Tuesday, November 15, 2016

91 year old 'Veda Ratna'!

Renowned Veda scholar Narayanamangalath Agnisarman Namboodiri has been awarded with the prestigious title of Veda Ratna by the Kanchi University (Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Viswa Mahavidyalaya), Tamil Nadu in recognition of his contribution to the propagation and practice of the Vedas.

Agnisarman Namboodiri (91 years old) belongs to the traditional school of Veda scholars, who can recollect and recite about 20,000 shlokas, mantras and riks, both in ascending and descending order, along with the corresponding Mudras or hand gestures for each of them, said a press release from the University.


Trained in the traditional Gurukula system, Agnisarman Namboodiri is also an expert in Kavya and Tarka Sastra in Sanskrit.

Agnisarman Namboodiri is recipient of several awards which include Gangeya Puraskaram by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai and Acharya Ratna Puraskaramby Brahmaswam Madhom, Thrissur.

Source: Times of India

Shankara. What a Person!

The below was written by Shri AJ Philip, three years back in www.heraldofindia.com.

The single-storied modern house, set in the middle of a large, lush-green compound was swarming with people, all relatives of Agnisarman Namboodiri. Attired in their best, they all seemed to be in a celebratory mood. I did not have to look for the paterfamilias, whose 88th birthday had brought all of us together. 

Bare-chested with sacred ash smeared on his forehead, the dhoti-clad, short-statured Namboodiri stood apart in the crowd as an epitome of dignity, nobility and solemnity. I learnt how considerate and caring he was when he asked his only grandson Yedu Krishnan to show us the bath room so that we could freshen up. 

In the meantime, he enlightened me about the sacred thread that he wore. It was made of three threads and the knots were in accordance with some specifications. "For a modern person, this thread may not have any significance but for a tradition-bound person like me, it is a symbol of our very existence", said Namboodiri. "Even our women wear the thread". But then, is wearing tight-fitting jeans in Kerala's humid weather a sign of modernity?

If that was the yardstick, Namboodiri was a living relic of the past. But when he tells you that the essence of Christianity does not lie in the spires that pierce the sky but in the belief that there is only one God who created the Universe and who favours being good, and helps himself and humans act morally and survive, since everyone makes mistakes, you appreciate the catholicity of his views.

We were ushered into a small room, close to the kitchen, where we were served simple but delicious vegetarian food on banana leaves. I watched Namboodiri eat as I myself partook of the feast. Not many people know when to eat pappad, when to taste the tamarind chutney and when to have the small banana. There is as much science to eating as there is to cooking. Incidentally, a good eater like Namboodiri won't waste even a morsel of food.

I saw many rounding off the sadhya with betel nut and pan leaves kept in a brass plate. Tobacco in any form was not served with paan. Before I go further, I must tell my readers what compelled me to travel all the way from Kayamkulam to Wadakkanchery to meet Agnisarman Namboodiri. I have great respect for people who can memorise.

As a Sunday School student, I took up the challenge of learning by heart Psalm 119, which would have fetched me a special prize. All I could do was learn Psalm 117, which is the shortest. I remember one of my classmates winning the coveted prize. 

This experience was at the back of my mind when a few years ago, while speaking at a church in Kerala, I offered to pay Rs 10,000 to the first Sunday School student who could learn Psalm 119 by heart within a month. Nobody came forward to claim the prize. 

Thus when Vijayan told me that his father could recite all the 10,472 riks of the Rigveda, the world's oldest religious text composed between 1700 and 1100 BC, in both ascending and descending order, I literally stood up in wonderment. One reason why I always respected my friend and classmate Parameswaran Unni, an expert in Islamic banking, whose services Kerala Minister P.K. Kunhalikutty had requisitioned to set up an Islamic bank in Kerala, was his ability to recite Sanskrit shlokas.

If Vrindavan is the place where Lord Krishna was born, Vrindavanam is not the place where Namboodiri was born. "I was born at Edappal, near Ponnani in Malappuram district. Our mana was close to the residence of A.V. Kuttimalu Amma, one of the tallest Congress leaders during the freedom struggle".

When I asked him whether he was related to the late leader, Namboodiri chuckled and said, "There was no relationship. Don't we all claim association with the rich and the famous?" His sense of humour and his ability to laugh at himself were secrets of his health.

Born in a conservative family, Namboodiri was not sent to school for fear that he would lose his caste purity. Instead, he was taught at home. He began learning Sanskrit and the Vedas at the feet of his guru Narayanan Namboodiri. When he said, "I learnt by listening, not reading", I remembered the story about how Krishna and his elder brother Balarama used to learn by just looking at the letters and markers that their teacher would write for their benefit.

"I learnt at my Guru's feet 15,000 shlokas. He never took any fees from us." When it was time for Gurudakshina, he was satisfied with Rs 5 and four dhotis that we gave, unlike Krishna's guru who insisted on delivering alive all his five children, who had died young. The first thing that he does in the morning after ablutions is to chant the shlokas section-wise so that they remain as fresh in his mind as ever.

That is exactly what one of my friends, whose melodious chanting I have heard to my heart's delight, does every morning. It was another teacher, Manthetta Narayanan Namboodiri, who knew that reciting Sanskrit verses alone would not fetch kanji and payar (rice and lentils), if not bread and butter, and, therefore, initiated him into learning Hindi. When the time came to marry, he took as his bride Radha Thampuratty from an aristocratic Kshatriya family of Thrisoor called Punnathur. Today her Tharavadu (ancestral home), known as Punnathur Kotta, is more famous as Anathavalam, the single largest place for captive elephants in the world, attached to the Guruvayooor temple.

Namboodiri took learning of Hindi so seriously that he acquired postgraduate-level qualifications in the language. For his first job as teacher of Hindi that fetched him a salary of Rs 25, he paid a "bribe" of Rs 500. When he left the job, sooner than later, he was promised that the money would be refunded. Fifty-six years later, he still waits for that Rs 500!

Incidentally, the first time he entered the portals of a school was to teach. The job gave him experience that enabled him to get a full-time job with Malabar District Board, which had 28 schools under it. He served in several schools before retiring from the Government Girls Higher Secondary School at Wadakkanchery. Since his retirement, he has been with Guruvayoor Devaswom as a Vedic teacher.

1 comment:

  1. Trust that Devosom Board takes take care of this rare & great vedic scholar. we are proud of him.