Surya Devta requires us to not shirk our responsibility but fight against those who try to dismantle this great civilization at every step.
Continued from Part 1
It had been six months since Sastry had quit his post and that was definitely the talk of the town and of all the surrounding towns too. The news, as predicted, travelled all the way to Vizag and Vijayawada and made it to the numerous Telugu Channels which vied with one another to bring in the latest scoop, citing caste politics and religious divides as the reason for his untimely unexpected resignation. Although he was approached by many journalists and politicians, taking Swami TV’s advice, he decided not to bad mouth the EO and instead told everyone that he was getting old for such a strenuous job, someone younger was needed for the rigorous daily routine as was demanded of a Chief Archaka, and that he wanted to take care of his kula daivam.
So Sastry went from being the most powerful person in Srikakulam Jilla to being a nobody almost overnight. The small vaidika temple that he continued his daily worship in was built for his family, for his particular clan. It was not meant for the public. No wonder all the roadside salutations from strangers, from people on his street and the neighbours, all that stopped. Everyone kept a dignified distance from him. The turbaned man with his bulls did not frequent their house anymore, where had all the affection and familiarity gone? Where had he gone wrong? Did he not study conscientiously, did he not keep up his aachaaram, anuShThaanam, without fail, had he not been always the first to rush and help! Yet here he was, all alone.
Anjaneya had officially taken up residence at Swami TV’s place saying he wanted to study shaastra and be a sannyaasi, what a waste of a robust life! His daughter Seetaamahaalakshmi got married to that Reddy in Court without informing him and did not even try to make amends after his stern refusal of the match. Only his wife stuck around but with a long face, now that he was no longer the powerful man he once was. He was no longer a man whom people looked upto, for favours, for advice, for basking in the reflection of his erstwhile glory. He felt worn out, weak, low, and devoid of any enthusiasm for life or living. On one such day, Sastry saw Swami TV approach his house! In all these years Swami had not come here saying that bhiksha must be had only from houses within one kilometer of one’s residence. So what was his sannyaasi friend doing here today? At this lunch hour? He called out to his wife hurriedly, “Osayi….osayi…swamulavaaru vastunnaaru vistara vaDDinchu..”, his wife scurried about excitedly clanging vessels and laying out banana leaves to serve food when she heard him. What an honour! What puNyam! This visit would surely change their diminishing fortunes.
Unfortunately, that happy meal was never to be, it was not in Sastry’s destiny to offer bhiksha to his one and only friend. No sooner did he see the Swami at the door Sastry brought water in a brass chembu to wash his feet, excited with this sudden advent of good luck. Even while he was pouring water over Swami’s soles, he kept muttering how wonderful it was, how happy he was, how absolutely delightful it was to have his childhood friend come home like this without notice. And while he offered a towel for Swami to wipe off the wet legs dry, he looked at this sannyaasi before him endearingly. Of all of the people in town, he was the only one who had continued to be loyal to Sastry. With the trappings of his power gone, people too had disappeared from Sastry’s life. They now walked past him without acknowledging him or his scholarship. That hurt him the most. So many years he had given to the temple, to the people here, yet in a matter of months he was a nobody! All the more reason to sit down and chat with his friend. To wash away all the troubles of the mind with his friend’s insistence of the world being mithyaa, of the need for vairaagya and what not. That would surely assuage his injured heart.
Just as they were about to cross the threshold and step inside, Swami TV looking over his shoulder towards Sastry and said, “…tomorrow is very auspicious I am giving sannyaasa deeksha to Anjaneya, I wanted to let you know, he wants it and he is ready…his Viraja Homam is tonight….if you want to be there…” Sastry, who was following his friend eagerly, his whole body throbbing with delight, crumbled completely on the inside and outwardly fell into a heap unable to get up. His voice got stuck in his throat and he could not answer his wife, nor call out to her for help, his smile flew away to the past remembering another horrific episode such as this. Swami TV oblivious of what happened behind him kept walking indoors. First his daughter, thought Sastry, now his son. He was left with nothing and no one. He managed to crawl up bit by bit, picking up the umbrella which was sitting outside waiting for the monsoons. He helped himself into the house and just as his wife was about to serve food to Swami TV, he pushed her away. She looked aghast at him, his rude behaviour in front of an esteemed guest and a dear friend. Before she could start reproaching him, her husband had led Swami by the crook of his arm out of the front door and into the street, shutting the gate behind him. Taking a deep breath he announced to his wife, “..your son will murder us tonite”.
