Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Sanatana Life of Sri Sheshanna Shrauti – A Contemporary Vedacharya

Preface

The auspicious Vyasa Purnima (or Guru Purnima) concluded earlier this week. However, the equally auspicious Chatur-Masya is still ongoing. But one doesn’t really require a special occasion to recall the life, contribution, and enduring legacy of Rishi-like luminaries. Especially in a tradition like Santana Dharma where a highly-recommended practice and precept for life is to constantly recall our Rishis. One such noble eminence is Vedamurti Sri Sheshanna Shrauti who passed away last year at the ripe age of ninety-five. Perhaps few people truly, fully exemplify the meaning of “ripe” as Sri Sheshanna Shrauti—the sense of “fruit-giving” and “fruitful” and “gurgling fount of life” come to mind when one learns about this Guru and Acharya.

To our everlasting fortune, Sri Sheshanna Shrauti has been immortalized by another living legend, Shatavadhani Dr. Ganesh in a masterly and moving Kannada essay titled, Vedamurti Shri Sheshanna Shrautigala Shradde-Siddhi (The Conviction and Accomplishment of  Vedamurti Shri Sheshanna Shrauti). Reading Dr. Ganesh’s tribute is in itself an extraordinary treat and a great education in the art and integrity of writing a tribute that glows with the ink of intimate knowledge and flows from the pen of unfeigned conviction.

The present (multipart) essay is a translated adaptation of Dr. Ganesh’s tribute. The original Kannada essay is largely written in the first person and is in part, a lovely and moving recollection of his interactions and experiences with Sri Sheshanna Shrauti. I have taken slight liberties in my English adaptation to make it more accessible to a largely English-knowing and/or English-educated audience. However, I’ve taken utmost care not to injure or deviate from both the content and the spirit of the original. Despite this, if any errors and shortcomings have crept, the entire responsibility is mine. This is also partly because it is impossible to do justice to the sheer sweeping beauty and the force of feeling in the original.


The First Meeting

If memory serves me right, I recall meeting Vedamurti Sri Sheshanna Shrauti for the first time in 1989-90 at some programme in the Kumaravyasa Mantap in Rajajinagar, Bangalore. Later, in the space of a few months, I saw him in various functions organized by the Brahmana Mahasabha and on the occasion of Sri Sankara Jayanti. But I got acquainted with him really well during the Gayatri Mahayaga organized for the first time by Sri Paramananda Bharati Swami. Around this time, I had resolved to provide both the traditional and the refined form to our daily rituals like Sandhyavandanam, Samidhadana, Brahmayajna, etc in a manner which was consonant with our Shrutis and Smritis. I had the support of Sri Swami for this endeavor.

In this connection, the Sankara Samiti (Committee) under the leadership of Sri Swami had organized a convention. As a prior preparation, a list containing hundreds of questions related to daily rituals like Sandhyavandanam was prepared and sent to scholars and Vidwans for their perusal. Written answers were received from them. Others preferred to respond orally. And so all these scholars and Vidwans had to be assembled in one place. Eventually, scores of Vaidikas had gathered there. These Vaidikas included Purohitas, those who were experts in Prayoga (physical nuances and procedures of performing Vedic rituals), and Vidwans of Dharmashastras. Some famous names included Tarkam Krishna Sastri, Banavati Ramakrishna Sastri, S.V. Shyama Bhatta, Dhali Lakshminarasimha Bhatta, Putta Narasimha Sastri, et al. I was replying to all their questions and arguments to the best of my ability. I also placed before them my own questions and sought their opinion. A fair bit of heated debate occurred. Amid all this chaos, Sri Sheshanna Shrauti patiently sat there, took down notes on each point and then gave his own opinion where relevant. He also ensured that the debate didn’t go out of hand.

What struck me in this entire episode was his calm and collected poise. And this serenity came from his deep conviction in our Dharma and Karma. Sri Swami’s control over the assembly and Sri Shrauti’s presence of mind made that event really fruitful. In spite of all this, I had to finally write my book[i] based on my own studies. But that’s a different story.

My resolve was to make this project applicable to people hailing from all branches of the Vedas. To this end, Sri Sheshanna Shrauti provided me the most extraordinary support. He personally supplied me with all the details and procedures regarding Sandhyavandanam and other daily rituals performed by the followers of Sama Veda. It was then that I was fully acquainted with the full range of his knowledge of Sama Veda.

Sri Sheshanna Shrauti’s Personality

It is absolutely essential to narrate a few words about Sri Sheshanna Shrauti’s personality. All his convictions and accomplishments have laboured and found their fulfilment here, in his personality. Indeed, this is also the purpose of our Arsha-Dharma.

Sri Sheshanna’s physique or skin colour was neither imposing nor striking. Neither did he speak in a bombastic fashion. But name any noble quality in a person…purity, integrity, honesty, dedication, selflessness…make any list that includes these and similar lofty character attributes, they all resided within Sri Sheshanna Shrauti without confusion.

He wore Khadi throughout his life. Even in his dressing, there was no showing off of things like flashy borders and designs. White dhoti, white Uttariya, white shirtresembling his inner core: white, pure, unadulterated. He had taken this Khadi vow during his days as a student in the National High School. He was introduced to Hindi in those days and went on to acquire distinction in examinations such as Rashtrabhasha Praveena, Sahitya Ratna, and Vijnana Ratna.

As simple as his dressing was, the other special feature that distinguished him was his bicycle, a constant companion. Although very old, it was maintained in a pristine condition. He relied on it for all his travels throughout his long life. He was independent even in this manner. Even when he was eighty or eighty-five, he would effortlessly pedal this bicycle on the rotten roads of Bangalore. At times, he would get his cycle just as an excuse, pushing it all along the way. If someone would ask the reason, he’d humorously brush it off with, “There’s no difficulty in this. I’m it’s companion, it is mine.”   

Early Life and Career

Sri Sheshanna Shrauti was born into the Hoysala Karnataka Brahmana sect and hailed from a village named Kadaba near Tumkur. In historical records, the name “Kadaba” is identified as Kadambapuri.

Sri Sheshanna was born as the last son of Sri Kashipati and Smt Cheluvamma on 19 July 1923. Four elder brothers and two elder sisters apart from him. He experienced the entire gamut of the suffering and privations faced by a typical Brahmin family of those days. However, under no circumstance did he share any information of the troubles he faced in life with anyone. Nor did he feel envious of the comforts of contemporary people.

He took a diploma in Agricultural Science and worked in the field throughout his career. He constantly gave advice, suggestion, and helped out farmers by conducting workshops for them. He translated into Kannada numerous English works in service of the University of Agricultural Sciences. He designed programs for Akashvani and Doordarshan. Just as how he explained the benefits of scientific advances in agriculture to our farmers, he was also a staunch advocate of traditional Indian farming practices.

Sri Sheshanna had a superb command over English, Kannada and Hindi. He would provide an impromptu Kannada translation of various English or Hindi speeches by agriculture experts to Kannada/local farmers. In 1978, he retired as a Senior Assistant Director.

These are some brief details of his Purvashrama. Thesedetails though are merely incidental as far as I am concerned. He never spoke about them at any length. I gathered a bit of detail here and there from his relatives and well-wishers.

Now for the real story.

To be continued


Notes

[i] The book, Sandhyadarshana in Kannada by Shatavdhani Dr. Ganesh, is a classic manual on Nityakarmas like Sandhyavandanam, etc.

Writer, author, and translator. Author of the bestselling "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore," "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History," and "Seventy Years of Secularism." English translator of Dr. S L Bhyrappa's blockbuster Kannada novel, "Aavarana".

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