The Tradition of Smārta-bhāgavata-s
It is easy to infer from his name that Sastri belonged to a family of Vaidikas. He beloned to a sub-community called the ‘vaḍama’ (northern branch) of the Southern brāhmaṇa community: his family were devoted to Viṣṇu and were smārta-s. There is a small sect of smārta-s who are called the Bhāgavata-s. Sastri belonged to one such sect. Men belonging to the smārta-bhāgavata community normally wear vibhūti on their forehead. On special occasions they have gopi-chandana and ūrdhvapuṇḍraka too. Normally, Sastri didn’t donany such external indicators. During his ṣaṣṭyabdi (60th birthday), he wore vibhūti on his arms and gopi-chandana on his forehead. After the śāstra-karma-s (rituals) got completed, he prostrated before Govindaraghava Iyer, held his feet with his hands and recited his pravara – “Ahaṃ bho abhivādaye!” ("I saltue!") I saw this and asked him – “What is this special observance today?”
Sastri then told me –“Govindaraghava Iyer is really a great man, a pious person and a great scholar. He is noble at heart and is generous in his deeds. His house is a dharma-satra (A place where free food and shelter are provided for people in need). There is no student who has not eaten at his house. He is the only ray of hope for every poor student. I will tell you yet another thing – this is personal (and confidential). When Lord Penland, a aristocrat, was the Governor of Madras, he appointed Govindraghava Iyer as the member of the Legislative Assembly for the fourth time. Govindaraghava Iyer was a very famous lawyer and a good speaker. He had tremendous scholarship in Sanskrit and was devoted to the nation. 'How will the assembly shine without a person of his calibre?' – thinking so, Lord Pentland appointed him once again.
When Govindaraghava Iyer was nominated for the fourth time as the member of Legislative Assembly, he wrote back to the government saying that he didn’t want to occupy the post due to his age and recommended my name for the same. I had no clue about this. I received a letter from the Governor’s secretary and I was surprised to hear this. ‘How did the government’s eyes fall upon this poor school teacher? There are several other men more eminent than me’ I thought!
The Governer called for me and told me in person: ‘The person who recommended you is no ordinary man; it was Govindaraghava Iyer! Can we turn down his words? Would you turn him down?’ – he asked me. See! This is the greatness of Govindaraghava Iyer! I prostrated before him and touched his feet because even today such great men exist – this thought gives me tremendous happiness”
Govindaraghava Iyer often visited Bangalore. He not only visited the city for his job as a High Court judge but also to relax during the summer months. It was evident that he was a very great scholar; he was clean in his thoughts, words and actions. Just one instance will suffice to demonstrate how great a person he was: he was one of the favourites of Diwan Sir M. Visvesvaraya and under some intimate ocassions, he had been of tremendous help and solace to Visvesvaraya. The assistance he had extended to the Diwan was not related to his profession of a lawyer. It was purely out of friendship and affection.
At times, Govindaraghava Iyer went to Hampi to spend his summer there. Hampi’s sublime atmosphere and pristine surroundings were the main attractions for him. Every morning, after having his bath and finishing the morning āhnika-s, he would climb up the gopura of the Virupaksha temple. He went to the second storey and spend time from 8 AM till 12 PM there. He enaged himself in going through texts or in meditating. After having his lunch, he relaxed from about 2:30-3:00 PM until 5-5:30 PM. Meditation, studying a text and peace.
Whenever a book caught his eye, if the subject was of his liking, he would somehow try to procure the book – either on loan or by borrowing it from the owner. He invariably read the book from cover to cover. He then sat together with his friends and discussed its contents. This was his thirst for knowledge.
Before Govindaraghava Iyer took up the profession of a lawyer, he served as a professor for philosophy at the Pachaiyappa's College. Later, upon entering a publicly visible life, his words flowed seamlessly in a simple but profound manner. His house was an anna-satra which provided free food for students in need.
