The sour pomegranate fruit

V. Swaminatha Atreya

It was in November 1963. His Holiness Sri Paramacharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Pitham stayed for 25 days at Kalyanapuram, a tiny village on the northern bank of Kaveri near Tiruvidaimarudur.

One morning. K.S. Gopalaswami Iyer of Ananda Lodge, Thanjavur came to me and asked if I would join him and a gentleman from Madras to go to Kalyanapuram to have darsan of Paramacharya. I jumped at the offer and went along with them.

When our car crossed a bridge over the river Viracolan at Tiruvidaimarudur at about 3 p.m., the giant lame tusker of the Math was feeding on coconut branches and leaves on the roadside. The cows of the Mat were being taken to the river for the wash. The Puja attendants were taking a nap in a pial in the first house. There was not much of an activity. We were greeted by the Math manager and taken to the Office of the Math, in a nearby house.

There our Madras gentleman gave a sheaf of hundred rupee notes to the manager and got it exchanged to one rupee coins, and put them in a big wooden tray. He had also brought some baskets of fruits, some jaggery, some small bottles of pure saffron, a large piece of Sandal wood, and some packets of pure camphor. WE arranged all of them in two bamboo trays. He changed to an improvised panchakaccham and wore the holy ash in his forehead, chest and hands. All this betrayed his inexperience.

All of us trouped into the Puja premises. His Holiness was in the cowshed, in the backyard of the house, I went ahead of my group and announced the visitor to His Holiness.

His Holiness just nodded. K.S.G. and the Madras gentleman arrived and placed the offerings before His Holiness and all of us prostrated. His Holiness recognised K.S.G. with a smile and carried on with the conversation He had with Y. Mahalinga Sastri (the great grandson of the reputed Mahamahopadhyaya Raju Sastrigal of Mannargudi). His Holiness was speaking about a work of Raju Sastrigal Durjanoktiniraasa (damnation of the words of wicked men) Y.M.S. contributed to the conversation with relevant quotations of the work. This went on for about thirty minutes.

I was a little nonplussed. K.S.G had taken me in his company simply because he thought that I was close to His Holiness and that I would be able to present his Madras friend to His Holiness without delay with all pomp and get rich dividend of blessings for him. But it now looked as if we were completely ignored. K.S.G. was prodding me from behind. I was helpless. The Madras gentleman tried to make his presence felt by laughing aloud at the light remarks of His Holiness. We were all embarrassed.

Somebody peeped in from the entrance of the cowshed. "Vedapuri! Who is it?", His Holiness asked. Vedapuri who was fanning His Holiness went and brought the Sroutigal of Vallalar Street, Mayuram. The Sroutigal held in his hand in small bamboo tray. Two coconuts and a bunch of plantain fruits were there. He recited a long hymn of Sama Veda and prostrated. He submitted with all humility that the marriage of his daughter had been fixed with a Vedic student and prayed for the blessings of His Holiness.

His Holiness remarked, "You have told me that your daughter was studying in a High School. Did she agree to the alliance?".

"Because of Periyaval's grace my family is still following the traditional style of life".

There was another peep in the entrance. Vedapuri rushed there, talked to somebody and returned. He announced "It is the old lady of Villianur. She has brought sour pomegranate fruits (Puli Madulai in Tamil) for Periaval. Here they are".

"Bring her here". Vedapuri went and returned saying, "She says she would prostrate before Periaval from there and go".

"Ask her to come here." She appeared at the gate, prostrated and stood trembling.

His Holiness took one of the fruits in His palm and rolling it, began to speak to Y.M.S.

"You know Vaitha!". Reference was to Vaidyanatha Swami Iyer of Illianur. "Once in those olden days I had some trouble in the stomach. the famous Natesa Sastrigal of Venkataramana Ayurveda College, Madras, advised me to take the juice of sour pomegranate. It is a rare variety. Because it is sour, nobody loves to have it planted in his gardens. This Vaitha had listened to this prescription, ran hither and thither and brought some fruits the third day".

"Then he planted it in the open yard in the middle of his house and nurtured it carefully. He did not plant it in the backyard, because the tree would be contaminated by the pollution of food left-overs and thought I might not accept them. All the fruits borne by the tree are brought to me. If I were in a different place this lady (His Holiness mentioned her endearingly "Amma") dries the fruit in a particular way, so that they would be taken after a long time. Vaitha is no more. Now his wife is bringing me these fruits frequently".

"Rarity is its value. Archaeological finds, though very old for any practical use, gain in value. Older the date of the find, greater is its value. This fruit has no value nowadays, because many remedies have sprung up for stomach disorder. Yet it is a rare thing. Very valuable. In this context, a passage in Ramayana comes to my mind. Hanuman is going round the palace of Ravana. The palace is replete with treasures of rare gems, and rare art pieces. He differentiates between the two kinds of wealth in a remarkable way."

His Holiness here spends some moments recollecting the passage.

"Yes, it is thus.

Ya hi vaisravane lakshmi!
Ya ca indra harivahane"!

Ravana has accumulated the wealth of Kubera as well as Indra. Kubera's wealth contains gold, silver and gems which can be valued and totaled but the accumulation of Indra's treasury contained invaluable, rare and old commodities, which were beyond the value of valuation. This is indicated by the word `Hariahana'. His horses were of green hue in colour, a very very rare species. They cannot be purchases in the market for any price. They are unique. Not even an imitation of them would be available. Such a rare thing is this fruit."

The listeners wondered as to what all this exhortation meant. Nobody understood.

His Holiness now turned to Vedapuri: "Come here. This large-hearted gentleman from Madras (His Holiness mentions his name very casually) has brought so much for me (His Holiness uses the word `Aparimita'_ Let it go to a good cause. You need not count it. Pour it all in the upper cloth of the Srautigal. He may have spend countless (Aparmita) rupees for the marriage. This may fulfil his requirements".

What a stunning finale to an apparently casual talk? The vanity of the Madras gentleman just vanished into thin air. By a singularly graceful gesture, His Holiness elevated him to a height, never imagined by him. The Srautigal got a windfall of countless heap of money for the marriage of his daughter.

That is His Holiness.