How does one describe these captivating verses of Sri Ganapati Sachchidananda Swamiji? They are certainly not limericks in the ordinary sense of the term, for the limerick as the O.E.D. tells us, is a humorous five-line poem with a rhyme scheme, aabba, and is based on Edward Lear’s nursery rhymes. A late nineteenth - century arrival, the limerick is also said to be from the chorus, “Will you come up to Limerick?” sung after extempore verses contributed each by a member of the party, and Limerick in the choral line is of course the name of a town in the Republic of Ireland. What are these verses then? They do not appear to conform to any particular metrical form or rhyme scheme or other defined formal or traditional features of poetry.
As one slowly goes through these verses - a few now, a few a little later, and a few more after a longish break - one sees that the form of these verses is determined not by any set-rules of poetic composition hut by the actual pressure of experience or thought or idea behind it. Each of these receives room adequate enough for ii to blossom to its full and natural growth. Or, in other words, intensity of experience or the weightiness of thought or the nature of the idea is decisive in giving each a form appropriate to it. This is the reason why the verses here are of varying length. Shouldn’t we be recalling here what Longinus said a long time ago? Speaking of style, Longinus remarks that it can “help us to speak at the right length and to the occassion”. The “right length” is the adaptation of form to subject and the “occasion”, the right relationship between the poet and the idea/the experience/the thought which is being addressed in the given form.
If the form of the verses has an appealing freshness about it, the content of the saying has a truly amazing richness. Shot through and through with the Swamiji’s deep and insightful knowledge of the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Puranas and folk literature, the collection of verses exhibits a range which looks encyclopedic: we have in it illuminating comments on music, science, technology, religion, rituals, fashion, patriotism and on the mystery surrounding human behaviour, the limits of rationalism, the need for Satsanga and on countless such diverse topics.
Among India’s men of God and spiritual leaders, Sri Ganapati Sachchidananda Swamiji has a special place by virtue of his attainments. He is a seer, a yogi, a sadhaka, a siddha, a revered guru and, above all, an avadhoota (one of the highest spiritual evolution) and head of the Avadhoota Datta Peetham, Mysore, a saint in the holy orders of the lineage from the divine guru and archetypal yogic initiator, Sri Dattatreya. The Swamiji’s noble mission and ministrations as a guru are manifold; these beneficently nurture the health f body, mind and soul of his numerous disciples and all those who come seeking it. For their benefit, he practices yogas and performs yagnas and homas. Yet his total spiritual evolution transcends even as it includes yogic feats of which he is a past master. He may be said to be immersed in nadapasana, a good part of it is the largely attended musical sessions he conducts. What Thyagaraja says in his Begada Kriti Nadopasanache...’ quite applies to the Swamiji. The Swamiji has his own music compositions, and holds and himself ably directs and orchestrates music performances as instrumental ensemble participated in by the best artistes in the field accompanying his vocal and keyboard renditions. -.is music has both healing and uplifting power.
The Swamiji’s utterances also take the form of writings Kannada. Among these, his vachanas which take the form the bhakti poems of the Virasaiva saint-poets are of importance and of immediate as well as essential, abiding relevance to the present and future generations. Hence welcome is the translation of the Swamiji’s vachanas into English ably done by Professor D. A. Shankar formerly of Mysore University English Department. He is a seasoned scholar especially in the field of translation and an experienced translator or whose several volumes of translations of lie Virasaiva saint’s vachanas into English from Kannada have WOO appreciation. He has laid us in his debt by making accessible to non Kannada - speaking readers the Swamiji’s vachanas. The translations read well and will give a fair idea of the Kannada original.
The Swamiji characteristically disclaims any status for himself as poet or writer per se. But the vachanas which also remind us of the sataka (hundreds) and subhashita (epigrams) collections in our litery traditions hear ample testimony to a mind and perception, both yogic and literary, so to say. The prose-poems or poetic prose here belong with the traditions of wisdom literature and bhakti poetry at the same time. They stay true to the ‘kindred points of heaven and home’, addressing as they do, as much the concerns of the common householder as those of the seeker after God and salvation which ultimately everyone should strive to become.
The vision that informs the poems is one of a mature apprehension of the truths we live by. These find expression in stern, clear-cut terms. But, interestingly and important there is ample evidence of the Swamiji’s benevolent sympathy with and empathic sensitiveness to, the difficulties at problems of the ordinary householder. There are a large number of verses covering various aspects of contemporary life and living. Many of these cast satirical glances at new fads (some old ones revived) and fashions, follies diversions, as also the social evils and wrong habits that he present-day society. The message that emerges in the collection in its totality is clear. Sure, we will have to start with an essential awareness and consciousness in the depths of our being of the impermanence and illusoriness (maya) or earthly existence and all that goes with it. But, alongside and despite an abiding sense of its unreality, we will have to participate in life with a commitment, if qualified, and carry 1)111 our duties with engagement and dis-engagement at the same time.
In this connection, we may ask why there are so many verses which expose the unreality, transitoriness and ultimate valnelessness of family life, especially the man and wife partnership, and at the same time a number of verses which exhibit a true concern for its institutions and welfare and offer kindly advice. If the former verses employ images and similitude’s which are pejorative regarding the householder’s 11th (e.g.) two logs of wood left to float on the river together that separate the moment the river touches the sea (274), the verses which celebrate family life carry favorable images (e.g.) two wheels of a chariot going together all along (/86). However, once we grasp the overarching message, We are the point. We have to live our life, family, and other I’ 0(15, do our work and execute our responsibilities with a nit with a deep-rooted sense of the impermanence and mutability’ of life. (The Swamiji in verse 302 tellingly uses the image of the nurse attending on a patient to bring home (lea of committed but non-attached service.) We also understand why there are so many verses which celebrate glories of natural phenomena and the simple spontaneous delights of life (e.g.) the smile on the child’s face or the Childs prattle, and, equally, the smile on the old person’s wrinkled or, for that matter, the desirable amenities of our life brought by technology. The collection shows the way of Hi nation as much as it does the way of Negation.
