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81st Tirunakshatram Celebration of H.H. Srimad Poundarikapuram Andavan Swami

rangaswamy_m_at_hotmail.com
Date: Fri Feb 16 2001 - 09:47:02 PST

Sri:

SrimatE Gopaladesika MahadesikAya Namaha,

Dear Bhaktas,

Adiyen wishes to share the following appeal from U.Ve. Dr. V.N. 
Vedanta Desikan Swamin for the rapidly approaching 81st Tirunakshatram 
MahOtsavam of H.H. U.Ve. Dr. VNV Swamin takes us through a wonderful 
spiritual journey as he consummately describes the greatness of 
Srimad Poundarikapuram Ashramam and several Acharyas, who have adorned 
the Peetam of Andavan at the Ashramam.

Namo Narayana

SriMuralidhara Dasan
***************************************************************

THIRUVINNAGAR TO THIRUVARANGAM

A FEW PAGES OF A GREAT SPIRITUAL SAGA

Among the forty Divyadesa shrines of the Chola country, Thiruvinnagar 
gets accorded a prime place.  It has been sung of by two (early) Mudal 
Azhavars, Nammazhvar and by Thirumangai Azhvar.  Nammazhvar describes 
his experience as Parankusa  Nayeki  a damsel in God love  in many 
decades.  In VI 2, of Thiruvoimozhi he narrates the love  quarrel.  
At the end he was given the love-experience of the Lord whom he 
describes as "having seen Him at Thiruvinnagar".  He names the Lord in 
the equivalent of "Oppiliappan', though the Lord is fit to be referred 
to as "Uppiliappan" also, on the basis of a classic legend.

The shrine is housed in a small calm village.  Every activity in the 
village is centred around the Lord.  All live there as His servants, 
mind you.  It is Vaikunta on earth and so is watered by Viraja 
(Thirunattaru).  East of the village, a couple of furlongs off, is the 
hamlet, Devanarvilagam and a couple of miles to the south-east is 
Poundarikapuram.  The mother of Sri H H Devanarvilagam Azhagiyasingr 
(Jeer, the 43rd in order) hailed from the latter village. 

The Lord is a great benefactor even to this day.  But 300 years back, 
He blessed a couple from Royampettai with a divine child  in the 
image of Sri Desika who was similarly blessed by Lord Venkatesa  this 
child growing in later life as a great spiritual patriarch, called 
Thirukkudanthai Desikan.  He is to this day regarded as a great 
water-shed preceptor, head of a fairly large family of the so-called 
Munitraya Sampradaya, since for one reason among many others, three 
ascetics prostrated before this householder and learnt Vedanta at his 
feet  a rather unique phenomenon in Indian spiritualism.

There lived in this village one great scholar-saint, called 'Sri 
Navanitam Swami' (1874-1949).  His name was Vangipuram Navanitam 
Krishnamacharya.  The Navanitam prefix is derived from a forefather 
who had written a Sanskrit work, 'Chandogya  Navanitam' for which he 
had received many honours and land-conferments by the then ruler.  The 
prefix became particularly appropriate to the Swami when he brought 
out, among others for the first time into print, a book called 
'Dasopanishad-Bhashyam' of Sri Rangaramanuja Muni ('Upanishad - 
Bhashyakarar, ca-1550AD) Descendants can claim the initials as V.N. in 
their right, but the honorific 'Navanitam Swami' is his own, not fit 
to be appropriated by another!  He was a stalwart, but simple, 
unassuming, austere, self-denying, ever at the service of the Lord 
here.  When he lived, for almost 75 years here in his old house, he 
had been host to many scholars of high orthodoxy, including a few 
ascetics like H H Sri Poundarikapuram Andavan Sri Mannarkoil Andavan, 
Sri Kozhiyalam Swami and Sri Thiruvahindipuram Swami (his own 
preceptor).  They were all familiar guests thereat!.  Indeed there is 
a famous comment of Sri Kozhiyalam Swami:- "you people don't know that 
we ascetics have also got a father-in-law's home where we enjoy 
hospitality.  I mean Sri Navanitam Swami's house!"

