The Sage of Kanchi-A vision of divinity

Dr S.V. Chittibabu

Not all the pomp and pageantry of world reflect such glory as the mellow virtues of the hold man" says Dr. Radhakrishnan. The Paramacharya of Kanchi is one of the rarest spiritual gems that radiate the 'light divine' which is indescribable. When some people ask me as to what I think of the Sage of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. I simply tell them I cannot delineate his personality but that I fell his presence, his overwhelming presence. Hundreds and thousands of persons wait for hours to have a 'darshan' of him. They do not belong to the category of superstitious masses who observe the formal practices of religions and think that their sins have been washed away. They are devotees who are highly educated people like doctors, engineers academics and what not. They are not the ones who could be impressed and or persuaded be mere miracles. They think and they feel the powerful influence of the Acharya's serene and silent Holiness which reflect the symmetry of his divine soul.

The first glimpse of the Paramacharya that I had was in the early sixties when I was Deputy Director of School Education and since then I have been now and then visiting Kanchi to offer him my 'pranams' and seek his blessings. During those years when he used to undertake his spiritual tours and address many a gathering of ardent devotees, I had the privilege of hearing his illuminating and heart-touching talks which never failed to inspire the loftiest and noblest of thoughts in the hearers.

I would like to recall some of the Paramacharya's word of enlightenment and comfort which marked most of his addresses that I had heard years ago.

"Beyond the clouds the sun still shines. Even so beyond the tamas or darkness there is the brilliant sun coloured deity. Don't lose heart simply because you happen to be in distress or disappointment."

"you will be never be able to attain fulfillment of your life by mere theoretical study. On the other hand, spiritual regeneration needs the travail of the spirit. You have to pass through so much laceration of the heart, so much pain of the mind. All these things you will have to go through, if you want inwardly to see the Spark Divine, and if you desire to perceive that there is something superior to this world to mammon".

'All branches of discipline have only one end. An insight into Reality is the end of all kinds of discipline, Sarvasastra-prayojanam atma-darsanam. Knowledge cannot be dichotomised. All truth must be regarded as one whole. The supreme pursuit of truth is that which makes a human being dignified and civilized. If you are able to do it, then you become a really civilized being".

"we put on a sacred thread and call ourselves learned people. We put on the orange robes and call ourselves Sanyasins. But it is not the thread, it is not the clothes that make a man learned or a monk. True religion is the deep spirit of humility, renunciation and service."

"It is necessary for our young boys and girls to have a proper perception of values. They must have a sense of proportion in the things which they do, an understanding of great books and companies of great men. It is no use collecting books. It is necessary to make students love reading, a really educated man, university man, must be a lover of reading."

"Clarity of speech, purity of body and sanctity of spirit-all these three things are to be aimed at by education. If our men are to regard themselves as truly educated. they must be aware of the divinity which is the central being in them, failing which they are 'narapasus', human animals who walk about in this world merely feeding themselves procreating and then looking after their own interests."

James Russell Lowell once observed thus: "Children are God's apostles, sent forth, day by day, to preach love and hope and peace". It was as one such child that the Paramacharya would appear to have been ordained by God to be born to Sri Subramania Sastrigal and Mahalakshmi Ammal in Villupuram on May 20, 1894. The day when this child was, born the child which was later to become the Jagadguru Sri Chandra-Sekharendra Saraswati, Sankaracharya of Kamakoti Peetham, was the holy Vaisakha Poornima day, the sacred day on which Gautama the consecrated the earth by his birth. It was the will of God, I should say, that this child should hail from a humble teacher's family to prove that true nobility is derived from virtue and not from birth. This child, endearingly called Swaminathan by his parents, impressed his school Headmaster, who was a Christian, to such an extent that the latter prophesied that his ward would one day be a great celebrity. While being a student in the IV Form in the American Mission High School, Bindivanam he earned the applause of the audience by playing the role of Prince Arthur in Shakespeare's king John' with the characteristic aplomb of an experienced actor. Then again he took delight in attending Bible classes without any mental reservations. What was then even more surprising was that the won a prize for his knowledge of the Bible. It was in 1905 when the divinely gifted boy, Swaminathan, was initiated into the Gayathri Mantra, that the then Acharya of the Kamakoti Peetham intuitively saw in him his spiritual successor. And as foreseen by him, Swaminathan when he was barely 13 years old, was initiated as Sankaracharya at a spiritual ceremony held at Kalavai near Arcot in North Arcot District. The boy's formal installation as Jagadguru or World Teacher-a tittle given to the Acharyas of the Sankaracharya Peetham-took place later in Kumbhakonam. He was taken in a spectacular procession round the city, with two aged Maharanis of Thanjavur sending their royal caparisoned elephants and horses with ornately dressed attendants and other gifts to celebrate the memorable event.