There are abundant marks of a certain encyclopaedic and inclusive perception of the Swamiji’s. There are verses which expose the ironies and ultimate unavailingness of the so-called benefits of the machine age, the space age, the nuclear era, the plastics and synthetics in vogue and the cyber era. He also writes on the incongruities and contradictoriness observed in life and nature too. But he accepts the advantages, or is reconciled to them, for instance, of the computer provided that we use it with caution as our servant and not as our master. We should find means of adopting the right modern innovations without violating the essentialities of our tradition. The Swamiji adjures us not to let go our age-old healthy values and habits and the old graces. Similarly, there are verses which hail the glories, great and small, and the mysteries of God’s creation and nature. Indeed, the Swamiji’s strictures on various aspects of modern living make us wonder how keen and down-to-earth the total observation is and has a yogic uncanniness.
We may now briefly note some other leading features of the poems. A poetic mind is at work making connections and conceiving and expressing sometimes through direct statement hut often in images and analogices as carriers of meaning. The images are used in new combination though traditional the similitudes are for the most part. It leads
new effects and a forceful impact on the reader. The major as well as several minor themes in the poems are expressed through such poetic means.
The theme of themes is, of course, Sri Datta; it is pervasive. The refrain, the concluding line of almost all the verses, invokes Sri Dattatreya in his several forms. The foundational idea is that of the three-in-one supreme Godhead Dattatreya’s omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence; it is not for nothing that he embodies in Himself Brahma, Vishnu and Siva and all their three respective howl ions of creation, protection and destruction. Naturally, the Swamiji invokes him as Madhava or Brahma or Siva.
Moreover, the Dana idea and devout prayer to and contemplation of Him can be said to be the corner-stone of hi’ work. The name itself of the Lord, as the Swamiji himself specifies it (verse 93) with reference to datta as meaning a command ‘to give’, in general would act as a saving mantra performing as it does, again, a three-fold subtle communication. One may venture to say so, as the holy name also reminds us, as it embodies, the syllable Da in it, of the use of the command Da in the Brahadaranyaka Upanishad. It comes (here as God’s command in the form of thunder. The utterance Da repeated three times Da, Da, Da was meant to exhort men, the Devas and the Asuras and adjure them respectively thus. It was an instruction to men to give share (datta,), to the Devas to practice self-control and restraint (damyata) and to the Asuras to show compassion vu/warn). To each kind, it was thus a call to supply its II may not be exceptionable to suggest that the icing ideas of the Swamiji’s present work are also all
there to all men and women-to show compassion and concern fellow human beings, and nature and our ecological environment, to give and share and to cultivate control of the sense and restraint.
A dominant theme that occurs as an ideational refrain Ili(l(n of the whole song is that of the contrast between acid outward felt in many areas of life and experience. I lea often arises as that of the impenetrability of the innermost human mind, consciousness and self in an age when technology has collapsed distances, bridged outer space and earth and made instant communication breaking all barriers, possible and easy. The theme also occurs as a diagnosis 01: several sorts of hypocrisy, including devotional and religious, of the cultivation of mere externals, trappings and appurtenances, of mere facade forgetting the inward, and the neglect of the essence in pursuit of the excrescence.
It is only natural that the Swamiji so well-versed in the principle and practice of music attaches prime significance to the nada principle. Nada, harmony, is the spirit of the universe, and the divine principle embodies itself in music. The Swamiji’s views about the microcosmic music of the universe, the celestial and the divine, and the microcosmic music within man and the music produced by human beings and the correspondence and synchrony between the two, are crucial. With music, the individual achieves a unison and communion with the spirit of harmony that emanates from the godhead and informs the whole creation. Such principles were also developed as an elaborate theory by the European Renaissance Neo-Platonist philosophers. Again, the views of the Swamiji’s are similar to those of Thyagaraja expressed in his songs and so sedulously practiced.
Also, the author’s way of proceeding and the structuring in this collection of vachanas are perhaps best understood as a musical manner of procedure, logic and organization. The variations on some key ideas the Swamiji’s keeps making, especially on the theme of appearance vs. reality, outward vs. inner, are analogous to variations on themes and notes in music, Carnatic, Hindustani or Western.
Another major preoccupation in the vachanas is with the ill important place and role of the guru. Many vachanas are celebrations of the power and the indispensability of the guru wields the beneficent influence the guru wields. After all, Sri Datta, the presiding spirit of the vachanas is the Guru par excellence, the prototype of the Guru as well as of the yogi. I more are verses that outline the ideal functions of the guru or the teacher in general and several which point out the deficiencies of present-day teachers, and also the topsyturvydom in the teacher-student relationship. To the Swamiji, adhyatma vidya is the highest level of education, and he regrets hi’ hick of a place for it in our formal educational system.
Besides, the work also aligns itself with the homiletic traditions of writing and didactic literature, on the whole. I mire is advice as also food for thought in the verses, appropriate to the different groups and sections of the population-youth and age, householder and sanyasin, nine-to-five job holders and politicians, knowledge-workers and knowledge-seekers, the ‘American Dreamers and soon. The didacticism is tempered by wit and humour and a play of mind over things, and the Swamiji’s sense of irony comes through.
Here is a handy volume of seven hundred vachanas in English translation; it brings valuable spiritual, moral and
In cultural intimations and, most of all, ‘thoughts that breed perpetual benediction’.
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