Experiences with Maha Periyava: BrahmaSrI Vazhutthur Sri Rajagopala Sharma recalls the blessings he received from Paramacharya
A long-time devotee of Paramacharya, Sharmaji is one of the best Sanskrit pundits who also learnt Veda Shastras through the Patashala curriculum. At a young age, he studied in Kumbakonam Govinda Dikshitar Raja Veda Patashala where he learnt Sanskrit also. A man of Achara anushtanam and good qualities, he later completed his graduation in the Madras Sanskrit College.
He had exceptional interest in teaching Sanskrit to others, which brought him a wide range of students from the very big to the very ordinary. It would be more appropriate to call them the fortunate who were destined to learn Sanskrit from him, rather than students. Some of them were officers of high rank, who made themselves his students despite their age. Some of them were well versed in other languages.
The Mylapore Chennai branch of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan bears testimony to his abilities. Since its inception, he is successfully holding the charge of its Sanskrit education development wing. During his 27 years of service there, he remained as the cause of Sanskrit education to thousands of students. Many of his students have accepted him as their Kula Guru.
On completion of his Sanskrit college education, he went back to Kumbakonam and studied in the Pazhamaneri Aiyur Aiyer Veda Patashala. Then he took up the teaching job in Sanskrit at Ramakrishna Mission School, Chennai and held the post for 26 years.
When he taught in Ramakrishna School, about forty years ago, he started a Purana Pravachana Sabha and conducted discourses in Puranas for three days in a week in the Ramakrishna Mission Central Elementary School auditorium.
Even in those days thirty five years back, people suffered from water scarcity due to paucity of rains. The great, learned man Rajaji was ruling the then Chennai State as its chief minister at that time. He asked people to perform pujas and prayers throughout the state.
It was then that some Asthika well wishers came to me and requested recital of the Virata Parva in Mahabharata. I recited it for over two months continuously. God blessed us with rains during that time on two or three occasions.
Following it, many well-wishers asked me to give a pravachana of the entire Vyasa Mahabharata. Counting on Acharya's anugraha, I ventured to start the Mahabharata pravachana. It took four and half years to complete it, at three days a week. We never approached anyone individually for financial or any other sort of help. There was no shaking of the hundi for voluntary donation during the speech. We just kept a contribution box for those who were willing. It was only due to Paramacharya's Tiruvarul that the pravachana ran for four and half years without any hurdles. Before starting the Puranic story every day, I would recite the Vishnu Sahasranama in full. It was my strong belief that this japam was another main reason for the success of the pravachana.
(After this,) I decided to arrange for recital of Vishnu Sahasranama for 18,000 times every Sunday, for 18 Sundays, to match the 18 Parvas in Mahabharata. The recital was held at different parts of the city on invitation from well-wishers, who also contributed to the targeted count. After seventeen weeks passed by, we were discussing the venue for the last and eighteenth week.
Kanchi Kamakoti PeriyavargaL who visited Chennai at that time, was staying in Sri Sankara Gurukulam, Abiramapuram. We had darshan of him and submitted for completion of the recital for 18th and last week. He gave us the anugraha to complete the last instalment where he was staying and ordered for announcement of the event over microphone to the people.
It was dwadashi on the next day and we were left with limited time to complete the count of 18,000 before the paranam. It was our custom to start the japa only after kalasha puja and puja to the framed portrait of Sri Lakshmi Narayana Swami.
This custom was followed on the last day too. Paramacharya asked about the tentative time to complete the recital. Since many people participated in the japa. I said we would finish it early. Aisles of bamboos had to be built to regulate the crowd of Paramacharya devotees for his serving teertham to them, which he did at the far end of the Matham.
The recital was over and deeparadhanai was started. When the bell rang, the loud utterance of pundarika from the devotees rented the air. On hearing it, Paramacharya rushed for the deeparadhana darshan, crossing over the bamboo aisles. Only later we came to know that he had asked his assistants to remind him when deeparadhanai started. I carried the kumbha japa teertham, along with its garlands and flowers to submit before Paramacharya. He asked for a wooden stool to keep the kumbham on, since it was the maha japa teertham.
Acharyal sprinkled the teertham on everyone using a bunch of mango leaves and then distributed it as teertham to the people.
I submitted to his lotus feet a large plate that had on it betal leaves, betal nuts, bananas, coconut, a garland of flowers and eighteen one rupee coins.
Paramacharya asked me, "Did you perform the seventeen Sahasranama japams already done in this same manner?" I said that it was so. When he repeated the words, I was moved to tears and replied, "Yes, to the extent of our shakti."
He ordered the people who participated in the japam to have their meal there. He was very happy. Paramacharya's dialogue with me was held in Sanskrit. Finally he graced us with the words, "Mahat itam karyam sowbhagyodaya pravartate".
In the evening I went to Gurukulam to get Sri Lakshmi Narayana's framed portrait. It was time for Paramacharya to visit the Sanskrit College camp. He used to start from Abhiramapuram and walk through the Nageswararao Park Street and then via KarpagambaL Street. With the portrait in my hand, I joined the crowd of devotees and walked slowly in the front. When we had just turned to enter Karpagambal street, a man hurried towards me and said, "Acharyal is going through your home only", and moved away. I was shocked and surprised. Thinking how it was not known to me walking in this crowd, I rushed to my house.
