Culture, History, Religion


Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer the great Carnatic Composer of the 19th Century, from Thiruvaiyaru in Tamil Nadu came to be known as Maha Vaidyanatha Sivam or later just as “Sivam-Val”. This came about as a result of his exemplary devotion and shraddha to Shiva. Throughout his entire life, he did not miss a single day of Siva puja, not a single Sandhya Vandana went unobserved.

Not a morsel of food went into his mouth till the time he had finished his Siva puja. If he was traveling and the special box containing the murti/lingam of Siva and his puja articles did not reach him on time or reached late, he simply fasted.

To ensure that he did not miss a single Sandhyavandana he would often commence his Kacheri (concert) at 3 pm in the afternoon or earlier and finish it before 6 pm. If that were not possible he would start the concert after 6:30. If even that was not possible, he would simply stop the concert, perform his Sandhya and only then commence from where he left off – he could be in the middle of an alaap but when the time came he would stop – he never carried a watch or kept time but it was like Shiva himself whispered into his ears for when the time came Vaidyanatha Sivam would stop everything and do his anushtana.

The audience would wait patiently till he came back – how could they not wait, for wasn’t it Shiva himself who had taken a “break”?

To him everything including the Sandhya was an offering to Shiva. Later, he developed an incredible ability to compose a song and sing it extemporaneously – it was as if Shiva, pleased with his devotion took out his Trishula and wrote on his tongue, triggering this outpouring of divine music…

He was so lost in “Siva-Tattva” that it was his elder brother who took up the responsibility of arranging concerts and other administrative matters. Sivam-Val sang only for the sheer bliss he derived out of it.

He never established a Shishya Parmapara but such was the divine shakthi he exuded that 20-30 students stayed at his house. Not once, Yes, not once did Sivam-Val sit down to teach them, but they learnt just by listening to his divine singing… Each of these students lived, slept, and ate at his house but Sivam-Val was almost oblivious of their existence! They still learnt and became musicians in their own right…

Sivam-Val is more well known for his magical composition of the seventy-two melakarta ragamalika composition that is saturated, soaked, and dripping with religious fervour. 

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What many don’t know about Sivam-Val is that he was one of the great saints, no less than the great Muthuswami Dikshitar himself…If there is an exemplar, an example of what can be attained by simply following the Nitya Karma Anushtanas then it is Sivam-Val…

Note: The melakarta ragas contain all the seven notes in the Indian octave and these are distributed among the twenty two srutis or music intervals which are again reduced to twelve intervals giving rise to the sixteen swaras of the melakartha scheme.

Image from: Internet Sources

Culture, History, Religion

The secular loot of Hindu temples (Part-02)

This is Part-2 of the article that documents the ongoing “secular loot” of temples across India. The idea is to make this a living and continuously updated document of how successive governments and the law have come together to institutionalize the loot of temples – “secular loot,” because it is secularism  and the way it is applied in our country that is at the root of the problem – what is the justification for Temples alone to be under government control while mosques and Churches are free to do as they please?  

When it comes to loot of temple donations and assets there is no difference between the Congress or the BJP, the two major parties that have primarily enjoyed power at the center – both of them looked/look at Temples as sources of easy funds – interest-free, no liability, no tenure, and no compulsion to repay – unless temples are freed from government control Hindus and Hindu temples will continue to be exploited by governments. 

One kilogram of gold necklaces was reported missing from one of the deities in the Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanam (TTD) – later, a priest confessed to the theft and was arrested. The TTD has in its possession jewelry worth 45,000 crores – how much of it is actually still safe? When was the last audit of temple assets and their status conducted? Have the findings of the audit conducted in 2005 and the “inventory of assets” conducted in 2009 ever been published? Questions that have no clear answers.

What is however clear is that the temple and the riches it contains – ancient artifacts, jewelry, coins and antique jewelry, devotee contributions in cash and kind etc. are simply not safe under government control – this is a classic case of the fence eating the crop. 

A more recent incident of loot of devotee donations that has come to light is that of the Shri Kollur Mookambika Temple, in Kundapura Taluk of Udupi district. See image below:

Temple collections at the Kollur Mookambika steadily grew from 31 crores in 2015 to 44 crores by 2017. The amount spent by the government on the temple (or on devotee welfare) however remained static – a mere 68,000 each year! Where did the difference go? Where was it routed, or to whom? No answers. 

At the same temple, Shivaram B, a bill collector was arrested for pawning 2,423 grams of gold jewels donated by devotees and spending the money on alcohol and paying off debts he had incurred.

The Maharashtra State government took over the administration of the Shani Shingnapur temple by enacting a bill purportedly “with a view to make the Temple Trust administration more encompassing, transparent and also to provide better amenities to devotees.” The government claimed to have received complaints about irregularities at the temple but offered no proof of these allegations. Through this legislation, the government will not only gain control over the movable and immovable assets of the Temple but importantly gain the right to appoint its own Management Committee members – this is particularly important in the light of what recently happened with the Shirdi Sai Sansthan (discussed later in this article). 

Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut gave a new twist to this story when he claimed that the Government move was purely political and was an attempt by the government to get their own people into the temple administration committee. 

However, a carefully worded statement by the State Government, appeared to let the cat out of the bag:

“There were some incidents that created a law-and-order situation. Therefore, it has been decided to reconstitute the existing public trust and bring Shaneshwar Devasthan under the control of state government under the new Act,”

And what were these acts? A completely discredited “activist” Trupti Desai leading a gang of women with the only intention of desecrating a Hindu place of worship. Clearly, in addition to taking control of the administration of the temple, this decision was also to ensure that the “secular” government would pander to the feminist demand to break tradition and allow access to women into the garbha griha of the temple to touch and worship the deity. Much like the recent Supreme Court verdict on Sabarimala, which was based on a need to pander to the “Feminist Imperative” with scant regard to tradition, it appears that the takeover of Shani Shingnapur temple has at least partially got to do with the need to “modernize” Hindus.

The Shiv Sena accused the present Fadnavis government of targeting only temples while sparing Churches and Mosques. The Shiv Sena legislators while protesting outside the Maharashtra assembly voiced their concern about the loot of temples under government control including the Tuljabhavani temple in Osmanabad – here too there have been reports of embezzlement of funds and loot of devotee offerings. 

The info-graphic below summarizing the loot of Temple assets in Tamil Nadu shows how 50,000 acres of prime temple land has been lost to encroachments.

The Madras High Court ordered the TN-HRCE to initiate urgent steps to retrieve these 50K acres at the earliest but little has happened since then, with the HRCE reluctant to take any concrete steps. 

This however is only the tip of the iceberg. Tamil Nadu temples in particular have always been and continue to be the focus of evangelical activity and encroachment. Four examples below that show the extent of the problem:

  • Manimoortheeswaram Uchishta Ganapathy temple in Tirunelveli: Christian Cemetery built right in front of the temple, on land captured from the temple.
  • Sannaidhi Street, Tiruparangundram – land belonging to the Murugan temple used for running a convent
  • Pasupatheeswarar Siva temple atop Vajaragiri (Chennai-Trichy highway) – attempt to encroach the hill by erecting a cross on the hill, subsequently removed
  • Sarveswaran Kovil, Pangunathan; Dharmapuri – demolished and a church (St. Paul and Peters) erected 

In Kerala, the Cochin Dewaswom Board is apparently planning to convert the Tekkinkadu maidan (ground), the venue of the annual Thrissur pooram at the ancient Vadakunathan Temple into a kitschy park with water pools, concrete walking spaces and other such unnecessary things aimed probably at obstructing many rituals associated with the Thrissur Pooram festival and other functions that are conducted at the temple grounds. 

The Shirdi Sai Sansthan Trust (SSST) which runs the Shirdi Sai Mandir at Shirdi; Ahmednagar was recently made to contribute an “interest-free” loan worth Rs 500 crore to the Maharashtra government for constructing a canal network for a dam. Not only is the loan interest-free, there is also no mention of “tenure” or payment date. What is the logic of calling it a loan when there is no tenure, payment-date, or interest on principal? This is plain and simple loot sanctioned and executed by the State government.

Apparently this is not the first time that the Maharashtra government has dipped into the coffers of the SSST – The trust was made to contribute 70 crores for carrying out development works in Nagpur and the Vidarbha region. Earlier, 50 crores were taken from the Trust and handed over to the Maharashtra Airport Development Company. What has the government done in turn? Apparently nothing other than a promise of 3,000 crores for the temple and the town of Shirdi out of which not a rupee has been given to the Temple or the city.

Dhananjay Munde of the NCP even accused the Maharashtra government of violating rules regarding appointment of trustees for the Saibaba shrine – If this is true, then it is clearly a move to take complete control of the temple and siphon off funds contributed by devotees toward “secular” purposes – why is the same yardstick not used when it comes to Mosques or Churches?

In addition to the loot there is also the ongoing demolition of heritage structures and devatha murtis in the ancient city of Kashi that I wrote about here. Those who defend these demolitions in the name of Vikas (development), do not want to talk about why only Hindu temples are targeted for demolition and not churches or mosques – welcome to secular India.