Sastry’s memories thrashed around helplessly blindly until they landed on that particular year when his close friend had decided to leave the familiar world and take on the vow of sannyaasa. Swami’s father, a famous Veda Pandita, was also upset just as they all were to lose him to kaashaayam. Why did he want to be different, why leave such a grand legacy behind, why discard, why shed, why..why..if all is indeed one, how should it matter…This question had troubled him then as it did now. Neti Neti – have you forgotten what we were taught is what his friend had answered in reply chuckling, obviously delighted with his new attire. Sastry had not slept a wink that night after watching his friend keenly during his Viraja Homam, where he had to give up all, where he renounced his, his parents, his friends..declaring them dead to him. Sastry had sat forlorn hoping, just in case..just somehow there is a change of mind…but no. Not then, not now, you could never budge his stubborn friend. He never gave in. When Sastry went to him the next morning, shy and unsure on how to greet his closest buddy as a sannyaasi and offer dakshiNa, his friend had teased him again, eyes twinkling,
“I give you abhaya daanam Raamu, you will have nothing to fear from me. No one has anything to fear from me..that is the vratam we take…did you know?”.
No, he did not..he did not care..he simply wanted his friend back. Sastry had stopped talking to him after that for a long time.
It has been almost a year now, so many dramatic events took place in the last twelve months. I left my heavy-duty post, started worship in my own family temple, my daughter left us, my son took up sannyaasa, and my wife took refuge in her yatras, never at home, I am all alone now, not even a friend to keep me company… thought Sastry lying on his cot looking up at the breaking dawn….the emerging sunrays soothed his damp lungs and nourished his frail body. He felt a resurgence of vigour after so many months. Sastry had been cold constantly and coughing badly. Lack of proper food, proper nourishment and proper upkeep of his house had turned him into some sort of a beggar. He looked gaunt, wore torn dhotis, and his slippers needed mending. He cooked his own food which was mostly just rice which he mixed with milk. He refused all help from his daughter when she offered to come and stay with him for a while to help him get back into shape…he refused help from his son who sent his minions to do odd jobs for Sastry. Swami TV would call on his cell phone every few days and wait until the call was deliberately cut by Sastry to send a positive message or two from the scriptures. Sastry was unable to forgive Swami TV for weaning his only son away from him, for preventing the continuation of his family name.
Yet amongst all these troubles he did not once miss his routine or his nitya karmas. Getting up before dawn he would go to the river, bathe and do sandhyaavandanam, he would repeat it in the afternoon and evening. Today was the first time since his upanayanam where he was caught lying in bed at sunrise. Almost sixty years of a hard disciplined life, of course only his Suryanarayana did not forsake him like the rest. He had started noticing this the past few days, each time he felt depressed or felt low, the sun would shine brightly twinkling as though only at him, for him, even through the clouds…he had tested it a few times like Prithaa had, only to beget Karna, what would he beget? Suryanarayana, how much more should I endure, help me, pull me out of this pit, so sighing Sastry turned his body sideways from left to right and stared blankly at the dying Tulasi plant in front of him in the open courtyard from his bare cot. The morning was dull, grey, and cloudy. He had no energy left for anything anymore.
That moment it started raining, pouring heavily, and he felt miserable inside out. He automatically chanted the Aditya Hridayam as was his habit and suddenly he saw the sun peeping from behind a cumulus gently and the skies cleared up as swiftly. It was astonishing. He was filled with inexplicable joy. Lying on his cot watching the sun respond to him so instantly, he felt ashamed. He felt humble. He felt like a new man. A transformed devotee. Despite feeling very feeble he wrapped himself up in his uttariyam and took his umbrella and walked out of his house. Everything looked foreign to his fresh eyes. He was smiling genially at everyone and people looked surprised and returned his smile with a genuine “namaskaaramanDi”. His very bearing had undergone a marked change in the past year without his knowledge. Having known pain and hurt, with his ego taking a thorough beating, he had been left at the mercy of his own self. Thanks to his bhakti and shraddhaa, here he was standing in line, waiting in queue, to have darshan of his beloved Suryanarayana, the one whom Sastry had treated as his own son all these years. No one recognized him. Devotees thronging the temple did not pay attention to him, he was one among them. He joined his palms together and stood patiently, waiting his turn.
