Shrimad Sudhindra Thirtha Swamiji-
The Renaissance Saint of Shri Kashi Math Samsthan*
We Goud Saraswat Brahmins are indeed specially blessed among the ocean of humanity in that we are born with a Kuladevatha, Ishta Devata, Gramadevatha, Dharma Peetha and Dharma Guru. We have our own distinct customs and traditions, language and culture. Culture is what remains with us even after we may have forgotten all that we have learnt. Tradition, it is said, is an enormous magnifier. It is, however, not like instant coffee. Each generation will have to cherish it and defend it and carry it forward. It is imperative for us as for any other community to preserve our heritage and culture. That is what gives us our identity. Existence without identity will not be worthwhile. While the hallmark of Indian civilization is unity in diversity, we cannot lose our identity. Our institutions of temples and maths help us to preserve and nourish all this. We have the Guru Parampara of Shri Kashi Math Samsthan – the Dharma Gurus to mould us and guide us. The Mathadisha- Dharma Guru occupies a pivotal position. His role in this behalf is substantial and significant.
All institutions are the result and expression of the accumulated experience of ages. Change is the law of nature but there are certain ideas and values which are immutable and unchanging. How to reconcile the ever changing Nature (Prakriti) and the enduring values and verities is a daunting task. And it is here that we are guided by the Dharma Guru.
Shrimad Sudhindra Thirtha Swamiji- whose Navathi- 90th birthday was celebrated recently and in commemoration of which this function is organised – has been such a true guiding light, a source of inspiration to illumine our path amidst the encircling gloom. This is an occasion to pay our humble tribute and obeisance to Swamiji.
Renaissance signifies change- change and reform to keep pace with the demands of time and society- to preserve, to conserve and to reform. Every institution and society has to adapt itself and be resilient so as to be relevant and purposeful to meet from time to time the altering conditions of a changing world with its shifting emphasis and differing needs.
In the Guruparampara of Shri Kashi Math Samsthan, Shrimad Sudhindra Thirtha Swamiji is the 20th yati having been initiated into sanyas 71 years ago this day- 24th May 1944 and has been the Mathadipathi for over 65 years- a record of sorts. Swamiji has emphasised and reminded us that the Dharma Peetha is for the Dharmic uplift and progress of the samaj, to ensure that there is no decline of Dharmic values and for the establishment and propagation of Dharma- Dharma prathistapana and Dharma prachar. Values are ultimate and do not admit of any reduction below themselves. What is necessary and what Swamiji has endeavoured to do, to a large extent successfully, is to achieve expansion without diminution or dilution of the core. It may be said to be stability without stagnation and growth without destruction of essential values. It is this Swamiji’s reign that has seen many changes and reforms and progress. There are many firsts to the credit of the present Swamiji. His Holiness is truly the Renaissance Saint of Shri Kashi Math Samsthan.
Swamiji was born on Wednesday, 31st March 1926 under the Swati nakshatra in Chaitra masa of Ksyaya Samvatsara- 1847 saka samvatsara as the fourth son of Shri Ramdas Shenoy and Smt. Draupadi of Ernakulam. Their Gotra is Vatsa with Kuladevata Ramnath. Swamiji’s poorvashram name was Sadashiva. He lost his mother and the tender motherly love and care at the young age of four and was looked after and taken care of by the eldest sister- Smt.Sharada Ranga Prabhu. He had his education at St.Albert’s High School and Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam. He is thus the first Swami of the Math to have had modern collegiate education. Even as a youngster he had a deep religious and spiritual inclination and after his upanayanam at the age of 11 he was performing the regular pooja at home. Indeed he had confidently declared that he would not miss the pooja even on a single occasion all his life little realizing that it is what Destiny had in store for him.
In 1944, Shrimad Sukrathindra Thirtha Swamiji, the then pontiff of Shri Kashi Math Samsthan was contemplating initiation of a disciple. Shrimad Indirakant Thirtha Swami of Gokarn Math suggested at how to buy viagra one point of time that Sukrathindra Tirtha should give Sanyasa Deeksha and initiate a disciple because it takes time to shape oneself like the Champaka tree which has to be planted and nurtured for quite sometime before it flowers. Sukrathindra Thirtha replied that there was also another kind of champaka- “bhuyin champa” which flowers without much delay and that God would shape things well.