It would be fitting to close Part-2 with this image that says much more than a million words. It won’t be long before careless, secular Hindus become history – Bhajanai Koil Street becomes “Matha” Koil Street… just like that…

To read Part-01 of this article, click here

Culture, History, Religion, Spirituality

Sadasiva Brahmendra – The Avadutha-Mouna Muni

Two events changed the very contours and course of Sadasiva Brahmendra’s life completely – the first transformed him from a Brahmachari on the threshold of Grahastha-ashrama-dharma into a Sanyasi and the second from a Sanyasi into a Mouna-Muni (silent sage), an epitome of the“Dakshinamoorthy-Swaroopa”

In his celebrated “Atma Vidya Vilasa” (“Living in the Knowledge of the Atma/Self”), which Sri Ramana Maharishi considered a masterpiece on Advaita, Sadasiva Brahmendra describes in the space of 62 verses what and how it “feels” to live soaked in the bliss of “Atmanananda” (The joy of self-realization) Anyone who reads it along with Sadasiva’s life story would be able to conclude that it is actually an autobiographical account of Sadasiva’s life particularly after he “crossed over to the other side”

Consider verses five and six below where he talks about that momentous moment when the crossover happened:

स्वाविद्यैकनिबद्धः कुर्वन्कर्माणि मुह्यमानः सन् । दैवाद्विधृतबन्धः स्वात्मज्ञानान्मुनिर्जयति ॥ ५॥

He who was earlier bound by his own ignorance (despite possessing all knowledge of the Vedas), and who was engaged in and tied to (worldly) activities and felt bewildered (as a consequence of that), now shines as a victorious sage, having by God’s grace, shaken-off his shackles, with the knowledge of and the realization of the Atman (his own Self).

मायावशेन सुप्तो मध्ये पश्यन्सहस्रशः स्वप्नान् । देशिकवचःप्रबुद्धो दीव्यत्यानन्दवारिधौ कोऽपि ॥ ६॥

He who was sleeping (in ignorance), completely under the influence of maya and seeing a thousand dreams (in the waking state too), is now awakened by the words of his guru and (forever) delights in the ocean of bliss.

Sivaramakrishna to Sadasiva:

No one is clear on the exact date-of-birth of Sadasiva Brahmendra. However, there is universal consensus that he was a contemporary of two other prominent Hindu saints of the time Sridhara Venkatesa Ayyaval and Sri Bodhendra Saraswathi the latter being the 60th Jagathguru of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. This would place him in and around the 18thcentury. The three were in fact Veda Pathashala classmates.

Sadasiva was born to the couple Moksha Somasundara Avadhaani and Parvati and was named Sivaramakrishna. It was later that he came to be known as Sadasiva, for he was forever in an exalted state, merged and completely soaked as it were in Siva-Tattva.

Sivan Sir (Sri Sadasiva Sastrigal), a great saint in his own right and the purva-ashrama brother of the Kanchi Mahaperiayava Shri Chandrashekarendra Saraswathi has dedicated an entire chapter to Sadasiva Brahmendra in his Tamil book “Yeni Padigalil Mandargal”

In that book he never refers to “Sadasiva” as “Brahmendra”. He calls him “Brahmam” meaning “pure essence” because he believed that Sadasiva had transcended the human form and was a living example of “Brahma-Tattva” in its purest form. At several places in the book he also chooses to use the pronoun “It” to refer to Sadasiva.

As was the custom in those days, Sivaramakrishna was invested with the poonal (sacred thread) when he was five and enrolled into a Veda Pathashala where he was the brightest star – precocious and gifted but with an argumentative streak bordering on stubbornness and a strong determination to win every argument. As soon as he finished his study of the Vedas, his parents got him married and as was the custom during those days, Sivaramakrishna continued to live with his parents as a Brahmachari and his wife stayed with her parents till she attained puberty.

Soon after she attained puberty a grand function and feast was arranged by Sivaramakrishna’s parents to welcome her to their house. As his mother was busy with the arrangements, Sadasiva’s food was delayed. He was hungry and when he asked his mother to serve him food, she jokingly retorted that his wife was coming home, hence the delay and he probably should also tone down his expectations post-marriage. This stray remark had a strange effect on 17-year old Sivaramakrishna. He thought if this is my state before my wife comes home what would it be after she comes home and he fell into deep contemplation. That night he walked away never to return.

One might ask the question as to how this was fair to his wife but that is a question that is relevant only to those on the human plane of existence. For those like Sadasiva, or Ramana, or the Buddha for example when the “call” comes there is no room for such thoughts. The individual is led as it were by a force that takes complete control over him/her who has submitted to its will – complete Sharanagati. 

For a few years he was a parivrajaka, a wandering monk before he met Sri Paramasivendra Sarasawathi Yati and became his disciple.It was during his time here that he composed three of his great works on Advaita- ‘Bramhasuthra Vrithi’, ‘Yogasuthra Vrithi’, ‘Siddhantha Kalpavalli’

It was here that the second big change happened – Many other saints, philosophers and scholars used to visit Sri Paramasivendra Saraswathi’s ashram and they used to indulge in debates on topics of Vedanta, philosophy and so on. Sivaramakrishna who as we noted earlier had a strong argumentative streak used to participate in all of these debates and always won each and every argument – he was fierce, stubborn and never gave a quarter and argued aggressively with the sole intention of winning. Many senior scholars felt humiliated and some of these vanquished scholars went to Sri Paramasivendra Saraswati and complained to him about how they felt humiliated by Sivaramakrishna.

