Kashi Raghavendracharya: The Devout Sanskrit Guru

My first Sanskrit Guru was Sri Kashi Raghavendracharya. Although there were numerous Sanskrit Vidwans in Mulabagal, there was no formal Sanskrit Patashala (School). The three or four schools in town didn’t have any facility to teach Sanskrit. My father had immense enthusiasm and reverence towards Sanskrit. He made repeated applications to the Government requesting it to introduce Sanskrit classes in my school, the Ango-vernacular Middle School. And until the Government acceded to his request, he appealed to the generosity of the public to this end and convinced Sri Kashi Raghavendracharya to join as the Sanskrit teacher in our school. Sri Raghavendracharya was renowned in Punganur and Madanapalli. He had attained mastery in Sanskrit Kavya (literature) and Grammar. Additionally, he desired to study Madhvacharya’s philosophy in Mulabagal under the tutelage of Sri Avaruru Narahari Acharya, who has been mentioned earlier[i] in this volume. The Sanskrit School ran smoothly for some time thanks to the generosity of private patrons and eventually merged with the Anglo-vernacular School. Sri Raghavendracharya became a Government employee in this manner.

A Clash

  Sri Raghavendracharya was short-tempered. Clashes would frequently erupt between Headmaster Chandrashekhara Sastri and Sri Raghavendracharya in the matter of keeping up with time. On one or two days a week, Sri Raghavendracharya was indisposed to attend school before four in the evening. He would frequently receive invitations from various places to perform Utsavas (festivals), Mangalaprasta (ritual consummation of marriage), and other auspicious events. Everyone needed a Vidwan of his towering stature in this small town. He couldn’t refuse the invites. However, any person will require some rest after finishing lunch at four. Additionally, Sri Raghavendracharya was pretty stout. The clock would strike five by the time he woke up from his nap on the school bench. Our lessons would begin at that hour. On our part, we were in a hurry to leave school as soon as possible. In this light, the Headmaster would chide him on occasion. This gave cause for exchange of bitter words.

Teaching Methodology

  He was endowed with deep commitment towards teaching and exhibited great strictness and discipline with the students. Students had to memorize words from the Shabdamanjari[ii].  On demand, they had to recite verses from the abridged Ramayana from any random portion. The same principle applied to the Dhaatu pATa (word-root forms). The first dictum was to have all lessons on the tip of the tongue. There was absolutely no rebate to this rule. If the student missed even a single syllable or alphabet or made a mistake in pronunciation, pure hell awaited him. My Sanskrit class comprised four students. We had a leader: the Headmaster’s son Srinivasayya. On occasion, we indulged in a bit of mischief. It was five in the evening. Students of all the other classes had left for the day. Just the two or three of us remained, waiting for Sanskrit lessons. We stood before the window flaps. I forget which lesson it was but none of us had fully memorized it. As soon as Sri Raghavendracharya asked us to recite it, Srinivasayya opened his mouth and uttered some random stuff. All of us were keenly aware of Sri Raghavendracharya’s response in such situations. It went something like this. Sri Raghavendracharya would make a fist and thump us on the head or back. In this case, the moment he saw Sri Raghavendracharya’s hand go high up in the air, he quickly ducked his head. Sri Raghavendracharya’s fist crashed directly into the window flap. The pain doubled the torrent of his abuses. As he taught his lessons in the afternoons, he would sit on the bench, trap a student between his knees, knot his feet together, pinch the student’s ear with his fingers and command, “filthy whore.” At this point, the lesson had to instantly flow like a great flood from the student’s mouth. Typically, a Dhaatu pATa like “BhU sattAyAm||Edha vruddhau saMGharshE||”  If an error occurred somewhere: (1) the tip of the ear would be pinched hard (2) the pressure of the knee would increase (3) a solid blow on the back.

Attractive Style of Teaching

  Although this method of instruction might sound tough to my contemporary readers, it wasn’t rare in those days. Overall, we were obstinate, shameless. We didn’t heed these punishments seriously. Situations that would make us forget these punishments occurred frequently. Each time Sri Raghavendracharya began to narrate or describe an episode, we would be hungry for more. The appeal of his narrative style was simply magnificent. His words would capture the mind, his word usage was energetic, vigorous, his countenance and hand gestures matched his speech, a sprinkling of humour—his oratory was truly marvelous. He was endowed with extraordinary prowess in teaching poetry. I clearly remember his Raghuvamsha[iii] lessons. When he described the meaning of the first verse, “pArvatIpa + ramEshwarau” (pArvatIpasca ramEshwarasca= pArvatIparamEshwarau) he displayed the sheer magic of splitting one word (pArvatIparamEshwarau) into two. Instead, there is greater delight in splitting the word as “pArvatI + paramEshwarau.” The fact that Kalidasa was a devotee of Ishwara (Shiva) is clear from his works—Sri Raghavendracharya rendered a brilliant exposition of this and related matters. In that exposition, apart from a few words of Kannada, the commentary was entirely rendered in Sanskrit. He was a great literary connoisseur.

My Troubled Times

 

Kodubale

 

Before the summer holidays began, Sri Raghavendracharya commanded me and my classmates to memorize about thirty or thirty-five Dhaatus and their etymology during the vacations. I spent three quarters of my vacations indulging in gluttony and mischief. When there was just a week to go before school reopened I recalled Sri Raghavendracharya’s stricture. At that point, I opened the Shabdamanjari and placed it before me. Fear struck my mind. Sadness dawned followed by whining. I bawled loudly. My grandmother was supervising the workers who were pounding paddy in the front lobby of my house. It was maybe seven in the evening. Lamps were lit—earthen lamps filled with pongamia oil. My grandmother asked, “why are you crying child?” Me: “Look at this granny! He’s given me so many lessons! I’m supposed to memorize all of this!” She came close to me, “Here, give me the book, let’s see,” she said and took the Shabdamanjari in her hand and measured it. She didn’t know the alphabet. “What’s this? This is so tiny. It’s small as a finger. When you say thirty or thirty-five, how much do you think it is? How many Kodubale[iv] do you eat from morning till evening? Each page is not even as big as a single Kodubale. What kind of a man are you to weep over this?” she chided. Everyone laughed. This filled me with some courage. I memorized as many as possible.

