History of Chandrasekhara Saraswati

The 68th Pontiff His Holiness Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swamigal

Sri Swaminathan (born at Villupuram on 20th May 1894 -Anuradha Star) was taken to Kalavai in his 13th year, when he was studying at Tindivanam, to be initiated into ascetic order and ordained as the 68th Acharya of the Kanchi Kamakoti Math. He was given the Sanyasa name Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati. He was affectionately called "Mahaswamigal" and "Walking God". He adorned the Peetam from February 13, 1907. True to the tradition of the Peetam set by Adi Sankara, Mahaswamigal travelled throughout the country by foot or by the traditional palanquin. He also stood by the national sentiments in discarding "foreign cloth" (He immersed them in water instead of setting fire) and started wearing Khadi. He set the trend to create Trusts for achieving the objectives of the Peetham. His foremost concern was preservation of the Vedas, tradition and dharma. He advocated simplicity, shunned pomp, ostentation and extravagance. His exposition of Vedanta, sastras and the dharmic duties attracted scholars and laymen alike, from far and wide, for it has always been rich in values and simple in understanding. Great humorist he had the keen acumen to relate root words of all the languages to Sanskrit highlighting its greatness. He attained moksha at Kancheepuram on 8th January 1994 (Dhanur, Krishna Dwadasi) in his Centenary year.

Maha Periyavaal spent several years in the study of the scriptures and dharma shastras and acquainted himself with his role as the Head of the Math. He soon gained the reverence and respect of the devotees and people around him. To millions of devotees he was simply "Periyavar"—the revered one or Maha-Periyavar or Periya-Periyavar. "Periyavar" in Tamil means a great person, and conveys endearment, reverence, and devotion. "Mahaswami" and "Paramacharya" are his other well-known appellations.

Maha Periyavaal was the head of the Mutt for eighty-seven years. During this period, the Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam acquired new strength as an institution that propagated Śankara's teachings. The devotion, fervour, and intensity with which the Paramacharya practiced what Śankara had taught are considered to be unparalleled by his devotees.Throughout his life, the focus of his concern and activities was rejuvenating Veda adhyayana, the Dharma Sasthras, and the age-old tradition, which had suffered decline. "Veda rakshanam" was his very life breath, and he referred to this in most of his talks.

Taking one meal a day and sleeping in makeshift rooms, cowsheds and withered palanquins, he advocated simplicity and shunned extravagance. His exposition of the Vedanta, our sastras, agamas, puranas and epics appealed to scholars and laymen alike. They were very simple in language but rich in appeal and content. He was a great humanitarian, deep in his heart.

The Acharya's ``Pidi Arisi Thittam" (handful of rice scheme) was conceived with the poorest in mind. Every household was requested to keep aside a handful of rice and a humble coin before starting the day's cooking. Both the rice and the money were collected by a volunteer agency. While the rice was to be cooked in temple premises, offered as prasad to the deities first and then to the needy, the money would serve a socio-religious cause.

Remaining active throughout his life, the sage of Kanchi twice undertook pilgrimages on foot from Rameshwaram in the far south of the Indian peninsula to Benares in the North.

Providing support through Veda Patashalas (schools teaching Vedic lore) through the Veda Rakshana Nidhi which he founded and honouring Vedic scholars, he reinvigorated Vedic studies in India. He organised regular sadhas ('conferences') which included discussions on arts and culture—these led to a renewed interest in Vedic religion, Dharma sasthras, and the Sanskrit language. His long tenure as Pitadhipathi is considered by many to have been the Golden Era of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. He attained Mukti on January 8, 1994 at the age of 100 and was succeeded by Jayendra Saraswati Swamigal.

Spiritual leadership

Periyava stressed the importance of a Guru in one's life. He repeatedly preached about the importance of following the Dharmic path. His various discourses are available in a volume of books called 'Deivathin Kural' (Voice of the Divine) which have been compiled by R. Ganapathi, a devotee of Periyava, and published by vaanathi publications. These books are available both in Tamil and English. A condensed form of these books is also available in English. These are available in any branch of the Kanchi math. He was a pure Gnani - (Sanskrit - he knew every thing happening in the world). He had proved this several times.So many devotee's mentioning this in their experience accounts for this. His advice to Paul Brunton is a classic example. He treated all religions equally and with respect. He guided the devotees by spiritual means.

Periyava and the Indian Freedom Movement

Though Periyavaa did not get directly into politics, he was interested in the happenings. At Nellichery in Palakkad (Present Day Kerala), Rajaji and Mahatma Gandhi met the Acharya in a cow shed. It was a practice in the mutt to wear silk clothes. But Acharya was the first one to do away with them and shifted to Khadi robes at Rameshwaram. He requested his devotees to do away with foreign/ non natural clothes some time earlier at Trichy. The day India became free, he gave the Maithreem Bhajata song, which was later to be sung at the UN by M S Subbulakshmi. He gave a speech on the significance of the flag and the Dharma chakra in it on that day.

Dasopadesam (The Ten Commandments)

The Paramacharya also listed 10 simple commandments (Dasopadesam) and urged his followers to lead a purposeful and wholesome life. This included going about doing one's duty with a sense of social responsibility and god-consciousness, offering the best of everything to God, unconditional love for everyone, practising philanthropy, cultivating the ability to discriminate between good and evil and looking upon assimilating wisdom not wealth as the goal of life. Passion is the cause of birth and time is the cause of death. What is created by passion is destroyed by time. If passion is strong, the seed sprouts. If time comes, the tree dies. If there is no passion, there is no production. If there is no time then there is no destruction, says the Mahaswamigal. Therefore we have to conquer Kaala (Time) and Kaama (passion). As his prayer to mankind, in an international message in the form of a song, he urged that minds be won in a friendly way. He wanted us to eschew war and jealousy. The Mahaswamigal insisted that the cause of poverty and sorrow the world over is want. Men of means should plan things in such a way that their prosperity is shared willingly with the poor. In the absence of desire, there is no sin and no misery.

Just a couple of incidents illustrate Paramacharya's greatness and vision. Once communist leader P. Ramamurti's daughter, Dr. Ponni, went to have a darshan of Mahaswamigal and he asked how she charged her patients. She replied that she took money only from the rich people and charged the poor for the medicine. The Mahaswamigal suggested that she treated the poor absolutely free. That stunned her, as even her father, a socialist, did not think on those lines.

This happened in the Mahaswamigal's childhood. An old woman at Tindivanam, selling snacks, approached Swaminathan and urged him to buy some murukku. He wanted her to cut down the selling price and she refused and left the scene, bitterly remarking, "I don't mind if you do not buy and certainly I don't welcome you with poornakumbam to buy the my items."

"Mind your words patti," Mahaswamigal smilingly said. "You are going to receive me with poornakumbam some day." That day did materialise after he became the head of the Kanchi Math and visited Tindivanam.

The Mahaswamigal saw no threat to Hinduism so long as its practitioners observed physical and mental discipline taught to them by the scriptures. Hinduism has grown with devotion, meditation and self-purification, not with propaganda, lure of money or threat of war. "If we examine ourselves periodically with the aim of achieving perfection, the world would follow us," he said.