Saint who stressed on
quality of life
|A Princess from far-off Greece is as much devoted to
him as the school girl in Andhra Pradesh. K. VEDAMURTHY's
tribute to the Sage of Kanchi whose Maha Aradhana was observed
A GIRL student from an Andhra school gets a prize
amount of more than a thousand rupees for her brilliant academic
performance and one Telugu teenager chooses to send the entire
amount to Sri Sri Sri Mahalakshmi Mathrubootheswarar Trust (SSMM
Trust) in Kotturpuram, Chennai, to go towards their Orirukkai
Satabhdi Manimantapam construction expenses.
She writes she was inspired to make the
contribution as a token of her own loving reverence for the
centenarian Sage of Kanchi about whom elders in her family have told
her so much!
A lad of 25, Ph.D. when landing a lucrative job,
sent the first month's salary in full, as a token of his and his
dear parents' homage to the revered Acharya. An NRI who kept a
dollar aside every day during puja and sent $365 (Rs. 17,000) last
year, when he came to Chennai to see his aged parents last month,
made it to the Kotturpuram office of the SSSMM Trust to contribute
another sum of $500 (Rs. 24,000). A devotee who sends Rs. 10 every
month by Money Order from a mofussil place is sad beyond words that
his monthly contribution cannot be continued after he breathes his
Visitor's books kept in the site of the
Manimantapam in Orirukkai (according to a perceptive correspondent
who went there to report about the progress of the work since her
last visit two years ago) ``overflow with the joy of the devotees,
of the work taking shape.''
Princess Irene of Greece was one such visitor who
calls the project ``a fitting tribute to a saint who spent his
entire life for the welfare of humanity."
Who is this saint to whom a princess from a far off
land and culture is as much devoted as that teenaged girl from
Andhra born and bred in the religion of the saint himself? Sri Sri
Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swamigal of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti
Sankara Matam, who attained Mahasamaadhi on January 8, 1994, (just a
few months before he completed 100 years of age) continues to
inspire young and old, Indian and non-Indian devotees alike to this
day, as the daily throng of visitors to his Adhishtanam in the
Kanchi Sankara Matam and to the site of the Satabdhi Manimantapam in
Orirukkai on the banks of river Palar in Kancheepuram eloquently
Years ago, Arthur Koestler was asked by the Sage of
Kanchi what the purpose of his visit to India then was. ``Is it
merely to observe the country and the people, or is it to guide them
in some healthy manner?'' When the writer said he had come to see
and learn and with no other purpose, His Holiness observed: ''One's
own passive interest, too, exerts an influence. Even without any
specific activity, the angle from which you approach a problem or
country produces shakti — an active force.''
When Koestler said he was sorry it should be so,
and added but nobody could avoid throwing a shadow", pat came the
response from the Sage of Kanchi: ``But one's sincere sympathy
thrusts its own radiance". Koestler records: ``And as the Sage said
that, a smile transformed his face into that of a child. I had never
seen a comparable smile or expression; it had an extraordinary charm
Milton Singer, from the University of Chicago,
recalls that the Sage's intellectual vigour and coherent views of
the problem of poverty in India, and of the future of Hinduism and
its relation to industrialisation made a deep impression on him.
Says Milton Singer: ``The Swami did not think that
the popular criticism of caste, ritualism and other-worldliness was
historically accurate or realistic. Indians, His Holiness said, have
always been an active and practical people, who have fought many
wars and developed numerous arts. The doctrine of the unreality of
the world is an abstract theory which refers to `a higher level of
experience' and does not discourage practice and activity.
``We do not stop eating because we believe in the
atomic theory of matter! As far as his own lifestyle was concerned,
the Sage said that a simple diet of leaves, fruit and milk was
sufficient and healthy for him. Who will doubt this at the
celebration of the Swami's Centenary?" asks Milton Singer! (He wrote
it in 1993).
Another famous English writes and journalist, Paul
Brunton (who wrote ``A Search in Secret India'' later) was told by
the Sage of Kanchi that the inward transformation of a man was the
precondition for a better world. ``Oh! You must have transformation
from within... If you scrap your battleships and let your cannon
rust, that will not stop war. People will continue to fight even if
they have to use sticks... Nothing but spiritual understanding
between one nation and another and between the rich and the poor
will produce goodwill and thus bring real peace and prosperity.''
How pertinent in our present global context!
Then the Sage was asked by Brunton: ``Is it your
opinion then, Swamiji, that men are becoming more degraded?''
Replied Swamiji: ``No, I do not think so. There is an indwelling
divine soul in man which in the end must bring him back to God. Do
not blame the people so much as you have to blame the environment
into which they are born. Their surroundings and circumstances force
them to become worse than they really are. This is time of both the
East and the West. Society must be brought into tune with the higher
purpose.'' Hence the repeated calls of the Sage to focus on the
``quality of life", rather than on the so-called ``standard of
His Holiness was hardly 13 when he was installed as
the 68th Pontiff of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam on February 13, 1907.
The circumstances in which Swaminathan (as he was named by his
parents who belonged to the Hoysala Karnataka Smarta family) came to
be called Sri Sri Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati was narrated in
an article, ``What life has taught me'' in the Bhavan's Journal
by His Holiness himself thus:
``My mother desired to see and console her sister
whose only child had become an ascetic (by being installed as the
67th Acharya of the Peetam)... We travelled by rail to Kanchipuram
and halted at the Sankaracharya Math. There I had my ablution at the
Karuara-Koshta-Tirtha. A carriage of the Math had come there from
Kalavai with persons to buy articles for the Maha Puja on the 10th
day after the passing away of the Acharya Guru (the 66th Acharya).
But one of them, a hereditary maistry of the Math asked me to
accompany him. A separate cart was engaged for the rest of the
family to follow me.
``During our journey, the maistry hinted to me that
I might not return home and that the rest of my life might have to
be spent in the Math itself! At first I thought that my elder
cousin, having become the head of the Math, it might have been his
wish that I was to live with him. I was then only thirteen years of
age and so I wondered what use I might be to him in the Institution.
``But the maistry gradually began to clarify as
miles rolled on, that the Acharya, my cousin in the purvasrama, had
fever which developed into a delirium and that was why I was being
separated from the family to be quickly taken to Kalavai. I was
stunned with this unexpected turn of events. I remained in the
kneeling posture in the cart itself, shocked as I was, repeating
Rama Rama, the only spiritual prayer I knew, during the rest of my
``My mother and the other children came sometime
later only to find that instead of her mission of consoling her
sister, she herself was placed in the state of having to be consoled
by someone else!"
The 87 long years of his reign as the 68th
Sankaracharya of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam form a glorious chapter
by itself in the history of Hinduism and that of our own country. It
will be in the fitness of things to conclude this tribute to the
centenarian sage of Kanchi by recalling ``Maitreem Bhajata" the
Benediction specially given by His Holiness and sung by M.S.
Subbulakshmi at the United Nations General Assembly on October 23,
``Cultivate friendship which will conquer all
Look upon others as thyself.
Renounce war; forswear competition.
Give up aggression on others which is wrong.
Wide Mother Earth, our Mother is here ready to give
us all our desires.
We have the Lord, our Father, compassionate to all.
Ye peoples of the World!
Restrain yourselves, Give, Be kind.
May all people be happy and prosperous".
Shreyo bhooyat Sakala Janaanaam!
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