The Guru called his disciple and asked him “Siva, of what use are these debates? When are you going to conquer your tongue?” This question triggered something in Siva and he answered “Guru!Today I believe that I have truly received your grace…” That was it, the great scholar, the fierce debater, the argumentative young man descended into absolute silence and never opened his mouth again.

This event must have happened when Siva was probably in his early twenties. Records show that he was well over a 100 years old when he attained Sajeeva-Samadhi- so he never uttered a word for well over eighty years of his life – Siva that day became Sadasiva, the mouna muni. He also walked out of the ashram much like he had walked out of his home – he became an Avadutha, the sky-clad sage with not a care for the body or social etiquette or the vicissitudes of the individual ego.

He used to sit under a tree or simply lie down on the ground completely unaware of his surroundings or his own body lost in meditation. Some of his ashram mates who saw him in this state, reported back to his Guru saying that Siva had become insane. The Guru who was aware of what had happened replied “It is that ‘madness’ that I myself have been searching for. I am sad that the very same ‘madness’ that has overwhelmed Sadasiva has not yet come to me. I would gladly give up anything to be overcome by such madness…

Sadasiva – the Kalpataru

Sadasiva had completely consumed Sivaramakrishna andhe wandered oblivious of himself but conscious of only his “Self”. He slept in the open fields and was sometimes found lying in the cowshed in animated conversation with the cows. People who took him to be a madman soon realized that there was a strange peace that pervaded his presence and he seemed to emit an other-worldly Shakti. They also noticed that any place he visited was soon transformed. If he slept in the courtyard of a house during the night and walked away without a word early next morning it meant that the people of the house could expect a long unfulfilled wish to finally come true – it could be the desire for a child, relief from a chronic disease or escape from poverty and soon.

There are several miracles attributed to Sadasiva Brahmendra some bordering on the unbelievable and incredible. It would be beyond the scope of this article to chronicle all of them. We will however look at one of them that has been immortalized in stone at the Isha Yoga Center in Coimbatore. Once Sadasiva walked right through the harem of a Muslim Nawab who had pitched his tent on a field. Sadasiva, stark naked walked in from one end and out through the other. The Brahma-Jnani that he was, he walked in a trance oblivious to the women and their screams of horror on seeing a naked man.

On witnessing this, the Nawab overwhelmed byuncontrollable rage, ran after the naked saint and with his sword drawn severed one hand of Sadasiva from behind with one stroke of his sword. The severed hand fell down. But Sadasiva unaware of the fallen arm, the bloody stump, or the flowing blood kept walking.

The shocked Nawab picked up the severed arm and ran after Sadasiva, caught up with him and fell at his feet apologizing profusely. Sadasiva noticed him and gesticulated asking him what the matter was. The Nawab showed the severed hand to Brahmendra and apologized once again. Sadasiva once again gesticulated to him to place the severed hand in its appropriate spot. To the amazement of the Nawab the severed hand fixed itself without any problem whatsoever and Sadasiva walked on. His fame spread far and wide after this incident and people tried to meet him or make him sit at one place or establish an ashram but for Sadasiva none of this mattered. He remained till the end a wandering Avadutha.

He is said to have met Raja Thondaiman of Pudukottai and initiated him into the Dakshinamurthy Mantra by writing the mantra on sand. The King picked up the sand and this sand is preserved till today in a casket and worshipped at the Dakshinamoorthy temple inside the Pudukottai palace in Pudukottai

The Dhana Akarshana Yantra in the Kalyana Venkataramana Temple in Thanthoni Malai (who is the Kula Deivam of this author) was also placed there by Sri Brahmendra.

Sadasiva Brahmendra attained Jeeva Samadhi in Nerur (Karur district of Tamil Nadu). There are reports of people having seen him enter into Jeeva Samadhi simultaneously at 5 places symbolizing the dissipation of the physical body into the panchabhutas – the other four being Manamadurai, Puri, Kashi, and Karachi. Of these it is only the Nerur Adishtanam that remains popular and also there is a small Shiva temple at Manamadurai. The others have disappeared due to lack of knowledge or sheer negligence.

It is ironical that Sadasiva Brahmendra’s kirithis like Manasa Sancharare, Bruhi Mukundethi, Pibare Rama Rasam, Gayathri Vanamali, or Bhajare Gopalam are more famous than the great saint who composed them. Perhaps their popularity is due to the fact that they have been sung by Carnatic greats like M.S Subbulakshmiand BalaMuraliKrishna.