"Navanitham Swami" had left off train-travel when he was some 40 years 
old.  He did not reckon travel, honours, money, fame, etc. as things 
of relevance.  He was devoted to publication of rare books that were 
all high-class and were really relevant to that age. He was a friend 
of all Vaishnavites irrespective of their school, clan or sect.  He 
was a great devotee of the Archa.  When a social circumstance arose in 
early 1948 that prevented him from worshipping the Lord without 
compromising on his basic codes of orthodoxy, he was so shocked 
mentally that he lost his speech.  He lived a dumb devotee for 16 
months and died on an Ekadesi in April 1949.

'Sri Navanitham Swami' had definitely influenced many, not excluding 
Dr V Sadagopan who had initially grown under his shadow and later 
under his sons, who were also scholars in the old form.  To-day he 
lives in USA though with the true heart of a pious Prapanna, a devotee 
of the Lord, a disciple of H H Jeer, a lover of Carnatic music, a 
philanthropist of the first order and what is more, a  discerning 
propagator of oriental philosophy.  His broad outlook, his simplicity 
and his flawless respect for all things of spiritual antiquity deserve 
praise.

Returning to Sri Navanitam Swami (Sri VNK) he was a few years senior 
to Sri Injimedu Swami (who later become the 42nd Jeer) in the Tarka 
course at Kumbakonam.  They were very thick friends.  The friendship 
between the Navanitham family and the Devanarvilagam family is rather 
too long and too close.  Sri Lakshmi-Narasimhacharya studied many 
advanced treatises with Sri Navanitam Swami, before he became the 43rd 
Jeer.  As with many earlier-mentioned ascetics, the Jeers too used to 
be honoured guests at the village house.  This friendship, never 
marred by any mundane events, has continued between the successors in 
the Sri Ahobila Mutt and successive generations in the Navanitham 
family too!  till this day !

Sri Poundarikapuram Swami had a large stock of affluence.  He left off 
all in his supreme self-denial and became an ascetic by almost 
compelling his preceptor to grant him the saffron robe.  He was some 
25 years senior to Sri Navanitam Swami.  He swayed, as spiritual king, 
the Srirangam town for almost five decades.  He was no ordinary 
scholar, nor an ordinary ascetic, nor even an ordinary pontiff at 
that.  He taught many; taught Sri Bhashya every day; believed that it 
was his chief goal and inaugurated the present headquarters of the 
Asramam on the banks of the Coleroon river, a few yards west of Sri 
Dasavatharam Sannidhi (of Sri Ahobila Mutt).  Mark that this Sannidhi 
is a creation of Thirumangai Azlvar and that Desika's Dasavatara  
Stotram is in its praise.  What a hoary association!

Sri Navanitam Swami banked on the Asramam for lending cadjan leaves, 
that Sri H H Poundarikapuram Andavan had meticulously copied for 
posterity.  The former would not travel then but the latter would 
visit Oppiliappn shrine once in a way, and he had an unrelentingly 
orthodox friend for Bhikshai!  What is more, in 1928, when the 
affluent devotees of Poundarikapuram village  nevertheless not his 
disciples  had arranged for renovation and consecration,  It was H H 
Sri Poundarikapuram Andavan who was invited to lend the 'holy hand' 
for karasparsam (by a great man).  With what results!  All can see 
today how the small shrine of Oppiliappn has grown as Southern 
Thiruppathi, with gala and festivity, fund-flow and pomp and fame and 
attraction, all after 1928!  The event has a precedent in 
Thirukkudanthai Desikan lending his 'kara-sparsam' to Aravamuthan some 
200 years back!

Sri Vinnatrangarai Swami, a scion of upanishad-Bhashyakara, was a 
familiar person at Oppiliappan Sannidhi.  He was the Vasista, so to 
say, who officiated at the weddings in Navamitam home for many 
decades.  He was a master in Samaveda.  As Andavan Sri Vinnatrangarai 
Swami was on uncompromising Acharya, making heavy demands  on what ? 
 on the discipline and personal outfit of the disciples!  That indeed 
marks this Asramam as a true hallmark!

