Monday, November 16, 2015

Srihari Parthasarathy Prabhandham Acharya

Significant Contribution in taking forward our traditions into this new Century
The Sr. Sports Journalist at The Hindu has gone about creating the next generation of Divya Prabhandham Experts in a quiet unassuming way 
His best student of the last three decades, P Sundararaman (Chartered Accountant and Dy. Finance Manager at Ashok Leyland) calls him a unique Acharya. He says with a great deal of confidence that it is unlikely that there will be any Prabhandham Acharya of his dedication in the city today. He knows better than most for 25 year old Sundararaman joined the Prabhandham class of Srihari Parthasarathy at Vedanta Desikar temple in Mylapore when he was just 7years old in the mid 1990s.

As a young enthusiastic school boy, Sundararaman would wake up early and very often stand at the entrance of the Desikar temple before the clock had ticked to 6am. On most days of the week Sports Journalist Srihari (The Hindu) would drive back home well at 1.30am after the sports pages were finalized. And yet, throughout the decade following the commencement of his first organized batch, he would be at the temple at 6am compromising on his sleep primarily because he was excited to share his knowledge with an enthusiastic set of boys who showed true devotion in wanting to learn the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham.

To this day, Divya Prabhandham Acharya Srihari remains his disciplined self. His presence in the Ghosti infuses a sense of discipline and commitment in the entire group.

Hailing from an orthodox family in the Ahobila Mutt tradition, Srihari,  son of renowned Bruhaspathi and Vedic scholar Natteri Parthasarathy, learned Nalayira Divya Prabandham from Vaikuntavaasi Sevilimedu Srinivasacharya and later from his maternal uncle Esayanur Sridhara Satakopacharya (presently Aradhakar, Ahobila Mutt) and completed the course at the age of 17.

Srihari had the fortune of undergoing Aahnikam and Grantha Chathushtaya Kalakshepam from Maha Vidwans Vaikuntavaasi Purisai Nadadhur Sri Bhashya Simhasanam Krishnamacharya Swami and Azhisoor Srinivasacharya Swami.

Having learnt from such stalwarts in the 1970s, Srihari was keen to share his learning with the next generation of students and began his Divya Prabhandham tutoring in the mid 1980s initiating the sacred verses of the Azhvaars to a small group of students.

When an organized and formal daily tutoring on Nalayira Divya Prabhandham was contemplated at the Vedantha Desikar temple in the mid 1990s, it was Srihari’s services that the Veda Parayana Sabha sought. Since then, he has been tutoring the students (free of charge) for almost two decades.


His first batch of 20 most devoted students graduated in 2007. With these students he adopted different techniques to get them to imbibe not just aspects relating to the recital but also to understand the essence of the verses through a secret process (read Box Story).

He is now well into the 2nd batch of about 25 students comprising both youngsters as well as elderly people. This batch is expected to complete the course over the next 12-18months.

During this period, he has also taken classes on Thiru Aradhana Kramam.

Founder Editor of Website
End of 2006, when the temple was planning to launch a website, Srihari was entrusted with the task of creating a strong content to propagate the time-tested values of the rich tradition of Sanathana Dharma and important tenets of the Visishtaadvaita philosophy.

As the Founder Editor of the website, Srihari has been conducting online quizzes and contests on varied topics relating to this philosophy. Over the last decade, participation has expanded manifold and now includes contestants from across the globe. As part of this engagement, he has also been writing commentaries, online, on Vaishnavite Philosophy.

Idly Venpa @ School
Srihari was proficient in Tamil right from a young age. Even as a school student, he used to write poems that featured in school magazines. Once when his Tamil teacher wanted the students to try out a Venpa, Srihari came up with one on IDLY that brought out its benefits, its attributes and the special taste. He was singled out for appreciation by his teacher who spotted the poetic potential in Srihari. He also wrote a few sonnets in Tamil that were published in different magazines.

He has the distinction of being the district topper in Tamil in the Class X examination.

Several decades later, when a souvenir was being launched as part of the Samprokshanam Celebrations of Vedanta Desikar temple in 2013, Srihari came up with another Venpa- this time on the Lord.

