Paramacharya as Goddess Annapurani
(from the book titled Maha Periyavalh Virundhu by Raa. Ganapathi, pages 97-110)
Even during the 1920s Paramacharya hosted a dinner for the Muslims, whose sense of unity and patriotism ran high in those days.
Two hundred Muslim youths from an Islamic Youth Forum performed an exemplary service in the Mahamaham festival of 1921 in Kumbakonam. Paramacharya, who was camping at Patteesvarm nearby, heard about it and sent some Matam officials to bring the Muslim youths to him.
The youths were very happy that Shankaracharya had called them to his presence. They stood before him showing utmost reverence.
Paramacharya praised their seva and heard the details about their Forum. He inquired their personal details such as native place, education, occupation and family of all the two hundred youths individually, and made everyone of them immensely happy. He also presented a silver cup as a memento from Kanchi Matam for their seva.
Like the cherry on the ice cream, Paramacharya ended the interview with a tasty, three-course dinner to the youths.
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In the year 1924, Kaveri and Kollidam were overflowing with floods that threatened to merge them into a single river. Tiruvaiyaru and its surroundings were the worst affected by the floods. At that time, for nearly fifteen days, cartloads of cooked food were sent from Kanchi Matam for the thousands of poor people in the area. The food was served by the Congress workers under the supervision of Lawyer Sarangapani Iyengar, leader of the Tiruvaiyaru Congress Committee.
The daily culinary needs of SriMatam were reduced to the minimum, in order to use the stored provisions for feeding the poor. They worshipped the great sage who fed them as God.
The press praised this social service as the largest till then by a Sanatana Religious Institution.
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During the last days of the year 1931, the persecution of the Congress workers by the British government was at its peak. People and organizations were warned of stern action against any support for the Congress members.
Paramacharya was camping at Arani in the North Arcot district. A group of Congress members wanted to meet him. The Matam officials informed the sage that his meeting the Congress workers might create problems for SriMatam.
Paramacharya heard their apprehensions with concern and then said calmly, “Ask all the members of the group to come here. Also arrange for feeding them from SriMatam.”
The stunned Matam officials carried out the orders of the sage with consternation, but there was no problem from the government.
When the Manager brought the happy news of no reaction from the British government, Paramacharya said, “If I were to close the doors on people who want to meet me, I would not be fit to carry the title Jagatguru and sit on the throne of this Peetam.”
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Paramacharya used to quote the Tamil saying ‘Feed everyone, without any distinction’ (yArkkum idumin, avar ivar eNNanmin) and explain that no distinction of any kind must be entertained in offering food. He would be delighted to explain the Keralite tradition of feeding even the thieves at night! This custom existed in the place called Cherukkunnam, Kerala, in the Annapurani temple. After feeding the bhaktas in the temple, food packets were prepared and kept tied to the trees in the night, for the use of any prowling thieves.
Paramacharya also took delight in explaining the reference in the Sangam Literature of how the Chera king Udhiyan Cheraladhan earned the name Perum Sotru Cheraladhan(the king who was the chief host) by feeding the opposite camps of the Pandavas and the Kauravas during the Mahabharata war.
Kannappan the hunter fed Shiva Mahadev. Guhan the hunter fed Sri Rama. Here, the hunters named the Senjus of the Srisailam forest area were fed by the Paramacharaya!
During the 1934s, when the road transport facilities were very scanty, Paramacharya was traveling with his entourage in the desolate forests of Srisailam. Somewhere on the way, they came across the Senju hunters. Mistaking them for their foes, the hunters raised their bow and arrows initially, but when they saw the sage with his divya tejas, they realized their mistake and became friendly.
The people who came to oppose their passage became their security guards, carrying their luggage and watching over their camps at night time. Only after safely seeing off Paramacharya and his entourage at their next destination, the hunters assembled before them to take leave.
Paramacharya ordered the manager to give them some cash, but they refused to touch the money. The leader of the group said something to the manager, who nodded his head in disapproval and spread out his hands.
