Guru Charitra – Sri Narasimha Bharati Swamiji

Sri Sringeri Guru Charitra

Sri Narasimha Bharati VIII – 32nd Acharya


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In this series, we present to the readers, the exalted history of the recent Acharyas of the Sri Sringeri Sharada Peetham, starting with that of Sri Narasimha Bharati Swamigal, the 32nd Acharya.

Sri Narasimha Bharati, the 32nd Acharya, was born in 1798. He became a great yogi through intense meditation and perseverance. He spent over 40 years in Vijaya Yatras. His own personal wants were very few; but he ensured that those who followed never felt any of the privations of travels. Even as a boy, he walked all the way to Kasi to learn the sastras from learned pandits.

After assuming the headship of the matha, the Acharya strenuously applied himself to securing high proficiency in several branches of learning, besides mastering details of the administration of the matha. In the affairs of samstanam, he brought order where there was confusion.

Firmness of Character

He conquered hunger and sleep. When he was hardly fifty years of age, he gave up his normal food, and subsisted on a handful of boiled pagel (Momordica charantia). He spent practically the whole day in meditation and pooja.

While he was in Bangalore in 1858, Commissioner Bowring, who had heard of the austere and godly life of Acharya, wished to see for himself the truth of the reports. One day at 1 am, he went incognito to the Archarya’s camp and slightly drew aside the curtain infront of the pooja hall. Oblivious of what was happening around, and with his head bent down, the Acharya was offering flowers to Sri Chandramoulisvara. The Commissioner contemplated on the spectacle with reverence and wonder. His letters to Acharya are eloquent expressions of his esteem.

The Acharya was proficient in Telugu, Kannada, Marathi & Hindi and it is needless to mention his mastery of Sanskrit. This made it to easy for people all over India to approach him with their personal problems and receive his guidance.

He possessed an indomitable will. Never aggressive, never impatient, he gently set about working towards until his purpose was accomplished. From constant meditation on God Narasimha his temperament assumed a character of sublimity and he struck awe and reverence in the minds of those who approached him. His heart, however, was very tender and would easily melt at the sign of distress.

A few instances of the Acharya’s trait of firmness and purposefulness maybe recalled. In the course of his northern tour he approached Nagpur, The Bhosle Raja, who had plunged in luxury and idleness, showed disrespect to the matha. Though the Acharya had little regard for personal show and prestige he could not put up with an affront to the matha he represented. He fixed his camp in Kampti and stayed there for several months at considerable expense to the matha, awaiting the time when the Raja would show penitence. During this time, The Raja met with unexpected troubles, and realizing it was all due his misconduct towards the sage, walked to the Acharya’s camp, sought his pardon and escorted him to his capital.

Erring Priests

In 1833 the Acharya went to a tour to Ramesvaram and halted in the third corridor of the great temple of Ramanatha. There are several wells around the inner shrine, chief of which is known as Koti–tirtha. A certain class of priests had constituted themselves as custodians of Koti-tirtha and had it under lock and key. They levied a small fee on all who come to bath in the water of the well. The Acharya wanted to break the tyrannous custom. He went to another well to the south of the inner shrine, known as Sarva-tirtha and concluded his ablutions with the water from this well. He said to the people assembled that henceforth it will be enough for pilgrims to conclude with the water of Sarva-tirtha. From this time onwards the Koti-tirtha was forsaken by pilgrims and it became filthy and unsanitary.

In 1872 in the course of the second tour in the southern districts, the Acharya came to Madura. There the erring priests came to him in a representative body and implored him to forgive them for their insolence. The Acharya accordingly went to Ramesvaram in 1873, caused the Koti-tirtha to be drained and pouring sanctified water from his pitcher into the well declared that the Koti-tirtha had now become purified. The crowning act of the pilgrims should be a bath with the water of the well. From that time the Koti-tirtha was restored to its original position.

Another instance of similar nature occurred at Madurai. The Acharya with his young disciple was putting up at the Kalyana Mantapa of the famous temple of Meenakshi. The young disciple wanted one day to enter the inner most shrine and worship the deity. But the officiating priests of the temple would not allow him inside the temple. The Acharya went to the temple one day and ordered two coconuts to be brought. By pronouncing certain mantras, he transferred the Sakti of the Goddess to the coconuts and declared to the thousands assembled at the spot that he taking the Goddess to the Matha. He said that it would be sufficient for the devotes who came to worship in the temple to offer coconuts, fruits and flowers, and wave the camphor-light at the threshold itself before altar. The bhattars (priests) were deprived of the income from the divine service they used to offer on behalf of the visitors.  After months of privation and suffering they came to their senses and sought pardon. The Acharya who was sojourning in the district, came once more to Madura at their request and after transferring back the Sakti, declared that henceforth people might dedicate their offerings in the customary way.

