One of Bangalore’s coldest seasons…
The cosmopolitan city was not only in the grip of ferocious chill but also going through a bout of Kannadiga Fanatic fever. The religious, cultural and entertainment centers of Tamilians were their focused target. A Series of Musical Discourse by a Tamil Harikatha exponent drawing tumultuously huge crowds at the heart of the city glared the fanatics’ eyes. The Ancient cultural Association which organized the discourse series was given an ultimatum to stop the program or face violence. The organizers rushed to the Legend and pleaded for advice. The Legend was calm and cool. He requested the organizers to wither the threat and assured that discourse would continue uninterrupted..
The day’s discourse started on time. A group of hooligans with deadly weapons descended at the front gate. They could distinctly hear the sole stirring Harikatha that permeated the ambience. The speech was in English mixed with lilting songs in Kannada, and Telugu interspersed with vibrant rendering of slokas in Sanskrit. Not a word of Tamil……!
The clueless fanatics did not retreat but mingled with the audience quietly and got soaked themselves in the waves of the Legend’s inimitable oratorical ocean. As waves do, they kept coming day after day, in the process, unmindful of the fact that from the next day there was liberal mix of Tamil too in the discourse.
The self believing Legend who possessed such a depth of knowledge and repertoire was none other than Brahmasri T.S.Balakrishna Sastrigal. Yours sincerely is fortunate to be his younger son.
A Senior Executive of State Bank of India, my illustrious father started learning the wide spectrum of fundamentals required for performing Harikatha at the very tender age of 8 under the guidance of his father, himself a doyen in Puranic Upanyasakams known as Brahmasri Sambamoorthi Ganapaadigal. The enlightening package included Vedas, Puranas, Sastras, Carnatic Music, and Multiple Languages like Tamil, Telugu, Sanskrit, Malayalam, Kanada and English.
True to the width of his perceptions, the range of his audience also varied – from the elite of Music Academy to the mass of Royapuram, and Choolai, from the Asthikaas of Mumbai and Delhi to the village folks of interior Thirunelveli and Thanjavur, from the Asian Indians of United States of America to the strangers to Tamil in interior Kerala and Andhra.
A day of discourse in one of his formatting years……at Choolai, a typically down to earth ambience……My father was returning back in his regular Rickshaw after a much appreciated performance of Sundarakaandam in Ramayana. The Rickshaw puller casually remarked “Unga Appaaru ungulukku sariya paadam sollikodikkalayaanga? (Did your father not teach you fully?). He reasoned too.
At the point when Raavana comes to Ashoka Vana to coerce Seetha… Seetha plucks a tiny grass, places it in her front and starts speaking to it as though it was Raavana, not looking at him through out the address. The relevant Sloka in Sundara Kaandam of Valmiki Ramayanaa “Thrina mantratha Hruthakruthvaa” was recited by the Rickshaw puller. He continued to opine “your father used to give several interpretations to this Sloka but you gave only a few interpretations”.
Do we realize the value base in those days?
An opportunity to perform discourses in USA came to Brahmasri Sastrigal. But he went to Kanchi Paramacharyaal for advice, (His Holiness was his revered Guru and to whom my father was a pet performer. Paramacharyaal used to engage him in several intriguing conversations and arguments on various finer elements of Sanaadhana Dharma and Carnatic Music) His Holiness countered Brahmasri Sastrigal’s enquiry with a question “Have you performed in all rural areas of Tamil Nadu?” My father was searching for words since he was not endowed with so much of time to perform in all villages due to his Official commitments. He quietly came back, took voluntary retirement from his employers and went about performing in every nook and corner of not only Tamil Nadu but also entire South.
After years of this happening, the offer to perform in USA recurred and this time Paramacharyaal did not have any hesitation in granting permission.
Blessings of Gurus came unabated to Brahmasri Sastrigal because of his own respect for all concepts of Hindu Dharma. He was blessed fondly by Sringeri Mahaa Sannidhaanam, Baghwan Satya Sai Baba and Sri-La-Sri Pandrimalai Swamigal to mention a few greats. My eldest sister (Late) Padma was a devotee of Satya Sai Baba. Baba came to Chennai and was giving a discourse in “Sundaram: near our residence. My father drove the car and dropped Padma at “Sundaram” and was waiting in Parking Bay incognito for her to return,. Baghwan Baba’s speech was flowing in the air and Brahmasri Sastrigal was taken deep in to it.. Baghwan completed the session and Sastrigal was anxious to receive his daughter back when a passing car stopped by his side in dark. The car glass went down and it was indeed Baghwan Baba who said “Sastrigaaru,.. naaku thelusu meeru ikkada unnarani” ( Sastrigaaru, I know you are here). Quickly getting down from the steering wheel, Sastrigal bowed his Pranams to Baba on the road, Baba fondly accepted and His car sped away.
His sense of humor apart from his own soul strength was in to play in his very last days spent in Dialysis ( CAPD) for kidney failure He used to convert dialysis sessions in to Harikatha sessions, the only listener being one of my associates Aravind or Parthiban, trained themselves to do CAPD. Both the preacher and audience enjoyed those sessions and looked forward to the next dialysis session. I could not but ask him “Appa, you were used to performing before thousands and thousands of Bhaktas. How can you deliver a discourse to one person? He said. “When Sri Krishna delivered Srimad Bagavath Geetha the audience consisted of only one person – Parthiban / Arjuna”
If I am ever born again, I pray to God to give me the birth as “son of my Father”