PeriyavaaL and We
Author: Kamala Gurusankar (in Tamil)
Source: Maha PeriyavaL - Darisana AnubhavangaL vol. 1, pages 217-235
Publisher: Vanathi Padhippaham
(The author uses the second person singuar 'nee' in Tamil to refer to Paramacharya. She also switches back and forth in the three tenses in this wonderful narration of her experiences. I have tried to maintain the poetic flow of her thoughts and emotions as much as I can. -- saidevo)
jaya jaya shankara -- hara hara shankara
jaya jaya shankara -- hara hara shankara
kanchi shankara -- kamakshi shankara
kaladi shankara -- kamakoti shankara
These chantings are heard from some distance. Just the noise with no clear words or meanings initially. Going near, they become clear, and the tiny hairs of the body stand erect. There comes a large crowd, progressing slowly, like an army of ants. No pomp, no decorations, no shouts. People of different castes, speaking different languages, village folks, urbanites, men, women, children--everyone singing a bhajan in their familiar language; different namAvalis back and forth in the same procession.
A good sunshine of a four-o'-clock sun. Does the sun play a hide and seek game? A little cloudiness, seen here and there. A small cycle rickshaw in the middle of the crowd. As if it's from a circus. Torn jute blankets on and above it; a mat, an umbrella made of screw pine flowers; plus some sundry items.
With someone dragging the vehicle, behind it, holding the vehicle--You! (Nee!--the author uses a singular form of address throughout). As we see you nearby, we fall down and prostrate on the road itself, our hands and body shaking. You do not stop or wait, but bless with your eyes, as you continue to walk. Are they your eyes? No no, they are oceans of mercy!
I was thinking for countless years to see you, to have your darshan. That yearning in the heart, whenever I hear about you, or read about you. It occurred to look for what is written about you, whichever magazine is taken. An apprehension that perhaps it may not be possible to see you. In those times, you were near Kanchi. Countless number of times we have come to Madras. I have requested to come over to Kanchi and see you at least once. I have begged. We are all ordinary people. Trifles. Thinking that only food, sleep, unnecessary pomp and gossip are the primary things. We will go wherever we like to go, spend whatever we like to spend. But then it is not possible to come over and see you.
Every day, when I light the Swami lamp and look at your portrait, I would feel the twirl of distress in the mind that it would not be possible to see you with human efforts, unless you called. I never spoke my wish in words. Did you hear it, anyhow? If the child gets hungry, it need not cry to show its hunger The mother would understand it herself. Like that, my pain has been understood by you.
Is it because of my yearning that I couldn't see you that you are coming all the way to see me? What do you have, a car or a railway coach? You come walking on this tar road, your feet aching. Worn on those feet, torn rubber slippers, repaired with manji naar.
Was it a mile, or two? How long you have walked! Appa! You are coming walking all the way, over thousands of miles. This place we live in, this Hubli city, whatever puNyam it had accumulated, to have your footprints. We never thought even in dream that you would come. But then you are coming, it's a reality. Torn saffron vastram. Some covering over it, made of the fibres of a tree-bark. Rudrakshas on your neck and head.
A minute's doubt when we look at you. Is it a human figure? No, no. It is only that Lord Parameswara who is walking on, wearing a tiger-skin! A moment's satisfaction of having had darshan of bhagavan. bhagavan is appearing to us in your figure!
That day you took bath several times for your Ashrama dharma. With the result, you had intense cold and fever, people who were with you tell us. If it is just a human body primarily meant to take food, it would necessitate in seeking treatments, care and comforts, lying down.
But then in your 86th year of age, without proper food or any sort of comforts, you are walking on with fever. That is the strength of your tapas. Solid power. You appear as a mixture of man and God. Human body, divine energy. Goddess Shakti is residing in you. That is why you appear as God, as Shiva. People say that on that day you had already walked for eighteen kilometers, so you should not strain further. It is only we who strain you. We invite you to come here and there and everywhere.
As the sun had started going down, you are received in a roadside village, to a garden, near a cattle shed, in a small hut, its roof woven with straw. Like a small child, sometimes you too listen to everybody and give your consent.
Did not you feel tired, walking so much distance? Did not you have thirst and hunger? At this hour, when the light is fading, you are sitting in a small hut, not knowing any fatigue, giving darshan to thousands of people; isn't it a great thing? Only when a king is sitting in his palace, he has thousands of worries. Here, before a pauper, is sitting on the sand and dust, the Maharaja of Sandur, with his family--and so much joy in his mind!
On the next day, since you wanted to go on pattina prevesam, we prostrate and take leave of you and unwillingly leave you at the village border and get back. My husband is given the responsibility to repair the crystal garland of yours that got severed. What puNyam did we do, to have in our hands the garland that adorned your body? We repeatedly touch and see it with excitement.
