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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

PeriyavaaL's Distress

Author: V. Swaminatha Atreyan (in Tamil)
Compiler: T.S. Kothandarama Sarma
Source: Maha PeriyavaL - Darisana AnubhavangaL vol. 1, pages 206-216
Publisher: Vanathi Padhippaham

Kanchi MahaswamigaL was walking towards the west, in an early morning, behind a cycle rickshaw, on the right side corner, via Music Academy in Cathedral Road, Chennai. (It might be in the year 1964-65). People who accompanied him were Neelakantaiyer of P.G.Paul & Co., SriMaTham Sivaramaiyer, Paanaampattu Kannan, Srikantan, Royapuram Balu and this man (that is, myself). Ten to twenty devotees added themselves to the crowd here and there.

When they reached the corner of the road that turns to Gopalapuram, MahaswamigaL called me.

"There, at the back, in front of the petty shop, is one with a tuft on his head, breathing smoke out of his mouth! Do you see him? Go to him and ask ' know the ShrautigaL?' and then come back."

I ran. He was lighting a beedi using the glowing end of a smouldering rope that was hanging there. It was revolting to look at him. I approached him and asked.

"Hey, you know the ShrautigaL of Paravaakkarai?"

He became apprehensive and dropped the beedi. "Who are you? What for are you asking?"

"Acharya SwamigaL wanted to know..."

"PeriyavaL? Where?"

"There", I pointed out to him. He ran away the opposite side. I waited for sometime and then reported to MahaswamigaL. "I asked. He ran away without replying anything."

SwamigaL walked silently on the Gopalapuram road. Some distance away, inside a compound, a pandal was erected and festoons were displayed. Devotees received the sage with pUrNa kumbham.

After we ascended the four steps at the entrance of a large bungalow, a place in a corner of the verandah, adjacent to a wall was pointed out. The boys placed the seat on which SwamigaL sat.

The devotees bowed to him and left one by one. They had to go to their offices!

SwamigaL got up and was about to go inside. At that time he came. Vibuti bands on his forehead. Irregular bands on the chest and hands. He had tied a towel around his waist. He prostrated to the sage.

PeriyavargaL sat down again.

"Who is this?" he asked, pointing at me. 

"A few minutes back Periyavaa had asked only this man to find out from me if I knew the Paravaakkarai ShrautigaL...", he said. "Yes, I am the grandson of Paravaakkarai ShrautigaL. The name is pranatArti."

"Don't say pranatArti. That is Swami's name. Say pranatArti Haran. Or Haran. Swami would remove the pIDA of those who prostrate to Him. That is the (meaning of the) name."

"Everyone call me this way. So it has become a habit."

"What is the reason you are like this! Did you do the adhyayanam?"

"Thatha had taught me sAmam and all."

"Tell me a sAmam", said SwamigaL, indicating a popular sAmam. He recited two or three sentences. His tone was loud, well modulated, tender and sweet.

"I forgot beyond this!"

"You have elder or younger brothers?"

"Two elder. They took up the English education and are employed somewhere. Since I am good at chanting, Thatha taught me Sama Veda. I did not like it. So I ran away from the house."

"What do you do now?"

"I am helping the policemen."

"You help the policemen? What is that help?"

"They take me to the courts. I testify as a witness. They pay me for that..."

"How did you get the smoking habit?"

"When I go with them, they would buy (cigarettes or beedis) in bundles. Also give me two or three."

"You tell the court only things you saw, is it not?"

"I had not seen anything! They would tutor me. And I repeat it!"

"The lawyers would ask you questions thoroughly?"

"Yes. That is why the policemen would take me to the place of murder and tutor me that the murder took place here and in this manner; I was standing at this place; it was crowded; I was just witnessing things for fun. The murderer ran away towards the direction of east. He had a sickle in his hand. Blood poured out from it. -- This is how they tutor me. Have I not testified in many cases? So I have a good practice. In whatever way the lawyer would question me, I would give an intelligent answer. Two or three times I had spoken incoherently. For that, the policemen beat me up severely."

"Do you wear a shirt and all when you go to the court?"

"No no. The policemen would not allow it. I have to wear large vibuti bands. I should have kept my poonool white with soap. They also compel me to wear a towel around my waist."

"Is it not a sin to bear witness in this manner?"

"Sin only. I know well. But I have no other go!"

"Is that so? I will show a way out, will you do it?"

"Please tell me."

"There is this Kapaleeswarar temple in Mylapore. You go there in the evening, sweep the west gopura entrance and sprinkle water on the ground everyday. I shall ask you to be given ten rupees. And also a meal in the afternoon!"

"Kovil undaik katti and all will not suit me."