I arranged for immediate sprinkling of water and drawing of a kolam in front of my house. A festoon of mango leaves was displayed at the entrance. I also arranged for the portrait to be placed on a chair in the front entrance and garlanded, with a standing brass lamp lighted before it. poorna kumbham and camphor Arati were also readied. Every arrangement was made in a hurry, but without any omissions. Learning about Paramacharya's passing through the street, people started gathering on the footpath.
Our neighbours and we came to the entrances and waited with folded hands. I did not request Swamigal to visit my house, thinking humbly that I did not have that kind of qualification. I learnt that Paramacharya had decided to deviate from his usual path to the Sanskrit College via Nageswara Park Street, Karpagambal Nagar, Vivekananda College East Street and Sullivan Garden Street.
When so many people were yearning for his lotus feet to grace their homes, I was moved to tears of joy at the sudden bhagyam that came my way.
His people would have definitely requested Paramacharya to avoid the present route he took, since that part of the area was littered with black flags and graffiti of atheist slogans. He perhaps thought to sanctify those places with his holy feet. Once when he was advised against going through a slum area to reach the United India Colony in T. Nagar, he said, "Such worse places? Then it is only proper that we go by that way."
A crowd gathered in front of our house. Paramacharya entered and gracefully sat on the wooden Asana decorated with kolam. We did poorna kumbha pada puja and Arati. My wife, children and I came round him thrice and prostrated to him. Paramachara pointed his hand to the divine portrait kept in the inner room and told the gathering, "It is with this Sri Lakshmi Narayana portrait kept for worship, that these people conducted the four-and-half years Mahabharata (pravachana) and the recital of Vishnu Sahasranamam for a total of three lakhs and twenty four thousand counts." Acharyal then clapped his hands to gesture to the people who had gathered inside the house blocking his view to move away. He looked keenly at the portrait and said "Rajagopala!" calling me near him. He let his glance fall on my old house which had a low, tiled roof and asked me, "So this is your house and you are living here?" When I said yes, he told me, "Have another prostration." All our family members prostrated to him again.
Within days after his arrival, we were blessed with an opportunity to leave that old home and acquire the larger home where we are living now. Good things and marriages started happening in this new house, following our moving in.
The fortune of Badrinath and Kedarnath holy yatra also came our way. When I took the blessings of Paramacharya for these trips at his camp in Madurai, he blessed and told me, "Go with all the family! Not only Badrinath, but also visit Kedarnath!"
It was the time when the fear of the eight planets assembling in a line was dominant throughout the world. He asked me to visit Kedarnath as a remedy, and also blessed me with a garland of rudrakshas.
With his abundant grace we had a successful pilgrimage to the places, overcoming with ease the hurdles that came our way.
The journey was delayed at Rishikesh due to landslide on the Himalayan roads en route Badrinath. When the bus trips commenced two or three days later, there was a heavy rush and we feared that we might need to stay longer at Rishikesh than was normal.
I acceded to the request of the people in the Nepali ashram where we stayed and held a discourse in Puranas. I spoke in Sanskrit and a Guruji translated it in Hindi. The North Indian devotees became fond of my discourses. At the end of the discourse I told them about our predicament. I came to know that day the respect and love showered by the North Indians towards Sanskrit pundits.
A man from the crowd of devotees rose and spoke to me, "I shall take up the responsibility of taking you to Badrinath. Be ready in the morning. How many people are there with you?" And he kept up with his words. Even in the Badrinath darshan we had problems of rush, which were solved by good people who appeared suddenly from nowhere at such times. I believe all this happened due to Paramacharya's anugraha. Our Kedarnath pilgrimage was also completed without problems due to his grace.
About twenty of us who undertook the pilgrimage, at last reached Chennai safely. We had a continuous stream of calls from relatives and students seeking to ensure our safe arrival.
I knew the reason for this wide attention only later. After our return, news had come in the press that the routes in the Himalayas were closed due to landslides and that many travellers met with accidents.
Within two or three days, I reached Ilayatthankudi village with family to have darshan of Paramacharya. I submitted the teertham I had brought from Ganga. The Dhanuskoti tIrtham had also come. When Paramacharya took his bath in the pond the next morning, he poured over him the two teerthas. Looking at this we felt the happiness of deliverance from the cycle of births. We also took our bath there along with other devotees.
Swamigal later inquired about our pilgrimage and said, "I heard there were landslides in the Himalayan roads?" I replied, "Those things did not affect us since we had the kavacham." He said, "kavacham?", repeating the word. I touched the rudraksha garland on my neck and said, "When this form of your blessing was with us, what hurdle could we have had?" He smiled. We prostrated again and took leave of him.
Even though many years have gone by since these things happened, the memory of them is fresh in mind.
BrahmaSrI Vazhutthur Rajagopala Sarma
Author: 'Paranthaman' (V.Narayanan) (in Tamil)
Source: Paramacharyar pages 129-142, 1992 edition