An article on Sri Panchapagesa Brahmendra Saraswathi Swamigal, written on the basis of the Tamil book by Sri Kumbakonam Swamigal.
SRI PANCHAPAGESA BRAHMENDRA SARASWATHI SWAMIGAL
Sri S. Panchapagesa Sastrigal, by which name Pujya Sri Panchapagesa Brahmendra Saraswathi Swamigal was known in his Purvasrama, was born on 17.2.1927 at Ammala Agraharam, Tiruvaiyaru, Thanjavur district as the maternal descendant of celebrated Sri Appayya Dikshitar. His parents were Sri Sivarama Sastrigal, a Vedic scholar and Smt.Dharmambal. Panchapagesan studied Yajur Veda completely including Lakshana under the tutelage of his grandfather Sri Anantharama Sastrigal and father Sri Sivarama Sastrigal. He married Kamalambal, daughter of Sri Rajamani Sastrigal at the age of twentytwo and led a very religious life, never failing to perform the six daily ordained Vedic rituals - Sandhyavandanam, bath, Japa, Homa, Deva Puja, hospitality and Vaisvadeva.
सन्ध्यास्नानं जपोहोमः देवतानां च पूजनम् ।
आतिथ्यं वैश्वदेवं च षट्कर्माणि दिने दिने ॥
Sri Panchapagesa Sastrigal observed strictly the tenets of Dharma Sastra. He never took food in another’s home. This rule he strictly followed throughout his life. His wife was a great asset to him in the conduct of all his religious activities. Sri Adi Sankaracharya, in his ‘Prasnottara Ratnamalika’, defines wife as the true friend of the householder, performing Agni Upasana etc. - गृहमेधिनस्य मित्रं किम्? भार्या. Smt. Kamalambal truly exemplified this definition. Sri Sastrigal himself said proudly that his wife was like the legendary and illustrious wife Bhamati of Sri Vachaspati Misra, the author of the celebrated gloss on Brahma Sutra Bhashya titled ‘Bhamati’. Sri Panchapagesa Sastrigal had six male and two female issues.
Sri Anantharama Sastrigal, the head of the household, was specially noted for honouring Vedic scholars. He gifted hundreds of silver icons of cow with calf to Vaidikas. Though Sri Panchapagesa Sastrigal had completed Yajur Veda study upto Krama stage, he pursued his study of philosophy and Samskrit literature vigorously even after his marriage, with the blessings of his father and grandfather. He studied Kavyas and Natakas of Samskrit under Sri Subrahmania Sastrigal, Tarka under Sri Lakshminarayana Sastrigal, Vedanta under Sri Veppathur Vaidyanatha Sastrigal and Vyakarana under Sri Natesa Sarma. He obtained ‘Advaita Vedanta Siromani’ and ‘Mimamsa Siromani’ diplomas from University of Madras in 1960 and 1966. In the meantime Sri Sivarama Sastrigal passed away in 1953 and was cremated with Brahma Medha Samskara.
In 1964 Sri Sastrigal started to teach Veda Bhashyam in the Veda Bhashya college in Kumbakonam, just started at the instance of Parama Pujya Jagadguru Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Swamigal of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. He continued in that position till 2004. From the Veda Sabha, Tirupati he passed out with a First class in Veda Bhashyam in 1970. It is noteworthy that many of his students acquitted themselves well in the examinations on Veda Bhashyam conducted in Kanchipuram, Tirupati, Sringeri etc. Sri Sastrigal was never tired of teaching Kavyas, Samskrit etc. to students in addition to his prescribed duties of call. He had thorough knowledge of Dharma Sastra and all Prayogas (procedures of rituals) in Sroutha and Smartha texts. He was also the examiner for the Veda Sabha, Tirupati and the Advaita Sabha and Veda Dharma Sastra Paripalana Sabha, Kumbakonam. In recognition of his enormous services for the growth of Veda Dharma Sastra Paripalana Sabha, he was awarded the title of ‘Dharmagna’ by Sri Kanchi Paramacharya. He was also selected as Panditha of Advaita Sabha at Kumbakonam. Many are the honorifics that came seeking him. Some of them are the titles of ‘Bhashya Bhaskara’ from Mahatma Sri Krishnapremi Swamigal and ‘Veda Ratna Puraskar’ from an organisation in Bengaluru. He was awarded honorary doctorate by Sastra University of Thanjavur in March 2004 in the presence of the Jagadgurus of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. He was honoured for his mastery of all the three systems of philosophy - Advaita, Visishtadvaita and Dvaita - by the Acharyas of Kanchi, Srirangam and Mantralayam.
