The Tiger Mouth of Sri Chappalli Vishweshwara Sastri

Tiger’s Mouth

Let’s now return to the marriage hall. It was a festival of five or six days. Whether he went to the marriage hall or to the temple, Sri Chappalli Visweshwara Sastri mixed with great ease and was patient with everybody. He was soft-spoken. A majority of the numerous Vidwans who met him were Madhva Brahmanas. It appears that several episodes related to our Sastras were brought up for discussion. But I couldn’t spot the Tiger’s Mouth even once. I was astonished: where was the famed Tiger’s Mouth? Where was the lion?

Eight or ten years elapsed after this incident. In 1910, I approached Sri Chappalli Visweshwara Sastri and expressed my desire to learn Sanskrit Literature at his feet. He assented with great happiness. At the same time, I also received permission to stay in his outhouse. Thus, this proximity helped the lessons to progress at a good pace.

Two more years went by. On occasion, a great assemblage of Vidwans gathered at the Shankara Matha. Such greats as Mahamahopadhyaya Subrahmanya Sastri, Vaidyanatha Sastri, Nuggehalli Tirumalacharya, Hariyacharya, and Srinivasacharya graced the occasion. Sri Chappalli Visweshwara Sastri and other Vidwans from Hoskote were also present. One of the Vidwans brought up some topic related to the Sastras—if memory serves me right, it was Nuggehalli Tirumalacharya. Sri Subbasastri raised opposition to it. An argument erupted over it. Sri Chappalli Visweshwara Sastri joined the fray.

The Tiger’s Mouth manifested itself at that point.

Sri Chappalli Visweshwara Sastri replied that a specific word used by one of the arguers and counter-arguers wasn’t correct in form and even if he tried hard to justify its usage, it would still lead to an erroneous meaning. The entire debate took place in Sanskrit. In the process of presenting his argument, the stand he took, the examples and analogies he employed, his tone, and his oratory stunned everybody. That was the purest instance of exemplary oratory; it was command over the subject at its finest.

Thus, apart from debates, Sri Chappalli Visweshwara Sastri was as gentle as a newborn calf, always smiling, always soft. He would open up easily, he would freely mix with everybody. He was authoritative in matters of Sastras. He was compassionate in his humanity. He was humble at all times.

The Profession of Sri Chappalli Visweshwara Sastri

The family name of Sri Visweshwara Sastri is “Chappalli.” I eventually learned that there were three or four branches of this lineage. However, I didn’t inquire whether “Chappalli” was the name of a town or village and if it was indeed a town, where it was located. Equally, I don’t know when and under what circumstances Sri Sastri came to Bangalore. I also don’t know the name of his Guru. It appears that he came to Bangalore before 1890.

The Chamarajendra Sanskrit Patashala[i] hadn’t been born yet. In the initial days, Sri Chappalli Visweshwara Sastri used to teach at the homes of some individual families. Prominent among them were Sri V N Narasimhayya Iyengar and B. Venkatapati Iyengar. Together with the efforts of Bhashyam Tirumalacharya and others, the private Sanskrit Patashala that began at Tulasitota (in Chickpet) witnessed Sri Chappalli Visweshwara Sastri joining as a Upadhyaya (teacher). This private school was then taken over by the Government. This is the original form of the Chamarajendra Sanskrit Patashala.

Owing to this change, Sri Chappalli Visweshwara Sastri became a Government employee. The day he received the Government appointment order, Sri Sastri went to Sri V N Narasimha Iyengar’s home to share this good news. Beaming with joy, Sri Iyengar congratulated him with,

śāstrībhāvamapākṛtya
mestribhāvamupākṛtaḥ    ||

You were a Shastri till now.
From now on, you are a mestri.

This verse has two meanings: the word “mestri” can mean a schoolmaster or a supervisor of construction workers. Sri V N Narasimha Iyengar was famous for indulging in such sarcasm. Indeed, Sri V N Narasimha Iyengar is a fit subject meriting a separate biography.