The lookout for a proper candidate, however, began. It was Swamiji’s desire and condition that the vatu should be a major and should be well conversant with and have a working knowledge of English so as to be able to look after the temporal affairs of the Samsthan effectively. The choice narrowed down to Sadashiva Shenoy. He was in his 18th year. One Sri Subba Bhat an elderly priest and confidant of Swamiji was commissioned by him to meet the boy and his father and broach the topic. All events leading to Swamiji’s Deeksha were narrated to me in detail by His Holiness himself in 2004.
It was sometime in early 1944- following the temple festival in Ernakulam. Young Sadashiva who was sleeping was woken up by Sri Subba Bhat and told that His Holiness wanted him to accept sanyas and be his Shishya. The boy asked the priest to speak to his father. After some initial doubts and hesitation the youngster appears to have made up his mind. Swamiji was performing special abhishekas and pooja to get a positive response from the vatu. One evening as the bell rang for Mangalarthi in the T.D.Temple, Ernakulam, the father asked the son for his final decision and the son responded that if the father and the family thought it appropriate he would take sanyas for continuing the Kashi Math Samsthan Parampara. The die was cast. It was a defining moment. Destiny had marked out young Sadashiva Shenoy for extraordinary things- the journey had begun.
The initiation was to be in May 1944 by which time he would have completed 18 years and attained majority. Prior to that he went to Mulki to meet Swamiji whom he had never seen. The Purohit, Shri Shrinivas Bhat had advised him how he was to present himself before the Guru. The upper garment- shalya was to be tied to the waist- over the dhoti as a sign of humility and respect. Sukrathindra Tirtha was mightily pleased to meet the Shishya designate. The oracle at Mulki had already opined that it was an excellent choice and God had shown the right candidate. Swamiji arranged a pilgrimage cum study tour for the Shishya to visit places and meet people. Shri Narayana Avadhani among others accompanied the vatu. They visited many places. In some temples- the Swami- to- be sat on the Ratha. The oracle at Gurupur pronounced that he would be a crest jewel in the crown of Shri Kashi Math Samsthan. After all the preliminaries, on Jeshta Shudha Dwitiya of Tarana Samvatsara, Sh.Sh. 1866 – Wednesday, May 24, 1944 Sukrathindra Thirtha Swamiji initiated the disciple and named him Shrimad Sudhindra Thirtha. This was at Shri Venkataramana Temple, Mulki on the banks of the river Shambavi.
Late Shri N. Govinda Pai and my grandfather late Shri N. Ranga Pai, as members of the Advisory Committee of the Cochin Temple then under the management of the Government, performed the first padapooja after Shishya Sweekar on behalf of the Cochin Mahajan as per tradition. My grandfather was closely associated with the Swamijis. I am happy and proud to say that this has continued and has been the reason for my own as well as the next generation’s devotion to and association with Swamiji.
The relationship between Guru Sukrathindra Tirtha and Shishya Sudhindra Thirtha, to use Shrimad Sudhindra Thirtha Swamiji’s words, is unique. The Shishya’s attachment to the Guru and attention towards the Guru’s needs was exemplary. The Shishya was completely devoted to and had implicit faith in the Guru and the Guru had unbounded affection for the Shishya and very high expectations of him. The Shishya considered himself a mere sevak to do whatever the Guru asked him. Such was his deference that the Shishya would not even touch the Guru’s bed, leave alone sit on it.
Sukrathindra Thirtha is verily a Kalpatharu who answers all our prayers and blesses us. Of course, the greatest recipient of it has been his Shishya Sudhindra Thirtha.