Paramachara snapped his fingers and called the manager to attention: “What is it that he asks for and you refuse?”
“They want to show their dancing skills before Periyavaa”.
“So you told them that I can’t see their dance because it was your opinion as manager that it was beneath the dignity of SriMatam.”
There was not any trace of anger in Paramacharya’s words. The manager was silent.
And the Paramacharya, who would not witness the performance of even the great and popular dance artistes, gave them permission to dance before him, with a condition: that while any of their males could dance, only those females who hadn’t attained puberty could join the males in dance.
Paramacharya asked them, “you might have different types of dances to suit different occasions: one for Swami (God), one for victory, one for sports and so on. What type of dance are you going to perform now?”
They gave a telling reply: “We are going to perform the dance reserved only for the closest of our relatives.”
Paramacharya witnessed their dance, blessed them, and hosted a nice dinner for them.
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A wealthy landlord in Thanjavur district had undertaken the biksha on that day. Paramacharya had ordered him to prepare a large number of laddus.
Only a small group of people which included SriMatam officials and the family and relatives of the host was present for the dinner on that day. The landlord couldn’t understand the reason for the large number of laddus. Perhaps Paramacharya wished to send the pack to an orphanage or a vedic institution, he thought.
Contrary to his wont, Paramacharya supervised the diner’s rows. He ordered for serving two and more laddus to each diner, even if they were in excess, ignoring the individual’s protests.
After making another strange announcement, Paramacharya went to his room. The anouncement was that it was not compulsory to eat all the laddus though Periyavaa himself ordered it, and that the excess numbers might be wasted!
Nobody could understand the strange announcement from Paramacharya who usually advises children that anna lakshmi should not be sent to the dust bins. Everyone had to leave the excess number of laddus on their banana leaves.
Since it was an order from Paramacharya, the laddus were made professionally, embedded with cashew nuts, dry grapes, clove, and cardamom. Now these embeddings from the leftover laddu globes were winking at the landlord, who tried to pacify his mind that Paramacharya wouldn’t order anything without a valid reason.
Later, during his conversation with the host, Paramacharya told the landlord, “Go and check the backyard where the leftovers are thrown.”
When the landlord went to the backyard, he saw familes of the kurava clan avidly eating the left over laddus. As they saw the landlord, they heartily thanked him for the tasty dish that was never before served to them.
The landlord felt happy and grateful. When he returned to Paramacharya, the sage said, “As per their kula dharma, these kurava clan prefer only ucchishtam. They wouldn’t consent to have an anna dhanam. Such is the rule among them. Don’t they have the same mouth and stomach as we? It occurred to me to give them the same kind ofladdus that we have in our dinner. And I thought only you could do it well. Now, only you have their good wishes.”
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After the maravas and the kuravas, it was the turn of paraiyas.
Paramacharya was travelling in the Kodavasal–Koradacherry route. On the way in Tirukklambur, the slum people met him and submitted their humble offerings.
Paramacharya heard their welfare and woes. Unhurriedly, he discussed the details with the manager as to what SriMatam could do to mitigate their woes, either in their own capacity or with the charity of affordable devotees.
The managers and the other officials started worrying about the ensuing delay for their next camp and the following pujas. The god of the poor, however, seated himself among them, and ordered dhotis and saris for every nandan – nandini from the local textile shop. If that shop didn’t have the required goods, Paramacharya ordered them bought at Kodavasal. He also ordered prepartion of thick sambar rice under the shades of the trees.
The manager was worried that the two or three hours time spent in these activities would delay reaching their next camp and that it would be very tedious for Periyavaa to undertake the long puja thereafter.
When he started to express his feeings, Paramacharya said simply, “this is also a puja.”
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Two years after his Varanasi trip, when Paramacharya was returning, he had to camp for three days in the Kyonjer samastanam of the hilly areas. His heart overflew with campassion at the pitiable conditions of the tribals in the area. He told the manager, “for all the three days we stay here, we should arrange to feed them.”
The manager hesitated with a request, “Those people are over a hundred and fifty families. We don’t have the facilities to cook food here.”
