Thursday, November 20, 2014

"I wish you had praised the other Shankara peethams also"!

I had looked forward to the day when I could have the privilege of a brief glimpse of the 
Paramacharya of Kanchi at least from a distance. At last that day came in 1963. I was at 
Madurai on a holiday.

It so happened that the Paramacharya had been camping at Narayanapuram outside the 
city. One July morning I decided to take a chance at the Math. I wrote my local address on 
the visiting card and gave it to one of the aides who immediately sent it in for the 
Mahaswami's attention. No reaction. I sat in a corner resignedly prepared for a long wait!

After a couple of hours Paramacharya came out to perform `Go puja'. Though I was within 
His sight, He did not take notice of me. Since it was time for His other rituals, He 
disappeared into the solitude of His private retreat.

Hours passed. No response from Him. 7 p.m. I was told not to wait any longer, because it 
was time for Mahaswami's evening puja after which He would retire for the day.

This went on for five long frustrating days! But I would not give up. The longer I had to wait, 
the stronger my resolve to have an audience with Him. At last on the sixth day, at about 1 
p.m. I received word from the Math that Periyava would like to see me!

I rushed to the Math without a minute's delay. But no, it was not that easy. I was told to wait. 

After four hours, Paramacharya agreed to see me.

The moment of ecstasy had arrived: I was face to face with Divinity itself in flesh and blood. 
I was immediately reminded of what Arthur Koestler, a tough, intellectually arrogant atheist 
and iconoclast, said about Paramacharya. After an audience with Him, the controversial 
author of the irreverent book on India and Japan, "The Lotus and the Robot'', said in effect 
that, "If God exists, here He is!"

Receiving me with the sort of smile one saw only on the bronze icons of deities, the sort of 
smile about which Koestler said: "If ever Jesus smiled, he must have smiled like this great 
Hindu saint'', the Paramacharya began comfortingly:

"Did you have to wait too long? I was only testing the strength of your faith. Now relax. 
Before you ask about me, I must ask about you!"

His questions reflecting his transparent, fatherly concern focussed on my family 
background, early life, my main interests, details of my professional career, my health 
problems, if any, my life in Bombay, and the like. He was now in a communicative mood 
which prompted me to share my ten-page questionnaire with him.

After a casual glance at the questionnaire, he returned it to me saying: "Read out the 
questions first, before I react to them. After you have finished, I'll try to answer the questions 
one by one. No hurry, we can go through the exercise at leisure".

"The real reason for my making you wait for nearly six days was my own selfish desire to 
spend a sufficiently long time with you for a meaningful, mutually beneficial discussion. Now 
you ask and I answer. Let us settle for a long, unhurried tete-a-tete as the French might 

<What blessings for the author>

Our two-day long discussions, covering a wide range of areas as divergent as Aristotle and 
Adi Sankara at one extreme and astrophysics and Atharvaveda at the other, were spread 
over nearly ten hours, five hours each day. The venue was a most unlikely one: The store 
room with rats, spiders, cockroaches and lizards all over the place.


Paramcharya sitting on the bare floor rested against a rice sack. As we were talking, the 
stream of bhaktas from different parts of the world and India continued and every one of 
them received His attention.

They spoke to Him in their respective languages in which He also seemed to feel 
thoroughly comfortable, handling each of these with the ease and grace of his own mother 
tongue, Kannada. To my astonishment, His aides told me that he had a mastery of 17 

Three weeks later. The first instalment of my two-part article had just appeared in my 
paper. I went to the math with the issue. The Paramacharya's aides had already shown 
Him a copy.

Greeting me with an embarrassed smile, He said gently:
"After reading your article I feel taller by a few inches. I wish you had not praised me so 

I said: It's nothing, Your Holiness, compared with what the Western intellectuals keep 
saying about You.''

To which He replied: "I wish you had praised the other Sankara peethams also. You see, 
we have no protocol problems. We are all engaged in the same task of continuing 
Bhagavatpada's mission. You could have avoided that unfavourable reference to another 
Math, an equally great institution set up by one of Adi Sankara's senior disciples. I hope 
you will not run into rough weather because of your over enthusiasm for the Kanchi Math!''

Placing my copy of the Weekly before him, I requested Him to autograph it.
Politely refusing, he said: "Sanyasis don't sign. Narayana!''

Paramacharya made every devotee feel specially favoured. What endeavoured Him to His 
devotees was, not His stunning scholarship which sat lightly on His frail shoulders, but His 
intensely humane concern and compassion beyond words and His charmingly disarming 
humility and transparency. He shared His erudition and wisdom with everyone around.

He could explain J. M. Keynes' General Theory of Employment or Einstein's Theory of 
Relativity as lucidly and gracefully as He would narrate a fairy tale to a tiny toddler.


What a beautiful one! A lovely reminder that God indeed tests our faith; let us simply go 
about our duties always having blind rock solid faith in Him, come what may!

Narrated so well by Shri A.S. Raman, the incident he shared with Swamigal way back in 
1963. He is seen speaking to Swamigal in the picture. I am told that Shri Raman was 
the first Indian editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India.

Source: The Hindu

Thanks a ton to Shri Venkatesan Ramadurai  for reproducing the complete, unabridged
interview from the erstwhile Illustrated Weekly of India. Here is the link to that interview:

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