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Sastra Sabha And The Tenali Exams – A Report


If ‘aham brahmhasmi’ is written in fire, you will experience it.”

Anjaneya Sharma Garu, or Guru Garu to his devoted students and followers, is explaining Chitta Samskara to me, in front of his house Sreevari Sannidhi, in Tenali, Andhra Pradesh.

Loosely, Chitta is the subconscious mind, and Samskaras are the impressions that form on it, both positive and negative – the terms are familiar to students of yoga the world over. But the discussion we are having is about the value of the Karma Kanda of the Veda, the portions that precede the Upanishads or the Jnana Kanda. Also known as the Purva Mimamsa, often just Mimamsa for short, the knowledge of its contents, especially the shroutha yagnyas and allied procedures, is restricted to a dwindling few.

As Guru Garu speaks, you can hear the chewing of the pure-bred Punganur cows in their sheds, and the occasional low moo. His hands make a motion as if he is writing in the air. An octogenarian, with a strong resonant voice, he gives the impression of a gentle giant of a man, his stature both as a “one man university” and a deeply learned traditional scholar, towering over his physical stature.
“Perhaps you can make out the letters,” he smiles, “but they are gone even as I write them, vanished.”
Then he uses his finger to write in the dust on the stone floor of the porch. “That won’t last very long…
“If I write on paper, may be 50 years…”
“But if using heat, I engrave it on iron, using fire and heat, that is going to last a very long time. That is Chitta Samskara. That is what the Karma Kanda can do. Aham Brahmasmi will no longer be something that is just said or written. You will feel it, know it.”

Aham Brahmasmi, is of course one of the ‘Mahavakyas’ of the Upanishads in Advaitic tradition, and a cornerstone of most Vedantic thought and philosophy, equating the individual Self with the ultimate Brahman.
“ ‘Sarva dharmaan parityajya, maam ekam sharanam vraja,’ is misunderstood, misquoted, and mistranslated, isn’t it? People have used it to either condemn all ritual, or assign a lower level to it,” I venture tentatively.
That sentence in the Bhagavat Geetha, can mean: ‘Doing away with all ritualistic religion, take refuge in me alone.’
Guru Garu and another senior scholar, D. Narayana Somayaje Garu, nod vigorously.
“Yes indeed, much misinterpreted.” says ASG. “Who can give up dharmaan (sacrifices and other karyas)? Only those who are doing it, who have gone through it. One cannot resign from a job he doesn’t have, can he?” he laughs heartily.

The Tenali Exam

Our conversation had veered around to the Karma Kanda, because I was wondering how many students were pursuing the Mimamsa course offered by the Sudharma Rakshana Parishat, of which ASG is the distinguished president. Supported now by both the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham of Kanchipuram as well as Indic Academy, Hyderabad, the Parishat launched what has come to be known as the prestigious Tenali exams, back in 1992. For those in the know, the Tenali exam has a stature, an aura, that can create an awe comparable to what a person in the West can feel for, say, an Ivy League institution in the US or ‘Ox-bridge’ in the UK.

Students get a monthly stipend held in trust in an account, which is paid to them in a lump sum on graduation. After funds from an early benefactor stopped, Swami Jayendra Saraswathi of Kanchi stepped in with support in 2006, – the institution has since been called Sri Kanchi Veda Vedantha Sastra Sabha, with Bhagavatula Anjaneya Sharma as its Administrator. Indic Academy since 2015 has been supporting many students with stipends. Semester examinations are held in June and December every year, with special examinations and a sastra sabha of scholars — with discourses and discussions — every March.

During such a three-day period in March, as one looks around ASG’s house, there are students and examiners scattered around in the hall, the porch, and the verandah in the rear, some taking written exams, some answering tough questions orally, all in Sanskrit; senior scholars are having learned discussions, consulting revered old texts, or carefully marking answer sheets. You are transported. May be this what Nalanda was like, you think.

So how many Mimamsa students are here? Out of the eighty plus on the rolls, Vyakarana and Tarka have the most students, followed by Vedantha, basically Advaitha Vedantha, including a 2-year course on the study of the classic ‘Advaitha Siddhi’ by Madhusudhana Saraswathi. Advaitha Siddhi was their first ever course, and many of today’s stalwarts, present at the house this March, were its first “pass-outs” – distinguished names like R. Krishnamurthy Sastry and Mani Dravid Sastry.