It is believed that Sadasiva Brahmendra still residesin a Bilva tree near his Samadhi and anyone who meditates there can experience his presence and grace. It might not matter to the Brahmam (Sadasiva Brahmendra) that so few people know of him because as he notes in the fifty-third verse of his autobiographical Atma Vidya Vilasa:

The king of sanyasi’s rests alone, established in the Self within and enjoying inner bliss; he rejects nothing that comes to him and never desires what does not come to him…

However, it should matter to those who are on thepath for there is much to gain from not just reading about Sadasiva Brahmendra but by also visiting his Samadhi at Nerur.

Pictures:The Nerur Adhishtanam and the Samadhi of Sadasiva Brahmendra

This article first appeared on Sirf News and can be accessed here

Culture, History, Obituary, Religion

Jayendra Saraswathi – The Shankaracharya Who Chose Path Less Traveled

The 69th mathadhipati (head of the mutt) of the revered Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham, Sri Jayendra Saraswathi who attained samadhi on Wednesday, 28 February, was interred in the Brindavanam inside the mutt premises. Sri Jayendra Saraswathi was not only very different in personality from his immediate predecessor Sri Chandrashekarendra Saraswathi but also from most acharyas of the Kanchi lineage. He broke barriers, pushed the envelope, tested the limits of orthodoxy that his predecessor insisted upon and guarded all his life, and took risks while charting the mutt through previously uncharted territories in his quest to expand the footprint of the Kanchi mutt.

His belief in and single-minded pursuit of “manavaseva is Maheshwaraseva” (serving the man is serving God) transformed what was a mutt that was purely focussed on the spiritual into a socially and culturally vibrant organisation that today runs several hospitals, schools, Veda pathashalas, a deemed university, senior-citizen homes and several temples.

Sri Jayendra Saraswathi was also instrumental in inspiring and establishing the world famous Sankara Nethralaya group of eye hospitals. His outreach programmes aimed at bringing Dalits, the poor and downtrodden into the fold of Hindu dharma and weaning them away from the clutches of evangelical Christianity meant that he had to bend and sometimes break the rigid rules of the mutt. This earned him enemies both within and without and he suffered for it but he never took a step back. It wouldn’t be wrong to say if the paramacharya was a present-day version of Sri Ramakrishna, then Sri Jayendra was a modern day Swami Vivekananda. As the MahaPeriyava once said, “If I am the ichchhashakti (will power), he (Jayendra) is the kriyashakti (power of execution).”

Here we look at some of the key events that shaped the life and legacy of one of the great gurus of our times.

Subramanian from Irulneeki

MR Seshadri, assistant professor at the Meenakshi Sundararajan Engineering College, Chennai, remembers the Monday of 22 March 1954 when the boy Subramanian received his sannyasa deeksha and mahopadesha at the Mukthi Mandapam on the banks of the Sarvateerthakulam (tank) in Kanchipuram.

To the 10-year old Seshadri who was at the Sri Matham that day, with his mother Rajammal (who was a close friend of Subramanian’s mother), the boy Subramanian came across as a jovial, happy-go-lucky young man with a large grin and an innocent face. He says, he wondered then if the young man knew what he was getting into.

From that day on, 19-year-old Subramanian became the 69th head of the Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham and was given the sannyasa name of Sri Paramahamsa Parivrajakacharyavarya Sri Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal. It would set him on a tumultuous journey where he would experience great highs, desperate lows, unimagined fame, respect, and glory while also being subjected to needless calumny and slander all ending though in glorious vindication and final sublimation in the divine.

Subramanian Mahadeva was born on 18 July 1935 in the small village of Irulneeki in Mannargudi, Thiruvarur district of Tamil Nadu, to Mahadeva Iyer and Saraswathi. Initiated into the learning of the Rg Veda at the age of 5, Subramanian continued his further Vedic studies and the dharma shastras at Thiruvidaimarudur under the tutelage of BrahmaSri Krishnamurthy Sastrigal. This move to Thiruvidaimarudur came about through the grace and direct intervention of the 68th Mathadhipathi, Paramacharya Sri Chandrashekarendra Saraswathi who knew the family; this was an early indication that the senior pontiff was taking a keen interest in the boy Subramanian.

Soon enough in the year 1948, the Paramacharya sent a word through the mutt managers to the family that he considered Subramanian as the most suitable to succeed him as the 69th pontiff of the revered Kamakotipeetham. Six years later would come the initiation into sannyasa followed by a 17-year period of study, training, meditation, and contemplation under the direct guidance of Sri Chandrashekarendra Saraswathi. Devotees started referring to the senior pontiff as “Maha-Periyava” and the younger Jayendra Sarswathi as “Pudhu-Periyava”.

