Vedacharya Sri Sheshanna Shrauti: A Sacred Vow of Lifelong Vedic Learning
Acquaintance with Sri Sheshanna Shrauti
My acquaintance with Sri Sheshanna Shrauti deepened after I began working earnestly on the Sandhyadarshana book. I was a frequent visitor to his home and eventually got to know his family and relatives including his son, Parthasarathi, who was my contemporary in UVCE College. He was studying Civil Engineering while I had opted for Mechanical Engineering.
Sri Sheshanna’s house was located close to the Kumaravyasa Mantap. It was named, Drahyayana, in honour of the progenitor of the Sama Veda Sutra, Rishi Drahyayana. Although the house was of a modest size, the front courtyard was quite vast. Apart from coconut, plantain, it also sported a variety of flowering plants and trees which yielded ample quantities of flowers for his daily Puja. At any rate, even during the Bangalore of that period, Sri Sheshanna’s house was characteristic of a traditional home minus the chaos of extreme orthodoxy. It was a pleasing sight both in its nomenclature and beauty.
Sri Sheshanna’s wife, Smt Sharadamma was in every way his ideal homemaker. I was acquainted with her brother, Vedamurti Sri Narayana Sastri as well. Sri Sastri’s deep conviction in the Vedas, his genuine effort at awakening people to the beauty and value of our Dharma, and soulfulness are truly praiseworthy.
A beautiful instance suffices to illustrate Sri Sheshanna’s profound and lifelong conviction in Dharma: after his wedding date was fixed, he set a condition to Smt Sharadamma that she must memorize the whole of Bhagavad Gita before becoming his wife! It is impossible to even imagine this sort of thing in the present time. Fortunately Smt Sharadamma became the perfect wife. Thus, the Bhagavad Gita didn’t merely remain a gong of memorization but became a lifelong bond of the Dharma of Life. Later, Smt Sharadamma earned the Rashtrabhasha Praveena degree like her husband. Sri Sheshanna Shrauti’s devotion to the Bhagavad Gita made him name his children as Parthasarathi and Geeta.
Sri Sheshanna Shrauti’s entire life in itself was a Bhagavad Gita; it was driven and regulated by that Parthasarathi.
During his studenthood, Sri Sheshanna had studied the writings of Dayananda Saraswati, Swami Vivekananda, Ramana Maharshi and Chinmayananda and was deeply influenced by them. He had a special fondness and praise for the Vedantic works of Chinmayananda. Along with these, he had also scaled the Himalayan peaks of the Navodaya writers of Kannada literature such as DVG, Kuvempu, Devudu, Masti, T.N. Srikantaiah, V.Sitaramaiah, K.S. Narasimhaswami, and acquired fresh inspiration from them. He had also studied eminent Hindi litterateurs like Maithili Sharangupta, Jayashankar Prasad, Sumitranandan Pant and Nirala. He had the same level of interest in good literature as he had in Veda, Vedanta and Karma-Kanda. I haven’t seen any other traditional Vaidika who was such a great literary connoisseur as Sri Sheshanna.
With the agglomeration of all these profound influences, the consciousness of Dharma that was innate to his nature made it inevitable for him to pursue the study of Veda. His elder brother, “Veda-Brahma” Sri Nagappa Shrauti was renowned in the world of Vidwans. He taught Sama Veda in the Chamarajendra Sanskrit College in Bangalore. Indeed, the entire family had learned Sama Veda.
Ordinarily, most folks learn the relevant Mantra portions and a bit of Prayoga (practical application in rituals) and stop their Veda study at that point. But Shri Sheshanna Shrauti was an exception. He studied the Samhita and Brahmana portions together with commentaries under his elder brother’s tutelage. The Sama Veda contains the maximum number of accompanying Brahmana portion more than any other Veda. Thus, acquiring this knowledge as well, is inevitable.
Apart from Sayanacharya’s commentary, Sri Sheshanna studied the other Veda commentaries by the dint of his own effort. Music is the soul of the Sama Veda. Given this, knowledge of Shiksha (phonetics) is absolutely mandatory. And so, Sri Sheshanna learnt these in-depth. He also studied the Rg and Yajur Vedas systematically under the guidance of Vedamurti Sri S.V. Shyama Bhatta who lived near Navrang Theatre. He also studied Adi Shankaracharya’s commentaries on the Prasthana-Traya[i] from the same Guru. Vedamurti S.V. Shyama Bhatta in turn had studied Vedanta under the renowned Naveenam Venkatesha Sastri. He authored several works on Veda-Prayoga-Vedanta and allied subjects and taught them to numerous disciples. He also tirelessly worked in the Sanskrit examinations conducted by the formidable Surasaraswati Sabha established by the Sringeri Matha.
These apart, Sri Sheshanna Shrauti was a formidable autodidact. He mined the profound depths of the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Vishnu, Skanda, Padma, and Bhagavata Puranas exhaustively. But the moment his mind turned towards Prayoga and Karma-Kanda, he began an in-depth study of Dharmashastra and Grihya-Sutra texts and digests authored by Maharshis such as Khadira, Drahyayana, Apastambha, Ashwalayana, Bodhayana, Gautama and Manu. During the course of this painstaking study, he got the assistance of numerous Hindi texts largely limited to North India.
His own branch of Sama Veda, Kauthuma, was largely widespread in Tamil Nadu. And so, with great effort, he procured scholarly texts from that state and studied them. If memory serves me right, he learnt the Tamil script just for this purpose.
He was also well-versed in the works produced by the Arya Samaj. He was also acquainted with the Vedic and other corpus published by the Pune-based Vaidik Samshodhan Mandal. His stand in establishing the accurate meaning of the Veda was wise and magnanimous and bereft of any sectarian obstinacy: all explanations and commentaries based on truth and adhered to the spirit of the Veda were welcome.
In this manner, he became an avowed expert in Vedic study independent of the support of educational institutions, research centres, and Mathas.
A Sacred Vow and Preparation
My educated guess is that he had mentally prepared to pursue this path years ago. However, he got the substantial time needed for this kind of dedicated study only after he retired from his job. It’s equally true that he had the responsibility to marry his daughter off. Then, his son also had to finish his education. And so, Sri Sheshanna had to work for some time even after retirement. But once he had discharged all these responsibilities, he called his entire family and told them:
“As far as I am aware, I believe I have discharged my familial responsibilities. Whatever pension I get is sufficient for routine household expenses. Parthasarathi is now independent, he can earn his livelihood. If I have your permission, I wish to dedicate the rest of my life devoted to my chosen pursuits. I hope this will not trouble any of you. Or if you think that I need to still work in order to run the house, please feel free to tell me.”
The moment they heard this, all of them said unanimously, expressing their support:
“It’s enough that you’ve worked so hard all these years. From now on, you do whatever pleases you without any worry.”
Sri Sheshanna personally told me a few details of this incident.
Indeed, this is consonant with the Sanatana tradition of “Sarvesham avirodhena Brahmakarma.” Meaning, any work undertaken in the path of Brahman must have the acceptance, consent, and cooperation of the individual, family, and society. It must proceed like a beautiful harmony of all these elements. In such endeavours, futile arguments and thoughtless opposition have no place. Sri Sheshanna Shrauti’s study progressed in this manner, like a sacred vow.
I first met Sri Sheshanna when he had already attained this state of ripe serenity.
To be continued
[i] Prasthana-Traya is the triad comprising the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutra.
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