You won't eat anything. You have no hunger or thirst. No fatigue. But then aren't your assistants just ordinary people? They have their hunger and thirst. On that night they say that they do not have the strength even to prepare their food. But you wouldn't let them go to sleep with hunger and thirst. You would demand to be shown at least some uppuma (kitchadi) or rava porridge. I say that I will send them some food. And they say that they would prepare a little of uppuma and show it to you. What to do? To satisfy you, they need to sometimes deceive you.
It was a Saturday. The entire city is abuzz, since you are arriving there on the next day. We know that you wouldn't enter houses. Still, festoons in every house; Kolam designs on the floor, made with flour. We have decorated everything with flowers. The look and feel of a wedding ceremony everywhere. Everyone is excited. Happy. Immense joy in everybody's heart. Our home is full of holy articles and grocery.
Why so much joy and happiness on your arrival? Are you a king, or a big politician? A millionaire? Or a cinema or drama actor? You are just a pauper with nothing on hand. A sanyAsin. A sanyAsin of sanyAsins. At least a sanyAsin will have a maTham. You don't have even that. Such a bhAgyaM for us?
We were considering where to house you when you consented to visit us. The worry was that we did not have a river bed, a pond or a well that is required for you. By chance, we had dug a well in our garden, and it was full of water. The remaining work on the well was completed in haste and a holy worship was performed to it. A small hut was built, touching the fence of our house and a shed was erected near it. Vacating the outhouses of our home, it was arranged to house your people and facilitate their cooking.
Henceforth, no mention as 'you'; only 'Periyavaa'!
On the next day, a Sunday, on 13-5-79, it is the 86th jayanti of PeriyavaaL. We have the fortune to celebrate it in Hubli. Under his (Gurusankar, my husband) leadership a committee comprising the people of Dharwar assembled. The VIPs held counsel among them and collected money from the people. Everyone was given a specific job in the arrangements to receive PeriyavaaL and celebrate his jayanti. The arrangements were made under the supervision of Sri Balachandra Sastri, a vedic pundit in Dharwar. Whenever we think about the name mentioned above, we remember what PeriyavaaL said: "You shoud pronounce the name as Phalachandra, not Balachandra. It means one with a forehead that resembled the moon."
On the Sunday morning, after having our bath, with pUrna kumbhA and holy music we all go at the time of dawn, to the place where PeriyavaaL was staying, to receive him and get his blessings. PeriyavaaL is brought into the city in a procession along the Gadag Road, with bhajans, namAvalis and nAdaswara music. Some of us leave the procession, come back home and wait at the gate to receive PeriyavaaL with Arati. The cottage meant for PeriyavaaL has been erected in the golf course near our compound wall. Green grounds as far as eye can see. A railway line on the opposite side of the cottage. Beyond that the Udipi Krishnan temple and the Raghavendra Brindavan. Since it was a large ground we thought we could manage the crowd, but we faced much difficulties as the crowd that assembled was far larger.
At some distance from our home, say about three kilometers away, the jayanti arrangements have been made in a Hanuman temple. AyuSya Homa, Navagraha Homa and many others, done by 121 brahmins with the chanting of mantras was a sight that eyes could not accommodate. As requested by the city notables, my husband and I acted as kArya kartAs, maintaining ceremonial purity (madi) and observing the dharmic and vaidik regulations, and went to the Hanuman temple to honour PerivaaL. We haven't seen such arrangements and divine presence so far. Shastrokta puja and vaidik acts are begun. Vaidikas from different parts of the South have assembled.
The homas begun in the morning go up to nearly three in the afternoon. PeriyavaaL is brought in a procession to the Hanuman temple. A heavy rush of people. PeriyavaaL is sitting on a small stage opposite the homa gundam. The buzz of people everywhere.
In the vasodara homam performed, my husband and I pour ghee during pUrNAhutI. PeriyavaaL sitting opposite us. After the homa is completed, we take the prasAda and tIrtha, go to PeriyavaaL, and prostrate, with the rush of people surging behind us. PeriyavaaL accepts the prasAda. Somebody gives a bilva garland to my husband asking him to offer it to PeriyavaaL, who accepts the garland taking it from my husband's hands and wearing it himself. This same garland is given back to us as prasAda. I could not control the tears of joy and my body is shaking. Such a bhAgyaM for us! Whose puNya is this? Ordinarily, one gets countless fortunes in life. But then the bhAgyaM of honourng a mahAn to whose feet the world prostrates--how can I term it? Only the fruits of earlier births. It only occurs to us to pray 'Hey bhagavan! Make us the best people in this life and give us this same fortune, birth after birth!'
As soon as we got PeriyavaaL's prasAda, the women there touched our feet and said one after another we were so much fortunate. I went very emotional and cried. And then, saris and blouses were distributed to 27 sumangalis, and skirts to spinster girls who sat for the kanyA girls' puja. It was nearly five o' clock when everything was over and we took our food. By then PeriyavaaL had started from there, and walking a dirty way we thought he should not happen to walk through, reached his cottage.