Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Sage Who Knew Everything

--What Was There That He Did Not Know

“And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew
That one small head could carry all he knew”

So said Oliver Goldsmith in his poem ‘The Deserted Village’ while describing the versatile knowledge of the Village School Master. These words of Goldsmith, written more than two hundred years ago, would still be back in one’s memory when one listened to the discourse or read the writings of His Holiness
The Paramacharya of Kanchi. Although he lived a saintly life, reminding us of one of those ancient Rishis, his worldly knowledge was so deep and versatile that he was considered a treasure house of knowledge—ancient and modern, Shastraic and secular, Para and Apara. Apart from religion and philosophy which were part of his necessary equipment as the Pontiff of a Math, he astounded his devotees by his knowledge of fine arts, music, poetry, dance, English literature, languages, sculpture etc in all their subtleties. His Vijnana, mundane knowledge, was no doubt a mere reflection of his Jnana, Supreme Knowledge. A random sample as illustrated below will bear testimony to the proficiency of the Paramacharya’s versatile knowledge.

SHELLY, THE ENGLISH POET [1792-1822] : Many years back His Holiness was camping in the Sanskrit College, Mylapore, Madras. A discussion was going on between a retired professor of English, fairly advanced in age, and His Holiness on the topic ‘ Traces of Advaita in English Literature’. The professor referred to some lines in Shakespeare’s drama “As you Like it” and some lines in Wordsworth’s poem “ Tintern Abbey”. His Holiness asked the professor if there was any clearer reference in any of Shelly’s works. The professor could not recollect immediately.
The Acharya quipped ‘Have you not read Shelly’s ‘Adonais’. The professor said
“Yes, I have read it and also taught it”. The Acharya observed, “Perhaps you have forgotten the line ‘ The One remains, the Many change and pass’ ”. The professor submitted that due to his advanced age, his memory failed him.

SHAKESPEARE [1564-1616] : Sometime in December 1988 some devotees, including a group of foreigners, went to Kanchi to have the darshan of His Holiness.
A little girl, about three years old, daughter of one of the devotees, was playing merrily, often putting her hand in the interspaces in the railings. A sudden gush of wind caused the screen beside the railing to flutter. The child screamed. The father rushed towards the child and consoled.
The Acharya who was keenly observing the child all along asked the father if he had read Shakespeare’s drama “The Tempest”. The father said ‘No’. His Holiness then asked one of the attendants to enquire the small group of foreigners sitting close by if any of them have read. Two of them said that they had read. Thereupon the Acharya explained that the child, while playing, got frightened because of the strong wind, even as Miranda, the little daughter of Prospero had been portrayed by Shakespeare as having been terrified when the vessel in which the father and daughter were sailing got tossed by the a gale, in his drama “The Tempest’.

RUSSIAN LANGUAGE : An oriental scholar by name Prof.Ribakov from Moscow, accompanied by the famous dancer from Madras, Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, once went to have an audience with the Paramacharya. The professor had prepared a questionnaire with a lot of questions for which he wanted the Paramachrya’s clarifications. After a brief introduction His Holiness asked the professor “Does not the northernmost part of Russia use a language which has a large content of Sanskrit?.” As it was so, the professor was stunned at the Paramacharya’s close acquaintance with the Russian Language and its dialects.

DANCE: Once when H.H. was camping in Hampi, Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam went to meet him to show her doctoral thesis on a special aspect of Bharatanatyam and receive his blessings. She had chosen “Karanas in Indian Dance and Sculpture”
as the topic for her thesis. Karanas are dance postures. When she placed the thesis consisting of more than 1000 pages before him, H.H. asked her to open the book. As she was opening, the Paramacharya asked her if it contains a photograph of
“Bhujanga trasitham”. This is the 24th Karana out of the 108 Karanas mentioned by Sage Bharatha in his Natyashastra. This query could have been thought of only by a person who knows the intricacies of the relationship between the theory and practice of dance and that too having a deep understanding of the relationship between Natyashastra and Agamashastra.

SCULPTURE: When a memorial was conceived vaguely for Swami Vivekananda by a group of people in Kanyakumari in 1962 [a year before his birth centenary], the idea was to have his statue on the rock about 500 meters from the coast. This was the rock on which the Swamiji meditated on 25th, 26th and 27th of December 1882 for 3 days before he left for America in May 1893. The local Christians opposed this idea, as they wanted to have a memorial for St. Xavier on the same rock. When the proposal became controversial with communal overtones, a patriot and a dynamic social worker by name Ekanath Ranade entered the scene. He got in touch with almost all the top leaders of the country like Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Sir.S.Radhakrishnan etc and made them agree to have the memorial in the form of Swamiji’s life-size statue on the rock. Soon thereafter,
Ranade called on the Paramacharya of Kanchi with a Sthapathi [Sculptor] and got complete guidance from the Acharya before finalizing the designs and drawings for the statue. With a view to get the final permission for starting the work, Ranade called on the then Chief Minister, M.Bhaktavatsalam. When he also agreed, Ranade suggested to the CM that it would be better that he shows the designs to the other members also who are involved in the project to get their clearance as well. At this, the Chief Minister remarked, “When the Acharya himself has approved, no need to consult anyone else”.

The Sage of Kanchi only appeared immersed in mundane affairs; but all along he was deeply immersed in the Eternal Bliss of Self-Realization. It would be easy to visualize such a noble soul, if only we go back to Goldsmith and take a step further from the ‘Village School Master’ to the ‘Village Preacher’ whom Goldsmith describes in these lines:

“As some tall cliff that lifts its awful form,
Swells from the vale, and midway leaves the storm
Though round its breast the rolling clouds are spread,
Eternal Sunshine settles on its head”

Created: Monday, May 19, 2008 8:27 PM


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