The couple standing in the queue behind him were young, with a small child who was crying, the queue was long and the mother was unable to quieten the boy. People around her were making her feel guilty and gave her exasperated looks as they could not bear the boy’s screaming any longer, “..why don’t you take him outside, he must be suffocated…such a small child, we all had kids too, we didn’t torture them like this….”, one after the other some old lady or man started admonishing the poor girl. She was his Anjali’s age, she reminded him of his daughter whom he had not met for months. Suddenly out of nowhere, he offered, “This must be your first time here, I have not seen you in these parts, if you can trust me with your boy, I will leave the queue and sit by that tree there – you can see us from here, I will wait there for you to finish your darshan and then you can come and get him”..the young girl wanted to believe him and she was tempted to do what he suggested but the boy’s father protested with his eyes. He would naturally not trust a stranger especially these days, so Sastry was forced to do the next best thing. He called out to the guard who recognized him, “Prasaadu take this couple to Shankara, tell him I sent them, they cannot wait in the queue, the child is not well and they have to leave soon…”. Sastry was confident of the power of his word even after twelve months of being away from his post. The EO may dislike him, the people may have forgotten him, his own children may have disowned him, his wife might have abandoned him, but he had confidence in his vRutti, he had given his all to this temple, and the young archakas he had trained knew this very well.
Nothing was below his dignity at the temple, Sastry had done everything here from the most menial of labour to the highest seva, from cleaning the tank, to serving bhaktas at annadaanam, to conducting kalyaNam of the deities, everything. No task was too small or big, and that is what he had taught to his team, even the guards knew this and the moment Prasad spotted his old master his face showed surprise and then broke into an affectionate respectful smile, “pantulu gaaru…meeraa!?” so saying he quickly nodded his head and lead the couple onwards to the main garbha griha for a quick and hassle free darshanam, “..come come…your darshanam will be over in half an hour…he used to be our Chief Archaka….he made sure all old people and couples with young children have a separate queue …..” Sastry heard Prasad tell the couple proudly.
When Sastry came out from the inner sanctum after his first darshan of Suryanarayana as a devotee, he saw the young couple waiting for him with their boy, now asleep and quiet. They walked with Sastry to his house and went inside on his invitation. After resting for a few hours and talking about the world, about the country, the state, the politics of it all, and laughing and chatting merrily with one other, the trio with the young boy who was now prancing ahead of them went to the temple again for annadaanam at noon. Sastry showed them the temple tank, told them about the various other shrines there, regaled them with stories from the past, and he felt light and content. So odd…these people are strangers to me, I knew them not yesterday, yet today I am happy to be in their company! Is it because I am all alone? Is it because I want to talk to someone? Sastry questioned himself. Or is it because they know nothing about me and accept me as I am without burdening me with expectation, and I, them? This is what had weighed down his relationship with his family, with his one and only friend, had it not?
It became a weekly habit, the couple would take the bus from the nearby Ponduru and spend Saturdays with him. His house soon began to sparkle, his manner began to soften, his gait was as quick but he spent more time getting to know his neighbours, the kids, the women, the vendors. And on one such Saturday when he went with his newfound family to the temple as usual, he overheard a few people in the queue talk, “..yes yes he is very good, I heard him on TV, such a young sannyaasi, what tejas! After all, it is genetic, his father was a Chief Archaka here for many years, the terrible EO made his life miserable so he had to leave…” Hearing this Sastry’s chest puffed up but he remembered just in time to stay on the ground and not let people’s words of praise lift him sky-high, he knew the pitfalls of such elation, it would not take long for someone to say something negative and he would be deflated…this is what Swami TV had kept warning him about…now he understood…days of loneliness, followed by self-pity, and then a slow awareness, the enjoyment of forced solitude, spontaneous happiness of sharing and caring for those other than his near and dear…it had been too sudden and too intense for Sastry but he had matched up to his circumstances and had grown into a more mature wise man. This was evident from how he conducted himself these days.
