Notes On Culture
DVG as the Cultural Chronicler of Bharatavarsha in Two Anecdotes
Excerpts from two brilliant anecdotes from D.V. Gundappa that show his prowess and preeminent position as the cultural chronicler of Bharatavarsha
On a very profound plane, DVG deserves the mantle of being one among the titanic cultural chroniclers of Bharatavarsha over the last hundred and fifty years. If cultural chronicling is taken as a unified entity akin to the grand Naimisha or Dandaka forests, where DVG specially excels in is in describing both this whole forest but more so in taking us on a guided tour, passionately extolling the beauty and glory of each tree, bush, shrub, leaf and flower.
His acclaimed classics like Jivanadharmayoga (his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita), Ishopanishad, Purushasukta, and Rta, Satya, Mattu Dharma fall in the former Aranyaka (forest) category while his creative works such as Mankutimmana Kagga, Antahpuragite and Srirama Parikshanam fall in the latter. To the same latter category also belongs the awesome corpus of his non-fiction works chief among which are the volumes of Jnapakachitrashale. As we have noted elsewhere, Jnapakachitrashale is a separate genre by itself, having few parallels in the world of letters.
Indeed, I daresay that the latter category of DVG’s literature, inhabited by trees and shrubs and flowers constitute the real cultural chronicles of Bharatavarsha, especially the Jnapakachitrashale volumes because a true-blooded cultural chronicle narrates the stories of the people that live and embody the culture.
Thus, on the 134th birthday of DVG, we present below two representative excerpts from his Jnapakachitrashale volumes that give but a mere sample of his prowess as India’s cultural chronicler.
The first is the story of Avadhoota Mahadeva Sastri.
Although I have seen Mahadeva Sastri, I don’t know much about his life. I have enquired at numerous places to learn more about him but didn’t find anyone who could tell me more about him. It appears that he kept the details of his private life to himself. He wasn’t the one to fall in the hands of press reporters or election agents. Remaining obscure, he chose and lived a life of obscurity.
Around 1908-09, two or three filthy people used to stand before the large gate at the east of the Victoria Hospital from morning till evening. Mahadeva Sastri was one of these filthy people. Unkempt hair, overgrown beard, and clothes that had never seen water. This was their defining feature. They spoke to none. Neither did anyone speak to them. They never met anyone’s eyes.
When I first saw them, I thought they were beggars. The guard of the Victoria Hospital used to stay in the shed near the gate. Even he never spoke to them. If someone asked him who they were, he used to simply shoo them off with, “go away, just go away.” When insisted, he used to say, “Periyavar” (Great people, Sadhus). “Don’t try to approach them. Mind your own business,” he would chide. Given this, I was unable to learn much about Mahadeva Sastri back then.
There’s another point here. About twenty or twenty-five feet from where these folks were standing lay a large Municipality garbage pit perpetually overflowing with filth, plantain leaves with leftover food and other rotten refuse about a foot or two high. I was surprised at how Sri Sastri could stand amidst this squalor for hours on end.
I’ve heard that Narayana Sastri, one of Mahadeva Sastri’s sons was a great scholar and that he had served in the Dharwad Karnataka College for some years as a Kannada and Sanskrit Pandit.
During the period in which my narration is set, Mahadeva Sastri had become a renunciate but hadn’t become a Sanyasin; he was akin to a Sanyasin, staying in his son’s house. That house was located in a street West of Aralepete somewhere near the Goods Shed Road. I haven’t seen the house. I’ll now narrate what I have seen.
I used to frequent the vicinity of Chickpet in those days. Mornings were spent at Appanna’s Coffee Club or K.S Krishna Iyer’s home reading newspaper and discussing politics and the general news in the city. This had become a routine, a habit. Glued to this routine was the Darshana of Mahadeva Sastri, which came about circumstantially.
Every morning at around six, Mahadeva Sastri would appear the square where Aralepet and Chickpet met. As I noted earlier, torn rags on his upper body, dhoti just above his knees, and the selfsame matted hair. At times, a smiling countenance, at times, a frown on his face. There was a throng of street urchins at all times around him. Hindus, Muslims…everyone was part of this throng. Never once did this extended family of urchins leave him.
People of that locality referred to Sastri as “Swami” and “Sadhu.” Henceforth, I shall refer to him as “Swami.”
As Swami walked around the streets, all kinds of people would approach him from all directions and tie around his hand the Ananta thread, the Kashi thread or some other thread as part of a Vrata (vow) they had undertaken. And so, his hand always sported an assortment of red, white, and black threads from wrist to elbow. He wouldn’t ever remove the threads on his own. They would drop off on their own. Instead, new threads would get added on a daily basis. Whenever someone came forward to tie a thread, it appeared that Swami would emit a slight grin.
By the time Swami reached the Aralepete Square or arrived at the Mastan Saabi temple, which was a little ahead, the traders and shopkeepers who had businesses there would have opened the locks on their shops. But the doors would still be shut expectantly awaiting the Swami’s arrival. It needn’t be explicitly said that the Swami’s procession was entirely on foot. The Swami and his entourage of urchins would sometimes have to stop before each shop and home.