My Dedication Towards Studies

  Another similar episode. A few months after my Thread Ceremony, my relatives expressed a wish to see me. Accordingly, my elders decided to travel to the Anekal and Sarjapura region. That journey occurred in summer. The route was to first head from Mulabagal to Kolar and then via Bowringpet. The night before the appointed day, my father gave an order. “The Samith required for your Agnikarya[v], a cup of Akshata, a box of ghee, utensils for your Sandhyavandanam, a plate, the Amarakosha and Shabdamanjari—tie all these in a bundle and keep it in a sack.” I said, “oho! Sure!” Our journey began in a bullock cart at about ten in the morning the next day after finishing our meals. My father, mother, grandmother, and two of my father’s friends. Our travel diet comprised generous portions of Chakkuli, Kodubale, and puffed rice. We reached Tambuhalli (or Tampuhalli) by around one. We stopped the cart there, alighted, washed our hands and feet in the river, ate the snacks that we had brought along, drank water, and prepared to resume our journey. Then my father said, “Hey, open your bundle and pull out the Amarakosha and Shabdamanjari. The shade of the tree-line here is soothingly cool for some distance; let’s revise our lessons.” My heart shivered instantly. I opened my bundle and made a drama of being astonished, “Ayyo! Last night in darkness, I brought Easy lessons for Good Health and Manual of Agriculture by mistake instead of those two books!” The blows rained on my back instantly—together with a torrential rain of obscenities. I ran. My father chased me. I must’ve taken ten or fifteen blows. Presently, my grandmother intervened. Along with her, my father’s friends stood my guard. But for these contingency angels, my story would’ve ended that very day. I still feel that my father would’ve suffered eternal sadness (at the death of a son). That was the extreme anger that my father contained in him. A few days later, after everybody’s mind had calmed down, one of his friends asked me in front of everyone: “Hey son, when you were asked to read the abridged Ramayana, you embarked on reading about manure instead! You’re truly intelligent!” This humourous incident took place in the Suddakunte Anjaneya Temple just beyond Malur, where we had camped. Everyone present there laughed heartily. In those days, Government Schools had prescribed Medicine and Agriculture as part of the syllabus. Sanskrit was an optional subject. I had to anyhow study Agriculture. My relative Sri Daroga Subbanna upheld the subject of manure, which was part of Agriculture. Even after several days of this incident, he would unfailingly ask, “What my boy? Are you preparing manure? How’s it going?” My father was well-aware that I hadn’t left my Sanskrit books at home by mistake. In reality, I hadn’t forgotten to take them. I had developed an aversion to it—learning Sanskrit meant difficulty, it meant undergoing beating, it meant suffering blows, it meant getting ears pinched. That impression was certainly foolish. But then if a nine-year old boy needs to develop wisdom and perspective, he needs to be a born scholar like Vacaspati Mishra, Macaulay, and so on. He needs to be a great person. I don’t have a place in that line.

Arrangements for Discourse

  Sri Raghavendracharya was possessed with the highest levels of integrity and he was a tranquil person. After retiring from service, he shifted to Bangalore. He would see me often and bless me. The renowned Rao Bahadur Dr. C B Rama Rao once requested me for a Sanskrit Vidwan who would be able to deliver a discourse on the Mahabharata and Bhagavatam for an hour every day. I suggested the name of my Guru Kashi Raghavendracharya as being fully qualified for the task in all respects. Accordingly, Sri Raghavendracharya visited C B Rama Rao’s home and delivered discourses on these great books. Given this routine, Sri Raghavendracharya came home one morning and asked: “Gundappa, what’s this in this book? It’s in English. Please read and tell me.” I took “this” in my hand and read it. It was a menu card. It was part of an European dinner invitation that Dr. C B Rama Rao had received. The menu card listed some culinary items that were prohibited for Brahmanas. I decided that it was unnecessary to read out the names of those items to Sri Raghavendracharya and attempted to divert the topic. Sri Raghavendracharya said: “Don’t try to gloss over in this manner. I’ve already gotten it read by another person. He was just a boy. He didn’t understand the meaning clearly. That’s why I came to you. Tell me without any hesitation.” I said, “Please let this go, sir. Somebody has sent it to Sri Rama Rao. He has placed it as a bookmark. That’s all. That doesn’t mean that Sri Rama Rao has eaten forbidden food. Why should we worry about something that’s unclear?” Sri Raghavendracharya: “That’s all fine my boy. What does it mean, sticking this kind of paper in the Bhagavatam? Why should this sort of thing even come into contact with such a Sacred Work?” He opened his eyes wide and posed a few more such outraged questions. I didn’t attempt to answer them. The Bhagavata discourse programme came to an end a few days later. Sri Raghavendracharya was a devout Bhakta. He was a deeply learned Pandit in literature and grammar. He was a friendly, decent soul. His memory ennobles my life.

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

Notes:

[i] See: The Madhva Luminaries of Mulabagal

[ii] A compendium of various Sanskrit words and word forms.

[iii] Epic poem authored by Kavikulaguru Kalidasa.

[iv] A spicy delicacy made of Besan flour.

[v] The Sacred Fire ritual that a Brahmachari should perform twice every day in the morning and evening.

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.