A Peep into the Past

Udayā Māvinkurve’s (nee HebῙe) account of her interaction with H.H. Guru Swāmī for the first time as a young adult and how the subtle grace moulded her.  

Looking back at the 70 years of my life, the year 1974 shines in my memory like a beacon. That year, I was blessed with the first Divine darshana of our Guru, H.H. Shrīmat Parijñānāshram Swāmījī Tṛtīya.

It was the week before Rāmanavamī when my parents and I, had recently returned to Bhārata from foreign shores - and we were on our first visit to Shirālī.   We had a dual purpose, to celebrate my Pappā's 60th Janmadivasa on the Rāmanavamī, and to be part of the second Rathotsava.

We travelled to Shirālī by State transport bus via HubbaῙi, reaching the Kaṭṭo at Chitrāpur in the late afternoon. We were totally exhausted after hours of travelling in the hot noisy bone-shaker on four wheels. Having been brought up with the comforts of an air-conditioned home and chauffeur-driven car, at twenty-two, I was still the spoilt brat.  My peevishness during the journey must have taxed my long- suffering parents' patience. I had been reluctant to come to this small village and got off the bus in a bad mood, determined to be miserable all through our stay at the Mat͟h.

As we neared the Mat͟h gate, we heard voices, young happy voices, raised in laughter. Some distance away, in the field which is known as रथा गाद्दे, we saw some young men - some of them were playing badminton, while the others were watching.

Our attention was riveted on One of the players - resplendent like the rays of the rising sun, glowing face, thick hair forming a halo like that of Lord नटराज and He moved nimbly back and forth, exchanging carefree repartee with the others.  We just froze in amazement, as the baggage dropped from our numb hands, lying unheeded in the dust as we stood there with our palms in नमस्कार मुद्रा!  We were in a time capsule with no idea of how long we stood there. H.H. Shrīmat Parijñānāshram Swāmījī raised His hand in blessing and even from that distance we could see His eyes brimming over with the loving welcome.

A subtle yet an indescribable change came over me even as I stood there. I felt as though I was engulfed in an ocean of joy and peace, and all my petty peevishness just fell away like magic. That moment I felt like I was born again. The "foreign-bred, foreign-educated" Udayā Rāo died. In her place was reborn Udayā HebῙe, गुरुसेविका, and later, साधिका.

The rest of the evening I was in a quiet, retrospective mood. This was my first visit to any Mat͟h. Having spent my childhood in Arabia, cut off from our Chitrāpur Sāraswat community, educated in an aggressive Catholic convent school, I was a total stranger to our Sanātana Dharma, its customs and traditions.

However, I did know that the Guru is Special.  The Shis͟hya-swīkāra photograph always had a prominent place at home and I was taught to pray to Swāmījī every day. But that is where it all ended. I knew our Guru was special who I used to pray to - especially before the dreaded exams!! 

n how fortunate we were to actually be blessed with close darshana of our Guru. I was ignorant also of the role of a Guru in our spiritual life. Perhaps that is why Guru Parijñānāshram blessed me with the सखा रूप first, and gradually prepared me to receive the Guru Rūpa. Hence my vivid memories of Swāmījī are filled with light-heartedness, humour and laughter.

That first evening, immediately after Dīpanamaskāra, my parents and I were summoned by H.H. Shrīmat Parijñānāshram Swāmījī.  I was quite relaxed, and wondered why my parents, especially my father, was so flustered. As we approached the Divine Presence, offered our namaskāra-s and sat down, I was rather perturbed to see that my father was crying! Tears ran down his face and he sobbed like a child!! I had never before seen my Pappā cry before and couldn't understand why he was doing so now.

H.H. Swāmījī waited patiently, His face soft with karuṇā and prema while my Pappā finally composed himself.  He then introduced us to H. H.  Swāmījī, giving a brief reason for our visit to Shirālī.  H. H.  Swāmījī gave us more than an hour of His valuable time, during which He briefed us about the approaching Rathotsava, the first Abhinava Sammelana planned during that week, and also the project very dear to His Heart, the Museum. Only some parts of our meeting stand out prominently in my memory.

"Ramānand, you have just come to our country after a long stay abroad. And you are a retired man. We need people like you, with wide experience. Once you have settled down, I want you to devote yourself to the Mat͟h and Guruparamparā. Now that you are in Shirālī, I want you all to stay till I permit you to go. There is lots of work to be done in My office."

Then, turning to me, Swāmījī smiled and said, "You were brought up abroad hence you may not know much about out Mat͟h traditions. This is the best opportunity to learn. I want you to make friends with the daughters of our Vaidika-s. They are of your age. There is plenty you can learn from them. We need many volunteers in the museum. All of you girls can be museum volunteers."

Thinking back, I can now appreciate the truth of the subhās͟hitam -
 "अमन्त्रम् अक्षरं नास्ति नास्ति मूलम् अनौषधम् |
अयोग्यः पुरुषो नास्ति योजकास्तत्र दुर्लभः||"
H.H. Shrīmat Parijñānāshram Swāmījī was indeed the Rare योजकः who recognised the latent talents and capacities of each one of us.
The rest of our stay in Shirālī that year is a pageant of vivid memories. So much happened. That year, the museum was to be inaugurated by Shrī Veerendra Hegḍe, Pontiff of DharmasthaῙa.  When we reached there, it was just being set up. One of the many young volunteers told me to go to the museum floor as there was plenty to be done there. I went eagerly, running in my haste, loudly singing some newly learnt bhajan. I was struck dumb when I reached the museum floor and stood still in awe. There was H. H.  Swāmījī was surrounded by a group of young volunteers. He was giving them instructions on what was to be done. H. H.  Swāmījī 's warm smile put me at my ease, and I soon felt comfortable in the friendly company.