A person is recognised as Acharya, when he possesses the characteristics mentioned as under in Sastras:
आचार्यो वेदसम्पन्नः विष्णुभक्तो विमत्सरः ।
मन्त्रज्ञो मन्त्रभक्तश्च सदा मन्त्राश्रयः शुचिः ॥
The Acharya should be master of Vedas, devoted to Bhagavan, free from jealousy of higher masters; he should have knowledge of mantras and their secrets, be devoted to mantras, given to constant chanting of mantra and be pure in mind, speech and body. Sri Panchapagesa Sastrigal fulfilled these requirements excellently. He was also devoted to his Guru and Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham; he had mastered all Puranas; he was adept in teaching all the works to students and clearing their doubts. Above all he was an exemplar of the other basic definition of Acharya:
आचिनोति हि शास्त्रार्थान् आचारे स्थापयत्यपि ।
स्वयं आचरते यश्च स आचार्य प्रचक्षते ॥
Apart from mastering the Vedas and Sastras and enabling his disciples to be firm in practising the tenets of Sastras, he led them in strictly practising them by his own example. He never deviated from observance of Vedic rituals – Sandhyavandanam, Aupasanam, Brahmayagnam, Vaisvadevam etc. He thus infused in his disciples the keenness to be punctilious in these observances.
Sri Panchapagesa Sastrigal was fortunate to be blessed by Kanchi Sri Paramacharya in a very young age. In a Vidvat Sabha, Sri Paramacharya asked him to explain in Tamil the speech on Vedanta of his Guru Sri Veppattur Vaidyanatha Sastrigal. Sri Paramacharya appreciated his explanation and blessed that his oratory would grow further. Sri Sastrigal’s financial constraint was mitigated to some extent by his engagements of discourses, which were actively organised by the Trustee of the Veda Bhasya College in which he taught, Dr.V.R.Lakshmikanta Sarma. Sri Sastrigal delivered scintillating discourses in traditional scholarly style throughout India on Srimad Ramayanam, Srimad Bhagavatham, Sri Devi Bhagavatham, Mahabharatham, Upanishads, Soundaryalahari etc., turning many listeners into staunch followers of the tenets of Sanatana Dharma. He was awarded many titles including Bala Saraswathi, Pravachana Pravina, Puranaratna, Bhagavatha Sudhavarshi, Pravachana Kesari, Upanyasa Chakravarthi and Vaangmukha Saarvabhouma. When invited to name a large Yagasala in Tiruvaiyaru, he proposed a very appropriate name – ‘Dakshina Naimisaranyam’. It points to his greatness that to this day the name has stuck and many yagas including Somayagas, Vajapeyayagas etc. are being conducted there year after year.
Sri Sastrigal was at once a great ritualist, a devotee, a discourser, a teacher and a poet par excellence. He took great pleasure in bathing in the waters of river Kaveri in Kumbakonam early in the morning. The celebrated Dharmaraja Srouthigal, the Sama Veda researcher and exponent, gave him company from the opposite bank of the river during these baths, each chanting Vedic portions of their Sakha (branch). Once a Muslim friend of Sri Panchapagesa Sastrigal from his younger days embraced him from behind on an evening while Sri Sastrigal was observing his rituals on the bank of Kaveri after bath. Sri Sastrigal, far from being upset, happily conversed with him for an hour. After his friend left, he bathed again and performed his rituals. That was his sense of dharma. Sri Sastrigal was large hearted and a great benefactor too. He helped many families to conduct marriages of girls. He was kind enough to take his servant maid with him on his tour of Kashi, Haridwar and Rishikesh.
