It Happened Here At Srirangam!

Srirangam, temple town, a UNESCO Heritage site – Credit: TOI

Was it the end for me vis-à-vis Srirangam? The last of our relations, a dear uncle, sold his huge ancestral house and moved to Chennai. Many in the family always found the house to be a delightfully hospitable base in Srirangam for visiting the huge and holy temple of Lord Ranganatha, besides enjoying the time with my uncle’s affectionate folks.

Strictly speaking, it was not so. A cousin-sister of mine I’m fond of is also living in Srirangam. And, topping it all, very fortuitously our son-in-law happens to hail from Srirangam!

So the connection endures!

Though my cousin would be more than happy to put us up for a few days, during the last couple of visits we chose to stay, with grateful thanks, in our sambandhi’s house, presently unoccupied, equipped with all basic amenities for a comfortable stay, also conveniently located not too far from the temple.

It is a different world out there. No TV, no newspapers or mags, no malls, no traffic snarls, abutting houses, sittng squat, lining the broad streets – trodden by Azhvar’s, Acharya’s and other holy men for over a thousand years – with an occasional vehicle passing by. Can’t remember ever seeing a traffic light in the inner parts of the town. What one sees most are pilgrims – simple folks, their faith unequalled – on the bustling main street rushing towards the temple or leisurely making their way back to their parked buses, happy over their accomplishment, some stopping for coffee and snacks in chotu eateries and some looking to buy mementos from the shops.

Our routine was to set out in the morning by 8-30, have a nice south-indian breakfast at Madappalli served on banana leaf and hasten to join the queue for free or paid darshan at the main sanctum. In about 60 to 90 minutes, we would be (pushed) out after a mere precious minute or two before the Lord.

Achieved big, we would now proceed to have darshan of His consort, at Her own temple located within the same complex.

On the way to and back we would also go to a number of smaller shrines set on the inner perimeter of the huge complex. They are too numerous, some 50+, to be covered all in one visit.

We would return to our place by 12 or 1 noon, thoroughly exhausted, not failing to appreciate the sculptures to be found all around – so much so I was once taken for an antique smuggler looking for a good pick!

Credit: Mickey Stephanie
Credit: Steve Allen

Lunch would be again at Madappalli or it would be prasadams of tamarind or curd rice bought at the temple.

Resting for a couple of hours and finishing some chores, we would set out again by about 5, this time for a shorter visit. On some evenings we made it to any of those other temples outside the complex, of comparable vintage, some well outside Srirangam reached by town bus or on hired transport.

A routine we repeated every day of our stay, not getting bored one bit, not wanting anything else. Who cared what happened to the world outside?

**

The small shrines unfortunately draw only a handful of devotees unlike the bigger ones. Some of them, not readily accessible from the circumambulatory pathway fare even worse – you’ll find them only if you go looking for or you have vowed to visit every shrine in the complex.  

We were told – not verified – the archakars (priests) in charge are paid very meagre salary; nothing at all according to some. They are sent some prasadams from the temple kitchen. Otherwise they are left to survive on the plate collection.

We also heard these shrines were at one time scattered all around Srirangam. During the times of invaders – 15th/16th century – overrunning the town, these were relocated inside the temple complex, but managed by the original owners. Even today some of them are in the hands of their descendants.

Be that may, these archakars remain as poor country cousins of those serving in the larger temples of the complex.

For our part, I took care to carry wads of ten-rupee notes for offering at least a tenner every time we went to a shrine during our stay. Admittedly a mere flea-bite, but that was as far as I could stretch given the numerous places to visit over the days.

In our visits, one particular shrine and its archakar, R, caught our attention. In his forties, I guessed, he came across as a guile-less person who went about with simple sincerity attending to those few devotees who came in from time to time for darshan. His non-hustling ways moved me to break the norms and offer at the least a hundred every time we went to his shrine, making it as often as we could.