Krishna Raja Wadeyar III

Maharaja Krishna Raja Wadeyar invited the Acharya to Mysore. The visit took place in 1828, and in honor of the event, the Maharaja made a number of land grants. He issued several orders to exempt articles brought to the Matha from taxes and to enforce the disciplinary action taken by the Matha against wrong doers. Palace servants were brought under jurisdiction of the Matha in the matter of acharyavichara.

He further confirmed the right of the Matha to annex the property of disciples who died without heirs, subject to a limit; and if the value exceeded the limit, the permission of the government had to be obtained. An order issued in 1826 modified the prevailing practice of including fallen women of the families of disciples under the custody of the Government and directed that these unfortunate women should be handled over to the Matha to be reclaimed and reformed. This is an event of tremendous social importance. Civil suits, such as those relating to partitions of property among the disciples, were referred to the Matha.

Alleging the dubious grounds of misrule against the Maharaja, the Governor –General placed Mysore under the administration of British Commissioners (1831).The Commissioners, however, took a very helpful and sympathetic interest in the affairs of Sringeri. It was declared in 1837-8 that no appeal would lie to Government against orders passed by the matha, and also decided that revenue returns need not be submitted to Government by the authorities of the samsthanam. The matha could freely exercise its time-honoured privileges, such as exemptions from taxes, enforcement of law and order within its limits and the right to inquire into civil suits.

Royal Dynasty of Mysore

There has been from a long time close and cordial relationship between the Royal dynasty of Mysore and Swamin’s of Sringeri. Successive kings of Mysore were privileged to be the disciples of Sringeri seat of religion and learning. Nearly a century ago his Highness Sri Mummadi Krisharaja Wadeyar Bahadur accorded aa grand reception to Sri Narasimha Bharati Swami of Sringeri Matha and presented to him a valuable crown. He also dedicated a precious ornament (Nagabharana) to God Chandramoulisvara of Sringeri. He had the good fortune of learning Shiva Gita at the hands of the Swamin who, on account of his spiritual powers, was known as “Ugraswami” – Sri J Wadeyar, Maharaja of Mysore.

Northern Tour

Soon after Mysore was taken under British administration, the Acharya went on a long tour of pilgrimage to the north. The Collector welcomed the Acharya at Dharwar, and provided with considerable escort during his pilgrimage to Nasik, Dwaraka, Kurukshetra, Kashi, Badarikasrama, Jagannath etc, The Acharya’s progress through the north Indian States was marked by demonstrations of respect and devotion.

When the Acharya returned to Sringeri after his northern tour, he was 60 years old, it occurred to him that he should nominate his successor and give him suitable training.  At last fixing his mind upon a promising boy, he came to Mysore. The boy, Sivasvami, was admitted into the sannyasa asrama under the name of Sri Sacchidananda Sivabhinava Narasimha Bharati. The formal installation of the junior Acharya was attended by the Maharaja and the Chief Commissioner.

Second Tour Of the South

The Jagadguru and young Swami then started on another extended tour, which lasted for 12 years. The Mysore, Madras and India governments had made proper arrangements for the reception of the Acharyas and provided escort suitable to their position. In a memorandum Commissioner Bowring desired all officers to provide the Guru all requisite aid and direct his subordinates to receive them with deserving attention.

He further said that “the Guru as the Head of the Smartha Faith has always been treated with peculiar honors enjoyed by no other spiritual preceptor…It may be said that his influence is far greater that that of any Hindu Spiritual Guide in India, and it is for this reason that he is regarded with such unlimited respect… The Guru Narasimha Bharati is a venerable old man of 72, who has been a great traveller and has a considerable reputation of being a scholar. He is deservedly respected, being very unassuming in manner and having a well established character for benevolence and wisdom.”

During these 12 years, the Jagadguru had made all arrangements for the suitable training of his successor. He returned to Sringeri in 1877 and entered mahasamadhi in 1879. Before he cast off his mortal body, he had in mind a pilgrimage to the shrine of Sri Mahabalesvara in Gokarna. At the time of his passing away, he was heard to murmur, “Get the palanquin ready so that I may hasten to the feet of Lord Mahabalesvara.” A little later he murmured again, “How clever are our bearers; they have taken me to Gokarna and back in such a short time.” Mark the coincidence. Just at that hour, the agent of the Sringeri samsthanam in Gorkarna saw in a dream-vision the Jagadguru entering the shrine and offering worship. Is there anything that a Yogin cannot do, whose mind is one with the Cosmic mind?

The period covered by this chapter witnessed wars, mutinies, the rise and fall of States, depredations and famines. In such a period, Muslim rulers hailed the Sringeri guru as their savior and guide. Hindu rulers called themselves as their chief disciples and hastened to offer their worship. Indian States and British Provinces supplied biradaries of silledars. All these are certainly a measure of the extraordinary prestige of the Guru which was acknowledge all over India. This is not, however, the whole picture. Millions of humble folk got the opportunity of seeing the great Guru, and felt their lives sanctified.

Article excerpted from : The Greatness of Sringeri, A Sringeri Sarada Peetham Publication

Transcribed by : Vijay Kompalli

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