Our Trust has always had the Baghyam of many donors visiting it and doing Mangalasasanams for its activities. One such donor visited us in the first week of March and spent quality time with us. On returning back , this donor has beautifully mailed( a long one indeed!) us his anubhavam amidst the children and members of Srimaan Trust. He is sending his anubavams in parts and we are reproducing them here .
IN THE VICINITY OF VIRTUE
Adiyen is a donor of Srimaan Trust. Though adiyen had been greatly impressed by the activities of the Trust, especially the running of the Gurukulam, all this impression was only through the mails circulated and news that spread by word of mouth. Never had I been there in person to see the children and witness their functioning.
Very recently, with the boundless grace of Namperumal and Srirenganachiar, adiyen got an opportunity to visit the pristine city of Srirangam. I spent the first day at the magnificent ‘Koil’ and needless to say, the day just passed off as a flowery breeze boosting the spirituality and Bhakthi within adiyen.
It was the second day that has and will ever remain entrenched in adiyen’s heart. The founder of Trust Sri Parasara Badribhattar swamy and his Dharma Pathni, knowing adiyens plan to visit Srirangam, had in advance requested me to visit the Gurukulam and bless the children. They had also, with great affection, asked the Srivaishnavar cooking meals for the children to prepare something special for adiyen also.
As the early morning sun softly let out its golden rays, and the wind carrying the reverberations of the Pasurams and Vedam sung in the streets of Srirangam, the unwinding walk around the Thiruveedhi finally led me to Bhattar Gurukulam.adiyen went there all alone with no prior intimation to the inhabitants.
Even before nearing the Gurukulam, the atmosphere seemed electrified with mellifluous voices chanting Pancha Shanthi , Gadya thrayam and Thirucchanda viruttham. At the entrance was seated a youngster in his mid twenties. With a face filled with Vairagyam and thejas, he welcomed adiyen with “ Srimathe Ramanujaya Namaha”in his lips and and hands folded in Anjali mudrai. It seemed as though these words eternally belonged to him. I casually enquired his whereabouts and was overwhelmed (and also shocked) to know he was from Ayodhya ! This person holding a degree in engineering, with no prior knowledge of our Sampradayam, has come all the way from Ayodhya to Srirangam with the sole motive of taking care of the Gurukulam children.He is the care taker of the Gurukulam.
With utmost bewilderment and disbelief, adiyen entered the main hall and sat on the floor. It was then that it struck me that the very Master of Srirangam, Lord Ranganatha Himself was from the Land of Sarayu ! Lord Ranga came here to fulfill the wish of Cauvery and King Dharmavarma and this person has come to Srirangam to fulfill Lord Ranganatha’s wish of increasing by manifold His adiyars!
With these thoughts rushing through adiyens heart, adiyen’s eyes turned moist contemplating the Grace of Namperumal and Sriranganachiar. This train of thought was suddenly broken when two little nestlings of the Gurukulam with beautiful Kudumi , luminous Thiruman , Veshti and Thulasi Mani malai approached adiyen.
As these two little pupils of the Gurukulam approached adiyen, adiyen too got up. Both of them in unison uttered “ Adiyen Ramanuja daasan” at the pitch of their voice as little children always do. But only later in the day did adiyen know these children were more than mere children! Without giving a chance for adiyen to strike a conversation, these two vidyarthis paced their steps in rhythm, picked up a vessel each, filled it with well water and ventured to perform Sandhya-vandanam.
The site was very cute. Just around 7 yrs of age and still carrying some traces of Mazhalai in their words, they ambitiously performed the Nithya Karma as though it was the only thing they were born to do. Yes, we adults and very unfortunately even our kids are unable to fully immerse ourselves/themselves in any work . i.e give it 100 %. When I start a work my mind hops from a new wish to work to the ongoing World Cup to the whereabouts of my children and finally ends up worrying about everything mentioned above. The adult mind is filled with so much of random thoughts that it finally gets choked and energy gets sapped. Fortunately, these children haven’t fallen prey to the ‘living out of suitcase’ culture and won’t have to pay the physician in suitcases as we (I) do or are likely to do if we continue maintain this lifestyle!
Once the sandhya vandanam was over, they rushed into a room perched between the main hall and the kitchen. And adiyen followed them with lot of curiosity. Inside the room were seated almost all the students of the gurukulam. A few of them, I was told, were in the kitchen.
Seeing all these children together under one roof was something beyond words. The children are divided into groups such as Periya Thirumozhi, Periazhwar Thirumozhi and Iyarpa depending on their age. All the students of Periazhwar thirumozhi are the children of Acharakas of Divya desams like Thirukkudandhai . These children are vigorously learning Aagama sashtram. Looking at them adiyen was transported to Thirukkudandhai and the picture of them doing Thiruvaradhanam to Aaravamudhan enveloped my mind. It felt so blissful to be amidst them. They were shouldering so much of ancestral responsibility and the Gurukulam ( with the grace of Periya Perumal) has assumed the responsibility of nurturing them.