After the initiation in May 1944- Guru and Shishya were together and observed the Chaturmasa in Mulki- that is the only Chaturmasa that the two of them observed together. Thereafter in late 1944- it was decided that the Shishya Swami should go to Bangalore for studies. That was the first separation from the Guru. The Shishya wrote a letter asking for the Guru’s photo and kept it under the Guru’s pillow. A photo was, of course, given. The Shishya was given the idols of Vyasa (the original one given by Shrimad Surendra Thirtha Swami of Kumbakonam Math), Rama and Krishna for his worship. The Guru Swamiji’s photo was kept on the window pane near the bed and the Shishya Swami would place in front of that photo whatever kanika that was received. Guru Swamiji used to send about Rs. 500/- per month for rent, salaries and other expenses. Swamiji was residing upstairs in the Subramanya Temple near Sajjan Rao Circle in Visveswarapuram. The great thing is that the Shishya was never in want. Everything went on smoothly- all requirements were duly met. Whenever there was need for money, Sudhindra Thirtha had only to extend his hand towards Swamiji’s photo and the necessary money was there. That was the Guru’s grace and the Shishya’s faith. This showering of grace by the Guru on the Shishya has always continued and the Shishya joyously and gratefully acknowledges this.
The Guru and Shishya visited many places- the Guru imparting the knowledge of the traditions and the shastras by word and by example and the Shishya absorbing and imbibing the same. While the Guru was a person of few words it was his desire that the Shishya should turn out to be an eloquent speaker impressing everyone with his thoughts and speech. It turned out to be just like that though Shishya had no earlier exposure to or experience in debating or public speaking; and the Shishya attributes all that entirely to the Guru’s grace. As Swamiji says what the Guru said was like sutra- short and crisp; when one tried to understand and build on it, it became bhashya- commentary with all ramifications and nuances.
After the Maha Samadhi of Guru Sukrathindra Swamiji on Sunday, July 10, 1949, Sudhindra Thirtha Swamiji became the Mathadipathi and formally ascended the Peetha of Shri Kashi Math Samsthan on Friday, July 22, 1949. He was 23 years old.
Shrimad Sudhindra Thirtha Swamiji the present Mathadhipathi had some doubts and fears on taking over the Mathadhipathya after the Mahasamadhi of Shrimad Sukrathindra Thirtha Swamiji. All that vanished with Swamiji keeping the padukas of the revered Guru Shrimad Sukrathindra Thirtha Swamiji below the Samsthan deities and offering worship. That gave both strength and direction to Swamiji’s efforts in promoting Dharma and organizing the Samaj. The Trikala pooja performed with Bhakti and Shradha yielded the desired results. Garlanding and offering worship to the photos of three generations of Gurus in Swamiji’s room in the mornings and evenings is also a practice started by Sudhindra Swamiji. Swamiji offered special prayers during pooja for the uplift and well being of the GSBs especially the poorer sections amongst them, that they have better education and placement in life and all round prosperity and welfare so that they take their rightful place in society. The prayers have been amply answered as borne out by the march of events.
One day sometime in the early 1950s, while at Cochin a priest came to Sudhindra Tirtha Swami with a saligrama which he wanted to give to Swamiji in return for some money which he badly needed. It was a rare and beautiful saligrama of Shri Lakshmi Narayana. Swamiji tried to dissuade him from parting with it but he was insistent and Swamiji accepted it and offered him dakshina. He was happy. Swamiji happily and reverentially took the saligrama to the pooja room. It was the starting point of greater prosperity for the Math and the followers and Swamiji was mightily pleased and grateful to the Lord.
1963 witnessed an unprecedented event. On the initiative of Sudhindra Tirtha Swamiji the Swamijis of Kashi Math, Gokarn Math and Kavle Math observed Chaturmasa at the same place – Karkal.
In 1965 Swamiji founded the Bhuvanendra Balakashrama after which the Samsthan experienced steady progress and welfare materially and otherwise and there has been no looking back since then. Thereafter Varadendra Balakashrama and Sukrathindra Balakashrama were also started amongst many other activities/ charities. A large number of new branch Maths have been established and old Maths renovated. Quite a few charitable trusts have been created. Swamiji has also performed Prathishtas, Punarprathishtas and Kumbabhishekams at various places. Various programmes and activities were initiated by the Samsthan. Swamiji has always ensured that there are enough assets of the Samsthan before creating any liabilities. The Samsthan witnessed an exponential growth.
