Māgaḍi Lakṣmīnarasiṃha Śāstri--Real-life Examples

This article is part 5 of 6 in the series Māgaḍi Lakṣmīnarasiṃha Śāstri

Real-life Examples

He used to give real-life examples to drive home the import of a scriptural tenet. This made his lessons entertaining—a feature common to lessons given by Śrī Hānagal Virūpākṣa Śāstri.

He recalled the following incident while explaining Syādvāda[1]:

It seems on a fine morning Hānagal Virūpākṣa Śāstri arrived at Śaṅkara-maṭha and stood in a corner. It was his day of haircut. In those days, barbers carried their accessories in a small skin-bag of a unique shape. Virūpākṣa Śāstri spotted a person holding a similar bag and said, “Shall we get started?” The person was enraged. “What is this Svāmi, do I look like a barber?” he thundered. To this, Śrī Śāstri replied, “I said so because so it seemed to me. Please don’t take offence. If you’re not a barber, just say so and be done with it.” This did not calm him. “Still, sir, you turned me into a barber!” he said indignantly. His trail of annoyance continued.  

When the initial accusation is entirely unjust and fallacious, mere negation won’t salvage the error!

On another occasion, Lakṣmīnarasiṃha Śāstri said: “Scriptures are meant to provide strength and succor; not to agitate and distress.” He then narrated this episode to illustrate his point:

About eighty years ago (in the 1930s), there lived a great scholar by name Veṅkaṭa-rāmāvadhāni. He hailed from Kaṭṭe Maḻavāḍi. He was a master of the Vedic ritual and was a salakṣaṇa-ghanapāṭhī[2] of Kṛṣṇa-yajurveda. Whenever disputes related to Dharma-śāstras arose, people went to him for judgment; his was the final word on this topic. He was an invaluable treasure to the Vedic community. The works he authored with much effort and diligence—such as Yājuṣa-prayoga-ratnākara—are veritable lamps that guide the group of purohitas in our State.

It was usual for a small group of scholars to assemble at his residence in the evening every day. On one such evening, in the middle of banter, a householder came to see Śrī Avadhāni. He had come seeking solution to a problem: one of his parents had passed away a few months ago. It had escaped his attention to perform a ceremonial rite at the end of the fifth month. “Can I perform it now?” was his question. Śrī Avadhāni told him: “Yes, you can of course perform it now. Do it. Bhagavān will secure your welfare and happiness.”

The person was now at peace. He left with a calm, light heart. Soon as he stepped out, all the assembled scholars pounced on Śrī Avadhāni. “What you did just now is unbecoming of a person of your stature. You misguided him. Where is the evidence for your words? The fifth month has long elapsed; it is sacrilegious to perform the ceremony now!”

To this, he replied: “Don’t you all get it? That the person actually came looking for a solution proves his śraddhā. Should we not respect that? Besides, the purohita can perform an expiatory rite to remedy the transgression of time. Scriptures are there to supply strength and encourage people on the path of virtue. They should not cause unnecessary hassles. For the sake of mere argument, I can debate both for and against the topic at hand. And to support both these arguments, I can quote appropriate smṛti passages. But to what end? Of what use is a scripture if it does not provide much-needed solace?”

Avadhāni’s magnanimity made the scholars mute. Lakṣmīnarasiṃha Śāstri used to tell us many incidents like this one to bolster the lessons.

It liked his philosophy students to also learn Vedic recitation. Accordingly, he taught Veda alongside the commentaries on Vedānta. And because of this, many students learnt Rudra-praśna, Camaka-praśna, Taittirīya-upaniṣad, Mahānārāyaṇa-upaniṣad, Aruṇa-praśna, Daśa-śānti etc. Interested students learnt many other portions of the Vedas.

While teaching Vedic recitation, he demonstrated various ways to chant a hymn melodiously, while maintaining the accents intact. If an udātta appears after a string of anudāttas, reciting it with a subtle intra-note ornamentation (gamaka) gives a unique ring. Śrī Śāstri enumerated many nuances of pitch and rhythm—like the extent of stress to be laid on a mahāprāṇa (aspirated syllable).

He maintained a high degree of precision and refinement in everything he did. His Vedic knowledge was prodigious. Once, as a special invitee, he participated in an all-India Vedic conference held in Pune, which was organized by the Government.   

In Assemblies of Scholars

The depth of his scholarship was on display in assemblies of scholars. He was the āsthāna-vidvān (resident scholar) of Sringeri Maṭha. He used to participate in its annual congregation of scholars. People who listened to his expositions then recall them fondly to this day. Vidvān Gaṇeśa-bhaṭṭa, erstwhile President of the Pāṭhaśālā, recounts:

“Śrī Lakṣmīnarasiṃha Śāstri’s mastery of Vedānta was unparalleled. In debates organized at Sringeri, he never chose to expound on a run-of-the-mill commentary on the Brahma-sūtras. He always chose a scriptural tenet that involved intricate logic. He explicated complex subjects of Brahmānandīya for several years. Brahmānandīya is a commentary on Madhusūdana-sarasvatī’s Advaita-siddhi and is full of high-flown logical arguments. One of the reasons for Śrī Śāstri choosing this treatise is that it provided him an opportunity to contemplate on the higher reaches of Logic. Another reason was that Jagadguru Abhinava-vidyātīrtha Mahāsvāmi was fond of Logic. Since Śrī Śāstri was an excellent orator, his listeners were always in for a treat.”

[1] A theory developed by Jains, according to which seven postulates (or assertions) can be made about everything in the world. Since these statements contain the word ‘syād’ (possibly), the theory is termed ‘syādvāda.’ It is also called anekāntavāda.

[2] Ghanapāṭha is one of the eight modes of Vedic recitation. It aims to preserve the text intact, along with accentual intonations. The format of a Vedic hymn in its original form is termed Saṃhitā-pāṭha. Upon breaking this down into constituent words—as per the rules of Vedic phonetics—we derive the Pada-pāṭha. Ghanapāṭha involves numerous permutations and combinations of the words in Pada-pāṭha. It can be illustrated in the following manner: 1+2, 2+1, 1+2+3, 3+2+1,1+2+3; 2+3, 3+2, 2+3+4,4+3+2, 2+3+4 … (where numbers connote the individual words). A ghanapāṭhī is one who has mastered this form of recitation. A salakṣaṇa-ghanapāṭhī is one who has grasped the six Vedic limbs, which help in deciphering the meaning of hymns, alongside mastering recitation in the Ghana format.

To be continued.




Dr. S R Ramaswamy is a renowned journalist, writer, art critic, environmentalist, and social activist. He has authored over fifty books and thousands of articles. He was a close associate of greats like D. V. Gundappa and Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sharma. He is currently the honorary Editor-in-Chief of Utthana and the Honorary Secretary of the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs.



Shashi Kiran B N holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a master's degree in Sanskrit. His interests include Indian aesthetics, Hindu scriptures, Sanskrit and Kannada literature, and philosophy. A literary aficionado, Shashi enjoys composing poetry set to classical meters in Sanskrit. He co-wrote a translation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh’s Kannada work Kavitegondu Kathe.