Here then, is the full list of courses offered today, most taking six to seven years to complete:

  • Advaitha Siddhi
  • Vyakarana
  • Tarka
  • Mimamsa
  • Vedanta
  • Krishna Yajur Veda with Sayana Bhashya
  • Panini’s Ashtadhyayi
  • Bhamati Kalpataru

Shroutha, of course, is the study of procedures for carrying out Yagnyas, sacrifices, as detailed in the Karma Kanda portions. It is a fairly new course, with just a hand full of students. It will take a staggering 11 years or more to complete.
“We take up the Kanda tryam right up to Agnistoma,” says ASG. By Kanda tryam, he is referring to the practical sections (Prayoga Samhita) concerning the Adhvaryu – the main priest of the Yajur Veda, the Hotr – main priest of the Rig Veda, and the Udgatr – the main priest of the Samaveda. The Agnistoma, of course, is the main shroutha yagnya, the base and foundation of the major yagnyas, which also confers on the yajamana the right to perform the other yagnyas.

“There are very few indeed who know the Shrouta karmas,” adds Shri Narayana Somayaji, his second name certifying to the fact that he is someone who has conducted the Soma Yaga, one of the more advanced in a Shrouta’s journey. He has introduced his son into Shrouta specialisation.

Conducting a Shrouta exam has its own challenges. Space is required for students to show their knowledge and skill of various procedures, right from setting up a proper yaga shaala, with different frame-worked structures made of wood and bamboo, and even a vehicle used for bringing in the famed Soma, a card called Sakata. (Today, of course, with no Vedic soma grass having been identified, different substitutes are used). There is even a benefactor for building these wooden implements and structures, a young US-returned doctor, Dr D. Saravana, a nephew of ASG’s.

Vedic altars have a symbolism, relevance and power all their own. The famous Syena Chithi, for example, an altar where the bricks are laid out in the form of a bird with wings spread, represents Garuda. Guru Garu says. “Garuda is Gayatri svaroopam. When the offerings are made into Agni on this chithi, it is like Garuda flying into heaven and bringing back Amrutham.”

Pancha Darshanas

If you exit Anjaneya Sharma Garu’s house from the front gate, and walk straight about a kilometre, you will reach a beautiful Panchamukhi Anjaneya Temple, with five dvaja stambas, for each of the five facets of this form of Hanuman. What is more, this is one of the rare temples where Hanuman is with his divine consort Suvarchala.

About 200 years ago, it was ASG’s great grandfather Samba Dakshinamurthy, who did the Praanapratishta of this deity. A lot of the property around that temple was the family’s, now given away, with the temple itself under state endowment administration. Inside ASG’s house too is a revered Hanuman, along with Devi Suvarchala, and ASG is the 13th generation in his family to worship Him.

He attributes his entire initiative to start the Parishat and keep it running as only fulfilling the wishes and command of Anjaneya. For him, his family members, as well as an extended network of people, the shrine is very special indeed.

I am curious about the Panchamukhi Anjaneya, a representation of Hanuman with five faces, the other four being Horse, Lion, Boar, and Hawk, which the late S.K. Ramachandra Rao, one of Bangalore’s greatest Vedic scholars, describes as “Tantric in significance, but of uncertain origin and meaning,” though they could also refer to familiar divinities in the Hindu pantheon.
When I ask him about this, however, ASG gives a slight shake of his head, and informs me the significance of Panchimukhi Anjaneya, is in terms of “Pancha Darshanas.” While the five Darshana names he mentions clearly correspond to the deities of the well-known Panchayatana puja system of the Smartha Sampradaya, his delineation in terms of Darshana is startlingly interesting and meaningful.
“Panchamukhii Hanuman is Pancha Darshana. The Five Darshanas are Vaishnavam, Shaivam, Ganapthyam, Sauram and Shaktham.
Then he introduces a term called Vishaya, which he explains as anything that is experienced through the human organs or Indriyas — hearing, taste, sight, smell and touch.

“What is vishaya? Sangeetham, music, is a vishaya, sweetness is a vishaya, sex is a vishaya. The vishaya grahya karanas (what capture the vishayas) are indriyas. All vishayas are taken in by the indriyas (organs). The grahya gnyanam is manas, the mind which takes in the inputs.
“The Bhoktha (the enjoyer) is the Jiva. But the Praana is infusing it, without which there is nothing. ‘Ethasaam Sambanda Karthaha sutravath pranaha.’