வென்றிபுகழ் வேங்கடவன் உடனுறையும் விரைமலராள்
அன்றுதிருக் கண்டுரைத்த தமிழ்த்தலைவன் -  ஆரியக்கோன்

பற்றியுறை பீடுடைநன் மாமயிலைக் கோயில் பெரு
நற்றெளித்தல் நாமடைநற் பேறு

Commentary on Tiruvoimozhi
When a book was brought out in 2006 as part of the 80th Birthday Celebrations of 45th Jeer of Ahobila Mutt, Srihari wrote a ten page commentary with his own interpretation of each of the decads of the 10th Canto of Nam Azhvaar’s Tiruvoimozhi including praising Lord’s Kalyana Gunas, describing the way in which Azhvaar has shown us the noble path and about how Prapatti’s five Angams have been showcased in this last canto.

A year earlier, in 2005, he had compiled and edited the special book brought out as part of the centenary celebrations of Veda Parayana Sabha that had been launched in 1905 under the auspices of the Vedanta Desikar temple.

A Significant Contribution
One of his significant contributions to the Vaishnavite Literature came when he co-authored, in 2013, the English translation of Volume Two of the treatise on Ahnika Grantham from the original Manipravaalam text of the 45th Jeer of Ahobila Mutt. The 2nd volume dealt comprehensively with the Aachaaram that is required to perform the Panchakaala Prakriyaas during the days of Suddhi and Asuddhi caused by different Tittus. Working non-stop for a few months to meet the very short deadline, he put together the English version of the treatise.
                                            
In June this year, Srihari had the honour of being invited to write a commentary on Desikar Prabhandham as part of the special magazine that was brought out on the occasion of the 60th Birthday Celebrations of the 46th Jeer of the Ahobila Mutt.

Audio CD Projects with Jayanthi Sridharan
Srihari has also been associated in a couple of audio CD projects with vocalist Smt. Jayanthi Sridharan -- Vaaranam Aayiram and Saranaagathi Geetham -- in the capacity of mentor. The first one is a musical presentation of Andal's wedding dream interspersed with corresponding Rug Veda manthras. The second one is a compilation of the Azhvaars' Paasurams depicting the doctrine of Saranaagathi. Both were released by/in the divine presence of the Jeer at Ahobila Mutt, in 2014. 

Srihari is currently working on another  project - Koyil Thiruvoimozhi -  that is likely to be released later this month.

While the idea has been for youngsters to learn and become proficient, he has also encouraged older people to take up to learning the Divya Prabhandham. Some of those who have learnt from him have now graduated to taking classes on their own.

Srihari has, in a very quiet way, kept our tradition going creating the next set of Prabhandham experts. One can easily note the reverence that the entire group has for him when he walks into the Ghosti. One can hear his voice only during the Prabhandham recital, otherwise he rarely talks. In fact, as an Acharya, he proactively discourages any chit-chat in and around the temple and has never compromised on the devotional aspects!!! His first batch of students are particularly proud of this uncompromising approach of their Acharya for it has helped them enormously in every walk of life, especially as they now set foot into the corporate world.

At a time when the new gen is being swarmed with a wide range of technology gadgets, Srihari has managed to instill a sense of discipline and devotional ethics in his students keeping them away from distractions that seem to be the order of the day everywhere. His outstanding efforts to share his knowledge with them every morning over a long three decade period despite his odd office hours has been a great act of selfless service that he has rendered to our society.

Srihari's Best Prabhandham Student 
Sundararaman is one of the rare personalities in Madras. He has combined outstanding academic achievement with complete knowledge of our traditional scriptures. By the time he graduated in Commerce, he had completed his CA with very minimal coaching!!! And much prior to that, even before he completed his schooling, he had completed his course on Divya Prabhandham. It is no wonder that his Acharya Srihari considers him the best student when asked to single out someone from the last 30years.


He credits his Acharya Srihari for guiding him right through his teenage years.  Sundararaman wonders if there would be another Acharya like him. ‘Who would come back from office at 130am and then wake up every morning before 6am to teach his students for zero monetary benefit. And my Acharya did that for an entire decade just for the joy of seeing his students succeed and to spread the message of the Azhvaars.’