While his weekly visits to the Suryanarayana guDi reminded him of the tough days he had faced against the EO, how he had stood upto him and prevented further dilution of the rites in the temple, Sastry did not let his bad memories get in the way of his enjoying the sheer joy of being a simple devotee, without any other agenda in hand. There was no responsibility, no directives or measures enforced by the EO to follow, no team to lead, no logistics to juggle…nothing…right now he was simply a bhakta at the mercy of the elements and only his praarabdha to face.
The last day of his tenure as Chief Archaka when he was absolutely helpless and was forced to resign flashed in his mind when he navigated the halls of the temple premises in line, he had been standing for almost 2 hrs now, waiting his turn. Although the young archakas trained by him came up to him and offered to take him ahead as a senior citizen, he refused their generous offer, he did not want them to be caught in the crossfire of politics and lose their jobs. Already the situation of Hindus and braahmaNas especially was precarious in the state. Temples were being vandalized, murtis broken, chariots set on fire…he would not add fuel to this conflagration. Just before he had entered the garbha griha on that fateful day he had gotten into a huge confrontation with the EO who although sporting a Hindu name was a practising Christian. This was a well-known game and no one dare say a word, lest they be slapped with a legal case which was anyway in favour of the minorities and skewed against braahmaNas. The whole atmosphere at the temple had vitiated due to this type of daily tug of war between the bureaucrats and the archakas.
“You were all chattering too much, we have live telecasts of the darshanam these days, be mindful” admonished the EO. Who would tell him that they had been discussing the garments that were to be worn by Suryanarayana today, even though there was a system in place, discussions are bound to happen when there are 4-5 people working together. Was this a dictatorship, it sure felt like it! “Why are you on the phone so early in the morning, come and do the chanting..” Sastry was aghast at this very undecorous statement by the EO, one, he could be on an emergency call, two, he knew his duty very well having done this diligently for the past forty-odd years, three, it was not yet time for the chanting…the EO was simply showing him who was in charge, throwing his weight about. When it came to the abhishekam items, for example, he had started telling them that they did not need 11 dravyas that 9 would suffice, why to spend so much on rakta chandanam…..what! spend? The EO thought of offerings to the lord as an expense! No wonder they clashed every day. Our whole life is an offering to bhagavaan is it not? Where is the question of expense here, of profit and loss and keeping accounts? The final blow was when the EO refused to take off his shoes during his inspection of the back rooms where a lot of pooja items were kept since he felt cold and did not want to walk bare feet and get wet given the freshly washed floors… he had walked in gracelessly with his shoes on….and all of them had looked at one another with disdain but were unable to utter a single word as a retort. ..the EO had no devotion, no respect for what was before him, and had only one thought in mind, how to boss around, make use of the temple funds for other government projects. Surya was simply his blank cheque to encash. The devotees standing in serpentine queues waiting for a short darshan did not know any of this of course. When the policemen and women on duty pushed them with a ‘jaraganDi jaraganDi’, all of them blamed the evil brahmins for their misery, as though we have any power or say thought Sastry woefully.
Swami TV was right about one thing, ever since he had given up reacting from his ego and accepting everything as bhagavaan’s prasaadam, life had become much more pleasurable. So here he was ambling along the line awaiting early morning darshanam of Surya while the queue moved like a tortoise on hunger strike. He was in no rush. He was simply happy to have his independence back, to pray and to offer oblations to Surya by the riverbanks every dawn and dusk, with a morning visit to the temple before going home to cook and eat, afternoons were reserved for his japa and listening to pravachanams, and evenings would be spent in taking walks around the neighbourhood greeting and meeting people and offering sane advice for free. Only his nights brought out the old Sastry, who felt a tinge of self-pity at the state of affairs of his house which was once so full of people and resounding with laughter. But ever since he had started to reflect on life and its ways, he missed his old times less and less and grew into accepting what was in the moment.
