Mar 5, 2018

Echoes of lost faith

[Img Src: Speakingtree]
My memories of the Kanchi Acharyas are faded and creased. But, when I saw the news of Jayendra Saraswati Swamigal passing away, I realized the residual feelings were still alive. My grandmother who steadfastly refused to revere anyone living, made allowance when it came to the Kanchi Acharyas. Especially the one who just needed to be mentioned as 'Maha-Periyava.'  Chandrashekara Saraswati commanded that sort of deep respect with his quiet dignity, wisdom, and majesty. 

Back in the eighties, when I was a young school girl, holy men had not yet started appearing on TV and YouTube channels commenting or tweeting on sundry matters. I only got to read what they occasionally wrote on staid print media or dry pamphlets mostly on philosophical or mythological issues. Or I saw them in one of the seasonal assemblies.

I don't remember ever hearing a sermon or a speech by the elder Acharya, just of him raising his hand and saying a word or two in blessing. Aunties and uncles in their madisar and panchakacham jostled about for darshan, there was the scent of jasmine flowers and incense and the sounds of chants. The mystique of the whole scene called to me. There was something unimpeachable about the way 'Maha-Periyava' conducted himself. There was a prick in my heart when my grandmother, a widow, said convention prohibited her from coming face to face with him. But my otherwise questioning and critical adolescent self, still could not denounce him.

Jayendra Saraswati came on to the scene, adding a personal charisma, a benevolent smile, fresh energy and a seemingly more secular face to the old age institution. That appealed to my young self. He talked of inclusion, of charity, of alleviating poverty. He seemed to have no issue with my widowed grandmother visiting him. We even traveled to the Kanchi mutt once as a family and the taste of a simple free meal that we partook with other visitors, a pungent rasam and rice, is still seared in my mind. 

The day the unprecedented news broke of the Acharya leaving the mutt, it was mainly sympathy that I felt for him. Identity conflicts between the self and the perceived can be deeply troubling.  Like the Dalai Lama, the Acharya took on his position before he became an adult. Is it a life of unequivocal calling? Or a life of constant struggle to reconcile? No one outside can tell, can even begin to guess. But people in positions of power do not have the luxury of airing their internal conflicts. 

He eventually came back to the mutt; the eighties gave way to the media fuelled nineties.  I gave the Kanakabhishekam telecast a pass as a first step on a path of already fading faith. Under the glare, almost no holy man, irrespective of their religion, could any longer hold up to our projected hopes of who they should be. They no longer had the luxury of seclusion and unflinching trust. They were now mired in this material world, stripped off their mystery. As the years wore on, many were routinely exposed for their involvement in all sorts of horrific activities. It was only a symbolic last breach for me when Jayandra Saraswati was arrested on murder charges. 

I broke the news of his passing away Wednesday morning to my mother who was busy in the kitchen. She asked if he had attained Samadhi, unable to use an earthly word like death. I replied firmly that he had died, but a part of me wished I could tell her that he did indeed attain Samadhi.

March 05, 2018