The story goes that, in addition to all the other qualities that the MahaPeriayava saw in the boy Subramanian, one characteristic that he noted was that the boy’s horoscope showed a strong dhana-akarshana (attraction to wealth) in addition to jana-akarshana (attraction to people) and jala-akarshana (attraction to water). That was the time when the mutt found it difficult to get sufficient funds even for the daily puja. The MahaPeriayava’s intuitive decision to choose the boy Subramanian would turn out to be a masterstroke as the latter turned out to be truly an irulneeki (dispeller of darkness) for the mutt in particular and dharma in general. He would also set the mutt on a completely new and hitherto uncharted path that would make it one of the highest profile Sankara mutts of the country.

Image result for jayendra saraswathi

Flight and return

On 9 September 1987, several lakh devotees lined the streets of Kanchi and thronged the mutt to welcome back their dear Swami who had deserted them 17 days earlier[2]. Many had tears in their eyes and the atmosphere was charged with the chants of “Jaya Jaya Sankara, Hara Hara Sankara” as the crowd of devotees sighed in relief and others openly wept on once again seeing the smiling and familiar visage of Sri Jayendra Saraswathi. Even the heavens opened up that day and the uncharacteristically heavy downpour flooded the narrow streets of Kanchipuram, but this did not dampen the spirit of the devotees. Apparently, Sri Jayendra’s socio-cultural outreach programs and attempts to take the mutt to hitherto uncharted territories and political activism when he took on the divisive Tamil-centric Dravidian agenda of M Karunannidhi stating that Sanskrit was his father and Tamil his mother did not go down well with many people including those in the mutt. This activism and socio-cultural outreach did not go down well with old mutt hands and this was perhaps the reason for his sudden and unannounced disappearance from the mutt. He said later that he returned because of his love and attachment to the Paramacharya and to assuage the anxiety of his devotees. Soon after his return, he was closeted with the MahaPeriyava for over two hours. He announced later that he had obtained permission to plunge into the hustle and bustle of society and make a difference.

Social service

Sri Jayendra Saraswathi believed that the only way to revive and re-invigorate the dharma would be to take it to the doorsteps of every home. Jana-Kalyana and Jana-Jagarana were born out of this desire to flatten the opportunities and reach the poorest of the poor irrespective of caste or socio-cultural status. The credit of bringing this missionary zeal to propagate the Dharma goes entirely to him. For example, during the Bhuj earthquake he traveled over 800 Kms meeting with victims, providing solace and courage and organizing reconstruction of destroyed houses.

His decision to issue certificates to trained priests belonging to any or all communities of Sri Tantra Vidyapeetham, Kerala was not only brave but path-breaking. To him should go the credit of being the first to break the caste barrier in the appointment of priest to temples.

The Veda Rakshana Nidhi Trust that runs and aids several Veda pathashalas, conducting examinations, awarding certificates, the Veda Sastra Pandita Raksha Sabha, the Veda Patha Nidhi Trust, the Dharma ParipalanaSabhas were all set up with the sole aim of promoting and preserving the rich cultural heritage of Bharat.

The Sri Chandrashekarendra Saraswathi Viswa Mahavidyalaya a deemed university, the special girls hostel in Kanchipuram, the many Sankara schools across southern India, the Sri Jayendra Saraswathi Ayurveda College and Hospital, the Kanchi Kamakoti CHILDS Trust Hospital, the SIES Senior’s Home in Nerul, Navi Mumbai and the world famous Sankara Nethralaya Group of Hospitals are all testimony to the vision and determination of Sri Jayendra Saraswathi. Sri Jayendra Saraswathi was firm in his view that it was more important to revive and rebuild old temples than establish new ones. He is credited with having conducted no less than a thousand Kumbabhishekams all over India including the North East.The temple in Gangtok, Sikkim for the Jawans at the border and the initiation of the Sindhu Pujan in Ladakh are examples of the extent of his outreach.

His vision is best captured by what he said during the Vajra Mahotsava celebrations on completion of 80 years in 2014: “Feed the poor. Look after the needy. Educate the illiterate. Empower them to earn their daily wages and lead a life of dignity. Every morsel of food they eat from your efforts is your bhiksha vandanam to me.

Jail term

A vicious campaign mounted by elements from within the political, intellectual, media establishments, and a few disgruntled elements from within the mutt led to a campaign of slander and vendetta that further led to the foisting of a false murder case against him and his arrest. He was denied bail and made to languish in jail for two months before coming out on bail.

A reading of the comments made by Justice Narasimha Reddy of the Andhra Pradesh High Court tells us how this coordinated campaign was organized and driven:

“…the amount of disrepute and sacrilege inflicted upon Sri Jayendra Saraswathi, as of now, is so enormous that it has hardly any comparables” “harshest possible words were used directly or in innuendo against him”.