A special kind of link between the Ahobila Mutt and Sri 
Poundarikapuram Andavan Asramam deserves mention in this connection. 
Down from 1750 to this day the Acharya hierarchy is unbroken, uniquely 
continuous in this Asramam.  The Acharyas are also native to the 
school; inbred and brought up by Kalakshapam / invitation by earlier 
Pontiffs at some time.  Once a gap occurred in the Ahobila Mutt; for 
some five years (1900-1905).  The Poundarikapuram Andavan of this 
Asramam had proudly helped in securing a deserving candidate and 
giving him Sannyasa  order and installing him as the Pontiff (the 
38th).  This happened in 1905.Only incidentally though, I would 
mention that my uncle's name (I mean, Sri V N Srirama Desikacharya) 
used to be mentioned in regard to the drafting for the Asramam head, 
for this as well as for Kozhiyalam Swami's at different stages.  He 
was not willing for reasons of the urgency that he felt in his 
publishing work. What is more, the great Poundarikapuram Swami had 
helped Sri Kozhiyalam Swami to take the ascetic garb in 1940's.

The unique role of this Asramam in preserving spiritual heritage of 
Sri Vaishnavism can be understood from these records, which are 
broadly indicated.  The emphasis is that notwithstanding the fact that 
the Acharyas of this Asramam seldom go on tours, their service to the 
religious cause is none the less important.

Sri Navanitam Swami's sons, both scholars in their own right, were 
regular visitors to the Asramam, especially on Sadas days and other 
festivals.  They were not disciples though.  Indeed there is an 
interesting sidelight on this.  We used to be told that there would be 
a reference everyday to Sirangam-pilgrimage in the court of 
Kulasekhara Azhvar ('Ghushya-te yasyanagare Rangajytra dine dine).  In 
a similar manner, at our home at Oppiliappan Sannidhi, there would be 
reference to 'Swami Sannidhi' ever and ever!  It is in special 
reference to the one swami, the Andavan of Sri Poundarikapuram Swami 
Asramam. (That I really became a 'disciple' in 1980 along with my 
brothers is incidental to this narration).

Sri Desika's Rahasya works are cardinal to our Sampradaya.  Of them, 
'Srimad-Rahasyatraya-saram' is his magnum opus. It is the first to be 
studied, among the four religious classics.  My uncle Sri V N Srirama 
Desikacharrya was commissioned to bring out a modern edition, using 
Devanagari script for Sanskrit and with helpful annotations.  Sri 
Mannarkoil Andavan (1880-1954) did the great service (to provide 
financial support and moral encouragement) and remember that the 
edition is holding the field ever since 1960's.  It was given a second 
edition (in 1986) and has been given a third edition (in April 2000) 
by the present pontiff, Sri H H Paravakkottai Andavan.  The Asramam 
has, as ever, been subsisting on faith and devotion, not on money.  
The present Andavan is a traditionalist to the core.  He never 
compromises on his discipline or demands of orthodoxy.  He may be 
sweet-mannered to all, but sticks to the old ways and practices.  That 
is why he is not able to tour around, nor worship in shrines.  Indeed 
the only Divyadesa Lord he can confidently worship is Malola, when the 
Jeer visits Srirangam and camps at the Dasavataran Sannidhi.  The Jeer 
and the present Andavan are in most friendly terms  it is mere 
continuation of what was existing over many decades.  H H Sri 
Paravakkottai Andavan daily gives Kalakshepam, e.g. on Sri Bhashyam 
every forenoon.  Daily parayanam as well as special parayanams on 
Ekadesi and Dwadesi go on; of course all in a moderate scale 
permissible.  He takes personal care with regard to re-editions of 
Chillarai Rahasyam (Vol I to III) brought about by the Asramam.  He 
writes regularly for religious magazines also.