In 1979 when Sri Maha Periyaval of Kanchi mooted the idea of Sri Sastrigal taking up the assignment of teaching Sankara Bhashyam at Sri Vidyaranya Vidyapeetham in Hampi- Hospet, Sri Sastrigal deferentially expressed his preference to continue to stay in Kumbakonam and perform all rituals on the banks of the sacred river Kaveri and offered to teach students at Kumbakonam itself. Many years later he declined a similar proposal of Parama Pujya Sri Bala Periyaval of Kanchi to teach students at Kanchipuram. Such was Sri Sastrigal’s passion for bath in river Kaveri and adherence to rituals as per Sastras in that sacred environment. During his camp in Kumbakonam, once Sri Mahaperiyaval visited the ‘Chintamani’ residence of Sri Sastrigal unannounced and blessed him. On 29.11.2002, when Parama Pujya Jagadguru Sri Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham stayed for a day in Sri Sastrigal’s residence in Kumbakonam, Sri Sastrigal chanted Veda mantras like ‘Trisuparnam’ during Sri Swamigal’s Bhiksha. Sri Swamigal expressed his extreme happiness at Sri Sastrigal’s keenness in performance of Vedic rituals and attachment to Kaveri. Sri Sastrigal followed the dictum of Sri Adi Sankaracharya that it is only through observance of ordained Vedic karmas that purification of mind can be attained, leading in turn to devotion to Bhagavan, to Brahmagnana and finally to Moksha. In 1987 the Shashtyabdapoorthi of Sri Panchapagesa Sastrigal was celebrated in Swamimalai in a grand manner. Many were the honours showered on him.
A number of scholarly works emerged from the pen of Sri Panchapagesa Sastrigal. He wrote Sri Mangalambika Suprabhatam amd Sri Mangalambika Prapatti in honour of the celebrated deity of Kumbakonam. He translated the ancient Tamil poem Tirumurugatruppadai into Samskrit. He also penned a number of songs on Sri Mahaperiyaval. He also wrote a number of felicitation messages in Samskrit for various Sabhas.
Vivekachudamani of Adi Sankaracharya talks of great souls guiding others to Moksha:
“Great men move about, ever doing good to the world, like the spring season. Having crossed the terrible ocean of samsara themselves, they help others to cross, with no motivation. It is the nature of great souls to remove the misery of others, just like the moon, which cools the earth scorched by the blistering Sun.” Sri Sastrigal, as Acharya of Brahma Vidya, exemplified this trait in ample measure.
Pujya Sri Atmabodha Tirtha Swamigal (popularly known as Sri Kumbakonam Swamigal), in his biographical work on Pujya Sri Panchapagesa Brahmendra Saraswathi Swamigal, describes very reverentially how his passion for Sanyasa and attainment of Brahmavidya was kindled greatly by the dedicated teaching by Sri Panchapagesa Sastrigal of Sankara Bhashyam. He cites Sri Adi Sankaracharya’s statement:
विद्यासन्ततिश्च प्राण्यनुग्रहाय भवति
नौरिव नदीं तितीर्षोः
“Atmavidya taught in traditional manner helps the jiva’s uplift, like a boat for one who wishes to cross a river.” Sri Paramacharya’s teaching is also cited: “When a jiva develops great thirst for Gnana and Moksha, he is not allowed by Iswara to quench that thirst through his own individual efforts. He deputes a Guru who blesses the jiva with fulfillment.” Sri V. Ramanatha Sarma, whose subsequent Sanyasa Diksha name became Sri Atmabodha Tirtha Swamigal (Sri Kumbakonam Swamigal), had developed strong desire for Self-enquiry even before joining college for higher studies. In 1972 he asked Sri Maha Periyaval at Kanchipuram the question ‘Who am I?’ In 1981, by which time he had a M.A. degree, he got the sacred opportunity of fetching pails of water from Chandrabhaga river for Sri Maha Periyaval’s Poojas at Pandharpur during Chaturmasyam. The decision to give him Sanyasa was deferred at the last minute by Sri Maha Periyaval in 1981. In March 1999 Sri Panchapagesa Sastrigal started to teach Sri Brahmasutra Bhashya Patham to Sri Ramanatha Sarma, who was by then the Principal of the celebrated Sri Raja Veda Kavya Pathasala in Kumbakonam. In the learned and disciplined disciple’s eyes the Guru appeared to be none other than Sri Adi Sankaracharya himself. The Guru explained the Bhashyas clearly with the aid of quotations from Puranas like Srimad Bhagavatham. He explained Sankara’s Bhashya of the mantra of Kenopanishad:
इहचेदवेदीदथ सत्यमस्ति नचेदिहावेदीन्महती विनष्टिः
“One who has realised the Self in this birth here is truly a fulfilled person; if not, he faces great destruction (in the form of repeated births and deaths).” In July 1999 the planned Sanyasa Diksha to Sri Ramanatha Sarma got deferred again, following the request of the teachers and students of the Pathasala to let him continue as Principal. In March 2004 the Prasthana Traya (Brahma Sutras, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita) Bhashya lessons ended. Sri Ramanatha Sarma performed Swarna abhishekam to his revered Guru Sri Panchapagesa Sastrigal in May 2004. Sri Panchapagesa Sastrigal, even in his last days, taught him the book ‘Mahavakya Ratnavali’ by Sri Upanishad Brahmendral of Kanchi. In July 2009 Sri Ramanatha Sarma was initiated into Sanyasa Asrama by his Guru Pujya Sri Kuvalayananda Tirtha Swamigal (Sri Thambudu Swamigal) with the blessings and in the benign presence of Parama Pujya Jagadguru Sri Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal. He came to be known as Sri Kumbakonam Swamigal; he has been studying the Bhashyas regularly every day himself ever since with reverential memory of his Guru. He says that repeated study is required till Self-realisation is achieved.