“Today he is subjected to similar treatment as was Draupati (sic) in the court of Kauravas.”

He adds:

Not only individuals, but also a section of the institutions, such as the State and the Press, appears to be determined to belittle and besmirch the Peetam.

It is interesting to note here that during my conversation with MR Seshadri, he also mentioned that the MahaPeriyava had not only noted the strong “dhana-akarshana” but also had seen that Sri Jayendra Saraswathi would suffer a brief period of kara-graha-vaasam (jail term). We, of course, have no corroborative evidence to confirm this, but one can speculate that perhaps he had confided in Sri Jayendra Saraswathi and it was perhaps this that explains the equanimity and stoicism that he displayed before, during, and after this bitter period of his life.

Sri Jayendra Saraswathi will be remembered as the first of the modern Sankaracharyas who dared to break tradition and as someone who took the teachings of Adi Sankara to people beyond the Brahmin community. That he was much loved by people of all communities and castes was evident from the number of people who turned up to pay their last respects including many Muslims of Kanchipuram.

He converted an inward-looking spiritual mutt into a vibrant, socio-culturally relevant and philanthropically active organization in the key areas of health, education, revival of dharma and social reform. His successor Sri ViJayendra Saraswathi has his work cut out but his job has been made easier by his predecessor who chose to tread the path less travelled.

This article first appeared on Sirf News and is available here

Culture, History, Spirituality

Dharma and its significance

The reason we find ourselves in this present state is a result of Dharma being divorced from culture and politics. In ancient India Dharma ring-fenced everything.

In the Shanti parva of the Mahabharata Yudhistra asks Bhishma about how the King derives his divine right to rule. Bhishma cautions him saying while it may be that he has a divine right, let us not forget that he has a social contract to the people and this social contract is subservient to Dharma. A king who fails to uphold Dharma can be removed by the people.

Kautilya makes an even more elegant observation – Dharma and Danda are the the two guiding principles but even Danda is subservient to Dharma. The power of a ruler to use Danda (punishment) is lost the moment he fails to follow Dharma or uphold it in the country and the people have the right to rebel and remove such a king. Unlike the Stuart Kings of England/Europe we were never a culture where the King was answerable only to God and by default to the Church. Every single act was for the protection and promotion of Dharma which ring-fenced the cultural, social, economic, political, religious, and spiritual domains of a state.

There is also the example of the Jain monk Aryadeva who once stood up to a King and asked him “Who are you, you who survive on 1/6 of the grains we give you, what gives you the right to treat people like your servants, you have been appointed to serve us…”

Today, those who bring up the need for Dharma-Rakhshana are disparaged as the “Cultural-right” not understanding that Left and Right are western constructs that have no meaning as far as we are concerned and cultural-right is plain stupidity.

One valid argument I have heard on this is that no one has made an attempt to build and showcase a framework of how Dharma can be brought back into focus and if a Dharma-based polity is at all possible (given how much things have changed). It is in this direction that efforts have to be made and a workable framework and/or a white paper needs to be brought out. That should be the starting point…

File:Krishna and Pandavas along with Narada converse with Bhishma who is on bed of Arrows.jpg

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Culture, History, Religion

Why did Yudhishthira agree to play the game of dice?

Why did Yudhishthira agree to play the game of dice? The reason that is most often cited is that he had a weakness for the game and couldn’t resist an invite to play the game. This is often used to show Yudhishthira as a weak and gullible fool in the newer re-telling’s  of the Maha Kavya. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While it is true that Dharmaputra did have a weakness for the game on top of being unskilled at it, he however did not jump at the opportunity to match wits against someone of the caliber of Sakuni who was the undisputed master of the game and had an uncanny knack of always winning against any opponent through means fair and foul. To assist him were three brothers of Duryodhana – Vivimsati, Purumitra, and Chitrasena all three, experts at the game. It was an unequal contest with the dice loaded against Yudhishthira right from the beginning. So, why did he agree to the contest. Was it just his “lust” for the game?

A deeper reading of the Mahabharata informs us that Yudhishthira not only knew what was at stake but actually did not want to get into this game. He knew that it was sure to end in utter ruin for himself and the Pandavas but also for the entire Kuru race.

As Kisari Mohan Ganguly’s notes in his voluminous translation (into English) of the Mahabharata:

“…Yudhishthira said,–‘O Kshatta (Vidura), if we sit to a match at dice, we may quarrel. What man is there, who knowing all this, will consent to gamble? What dost thou think fit for us? We all are obedient to thy counsels.’

‘It would seem then that some of the most desperate and terrible gamblers always depending upon deceit are there. This whole universe, however, is at the will of its Maker, under the control of fate. It is not free. O learned one, I do not desire, at the command of king Dhritarashtra to engage myself in gambling.