One day, he was not at his station. I made inquiries and learnt about his antecedents. He had left his job elsewhere, coming here at someone’s request. Presently he was away attending to a sick wife – they were childless. Felt sorry for him. Luckily, he returned in a couple of days – he was his usual busy self with no hint of his troubles, giving the opportunity I yearned to offer a more substantial sum on the plate. But all I had on my person at the instant, sadly, was not more than a couple of thousands to give.

Don’t know how it is with you folks, paucity of funds and a sense of spending over the budget are never felt more acutely than when I’m travelling.

May be if I had his bank details, I could help him with more on returning to my base, I thought. This did not happen for some reason I’m unable to recall.

We left Srirangam – and R – as always with a heavy heart, returning to the world we knew and lived.

**

Fast forward a couple of years.

A few weeks ago, was chatting with Rag now at peace with life after making far more than a pile in his business in Chennai, philanthropy presently his main preoccupation.

He was sharing with me how, in this time of pandemic, he was helping with funds some staff serving the Lord and His temple at the Srirangam day-in day-out from close.  Why Srirangam? Well, Rag was born and brought up here.

‘Does that mean you visit the place often?’

‘No, it is all done sitting in Chennai thru my contacts. Why, you want anything from there? Tell me, I can arrange.’

With guilt and shame, I must admit, at the mention of Srirangam, instead of Lord Ranganatha, R popped up in my head.

That’s when I told him about R. And I was curious to know how he was doing and if he was clear of his troubles.  

Rag knew lots of people, not R. No issues, he said. He would find out from the sketchy details I had given him.

I left it at that.

**

A couple of days later, Rag told me he had located R thru his contacts. A sum of Rs 10,000 was personally handed over to him by his contact. And here was a snapshot of him.

I was aghast.  Felt guilty and happy at once.

Guilty for causing, though unwittingly, an expense by no means a trifle, to Rag. ‘No bother,’ he assured me magnanimously.

And happy for R. So what if I was not the one who did the good deed.

To think Rag did it unsolicited on a mere casual inquiry! Bless him – he had not even met R and knew nothing about him…Strange indeed are the ways of the Lord in helping His.

Well, I consider myself no less blessed, for good Rag is my cousin! Not all with money are rich, not all without are poor,as they say!

End

Raya Asked A Question…A Story For The Young And Old

Part 1

One day Emperor Krishna Deva Raya (of Vijayanagar empire, 1509-29), aggrieved by a recent loss of a dear relative, fell into a spell of serious introspection: ‘What is the most important lesson in life to be learned?’

He knew there would be many answers to his question. So he decided to hold a sadas – like today’s conferences, it’s a forum, practiced even today, for enriching discussion and debate, not necessarily competitive – of learned pundits from near and far.

On the appointed day, the Royal Court quickly filled up.

Tenali Raman was also present…

Hey, wait a minute, a mere court jester, he’s no way a pundit qualified to be part of this assembly.

 …bringing along a guest of his, a guru, not widely known outside his circle.

Sadas commenced with a brief introduction from Raya, followed by the Raja Guru (chief guru of the Royal Court) explaining the protocols and rules. The floor was thrown open to the participants.

The learned pundits from the assembly presented a variety of thoughts and theories drawing heavily from the veda’s, upanishad’s, purana’s and epic’s. Probing questions were raised and answered. Theories dissected and interpretations offered. A parade of knowledge and a veritable feast for the intellect.

A couple of hours passed thus and finally it seemed all who came to speak had been heard and the sadas ready for closure.

That’s when the Raja Guru requested Tenali’s guest to also contribute to the proceedings. Tenali too entreated him to share his views on the subject. 

The guru obliged.

Part 2

At the podium, he requested for and got a bunch of samit’s (short sticks of wood usually from peepal tree offered to agni, the fire-god in homam’s and three chords of adequate length.

The audience was intrigued.

A volunteer from the audience was asked to come up. He had to take a bunch of samit’s and tie them tightly up into a bundle at two places near the center, a few inches apart, using the two chords. The free ends of the chords were nipped close to the knots, offering no grip at all and the knots themselves not easy to undo.  Now the bundle was ready.