The Acharya completed his in-depth study of the Sastras with the help and guidance of Sanskrit scholars of undisputed eminence of Mahendramangalam on the banks of the Akhanda Kaveri river near, Tiruchirapallli. It may seem strange but yet it is true that during this period of studentship he learnt to row in a boat to the islands as well as acquired knowledge of astronomy and photography.

Returning to Kumbhakonam in 1914, the Acharya took over the complete control of the Math and addressed himself to the task of making it a hub of spiritual activities and a cynosure attracting many an erudite scholar of distinction who deemed it a privilege to give their discourses in his presence. His own expositions demonstrated his inimitable flair for drawing examples and parallels from a variety of disciplines like history, literature and culture to present Indian Philosophy in broader and sharper perspective. His more than ordinary familiarity with Sanskrit, Telugu and Tamil classics stood him in good stead in the implementation of, his plans and programs. As part of his self-education the Jagadguru set out from Kumbhakonam in 1919 on, what one may rightly call, a `Vijaya Yatra', A triumphant tour of India that lasted twenty long years-an episode, sui generis, in his relentless pursuit of truth, beauty and excellence. In this respect he reminds us of the historic religious quest of Adi Sankara whose peregrinations all over India lent Vigour and strength to his Advaitic School of Thought.

Today at Kanchi the Paramacharya spends much of his time in deep meditation for the good of mankind. He does not talk now in view of his present condition of health. Nevertheless thousand throng the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham to have a darshan of the divine sage whose mellow vision transcends all barriers of caste, colour and creed. In this context, I wish to recount a memorable incident dating back to June, 1985 when Dr. M.A.M. Ramaswamy, Pro-Chancellor of Annamalai University, and I, as Vice-Chancellor, approached the Jagadguru for his blessings for the successful starting of the Rajah Muthiah Medical College in the University. He was gracious enough to grant us a private audience and patiently went through the brochure on the project submitted to him for his perusal. What amazed us very much was the manner in which he put to us searching questions to know how we proposed to carry out a stupendous project like the setting up of an institution which entailed hefty outlay of money in the incipient stages, which only showed his masterly grasp of the intricacies and complexities involved in the execution of a mammoth scheme like the one undertaken by the University. It was clear to us that the Acharya was at once pragmatic and human when it came to the question of dealing with mundane issues. Our joy knew no bounds when he sprinkled some vibhuti on the brochure and returned it to us, while conferring his benediction on us with a profusion of gracious love and presented us with shawls which are treasured by us to this day as the most valued possessions of ours.

His Holiness Pujyasri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvathi Mahaswamigal is entering the 100th year shortly and the celebration of this memorable event will constitute a golden chapter of matchless radiance in the religious history of our country, nay, of the world, for the reason that it is the first instance of a glorious reign of the Head of a spiritual Ministry that has lasted nearly nine decades. To mark this momentous occasion, spiritual rituals have already been set afoot by the Centenary Celebrations Committee. While the religious ceremonies are being performed, we would do well to pay our homage to the Jagadguru by taking solemn pledge that we shall abide by the ethical canons of honestly, truthfulness, rectitude, love and faith in the eternal verities of life as enjoined by him with unwavering determination, resolute courage of conviction and unerring fixity of purpose. Let us fight division unawareness, inertia, ignorance and falsehood. To succeed in our Armageddon against the sinister forces of evil, we need to revamp and rejuvenate our educational system which is presently direction-less and aimless, and infuse a new spirit and a sense of dynamism in our youth who must be made be appreciate and taught to love all things that are beautiful, all things that are lofty, all that are healthy, all that are magnificent and all that are noble.

The essence of the message of the Sage of Kanchi, who is himself a vision of the Divine, is that spirituality is the core of every religion. Dogmatic exclusiveness and intolerance is no part of true religion. The more spiritual a man is, the more universal is only. It is such men as are both human and universal that can bring about a transformation of mankind into a wholly constructive force capable of redeeming society from its inner impoverishment. May our Jagadguru Pujyasri Paramacharya live in our midst for many many years to come as a central rallying point from which men could perceive the entire panorama of Indian thought, culture and philosophy and say, "Here is the Unity of India."