Monday, 24 August 2015

A recruit in God's army - the 1965 Upanayana story_ PART 2

Start the day with God

Balu had woken up early in the morning. It was probably the earliest time in his life he was rising. His brother’s watch showed 15 minutes to 4:00 am. Many others had woken up too. The darshan grounds which doubled up as accommodation quarters to all the devotees seemed to already be buzzing with activity. Even the few who were sleeping were woken up by the Nadaswaram that began to play at 4:00 am.

As the holy notes of music filled the air, a volunteer came rushing to the troupe that was playing the instruments.
“Stop it immediately!” he told them with desperation, “The loud sound is sure to disturb Swami...”
The next instant, the music had stopped and and the members of the troupe lent their ear to the volunteer’s explanations. That was when the magic happened.

Balu felt a hush descending on the entire gathering. It was Swami in all His pristine morning glory and He had come to the eastern end of the mandir balcony. He bent over the parapet and signalled to the Nadaswaram troupe to continue playing. The volunteer became red in the face with embarrassment no doubt, but he was happy that his ‘action of concern’ had actually elicited a beautiful, early-morning darshan of the Lord of the Universe!

A traditional Yajna kunda in which the holy fire or Homa is performed.

At 8 a.m. the preliminary ceremonies begin inside the Mandir. The sacrificial fire was lit and the Homa was performed. This is a ceremony of purification—­to make the participants conscious of the sanctity of what they are to do. The invocation to Agni is essential in all such ceremonies. Agni stands for illumination and wisdom—burning out the dross and purifying the spirit. The mandir was soon filled with the solemn chants of Vedic mantras recited by the Pundits, many of whom had specially come to take part in the cere­mony and help the brahmacharis to receive the sacred Brahmopadesha (initiation into Brahman/Supreme One).

{This is the second part of the narrative. To completely and truly enjoy this part, it is recommended that you read the first part before reading ahead. The first part is here:

A recruit in God's army - the 1965 Upanayana story_ PART 1 }

Fill the day with God

At 8:45 am the brahmacharis came out of the Mandir and formed a procession party. The music of the nada­swaram filled the atmosphere again. The familiar, beloved, resplendent figure of Swami, with an enchanting smile playing on His lips, walked with quiet dignity to lead the procession. All the Vatus filed from the bhajan hall into a large shed that stood in the place of where the Poornachandra Auditorium stands today. Balu was accompanied by his father. He saw that it was the same with all the other Vatus too - it was either the the father or a senior male family member with them. Thousands had already gather­ed to witness the unique ceremony. The dais looked magnificent with its Sesha Shayana Narayana curtain and Swami’s chair in front of it. Each Vatu-father pair was seated in front of a little yajna-kunda which was constructed with bricks and stone. There was a priest present for each pair.

The beauty and grandeur of seeing Swami in front of the Sesha Shayana Narayana curtain on the dais in
the shed that stood in place of the Poornachandra Auditorium.

The boys and their fathers, guardians and the pundits took their appo­inted places in a series of rows—on the ground. Before each brahmachari was lit the sacrificial fire in which chips and scrapings of sandalwood were placed, filling the whole place with fragrance. It was a magnificent sight to see so many boys, now on the threshold of a new life, affirming the ceaseless validity of Dharma as their ancestors did on the banks of India's sacred rivers.

Monday, 17 August 2015

A recruit in God's army - the 1965 Upanayana story_ PART 1

Good news in the offing

The New Year in 1965 had just been ushered in and a little lad in Bangalore, Balasubramanya, looked forward to the completion of the 9th grade in High School. Being the youngest among six siblings in a lower middle class family, he was the only one left to complete his education. His eldest sibling, Nagaraj, was 19 years older to him and was more like a father-figure than a brother. Nagaraj walked into the house holding the latest issue of the Sanathana Sarathi.