"No temple prasAda for you. I shall arrange for your eating at a house of one devotee daily in turn. You eat within that ten rupees at night."

"All that won't work out right for me."

"Don't be in a hurry! Stay in the MaTham for two days. Watch the ChandraMauleesvara puja. Immediately after the puja, I shall ask you to be served food. Think over and let me know."

"It wouldn't be possible today. A big case in the Egmore court. If I don't go to bear witness they would break my backbone. Let me go." He went away.

SwamigaL looked at him till he went out of the compound. Then he rose and went inside.

Neelakantaiyer and I went after him.

PeriyavaaL looked back. Neelakantier started talking slowly. "In spite of Periyavaa telling him so much, he did not listen?"

"Let him remain! The policemen have taught the public an occupation called bearing false witness!"

Neelakantier said: "What will the policemen do? Suppose a murder takes place in broad daylight and many people have seen it. It is well known who did it. But then who will go to the court to testify? Everyone has got his job. If they go to bear witness, the lawyers would make them wander to and fro the court entrance. They can't escape it. So those who have seen in person won't testify. Even if the accused accepts his crime, the case would be dismissed for want of a witness. And complaints will arise that the policemen did not conduct the case properly. So they have no other way than to fabricate a false witness."

PeriyavargaL said: "A murder is the first injustice. Those who saw the murder not coming up to testify is the second injustice. Those who have not seen it testifying falsely is the third injustice. And you argue to justify all these injustices!"

"Periyavaa should excuse me. I just told what happens in the world."

"Another anguish in that. All this in the guise of a brahmin! The policemen believe that the court would believe a brahmin's word as truth even if he falsely testifies. Let all that go. This ShrautigaL's grandson is like this!"

"He doesn't get into his ears what Periyavaa says!"

"What will he do? He says the policemen would beat him if he does not attend the court!"

"Seems Periyavaa is in much klesha. What can we do?"

"You know that it is in the shastra that a sanyAsin should not give room for pleasure and pain in his mind?" Saying this the sage went for his bath.

It was about three o' clock in the afternoon. I was sleeping in the verandah, next to the puja room.

"Rama!" -- a loud voice was heard. I woke up.

Melur maamaa--Ramachandraiyer--is the man who was attending the chores in PeriyavargaL's puja room. A very orthodox man. He was a lion-sighting-dream (meaning terror) to all the puja assistants. He would supervise the puja chores flawlessly. Even after the puja murtis are locked in the iron safe, he would be there guarding them.

He came out of the puja room with a large brass pot in his hand. He saw me and called.

"Did you come along in the Periyavaa's entourage this morning?"

"Yes, I did."

"What happened at that time?"


"Something had happened! Periyavaa did not perform the puja today!"

"Is that? It is like this..." I told him the story of the Paravaakkarai ShrautigaL's grandson.

He moved away, stroking the front of his head with his palm.

In the meantime, MahaswamigaL got up and came around to ease himself in the restroom.

I bowed to him.

"What did Melur maamaa say? Seems he did not take food today! Did you inquire?"

I wiped my eyes.

"You want to tell me something! Why not say it?"

"What can I say to PeriyavaaL? A shloka{/i] of shridhara AyyavaL comes to my mind." 

"AyyavaL shloka{/i]? Would drip with bhakti rasam! Chant it, let me see."

"tvan nAmadheya rasikA: taruNendu maule
dhuHkham na yAnti kimapIti hi vAdamAtram |
deshamIkila svavipatIva vahanti dhuHkham
trukocarIbhavati dhuHkani jantumAtre||

(I am sure that my phrasing of the shloka is bound to have errors. I request the readers to supply the correct lines as I can't find them myself. -- saidevo)

"Tell me once again!" I recited it again.

"There! Tell me the meaning, let me see."

"The Lord who is wearing the crescent moon! Everyone says in this world that those who utter the sweet name Shiva Shiva would not suffer distress. It is only just talk. In reality, such people will melt with empathy if any suffering man or beast or worm comes into their sight, as if the distress happened to them!"

"You said it well! Did you notice an interesting thing in that?"

"What? I did not notice!"

"He says 'taruNendu maule'. He addresses it to our ChandraMauleesvara. It is only the murti that his gurunathar Bodhendra Saraswati performed puja to--Chandramouleesvara. Only to him he has sung this way." Saying this SwamigaL moved away.

I had an impulse to tell him something. Had I said it, probably that would have been construed as an apacAram.

We can exchange it within ourselves!

Sridhara AyyavaL, who lived three hundred and fifty years ago, had supplicated to that ChandraMauleesvara that a PeriyavaaL with a mind that melts at the sufferings of others is going to take birth!

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