Till about 1890's there was only one Andavan Asramam, situated 
somewhat near further up-stream the  coleroon.  Sri Andavan, 
particularly called Peria Andavan had many disciples, among whom two 
were Tatacharya cousins;  Sri Valianallur Andavan is the one finding a 
place in the hierarchy of Sri Poundarikapuram Asramam.  The other 
pontiff, Sri Chinnandavan headed the Mela (or Peria) Asramam.  The two 
were naturally intense friends [only incidentally I would mention that 
my aunt - the daughter of Sri Navanitam Swami had been given in 
marriage to Sri V R S Tatacharya, the grandson of Sri Chinnandavan.  
This gentleman was more than a son-in-law to my grandfather!].  
Certain circumstances might have necessitated the setting up of this 
new Asramam for Sri Poundarikapuram Andavan but we - the modern 
educated disciples ought to bear in mind that the more there are 
Acharyas, the more they serve the religious cause in a broad canvas.  
It is relevant to mention that Sri Vinnatrangarai Swami was accepted 
as Sama teacher by Sri Thenbarai Andavan (of Peria asramam), since the 
latter had a feeling of regret that he had not mastered his own Sakha, 
Sama veda!  Very interestingly, in the Sannyasa life too, Sri 
Vinnatrangarai Andavan exhibited great concern for the health (that 
was rapidly declining) of Sri Thenbarai Andavan (1960's).  Everyday he 
would walk to and fro.  What it means is that he should take bath 
every time on return!  Once indeed, a moving event occurred, Sri 
Vinnatrangarai Andavan walks to Peria Asramam, meets Sri Kannan Swami 
on the way, learnt that the latter was going to Madras on some urgent 
work since the Thenbarai Andavan's health would sustain life for some 
three days, but Sri Vinnatrangarai Andavan warns the latter that it 
was not so, takes him back to the Asramam and almost influences him to 
take to the saffron order.  Yes, it was urgently necessary.  Readers 
would realise the risk, the confusion, etc.  That often results on the 
successor not taking over immediately without a gap in time.

Indeed on later occasions, Sri Vinnatrangarai Andavan used to 
congratulate Sri Thirukkudanthai Andavan on the growth, expansion, 
increasing affluence, etc. of his Asramam, with a legitimate 
satisfaction that He himself had worked for it by forcing Sri Kannan 
Swami to accept Sannyasa at the right moment.

How I wish disciples of both the Asramams bear this in mind and help 
the cordial spirit to grow ever and ever.  There is - and there can be 
- no reason for any other feeling between two such parallel and allied 
streams of spiritual propagation, working for the same goals of 
spiritual uplift of society according to the great, common, heritage 
both inherit.
 
We are planning to celebrate the Satabhishakam (the 80th Anniversary) 
of H H Sri Paravakottai Andavan between March24-30, 2001 at Srirangam. 
It is the duty of all spiritually-minded persons to contribute their 
mite towards this celebration.  To place the Asramam free from want, 
to make it self-sustaining, we wish to build a sold fixed edifice.  
Disciples or non-disciples do not have a distinction herein.  In fact 
many top philanthropists of the Mutt circle are in donors' camp for 
our Asramam too.  A less-financially favoured Asramam, like ours, 
depends on the patronage of all.  The cause is great; other 
considerations are irrelevant.  The US team has been most charitable 
for all our good causes here.  

Yours at
Sri Andavan's service
V N Vedanta Desikan
***************************************************************

Contributions from the USA are tax exempt. Please mail your checks to:

                 SMSA Inc,
                 c/o Smt. Nagu Satyan,
                 7821 W Alder Drive
                 Littleton, CO 80128

Please indicate on the memo of your check that your contribution
is for Srimad Poundarikapuram Ashramam. To ensure that contributions 
reach India in time for the celebration, adiyen requests donors to 
send their checks to SMSA Inc., by March 3, 2001.

For those in India, please send the cheque or drafts in favour of 
"S.P.A.V Trust, 81st Jayanthi a/c and send to Srikaryam, Srimad 
Poundarikapuram Andavan Ashramam, 43- A/13, Asramam Road, Srirangam, 
TRICHY.  PIN 620006, India. 

Namo Narayana,

SriMuralidhara Dasan


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           - SrImate rAmAnujAya namaH -
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