A municipal employee, Sri Hare Ram took lessons on Bhashyam from Sri Panchapagesa Sastrigal. As a result he developed dispassion to such an extent that he left his job for concentrating on rituals and attainment of Brahmavidya. As Sri Hare Ram lost his source of income, many people were angry with Sri Sastrigal. But Sri Sastrigal remained unmoved. His blessings did not go futile. After many years Sri Hare Ram’s case was reviewed by a new officer in the municipality, who granted him a substantial lump sum as well as monthly pension.
Dr.M.Venkatasubramanian, an IAS officer, developed similar interest in Brahmavidya. He was led by Sri Kumbakonam Swamigal to Sri Panchapagesa Sastrigal, who taught him Prasthana Traya Bhashyas. This eventually resulted in his turning into a Sanyasi in May 2010 with the Diksha name of Sri Pragnanendra Saraswathi Swamigal (also known as Sri Madurai Swamigal).
Sri Panchapagesa Sastrigal had to cross the river Kaveri every day for buying all family needs. As crossing river is prohibited in Sastras for one who performs Sroutha Karmas – Agnihotram, Yagas etc., he found himself handicapped to carry them out. He used to feel very disappointed and grieved on this score. However he conducted many yagas for others in a masterly way. He chanted daily the mantras connected with Sroutha karmas. He was ever engaged in Brahma Vicharam- meditating on Brahman as mentioned in Adi Sankara’s Aparokshanubhuti:
निमेषार्धं न तिष्ठन्ति वृत्तिं ब्रह्ममयीं विना
“True aspirants do not fail to contemplate on Brahman even for half a minute.”
His longing for entering Sanyasa Asrama, which was noticeable during his Bhashya lessons to disciples, grew intense over time. He even wished for a specific location for his future Adhishthanam – the bank of Kasyapa tirtha of Kaveri, where his residence was located. When his health deteriorated, he was admitted to a hospital in Coimbatore for treatment. On 8th November 2005, his condition turned anxious. Through Dr.R.Sethuraman of Sastra University, Jagadguru Parama Pujya Sri Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal was contacted. Sri Swamigal blessed that Sri Panchapagesa Sastrigal be admitted into Sanyasa Asrama and directed that immediate arrangements be made. Apat (emergency) Sanyasam was bestowed on Sri Sastrigal as laid down in Sastras. It was all the grand culmination of many decades of devoted worship by Sri Sastrigal of Sri Adi Kumbheswara and Sri Mangalambika at Kumbakonam and sincere service embellished with scholarship done to the Acharyas of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. Through the good offices of Dr.Sethuraman and others, in twentyfour hours, permission was secured from Government authorities to establish his Adhishthanam in the flower garden opposite his house, which was the location of his choice. As said in Vedas ब्रह्मैवसन् ब्रह्माप्येति, with the Diksha name of Sri Sri Sri Panchapagesa Brahmendra Saraswathi Swamigal, he attained Videha Mukti on 11th November 2005 at 10.31 p.m. amid Vedic chants of hundreds of Vedic masters. The next day the Adhishtanam was erected and all rituals as per Sastras conducted. On 20th November a Vidvat Sadas commemorated his memory and paid glorious tributes to him. Great souls, who are dissolved in the infinite Brahman, continue to bless devotees from their Adhishthanam. This is confirmed by sincere devotees, who pray at the Adhishtanam of Sri Swamigal.
(This Article is based on the Tamil book “Punya Charitra of Melakkaveri Sri Sri Sri Panchapagesa Brahmendra Saraswathi Swamigal” by Pujya Sri Atmabodhatirtha Swamigal (Sri Kumbakonam swamigal)