Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Srihari Prabhandham Acharya Felicitated

Prabhandham Students felicitate their Acharya for two decades of selfless service at the Vedanta Desikar temple, Mylapore

Last week, Prabhandham Acharya P Srihari ( an important milestone of passing on the significance of the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham to a second batch of students (the first batch had completed their course in 2006). This batch comprising of around 40 students had begun their knowledge quest in 2007 and they graduated on April 23 (Sunday) morning with the Satrumurai taking place at the Vedanta Desikar temple.It was a morning for the students to show their love for the Acharya who had made a difference to their lives over the last decade as they showered loving gifts on their dear Acharya. 

A current trustee of the Vedanta Desikar temple commended Srihari for his two decades long efforts 'What great institutions like Ahobila Mutt and Andavan Ashramam haven't done has been achieved by Srihari as an individual.'

The Early Days - The route to selfless service
In the early days in the late 90s, when Srihari began teaching, the Prabhandham classes, under the auspices of Vedaparayana Sabha, were in the evening. It was only after academics coincided with these classes that a request was made by a couple of the students  to shift the class to early morning.

Seen from this background, Srihari’s contribution to our Sampradayam assumes even greater significance. A Senior Journalist at the Sports Desk at The Hindu, Srihari returned home only after 1am every night after the sports pages were made. And yet for the sake of his students, over the last two decades he has been at the temple at 6am imbibing the Prabhandham verses into the next generation of students, many times even forsaking the much needed sleep.
 Bharath Nandakumar, now 30, began learning under Srihari at the age of nine, way back in the mid 1990s. He has nostalgic memories of those days dating back a decade and a half and to the time of learning the Periya Thiru Madal. For students in the early stage of learning, this usually proves to be a challenging experience for verses there comprise of very long sentences. But despite making it to the class after just a few hours of sleep, the Acharya would just close his eyes and reel out the verses never once missing a single word of the Madal showcasing to the students the importance of devotion while learning the Prabhandham. 

A mentor in their Personal Lives
To Bharath and many others in the group, Srihari was not just a Prabhandham Acharya. He was a mentor to them in their personal life as well. When Bharath reached that critical phase and an age when academics and prabhandham seemed to be at logger heads with each other, his father, who worked in Barathan Publications, wanted him to focus on academics and directed him to let go the Prabhandham classes. Srihari took great care of these young boys in those days and tracked their progress outside of the Prabhandham  class as well. No sooner did he hear the news of the decision to discontinue the Prabhandham class, Srihari went to Bharath’s house to meet his father.

It was a transformational hour for Barath in his life for it was that convincing conversation that Srihari had that got Bharath back into the Prabhandham class.  He of course continued to focus on his academics and became a certified Company Secretary but much before he graduated in academics he had completed his Prabhandham course under the caring eyes of Srihari. 
'It is solely because of Acharya Srihari's conversation that day, 15 years ago, that devotees make refreshing enquiries of my absence at the Ghosti even if its just for a day or two. It is a blessed feeling to have been initiated into the Divya Prabhandham and Desikar Prabhandham by Acharya Srihari.'

A majority of the students in the first batch were in the adolescent phase. Bharath says that it was Srihari who kept their feet firmly grounded on devotional lines not allowing them to be swarmed away into the world of temptations that is part of that phase of life. ‘He groomed us throughout that ten year phase on the way to live and was equivalent to a parent in the way he took care of us. He took a lot of responsibility for the way we came up.’

Applauding a good effort
Barath also throws light on another special feature of his Acharya. ‘A decade ago, I was reciting the 2nd lines of the difficult Tiruviruttam verses on a street procession on the occasion of Desikar Utsavam. At the end of the utsavam, he came up to me to appreciate my presentation and commended me for managing well the 2nd lines of the pasuram.'

However, kudos from the Acharya did not always come easy for the students. When a delighted Bharath went up to his Acharya to enquire about the pleasing way they had presented the difficult last 30 verses of the third canto of Periya Thirumozhi (relating to Nangur), he was asked to go and come back with a similar recital a year later for the Acharya to check, for those verses had just been taught and he felt that it was still sharp in the memory and wanted to test if the sharpness still remained 12months later, such was the high standards Srihari set for his students!!!
Pulling up a forgetful student
On another occasion, during the Deepavali Ghosti, Bharath forgetting the verses of Naanmugan Thiruvanthathi did not go unnoticed and the Acharya took it up with him right at the end of the procession. Over the next 3-6 months, he ensured that Bharath was right up there on the Naanmugan Thiruvanthathi day and got him to perfect the presentation by the end of the year. Srihari always assessed the strengths and weaknesses of his students and put in his best efforts to cut out their shortcomings.

Bharath had always taken that extra liberty with his Acharya and while still in his class VII, he went up to his Prabhandham Guru and asked if he can teach ‘Athigiri Mahatmiyam’. When the Acharya handed him the book and asked him to recite that very long Paasuram starting with ‘Chiththu Asiththena…’, Bharath fumbled in the very first line.

