Lost lessons in love from long ago: Shebaba by Renuka Narayanan
While the history wars rage anew over a film, I thought it might be nice to retell a small true story from the past, concerning the sage of Kanchi, Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati (1894-1994).
A prelude told by Brahmasri Ganesh Sarma, an eloquent devotee of the sage, goes that a blind old man was once found tottering uphill to the big temple at Tirupati. Some passersby, also on their way to rendezvous with Venkateswara, aka the Lord of the Seven Hills, could not resist asking the old man the obvious.
“Now we’re climbing up to obtain darshan of the Lord. Why are you bothering to make the effort when you can’t see?” They joked not really out of malice but with the good-humoured condescension that is often handed out to those who don’t get to tick all the boxes.
The old man knew exactly how to answer them. A radiant smile swept across his wrinkled face and he said, “So what if I can’t see the Lord? The Lord can see me.”
The Sage of Kanchi often toured the country meeting people from all walks of life. On one such occasion, sometime in the 1960s, he was camped by the river Kaveri in Tamil Nadu. An old, blind Muslim gentleman of the region sent word that he wished to meet the sage, who sent word back inviting him to the evening sadas or gathering. When the old gentleman arrived, devotees on duty escorted him to the sage and seated him close by.
A debate was going on between invited Sanskrit pandits on the nature and attributes of Brahman, the Supersoul or God. The discussion was highly learned and intense, since each participant was a tarka simham or lion of debate. The sage and the old gentleman listened with great interest to fascinating arguments and beautiful quotations.
The Muslim gentleman appeared to follow everything as though he too was well-versed in Sanskrit. This attracted many curious glances from the gathering. But the Sage of Kanchi was a mysterious and alluring persona. His omniscience was legendary and his devotees knew there was a reason for everything he did, even if it was not immediately apparent to them.
When the scholars were done, the sage invited the old gentleman to speak about God according to the view of his religion. The old gentleman demurred. “I’m afraid to speak, I’m not usually asked to give my views,” he said.
But the sage insisted. “I know that you know Sanskrit and followed every point made. Now do tell them about God as you were taught,” he said.
The old gentleman could not say no to the sage. He stood up and said, “My religion does not ascribe a form to God. But it speaks of God’s love. Today I have sensed that love, anbey swarupam [the embodiment of love],” and indicated the sage. The pandits and onlookers found themselves in tears.
Such mutual love and respect is also us.
The views expressed are personal