His Holiness is a truly divine personage. It may be said that even in the most disturbing situations Swamiji has always maintained an equipoise- having deep and abiding faith in God and the Guru and in the truism that truth and right will always triumph. Many are the occasions when we have gone to Swamiji highly perturbed and agitated about the turn of things only to be calmed down with a smile that everything will turn out alright. There is always that gracious and bewitching smile that attracts and captivates one’s soul and drenches you in the ocean of divine love. It is easy to talk of these things and easy also to be in awe and appreciation of such a personality. But that attitude and conduct comes out of years of practice and meditation- to love and spread love in its true sense. As Swamiji always says even if you cannot be affectionate and loving to one and all, ensure that you do not dislike or hate others; even if you cannot generate love and empathy, be firm in your resolve not to engender aversion and animosity. These are indeed the hallmarks of a holy man- a Sthithaprajna- a saint.
There are instances of His Holiness talking to birds and animals. Once while travelling from Bangalore to Coorg- on a wayside halt when Swamiji was alone, a crow and Swamiji appeared to be engaged in conversation. It is well known how when the construction of Vyasashram and the mandir of Veda Vyasa was being planned, a big parrot came to where Swamiji was seated. His Holiness fed him with pomegranate, realizing it was Suka Mahamuni himself come to remind about installing his idol too. Thus it is that we have Vyasa and Suka in the mandir. All such incidents and experiences do not come to the ordinary. They are experiences out of this world. His Holiness is indeed a man of God, a path finder and guide.
You are never alone when alone- that is the sign of a cultured, evolved mind. Swamiji never feels bored or lonely. He is in the midst of books and thoughts. Indeed one may say that like all great persons His Holiness always keeps with him ‘the company of great thoughts, the inspiration of great ideals, the example of great achievements, the consolation of great failures’. He has been an unfailing and appreciative patron to scholars and a loving and sympathetic mentor to those in quest of truth.
Swamiji is a scholar par excellence. His mastery over our ancient lore is magnificent and his enunciation of it is simple and appealing to all. Besides, Swamiji’s command over Sanskrit – language and literature- is phenomenal. He has to his credit, in the midst of his busy schedule as Mathadipathi, a large number of Sanskrit compositions which could be the envy of regular Sanskrit scholars. This brings out both the literary genius and the devotional heights scaled by His Holiness.
One important idea that His Holiness has impressed upon us and which Swamiji mentioned to me even a couple of weeks ago is that change is the law of nature. Prakriti is ever changing and all of us are under its dominion and it is in tune with such change that society evolves and adapts itself. How to adapt effectively without sacrificing the core values- that is success and effective leadership and functioning. Sudhindra Thirtha Swami has achieved this splendidly.
Swamiji has many firsts to his credit, if one may talk in a layman’s language. He is the first Swami – to have modern collegiate education, to seek a photo from the Guru, to place the Guru’s padhukas below the deities in the pooja room and worship them. He is the first to place photos of three generations of Gurus on a simhasana in the retiring room and worship them. People would recall that till 1994 after the morning and night poojas Swamiji would worship the three generations of Gurus by garlanding the photos and lighting agarbathi. Thereafter, prasad would be given to those in the room and children would be given fruits. He is the first to initiate and get organized the chaturmasas of Swamijis of three Maths at the same place in 1963; the first to found various balakashramas, vridhashramas and trusts and other institutions, to undertake extensive digvijayas facilitated by modern transport and conveniences from Kanyakumari and Rameshwaram to Badrinath. Special mention must be made of Swamiji’s successful efforts to establish temples for Bhagawan Veda Vyasa at His birthplace Kalpi, at Haridwar at the foothills of the Himalayas- the gateway to Deva Bhoomi and at Badri- the place of residence of Vyasa. Indeed, Sudhindra Thirtha Swamiji brought Veda Vyasa- the Jnana Daata, the Lord’s incarnation to bestow jnana- to our present day world in all splendour and detail. Swamiji considers this as his greatest achievement.
It is noteworthy that Swamiji has been a great unifying force and co-ordinating factor. Like Shri Adi Shankara in the earlier times, Shrimad Sudhindra Thirtha Swamiji has travelled cutting across the sub continent endeavouring to infuse and preserve culture and religion, unite the community, create awareness and establish and propagate Dharma, no mean task. His Mathadipathya spanned a period of time, beginning with the end of World War II and the dawn of our independence, the birth and rising of the Third World- a time when iconoclastic winds were blowing across the world and everything traditional was questioned and was under siege. To carry a people in such a situation is no easy task. It called for a happy synthesis between idealism and pragmatism, between self assertion and self abnegation- a happy amalgam of what is good in the past and the present. Swamiji is conservative to conserve and preserve what is good and liberal to make necessary changes to keep pace with the changing times. His orthodoxy is not incompatible with modernism. This indeed is Renaissance and Sudhindra Tirtha is the Renaissance Saint of Shri Kashi Math Samsthan.