Our country is yet to develop the culture of documenting the lives of such stalwarts. I suggested this to a few close relatives and aides of Govindaraghava Iyer. My efforts were not fruitful.
Srinivasa Sastri passed the BA exam with flying colours – he secured First Class and stood first in his batch. He was awarded a Gold Medal for Sanskrit. His father Shankaranarayana Sastri was extremely happy with his son's achievement. He organised a get-together to celebrate his son’s achievement and had invited his close friends to have a meal. Many of his guests were great scholars. As was the practise, several of them recited śloka-s during the meal. One of them recited the following śloka:
यद्द्व्यक्षरं नाम गिरेरितं नृणां
सकृद् प्रसङ्गात् अघमाशु हन्ति यत्।
भवानहो द्वेष्टि शिवं शिवेतरः ॥
yaddvyakṣaraṃ nāma gireritaṃ nṛṇāṃ
sakṛd prasaṅgāt aghamāśu hanti yat।
bhavānaho dveṣṭi śivaṃ śivetaraḥ ॥
This verse was uttered by a maharṣi in connection with Dakṣa-brahmā. You are ‘aśiva’ and you have harboured animosity for Śiva, the Lord of the universe!
When Srinivasa Sastri heard this śloka, he asked it to be recited once again. The scholar did so. Sastri then raised a question about it:
“The second half of the verse has the word ‘śivam’ and the first half contains ‘yannāma’. What is the relation between the two? How do we do the anvaya (parsing of words) in the śloka?”
The scholar gave some answer: “That is an ancient usage. We shouldn’t question it!”
Sastri: “Should we revere something just because it is ancient, even if it has shortcomings in grammar and prasability?”
Srinivasa Sastri's father who was listening to this conversation was enraged by his son’s words. He said – “Che! You have developed ego and have turned arrogant! You are disrespecting scholars just because you have gotten that piece of gold? You don’t know their greatness and their erudition! You are haughty!”
Sastri narrated this to me and said – “See sir, I took an oath at that moment: I'll not try correct any one else's grammar hereafetyr. The older generation is short-termpered! Extremely short-tempered, I must say!”
I remained silent for a moment and said – “Unfortunately, (Mohandas Karamachand) Gandhiji was not fortunate enough to experience the fruits of your oath. He has published all the grammatical corrections you had given him for his writings – it has appeared in the ‘Young India’ magazine!”
“What can I do, sir! I have been a school teacher for several years and have been correcting students’ grammar! How can I overcome such practises – they have become a part of my blood!”
We all laughed.
There is another related incident
Satyamurthy was one of the famous orators of Chennai and belonged to the Congress party. He once visited Bangalore and the newspapers contained information about his visit. Srinivasa Sastri invited me to accompany him for the talk. I ridiculed him:
Me: “Are you going there to listen to the talk?”
Sastri: “Shouldn’t I go? He speaks very well”
Me: “You'll go, listen to the talk and then crib over his grammar”
Sastri: “No, sir! I need to attend the lecture! How can I not go! Satyamurthy is smart and intelligent. He is generally well-read about the subject of his talk. He raises several new and interesting points. We don’t have to agree with everything he says, but his presentation of arguments certainly needs to be appreciated. We can gather the points he makes. Come! Let’s go!”
We attended the lecture. We stood at the edge of the huge crowd that had gathered at the venue. As we were on our way back, an analysis of the lecture followed. (Sastri’s commentary was in Tamil on the occasion)
“அந்த Feller பாருங்கோ சார், நல்ல - Parliamentary manner... (Look at him, sir! Nice style of presentation, suits the audience). His words were filled with valour and were deep. But, I have told him several times – ‘You should be careful in using prepositions’”
(For instance, in the phrase ‘Get on’, ‘on’ is a preposition)
To be continued...
This is the fourth part of the English translation of Second essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 6) – Halavaru Saarvajanikaru.