Prof. L S Seshagiri Rao;
“To predict the future of an individual, astrologer s study the positions of planets in a man’s horoscope. To predict the future of a country, we need study no horoscope we have only to look at the eyes of children. If they are bright like stars, the future of the land is bound to be bright”.
A frail, saffron-clad figure was speaking earnestly from the podium and an audience of more than three thousand listened spell-bound. A few among the audi ence were educated persons; the rest were dalits and the down-trodden and their children. One of the greatest scholars of India was addressing them, but his words were simple and came from the heart; and they went straight to the hearts of the simple men and women who listened to him.
I was one of those priviledged to listen to the speech. The speaker was His Holiness Sri Viswesha Tirtha Swamiji, the celebrated Pontiff of the Pejawar Mutt of Udupi, in Karnataka, in south India. The occasion was the inauguration of the Bharata Bharati Pustaka Sampada, a project to introduce to young readers the mighty makers of India, from Vyasa and Valmiki to Visvesvaraya and Vasudevacharya the maestro.
The Swamiji not only visited the Dalit Colony for the inauguration, but spent well over an hour going round the colony, talking to the dalits and even entering some of the houses. Rarely have I seen any one receive such a glad reception.
A Swamiji presiding over a eight century old Hindu Mutt in a Dalit’s colony! Yes; His Holiness Sri Sri Visvesha Tirtha Swamiji presides with distinction over one of the oldest and most respected Hindu centres of Hinduism, but is one of the most advanced thinkers of our times. When you are with Sri Sri Visvesha Tirtha Swamiji, you are in the presence of one of the greatest scholars of India, one of the brightest minds of our times, and also, one of the most human and one of the most purposeful thinkers of this century. He offers the most authentic exposition of the Hindu religion and Indian Culture; he formulates the most progressive plans and is one of the most practical visionaries. Another picture rises before my eyes. It is a hot day. A group of men is coming up the bazaar street. A slim middle aged person, clad in saffron, is talking to an elderly person walking by his side. His face is radiant and his eyes sparkle. Several men of all ages, some of them evidently his follow ers, respectfully accompany him. Passers by on either side pause to look at him and some of them go up to him and salute him with reverence. Merchants from shops come down to the road and touch his feet and offer monetary contributions. He has been on his feet fro hours, and the heat and the dust
evidently impose a strain. But he talks gently and with unaffected friendliness to all who greet him. The group moves on. It is His Holiness on “padayatra’. For days he has been undertaking this strenuous duty to collect donations for a hospital. He is a sanyasi, who is deemed to have renounced the world. This Sanyasi has renounced pleasures and personal attachments, but not acts of compassion. Descriptions of His Holiness Sri Sri Visvesha Tirtha Swamiji sound like flattery- until one meets him. My mind goes back to a recent occasion when the Swamiji presided over a function in Bangalore. The audience numbered thousands. Only the day before, the Swamiji had a miraculous escape when, during a night journey, his car had turned turtle. Lakhs of devotees- and even others who were not devotees but recognized him as one of the assets of Karnataka and India today had heaved a thankful sigh. At the assembly, speaker after speaker had thanked Providence for the Swamiji’s escape. Later it was announced that His Holiness would be leaving that night for another programme in another city. Thousands of voices protested vehemently: “No night journey, we beg the Swamiji”. The protest and the prayer had come to spontaneously; he was moved and announced that he would not undertake journeys at night. The towering scholar ascetic is the friend of every one. Like many Swamiji’s and pontiff’s he evokes reverence in the common man; but unlike many Swamijis and spiritual mentors he evokes affection. He is the Great Guru- but he is also a friend and a warm human being. A Sanyasi at the age of Seven Sri Sri Visvesha Tirtha was born as the second child of Sri M Naranayacharya and
Srimathi Kamalamma, of Ramakunja, in South Kannada District in Karnataka, on 27th April, 1931. Ramakunja was a small village, but Lord Krishna beckoned him to Udupi. When he was seven he accompanied his father to Udupi. His Holiness Sri Sri Vishvamanya Teertha Swamiji of the Pejawar Mutt saw the boy named Venkataramana, and at once knew that the future Light of the Mutt. He asked the boy if he would become a Swamiji like him. The boy assented gladly. And on the third of Decempber 1938, Venkataramana was given the Sanyasa Deeksha in Hampi and was also given the name of Sri Visvesha Teertha. Providence blessed him with guidance from a great Master- Sri Sri Vidyamanya Tirtha of Bhandarakere Mutt, a profound scholar. The tutelege lasted eight years and the yound disciple mastered the mazes of logic and the intricacies of theology and philosophy ; he also saw that, while religion rested on logic, theology and philosophy,it was intrinsically practi cal- a light to illuminate one’s life.