His Holiness’ life and work illustrate the importance of influence- wise and honourable persuasiveness – gently exerted. The range and depth of his personality and influence have been great. His resourcefulness and will can fuse many discordant notes to make possible many impossible things. So many of us with such great diversities of temperament and outlook, ideas and ideals, resources and attainments have been brought together to work for some common cause, to achieve some common goal. This has been possible only because of the effective leadership and dynamic personality of His Holiness.
Swamiji’s journey through life from the poorvashram to the present is, in a way, the story of our times and of the onward march of our community. By his life and work, by precept and example, His Holiness has taught us Dharma and how one has to be in this world but not of it.
The functioning of the Samsthan was smooth and the directions of the Mathadhipathi were adhered to without hesitation till the time of Shrimad Sumatheendra Thirtha Swamiji i.e. the middle of the 19th century. Thereafter there has been some resistance on the part of the community and disinclination to adhere to Swamiji’s advice and directions. Sometimes this has taken the form of open defiance.
Bhuvanendra Thirtha’s actions were challenged in Court with the Swamiji winning upto the High Court. Varadendra Thirtha and Sukrathindra Thirtha also had to face unwarranted litigation making them feel disillusioned with the people. It is always necessary that the Dharma Guru’s words are followed and injunctions carried out. Not doing so invites sin. Hence the present Pontiff Sudhindra Thirtha has refrained himself from giving any ajna or adesha and confined to giving upadesha. There were no hurdles for a long time. The samaj was organized and galvanized. A lot of improvement particularly on the social and the material plane took place.
On the occasion of the Sudha Mangala of Samyamindra Thirtha Swamiji, Sudhindra Thirtha Swamiji wrote a rayasa patram to the Shishya in Sanskrit verse. Apart from the felicity of expression it reveals the richness of thought and brings out Swamiji’s own personality and outlook on life. His Holiness emphasises the need to be established in one’s swadharma and to propagate it, so also to be firmly self- disciplined and to inculcate discipline in others. He exhorts that you should not hurt anyone by thought, word or deed and that you should be compassionate and helpful to those who seek help and solace. There can perhaps be no greater philosophy of life- to be an integrated personality- with thoughts, words and deeds matching and pure, to be entrenched in swadharma and self discipline, to empathise and have compassion and render help.
Striking a personal note I must say I have had a very close relationship with His Holiness. Six generations in the family have received Swamiji’s blessings.
I must also confess that I have no personal experience of any material gain on account of Swamiji’s blessings or prasad. I am mentioning this in a slightly different context which I shall presently amplify. I have hardly prayed for anything material except to excel in whatever you do. Only once some years ago did I mention something to Swamiji. The answer was very typical and enlightening. His Holiness said that if something comes to you- it is all right. But you should not seek it or have a yearning for it. Further Swamiji reminded me of Shrimad Madhwacharya’s saying that whatever God gives we should receive with both hands as panchamritha. That was a lesson for life. These are seemingly simple things. But in these words is hidden a treasure of wisdom and the path to a good life.
If I may honestly say, being a little personal, the only blessing that I have always sought is the courage, strength and fortitude to be steadfast in my goal and not to swerve from the right path – the path of righteousness. For, after all, a life worth living is only that. As has been so well and rightly said, great comfort springs from the rectitude of purpose, from the conviction that the cause for which you devote all your strengths and renounce the ordinary delights of life is a high and sacred one. That blessing, I have received in abundance without reserve. I can say in all humility that I have steadfastly followed my goal without compromising in the least with Dharma and the values I hold dear.
From compromise and things half done
Keep me with stern and stubborn pride.
And when, at last, the fight is won
God, keep me still unsatisfied.
What greater blessing can one think of! I must say that this has been possible by God’s grace and Swamiji’s abundant blessings- that the buffets of circumstance and the caprice of fortune leave you untouched and definitely unswayed. That is the true greatness of a saint whose life, teachings and blessings lead thine on high.