He invited anyone from the audience to step up. He had to pull a couple of samit’s free from the bundle without tampering the two chords in any manner or breaking any samit. It meant the samit’s had to come out, if at all, through the edges of the bundle.

When one of them tried with all his might, the samit would not slide out. Reasons: the bundle tied tight held the samit in its place, no good grip available on the samit to pull it out and the small protrusions on the samit snagged on one chord or the other preventing its sliding out.

More tried…without success.

Clearly now it was left to the guru to come up and show…

Part 3

He did. He took the third chord and right at the center between the other two chords he wound it around the bundle more than once, making it a wee bit tighter than others. A knot was not even needed. The chord crunched the samit’s together a little more than before, of course without breaking. This had the effect of loosening a little bit the other two chords riding either side on the bundle…allowing them to slipped out free over the edges. With them out of the way the third chord was simply unwound to free up the entire bunch!!

Jaws dropped in the audience.

“It is actually very simple like this bundle of samit’s. For lasting peace of mind and meaningful happiness, there must be, for everyone, a philosophy of life, ideally structured around a single higher purpose or objective worth striving for – could be based on dhaana, (charity), ahimsa (non-violence towards all sentient), bhakti (devotion), community service or anything else one (or the group) chooses, usually dictated by one’s dharma (simply, the ‘done’ thing for one’s group), guru followed, family tradition, law of the land or learned wisdom. Regard this chord tightly wound at the center as representing the same. All activities and sub-goals in one’s life must be touched by, subordinated to, strongly held together by this single objective like the chord does to the samit’s.  Faced with it, all other bonds in life slip off like it happened to the chords on the sides. The entire energy of life is focused on just that one purpose, none wasted. No duvidha (confusion of choice or priorities). That’s all there to it.”

“This, I submit, is the most important lesson in life to be learnt.”

He returned to his seat.

It took a little while for the awe-struck audience to collect their wits and give him the ovation due to him.

They were quite impressed at his cleverness in using very dramatically a mere bundle of samit’s as a model for putting forth, on a complex question, his views which seemed to make good sense at first glance. Also they were at once both unhappy and happy; unhappy because a specific philosophy, school of thought or a higher objective not being prescribed as the solution – it meant they had to exercise their grey cells, find and fashion it all by themselves; and, paradoxically, happy because it was entirely left to an individual’s choice or a collective volition. They agreed the profundity of what was said needed to be followed up with much more serious contemplation.

The sadas was declared closed.

With a lot on his plate to sift, select and digest, Raya sought a follow-up meeting with the guru.

End

Source: Inspired by a post in some aanmeega forum (cannot recall)

Images from Pinterest, amazon.in

Good Lord, Don’t Listen To Us…

Kaleidoscope

…prayers excepted.

**

‘Don’t forget. Next Tuesday is Rama’s birthday by our calendar. Take Rs 500 with you and pay it at the office for a one-day upayam on that day. I wonder if you remember – hers is kettai nakshatram and gothram is vaadula, yours. They’ll need these details. Her exams are coming up and she must do well…make sure you collect the receipt.’

To let you know, we celebrate birthdays according to Srirangam panchangam (a well-known authoritative traditional calendar cast in the town of Srirangam), the date determined by the month and the star at the time of birth, with gothram specifying the lineage. Most temples have this scheme where one pays a part of that day’s expenses for conducting special prayers and rituals in the name of a person specified. In this instance, my daughter.

‘Also pray for your father. The poor man is suffering…

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Some (Secular) Thoughts On What Is Dharma

The concepts herein are based on an illuminating foreword written by Late Shri K. M. Munshi to a booklet on Yaksha Prasna, an episode in Mahabharata with deep meanings, published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

While treatises are written on the subject, very simply, Dharma is the defining behaviour of a species, a class, a group…by which it sets itself apart from others.

Like a tiger’s is to hunt a prey, a guru is to teach, guide…why, a thief’s is to steal!