He had a timetable for each of the verses and knew exactly when to initiate his students into them.
Bharath is proud that his Acharya kept aside many of his other personal commitments during that phase to pass on his knowledge to his batch of students. Grooming and growing these students into the devotional path had remained Srihari’s mission during that period. The significance of his Acharya's contribution became even more pronounced to Bharath when during the early days of his corporate life. Bharath's night shift meant he would come back home only after 3am. And with the Utsavam procession slated for 6am, he was caught in a 'No Man's land' of whether to sleep (if he does so, will he oversleep) or remain awake till the time of the procession. And yet, for almost two decades, Srihari initiated these students with just a few hours of sleep every night.

Another student of the first batch, K Dayanidhi (Srinath) is now the Dept in- charge 
(Vaishnavism) at the Madras University. And the teachings of Srihari is sure to come in handy as he passes on the significance of the Prabhandham verses to his students.

Unfortunate Development
Amidst all of the dedicated two decade long service of Acharya Srihari has also been the external transformation that one has been part of over the last few years. While the first batch of students remained blissfully unaware of the mobile revolution and were fully focused on the getting the best out of their acharya, unfortunately it has been a more painful exercise for Srihari with the 2nd batch of students clearly falling prey to distractions around them.

Last month,a former trustee of the Desikar temple and student of the 2nd batch was seen texting messages during the Ghosti while the Tiruvoimozhi verses were being presented at the Rama Navami Utsavam inside the temple. It served as a timely reminder to all, that not just the youth but the older generation too are compromising with the Lord lured by the mobile and its instant messaging technology.

Also, the new generation of prabhandham students have nick names and pet names that go against the messages from the Divya Prabhandham.  While Periyazhvar ( directed mothers to name their child after God so at least one would refer to the God’s name while calling out for them, one often hears names inside the Desikar temple that is far away from the name chosen by the mother. Calling out as ‘Kapali’, ‘Dollar’, ‘Thakkali’ and so on just seems inappropriate within the temple premises and during the processions and does not seem to be in line with Periyazhvar’s advocacy.

Srihari's Praise at Thiru Kudanthai
In December last, the temple authorities as well as the devotees in Thiru Kudanthai applauded the devotional fervor with which the Mylapore Ghosti presented there during the Pagal Pathu Utsavam, the credit for that huge appreciation from the temple that was instrumental in the revival of the Nalayira Divya Prabhandham clearly goes to the two decade long selfless service of Acharya Srihari.

Debate between a Vidwan and an Acharya
An interesting debate between Azhisur Srinivasachariar and Srihari was a highlight at the felicitation event on Sunday morning. When the 91 year old, Azhisur Srinivasachariar referred to Srihari as 'Swami', the latter strongly objected saying that he had undergone Kalakshepam under the great Vidwan and hence it was not appropriate for him to refer to his student as Swami.
However, Azhisur Srinivasachariar dismissed Srihari off remarking that he had rendered a great service to the Vaishnavite community by creating the next generation of students that will keep the Prabhandham traditions going for the next several decades and that the occasion was appropriate for Srihari to be referred to as ‘Swami’ even though he had once been his student!!!

Referring to the Maaley Manivanna Pasuram, where Andal presents the specific process to be followed (Conch, Drum, Ghosti…), Azhisur Srinivasachariar praised Srihari for the systematic way in which he has brought up his students since the mid 90s. If today there is a strong Ghosti to reckon with, in Mylapore, the credit for that goes to Srihari, he said. 

The Final Word
Srihari, who gifted a sacred Prabhandham book to each of his dear students, had the final word on the morning leaving a very important message for the 75+ students 'Present the sacred prabhandham with sincerity, Do it with the intent of Service to God and Do not go outside and present the Prabhandham for financial benefits.’

That was also one of the unforgettable lessons to his students throughout the two decade long teaching - to present these verses to God and not to use it to further their financial interests. It is a lesson that has remained etched in the memory of the first batch of students who have vowed not to use this as a financial tool in their life. 



It is a pleasant surprise for me to read the above article.These days even in Patasalas teaching lacks devotion.What we can do except Hasthanjali for such great dedicated teachers ?

Anonymous said...

Excellent read - what a humble and devout person

My pranams to him

Very nice story


Anonymous said...

Brilliant write up and very well done

Anonymous said...

remember reading about Acharya Srihari before in your blog and also about a student of his, was that Sri Bharat I don't remember. I have mentioned this to you before and let me do it again, your blog is a treasure trove where one gets to know about some fantastic people, super human beings, unsung heros. That for me is a great service you do to our society, and our Dharma in particular. Thank you Prabhu !!

Unknown said...

Doing great service to Vaishnavism society. He is engrageing young and old,male and female to understand the வியாக்கியானம் of pasuram in Nalayieeram through questions. We are eagerly waiting for the sunday morning to check up our answers. Rendering good work to our community.Mh pranams for that great man.
Adiyen dhasan

Anonymous said...

As one who has watched him closely for many years, he has indeed done a great service. To teach students 20 years in a row without a break amidst his professional work is no mean task. It is indeed commendable.

However, as commented in the earlier story on him couple of years back, he also comes with a high ego.

He does not make eye to eye contact with a number of his students or with other known people who are regulars to the temple.

He engages only with select people and that is not a comfort feeling for others in the larger group. One gets an 'excluded' feeling because of this approach.