Paramacharya's recorded speeches and writings exhibit. Many of us are, I am sure, quite familiar with His historical research ('I will also do some research' as he himself jocularly remarked) into the date of Sankara.
True to his word, He meticulously employs the settled methodology of stating all the available theories one by one against the position he has himself taken, marshalling the opposite points of view and arguing the case without bias and without making it appear faulty by the very mocking presentation of it and, finally refuting them in the same order with evidence that have a bearing equal to those that the opposition presented, it not greater in force and authority, and after all this, leaving it to the listener or reader, as the case may be, to come to his conclusions, deriving his own deductions.
With the entire stock of the traditional scholarship and wisdom as well as a thorough grasp of the latest developments as the backdrop and thus with a total historical perspective and sense, his research has a fullness which ordinarily a research work on such themes by a modern historian lacks.
In the course of arranging the facts and evidences, the Paramacharya does not cling to any position dogmatically. For instance, regarding Sankara's alleged reference to certain Saiva saints in the Sivabhujangam that suggests that he should be placed chronologically later than these Saiva saints like Siruttondar whose date is definitely known, the Paramacharya does not hesitate to say that Sivabhujangam may not be, and is not after all, the work of Adi Sankara but only of Abhinava Sankara, a Peethadhipati of the Kanchi Math. Mistaking this Acharya for Adi Sankara, some have rushed to the conclusion that 788-820 A.D. is the date of Adi Sankara.
Similarly, His political perceptions as to how Indian democracy has to be evolved, articulated for ahead of the times, are as relevant today as they were at that time, if not more. This he does with the model of the functioning of the electoral system and administrative machinery recorded in the famous Uttiramerur inscription of the Chola period. Even if that electoral system could not be followed today exactly in the same way, the principles at least on which it was founded are eternally valid. Even as this article is being written, there is a letter to the editor of "The Hindu" from an Indian resident in the USA in which a time limit to the tenure of a legislator is required to avoid entrenchment in power and to minimize chances of corruption and autocracy.
Paramacharya has dwelt at length on this aspect of political power on the basis of the Uttiramerur inscription. The checks and balances recorded therein are the only way to redress the ills that have befallen the body-politic of Indian democracy. The basic note is the moral responsibility and purity of character along with a deep faith in God and values of life-saving than any temporal power and possession.
We of this generation are singularly blessed in being at a time when His Holiness Paramacharya turns hundred, having performed nearly a century of spiritual ministration. May we prove worthy of His grace!