Unwilling as I am to gamble, I will not do so, if the wicked Sakuni doth not summon me to it in the Sabha? If, however, he challengeth me, I will never refuse. For that, as settled, is my eternal vow.”

Like some brilliant body falling before the eyes, Fate depriveth us of reason, and man, tied as it were with a cord, submitteth to the sway of Providence,

Kamala Subramaniam’s Mahabharata also has this passage:

To a certain extent Yudhishthira could guess the consequences of the game of dice… He told Vidura (when he came to know who he would be up against): “The cleverest of the players have been selected. I am weak at the game, and Sakuni is a veritable wizard at throwing the dice. But, what can I do? All that happens in the World has been ordained by the Creator. What can we do when Fate has already planned the way in which events must take place? I am helpless. The King (Dhritarashtra) knows my principle that I will never disobey the commands of my elders. This Kingdom of mine does not belong to Dhritarashtra, and I am  not bound to obey him… but my uncle has sent for me; he knows that I will not disobey him even if I can afford to…”

I hate to play the game of dice knowing that it leads to evil. But it is the unwritten law that elders must be obeyed. It is also the rule among kshatriyas that one must play when one is invited to play. He must not refuse. Knowing these things, my uncle has sent for me; he knows that I will not disobey him even if I can afford to. Let fate have her way. I will accompany you to the hated city, Hastinapura.”

Further, just before this invite, Yudhishthira had conducted the Rajasuya Yagna where Sishupala was killed by Krishna. Evil omens and portents had been witnessed by all who had assembled there that day and Vyasa had confirmed to Yudhishthira that this was only the beginning and the next 14 years would be terrible for the Pandavas and that would be followed by a terrible internecine war that would cause the destruction of almost the entire Kuru race. Yudhisthira had decided then that he would do nothing to provoke anyone within the extended family in order that such an event must never come to pass. This was also on his mind

Therefore there were several reasons besides his fondness/weakness for gambling. In fact given a choice he would have rejected the invite but he could not or would not because:

  1. He would never disobey his elders
  2. Kshatriya rules dictated that he could not reject the invite without being called a coward
  3. He knew that fate and God’s will were setting the wheels in motion
  4. His desire and love for the game was the last and least of the reasons.


Culture, History, Religion



To me this is the most important and inspirational moment in the great kavya. Without this epochal event, this magnificent leap, there would be no Ramayana, Sita would never have been rescued and Rama would surely have lost his way.

Symbolically too, as my Guru often says this is a moment that comes to everyone in his/her “Quest” and it is then that a leap such as this must be made with the strength of Shraddha and the Sankalpa of a determined will one must take the plunge – that great “Qunatum leap” into the unknown as Swami Vivekananda called it…

// Hanuman looked like a wild bull with his powerful neck stretched to the full and looking upwards. He was to achieve what no one had till then…. He saluted the Gods presiding over the quarters – Surya, Indra, Vayu, and Brahma. He then turned to the East and saluted his father, Vayu. With his mind he saluted the valiant brothers Rama and Lakshmana. He then made obeisance to the seas and to the rivers. Hanuman embraced his companions and made up his mind to set out on the memorable journey.

He shook himself and roared and it was like the rumbling of a thunder cloud. He swung his large tail in the air and the tail looked like an immense snake pulled by Garuda. He placed his two hands on the surface of the rock on which he stood. He shrunk his waist and folded his legs. He then thrust out his neck and so he stood poised for the flight into the air. He looked far and held his breath. He turned to the monkeys and said:

“I will go straight to Lanka as an arrow which is released from the bow of Rama. If I do not find Sita there I will go to the heavens and look for her there. If she is not found even there I will return to Lanka and bring Ravana with me, bound hand and foot. I will somehow return with success. I may even uproot the city and bring it with me. I WILL SUCCEED.”

Thinking that he was Garuda himself the great Hanuman jumped up with great force. Because of the speed of his course, the trees on the mountain were pulled up with their roots. With the flowering trees rushing along with him Hanuman entered the skies. The trees went with him some distance and it seemed as though they were well-wishers who went with him some distance to make the journey fruitful. The sea was now a mass of flowers from the trees which had fallen into it after accompanying the great Hanuman some distance.

Hanuman coursed through the sky like a thunder cloud driven by the air…//

– Kamala Subramniam, Valmiki Ramayana

Every time I read this a divine thrill courses down my spine. This is the determination, this is the shraddha, this is the sankalpa that each one of us needs…

अतुलितबलधामं हेमशैलाभदेहं
दनुजवनकृशानुं ज्ञानिनामग्रगण्यम् ।
सकलगुणनिधानं वानराणामधीशं
रघुपतिप्रियभक्तं वातात्मजं नमामि ॥

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