“Vishayaha means sampath, aishvaryam (wealth). To enjoy a music concert you need to buy a ticket. Without sampath there is no vishayaha (laughing). The sampath arishtana devata (ruling deity) is Lakshmi. She is the Shakti of Vishnu. Sampath dvara moksha vidya, yath bavathi, tath Vaishnavam. Tath Vaishnava Darshana Vidya. When you reach moksham, liberation, through sampath, that is vaishnava darshana. Take Thyagaraja swamy — through music, he got moksham.”

“Next take the Indriyas, the organs, which are like forts in the body. Durgameva Jeevam Shadyavarthanthe. Durga means fort. The jiva is inside, but all indriyas are bahihi, outside, like a fort. Indriya arishtadri is Durga. Tat shaktyutaha Shivaha. Indriya soshanena vidanena moksham prayashchati. Yat vidya bhavati, tat shaiva darshana vidhya. Moksham through the Indriyas. How is this possible? Through Chandrayana vratas, upavasa vratas (fasting), nigraham happens. That is Shaiva Darshana.

“Next, take the manas, the mind. Grahya gnayanam manaha. (It is the mind which becomes aware of and processes the sense inputs). Gnyana arishtadri Saraswati. Tat Shaktiyutaha, vidya Ganapati. Manon-yantrena paramatma-sadhanam yat vidya bhavati ganapathi vidhya darshana. Achieving moksham through the mind, (enquiry, knowledge) is Ganapathi Darshana.”

“Next take the Jiva. The source of all life is the Sun, Surya. Yatra suryo-na bhavati tatra srishtirabhi na bhavati. No creation is possible without the Sun. Jivat arishatadri Savitri. Tat Shaktiyutaha Savitr, the Sun. This is Sauram. Jivatva naashana vidanena — soham hamsaha –when the jiva is negated, moksha is attained. Jivatva naashana vidanena moksha-sadhaniyam yat vidya bhavati, souradarshna vidya.”

“Finally, take the Prana. The Prana is the sutra, the thread on which all this hangs. The Prana Arishtadri is Radha. Tat Shaktyutaha Vayu. Vayu has no roopam. The Moksha sadhanam comes through the awakening of the Kundalini. Where there is union of Jeeva and paramatma or parabrahman, that is true yoga. Jeeva-Brahmanor Aikyam Yogartham. And this is Shakta Darshana.”

So these Pancha Darshanas are significance of Panchamukhi Anjaneya? “Yes,” he says, and adds, “also the Gayatri as well!” He points to the well-known dhyana shloka of Gayatri, Mukta Vidruma Hema Neela Dhavala, which refers to the five facets and colours of Gayatri represented by the Pearl, Coral, Gold, Sapphire and Diamond. “Gayatri is Jeeva, Brahma is Jeeva, and we come to the same thing – Jeeva-Brahmanor Aikyam Yogartham!”

Trikaranashuddi

When heart and mind, expression and intent are clear and pure, outcomes cannot but be achieved, says Anjaneya Sharma Garu.
“Trikaranshuddhi is very important. My family is immersed in this activity — the boys, the students, everyone is immersed. Our students have got five presidential awards. T Krishnamurthy Shastri gave the first Advaita Siddhi exam here. He also got the Presidential award. Trikarna is Mano, Vacha and Karma. Manasavacha karmana iti trikarna. It must come from our heart. Three decades ago, I started this Parishat when I realised that there were just a handful of people who had the knowledge, and after their passing, it will go with them. So we are completely immersed in the shastras, the need to propagate the shastras. That is our goal. This knowledge must live on.”

On the evening of Sunday, March 10, (2019), Shri Arvinda Rao, DGP (Retd), Andhra Pradesh, one of the directors of Indic Academy and co-founder and trustee, Advaitha Academy, joins us for the second convocation of graduating students supported by Indic Academy. Two students, K.S. Maheswaran and T.K. Narasimhan, are to get certificates. As we sit talking in Guru Garu’s front room/office, Rao Garu beautifully chants the Ashta Laksmi anugraham the way TTD priests do it, when they invoke the Lord’s blessings, something he has heard countless times in the course of official duty. Can there be a better way to mark a wonderful series of conversations steeped in tradition and divinity…

Vaktrabhaje Bhagyalakshmihi
Karathala kamale sarvada Dhanalakshmihi
Dordhande Veeralakshmihi
Hridaya sarasije bhutha Karunyalakshmihi
Khadgagre Shouryalakshmihi
Nikhila guna adambhare Kirthilakshmihi
Sarvange Soumyalakshmihi
Tvayi tu Vijayantam sarva Samrajya Laksmihi


C.K. Shridhar

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