Eventually, Sri Chappalli Visweshwara Sastri joined the Central College as a Sanskrit Pandit.

Around this period, Sri Arcot Srinivasacharlu the chief of the Muzarai Department,  attempted to bring in reforms in the administration of Temples. To this end, he requested the assistance of Sri Chappalli Visweshwara Sastri who in turn refined[ii] the “Shaivagama Sara” to make it fit for publication.

Prior to Sri Chappalli Visweshwara Sastri, Sri Ramasesha Sastri was the Sanskrit Pandit at the Bangalore Central College. A few words need to be said about him.

Sri Ramasesha Sastri

I personally don’t know anything about Sri Ramasesha Sastri. I will narrate an episode about him which was recounted to me by one of his disciples, Sri Navaratna Rama Rao[iii].

Sri Ramasesha Sastri was a profound scholar of both Sanskrit and Kannada. Apparently, it was a treat to listen to his lessons on poetry. He would read aloud Kannada poems and metres in an enchanting style and explain their meanings attractively. Students from other classes and even professors would stand outside the window (of his classroom) to listen to his lessons. The English professor J.G. Teat was among such professors who savoured his lessons standing outside the window.

Mr. Teat had learnt some Kannada and had begun to learn Sanskrit.

As was customary, Sri Ramasesha Sastri had come to college in the morning. He didn’t have any classes scheduled. Because he had free time, he was standing in the verandah in the front portion of the college building chatting with two or three of his co-lecturers. At that exact time, Mr. Teat arrived at the spot and joined the chatter. After five minutes, Mr. Teat requested permission to take leave and shook hands with four or five members of the group. Then he extended his hand towards Sri Ramasesha Sastri:

Rama: “You must kindly excuse me. I will not touch your hand.”

Teat (in Kannada): “But why?”

Rama: “You have kept the cigar in your mouth and you’ve touched it with your hand. That’s impure.”

Mr. Teat immediately flung the cigar bit in his mouth, went inside his room, washed his hands and then extended it once again.   

Teat (in Kannada): “Surely, it’s possible now?”

Rama: “It’s impossible even now. Today is Amavasya. I need to go home, take bath, purify myself and perform some auspicious rites. Therefore, I can’t touch you.”

Teat: “In which case, when will I have the opportunity to shake hands with you? I feel genuinely happy to shake your hands.”

Rama: “I feel happy to do any work that makes you happy. Some other day akin to today, I will personally let you know in the morning. That day, you can shake my hand.”

Mr. Teat felt truly elated by this. He praised the commitment of Sri Ramasesha Sastri towards his vow and held him up as an ideal among his students.

 

Notes

  1. The Chamarajendra Sanskrit Patashala in Bangalore is an iconic heritage institution with lasting value. At present, it has been rechristened as Sri Chamarajendra Samskrita Graduation and Post Graduation Center, also known as the Karnataka Sanskrit University. It is one of the oldest centres of traditional Sanskrit learning in Karnataka, first established as ‘Vaani Vidyashaalaa’ in 1885 with the collaboration of the Education department and many Sanskrit lovers. It used to impart education in Alankara, Veda, Yoga and allied Sastras and was home to several generations of towering scholars, and teachers. In 1896, the then Maharaja of Mysore Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV extended generous monetary assistance, enabled the construction of a new building and the institution was subsequently renamed as the “Chamarajendra Sanskrit Patashala.”   
  2. A work that deals with the details of managing, conducting Pujas, rituals, and other aspects of managing temples dedicated to Shiva.
  3. One of the ablest administrators in the then Mysore State. He served in various eminent positions such as Amildar and retired as Director of Industries and Commerce. He was also responsible for establishing the Silk industry in Mysore and was appointed as the Vice Chairman of the Central Silk Board of India.

 

Author(s)

About:

Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.

Translator(s)

About:

Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.