The Sage of Kanchi

P. Sitapati I.A.S.(Retd.)

It was the year 1966. Chittoor District in Andhra Pradesh had experienced two years of severe drought, and was reeling under conditions of severe heat and famine. In June that year, Chief Secretary K.V.Anantharaman(ICS) called me and informed me that I should go over to Chittoor immediately and take charge as District Collector and Magistrate. I was informed that the amounts allotted for the famine works in the district were being misused and that I should endeavour to bring the district to normalcy as quickly as possible. My grandfather Pidatala Sitapatayya had worked as Public Prosecutor in Chittoor in the early part of 1910 or so and had later actively worked with Annie Besant in the Home Rule Movement. Lord Venkateswara was my chosen deity. So I hastened to serve the people of Chittoor district but found the task a formidable one. One could control the misuse of famine funds, pull up the erring officials, ensure proper famine relief works and obtain larger quantities of food grains to the district for distribution by the Civil Supplies Department but what could a bureaucrat do to control the blazing sun or improve the depleting water supply position in the countryside?

Then I received information that His Holiness, the Sankaracharya of Kanchi was going over to Tirumala for a few days. It was the British custom, continued by the Indian Government, to give and advance notice to the district administration, and the district officials ensured sage passage and escort to the Heads of Maths like Kanchi. As the Sage of Kanchi was going over to Tirumala, the Sub-Collector of Chandragiri and the Executive Officer, Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanams were suitably instructed to do the needful. I had already decided to go to Thirumala as soon as work permitted me and pay my homage to His Holiness.

A few days later I called on His Holiness and was charmed by the magnetic smiling eyes of the Swami. In the course of a short conversation, the Swami casually asked what I wanted. What did I want? I wanted nothing and I reported that the distress in the district was acute, that people and animals were suffering for water and so on. I bowed to the sage and was about to take leave. The Swami had lifted his right hand and passed it like a magic wand in all the four directions. I was nonplussed and thought the Swami had dismissed me with a nonchalant but peculiar hand movement.

As I came down the Tirumala hills to Tirupati, the sky darkened, and clouds began to gather and we reached Chittoor in very heavy but very welcome rain. The downpour continued for a week. I had occasion to go again to Tirumala to receive another VIP, and took the opportunity to call on the Acharya.

"Have you had enough rains?" the sage asked me this time. "What rains? Swami!" I asked. "The rains you asked for last time" replied the Swami.

In a flash, I understood. The sage in true fashion of the ancient Brahmarishis had bestowed rain on the district! The water-table improved in the district improving the drinking-water position. A normal agricultural season was on the threshold. I thanked the sage, made my humble Sashtanga Pranams and left.

The same year the Sage of Kanchi stayed at Sri Kalahasthi, the age-old temple renowned for its Vayu Linga. The sage had presided over a Veda Agama pandit Sammelan, and during his stay in the temple re-discovered the Sri Nataraja Rangasthala and rock carvings on the face of the mountain behind the Sri Nataraja Rangasthala. It was now my pleasant duty as a student of temple arts to study the rock carvings and the Nataraja Rangasthala and date them as belonging to the 6th century A.D. and as the work of the Pallavas. The study spurred me on to make a study of the age-old temple itself. Myself and the Executive Officer of the temple, Sri Nagi Reddy, brought out a short monograph on "Sri Kalahasthi Temple" published in 1967 by the Sri Kalahasthi Devasthanam. I still have on my study table a souvenir bronze of a Siva-Parvathi Alinganamoorthy presented by the temple to me for the work. But what is more precious is "sriomukham bestowed on me by the Sage of Kanchi.

This book was printed and one or two rush copies were with me. I then went to Guntur for a Collector's conference that was convened for ushering in a new experiment of district Development Boards in the districts with the Collector as the Chairman. While at Guntur, I was informed that the Sage of Kanchi was camping at Velatur. I therefore went there and made my Prostrations to the Swami. A copy of the book 'Sri Kalahasthi Temple' dedicated to the twin feet of Sri Gnana-Prasuna Ambika Devi was given to the sage. The Swami then asked "If I give some materials, I replied. The Swami during his stay at Sri Kalahasthi had re-discovered Sri Pancha Mukha Linga during his Chaturmasya Camp in the year 1966. The entire area cleared on the suggestions of His Holiness and necessary renovation was undertaken.

And I was now given the dedicatory verse praising the five faces of Lord Siva, the Pancha Mukhas as described in the Mahanyasa, the prelude to the Rudraabhisheka. The gist of the verses was: "may all these five faces of Lord Siva, i.e. Sadyojaata, the bright and watery westward Face, Vama Deva the golden like northward face, Aghora - the rainy cloud like southward face, Tatpurusha, the eastward face glittering like the rising Sun and Isaana, the brilliant upward face, grant all your wishes!"

We got the verses printed in the book in the first page, along with the "Srimukham" given in Telugu by the Sage. Srimukham" gives brief details of the work by the Chittoor District Collector and invokes the wholesome blessings of Sri Gnana-Prasuna-Ambika-Sa,etha-Sri Kalahastheeswara Swami on the author.

During the same period, Queen Frederica of Greece with Princess Irene and Late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi also had interviews with the Jagadguru Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Swami the district. During the Janata regime in 1990, the Andhra Pradesh Governor Sri Kant, along with Islamic leaders such as Janab Bulkhari, met the sage of Kanchi several times, and I had the good fortune of paying my respects to the Jagadguru and worshipping Mother Kamakshi. The visits by the top Muslim leaders of the country from Delhi indicate the respect and reverence of leaders of all faiths for the Sage of Kanchi.

I shall now close this brief account with one more personal experience. I used to go frequently during my career to Kancheepuram and visit the Sage who was residing outside Kanchi in an Ashram near a 'Ganapathi' temple. This temple is unique in that it has Ganapathi similar to Soma-Skanda bas-reliefs where Skanda is seen with the Divine parents, Parvathi and Siva. The Swami himself is considered to be an avatar of Ganapati. One could now see the retired Swami across a well in a small hermitage. I had always some dissatisfaction that the Sage did not give any personal teaching or message to me during my visits. And there were three cinematic scenarios. The message, was the Gayatri should not be ignored In the second scenario, I saw the Sage reading some religious book. The message was that one's worship of Deity ad the Nama Parayana were to be performed daily without fail. And in the third scenario, I saw the Sage seated in mediation in the Padmasana, and he had his 'anjali' full of jasmine flowers, which he now put on his head in abhisheka and the message was that every individual is Brahman himself and must realise that truth.

The Sage of Kanchi thus taught: 'My life is my message' and is making a clarion call to humanity to realise its divinity giving up the demoniac characteristics of Kama, Krodha, Lobha, Moha, Mada and Matsarya-the Arishdvargas which prevent man from realising the Reality that is himself.