The Sage of Shambhavi

The life and message of HH Shri Sudhindra Thirtha Swamiji
of Shri Kashi Math Samsthan
by Shri K G Mallya

Chapter 9 of 12: A Turning Point
<< Previous Chapter | A Happy Life >>

Author's note: For smooth flow of reading, instead of mentioning "His Holiness" every time, I have made use of commonly available pronouns in English. Shambhavi is a river flowing in Mulki, Dakshina Kannada district in the state of Karnataka. It was here that HH Shri Sudhindra Thirtha Swamiji had the customary holy dip before embracing sanyas.

HHs Shri Raghavendra and Sudhindra Thirtha Within no time the news of Sadashiva Shenoy becoming the successor of Shrimat Sukrateendra Thirtha Swamiji spread like wild fire throughout the length and breadth of the country.

Shri Swamiji was camping in Mulki at that time. The announcement of the selection was unofficially made. But one day, all of a sudden, Shri Swamiji received a letter from Sadashiva regretting his inability to become the Shishya ! It was like a bolt from the blue. By then, Shri Swamiji had already sought the opinion of the oracle in Mulki temple that, in unequivocal terms had told the Guru Maharaj that it was an excellent choice and God only had shown the right candidate. If this was God's will, then how could there be a going back by the candidate ? Something must have gone wrong somewhere, thought Shri Swamiji and decided to offer special abhisheka seva to Shri Veda Vyasa so that all the hurdles on the way would go away.

Here in Ernakulam, Sadashiva's sudden change of mind was beyond anybody's comprehension. Elderly people in the family tried to persuade him, cajoling, coaxing and courteously advising him in a cordial atmosphere. Initially Sadashiva neither opened his mind nor his mouth. But then their family friend and relative, Dr. Shrinivas Padiyar, who at times was striking terror in the minds of the younger generation whenever they went out of the way, appeared on the scene. He called Sadashiva to his side and politely advised that a word once given had to be kept up at any cost.

At once, Sadashiva opened up and that he was trying to do exactly that and therefore he was in a fix. He expressed that a few years ago he had made a promise with Datta that he would work hard, pass the Intermediate examination with good marks and become an engineer. Since he was now in Intermediate and if he abruptly left studies to become a sanyasi, would it not amount to non-fulfillment of a promise made with his elder brother ?

Everybody was stunned at the strange promise made and Sadashiva's desire to abide by that. The doctor who had come to tender advice went back nodding his head, stating that he would rectify everything so that Sadashiva could keep up the second promise to the Dharma Guru.

Within a fortnight's time came a letter from Datta to Sadashiva. It read:

Dear Brother,

I am happy to note that Shri Swamiji has chosen you to be his successor and heir. It is a great and rare honour to all of us. Don't think of the assurance given to me. As a 'Mathadipati' you can serve a larger section of society and the scope is unlimited. Therefore, please go ahead by keeping up the word to Shri Swamiji.

Blessings and best wishes,


This timely letter from the elder brother relieved all the uncertainties and tension. Sadashiva ran to the jackfruit tree and felt like embracing it. Thereafter there was no time left for thinking or doing anything.

The day of departure to Mulki came. It was a touching farewell from everyone in the family. He took a few moments to go to the backyard to touch affectionately the tall jackfruit tree that stood solidly with his pains and pleasures besides affording him cool shadow and shelter at all times.

As he stepped out of the house, he felt that now he no longer belonged to that home or household and that from now onwards he belonged to Shri Kashi Math Samsthan consisting of hundreds of homes and households. Now onwards, he had to dedicate himself to the welfare of human beings - the wonderful machines created by God. He had to be an engineer of these machines to help solve the poverty, disease and ignorance.

The journey came to an end in Mulki, a small township on the banks of the River Shambhavi in Dakshina Kannada district of the former Madras presidency. Shri Swamiji was camping in the Math adjacent to Shri Venkataramana Temple in which was consecrated about four centuries ago, the famous idol of that Lord of Lords, Shri Narasimha by Shrimat Vijayendra Thirtha Swamiji, the very founder preceptor of Shrimat Yadavendra Thirtha Swamiji, the first pontiff of Shri Kashi Math Samsthan.

Very surprisingly, all the events that had taken place in Shri Ramdas Shenoy's residence in Ernakulam had a strange feature. Sadashiva had given the consent to become the successor of Shri Swamiji but without having seen him earlier even once ! Those days photography was a rare luxury and there was no photograph of Shri Swamiji available easily. Sadashiva had not seen even the photograph of his would be guru. Then what was expected of him after his deeksha ? He had the least idea. All that can be concluded from this is that, in those days people had abundant faith in God and also in parents and elders. They rarely questioned the wisdom of elders as they firmly believed that the elders would act in the best interest of everything.

Shri Swamiji was eagerly waiting for Sadashiva's arrival in Mulki. As soon as he arrived, he was ushered in. To Sadashiva it was a rare experience. For the first time he was meeting the swamiji who was going to be both his preceptor and master. With his heart beating like a drum, he entered the chamber and stood there for a while unintentionally looking at the Guru sitting majestically on a high seat. As soon as he had entered, the Guru affectionately looked at him with a very gracious smile. That look and the smile ! Both were so captivating that Sadashiva at once felt that he had stumbled upon the treasure that was lost by him centuries ago. In a moment's time he felt assured that he would be safe and secure under the spiritual master sitting before him.

