Along with Mandi Hariyanna’s name, it is Dharmaprakāśa S Sajjan Rao’s name that comes to mind. The two were always together, like the Aśvini-devatas. Every morning, both of them would go for a walk, to get some air. It was the same routine every evening too. Their friendship gave the impression that a single soul existed in two bodies. If any friend encountered only one of them, it was normal to enquire, “How is it that you’re alone? Where is he?”
I had gained Sajjan Rao’s affection long before I was aquainted with Hariyanna. At that time, his business was located in Doddapete, north of Tuppadanjaneya Temple Street.
Sajjan Rao’s son-in-law and my esteemed friend Mannaji Rao was his business partner. An incident of that time has remained in my mind.
At that time, Sajjan Rao maintained a top class horse-drawn carriage. The horse was well-known all over Bangalore. Its sheath—from face to tail, without leaving an inch—was a spotless white. And it glistened. Its trot was akin to a dance. Ribbons of silver and silk were tied to it. Sajjan Rao’s horse was a real feast for the eyes of the citizens of Bangalore. What a lovely horse! Such a graceful trot! But then, it died one day; I don’t remember from what cause. There was no one who did not shed a tear in its memory.
I clearly remember the time Sajjan Rao bought a piece of land near Doddapete Square and constructed the building there, which is the place that eventually housed his business. A frightful incident occurred during that time.
While the construction work was still in progress, Sajjan Rao used to sleep upstairs in the premises during the nights. One night, just past midnight, while he was half asleep, he heard a terrifying scream of “Ayyo! Ayyo!” Rao was slightly alarmed. Yet, he arose, stood in first floor verandah of the shop, and looked towards the Doddapete-Chikkapete junction. What did he see? A man ablaze from head to toe. And that was hardly for a minute. The next minute, the man dropped dead.
Who was he? He was Bidare Ashwatthanarayana Shastri, an author of Kannada books. Shastri’s house was on a lane near the Kalamma Temple. Who knows what happenend, he slashed [the throats of] his two wives and two children, wrapped himself completely in a cloth, poured kerosene on it, and lit it up himself; screaming loudly, he ran to the Doddapete junction, fell down, and perished there.
Sajjan Rao himself narrated this ghastly tale to me the next day. Oh my god! Śiva Śiva! Śāntam pāpam.
It appears that spiritual bhakti had come naturally to Sajjan Rao even at a young age. He had high reverence for mendicants, sādhus, saints, fakirs, monks, yogis, and such holy people. I have alluded to this in my writing about Avadhūta Mahādeva Śāstri. It was Sajjan Rao’s nature to find, identify, and seek guidance of such noble people.
Under some circumstances, he was introduced to one Ramalingaswami, a recluse from Tamil Nadu. That acquaintance turned to devotion; single-minded bhakti. The Swamiji would never accept anything from anybody for himself. If any devotee insisted, owing to their deep devotion, he would accept a banana or a fistful of roasted corn and a cup of milk. No one seems to know his personal background. He would come often to meet Sajjan Rao. No one knows what transpired in their discussions. It was hidden even from his son-in-law Mannaji Rao, who was extremely close to Sajjan Rao.
But I’ve heard from a few people that Sajjan Rao constructed the Subramanyaswami Temple and the choultry on the advice of this Swamiji; I believe it might be so.
Whatever work Sajjan Rao chose to take up, he would do it immaculately. In the temples that he built, it was compulsory to wash not only the pillars and the vigrahas but also the ground, the mats spread on the ground, the maṇṭapa, and so forth. Any oil stains had to be scoured and shined. The monthly requirements of rock salt supplies, brooms, sack clothes – all these cleaning gear were listed and the quantity to be consumed written down. He would inspect whether work was being carried out accordingly, by inspecting with his own hands.
He had to visit Mirza saheb and other officials frequently in order to seek land for the temple. I used to see him often then. I have witnessed several activities that Sajjan Rao used to undertake like preparation of the building plan after obtaining the site, appointment of workers, and arrangement for stone, brick, and cement. There is perhaps not a single inch of stone in that building that has not been personally held in his hands and passed by Sajjan Rao. He ensured that not a single paisa was wasted. My recollection is that the construction work went on for two to three years. Rao used to remain at the site from morning eight to evening eight. His friends and others used to come there to meet him.
The temple construction was complete. Then, the prāṇa-pratiṣṭhāpanā (literally, giving ‘life’ to the vigraha) was done. And then, an amusing incident.
Senior surgeon S Subba Rao’s residence was near the temple. I had been there on a friendly visit. Sajjan Rao too joined within ten minutes. Dr. Subba Rao asked, “What’s this rāyare, you’ve built the temple. But it looks so bare and barren. Won’t you construct a gopura?”
Sajjan Rao replied, “No money, sir!”
Subba Rao immediately went into the room and returning, slammed on the table, a three kāsu coin and a biḍikāsu coin.
Sajjan Rao asked, “What is this?”
“You said you have no money. Take this. Build the gopura. How long can one see a temple without a gopura?”
Sajjan Rao then said, “Sir, I will seek money from all people who are virtuous in this world. There’s nothing in this that’s mine. God’s work has to continue due to the puṇya of people like you. Let this puṇya-kārya (noble work) begin with your money!”
The gopura construction started within a month or two after this incident. Sajjan Rao wore maḍi clothes and walked on the streets [seeking funds] accompanied by his wife. People were happy that such a good man had begun a noble undertaking. They contributed whatever they could to Rao’s plate. Those contributions should not be valued from the perspective of a bank. Nor from the point of view of numbers; but from people’s attitude. It was Sajjan Rao’s ardent desire that many people’s pure (flawless) devotion should fuse (integrate) with his efforts.
To be concluded.
This is the first part of the translation of the fifth essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 7) – Hrudaya Sampannaru. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.
 See episode 4 of Vol. 7 of Jnapakachitrashaale for a pen-portrait of Mandi Hariyanna.
 Kāsu was the smallest unit of currency, also called ‘damḍi’ or ‘pie.’ Four of this made up one anna. Sixteen annas made up a rupee. Basically Subba Rao gave an amount of one anna, which would amount to fifty rupees or more in today’s context. Biḍikāsu literally means ‘loose change’ but here it refers to a one kāsu coin.