“Then give them as uluppai“, replied the sage.
Giving as uluppai is giving supplies of food articles, vegetables and fruits. For three days the tribals enjoyed the bounty of SriMatam.
In the same way, Paramacharya ordered serving three days supplies to the suffering employees of a circus company in Ilayattankudi, that was closed down.
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It seems that there was only one occasion in the history of SriMatam, when rice and other food supplies were carried on the back of the SriMatam elephant! Paramacharya, the udAra murti created history with such an incident, to fill the udarams of the poorharijan people.
It was November 1940. The village was heavily flooded when Paramacharya reached Tiruchettankudi from Tirumarukal. News reached his ears that over five hundredharijans in the area were suffering, as a hailstorm lashed on.
Paramacharya hastened the officials to rush them food supplies, but was informed that it was not possible for bullock carts to pass through the rain inundated roads.
“Then you send the supplies on the back of the elephant. This place is known as Ganapateesvaram,” said Paramacharya, poining out the harmony. “So Pillaiyar will be happy that an elephant partakes the jana seva.”
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The dog, according to shastras is of a low birth. The Guardian of Shastra also extended his bounty to the dogs.
In the year 1927, a dog came to SriMatam camp on its own and started keeping vigil. After his biksha was over, Paramacharya ordered that the dog be fed. Strangely, after tasting the food from the matam, the dog stopped accepting food from anyone else.
The dog used to trot under the palanquin known as mena which carried Paramacharya. Sometimes it would run between the massive, moving legs of the elephant! When the palanquin was parked, it would step aside to a distance and watch the sage descend and walk, wagging its tail.
At one time, the officials thought that the dog had become mad and ordered a servant to leave it in a village, about forty kilometers away from their camp. No sooner had the servant returned, than the dog also had got back to the camp! From that time, until its death, the dog kept vigil and also kept a vow not to take food until it had a darshan of Paramacharya.
As he resumed his divine duties after a short rest following his biksha, Paramacharya would first inquire if the dog was fed.
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There was an incident when Paramacharya served food for an entire army of dogs.
He was observing chAturmAsyam at Vasanta Krishnapuram near Tirukkovalur in the year 1947. The peak of Tiruvannamalai hill, about twenty kilometers away, was visible from that place. Paramacharya used to perform a puja for the mountain that was Lord Siva’s form at where he stayed, with a darshan of the peak.
During one such puja, when he was meditating, a dog came and put its mouth to the water in the kamandaluh. The people around were very much upset by this happening, and a devotee who was a retired government official, threw a stone at the dog, which ran howling, and stopped at a safe distance.
Paramacharya’s eyes opened at the anxious hubbub. He looked at the people aroud him and ordered: “Collect all the available dishes from the houses of the agrahAram. Also bring bucketfuls of water.”
The volunteers group that included retired official went around and brought the food and water. As Paramacharya gestured, the dog that was standing at a distance came near and stopped hesitatingly. As he gestured a second time, soemthing very strange happened.
An army of dogs came from nowhere and calmly arranged themselves in a row, without showing any signs of hurry for the food that was before them. Paramacharya offered food and water to the dogs through the retired official who had stoned the dog earlier.
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Since the beginning of 1964, Paramacharya asked the rice donors to send the rice bags to the Rameswaram branch of SriMatam. This seemed rather strange and the manager took exception to the excessive collection of rice bags at their Rameswaram branch. There were even occasions that suggested that the manager was not at all happy with the decision and might have an argument with the sage. Paramacharya, however, was adamant, and ensured that 250 bags of rice were stocked in their Rameswaram branch.
During the month of December 1964, Rameswaram was hit by a severe cyclone. The Pamban bridge was uprooted and Dhanushkoti town sank in the ocean. It became impossible to send food supplies to the Rameswaram island, overcoming the rage of the ocean.
The 250 bags of rice that was stocked by Paramacharya in the Rameswaram branch of SriMatam helped to fill the stomach of thousands of people who suffered from the nature’s fury
Categories: Devotee Experiences