As the moments ticked by, he was so greatly attracted by the glow of grace on the Guru's face that he decided at once to surrender unto his feet willing to make any sacrifice if commanded by the Guru. Therefore without any hesitation, with quick paces he went close to Shri Swamiji and devoutly prostrated.

Shri Swamiji affectionately asked him to be seated. Sadashiva by then must have definitely attracted the guru's heart. On his innocent and bright face, the Guru had already seen a bright future for the Samsthan while Sadashiva saw the guiding light on the countenance of the Guru. They conversed freely and frankly as though they had known each other for a very long time. In spite of being the first meeting, it appeared as if two long lost friends were meeting each other after several years.

Now Sadashiva was to be given the Sanyasa Deeksha. Wednesday, the 24th of May, 1944 was considered to be the most auspicious day. But before that, the Guru thought it would be advisable to send Sadashiva on a pilgrimage-cum-study tour to visit holy places and places of commercial and historical importance, since free mobility of sanyasins would be restricted after the deeksha.

The visit would also provide for an indirect opportunity to meet the followers of the samsthan. Shri Swamiji arranged for the travel of Sadashiva with three responsible persons to accompany him.

Sadashiva toured the length and breadth of the country and saw for himself the greatness and glory of the his motherland. When he returned to Mulki, he felt that he was capable of shouldering any responsibility.

The deeksha ceremony was slated to take place for three days within the precincts of Shri Venkataramana Temple in Mulki, the main programme being on Wednesday, the 24th of May, 1944. Followers from all over the country started arriving and elaborate arrangements were made to look after the needs of devotees causing little inconvenience to any one. With all available means of conveyance, people started flocking in. All roads led to the temple in Mulki.

On the 23rd, leaving only a small tuft of six strands of hair, the head of the shishya was cleanly shaven as a part of the ritual. In the early hours of the 24th, the shishya, accompanied by the priests, walked down to the banks of the River Shambhavi to have the rituals completed and bathe in the river before taking to saffron clothes discarding the white ones he was wearing till then.

Followers and spectators thronged in large numbers on the bank of the river under the lines of coconut palms swaying majestically in the morning breeze. As the crowds watched in silence this once-in-a-lifetime event, the priests guided Sadashiva how to offer in the water, plucking the six hair strands one by one and then the sacred thread that he was wearing all along, symbolising the renunciation and and severing of all worldly connections. In ancient times, it is told that a person who desired to become a sanyasi had to pluck all his hair himself, but since it amounted to cruelty, only six strands are to plucked nowadays as a relic of the past ritual. The sacred thread which in fact has three threads, put on at the time of upanayanam is supposed supposed to be worn throughout our lives to remind that all of us are indebted to our parents for giving birth and rearing us up; to teachers and sages for giving us the treasure of jnana or knowledge and to the gods for making available free natural resources in plenty. The sacred thread symbolises that throughout our life we are in debt and that we owe a duty to the above three. A person who renounces the world alone can come out of this debt, that too after performing the proper rituals prescribed in the scriptures.

After bathing in the river, he came up to the bank followed by the priests and there he was given the saffron clothes to put on - a loin cloth to cover the loin and limbs, a long cloth to cover the shoulders and the chest and one more to cover the shaven head. He was given a staff (a purified bamboo stick) to hold, symbolising the spiritual authority and a pitcher to carry holy water - all features of a sanyasi.

The route from River Shambhavi to Shri Venkataramana Temple was colourfully decorated with leaves, twigs, flowers and coloured paper. There were arches and torans on the way. A huge procession started from the river bank with the newly born sanyasi as the centre of attraction. There was music, dance, fireworks and a jovial atmosphere. There were frequent joyous shouts of "Hail Shri Kashi Math Samsthan !", "Hail Shri Sukrateendra Thirtha Swami Guru Maharaj!", "Hail Shri Shishya Swami Guru Maharaj !"

The procession ended at the temple. The Guru warmly received the shishya at the math.

Exactly at 11:30 am, the most auspicious moment (Karkataka Lagnam), Guru Swamiji initiated the shishya into sanyas, revealing the sacred mantra to be chanted throughout the life and then named him, Shrimat Sudhindra Thirtha Swamiji.

Here inside the God's chamber, the Guru offered Aarti to the presiding deities of the math, Shri Vyasa Raghupati. As soon as he finished waving the Aarti, the shishya was asked to wave another aarti to the deities symbolising the continuity of the lineage. Thereafter both the Guru and Shishya Swamijis went to Shri Venkataramana Temple to have darshan of the deities, especially Lord Narasimha. There was a oracle for a brief period and then, on the beautifully decorated high thrones both the Swamijis sat down to give audience to the visitors, devotees and followers.

After the midday pooja to the deities of the temple and the samsthan, there was a feast for about 15,000 people with sumptuous and delicious dishes. After that the followers unfailingly made their offerings to the Swamijis in the the form of gold and money, cash and kind.

There was a night long celebration. The temple and the math both were illuminated and decorated by colourful electric lights. As a part of the celebrations, the decorated chariot of the temple carrying Shri Swamijis and the temple deity was drawn (Digvijay). Halfway, there was a grand exhibition of fireworks to the delight of all the devotees. The rest of the night, there was an utsav carrying the temple deity on a palanquin. The curtain came down only at dawn after the Guru Swamiji honoured the priests and vedic scholars that had participated in the deeksha ceremony.

It was a great event and a grand one too. For a long time it lingered in the minds of the people of Dakshina Kannada as a unique and memorable event.

<< Previous Chapter | A Happy Life >>