Saturday, November 27, 2010


My mother’s parents stayed in a village about 4 miles from our village.  I used to accompany my mother when she visited her parents.  We used to cover the distance on foot in about an hour and a half.   After walking along the narrow embankments of paddy fields for about a mile we used to reach a pucca road leading to the village.   Occasionally we used to take a bus plying on this road.  It left us half a mile away from my mother’s village.  We then covered the distance on foot.  During summer the journey was tiring  because of the sweltering heat.  At a couple of places along the roadside there were small huts ( known as  tanneer pandal in Tamil ) where you could get drinking water stored in earthen pots to keep the water cool.  At times diluted buttermilk was offered to wayfarers to quench their thirst.   At places along the road,  stone structures had been put up to help people carrying heavy loads on their head. These were made of granite slabs of 5 feet each by placing two of them vertically, 4.5 feet apart, and placing  the third one on the top.   Those carrying heavy loads on their head  could offload their burden on these structures and rest a while.   These things had been arranged by persons of a philanthropic bent of mind.   Hindus believed that such acts earned them punya resulting  in material and spiritual benefits
My maternal grandparents lived in a house which was owned by  their eldest daughter-in-law.  My maternal uncle had qualified as  a Sastri,  an honour conferred on one who had studied the Vedas and the ancient scriptures of the Hindus in Sanskrit following the traditional system of learning.  He was employed as a teacher of the Sanskrit language in one of the schools at Madurai in the state of Tamilnadu in India. His wife had come from a comparatively affluent family. She had a condescending attitude towards her sisters-in-law including my mother.  Naturally, my mother and her elder sisters did not like this attitude of hers.
My mother’s elder sister had been widowed early in her life.  Her husband had been in a government job as a registrar.  He was interested in Ayurveda. He, along with my maternal grandfather, had made a study of the ancient treatises on Ayurveda. Since the texts were in Sanskrit, my grandfather’s knowledge of that language proved useful. Together they used to prepare many standard Ayurvedic  formulations explained in the texts,  Unfortunately,  the  untimely death of his son-in-law wrenched my grandfather’s heart.  He had to make provision for his widowed daughter and her five teenage children. With a heavy heart, he got jobs for his three grandchildren in a hotel at Tirupur.  He put up my widowed aunt ( i.e. my mother’s elder sister) and her daughters in a rented house in the same village as his. 
I used to enjoy grandfather’s company during our visits.  He had many interesting anecdotes to narrate from his life. He had faced many trials and tribulation in life and had met them with a stout heart .  On one occasion, he travelled on foot the whole distance of 950  kilometres  from Kanyakumari to Gokarnam, on the west cost of South India,  praying at all the temples on the way seeking  peace of mind.  He had an inexhaustible stock of Sanskrit verses from the Upanishads, the Gita, the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata as well as from the classics of poets like Kalidasa, Bhasa, Bhavabhuti, Bharavi, Magha and Harsha.   He used them to good effect during his conversations and explained to me their meaning and the poetic beauty of expression.  My association with him kindled in me the desire to seriously pursue the study of Sanskrit. An Upanishadic quotation I heard from him is indelibly imprinted in my memory:
      Yathaa nadyah syandamaanaa samudre
      astham gachanthi naamaroope vihaaya
      Tathaa vidwaan namaroopaad vimuktah
      paraatparam purushamupaiti divyam

     यथा नद्यः स्यन्दमाना समुद्रे 
           अस्तं गच्छन्ति नामरूपे विहाय।
      तथा विद्वान् नामरूपाद्विमुक्तः 
            परात्परं  पुरुषमुपैति दिव्यम्॥


Just as rivers empty themselves into the ocean and become one with the ocean shedding their names and forms so too men of wisdom attain the Supreme Brahman transcending all names and forms.

Grandfather introduced me to sreeramodantam  a simple composition in Sanskrit widely used in Kerala those days as an introductory text for Sanskrit studies. It started with the invocation:
                         Sreepatim pranipatyaaham
                         Sreevatsaankita vakshasam
                         Sreevalmeeki prakeertitam  

                          श्रीपतिं   प्रणिपत्याहं श्रीवत्साङ्कित वक्षसम्।                      
                          श्रीरामोदन्तमाख्यास्ये  श्री वाल्मीकिप्रकीर्तितम्॥
I Offer my salutations to Vishnu whose consort is Lakshmi and on whose chest is  the mark of srivatsa and narrate,  in brief,  the story of Rama which has been expounded by Valmiki.
Sivanandalahari by Sankara was a favourite of grandfather who used to chant this stotra every evening.  One of the slokas he narrated to me was:
                 Maa gachcha twam itastato girisha bho mayyeva vaasam kuru
                 Swaamin aadikiraata maamaka manah kaantaara seemaantare
                 Vartante bahusho mrugaah maatsarya mohaadayah
                 Taan hatwaa mrugayaa vinoda ruchita laabham cha samprapsyasi

                                 मा गच्छ त्वमितस्ततो गिरिश भो मय्येव वासं कुरु

                                       स्वामिन्नादिकिरात मामक मनःकान्तारसीमान्तरे।

                                  वर्तन्ते बहुशो मृगाः मदजुषो मात्सर्य मोहादयः

                                       तान् हत्वा मृगया  विनोदरुचिता लाभं च संप्राप्स्यसि॥                   
In this sloka Sankara is addressing Lord Shiva thus:   “ O Girisha! do not go here and there in search of a place to live. Please make my heart your permanent abode. You are the ancient hunter (aadi kiraata).  Within the confines my heart which is like a forest many intoxicated animals like matsarya ( fierce competition)  and moha (delusion) freely roam around.  You will certainly enjoy the sport of hunting them and killing them”. 
 He had a fairly good knowledge of herbal medicines used in Ayurveda.  He used to quote a sloka eulogising the qualities of haritaki (harra in Hindi, terminalia chebula in English):