When the procession halted before their respective shops, the businessmen opened the door, fished out some offering from their cashbox, placed it in the Swami’s hands, uttering Krishnarpanam (This is for Sri Krishna), Shivarpanam (This is for Shiva). Given this, the progress of the procession was extremely slow. The amount of the offering ranged from a quarter of an Anna to five- or ten-Rupee notes. The traders used to give according to their ability. The unanimous belief was that their business that day would be good if their first offering of the day was made to the Swami.
On his part, the moment the offering touched the Swami’s hands, he would instantly transfer it to the hands of some random urchin belonging to his extended family. He would utter, “Prarabdham, Prarabdham.” It’s still a surprise to me how easily he would say this. All our gains and losses are the consequences of the interplay of Prarabdham, right?
Only the hands that distributed that money belonged to the Swami; the money itself came from Prarabdham [Prarabdham is a Karma from the past lives which one experiences in the present life].
It was eleven or twelve in the afternoon by the time the Swami’s procession covered the entire length of Chickpet and reached beyond the Dharmaraya Temple. As the procession drew to a close, the extended family proportionally thinned down. There were no shops beyond the Dharmaraya Temple. The Swami’s hands would be empty.
Till the jaggery remains in the hands
Will remain relatives and friends like crows
As the jaggery in the hand melts
None will follow behind
After this, it was the routine of the Swami to visit a certain house that lay in the Southern direction. Apparently, that house belonged to a family of oil-pressers. They would offer a pot of milk to the Swami as soon as he arrived. This was the daily routine. The Swami would depart after drinking this milk. Nobody knew where we went. He wouldn’t be seen until the next day when he arrived with his procession on the streets of Chickpet.
For the full story, see this essay in Prekshaa Journal.
People like Mahadeva Sastri lived in flesh and blood just hundred years ago. But it took the all-encompassing view and the inner spiritual attitude of DVG to record his story for posterity.
The second story is a letter that DVG received from a gentleman named Chennakrishnayya. He received this letter in 1934-35 when he was still active with the Kannada Sahitya Parishad.
This is what DVG writes.
Sri Chennakrishnayya was a 16-Anna Vidwan (scholar).
Note: 16 Annas constituted one rupee. The implicit meaning is that Chennakrishnayya was a hundred percent scholar.
Sri Chennakrishnayya had attained enormous proficiency in Halegannada (“Old” Kannada). He was also deeply learned in Sanskrit. He was employed as a schoolmaster in some remote village school. The letter I received read as follows:
“…I lost my wife two years ago. It has been three months since I was transferred to this village. I have two daughters. The older one is about nine or ten. The younger one is six or seven. My mother is alive and stays with me. She is very old and bedridden for the last seven or eight months due to paralysis. I wake up early in the morning, have my bath, do my Sandhyavandanam and cook food. My children give bath to my mother and dress her up in the sanctified clothes. The well in this village is located about a mile away from my house. I have to draw water from the well and bring it all the way to my house. This back and forth happens two or three times as a result of which I get late for work at times. Also, I have to visit the well four or five times on some days because of which I experience fatigue. I have no time for serious scholarly study. I am writing this letter to you after undergoing this hardship. If I am transferred to any village that has a well near the house, I am gladly willing to go there. After about eight or ten months, I will become eligible for pension. If you think of an idea that solves my problem, I will consider it my fortune.”
I forwarded this letter to the Inspector of Schools at Kolar, Sri M.A. Narayana Iyengar. Sri Iyengar was himself a learned scholar, a patron of learning and deeply passionate about education. He was a gentle and courteous person endowed with empathy. I received the following reply from him three days later:
“Sri Chennakrishnayya has been transferred to XXX village. There is a sweet-water well right next to the school building.”
The joy of Sri Chennakrishnayya exceeded the joy of an emperor who had accomplished a Digvijaya, a grand conquest. The chief element of his joy was this: he now had enough free time to pursue his scholarly studies in Kavya, or literature.
Literature does not grow due to handsome salaries or perks or suits and coats. It blooms due to genuine Bhakti and Shraddha and by unstinted penance in the subject matter of genuine literature.
The litterateurs and writers of that period adhered to a standard. In matters of the solemnness of the choice of subject, in the decency of its exposition and in the vigour of prose style, they all kept before them a certain high ideal. And they constantly strove hard, and put in incredible efforts to attain that ideal. They would ruthlessly discard any writing that didn’t meet that ideal, no matter who wrote it. Indeed, there was something called a standard and an ideal in that era. I hope at least in future, our countrymen working in various fields keep a great ideal before them that guides all their endeavours.
DVG’s aforementioned lament about disappearing standards and ideals in all spheres of national activity was first published sometime in the 1960s. Ever since, the lament has today culminated in a catastrophe where even the notion of a standard or high ideal has been dismissed as a Brahminical conspiracy.
Yet, DVG’s birthday among other such noble Parvas, are harbingers of a hope of rejuvenation because they too, worked under severe circumstances of a different kind: the country was not free and the law often operated on the whim of a British official and the press was not free and publishing was difficult, expensive, risky, and unrewarding. The lives of luminaries like DVG illustrate the timeless truth that Renaissance begins in the refined inner life of an individual.
|| Om Tat Sat ||
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