After I finished writing Sandhyadarshana, I used to visit Sri Sheshanna Shrauti to learn Sama Veda. Every morning at about ten, I used to walk to his house and take my lessons for about half an hour or forty-five minutes. He showed great magnanimity in teaching me the Sama Veda. The reason is simple: I had previously requested him, “My interest in learning Sama Veda is not strong enough to learn it entirely. Nor do I have that kind of patience. My intent is to learn some relevant and time-bound Sama Veda Mantras and its typical mode of chanting. Additionally, I’m also to learn its essence from a clinical, analytical perspective without injuring the spirit of the Veda. More importantly, I’m curious to learn the connection of Sama Veda with (Indian Classical) music and explore its variety and nuances.”
Given the unusual backdrop of my request, Sri Sheshanna did not feel bad or disappointed. Instead, he taught me and sated my curiosity and patiently answered all my questions and clarified my doubts. It didn’t stop at that. My request also ignited an interest in him to understand the relationship between Sama Veda and music. Towards this end, he requested his elder brother’s son, Sri Kadaba Subramhanya and another relative, Vidushi Nalina Mohan to assist him. Both were well-versed in music. An accomplished violinist, Smt Nalina Mohan hailed from a family of Sama Vedins. However, we didn’t attain the anticipated progress in this endeavor. Despite this, Sri Sheshanna patiently collected the relevant research papers and essays that dealt with this subject.
To each student that came to learn from him, Sri Sheshanna would invariably ask, “did you finish your Sandhyavandanam before coming here? Have you finished doing your Brahma-Yajna?” To householders, this question would be, “Do you perform your daily Puja?” To Brahmacharins, it would be, “Do you perform Samidhaadaana? Or at least chant those mantras?” Disciples had to wear the sacred markers (Vibhuti, Kumkum, etc) that indicated their sect. However, Sri Sheshanna didn’t insist on any of these. His questions were merely indicative. On his part, he wore the Vibhuti like he wore his clothes: pure, simple, unassuming.
Students had to come to each class only after memorizing the previous day’s lessons. They had to submit this lesson before the current one began. However, he did not impose this rule on me. Before students arrived, he had already spread a mat for them and for himself and kept drinking water. It was a sort of Vrata, a sacred vow, that students shouldn’t be kept waiting for any reason. Perchance on the rare occasion that they had to wait, the agony he displayed had to be seen to be believed.
He did not turn away any person who came to him to learn the Veda. A considerable number of people are suddenly inflicted with the desire to learn the Veda in their old age. At that age, not only is it difficult to sustain the Swara (note), but it’s a struggle to even pronounce words. Sri Sheshanna had extraordinary compassion for even such people. His stand was simple: “They’ve taken interest in learning the Veda at least now. That is a good in itself. They will obtain peace and contentment by learning some Veda mantras. Why shouldn’t we give them that peace?”
He taught the Veda to both men and women and didn’t discriminate. It appears that he didn’t place too much emphasis on whether the student had undergone the Upanayanam. He taught Sama Veda to several women including his daughter-in-law.
However, in terms of clarity, purity and accuracy, he showed absolutely no lenience. Everything was strict, disciplined, and orderly. Sri Sheshanna followed the method of noiseless revolution. This method eventually ensured that scores of his relatives and friends went on to become learned in Sama Veda. Additionally, thanks to the force of his personality, a good number of people belonging to other Vedas took interest in learning the Sama Veda.
Sri Sheshanna Shrauti has taught the complete Samhita along with Rk-Pada-Gana and Bhashya (commentary) to about twelve disciples. He has imparted an abridged learning course in these subjects to thirty-six disciples. This teaching compulsorily included imparting the meaning of the Veda and the principles of virtuous living. This method of instruction was his specialty as well.
His Sama Veda Yaga that began in this manner eventually paved the way for writing books. Towards this endeavor, he established the Drahyayana Pratishthana, which operated from his home. The support he received in this noble initiative from such eminences as Sarvashri Gowripati, Venkatarama Puranika, Narasimhaswamy, Ramaswamy, Narayana Sastri and others are memorable. Sri Ramaswamy was his elder brother’s son. He was learned in a range of subjects including Prayoga. Sri Narayana Sastri was his brother-in-law. Although he was not a Sama Vedin, he was an expert in both Purva and Apara Karma[i] and had taught the Veda to countless students. Sri Sheshanna Shrauti had great admiration for Sri Gowripati’s prowess in chanting the Veda.
He praised both his senior and junior contemporaries for the special qualities in their character. He also genuinely adored disciples who were decades junior to him. Two names immediately come to mind: Shrivathsa and Kedarnath Pandey. Because both are well known to me. Sri Sheshanna would repeatedly praise Shrivathsa’s devotion, sharp mind, and congratulated him for his speed of learning. He also developed deep affection for Kedarnath for his gentility, honesty, and humility.
It didn’t stop at this. He never addressed any disciple in the first person including me. The only exceptions to this were a few children of his close relatives and really young boys who he had a great affection for. However, there was no dearth of lenience and friendship in him.
In this context, I recall another friend, Sri Amaranarayana. In reality, during the composition of Sandhyadarshana, he and Kalanoor Ravindra tirelessly worked with me to organize Veda Vidwans. Actually, I became more closely acquainted with Sri Sheshanna Shrauti through Sri Amaranarayana. Although Amar was far younger to me, he would joke around with Sri Sheshanna taking great liberty. This not only made Sri Sheshanna’s large-heartedness vividly clear to me but made me get closer to him. Sri Sheshanna Shrauti deeply loved Amar’s unwavering conviction in the Veda and his love of tradition. This is also why it’s unsurprising that he equally loved and welcomed Amar’s affectionate bullying.
Sama Veda Paricaya (Introduction to Sama Veda) was the first publication of the Drahyayana Pratishthana. It was the joint production from the organization in name only because Sri Sheshanna Shrauti singlehandedly performed every single task that went into its making. However, he did not publicize his name anywhere. This is applicable to almost all publications from the Pratishthana. When I brought this up before him, he would smile and say, “This organization was built by the effort of numerous people. Given this, when a work comes out, the name of an individual like me should not take prominence. In any case, the book lists the names of the people involved. Why put mine separately? The main thing is good things should reach people. Sama Veda should become more widespread.”
Recently—some time before Sri Sheshanna passed away—some of his friends and relatives insisted on publishing his authorship to at least a few books. He was vehement in his opposition to this: “No way! This is completely wrong! Our Rishis…did any of them claim authorship to the works they wrote? This sort of thing is against the spirit of the Veda.”
There’s yet another measure to gauge the extent of his indifference to fame. When several Mathas and institutions came forward to honour his contribution to Vedic work, his deep scholarship and service, he stood away saying he was undeserving of it. After years of persuasion, he finally accepted the honours from the Swarnavalli Matha and Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. It is my everlasting joy to have played a part in this dogged persuasion.
To be continued
[i] Purva Karma indicates all auspicious rituals like naming ceremony, wedding, Yaga, and so on. Apara Karma indicates all rites related to death.
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