Each time he approached the Arasavalli Suryanarayanswamy temple, Sastry felt as though approaching a lover after a long separation. People said that Lord Indra himself had built this temple here and that Kashyapa Muni himself installed the deity. In pristine white, so different from the regular Andhra temples, it was indeed built more in the Odiya style, after all being commissioned by a Kalinga king who was also called Devendra. The deft hands and subtle minds of the Maharana architects conceived of this sublime beauty way back in the seventh century. Although records show complete destruction by religious fanatics in the 16th century, had Pullaji Pantulu not financed the rebuilding of this temple after two hundred years, Sastry would not be here today. The one good thing that the Endowments did was building the Surya Namaskara Mandapam, where people of all ages came and performed their suryanamaskaarams, as did the priests, indeed the best way to worship Surya, not in some yoga studio! Passing by the Indra Pushkarini and the swaying coconut palms dotting it, he was overwhelmed with pride and humility at once. To have been the Chief Archaka here for so many decades, what more could I have asked for, thought Sastry as he started to get into the queue for darshan. His five feet tall Padmapani must be getting dressed now…..Sastry knew of every step that was being undertaken in the garbha gRiha and revisited it mentally while awaiting darshan.
Standing in the queue he checked the photos sent by his wife from her teertha yatra of the Sun temples across the country. None of them were live temples with pooja performed in them, except for the one dedicated to Suryan in Tamil Nadu, the rest were all broken down by invaders, looted by colonizers, taken over by ASI, turned into some sort of tourist spots with museums of desecrated murties. He scrolled through the photos of Konark, of Martand, of Modhera; she had been gone for months now. Tour operators knew what to sell and to whom, they had come out with this ‘Sun Temples of India’ package which cost a lot but she was adamant and on the verge of depression due to their son taking sannyaasa, so he had given in. The group that travelled together were all elderly and looked out for one another, so he was not particularly concerned about her well-being, plus she was street smart and could take care of herself. These photos made his heart sink deeper into a dilemma…if he got angry and reacted, Swami TV would say that he had given vent to his ego for nothing ..all this was mithyaa…he would feel helpless and upset for days being unable to do anything…if he did not react he would feel like a traitor not doing anything for his chosen iShTa. Analysing the whole situation he finally convinced himself that he was doing what was in his capacity to the best of his abilities. To unnecessarily worry about situations one cannot change or are beyond one’s dealings is foolish and the unfortunate nature of our times. So much information comes into our heads from WhatsApp and Facebook…we are constantly caught on the wrong foot…at his age his father had been a content man, having done his duty as a gRihastha, he had semi-retired from public and family life staying at an aashrama in the outskirts of the city until his demise a few years ago. Swami TV was right...I have been unduly egoistic in my approach with the EO, if I really cared for Surya, I would not have minded the petty insults ..no no I would not have thought of them as insults…I would have continued to do my job with love …I would have continued to serve my Surya…
Thinking of his old friend fondly for the first time ever since that dreadful day, Sastry decided to visit Swami TV after his darshanam here at the temple, he had a lot to thank him for. And to apologize. For taking in his son, for shaping his destiny and bringing out the best in his Anjaneya, even though this is not what he had dreamed of, but he had grown enough in the past year to appreciate that each person has his own karma to play out. His wife was doing what she enjoyed, she was happy, his son was doing well, his daughter was apparently very happy too. Her husband, also a student of Swami TV, was the sponsor for Anjaneya’s public talks…everything was going well…Anjali had named their son after him ‘Ramprasad’…I suppose I should be happy, I should consider myself lucky…my children are dhaarmika, and continue to respect me….looking at the situation and the world around…I am indeed blessed.