Dasha vaidya sama patnee
Dasha patnee samo ravi

Dasha soorya sama maata
Dasha maataa hareetakee

दश वैद्य समा पत्नी दश पत्नी समो रविः

दश सूर्य समा माता दश माता हरीतकी॥

In the matter of helping a patient recover from his disease, the wife is equal to ten physicians, the Sun is equal to ten wives, the mother is equal to ten Suns and haritaki is equal to ten mothers.
Once when one side of the body of my youngest uncle was paralysed grandfather  treated him with his Ayurvedic medicines and by the application of medicinal oils for massaging the body. The treatment continued for two or three months after which my uncle became completely well. Those days it looked like a miracle. 
My grandfather had interest also in astrology.  According to him the planetary positions in my horoscope were very good and he predicted that I would do well in life.  Jupiter in the constellation Cancer and Moon in Taurus were ascendant in my horoscope  Sun in Leo was in his own house.  These planets will have beneficial influence on my life.
My  maternal grandparents led a simple life.  Their eldest son helped them financially only occasionally.   The second son was working as the master chef  in one of the small  hotels at Mandya in the State of Karnataka in India.  He was still a bachelor.  He used to send every month ten or twelve rupees which,  those days,  was enough for two adults.  Grandfather also earned some money from patients who used the Ayurvedic medicines prepared by him. He grew vegetables in the backyard of the house.   He set an example in ‘simple living and high thinking’.  It was during this period that his second son’s  marriage was arranged with a girl at Vaikom in Kerala where there is a famous Siva temple.  My mother and I travelled to vaikom along with the bridegroom’s party.  We went to Ernakulam by bus and from there boarded a motorboat to Vaikom.  We sailed through the backwaters of Kerala lined with coconut palms on both the banks.  Rafts criss-crossed the backwaters selling tender coconuts.  We bought a few tender coconuts and quenched our thirst with their sweet water enjoying the scenic beauty of Kerala known as ‘God’s own country’.
My father joined us later for the marriage celebrations spread over four days in those days.  We travelled to Trichur by bus and from there took a train to Palghat, 80 KM away.  It was my first experience of travel by train.  I was fascinated  and over-awed by the steam engine.  I noticed with wonderment houses, trees and paddy fields flying past us as the train sped towards Palghat.  We reached our destination in about an hour.  From there we took a bus to Alathur. Reaching Alathur, we walked the distance to our village.
During the Navaratri I used to visit my grandparents.  There was a special reason for this.  Navaratri was celebrated at the temple as in other places.  Prasadam was given for each and every member of the family, including guests,  whether they were present at the temple or not.  Only one member had to go to the temple to collect prasadam for all.  In our village only those who were physically present during prasadam distribution got it.  My grandfather used to collect my share which my grandmother gave me next  morning.  After eating the prasadam grandmother used to give me rice with curd to counteract any ill effect of sugar or oil in the prasadam.  The rice had been cooked the previous night for dinner and the left over rice had been put in an earthen pot and soaked in water.  This was what grandma used to give with curds after my taking the prasadam.  
Whatever my grandmother cooked was very tasty.  She cooked fresh vegetables with the minimum of dal and coconut but it  tasted great.   Partly this might  have been due to the soil and water of the place but  definitely grandmother’s touch added to the taste.  People used to say that she had kaimanam  meaning her hands gave whatever she cooked great flavour and taste. Whenever a guest came without prior information grandmother would take a piece of yam grown in the back yard, cut it into small pieces, and grind it with grated coconut and green chillies and salt.  Add a little curd and seasoning with mustard seeds and the arachukalakki  was ready .   Cook some rice and fry some papad.  The lunch was ready for the guest in less than an hour.  Those days they did not have pressure cookers and mixer grinders.  If they had them the lunch could have been made ready in 20 minutes.
Unlike my paternal grandmother my maternal grandmother died early. She was chronically bed-ridden during her last days.  My grandfather was treating her with his Ayurvedic medicines but her condition continued to deteriorate.  I was attending to her when one of her granddaughters ( my mother’s widowed sister’s daughter ) was getting married.  Everyone was worried that nothing should happen to my  grandmother before the marriage ceremony was over. Grandmother was not in a position to take part in the marriage.  Since every one else was participating in the function I was asked to be near my grandmother and take care of her.  I was about eight or nine years old at that time.  When my grandmother died shortly afterwards I accompanied the body to the cremation ground along with the others. I, as her grandson, followed the body torch in hand. My eldest maternal uncle lit the funeral pyre. That was the first time I had seen a dead body being burnt in the cremation ground. Every one stayed on until the body was completely burnt.  Then followed the after-death rituals spread over 12 days followed by the 13th day  rituals which were auspicious unlike the previous twelve days.


  1. Very informative and excellent. Shri Ramamurthy has done great service to the seekers of pious knowledge and also to Sanskrit.

  2. very good of shri Ramamurthy to share his life story for others to learn and benefit.
    I greatly admire his passion in writing and maintaining an active blog at his age. Very few people are so active and have such a good memory and power of expression. A true inspiration to all.
    I will follow his sanskrit quotes blog as I have some elementary knowledge of sanskrit and try and improve on it.

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