There is a centuries-old tradition of the ceremonial umbrellas of Tirumala Tirupati being brought from the Chenna Kesava Perumal Temple in the busy Sowcarpet neighborhood at the heart of Chennai. People walking to Tirumala with these newly made umbrellas take a good 10 days to reach their destination, in time for the annual Brahmotsavam at Tirumala. The Mannargudi Jeeyar, a seer in charge of the venerable Mannargudi Sri Vaishnava Math, was in Chennai to flag off the Yatra. During this visit to Chennai by the Jeeyar, Hindupost met him seeking his blessings and opinion on several of his initiatives.
Q: Swami, please let us know of the history and background of the Mannargudi Jeer Peetham.
A: The Math was established by Manavala Mamunigal, who was in the line of Pillai Lokacharya, one of the Acharyas after Ramanuja. The Math is thus 600 years old. There are records from the 19th Century that discuss the Shendalangara Math’s contribution towards expenses for renovating the madapalli (temple kitchen) at Vanamamalai Math. Even today, there are places called Jeeyar Thoppu in Mannargudi. There is a special teertham reserved for the Jeer at the Mannargudi temple, which is taken by the Bhattacharya (Pujari).
However, the seat was vacant for the last 120 or more years, before I was ordained.
Q: Why was the seat left vacant?
A: Due to mismanagement and local politics, a lot of the kainkaryam (service) being carried out were discontinued. Hence, the seat fell vacant.
Q: How do you see the role of a Jeeyar? How do you reconcile your life of ritual and achara with the needs of constant travel and guidance to society?
A: See, a sannyasi leaves behind everything. This does not mean he stops performing anushthanas. However, he can sleep and eat anywhere, as long as he sticks to rules of bhojya-abhojya and restricts intake according to the customs for his station and travel.
The sannyasi’s primary job is to teach Dharma. Sending the householder to the temple is more important than the sannyasi himself visiting the temple. As far as is achara concerned, it must be upheld with a true understanding of what it is for.
Once, a householder had a pet cat that would drink up the milk kept for naivedyam (offering) in his puja. Hence, he got into the habit of tying up the cat whenever puja had to be performed. After 2 generations, things had got to such a state that the householder’s grandson would search for a cat to tie up every time they performed the puja at home!
Such is the application of achara and niyama (rules) blindly.
Q: Swami, how do you view the conversion of Dalits?
A: First, I object to the use of the word Dalit. I also maintain that the word ‘Tirukulathor’ coined by Sri Ramanuja, is far more apt. The word coined by Mahatma Gandhi – Harijan – is a direct translation of Sri Ramanuja’s coinage. There is no Dalit. Whoever has Sriman Narayana in his heart is worthy of all respect.
Conversion by force is completely wrong. Showing people incentives to convert is disrespect the value of their soul. There are 3 ways to deal with this, same as there are 3 types of medicines
- Allopathic medicine that removes the immediate symptoms. There is immediate relief, but the disease can recur. Here we talk to the individual person and explain why his/her decision is a mistake.
- Ayurvedic medicine that counters the disease cause. This is slow, but works effectively. Providing financial and emotional support to vulnerable people is such a medicine.
- Homeopathic medicine that removes the cause of the disease completely. This is slower, but it is a permanent cure. Closing the source for funding conversions is this medicine.
We must also remember the saying – ‘danDam dashaguNam bhavet’
Q: Is there a shastraic procedure for bringing people back to the Hindu fold?
A: A person’s affirmation of faith in the Hindu religion, in our shastras and in our Gods is sufficient. If required, we can perform a puja or homa (havan) for their emotional satisfaction. Remember that our Dharma Shastra is called Manava Dharma Shastra, ie, it applies to all human beings.
Q: What are your thoughts on gau-samrakshana?
A: In Tamil, I say – ‘naattu maattai kaattu, naattai kaappom’- Save the indigenous cows, save the nation. The native gau is called Kamadhenu, since it gives all 3 of – ‘Ayuh, Arogya, Aishwarya’ – Life, Health and Prosperity. The cow’s backside is what is worshiped as it is the source of milk, dung and urine, all three of which are source of health and prosperity.
Gau mutra is widely known in Ayurvedic medicine for curative properties. Research is being carried to validate claims that it can even cure cancer. A single cow gives enough fertilizer for several acres of land. We have noticed that people with asthma and skin allergies get relief over sustained periods of staying close to cow sheds. We encourage them to caress the cow, as it fills you with positive vibrations.
All of what I say above is only for native Bos indicus breeds. Foreign breeds seem to yield more milk, but a lot of that improved productivity is due to administering hormones. It is both animal cruelty as well as bad for the health.
Q: How do you think we can preserve native breeds?
A: Primarily, we must find a way to ensure that every rural family gets to own a native cow. Urban people can use the products of the cow. Have a common place for collecting produce from the cow, such as fertilizer. Also, it is very important for people to buy personal use products from goshalas. Neelavara Goshala, Erode Goshala etc., produce and market personal care products, which can be used.
Q: What do you think about our varnashrama system?
A: Anushthanams are prescribed for deha-shuddhi, atma-shuddhi and the adhikara to perform kainkarya for Bhagavan. Thus, anushthanams were not made for a varna, but for different tasks. Being an archaka does not mean you have to go to the temple and perform a puja yourself. Saying the names of the Lord in your home is archana by itself. At the end of the day, karma is what determines varna.
Q: What is your advice for the ordinary middle class householders, swami?
A: When you cook for your home, pretend that you are cooking for one more person. Keep aside that much grain, dal. At the end of the month, you can actually feed 30 people! You need not do it at one go. Take the accumulated grain and cook extra food and distribute it regularly.
Buy books for 1 underprivileged kid in your nearby school. If 50 of you join hands, you can sponsor books for 1 class. Buy pen refills for 10 or 20 rupees. This will take a small burden off some poor people you know.
Do such simple things without expecting someone to come and organize for you.
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