The Heart of Vaidika Brahmanas

Kunigal Sri Rama Sastri[i] had once embarked on a pilgrimage to Rameshwaram. Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar III had made all the necessary arrangements for the same. A team of chefs and servants, a palanquin and strongmen to carry it—this entire family accompanied him. Additionally, he had also issued hukumnamas [Royal Order] to the relevant administrative authorities of the places where Sri Sastri would camp for the night en route regarding the issue of travel permits, and the distribution of utensils, provisions and the like. Sri Sastri’s journey thus began with his attendant personnel and his close disciples.

Sri Raju Sastri

Mayuram or Mayavaram[ii] was a big town that he encountered in his pilgrimage. This town is famous in Tamil Nadu and was home to the aged “Mahamahopadhyaya” Mannargudi Raju Sastri. He was adorned with the “Kulapati” (Vice Chancellor) honorific. Kulapati is a Vidwan who provides food and accommodation to one hundred students and imparts education to them. This was Sri Raju Sastri’s stature. He descended from the lineage of the singularly-renowned Appayya Dikshita[iii]. As Kunigal Rama Sastri approached Mayavaram, Sri Raju Sastri silently merged with the group of pilgrims. However, he didn’t reveal his identity. Sri Rama Sastri was seated in the palanquin. On his part, Sri Raju Sastri walked on foot next to the palanquin, his hands folded. Even for food and accommodation, Sri Raju Sastri did not request for a tent or camp. He would finish his meals elsewhere, he would return and stand silently beside the palanquin at the exact time of departure.

The Curiosity of his Disciples

Sri Raju Sastri’s disciples observed all this. After about two or three days, they began to feel upset. And outraged. “Our Guru is a Mahamahopadhyaya. He is learned in all the Sastras. Moreover, he’s a Kulapati. A man of this eminence walking next to the palanquin like a nameless, faceless, unknown person? How haughty must the person inside the palanquin be! Sri Raju Sastri is aged. That man is not. He doesn’t have even the basic courtesy of showing respect to an old man by not allowing him to walk on foot. He hasn’t even uttered a single word. And our Guru is following this supremely cavalier person! This is an insult to us. We’ll no longer tolerate this!” The disciples yelled in fury at such a high pitch that it reached Sri Raju Sastri’s ears. In turn, Sri Raju Sastri smiled a little and spoke as follows.

Thirst for Knowledge

Ayya, the person in the palanquin is a stellar Vidwan. I am following him in order to learn from him. He is still unaware of this fact. It is a common occurrence for lay people to be fascinated by and to join a palanquin and the group accompanying it for a few steps. And then they go their own way. Right? Therefore it is natural for Sri Rama Sastri to regard even me as one among the folks of aimlessly curious people who accompany his retinue for a short distance. Right? We have now seen him only for two days. Be patient for two more days. You will realize his value on your own. He has gone to Nadia[iv] (or Navadwipa) and studied the Navinanyaya[v] [or Navya Nyaya] school. I do not know the method of Navinanyaya. I hail from the Prachina Nyaya [or classical Nyaya] school. My age does not permit me to travel to the Bengal country and learn Navinanyaya. My only option is to seek refuge in the tutelage of scholars who arrive here from that country. It is to gain this benefit that I am following Sri Rama Sastri. There’s nothing insulting about this. You have some patience and see for yourself.”

Acquaintance

Sri Raju Sastri’s disciples temporarily adhered to this preaching. The following day—perhaps three days later, Sri Raju Sastri, as usual, was walking beside Sri Rama Sastri’s palanquin. Then, somewhere along the way, Sri Rama Sastri stopped the palanquin and addressed Sri Raju Sastri: Rama Sastri: “Who are you sir?” Raju Sastri: “I am Raju Sastri. I’m from Mannargudi. I have come to you to seek the alms of Sastra instruction.” The moment he heard this, Sri Rama Sastri alighted from the palanquin, prostrated before Sri Raju Sastri and touched his feet doing the Sashtanga Namaskaram. Then he recited the Pravara[vi] in the traditional fashion, finishing his salutation with “aham bho abhivAdayE.” The reader can deduce what happened next. After pleasantries were exchanged and the journey was resumed, Sri Rama Sastri requested Sri Raju Sastri to sit in the palanquin first. When Sri Raju Sastri refused, Sri Rama Sastri said in a decisive tone that from then on, it was inappropriate for him to sit in the palanquin alone, and that even he would finish the rest of the pilgrimage on foot. Sri Raju Sastri acquiesced. Both Vidwans sat in the palanquin, discussing various aspects of Sastras and reached Rameshwaram. They stayed there for a few days and returned in the palanquin. On the return journey, Sri Rama Sastri visited Mayavaram and stayed in Sri Raju Sastri’s home as a guest for two happy days. He then returned to Mysore. This was the path of the Vidwans of yore. This episode was narrated to me by Right Honourable V S Srinivasa Sastri.

This is the English translation of the seventeenth chapter of D V Gundappa’s Jnapakachitrashaale – Vol. 5 titled “Vaidikadharma Sampradayastharu.”

 

Footnotes

[i] Kunigal Ramasastrigala Caritre [Biography of  Kunigal Rama Sastri]—M.S. Puttanna (Kavyalaya, Mysore, 1952, Page 65). Footnote in the original.

[ii] Since renamed as Mayiladuthurai in the Nagapattinam district, Tamil Nadu.

[iii] Appayya Dikshita (1520—1593 CE) was a prolific performer of numerous Yajnas, a towering Vidwan of Advaita philosophy and author of numerous works on Vedanta, Kavya, and Alankara.  He flourished towards the close of the reign of the Vijayanagara Empire.

[iv] A district in today’s West Bengal bordering Bangladesh to the east.

[v] A development of the classical Nyaya School of Indian philosophy. Navya Nyaya was founded by Gangesha Upadhyaya of Mithila in the 13th Century CE.

[vi] A traditional recitation of one’s lineage starting with the name of the Rishi who founded the lineage, the Gotra, the Veda, the branch of the Veda and the Dharma Sutra.

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.