“Swami is performing the Upanayana ceremony for all eligible Brahmin boys. Why don’t we apply for our Balu’s (Balasubramanya’s home-name) thread-ceremony there?” Nagaraj asked his father.

He held out the monthly magazine from Prasanthi Nilayam which carried the announcement.



On 25-2-65, Magha Bahula Dashami Thursday between 7-40 A M. and 9-34 A M. (Moola) Mesha Lagna, Upanayana of Brahmin boys will be celebrated free at the Prasanthi Nilayam by Baba Himself. Parents who seek to share in this great opportunity are requested to write to the Editor, Sanathana Sarathi to reach not later than 15-2-65.


{This is the story of my father, Balasubramanya's Upanayana ceremony. I was so amazed with the details of his narration that I felt it would be wonderful to share the same with everyone!}

The family belonged to the tradition linked to the Sringeri Sharada Peetham (or Sringeri Mutt). The majority of the members of Smartha community follow the Advaita philosophy of Adi Shankara. The Sringeri Sharada monastery founded by Shankara in Karnataka is the centre of the Smarta sect. Sureshwaracharya was installed here as the successor of Shankaracharya before the latter resumed his tour to found his three Peethas at Puri, Dwaraka and Badrinath.The Sringeri Mutt records its tradition from the 8th century onwards and Subbarao, Balu’s father, was keen not to break it.
“God knows if the ceremony will be performed in injunction with the Shastras (sacred texts) and in keeping with our traditions...” he said with a great deal of doubt in his voice.

“Father, I have seen and experienced Swami’s divinity. I feel this is the best thing that can happen to Balu. Let us post our application immediately”, was Nagaraj’s prompt reply.
“Fine, as you wish my son.”

The letter was addressed to Sri N.Kasturi (who is the biographer of Baba) and the family at Malleshwaram received a reply instantly.
“The Upanayana ceremony will be held on the 25th of February (1965)”, it said, “Please be in Prasanthi Nilayam at least a day before the same.”

A picture of a child undergoing the Upanayana as a Vatu in South India. 
Credit: "Upanayanam" by Nagesh Rao 
The Upanayana Ceremony

Upanayana is one of the traditional saṃskāras (rites of passage) that marked the acceptance of a student by a Guru (teacher) and an individual's entrance to a school in Hinduism. The tradition is widely discussed in ancient Sanskrit texts of India, and varies regionally. Upanayana (Sanskrit: उपनयन) literally means "the act of leading to or near". It is a ceremony in which a Guru (teacher) accepts and draws a boy towards knowledge and initiates the second birth that is of the young mind and spirit.

The question that possibly might arise here is why this ceremony is done only for boys?

It is interesting to note that in olden times, girls also had the Upanayana. As stated in the Wikipedia article,
“Girls who decided to become a student underwent the Upanayana rite of passage, at the age of 8, and thereafter called Brahmavadini. They wore a thread or upper garment over their left shoulder. Those girls who chose not to go to a Gurukul were called Sadyovadhu (literally, one who marries straight). However, the Sadyovadhu too underwent a step during the wedding rituals, where she would complete Upanayana, and thereafter wear her upper garment (Saree) over her left shoulder.”

It is also interesting that such “Upanayana-like” traditions are seen even among the Jews, the Christians and the Zorastrians. Those that are keen to read more should go through this exclusive blog on Upanayana.

Journey to God

Thus, Balu with his parents, two brothers and a few other family members set out at 8:00 am for Puttaparthi through Penukonda via the Secunderabad Express on the 23rd of February. They were at Penukonda at 1:30 pm. A bus from Penukonda delivered them to Bukkapatnam at 3:30pm. They had to hire a cart to take them across the huge semi-dried bed of the Bukkapatnam lake and the Chitravati river. They finally reached Puttaparthi at 4:30 pm.

The only mode of transportation to cover the final few kilometres to Prasanthi Nilayam was a bullock cart like this across
the Bukkapatnam tank and the river Chitravati.