THE INCOMPARABLE EXEGETIST
YEARS ago I went to Jillelamudi along with my friends. Mother welcomed us. We finished our lunch, and relaxed for a while. In the evening, we had a leisurely walk upto the brook, and returned early. It was the month of Pushyal and the season of the Gobbi festival. That day. Motl er made Gobbiammas with cow dung, and placed it on a stool. She smeared it with turmeric powder and kumkuni. She asked us to sit on the floor. She sat on a chair. There were a few ladies. We thought that she made us sit there in order to hear the Gobbi songs sung by ladies, and enjoy the function. On the other hand, Mother wished that we should play the role of gossipy housewives.
She asked me to recite a stanza from any poem. I recite la stanza from the Bhagaratham, in which prince Praha la exhorted his ruthless father to conquer his passions, and thereby become foeless. Then she asked me to sing a hymn. I sang a hymn extolling the glory of Sri Saradadevi. My ordeal did not end there. She asked me to sing a hymn called Kalikavaraputra. I told her that I did not learn it. She told me to recite the holy names of God. I began repeating the name of the Lord Shankarasira, Shankarasive.” All my friends joined me in the recitation. Finally, she asked me to recite Mantra pushpam. We stood up. When I was wondering how to start Mantrapushpam without flowers or kumkum coated rice in my polm, Mother got up from the chair, picked up clay from the ground, and put it in our palms. Then she said. ‘proceed’. After the completion of recitation, we put the clay in our palms near Gobbiamma on the stool. Mother gave us something to eat.
Sometime later, speaking in a differnt context, Mother said Gobbiamma is made with cowdung. We worship it. But we are not paying homage to cowdung, nor to the turmeric and kumkum in the tin. When a lump of cowdung is smeared with turmeric powder and kumkum, it becomes the embodiment of Goddess. Hence we wor ship it as Goddess, and burn camphor in reverence. When we worship a neem tree, we are not worshipping the tree as it exists. When we keep together a branch of neem tree and a branch of poplar tree, they symbolise Lakshmi and Narayana. In marriages, a round stone is worshipped. In many pious functions organised by women, there are several instances of this type. We do not touch with our feet a door-sill or a broom-stick or a van. Our elders say that we should not sit on a mortar. The reason for all this is not far to seek. They simply remind us that even these unimportant’articles are manifesta. tions of the Supreme Being. God is omnipresent. He is in every morsel of food we eat. Even ordure which is obscene and filthy is one of His manifestations. Similarly knowledge is Brahman. Ignorance is Brahman. The medley of good and bad that we see around us is Brahman. Nothing is excluded from it. It includes everything.”
When the function was over, we walked into the hall. Mats were spread. We sat down. Each one of us touched Her holy feet. She put kumkum on our foreheads. Everybody was silent including Mother. In order to break the silence. Late Sri G Lokanatham encouraged us to put a few questions to Mother, and elicit Her valuable answers.
I asked. “Mother, explain to me the meaning of the upani shadic verse: The Self is attained only by him whom It loves”. Because I recited the verse in Sanskrit, Mother said “I know little Sanskrit. Explain the literal meaning of the verse in Telugu.”
I told Her that I was not well-versed in Sanskrit, and I had the fortune of hearing a commentary on the Kathopanishad by a Swamiji who visited my village sometime ago. I could only say what he said by way of comment in Telugu. Mother agreed.
I said, “The Self is possessed by him whom It loves.” “Will you agree if I say that the Self and God are one?” Mother asked “Oh! Certainly. Atma and Paramutma are one. There is no difference between them” I replied. Then She said, “That same God blessed you to put this question. That same God blessed you to sit in this posture. That same God blesses all others, through you, to hear this piece of conversation.”
I could not understand this enigmatic interpretation. That 1 should ask Her to explain Herself more clearly did not cross my mind. It was 7-30 P. M. and we went for meal. We finished our dinner, and gathered round Mother in the hall, Devotees raised doubts, and Mother solved them. At ten O’clock we slept.
We got up early in the morning, and touched the holy feet of Mother. We went to the brook for bath. We bathed happily. ruminating on the bliss which was ours for the past two days. We returned to Mother with easy and happy hearts. She applied kumkum to our foreheads. We bowed to Mother and sat down. Srimati Prabhavati (wife of Si Butebiraju Sarma) recitel eupho.. nionsly the stanzas composed by her husband. We had steaming coffee in the morning and lunch at LI O’clock. We relaxed till 3 P.M. We decided to start for our places by 4-30 P.M. Mother gave us Some refreshments. Just before we started, Mother gave us kum kum packets and plantain fruits, and told us to come on Saturday
An inexplicable sadness overpowered me. I cried like a child. One of my friend had a similar experience. Mother heard me cry ng, and came out of the hall. With the bag on my shoulder, I dropp into Her hands weeping. She smiled, and patted my bed, wiped my tears with the edge of Her sari and said, “That same God, at this moment. blessed you to weep.” I did not know why I wept. I was not bothered to know what others would think if I ma such an open exhibition of my inexplicable fit. Indeed, I never realised or thought that I was weeping.
The true meaning of the explanation which She gave to the upanishdie verse yester night, dawned on my mind like a dash of lihtni when she said, “That same God, at this moment, blessed you to ep”. That was an astonishing, thought provoking and soul-wid ning exegesis. We marched homeward, meditating on he ineffable scriptural truth impressed on our minds by the chari table Mother.
(Adapted from Telugu by Sri A. Ramakrishna Rao)
Notes:- 1. Name of one of the twelve lunar mendis of the Indian Calender.
- A lump of cowdung which is worshipped as a deity during this month
- Name of the above deity.