It’s a consistent framework that govern a member’s thoughts, actions, beliefs, methods, measures and principles constituting its integrity.

So far so good. Now comes the interesting and complex part:

Dharma by no means is unequivocal. It is also not monolithic or static. There are desha dharma (specific to the place one lives), yuga dharma and kaala dharma (applicable to the times one lives in)… There are role and pedigree based ones too, like raja dharma (for kings) and kula dharma (for lineage)! While these are termed as visesha dharma (special and specific), at the lowest level is saamanya dharma (the ordinary, common, non-specific principles like ‘don’t thieve’, ‘don’t tell lies’…).

It is not difficult to visualize principles of dharma taking contrary positions in a given situation – dharma-sankat’s. A man is never one thing. A raja (a king, a leader) is also a manusha (a man, a human being), a pati (a husband) to his wife and many more with different dharma’s prescribed for each (Dasaratha’s example)! This is not all. Even in the same role, often saamanya dharma could conflict with viseha dharma (rishi’s example). And within in the same class too, saamanya or visesha!

And our lives are full of them and living is negotiating through these conflicts, big and small. 

Dilemmas such as this are normally resolved by a Guru by his exemplary decisions/actions in a given context – the one strong function of gurukul education, showing the inadequacy of learning merely from books and not watching its roll-out in real. Also the two great epics – Ramayana and Mahabharata – and the multitude of Purana’s bring up a number of scenarios illustrating the application of dharmic principles. Their very purpose, it’s said. Also from the lives of saints and sages of yore and modern-day enlightened souls.

Time for some examples:

One role (raja) versus another (father): This is from sage Valmiki’s Ramayana, Balakanda, Sarga 19. Here sage Viswamitra is pleading with Dasaratha to send young Rama with him to fight the two demons Maricha and Subahu and protect sage’s penances to fruition. The king, extremely fond of Rama, hesitates. Thereupon the sage in his persuasion tells him not to be blinded by paternal affection, it is his raja dharma to protect his subjects and also not to go back on promises made (earlier the king generously promises to give anything he wanted when welcoming the sage to his court).

Saamanya versus visesha: This is in the well-known parable about the rishi (one who has renounced worldly matters) at his ashram (abode) performing meditation in the forest. A deer comes in running to where the rishi is and quickly gets away taking one of the forest routes available to it. Very soon, a posse of hunters also arrive at the spot and ask the rishi if he saw a deer coming that way and which way did it go. The rishi deliberately points wrong way to them. Here the principle of ahimsa (no cruelty to other living beings) overrides the saamanya dharma’s injunction: ‘don’t tell lies’.

In leadership roles where actions have a much broader impact, the principle of ‘Bahu jana sukhaaya, bahujana hithaaya’ (greater good for great many) is often used in conflict resolution. Not to be confused with tyranny of numbers (majority). For instance, consider capital punishment. Killing someone goes against the state’s visesha dharma of having to prevent cruelty to its subjects, the accused in this instance. On the other hand it is in line with the state’s visesha dharma to protect from or prevent crimes against its subjects, possible victims in future at the hands of this accused if let go or others emboldened by him. How best this could be done provides the answer to the legitimacy of state killing anyone. Or take the project of damming a river to provide water all-round the year versus large tracts of village lands going under water in the up-stream catchment area. Requires a close look at the costs and benefits.

Udyoga dharma (dharma of one’s profession) is a modern broad-based need since profession one takes up is no longer related to one’s kula (ancestral family inherited industries like farmer, potter, soldier, blacksmith…) and also because there are some zillion new professions that have come into being in modern societies. Broadly speaking, udyoga dharma could be that:

‘a) A man must perform a honest day’s work.

‘b) He must sincerely and diligently serve the best interests of his customers (internal including the employer and external including the environment).

‘c) An interesting corollary of b is he must constantly hone his skills so he continues to deliver the best.

Another powerful implication of the above is that the service level (b and c) are not adversely impacted by any grievances an employee may hold, genuine or otherwise, in his job! He is called up on to resolve the same independently to the best of his ability.