The Young Interpreter
Sri Madhwacharya (1235-1317) expounded the Dwaita Philosophy and established eight mutts in Udupi (in Karnataka) to propagate his teacing. Sri Pejawar Mutt in one of them. The young Swamiji was now called upon to interpret the Dwaita philosophy and at times, to defend it in debates and disputations. The world of theology and erudition was soon compelled to recognize the appearance of a new star on the firmament. Young Sri Vishvesha Teertha SWamiji lectured on Dwaita Philosophy and participat ed in debates. In the latter he found elderly scholars with formidable reputations ranged against him. His exposition was always irrefutably logical, brilliant and authoratative,but without the least rancour. In disputations the best scholars admired his brilliance and unassailable mastery. Sri Sri Vishvesha Tertha Swamiji also undertook extensive tours criss crossing the country and won golden opinions at all the gatherings of scholars
which he attended. The Swamiji was invited to innumerable religious and philosophical conferences and after he became the Pitadhipathi, himself planned and organized such conferences. He was only twentyfive when, in 1956, he was invited to preside over the Agamatraya
Confer ence. The Maharaja of Mysore, Sri Jayachamaraja Wodeyar, himself a distinguished philosopher, inagu rated the Conference. The young Swamiji’s address was briliant and scholarly; the Maharaja was so deeply impressed that he invited Sri Sri Vishvesha Teertha Swamiji to the palace and honoured him. The Swamiji performed Sri Krishna Pooja in the palace. The Swamiji is innovative and practical. He recog nized that two needs had to be fulfilled if he was to perform his duties as fruitfully as he wished to. FFirst of all, devoted scholars had to come together periodically and exchange their interpretation of the teachings of the great Acharya. Secondly, the doctrines of Sri Madhwa had to be passed
on from generation to generation in an organized manner. Sri Sri Vishvesha Teertha is pre eminently practical. He is a brilliant organizer. The worship of Lord Krishna is a holy privilege which the eight Mathadhipatis prize highly. The priceless privilege comes to them by rotation so that each Swamiji gets his turn once in sixteen years; that is, there is an interval of fourteen years between one opportunity and the next. The assumption of the high office by a Swamiji is the celebrated Paryaya. Sri Vishvesha Teertha Swamiji assumed this sacred office first in 1952; he organized the Akhila Bharata Madhwa Tattva Jnana Sammelana and the Akhila Bharata Madhwa Maha Mandala was born. He suceeded in persuading the heads of the Madhwa Mutts to brush aside their differences and working together for the dissemina tion of the Dwaita Philosophy. Similar conference at various centres like Coimbatore and Madras have forged ties of unity and provided platforms for revitalizing exchanges of views.
One of the memorable occasions for a such a healthy co-ordination was the conference at Hyderabad, inaugurated by Dr.Rajendra Prasad, the First Rashtra Pati.Sri Sri Vishvesha Teertha Swamiji recongnized that knowledge has to flow down from generation to genera tion and that “Acharya Runa’ is a debt to be willingly discharged. He has himself set an example. He has been a dedicated teacher and taught several
disciples. Some of the best scholars of today in Karnataka were his students. The “Nyaya Sudha’ of Sri Jayatirtha is one of the treasures of the Dwaita system, but there are not many who can teach this challenging work. The Swamiji studied this mightly work as a disciple of the Bhandarakere Swamiji and celebrated the “Mangala’ in Udupi.