Shrimad Sudhindra Thirtha Swamiji is the present Mathadhipathi and the 20th in line in the Guruparampara. Swamiji’s reign- Mathadipathya has been long, eventful and fruitful. There is a liquid beauty in the rising sun, there is a royal splendour in its mid day blaze and there is an exquisite grace in its setting glow. So it is with the life of a great man.
Initiated into sanyasashram in 1944, he ascended the Peetha in 1949 on the Samadhi of his Guru and predecessor Shrimad Sukrathindra Thirtha Swami. Swamiji has completed observing 71 Chaturmasas- 71 years of sanyasashrama and about 66 years as Mathadhipathi. These are unique events in the Math. The longest reigns have been of the 1st and the 2nd Swamis. The first Swami, Shrimad Yadavendra Thirtha Swami’s sanyasashram and Mathadhipathya was about 66 years, 5 months . Shrimad Sudhindra Thirtha has already surpassed that period in the sanyasashram. The second Swami, Shrimad Keshavendra Thirtha Swami’s sanyasashram period is not known, his Mathadhipathya was about 62 years which also has been surpassed by the present Pontiff. It is said that it behoves the great to be ever active. Swamiji at ninety is still active physically and mentally. In a recent letter (in 2015) where my name was wrongly typed, Swamiji corrected it. This is mentioned only to highlight His Holiness’ meticulousness and an eye for perfection.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though/ We are not now that strength which in old days / Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are; / One equal temper of heroic hearts, / Made weak by time and faith, but strong in will/ To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
In another year as His Holiness completes ninety his Mathadhipathya will be about 67 years surpassing all records in the Math. Swamiji belongs not merely to his generation, but to a line, which reflecting the genius of the human race and the spiritual ethos of our great seers, has moved with unbroken continuity through the ages. Indeed we are all blessed to be in the samaj during His Holiness’ regime.
Talking of all this – the glory of Sudhindra Thirtha Swamiji as the Renaissance Saint is not to detract from the glory and greatness of the earlier seers. Each of them was peerless and excelled in Dharma Prathishtapana. They belong to a constellation which is a continuum and are part of a legacy and heritage. In that sense each is a Renaissance Saint. But Sudhindra Thirtha Swamiji’s life and time has coincided with times of great upheaval and turmoil, an age of cataclysmic changes to which we have all been witnesses and it is in that sense and in that spirit that I have tried to understand and portray the great saint.
May His Holiness continue to lead and guide us for a long time and may we be worthy of the great legacy.
Events crowd in upon us and because of their quick succession we are apt to miss their significance. But what occurred on the night of January 16-17, 2016 is something whose significance and import cannot be missed or underestimated. In less than a year of the Navathi celebration and this piece being written, God took away from our midst our most revered and beloved Gurudev. His Holiness, aged 90, attained Mukti on Pushya Shudha Ashtami of Manmatha Samvatsara Sh.Sh. 1937 at Shri Vyasashram, Haridwar. The journey that began on the banks of the Shambhavi in 1944 culminated on the banks of the Ganga in 2016. Swamiji has had the longest reign as Mathadipathi- 66 years, 6 months, 6 days, a little more than the first Yati.
His Holiness’ Mahasamadhi marks the end of an era not only for the Samsthan and the GSBs but also for the Sanatana Dharma community, for religion and spirituality in the true sense. It will be very difficult to find another like His Holiness. We have to record our gratitude and reverence for a life to which all of us owe so much. His Holiness has left the mortal scene but when the West is still lighted with his radiance, it is well for us to pause and take a count of our coarser selves. If our heritage is to survive and our society is to endure we need to draw inspiration and sustenance from our Sadguru who has a lesson to teach us if we care to pause and learn, a lesson quite at variance with most that we practise and much that we profess.
May His Holiness’ grace be upon us to enlighten and guide us.
Note: For the smooth flow of writing and reading, instead of mentioning His Holiness or Shrimad or Swamiji everytime, the name and the commonly used pronouns in English though singular have been sometimes employed.
 * Paper presented at the National Seminar on The Life, Mission and Teachings of H.H. Shrimad Sudhindra Thirtha Swamiji at Sukrathindra Oriental Research Institute, Kochi on 24.5. 2015