When all their morning Thiruvai(re-reciting previously learnt topics for permanent remembrance) got over, they all gathered at the main hall . Adiyen went straight and prostrated them. Immediately all of them prostrated me. Very shocked as this I asked why they prostrated, and one child, with the glitter in his eyes pervading his face, casually told “Vaishnavo Vaishnavam Drishtva Dhandavath Pranameth Bhuvi”. Except for a few words learnt at primary school and some words learnt while listening to Upanyasams, adiyen knows nothing of Sanskrit. Seeing me in perplexity, one elderly boy with so much of humility, softly told it meant “ A Vaishnavite should fall at the feet of another when each other meet”.
Virtue, it seemed had decided to seek refuge in these children.
Noting down the pious shloka on SriVaishnava lakshanam on a piece of paper, adiyen hurriedly pulled out one Vidyrthi from amongst them and asked him what he does everyday morning from the time of dawn till the time adiyen was there with them. He seemed more than satisfied in satiating adiyen’s query. The Gurukulam child’s day begins at 4 : 30 a.m ( except for Deepavali adiyen has seen this time only at dusk). Once all the children are awake and are done with brushing and bowel emptying, they gather outside the Gurukualam and commence Thiru Veedhi Pradakshinam ( ambulating the Main streets around the temple).Whether the breeze blows cold or whether raindrops trickle down the clouds above, these children strictly adhere to the principle of physical exercise at morning. Chanting the stotras composed by our Acharyas on our beloved Emperumaan, these children complete two pradakshinam of Chitra Street thus purifying their souls in addition to breathing in pure air.
The excitement among the children while this boy explained the routine was palpable. The little ones sitting drowsily at the corner began briskly murmuring “ Yoga anna,yoga anna” reminding the boy the next schedule. Once these children come back from walk, they gulp some water, rest for few minutes and begin a short yoga session covering lot of Surya namaskars and a few aasanas. It seemed when the yoga teacher first taught surya namaskar , a 12 year old was upset. On enquiry he asked “ Why should I do Surya Namaskar. Perumal alone is to be worshipped know?” Flabbergasted at this question, the yoga teacher sent in for someone knowledgeable and incidentally the Founder Acharya himself happened to go there and explain this to the child. I called for that boy. The clarity dripping down his face put to rest my doubts on the child’s mental maturity. He re-told the explanation given in his own words which adiyen is re-phrasing below.
In Sandhya Vandanam itself lot of Devathais are paid obeisance including Sooryan. Does it mean we are worshipping them? No .Any Vaidika karma ( i.e anything done stipulated as mandatory in the Vedas) will always have Lord Sriman Narayanan as the sole Receiver of the offerings. But it should be noted that anything done outside the framework of Vedic injunctions will not make Emperumaan the sole receiver unless it is directly offered to him. But this Yogic Surya Namaskar is done by us with the sole intention of gaining physical fitness which in turn will enhance the ability to do Kainkaryam. We have the treasure trove of Azhwars and Acharyas works for spiritual upliftment and don’t depend on Yoga for that. Pacified at this reply, the boy began his yoga sittings.
After the invigorating physical activity kick starting the routine, they eat fruits, some freshly prepared double beans and two glasses full of Kanji( porridge). Then begin the sandhai ,thiruvai and Aagama sessions which adiyen witnessed.
Listening to all this in awe, adiyen was about to throw in more questions when there was a visible disturbance among the students. The reason was simple, it was time for the next activity of Thiruvaradhanam to their little Lord and adiyen’s questions wouldn’t be entertained atleast for a while…..
Their Thiruvadhanam is very very watch worthy. While the aagama students want an elaborate and methodical one, the little ones simply want action unlimited! They try to improvise with utsavams generously infused into the Thiruvaradhanam. Somehow a middle path was chosen and a very beautiful Thiruvaradhanam unfolded before adiyens eyes. With every child participating in his own way, some helping to prepare prasadam, some buying flowers and Thiruttuzhai, some fetching water from well, some aiding the doer of Thiruvaradhanam and some chanting Vedas and Divya – prabandham it seemed the Lord was very happy at these devout children
Once the Srivaishnavar looking after the kitchen was done with cooking, the Prasadams were served to Lord and an elaborate Satrumurai was held. The children properly aligned themselves to a line on either side of the main hall and participated in the Satrumurai. When the words ‘Ramanujarya Divya agnya’ were uttered every child invariably placed his palms in Anjali mudra . Watching that adiyens heart was pounding with joy and adiyen felt a few more Ramanujars were in the making.
The Theertha prasadams were duly distributed following the satrumurai which was a grand spectacle. The love of grown ups often carries a tinge of superficiality and selfishness in it. But love that emanates from the heart of the bud like children is absolutely pure and fresh. It is never poisoned with selfishness, ego, superficiality and other vices.Such was the love of these children of Gurukulam for the Supreme Being encapsulated in the tiny Koil Azhwar ( the box that houses their Perumal). They look after their Perumal with so much of motherly compassion that adiyen felt Emperumaan’s objective of being protected and nurtured by His Bhakthas in Archavatharam was met at the Gurukulam premises.
