The possibility of a yatra with Sri Swamiji is indeed something that all devotees crave for. We yearn that Sri Swamiji would take us to a particular divine kshetra, show us the glory of the temples there, talk about the mahans who have glorified the place, would bathe in the holy waters of the kshetra, would embark on mini trips to nearby holy places, would tell us things about the kshetra that we would not have heard or seen anywhere before, that he would lead the parayana, do kirtans, katha and so on. More than anything, such instances are also great opportunities to have the association of our Guru throughout the day. And every moment with him is magical and extraordinary, if only he graces us with the eyes to see it as such!
Every kshetram in the divine land of Bharat is special in its own right, and Guruvayur is no exception. The throngs of devotees and their unflinching love for their dear Unnikrishnan is there on display, every moment, round the clock! Guruvayur kshetram is master-planned with the temple in the center of the town, and the four entrances (called naDa), in each direction. Each nada is unique in its presentation, with arrays of shops and artifacts. But one thing is common – all four nadas have people moving in constantly! It’s like the little Guruvayurappan has a massive appetite, and it appears like people are only going in to Him. We barely see anyone come out!
The Brahmana Samuham hall was a stone’s throw from the south nada. To us, this was the epicenter and the world spun around this axis. A grand Srimad Bhagavata Saptaha Maholsavam had been arranged there from Nov 13-19 culminating in Gopashtami on the 20th by an ardent and enthusiastic 80 year-old devotee, Sri Ramasubramanian ji. The parayanam was going to be done by Smt. Mangalam ji and hundreds of her students, all ladies, who have been learning and reading Srimad Bhagavatam for years.
Every morning, Sri Swamiji would arrive around 6 am. He would sit at the front right end of the stage and would direct a lot of the happenings of the day just by the mere movements of his eyebrows. Each day, throngs of lady bhagavatas would walk up to Swamiji and hand him their Bhagavatam to be blessed by him. Sri Swamiji never once said no to anyone. He would spend hours each day just writing on their books – blessing them with the divine prasad of his words. There is indeed something that can even make Srimad Bhagavatam even sweeter – His signature! As parayanam began for the day, Sri Swamiji would also follow along sloka by sloka, while occasionally glancing his grace on someone, providing instructions to his sevaks, commenting to nearby lucky souls about something, speaking to devotees and inquiring about their welfare, while also quietly ensuring the world is functioning as it should!
At about 8:30 am, at an opportune stopping point, Sri Swamiji would get up and step away from the hall. The parayanam would continue as devotees took their breakfast in batches. Some days Sri Swamiji would return in 10 mins, some days after a little longer, and on yet other days, he would never leave for this morning break. So we would never know what Sri Swamiji would do on any particular day.
After the morning break, Sri Swamiji would continue with following the parayana, engrossed in it and occasionally uttering appreciative murmurs as some sloka struck a chord in him! He would lean back against the wall with grace-filled eyes seemingly internalizing the sweet association with Bhagavatam. In such moments, no one would dare to go near Sri Swamiji. The contrasting beauty of Sri Swamiji’s presence was there to relish – on one hand, being one who is completely and easily accessible, and on the other, one who is impossible to approach.
Every now and then, Smt. Mangalam ji would request someone outside of her students group to also do the parayana. Sri Swamiji would then ask some of his disciples to recite a chapter or two. At one point, the ‘keezh-shanti’ (one of the prime priests at Sri Guruvayurappan Sannidhi) visited the Brahmana Samuham. Sri Swamiji has immense love for those who do kainkaryam to the deities. The Keezh-Shanti did parayana of one chapter. Sri Swamiji could not take his eyes and ears off that recitation. He turned to us and said, “See how beautifully he is doing parayanam. See with how much energy and emotion he’s doing it!”
At another timely stop around 1 pm, Sri Swamiji would take a break and devotees would too, in batches. After the day’s parayanam was completed, we would all then return back at around 5 pm and anticipate the evening Katha. On Day 1, Sri Swamiji arrived at about 5:45 and started with the recitation of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam. Promptly at 6 pm, Sri Swamiji delivered a soul-stirring discourse on the introduction of Srimad Bhagavatam. A stand out point that Sri Swamiji mentioned during this talk was the secret around why Srimad Bhagavata Mahatmyam has the sloka ‘chintAmaNir loka sukham..’, which elucidates the greatness of Guru, at the very outset.
“This is to show that Bhagavatam is itself in the Guru-sthaanam! Otherwise why is this sloka present in Mahatmyam?” asked Sri Swamiji rhetorically. Peppered throughout the lecture was the greatness of Bhagavan, Bhagavatam, and Bhagavatas. We were hoping Sri Swamiji would speak every day, and it turned out that the first day’s was the only evening lecture Sri Swamiji would give that week. He asked his students to present the evening lecture on the rest of the days.
In the morning one day, I mustered some courage and requested Sri Swamiji to give another discourse, to which he instantly witted, “No no! From here on, only my students shall talk. I used to give lectures everywhere, but now I am only going to chant Hare Rama!” No sooner had he said that, than he paused the parayana midway, and started to give a discourse on the beauty of Brindavanam, explained Venu Gitam sloka by sloka, followed by Govinda Pattabhishekam! How sweet is his unstoppable urge to pour the nectar of Bhagavatam?
As the days passed like this, we saw how Sri Swamiji pays attention to everything and knows everything that happens everywhere, but quietly, without indicating even a tiny bit of this. One day a devotee approached Sri Swamiji and requested a personal prayer. Sri Swamiji closed his eyes and remained silent for a few seconds. Then he asked her, “Have you already told me this before?” She replied in the negative. Again after a few more moments of silence, he asked the same thing again, “It seems like you have told me this earlier, is that not so?” She said, “This is the first time I’m having your darshan, Swamiji.” To which Sri Swamiji just nodded. She then continued, “Some time back I wrote this prayer and placed it front of my deity at my puja room at home.” Sri Swamiji responded casually, “Oh, is that so.” She then walked away, after receiving prasadam and instructions from Sri Swamiji.
Another lady came by to receive prasadam from Sri Swamiji. As she left, Sri Swamiji turned to us and said, “This person has only one sadhana. It is not chanting Bhagavatam, or having darshan of Guruvayurappan, etc. Wherever there is katha happening in Guruvayur, she would be present there to listen to it. That is her tapas.”
As Smt. Mangalam ji captured the heart of Sri Swamiji, having trained hundreds of people in reading Srimad Bhagavatam, Sri Swamiji casually bestowed an anugraham (blessing) to her and all the devotees (in Tamil), “Mangalam mAmi ivA janmAkku ellAm mangaLam pADiTTa!” (“Smt. Mangalam ji has sung an auspicious closing (mangalam) to the [future] births of all these devotees” – implying that they all have attained Bhagavan and shall not be born again.)
Sriram Ramanujam, Houston TX