GHANAPATI RAJAGOPALA SARMA had never seen school, never learned English. He was a thorough student of a Gurukula. His grandfather had served as a judge in Tamil Nadu. The grandfather’s younger brother was not only deeply learned in Veda and Sastra, he lived as a Vaidika. His name too, was Rajagopala Sarma. The judge passed away at a young age. Rajagopala Sarma brought up his orphaned children. Although he imparted Vedic lessons to them, he eventually put them in worldly professions and jobs. However, he brought up his own children in his mould. He gave them a thorough traditional Vaidika education and put them in his path.
After his elder brother’s children got married and became householders and fathers, he called them all one day and addressed them: “Following your father’s wishes, I brought you up in the worldly fashion. I did not have your father’s permission to have the freedom to sculpt your destiny in the way I thought fit. Now I ask you this. If I have your permission, please give me one son from each of your respective families. Your permission should come out of a spirit of joy. I will bring them up in my mould.” The fact that they all agreed is not the special element in this episode. His force of personality was such. This is how Ghanapati Rajagopala Sarma came under the tutelage of his younger grandfather and became a Vaidika.
The elder Rajagopala Sarma never settled in one place. His was a mobile Gurukulam. He travelled across scores of villages and towns with his compact retinue of disciples and boys. His wife took care of cooking. He would travel to every city and town and village in Tamil Nadu and rent a house there. After that, he would teach Veda, Sastra, Purana, and Itihasa to the people according to their expectation and ability. Whatever he got from these students as fees would go towards maintaining his family. Above all, Sri Rajagopala Sarma had special enthusiasm for Ramayana-Parayana (recitation). This Parayana had to take place in every village and town. The whole village had to participate in it. The festivity had to culminate in the auspicious event of Sri Ramachandra’s coronation. The Mangalam would be sung then. He would procure sacred waters from various rivers for this purpose. Veda-Parayana and Sankara-Bhashya discourses formed essential ingredients of this celebration. If devotees wished to coronate Sri Ramachandra, they had to compulsorily grow the Shikha. This was a non-negotiable condition. It is said that scores of people grew Shikhas just to undergo this divine experience of coronating Sri Rama and after coronating him, they remained Shikha-dharis (i.e., they did not cut it) for the rest of their lives.
This was the atmosphere in which Ghanapati Rajagopala Sarma grew up.
THE CHILDREN WHO LIVED in the elder Rajagopala Sarma’s mobile Gurukulam had to wake up at the Brahma-Muhurtam (typically from 3:30 - 5:30 am). The first round of their lessons would begin at this hour. Around seven or seven-thirty, some basic Veda mantras would be imparted to the people of the village or town. In parallel, the Antevasins (students who lived in his Gurukulam) would have their bath, perform the Sandhyavandanam and eat breakfast. After this, a rigorous teaching regimen would begin from nine and end at twelve. Subjects included the Veda, Sanskrit, Tamil and mathematics. Lunch was at twelve. Post-lunch period was the Guru’s rest hour. However, there was no respite for the disciples. They had to sit around the Guru’s bed in a circle and revise their earlier lessons. If someone made a mistake, the Guru would instantly correct it even in his slumber! Sports hour was in the evening. After this, they had to accompany the Guru on a Yatra to the market for buying provisions or go along with him to temples in the area. Around the same time, he would impart another round of lessons to the people of that town or village or deliver discourses from our Purana and Itihasa. Dinner was at eight followed by another round of Veda lessons to his disciples.
This was Ghanapati Rajagopala Sarma’s education for twelve years. After this, he enrolled at the Mylapore Sanskrit College and studied both the Purva and Uttara-Mimamsa under the guidance of his uncle, Sri Krishnamurthi Sastri. He often rued that his discipline had slackened by this time. He earned the Shiksha-Sastri title at Tirupati. However, what firmly remained with him throughout his life was the solid Vedic education that he learned at the feet of his grandfather.
Grandfather (G): “Why do you even want to go abroad?”
Rajagopal (R): “Our people out there want me to come. They need guidance on the Vedic way of life.”
G: “In that case, you think you have given that guidance to all our people out here? Has Dharma been fully established in this land?”
R: “I didn’t mean it like that. Our people living there must not go astray.”
G: “They aren’t going astray. You are. Your desire to go to America is making you utter lofty words. When it is possible for you to pursue the Vaidika profession out here, why do you need to go behind all these unnecessary things?”
Rajagopal bowed before this crystal clear opposition and joined the Academy of Sanskrit Research at Melukote. He received several offers from America later as well. His grandfather had passed away by then and he had no one to stop him. But he never went.
I asked him about this: “Why didn’t you use your freedom?” He laughed and replied, “Yes, my grandfather is not alive now. But his words are. How can I transgress that?” Ghanapati Rajagopala Sarma is still with us. Like his Guru, he has provided shelter to several students in his home. Even as his wife feeds them with food cooked by her own hands, he teaches them the Veda.
To be continued
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