The Swamiji supported students worthy of the discipline and himself taught them in Nyaya Sudha. Two hundred disciples in twelve batches have received guidance from him. And he has celebrated the completion of the study of the Nyaya Sudha and other sacred texts like Sri Madhwacharya’s writings and the Bhagavad Geeta, at the holy Badarikashrama. The Swamiji has also enriched Bangalore with his gift of the Poornaprajna Vidyapeetha. He bought a spacious site and founded the Vidyapeetha, a residenctial school where students are taught by erudite and devoted teachers. Boarding, lodging tution everything is free and the student can devote himself to his studies free from all pressures. Hundreds of students have passed through the portals of this institution. Had the Swamiji done this much and no more, he would still have been considered an exemplary Madhwa pontiff and seer. He would have won the loyalty of the followers of Dwaita. But today even those who are not directly the disciples of his mutt look up to him with reverance. Numberless people who do not even belong to his caste or religion bow their heads to him in affectionate reverence; for today, he has become a great Servant of God and His Children. He does not belong only to the followers of Dwaita school, he belongs to India and the world. The Dynamic Seer The young are always close to Swamiji’s heart. He recognized that the young had to be trained to belong to the modern world, without losing what is life sustaining in their heritage. We have seen in the Western world and in America the consequence of losing touch with a living past; young men and women have developed a paralysing
sense of rootlessness, a feeling of alieniation, of bewilderment in a world with which they can establish no meaningful relation ship. The Swamiji has founded several hostels for students where, while engaged in their studies, they can get observe the rituals of their inheritance and where there is an atmosphere conducive meaningful community living. Such centres of education for life are functioning in several cities like Bangalore, Mysore, Udupi, Bagalkot, Gulbarga, Belgaum, Bijapur Mumbai, Raichur, Bellary, Gadag and Hubli-Dharwar. At Udupi students of the Sanskrit College were provided free board at the Sri Krishna Mutt. The Swamiji extended the facility to all students at all levels, from primary education up to advanced techni cal education. The Swamiji has set up separate funds for different states; students can secure loans for their education from these funds. All that the Swamiji does for students rests on three principles; mankind is reborn in every child, every child has a right to education andit has to be given education both for living and for life. Religion should teach us how to live together, not how to fly at one another’s throats. It is a force to unite, not a force to divide. The Swamiji had endeavoured to transform this version into a reality. First, he sought to put an end to schisms among the Madhwa pontiffs. He organized conference after conference where the unifying Light of Sri Mahdwacharya’s teaching beckoned one and all. He sought to bring home to all followers of Sri Mahdwa charya that they belonged to a single fold. Next, he worked tirelessly to bring together the pontiffs of all shades of Hinduism. He is one of the architects of the Vishwa Hindu Parishat. He gave the Second Conference which met in Udupi the great mantra “Hindavah bandahavaah sarve na Hiduhu patito bhavaet’. All Hindus are brethernand no Hindu is a fallen soul. To Hindus, all men and women are “Amritasya putraha’. The 1969 Karnataka Regional Conference of the Vishwa Hindu Parishat was an unfor gettable success. The Swamiji invited the Guru of the Chaitanya School in Assam to the Mutt and honoured him. Sri Sri Vishvesha Teertha Swamiji has visited several Hindu Mutts not dedicated to the Dwaita sytem and engaged in cordial discussions and consultations with the heads of these Mutts; he has invited the heads of such mutts to the Pejawara Mutt and honoured them. He has called on the Swamijis of the Shankara Mutts and Kanchi, Sringeri and Puri. He has also conferred and worked with the heads of the Siddaganga Mutt, the Brihanmata in Chitradurga, the Murusavira Mutt of Hubli, the Tontadarya Mutt of Gadag, the Taralubala Mutt of Sririgere and the Adichunchanagiri Mutt, among others.
To the Pejawar Seer, all Hindu pontiffs are the servants of God and Man, as he himselfis.Ad Id-Milan Celebration in a Hindu Mutt The sixteenth of September 1984 was a memorable day not only for the Sri Krishna Mutt but to all Indians For on that day the head of a leading Brahmin Mutt, Sri Sri Vishvesha Teertha , invited leaders of the Mulsim Community; and together they gave a call for good will among members of all castes and religions. The Swamiji sought to reach out to fellow Indians of all religious denominations and invited Sri Aliyan to his Mutt. The Muslim leader reciprocated the gesture by inviting the Swamiji to Bhatkal; and on the sixteenth of September 1984, Hindu and Muslim leaders disseminated the
message of friendship and good will.
“The Dalits are our brothers and sisters’
The Swamiji is intensely religious, but his religion has a human face; he is a revolutionary but a responsible revolutionary. One step he took thrilled the compassaionate and shocked the orthodox. This was his visit to the Dalit colonies. The Dalits belong to the Hindu fold; they have worshiped the gods and goddesses of Hindu pantheon and followed the customs and rituals of the Hindus from times immemorial. But Hinduism has treated them cruelly and thus is a blot on the Hindu society. The Dalits have been treaed as untouchables and regarded as polluted. This is as
foolish as it is cruel. In the last two to three hundred years thousands of Dalits have embraced other religions; the inhumanity of those who labelled them as untouchables drove them to other folds. The irony of it all is that, to the orthodox Hindus, an untouchable ceased to be so as soon as he became converted to another religion. As long as they are with us, they are polluted; but the touch of a foreign religion purifies them and no disability is inflicted on them.