The straight and simple inculcation and subsequent reinforcement to keep up one’s dharma is the best self-actualizing motivator on a very sound and stable dharmic base scoring over any scheme conceived so far for this purpose.

In fact, it generally applies likewise to performance under all dharmic frameworks.

End

Sources: Life Conflicts and  Valmiki Ramayan Sarga 19. Image from santanmission.com

Make Your Own Happiness


Posted by: jyoti ranpura <jyotiranpura@yahoo.com>

At a building construction site nearby, I observed that lots of labourers were working there and their small  children used to play various games.

One favourite game was to hold on to one another’s shirt and play “train-train”.

Someone would become the engine and others would become bogies.

Every day, these children used to take turns becoming the engine and bogies..

But, there was  one small boy wearing only a half pant who used to hold one small green *cloth* in his hand and become the guard daily.

So, once I went to him and asked him ..”son, don’t you also wish to become an engine or a bogie some time?”

He softly replied, “Sir , I don’t have a shirt to wear so how will the other children catch me to make the train?

But, it gave me a huge lesson…. he could have cried and sat at home and fought with his parents for not having enough money to buy  him a shirt.

But instead, he chose another way to play and enjoy himself..

In life, we don’t get all things we desire and we keep complaining ..

I dont have a bike,  I don’t have car , I don’t have this or that etc….

Life is like that ….we need to make it beautiful, play the game with what you have and be grateful for what we have.

This too shall pass,

End

Who Is A Jagadguru?

Translated from a post in Tamizh from Kamalji Panditji.

This happened in 1933 on a tour to Kashi.

A grand welcome was arranged by the Raja for Sankaracharya. Erudite pundits, aacharya’s, dignitaries had assembled in good number. No shortage of them ever in a premier learning cum spiritual center like Kashi in those days when they were held in veneration.

Where there is scholarship, green-eyed monster of envy resides usually not far away. This occasion was no exception. Among those who had gathered were some who were envious of the attention the sage was drawing and his aura.

‘So this is the young man who carries the title of Jagadguru, eh? Let’s quickly show him for what he is,’ they thought among themselves.

As soon as the sage settled down, one of them heckled him: ‘Who is Jagadguru (jagad = world) here?’

‘I,’ said the humble sage.

So brazen? ‘Oh, so you’re the guru of this jagad, eh?’

‘Oh, no, jagadaam guru na, jagathi bandhyamanaa sarve mama guru.’

<’No guru of the world, I claim. On the other hand all creatures present in this creation (jagad) are my guru’s and hence Jagadguru.’>

The beauty (and ambiguity) of Sanskrit – a poet’s delight and readers’ woe – allows the compound word Jagaduru to be resolved in two different ways – one who is the guru for this jagad or one to whom this jagad is a guru!!

Smiling at them, he inquired, ‘What are these?’ pointing at holes in a wall of the room.

‘Bird nests.’

‘Who built them?’

Kuruvi’s (common house sparrows)’

‘The limbless kuruvi’s can build such beautiful houses for themselves that I cannot with the benefit of all my limbs. Blessed with creativity of this kind, they are my guru’s.’

He did namskarams with all humility and veneration to those kuruvi’s!

His critics were silenced…and won over.

He – Jagadguru Shri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swamigal – was born this day (18/05) in 1894.

End

This Animal Did Change Its Spot

Received this Tamizh clip yesterday – it’s about actor Madhavan who is successfully holding his own for several decades now in the volatile world of seven-day wonders – Kollywood. Though not an avid film goer/watcher, rarely seeing a movie from start all the way to finish, I personally loved his comic sense whenever he appeared on the screen. A serial of his I watched eagerly and in full years ago where he appeared as a South-Indian groom in a Panju family. Not one of those mind-numbing antics passing for comedy, but truly and refreshingly hilarious.

