By Amrita Ramaswamy
apara karuna sindhum jnadam shantharupinam
shrI candrashekhara gurum pranamami mudannvaham
I am meditating day and night on Guru Chandra shekara, Who is the limitless ocean of peace, one who grants wisdom and has a peaceful form.
Jagadguru Shankaracharya Sri Chandrashekarendra Saraswati Swamigal was an Indian Saint. He went by many names: Mahaperiyava, Paramacharya, or the Sage of Kanchi. According to the Hindu calendar, he was born on 20th May, 1894, under the Anuradha star (Anusham). He was born into a Kannadiga Smartha Hoysala Brahmin family at Viluppuram, Tamil Nadu. He was the second child of six children; Their father’s name was Shri Subramaniya Sastrigal, a District Education Officer.
Jagadguru was initially named Swaminathan, after the Lord Swaminatha of Swamimalai, one of the six abodes, near Kumbakonam. As a young boy, Swaminathan was very sharp and studious with an immaculate sense of grasping power for education. His thirst for knowledge was affirmed by his family astrologer. By looking at Swaminathan’s feet, the family astrologer predicted that Swaminathan would be revered as a great saint and teacher in the coming years.
In 1906, the 66th Acharya of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham performed the annual Chaturmasyam in a village near Tindivanam in Tamil Nadu. Swaminathan accompanied his father whenever he visited the Mutt; The Acharya was deeply impressed by the young boy. As days passed, the 66th Acharya attained Siddhi (left the earthly world) at Kalavai. Swaminathan’s maternal cousin was shortly later inagurated as the 67th Acharya. Unfortunately, the 67th Acharya very soon attained siddhi. As per the wishes of the 66th Acharya, Swaminathan was inaugurated. When he was 15 years, the young Acharya underwent tutelage with erudite scholars in Kumbakonam Mutt to be trained in Vedas, Puranas (epic), various Sanskrit scripts, and ancient Indian literature.
Swaminathan studied in Mahendramangalam, a tiny village on the Cauvery river’s Northern bank, between 1911 to 1914. He evinced a keen interest in subjects such as photography, mathematics, and astronomy. He returned to Kumbakonam in 1914.
Mahaperiyava has contributed his life immensely to Dharma and emphasized certain practices pertained to uphold Sanatana Dharma, such as Sandhyavandhanam, Kamakshi Pooja, and Vedas’s recital. He dedicated his life to Vedas’ uplift and consecration of many dilapidated temples, such as the Shri Kamakshi Amman Temple, where the Goddess herself came there for her devotion to Lord Shiva. Devotees view Periyava as Lord Parameswara, Lord Vishnu, and Goddess Kamakshi and believe that he was Dvitheeya Bhagavadpaadha: the second incarnation of Adi Shankara himself. This is ascertained by the fact that Mahaswami’s pontification was done by himself as “Svayambu” (self-formed); His Guru attained Siddhi before appointing his successor. This uniqueness was applicable to Adi Shankara Bhagavadpaadha, who initiated himself to create the Peetam. To emulate the feat of Sri Shankara, Mahaperiyava traveled across India to teach lessons based on Dharma and the values of Sanathana. The lessons he delivered decades ago in Tamil & other multiple languages were compiled by RA Ganapathi and published in English and Tamil as “Deivathin Kural” (The Voice of God). It has been translated into other Indian languages as well.
The Paramacharya focused on reviving Hindu traditions, where he emphasized on spirituality. For his Kashi Yatra, he traveled through Srisailam, Hyderabad, Nagpur, Jabalpur, and Allahabad. An incident took place there that taught many people a lesson: Madak-kulatthur BrahmaShri Chinnasamy Sastrigal delivered a discourse about “vidhi rasayanam”. Notables from the city were present, along with a vast number of erudite Sanskrit scholars. Swamigal was asked the quintessential meaning of Jagadguru, whether he was personified as one.
Pat came to the reply politely from the Paramacharya, “Jagatam guru na (I am not saying it in the meaning ‘a guru for the Jagat’). Jagati padyamanah sarve mama gurave” (All the creatures in the world are my gurus–in that meaning I am Jagadguru).” Nonplussed by the humble response of the Paramacharya, the scholars prostrated at his feet.
Paramacharya was also very influential during the struggle for Independence. Not involving himself directly in politics, he preached Dharma to reform the political system and protect Hindus from religious conversions at that time. It was notable that Indian National Congress Leader F.G. Natesan Iyer came back to Hinduism. He was inspired by Mahaswami; Iyer had earlier embraced Christianity because of his association with English men. Furthermore, Mahaperiyava also gave a speech on Independence day (15 August 1947):
On this happy occasion when our country Bharat has attained Independence, the people of this ancient country must pray wholeheartedly and with one mind to Sri Bhagavan. Let us all pray to God to vouch for safety in us, the strength of mind and energy to engage ourselves more and more in attaining spiritual knowledge. It is only by the grace of Almighty that we can safeguard the freedom that we have achieved and also help all the living beings on earth to lead a happy life.
Mahaperiyava was the head of the Kanchi Mutt for 87 years and focused on the restoration of Vedas, the Dharma Sastras, and the age-old tradition. Each ritual, tradition, and cultural practice had suffered a decline. Through the Veda Patasalas (schools teaching Vedic lore) he founded, and by honoring Vedic scholars, he brought back Vedic studies’ focus in India.
He organized regular sadas (conferences), which included discussions on arts and culture. His long tenure as Peetadhipathi (head of the Mutt) is considered by many to have been the Golden Era of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. Mahaperiyava is the living embodiment of truth and compassion because of his humility and rational (yathartham) approach towards anything. In his eyes, Hinduism is a broad-based religion. Mahaperiyava remains an inspiration because of his dedication towards Sanatana Dharma and his real presence as a sage.
He attained samadhi on 8th January 1994 and was succeeded by H.H.Sri Jayendra Saraswati. As long as the Sun and Moon shine on earth, Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swamigal will always remain a prestigious sage who was a star in Dharma, philosophy, and literature. In his Sukshma swaroopam (subtle body) form, Mahaperiyava still performs numerous miracles to date because of his grace and compassion towards humanity. Mahaswamigal is an Avataara Purusha (like Lord Rama), with the embodiment of Kalyana Gunas, setting a perfect example for the followers of Sanatana Dharma.