Sri Mahadeva Sastri was the elder brother of Motaganahalli Sri Sankara Sastri. Even he was highly accomplished in music and literature. Every Ekadashi a Bhajan programme would be organized in his home. In this case, the word “bhajan” must be understood as music.
The ancestors of the Motaganahalli lineage were Vidwans, connoisseurs, and singers. One of these ancestors Sri Mahadeva Sastri had earned the honorific of “Abhinava” [Modern/contemporary] Kalidasa. Like him, his sons and grandsons had written lyrical compositions in Sanskrit set to music. In the Bhajan programmes organized in our Mahadeva Sastri’s home, the three brothers would sing these ancestral compositions. Arguments would ensue among them on occasion regarding the usage of a particular Ragam’s gamaka [musical embellishment]. These arguments would be along the following lines: for the literary emotion in this phrase/line, this gamaka is more appropriate; this musical strain is more appealing that the other one, and so on. Whenever there was the hint that the argument would continue, Sri Mahadeva Sastri’s word would be decisive and would end the argument.
Of the three brothers, Sri Mahadeva Sastri’s personality was truly striking and impressive. He was tall and always sported a gentle smile. He was a man of few words. But the expression in his eyes and hand gestures effectively conveyed his thoughts.
Sri Mahadeva Sastri was also a Ayurveda Vidwan. However, he didn’t roam around with a medical kit in hand. If someone came to his home seeking treatment, he would administer medicine.
Gentleness of Speech
Sri Mahadeva Sastri was endowed with delicateness in speech. If he required the polishing/rubbing stone specially kept for preparing medicine for patients, he would call out to his wife (in Telugu), “May the rubbing stone be brought.” This was indirect speech. I would tease him for fun, “Your sentence doesn’t have a subject at all!” Sri Sastri would retort, “Now wait and see, the subject will arrive.”
In this manner, his speech was filled with gentility and mirth.
I had liberty with all three brothers—Sri Mahadeva Sastri, Sri Sankara Sastri, and Sri Ramasesha Sastri. All three regarded me with love and affection.
Sri Ramasesha Sastri
[caption id="attachment_13077" align="alignright" width="469"] Maharani College[/caption]
Sri Ramasesha Sastri worked as a Sanskrit Pandit at the Arya Balika Paathashaala in Bangalore for some time. Then he joined the Maharani College in Mysore as a Sanskrit Pandit. After a few years, he was appointed as the Court Vidwan in the Mysore Royal Court.
He was learned in music and adept in singing poetry.
He translated the Mudrarakshasa play and the speech of Mukundananda from Sanskrit to Kannada. But his far greater service was the translation and publication of the Bhagavatam from Sanskrit to Kannada with word-by-word meaning and commentary. In this work, he was not only imbued by great mental and physical exertion, he was also beset with financial worries. In matters of the Sastra, he had the assistance and encouragement of his elder brother Sri Sankara Sastri, which acted as a backbone. In the matter of money, both were akin to Purandaradasa.[i]
The “Bhagavatam” work was being printed in Sri Krishna Iyer’s Irish Press as my own newspaper, “Karnataka.” This occasioned Sri Sastri and myself to meet often.
One day, I raised an issue just for fun.
“Sri Sastri, you claim that the Sri Bhagavatam was authored by Veda Vyasa, right? I have my own doubts about it. The poetic style of Sri Bhagavatam is not that of Veda Vyasa. Bhagavatam was authored by a Grammar scholar named Bopadeva. Indeed, there are doubts on this subject among ancient scholars themselves. You’re aware of the numerous scholarly works on this dispute such as “Durjana mukhachapetika,” “Atidurjana mukha mahachapetika,” and so on. I plan to write an essay dealing with all these.”
Sri Sastri (in Telugu): “My boy, allow me to finish my writing work. Let the books be sold. Then you do whatever you want. Don’t pour mud into a poor Brahmana’s mouth!”
I laughed and then said, “Sri Sastri, even I sincerely wish that your work must be completed and completed well. What does it matter who the author is? Just look at the kind of work it is! We should only keep that in mind, right?”
Sri Ramasesha Sastri was mollified. I earned the fortune and joy of his friendship till the very end.
Sense of Humour
Like his elder brother Sri Sankara Sastri, Ramasesha Sastri was a humourous person by nature. One morning when we were sitting in the bookshop of Vajapayee in Chickpet, the topic of modern Kannada poetry came up for discussion. I lived in Shankarapuram in those days. As an example, I recited a line from a Kannada poem that was being taught in the school near my house:
Alli noDu gaNapana
(Look at Ganesha over there)
The moment I finished uttering the last word, Sri Ramasesha Sastri said:
Illi noDu heggaNa
(Look at the bandicoot over here)
Everyone present there burst out laughing. Sri Sastri said:
“Why are you laughing! If there’s Ganesha, his vehicle should also be present, right? This is the hallmark of good poetry. Yes?”
I feel that there’s nothing further that I need to say on this subject. There’s a proverb in English: people living in glass houses should not throw stones at others.
* * * *
Scores of people would gather to listen to the Purana recital and commentary delivered by Sri Sankara Sastri and Sri Ramasesha Sastri. I know of a temple in Nagarathpet where they would regularly give these Puranic discourses.
I don’t know how many Vidwans of that caliber are still there in Bangalore—Vidwans who are such connoisseurs and so easily accessible.
This is the English translation of the fifteenth chapter of D V Gundappa’s Jnapakachitrashaale – Vol. 5 titled “Vaidikadharma Sampradayastharu.” Translated by Sandeep Balakrishna.
[i] The word “Purandaradasa” is also used as an idiom to denote a person who has forsaken all wealth and family life to dedicate himself to the service of the Almighty and roams around begging for food, singing the praise of a chosen Deity.