The Swamiji took a revolutionary step to put an end to this mindless cruelty. After his second paryaya he came to Bangalore. He opposed untouchability and visited a Dalit colony. There was a veritable cyclone of protest from the orthodox. But Sri Sri Vishvesha Teertha Swamiji knew he had taken the right decision. He opposed untoucha bility tooth and nail. In a town called Sanganakal in Bellary District, the caste Hindus attacked the Dalits. Several Dalits lost everything and were homeless. The Swamiji hastened to their rescue and helped concretely in their rehabilitation. In 1981- 82, the consequences of the ill treatment meted out to the Dalits manifested themselves ominously. In Meenakshipuram in Tamil Nadu, Dalits embraced Islam in considerable numbers. The Swamiji raced to Meenakshipuram and dissuaded the Dalits from leaving the Hindu fold. He also brought back to the Hindu fold most of those who had deserted it. Since then he has gone to the Dalits brethern time and again and demonstrated that there is no room for thoughts of untouchability in the heart of a true and enlightened Hindu. Compassion personified Indeed, the Swamiji is compassion personified. People in distress are just human beings to him. Pain and sorrow make no distinction among Hindus and Muslims and christians or others. And the Swamiji extends a helping hand to one and all. When a savage famine ravaged the land in Gulbarga District, the Swamiji raced to the rescue of the helpless. He opened gruel centres. He organized mass feeding. Cattle were without food and water. The Swamiji opened centres for catte care. In 1977 a devastating cyclone galloped angrily across Andhra Pradesh and thousands became homeless.
Again, the Swamiji hastened to offer timesly succour. An entire village Hamsaladeevi had been twisted out of shape and thrown aside by the irresistable cyclone. The Swamiji adopted the village and where the cyclone had left behind land conquering waters and death, there sprang up a hundred and twenty homes to shelter the shelterless; the Swamiji spent nine lakh rupees to have these dwellings constructed.
The Pejawar Mutt has a large circle of devotees, and the Swamiji has attracted to his fold large numbers of people who do not come afficially under the eccelsiatical authority of his mutt. All these donate as best they can to the Mutt. But the Swamiji’s passion for service to fellowmen demands richer resources. And so he undertakes padayatras to collect money and channelizes it. All life is holy to His Holiness and the 100 bed
“Krishna Sevashrama’ in Jayanagar in Bangalore, well equipped, bear testi mony to His Holiness’s concern for his fellowmen. His Holiness worships Balakrishna- the child Krishna in the temple; he has founded “Balaniketana’ in Udupi to take care of orphaned children. The Indiramma Charitable Dispensary in Malleswaram (Bangalore) offers free
treatment to children. His Holiness Sri Sri Vishvesha Teertha Swamiji is another name for Compassion-Compassion which lifts man towards divinity. He renders service to men and women, destitute children and forsaken elders, without show or advertisement; he stretches out a helping hand instinctively, Service to fellowmen comes as naturally to him as breathing and blood circulation. Frail, but Fearless and Free As one watches the frail figure of the Swamiji, agile and indefatigable, one wonders where so much energy is packed in that spare frame. But the frail Swamiji is also fearless and no arrogant authority can subdue him. Indira Gandhi clamped the Emergency on the country. Leaders of opposition parties were unceremoniously put behind the bars. Any one protest ing against the Emergency invited imprisonment. But His Holiness wrote to Indira Gandhi condemning the imposition of the Emergency. His letters to the P M were cyclostyled and widely circulated. This served to rejuvanate the champions of democracy. The Swamiji met the leaders who had been jailed. Authority frowned on his brave defiance and he was given to understand that his own freedom would be imperilled by such opposition. The undaunted Swamiji expressed his readiness to face imprisonment; all that he sought was that he be allowed to perform the usual worship. Was not his dear Lord, Sri Krishna, born in a prison? The government did not touch him. Sri Sri Vishvesha Teertha Swamiji is a member of the Rama Janmabhoomi Trust. When he went to Uttar Pradesh in 1991 the state government arresed and detained him. He has participated in the endeavours to find a solution and ensure Hindu Muslim amity. Both Sri V.P.Singh and Sri P.V.Narasimha
Rao invited him for consultations. On yet another occasion, the Swamiji opposed he government. This was when the government sought to implement the Kaiga Atomic Energy Project. The Swamiji felt that this was fraught with the greatest consequences for the environment and opposed the project. God’s Messenger of Love and Help Sri Sri Vishvesha Teertha Swamiji is a many faceted personality and his is a many