In the days that followed, we saw H.H. Shrīmat Parijñānāshram Swāmījī every day, as He personally supervised the carpenters, ensuring the display boards for mounting the small metal murti-s were made to the required dimensions.

H. H.  Swāmījī instructed some of the younger lady volunteers to be museum guides. He put each one in charge of a board, on which were mounted groups of small mūrti-s belonging to a particular era. Swāmījī's knowledge about the murti-s was amazing. He would tell us the century it was made, the metal, and details about the diety itself, its mudrā-s, āyudha-s, āsana-s, and what they signified and much more. As He spoke, we struggled to keep pace with taking notes and assimilating all of the information. 

And then one glorious day, I was summoned to H. H.  Swāmījī's Presence. Swāmījī asked me to be seated and handed me a bulky, red-bound catalogue. It was quite heavy and I looked at Him questioningly.

"It is my gold coin collection. It will be displayed in the museum. I want you to take charge of it. You will show it to the visitors."
I was speechless and just stared at Swāmījī mutely. My nervousness must have definitely shown on my face. He smiled and said, "Don't worry. I will tell you all the details about every coin. You must take notes and memorize them."

After that followed many hours of instructions. Again, I was amazed at the wealth of information and the detail that Swāmījī knew about each and every coin.

How can anyone remember so much, I wondered? Ignoramus that I was, I did not know that I was in the Divine Presence of Shrī Bhavānīshaṅkar Himself.

The weeks that followed were filled with all the hustle bustle and excitement of the Rathotsava. Each day brought new experiences for me. We volunteers were indeed blessed to have darshana of H. H.  Swāmījī every night to review the day's events and plan out the work for the next day.

After these meetings H. H.  Swāmījī was totally relaxed. His amazing wit kept us in fits of laughter. He encouraged us to talk freely, share jokes, sing light songs, and put us all at ease.

One memorable evening, after the Rathotsava, we were all taken for an outing to Kembre farm. We had a boys versus girls competition on who could sing the complete Shrī Shaṅkaranārāyaṇa gīta correctly without pause. Swāmījī enjoyed the whole exercise, laughing heartily whenever we floundered! To add to our confusion, He sang "Shaṅkaranārāyaṇa Shivashaṅkaranārāyaṇa" each time we paused for breath, adding to our miserable embarrassment!

The Rathotsava of 1974 was also special because it was the year of the first Abhinava Sammelana. Abhinava Sammelana was H.H. Shrīmat Parijñānāshram Swāmījī's brainchild. Prominent personalities from different fields were invited to speak. Shrī Veerendra Hegḍe, revered Pontiff of DharmasthaῙa and His wife were the Honoured Chief Guests. Smt. Kamalādevī Chaṭṭopādhyā was also an honoured invitee. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the other speakers.

Once again, H. H.  Swāmījī held volunteer meetings, discussing minutest of details, allotting duties, attending to every suggestion with immense patience.

Thinking back over the decades, I wonder at His childlike enthusiasm, His irrepressible joy which charged us all with energy during the hot dusty days.  Each day was a colourful pageant. The pomp and grandeur of the ceremonies, the bewitchingly haunting music peculiar to the Rathotsava rituals, in contrast to the simple dignity of the daily pūjā-s.  All those memories are etched deeply in my mind.

Against this vivid back- drop of my memories of the Rathotsava, H. H.  Swāmījī’s eyes brimming with pure आनन्द, प्रेम, करुणा and मातृत्व forms a kaleidoscope of images. He was Love Personified. We saw him cuddling babies even if they had just rolled on the dirty floor. He took great care of His faithful companion, an old mām, an unfortunate slow learner, (he shall remain un-named). This mām enjoyed good food, so H. H.  Swāmījī gave instructions that his favourite, mid-morning snack, masālā dosā, should be brought for him from a nearby eatery.

My father was diabetic. H.H. Swāmījī made sure that he too had some mid-morning snack, no matter how busy Pappā was in Swāmījī's office. 

And then there was the awe-inspiring side of Swāmījī - The Mat͟hādhipati. He was then indeed कोटिसूर्यसमप्रभ:! Then He was remote, high above us, way beyond our reach.  साक्षात् भवानीशङ्कर:,  and we could only adore from afar....during Dīpanamaskāra, As͟hṭāvadhana pūjā and other formal occasions.

The most precious memories of Swāmījī are as the Guru. His beloved Voice echoes in my ears as I recollect His words of advice on different occasions.  

Later that year, I took up a job as a middle-school teacher. I sought H. H.  Swāmījī's Blessings.  Swāmījī was very happy. "Teaching is indeed a very good and noble profession. While teaching children, one should allure their interest and affection. Do not train children by force or harshness, but direct them by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy, the peculiar bent of the genius of each.  We are of the opinion that your teaching should be full of ideas and not stuffed only with facts.......  You say that at times children try your patience. Then, try if you have never tried before, to write with your left hand, and then remember, a child is all left hand!"
These golden words are etched in my memory for all time.  They have been the main source of inspiration in my teaching years in school and outside.

As I said earlier, the year 1974 was the most crucial year of my entire life. That first glorious darshana of our Guru was a turning point. In the years that followed, there were times when I could not meet H.H Shrīmat Parijñānāshram Swāmījī in person, but H. H.  Swāmījī's Blessings continued to give me strength in all the ups and downs of गृहस्थ जीवन .

Often, His Divine voice still echoes in my mind, the ever-youthful lilt, the spontaneous laughter, the witty repartee, the कारुण्य for the needy..... I am deeply grateful to Him for blessing my father and me with opportunities of being with Him and offering our humble sevā to our Guru and our Mat͟h.