The vow of Aparigraha (not accepting any material gain)was among the other lofty qualities in Sri Sheshanna Shrauti. I haven’t seen another person endowed with the value of Aparigraha apart from him. On several occasions, he has reminded me of Rishi Budila in Devudu Narasimha Sastri’s masterpiece, Mahadarshana. Sri Sheshanna Shrauti never accepted Daana in any form. Because Dakshina is an inextricable part of any Karma or ritual, one cannot refuse to accept it. Sri Sheshanna, in order to escape this inevitability, never agreed to become the Acharya of any Karma. On the supremely rare occasion that he had to officiate a Karma, he refused to accept heavy amounts or lavish gifts as Dakshina. However, he would take great care in ensuring that the accompanying Vaidikas were given their fair share of the Dakshina. Not just that. He also emphatically stressed on the need and necessity for the nurturing and preservation of the Vaidikas and their traditions.
His interest, care, and concern for every person engaged in works of Dharma was truly exemplary. On one occasion, he told me this:
“If a Dasayya [a wandering singer who visits each home singing songs, poems, and stories from our Puranas, epics, and in general, in praise of our Deities. Dasayyas used to be routinely seen in almost every city, town and village even thirty years ago. Now they have almost become extinct.] comes to my doorstep, I invariably give him some Daana or Dakshina according to my ability. There are some Brahmana Purohitas who don’t visit homes of certain Varnas to perform Karmas. These Dasayyas perform the role of an Acharya in such homes by assisting them in performing these Karmas. If people like us don’t give them their just share of respect and reverence, what will be the future of our society? Sanatana Dharma has continued to survive in all Varnas only because of such Dasayyas, endowed with great Punya.”
Sri Sheshanna Shrauti was among the foremost to visit me on the very first day when my father passed away. He spoke a few words of consolation and said,
“You know everything…you tell your Purohita what is permitted by the Sastras and what is not, and proceed with the rituals accordingly.”
On the day of the Vaikunta Ceremony [13th Day after the person’s death], Sri Sheshanna Shrauti personally chanted the Sama Veda and conducted the Parayana of the Upanishads. However, he refused to accept any Daana.
This was Sri Sheshanna’s method: love, affection, care, and discipline.
Sri Sheshanna had immense faith, affection, and regard for me. In general, traditional Vaidikas and Sadhus have a kind of disregard towards poets, literature and art. In their view, Kavya, arts, etc are tools for wasting time and a symbol of sensual indulgences meant for people who are incapable of doing spiritual Sadhana. Sri Sheshanna was a pleasant exception to this. In his view, literary joy was the sibling of spiritual joy (Brahmananda). A good poet and litterateur was akin to another Brahma. This realization is fully consonant with our Arsha view. It is for this reason that when he translated the Sama Veda Samhita into Kannada (with the commentaries), he felt that it was desirable to include a poetic translation of each verse that one could easily set to music. To this end, he came home one day with the tradition accoutrements of Phala-Tamboola-Dakshina and requested me to compose the poetic translation. I was deeply embarrassed at this gesture and raised an objection. But he emerged as the final victor.
He had enormous appreciation and praise for my poetry, Avadhana and related cultural and creative pursuits. He had listened to my lectures, watched my Avadhana performances and read a few of my books. Sri Sheshanna had also viewed my Kannada Shatavadhana (December 2012) livestreamed on the Internet. Not just that. He somehow managed to procure a poster featuring my profile picture and kept it at his desk at all times. When I would visit him on occasion, he would say, “You are always by my side,” and fish out that picture before me, exuding joy.
How does one even repay this affection?
Every person that Sri Sheshanna Shrauti taught the Veda to was not a student but a friend. No matter the age difference. Given this, it wasn’t unsurprising that I took great liberties with him. Most of our conversations revolved around the Vedas. I would repeatedly praise the grandeur and dignity of the chanting of the Krishna Yajurveda. He would agree saying,
“What can one do? Shankara Bhagavatpada and Sayanacharya also hail from your branch of the Yajur Veda. That’s the reason for your pride in it. But there’s a catch. The Vedanta Bhashya author [Adi Shankara] and the Veda Bhashya author [Sayanacharya] belong to your branch. But Sri Krishna has himself proclaimed in the Bhagavad Gita that he himself is my Veda [Sama Veda]. Surely, you agree to this!”
Just like Sri Ramachandra had great pride in his Kshatra Dharma, Sri Sheshanna Shrauti took boundless pride in and attachment to Sama Veda. His conviction was in the fact that it was a Upasana Veda, i.e. one that was used as a means of worship. He had great reverence especially for the Udgita portion of the Chandogya Upanishad.
Sri Sheshanna Shrauti had absolutely no fear or worry of death. Neither was he inordinately attached to life. However, he had great curiosity in welcoming a peaceful death. This is perhaps why, after he turned 75, he consulted some learned astrologers, on at least six or seven occasions, regarding the approximate time of his death. Fortunately, that hour of death never approached him for several years! This topic became an object of humour in the circle of his closest disciples. Shrivathsa and others would joke with great mirth, “Ah! Our Guru has made even Death eat the humble pie on six occasions!”
A great tragedy that struck Sri Sheshanna Shrauti in his twilight years was the Alzheimer’s Disease that befell his wife. She had a vast and wealthy repertoire of traditional songs, Stotras, and Slokas on the tip of her tongue. The deadly disease completely gnawed this away to the extent that she could not speak even a single alphabet. Eventually, she lost control over her own body. Perchance she stepped out of her house, she couldn’t find her way back. Forget the daily household chores, she was unable to even attend to her personal needs. She had become akin to a grown infant. The exact nature and practical implication of this terrible state became clear to me in later years when my own mother was hit by the same ailment.
Even in these circumstances, Sri Sheshanna Shrauti didn’t curse fate, didn’t lose his conviction in his Devatas, didn’t crib about it with others, wasn’t upset with his wife, and cared for her with utmost diligence. Although he had the support of his family, Sri Sheshanna took the lion’s share of this nursing. When I enquired about his welfare when I went for my daily Veda lessons, he would reply with great serenity, “She took care of me all these years, right? Who else apart from me should care for her now? The Bhagavan has himself given me this opportunity. It is a service that she should get only from me. I’ve told my children, ‘You please live separately. The grandchildren shouldn’t witness all this on a daily basis.’ My life will proceed as always. I’ve made arrangements for my meals. Relatives and well-wishers drop in from time to time.”
But I still felt that Sri Sheshanna’s condition was deeply distressing, difficult. However, his enormous strength of mind and unswerving conviction in Dharma have been indelibly imprinted on me. Sri Sharadamma’s condition remained in this fashion for about six years. In fact, it worsened with each passing day. However, Sri Sheshanna never wavered, never lost his calm. His life-work of study, teaching, and writing continued uninterrupted.
To be continued