splendoured achieve ment. What has been recounted so far is only a part of what he has done for his fellowmen, for he is God’s messenger of Love and Help. He lives for others and so he sees where help is needed and stretches forth a helping hand. Pilgrims throng to Udupi; the Swamiji saw that at times some of them could not find a meal. So, every pilgrim is now a welcome guest at the Pejawar Mutt. Criss crossing the vast country, he saw that Sri Raghavendraswami, the Saint of Mantralaya, was a veritable lighthouse to mullions caught up in the storms of life, and that they yearned for the reassuring sight of His “brindavana’. So by himself and at times, with other Swamijis, he has dotted the land with the Brindavanas of The Great Saint, Sri Raghavendra Swamiji bringing an auspicious and comforting light into their lives. The Swamiji loves India and the people of the land. He has travelled widely. During his visits he saw that pilgrims did not have adequate facilities at several centres. He had a Madhwa Mutt contructed on the banks of the Alakananda in Badari. He also contructed the Anantha Mutt near the temple of Sri Narayana in Badari. The Swamiji sought to enable the common man to understand the teachings of the great Madhwacharya. But the Great Acharya’s works were not available to common man. The Swamiji of Bhandarakeri collaborated with Sri Sri Vishvesha Teertha Swamiji in th endeavour to publish them and Sri K.Narayana Rao of Gadag volunteered to fund the publication. The publication of the great Acharya’s works itself was mighty achievement. But he did not rest content even with this he formulated a plan to have the works rendered into simple Kannada. So this modern Bhagiratha has brought the profound teachings of Sri Madhwacharya to the common man. He has himself expounded the teachings of the Gita in simple Kannada and his lectures have been published in book form. He has organized “Adhyatma Shibira’ (Training Camps in Spirituality) and thus has provided guidance to those who seek enlightenment.
The epic of tireless service can go on and on. Flowers blossom wherever the Swamiji
sets his feet.
The Answer to the Prayers of the Age W e are today privileged to gaze upon this radiant vision of a great life. What does Sri Vishvesha Teertha Swamiji mean to this age and this country? Of course, he is a great man-great in many ways. He is endowed with a blazing intellect, profound scholarship and a formidable mastery of logic. To these gifts he adds the gift of clear and persuasive language. And so it is that he makes the most obstruse concepts of philosophy and theology clear as crystal. To listen to him is an experience, for he blends enlightenment with delight. He readily finds illuminating analogies and vivid images. He can simplify without sacrificing precision. Scholar ship experience and
reflection blend into a radiant flow, as the Swamiji speaks. His speech is at once an
illumination and a joy. A great intellect is a great boon but not everything in life. The heart is as important as the head. The Swamiji is sanyasi and ascetic, but an ascetic with a hearsfull of compassion. After all, mankind bows in admiration to the great intellectu als but bows in profound gratitude and reverance to the compassionate. The pilgrim on the heights of the Himalayas, the poor student struggling in his small room, the old man and the old woman lonely in their misery, the destitute child, the starving rustic in a hand of draught, the hungry cow with piteous eyes one and all inspire the Swamiji to urgent action. He cannot rest until he has wiped the tears from their eyes.
The Swamiji’s thoughts rest with God, but his heart is with his fellow human beings. This man who combines the vigour and self confidence of youth with the wisdom and patience of age is a practical visionary. He has dreams but knows how to translate them into realities.
The ascetic is a brave man who acknowledges only one Master-God. The power which imposed an Emergency on a vast land and threw thousands of opponents into prison in a single night could not silence the Swamiji. He was ready to go to prison; he only
asked the he be allowed to worship his beloved Krishna. Loved and revered by millions, seeking nothing for himself but living only for his God
and his fellow human beings, he is a very great man. But he is greater still in another way. He is a symbol; and he is the answer to the prayers of this Age.
He is a symbol of true Religion. For true Religion inspires a man to active goodness. It unites hearts, gives direction to men’s lives, and makes them brave, confident and purposeful. It makes a man com passionate. We live in an age in which religion faces onslaughts from many forces. The best defence of Religions is Sri Sri Vishvesha Teertha Swamiji’s life. His radiant life is true Religion in action. Orthodoxy and conservation are associated with reli gion. But this Sage and Seer has been as brave in defying blind and heartless orthodoxy as in defying unjust temporal authority. He symbolizes the wisdom, the compassion, the courage, the dynamism and the unifying power of Religion. Religion as he practices it is life giving.