AN EMBODIMENT of simplicity, Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati, 68th pontiff of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam, adorned the Peetam for 87 years from February 1907, when he was just 13. He travelled across the country mostly on foot, in keeping with the Math’s tradition, meeting people and showering his blessings. His erudition and compassion endeared him to everyone, irrespective of class, creed and nationality. His foremost vision was the preservation of the Vedas, tradition and dharma.
Taking one meal a day and sleeping in makeshift rooms, cowsheds and withered palanquins, he advocated simplicity and shunned extravagance. His exposition of the Vedanta, our sastras, agamas, puranas and epics appealed to scholars and laymen alike. They were very simple in language but rich in appeal and content. He was a great humanitarian, deep in his heart. He attained mahasamadhi in January 1994 at Kanchipuram.
The Acharya’s “Pidi Arisi Thittam” (handful of rice scheme) was conceived with the poorest in mind. Every household was requested to keep aside a handful of rice and a humble coin before starting the day’s cooking. Both the rice and the money were collected by a volunteer agency. While the rice was to be cooked in temple premises, offered as prasad to the deities first and then to the needy, the money would serve a socio-religious cause.
The Paramacharya also listed 10 simple commandments (Dasopadesam) and urged his followers to lead a purposeful and wholesome life. This included going about doing one’s duty with a sense of social responsibility and god-consciousness, offering the best of everything to God, unconditional love for everyone, practising philanthropy, cultivating the ability to discriminate between good and evil and looking upon assimilating wisdom not wealth as the goal of life. Passion is the cause of birth and time is the cause of death. What is created by passion is destroyed by time. If passion is strong, the seed sprouts. If time comes, the tree dies. If there is no passion, there is no production. If there is no time then there is no destruction, says the Mahaswamigal. Therefore we have to conquer Kaala (Time) and Kaama (passion). As his prayer to mankind, in an international message in the form of a song, he urged that minds be won in a friendly way. He wanted us to eschew war and jealousy. The Mahaswamigal insisted that the cause of poverty and sorrow the world over is want. Men of means should plan things in such a way that their prosperity is shared willingly with the poor. In the absence of desire, there is no sin and no misery.
Just a couple of incidents illustrate Paramacharya’s greatness and vision. Once communist leader P. Ramamurti’s daughter, Dr. Ponni, went to have a darshan of Mahaswamigal and he asked how she charged her patients. She replied that she took money only from the rich people and charged the poor for the medicine. The Mahaswamigal suggested that she treated the poor absolutely free. That stunned her, as even her father, a socialist, did not think on those lines.
This happened in the Mahaswamigal’s childhood. An old woman at Tindivanam, selling snacks, approached Swaminathan and urged him to buy some murukku. He wanted her to cut down the selling price and she refused and left the scene, bitterly remarking, “I don’t mind if you do not buy and certainly I don’t welcome you with poornakumbam to buy the my items.”
“Mind your words patti,” Mahaswamigal smilingly said. “You are going to receive me with poornakumbam some day.” That day did materialise after he became the head of the Kanchi Math and visited Tindivanam.
The Mahaswamigal saw no threat to Hinduism so long as its practitioners observed physical and mental discipline taught to them by the scriptures. Hinduism has grown with devotion, meditation and self-purification, not with propaganda, lure of money or threat of war. HH said, “If we examine ourselves periodically with the aim of achieving perfection, the world would follow us”. A Great Spiritual Visionary indeed!!(Excerpts taken from “The Hindu” by Sridhar Chaama, on the occasion of the Jayanti of Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swamigal)