With this feeling of completeness, Sastry walked by his friend’s house to thank him for teaching him what was important about life, for taking care of his son and daughter in his absence, for being a role model to society, for living the teachings. He remembered his childhood with Swami TV, how they would memorize the Vedas, how they chanted them together and raced to the river in the morning, jumping into it and playing around, fooling around, while being admonished by their Acharya for being frivolous…he knocked at the door even though this was not Swami TV’s visiting hours, Sastry knew he would be scolded but that was fine….he should have done this months ago…but what to do, only now did he feel like this…only now did it all make sense to him…
“pantulu gaaru, have you come to take the keys?” a student called him from behind, turning around he spotted a Brahmachari in white looking pale and crestfallen. “Swamulavaaru told us many stories about your childhood with him at the gurukulam anDi, in his last moments, he kept taking your name, we wanted to call you but he said, ‘let him come when he is ready’…” so saying the young boy started to tear up. “He left this place in your name anDi…we are having so much problems anDi, some people have been throwing meat in front of the house every night.. …they were harassing Swamulavaaru daily to sell this land..they started putting Yeshu Prabhu songs loudly early in the morning to disturb him, everyday someone would come and knock on his door with pamphlets asking him to join this church or that…he went through so much anDi…thank god you are here…it all happened so quickly….he did not suffer…stroke anTa….we are unable to manage anDi..”, sobbing loudly the young man thrust the keys in Sastry’s palm and held on. Sastry stood there transfixed. Unable to move or say a word he crumpled into his favourite easy chair. The very chair where he would wait for Swami TV for hours on end. And now these doors would never open for him….he would never be admonished by his one and only friend with an antaa mithyaa….
He must have sat there for an hour or a day. Perhaps longer. But when he got up, he was the same old Sastry who was in charge of the Arasavalli Temple for decades. Sastry had found his cause, he had found his voice, and with it, he found his old self. “..evaDraa…Who dares to put meat here?” he roared going out into the street in absolute anger. “Come show yourself, cowards!”. Going inside he told the frightened students, “..change the board tomorrow to ‘Swami Tattvavedananda Surya Temple and Gurukulam’. I will build a Surya temple right here. The time for keeping quiet is over.” so saying Sastry rattled off a list of items for the now bright-faced students to bring, pressing some cash into his palms he said, “..go, go with courage, there is nothing to fear, this world is mithyaa, what is there to worry, but while we are here, we better fight for what is right!” He thought of his dear departed friend, who would have laughed at his righteous anger. But one lives as per his own nature, is it not? I am only doing what comes naturally to me, defending dharma. Perhaps in my next life, I will be able to rise up above all this Krishna thought Sastry calling out to his childhood friend by his given name. He hardly slept that night, reminiscing old days with tears flowing down his now emaciated cheeks involuntarily.
It was not yet dawn, Surya was on his way to Arasavalli, his brightness as Aryama though shone through the sky and illuminated the small patch which was holding out against land grabbers, evangelists, corrupt officials and greedy politicians. That mound in the central courtyard where Swami Tattvavedananda lay buried as per custom but without fanfare as per his instructions gave Sastry dhairyam veeryam saamarthyam. No one knew of Swamiji’s passing but for the few students whom he had taught diligently, who had given up everything for shaastra study. Swami TV came and went like that sweet scent wafting from the sampangi on a long thick braid of a beautiful lady who has just received it from the lord in the temple, who does the fragrance belong to? One can only take a whiff and hope that it lasts.
Sastry was up today earlier than usual and blared his baritone voice on the loudspeaker from the rooftop at four-thirty in the morning before anyone else got a chance to do so –
“हँसः शुचिषद्वसुरान्तरिक्शसद्धोता वेदिषदतिथिर्दुरोणसत् ।
नृषद्वरसदृतसद्व्योमसदब्जा गोजा ऋतजा अद्रिजा ऋतं बृहत्
ham̐saḥ śuciṣadvasurāntarikśasaddhotā vediṣadatithirduroṇasat ।
nṛṣadvarasadṛtasadvyomasadabjā gojā ṛtajā adrijā ṛtaṃ bṛhat ॥”
As a mover, he dwells in the heavens; as a pervader, he is in interspace; as fire, in the altar; as guest, in a house; he dwells in man, dwells in the betters, dwells in truth and dwells in the âkâśa. He is all that is born in water, all that is born of earth, all that is born of sacrifices and all that is born of mountains; indeed he alone is true and great!
Om Tat Sat!