With the sultry rays of the sun reminding the onslaught of the forthcoming summer, adiyen was exhausted .The whole course of continuous action from morning kept the stomach in a short hibernation but now it woke up and began its protest. Adiyen requested if we could begin the Thadeeyaradhanam(lunch). The children with their usual calm demeanor pointed out that is was time for Madhyanikam and softly asked if I could wait or be served immediately. Adiyen readily agreed to wait. When the players brim with patience, should the mute spectators not have some? Adiyen too joined them in the mid-day ritual.Very calmly, each child picked up his vessel and settled for the mid day prayer.
Adiyen would recommend each of the adiyaars to go to Srirangam and witness the way food is served and taken by the children. Everyone would think what’s the big deal in meal serving after all ? But one has to be there and witness. We can hold long sermons eulogizing the vastness and beauty of sea but the listener can appreciate it only if he travels to the coast and takes a glimpse of the huge water body. After Madhyanikam ,each Vidyarthi reached for his respective plate tucked away at a corner, neatly cleansed it and occupied a place in the main hall. One 8 yr old Vidyarthi has been given the exclusive responsibility of providing water in tumblers for each child .Once all of them(excepting a few) settled, this boy placed the tumbler, very carefully enquires how much water each child wanted and poured him the required quantity. When done with this work, that boy also settled for the meal.
Two boys have been vested the responsibility of serving the meal to all. These two Vidyarthis carry so much of mental maturity that adiyen was quite baffled at its exhibition. Just like others, these two were also hungry but responsibility was all that they seemed to bother for. Adiyen thought atleast today let these two eat with the rest and offered to serve them all. But the strong will of these two never ebbed. They smiled and simply told “ Atithis are allowed only to enjoy and not to strain” and went on to explain the intricacies of Athithi sathkaram which they heard in a Dharma sashtra upanyasam. The words of the speaker ,whomsoever it might have been,seemed to have got embossed in their hearts. Adiyen was about to tell them adiyen was no athithi but a donor who is just like their parents. After all as donors we are partly donning the parent’s role by financially helping these children (We can emotionally help only if we visit them often and strike a relationship). But these little ones won’t understand all that and hence quite helplessly adiyen too sat for the meal.
Like a stream of water clearly flowing in a set path, all these children got themselves arranged in the two perfect parallel lines. It seemed these parallel lines would not meet even at infinity! Immediately began the chanting of stotra paadam and the already pure air turned extremely pious. Simultaneously the two incharges began serving the vegetable stew, paruppu, prasadam etc. Asking every child whether he needs more of the item being served or wanted anything else, these two were showering so much of care and love on the others that adiyen’s hunger got pacified instantly. When everything was served and fully eaten, each child picked his plate,washed it and put it back at its original place. Then two Vidyarthis very neatly washed the place with dried cowdung. Finally the two in-charge boys sat for meals and two others immediately began serving them. To adiyen’s utter dismay many of side dishes were almost exhausted though prepared sufficiently by the Srivaishnavar. Adiyen understood these two had served all the dishes to other students and thus deprived themselves of these items. Post lunch, adiyen poured out my feeling to both of them thinking adiyen was acting wisely. Adiyen asked them to secure some food and other dishes for themselves even before serving the others and if not at least serve judiciously. They were all ears for all of adiyen’s advise and finally simply put an end to adiyen’s monologue by saying “ If the other Vidyarthis eat all the dishes and enjoy the food, it is as good as we eating them . It actually gives us immense pleasure that in front of our eyes our Saha-vidyarthis comfortably enjoy our service. We are engaged in Srivaishnava thadeeyaradhanai on a everyday basis and this a great kainkaryam for us. We have no regrets and hence you to needn’t have any.” So saying, in typical childlike manner they left for a game of cricket with others!
Who will not get stunned by such a matured reply from such young children? For a few minutes adiyen’s lips were sealed and eyes overflowed with tears. We’ve all heard of Srivaishnava lakshanams and adiyen often felt these were bequeathed to us from our Pooravacharyas only in the form of writings and there were no live examples to walk the way our Poorvacharyas did . This ignorance was dispelled by all that adiyen had seen unravel before me. Such sublimity of thinking can come only with the unconditional grace of our Poorvacharyas. On enquiry adiyen was told these two were the descendents of Azhwar thirunagari Arayar and first theerthakarar of Thirukkannapuram respectfully. Being born in such illustrious families, these two children were the epitome of humility and benevolence. Adiyen just wondered… Nathamunigal served the world with Nalayiram and a host of other divine works, far more than what humanity yearned for and this boy having the Shareera sambandham of Nathamunigal is serving delicious Prasadams to all the budding Shri Vaishnavas(more than what they asked !).
All these virtues have come to these children by the values imparted at the Gurukulam and adiyen felt great indebtedness to the Founder and scores of Volunteers in different parts of the globe who’ve sacrificed very many things for the sole benefit of these children.
Though adiyen didn’t want to, my thoughts travelled at lightening speed, traversing the waters of Kollidam and Cauvery to Bangalore where adiyen's family was living a cozy and comfortable life....
( To be continued)