Sundararaman says that his Acharya was special in more ways than one. He had intricate knowledge of the Tamil language and was especially strong in grammar. And this really helped in the phonetics which is so important in the Prabhandham recital. His understanding of the meaning and the features of the entire 4000verses was very deep. Often, he went out of the way to explain the intricacies and nuances of different sets of verses. 

‘For example, I can never forget the way he taught us the Periya Thirumozhi verses relating to Therezhendur. One of the decads of Thiru Mangai Azhvaar’s praise on Therezhendur had him describing both the location of the agraharam as well as the paddy fields and lakes. My Acharya provided us great insights into how to identify the verses describing the streets and differentiate them from the ones describing the fields and ponds.  I do not think any other Acharya in this age and time would go into such minute details to educate his students. We would have all been more than happy had he taught us just the recital of the Prabhandham. But he went way beyond simple recital and wanted us to become real experts.’

Sundararaman also remembers the unique manner in which Srihari taught them the Periya Thirumozhi verses on Thiruvali. ‘He shared some subtle points in identifying and remembering the verses. It is unlikely that any other Guru in this modern age would share such insights on the Prabhandham with his students.’

Throughout that period between the mid 90s and the mid 2000s, Srihari engaged all his students in introspection of the Prabhandham so much so that these students began loving his classes. He would not stop with the students just memorizing the verses. In between, he sent the students to Kanchipuram and Thiruvallur temples to expand their horizon. Almost everyone looked forward to the early morning class.

Sundararaman says with pride that his first batch of students can rank-up with any in the city in the understanding and recital of the Prabhandham and that any of them in his batch can recite the entire 4000 verses at any point of time. And for this, he says he owes it all to Srihari. He truly is one of a kind teacher.

Sundararaman’s mother remembers the way her son would wake up on his own and run to the class well before his Acharya arrived. Such was his love for the Prabhandham class.

His father S Padmanabhan, Sri Karyam at the Ahobila Mutt and HOD- Sanskrit, Madras University credits Srihari for his son’s progress on the Prabhandham front.  He says that his son was blessed to have been tutored by Srihari.

Srihari was a disciplinarian and very committed to sharing his knowledge with his students. He was a perfectionist. That helped a great deal in my son imbibing the same values. He would always be on time for the class and expected the students, too, to show the same kind of commitment. And that really had a positive effect on my son. The objective was to make him love the subject and my son began loving it right from the first instance of the subject. We never had to force this into him.’ says Padmanabhan.

Srihari may be reached on 94444 13746

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Prabhu,

This would rank as one of the best stories ever in PRTraveller.

God bless people like Acharya Srihari...

And most importantly, more power to you for bringing hidden gems like Acharya Srihari out.

Anonymous said...

I read ur article. Like Sri Srihari ur doing yemon service by highlighting their noble service.
Keep it up. I am really proud of u.
On Kaisika Ekadasi i am planning to go to Sri Parthasarathy Temple for the thirumanjanam
(Ubayam by relative)
With best wishes

Anonymous said...

Very well written! Inspiring from the stand point of perseverance

Rangarajan A.L. said...

Great to learn about Sri. SriHari Swami to the sampradayam. Though I had seen Swami in many places, it's for the first time I am able read some details about his great work.

Anonymous said...

Knowledgeable person, but a little arrogant.

Anonymous said...


The anonymous comment above written on March 21, 2016 with a left-handed compliment is despicable. In my limited interaction with Srihari Swami, he came across someone eager to help the younger generation - especially those with an aspiration to learn about our SatSampradayam. As a side-note, let's not confuse 'sAtvika ahankAram' with loukIka arrogance etc. As a community, we need to have some amount of 'sAtvika ahankAram' to represent such an exalted SatSampradayam. As for the comment, it is borderline Bhaagavata apacharam to malign an exalted personality as Srihari Swami. I request the blog owner to remove the anonymous comment and this very comment as well.

PRabhu S said...

Respected Sir,

Thanks for writing in and for the comments.

While there have been many positive comments that have been posted, I would have to also take in any negative comments that have been posted without obvious bias.

It is not appropriate to call a comment from another person as abacharam, especially since you have said that you have had only limited interaction.

Prabhu