Am told this is an old clip, date and occasion not known to me (My version of WP does not let me upload). He’s talking about Mother’s Day. He recalls affectionately, nostalgically, gratefully three pieces of wisdom given to him by his Mom that kept/keeps him going in his profession, internalizing and living them out:  a) Don’t hurt anyone intentionally b) Don’t cheat anyone out of his money; make a honest living and c) Treat people, big or small, like people with self-respect due to them.

Well, it seems to have certainly worked for him. Kudos to him for his assiduous following and to his mom for the sage advice

**

Got me thinking about my Mom and my life. No more now, my Mom had/was: an unwelcome father-less birth, a SSC-pass (given to reading Times Of India every morning!), a typical house-wife of her times, lived most of her life on my father’s meager income, poor on wiles and guile’s…

But I cannot recall any session with her when she sat me down and imparted wisdom.

The first third of my life was spent joyfully in Matunga where the entire neighborhood was friends, some closer than others. Soft-ball cricket, Chess, Cards, crazy over songs of Shankar-Jaikishen, O P Nayyar…, listening to the latest stories of James Hadley Chase (my friend went one up on his narration), fighting over who was more delightful to watch – Gary Sobers, Rohan Kanhai or our own Jaisimha…

Strangely no politics, no religion, no academics, no girls (I swear), no restaurants, gyms/clubs…Weird? May be, but it was fun. Mom used to search for and drag me home in the evening.

No time for the parents.

Then came college, job, marriage and children.

Once again, no time yet for the parents. Poor wife and children didn’t fare any better. The job taking away the second and a good part of the final third of my life – it was one big challenge as we were trying to make it in the emerging area of software and exports. We felt it was our show though we owned no part of it, giving it all we had to make it big.

Along the way a dear Aunt passed away, followed by my Father and then the Mother only a few years ago.

Those sessions just didn’t take place.

But in contexts very ordinary, the wisdom did come out, unadorned, unheralded, not in bold, italic or in quotes, that it was not recognized as such until later.  

To bear out what I’m saying, here’s a story:

For years, it was a daily routine every morning for me to go down and pluck flowers off the plants in our building (apartment complex) for pooja. With very few residents in the building, usually I was the only one at it.

One day a lady, probably in her fifties, unexpectedly appeared on the scene. She and her man had taken a flat on rent in our building recently. She began reaching the spot earlier in the morning and cleaning up the flowers before I got there, without any compunction. I was irritated, offended to see a new-comer, on rent at that, asserting herself so unabashedly in regard to admittedly a shared resource in this manner. My long-standing ‘proprietary’ and exclusive access was thwarted. So I did what I could – I rose even earlier to get to the flowers. Many days I did (she did not go entirely without flowers on those days), and some days I didn’t, returning with a poor collection. On those occasions, came home and bitched about it bitterly.

‘Why are you so upset? Won’t gods in her house also need flowers? It would be the same Krishna and Shiva of our house in theirs too. Would you deny them?’ Lifting her head up, my old lady would say it and go back to her chores.

When said, it did nothing to comfort me. Well, I thought why can’t the interloper buy her flowers from the market instead of taking away mine? She can certainly ask her son (living nearby) to get it for her.

Though not at first, the wisdom went home soon enough. And when it did, the profundity of those words facile hit me hard. Made so much sense. Coming from a lady whose views, I held, would not rise above her deep roots in tradition to a fundamentally true spiritual/religious insight, and hence were never taken seriously to avoid arguments. And how she surprised me time and again is a subject for when I feel encouraged to talk about.

Since then, my routine changed. Whenever I reached the flowers first, I would knock on her doors and offer her gladly a part of the collection. So much so, it wasn’t long before she totally stopped coming while I made the deliveries at her door-step.

The two became such a nice couple I grew fond of. How they had changed! (?!?)

Even today I go to pick flowers and freely offer to one or two neighbors who for some reason can’t venture out.

**

This is not the only spot (dhaag/blemish) this animal changed for a happier mind on the old lady’s say-so, totally undramatic without raising the voice, rolling the eyes, pointing the fingers or thumping the table.

As I said, that’s for some other day, may be.

End