Author: Dr.D.Sundararaman - that son of Doraiswamy Iyer
Part - 10
Now, I go back to my earlier years. It was an important occasion for me, but I don’t remember the exact timing. I was spending a summer with him. One day at Orikkai, he suddenly asked, “I see you are not invested with sacred thread; why is it?”. I replied that my mother had been telling my father about this and that my father had been telling her that he had not saved enough money for my ‘upanayanam’ function. I quote below what Periaval said in his thought provoking lecture to me: “I am unhappy about the present Brahmin Community. They have converted purely sacred and simple functions like ‘Upanayanam’ into social melas.
They waste a lot of money on unnecessary things, like silk sarees and coffee-drinking. They don’t pay attention to the main part of the function. I don’t mind, even though I don’t approve of it, if the rich people spend their money showing off their wealth. But, the trouble is, the poor try to imitate the rich. They borrow beyond their means to conduct simple functions such as ‘upanayanam’. They postpone the performance of the ‘upanayanam’ which had to be done at the right age. Actually, the money needed for the celebration of an ‘upanayanam’ is quite modest. Boys remain without the sacred thread until the day before their wedding”.
He stopped abruptly and was silent. Then raising his voice, he said angrily, “Why, I talk about others? You, yourself, are standing before me, showing your bare chest to me. I did not observe this before”. I got really afraid. I tried to leave. But Periaval commanded, “Go and bring your father here and bring also a ‘panchangam’.” My father appeared before Periaval, leaving his work in the middle. While looking at the ‘panchangam’, Periaval told my father, “this is a good month for performing ‘upanayanam’ of this son of yours, who is standing here showing his bare chest to me”.
My father attempted to say something. But Periaval intervened and told him, “don’t tell me that you have not saved enough money and there is no time to invite your relatives. The Sastrigals in the Mutt can be asked to help you to perform the ‘upanayanam’. You can pay them whatever you can afford and you can take the necessary provisions from the ‘ugranam’ of the Mutt. Apart from the boy, his mother and you, no relatives are necessary for this function”. My father said, “Periaval had already assigned to me preparing of the ‘neivedyam’ on the next Thursday.”
Periaval replied, “You will be doing it without fail and you will also be performing the ‘upanayanam’ of your son on that day. The function should take place exactly at this place in this cow-shed. The cows should not be disturbed. You do the ‘poorvangams’ very early in the morning. Then go and prepare the ‘neivedyam’ to Chandramouleeswarar. By the time, I start my pujas, you come back to continue the activities here. Now you go back to finish your work”, he concluded, dismissing my father from his presence. I disappeared with my father. I went to Chinna Kancheepuram to report to my mother. She was happy and unhappy at the same time. She was unhappy because there was not much time to invite all her relatives and there was not enough money to celebrate the function in a grand manner.
No relatives were invited and no new clothes were bought. The upanayanam function was in progress, exactly as per the plan of Periaval, in the cow-shed. There appeared a very good looking couple, each with a big bamboo-plate in their hands. The nadaswara vidwans of the Mutt were standing before this couple, playing music. At once, I recognized them. My parents and I knew them. They were Nangavaram Sundararaja Iyer and his wife. Then Sundararaja Iyer spoke: “We came yesterday evening and appeared before Periaval. Then we learnt from Periaval that, one in whom Sri Periaval had taken much interest, is to have Brahmopadesam today” and presented my parents and myself with new clothes and flowers, fruits, sugar candy etc. They remained till the end of the function.
When Periaval was doing chandana-abishekam in the adjoining hall, (separated by a thick wall), exactly at that time, my upanayana muhoortham took place. My parents and I waited in the cow-shed for periaval to finish his puja. Periaval came straight to the cow-shed where we were. We hurriedly did our namaskarams. He took a fruit from the plate and gave it to me and made us all to eat at the general samaradhanai saying that “It will be the kalyanam meals.”
Starting with such an upanayanam function, any mentally sound person would be doing his Sandhyavandhanams regularly for the rest of his life. This wretched writer deserves to be damned for this omission. I have been reciting the “Gayathri Mantram”, at odd times in odd places. Perhaps this will save me.
There have been many occasions when I felt completely distressed. I thought I would throw away my poonal (sacred thread), wrapping my chest like a serpent. What prevented me from doing this was, that I remembered the circumstances of my unique upanayanam function. Perhaps, Periaval himself suspected that I would one day (or would have already) throw (thrown) away my poonal. I visited Periaval in July 1986, after nearly six years, while on a brief visit to India from Mexico. One evening, my wife and I went to Kancheepuram. The next day was the day of ‘avani avittam’, a day in which, after purificatory ceremonies, a male adorns new poonal, discarding the old one. I had my new poonal in a group ceremony held at the Mutt. That afternoon, we had darshan of Periaval. Paattu Ramamoorthy was by the side of Periaval. He introduced saying, “Duraiswamy Iyer’s son Sundararaman and his wife have come from Mexico; they are doing namaskarams to Periaval”. Periaval looked at us and asked Paattu Ramamoorthy by gestures, whether I was wearing poonal. (I said within myself, ‘I am not standing before you, showing my bare-chest.’) Paattu Ramamoorthy replied to Periaval, “Yes, he is wearing”.
Then Periaval gestured to him, whether I had changed my poonal that day. Ramamoorthy replied, “Yes, he has done so in the group sravanam in the Mutt, I saw it.” Periaval gave us prasadams. I decided that day, “I will never throw away my poonal, however imperfect I am and have been, and under no circumstances”. The next week, we went to Los Angeles, my new place of job at the University of California.