“Memories are like roses in December”
As young boys certain events or news items got imprinted in our memory. So much so that the details start unfolding the moment we think back. In this episode I would like to place two of them on record.
The first of such events was the passing away of the illustrious Swami Chandrashekhara Bharathi of Sringeri. This Jagadguru was a great scholar and saint. In Sringeri there is a belief that the founder of the Mutt, the revered Shankaracharya, would take rebirth in the form of alternate Swamiji of Sringeri. What it actually means is that if one Swami is an ordinary mortal the other is the reincarnation of Shankaracharya himself. This had been proved time and again by the scholarship and stature of Swami who was thought to be the reincarnation.
Shree Chandrashekhara Bharathi had several such qualifications which could prove that he was such reincarnation personified. However this is not the place for me to list out the same. Suffice to say that we were all in great awe of him and worshipped his photograph in our homes.
As is customary, the Swamiji used to stay on the other bank of river Tunga in an Ashram type of place called Narasimha Vana. He used to take bath in the river Tunga in the early morning. Thereafter he used to visit the Sharadamba temple on this part of the river for conducting the daily Pooja. He had already appointed his disciple Shree Abhinava Vidyathirtha as his successor. Slowly all the ritualistic practices had been passed on to him. The elder Swamiji had restricted his activities to conducting Pooja and spent his time in penance. He had become an ‘anthermukhi’and was mostly on ‘mounavrutham’.
On this fateful day in the year 1954 the Swamiji got up in the early morning and was taking his bath in the sacred river Tunga. One of his disciples who used to accompany him found that the Swamiji did not get up after taking two three dips in the river. Swamiji knew swimming and there were no currents in the river at the spot he was bathing. The disciple promptly raised an alarm. By the time help arrived, the body had been washed away by the river. Finally it was collected within the town limits at a spot where the waters were stagnant. Everybody believed that it was not an accidental death, but ‘dehaparityaga’by the Swamiji himself.
The news spread like wild fire. I distinctly remember the time we received the news at our home. Suddenly the mood everywhere turned out to be one of great mourning. My father and eldest brother rushed to Sringeri along with other village elders. They came back only after all the last rites were completed and the body was laid to rest in the ‘Narasimha Vana’itself. We were told that the town was flocked by devotees from all over Karnataka, Tamilnad and Andhra.
The death of the elder Swamiji called for another great event in Sringeri –the coronation of Shree Abhinava Vidyathirtha as the Jagadguru and the official successor. This occasion again remains permanently embedded in my memory. Our entire family was in Sringeri and we could sit in the Sabhangana of the Mutt and witness all the rituals of coronation. My aunty had to hold me on her neck to allow me to see the Kshirabhishekam of Swamiji. I remember to have given lot of trouble to my mother by asking for balloons repeatedly. I went on bursting them one after other by blowing the air! Each time I persisted in getting a new one immediately! My mother never forgave me for that. Whenever the occasion of coronation was referred to she would remind me the trouble I gave her! In fact she used to say that she would remember this occasion more for the trouble given by me than for the coronation itself!
I should mention here the efforts put in by me to erase my mother’s memory about this episode in my life. Particularly after the ‘Kutty episode’ I made lot of efforts to please my mother by my improved behavior. My mother did appreciate this. But there arose another problem for me. She made me and the ‘balloon episode ’a case study for my younger brothers. She started quoting this incident on every occasion explaining to them how I could improve from the lowest depths to which I had sunk at that time! Thus all my efforts to erase this incident came unstuck!
Years later, she was on a visit to my house at
Bombay. I took
her to with my wife and young son. There
my son was playing with a balloon when it suddenly burst. He demanded another
one immediately. My memories came back flooding to me! I looked at my mother. I
was expecting her to tell me “history repeats itself”! She merely smiled at me
and asked me to get one more for him! With that this ‘episode’ of my childhood
came to an end. Juhu Beach
The next event most memorable is the “Kashi Yathre” undertaken by some of the elders from our village. The members of this party included ‘Kittajjaiah’ (our neighbor) ‘Doddamma’ of Sampige Kolalu (my father’s auntie) and ‘Ananthaiah couple’ of Melinakodige (my mother’s maternal aunty and her husband). In those days there was no guarantee that the Yathrees would come back alive. The main factor was their age. The Yathrees were expected to wear traditional dresses. The attire for male members was similar to the one that is worn by the bridegroom on the occasion of his marriage (all married Hindu males do recollect this scenario often in their life). Special coats were stitched for the purpose. For children like us the male pilgrims looked like ‘Dasaiahs’ who used to visit our village often and tell the future of the Yajaman of the house. A grand function was held and the Yathrees were given a traditional send off. We all went with the Yathree troupe up to the border of our village accompanied by a ‘Nadaswaram’ team.
If I remember correctly, the team returned safely in about a month. They were received cordially and the whole village was eager to know their experiences. The ‘Kashi Samaradhane’ was held as a great event at Sampige Kolalu. The relatives of the family came from different villages to participate in the celebrations. ‘Doddamma’ was a well known figure and carried lot of respect even outside our village. We all got one ‘Kashidara’ (sacred black thread from Kashi), which we tied to our forearms happily. We also got a four Anna coin as dakshina! We had absolutely no use for this money even though it had good value for elders in those days. The reason was there was no shop in our village where we could have put it to good use! We had no alternative than to surrender it to our parents!
The troupe had brought a good number of pictures from Kashi. We were thrilled to see those pictures! Each troupe member was supposed to forego one of his/her favorite eatables after the Yathraa. Our Kittajjaiah had to sacrifice his best item, ‘ananas rasayana’. For almost a year we went on hearing the Yathraa story from the members and were never got ourselves fully satisfied! One particular thing of interest and curiosity for all of us was the reference made by all of them about the presence of an underground route from Kashi Vishwanath temple to the Rameshwaram temple! They all had seen the entry point from Kashi! One of my greatest ambitions of my life at that particular time was to explore this route when I grew up!
---- (To be continued) ----