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Guru’s Darshan – Renunciation – Head of Kamakoti

In the year of Vishwavasu (1906), young Swaminathan’s father, Sri Subramania
Sastrigal took his family with him to obtain the darshan of then Sankaracharya, Sri
Chandrashekarendra Saraswathi, and the 66th Peetadhipathi of the Kanchi Kamakoti
Peetam. He was camping in a small town called Perumukkal, near Tindivnam. The
Acharya, while performing his nithya puja, bestowed his benevolent grace upon young
Swaminathan. After the conclusion of the puja, the Swamigal spoke to Sri Subramania
Shastrigal and made kind enquiries about his family. Perhaps he saw in this boy, a worthy
successor to himself who was fit to adorn the Kamakoti Peetam. The events that unfolded
after this first meeting make us wonder whether the Swamigal had made the decision at
that moment itself.
Sri Subramania Shastrigal and his family stayed on in Perumukkal for two days to
get the benefit of Swamigal’s continued darshan. During this occasion, the Acharya
interacted closely with young Swaminathan and asked him many questions. Pleased with
the young boy’s brilliance and attractive personality, Sri Acharya was heard commenting:
“He will turn out to be a Maha Purusha.” Hearing this, his father’s pleasure new no
bounds. However, he had absolutely no inkling that his 13 year old son would be leaving
him and his family soon to obtain sannyas. He took leave from the Acharya and returned
to Tindivanam where he was stationed for work. The Acharya had, meanwhile, requested
Sri Subramania Shastrigal to bring Swaminathan frequently to the mutt. As per his
request, Shastrigal took his son several times to get Acharya’s darshan. During these
frequent meetings, the grace of the Guru started flowing in full abundance over young
One day, Swaminathan was found missing from his house in Tindivanam. His
parents were very anxious and they searched everywhere including wells and ponds in
the vicinity. But he was nowhere to be found. His parents were beside themselves with
anxiety, unable to eat or sleep. Two days later, a messenger came from the Acharya’s
camp which was five miles away. He conveyed the news that Swaminathan had come
there for the Acharya’s darshan on his own, and he was safe. He added that the Acharya
had sent him to convey this message to the parents. One cannot measure the relief and
happiness of his parents and friends on hearing the news. Swaminathan was sent home
from the mutt two days later.

Renunciation - Pontification

In the first week of February in 1907, Sri Subramania Shastrigal’s house received
a telegram from the Sri Mutt camp. The telegram requested Shastrigal to come to the
mutt immediately and to Swaminathan. However, Sri Subramania Shastrigal had gone to
Tiruchi on official work at that time. Assuming that the Acharya must have summoned
him for some important purpose, Sri Subramania Shastrigal’s friends arranged for
Swaminathan to travel by steam engine to Kanchipuram. The Acharya was camped at
Kalavai, which was 30 miles from Kanchipuram, the mutt officials, without divulging
any information to Swaminathan’s mother, immediately took Swaminathan in a separate
horse cart, and headed straight out to Kalavai.
At the time that the telegram was sent to Tindivanam, the Acharya Swamiji’s
health was in decline. Believing that his time was limited, the Acharya had sent the
summons to Tindivanam with the intention of installing Swaminathan as the next
Acharya. However, the 66th Acharya unexpectedly attained siddhi on Maha Krishna
Ashatami in the Prabhava year, well before Swaminathan’s arrival. Before attaining
siddhi, he initiated an 18 year old brahmachari, Sri Lakshmikanthan, who was well
versed in Rig Veda and was staying in the mutt, serving him as his sishya. It is the
tradition of the Kamakoti Acharya Parampara that they are Rig Vedics who take sannyas
from the brahmacharya ashram itself. The 67th Acharya adorned the Sri Kamakoti Peetam
for seven days. Having served his Guru during his illness, he unexpectedly contracted the
illness as well and attained siddhi after seven days. Before attaining siddhi, in accordance
with his Guru’s wishes, he took a mental sankalpa, appointing young Swaminathan as the
next Peetathipathi.
Swaminathan was later formally initiated into the sannyas ashram. This holy
event took place on the second Wednesday of the lunar month of Maasi, in the Prabhava
year (February 13, 1907) when he was just 13 years old. He took the name of Sri
Chandrashekarendra Saraswathi and became the 68th Shankaracharya to grace the Sri
Kamakoti Peetam.
An incident happened before Swamigal took sannyas which was an unforgettable
and heart warming in nature. It is not an ordinary task to take upon one self the discipline
of an ascetic with restrictions on food, rigors of religious schedule, daily pujas and
meditation at such an early age of 13. The mother and father could not bear to let their
most lovable son take up grueling lifestyle of a sannyasi nor could they bear to part him.
On the other hand, the mutt’s administrators were persuading them to give their
permission saying “When you have three other sons, what is your hesitation to give up
one son for the sake of goodness of this world and to bless the devotees and followers of
this mutt?” They were perturbed and could not come to a conclusion immediately. At this
time, Swaminathan prostrated to them and politely said “Please do not hesitate. I have the
complete blessing of my Gurunathar and I will preserve this. Please give your
permissions whole heartedly”. There is no doubt that his words melted his parents’ hearts
and made them give their approval for the change, but never saw him again.
Swaminathan who was transformed to appear like Adi Sankara with shaved head,
kamandalu, saffron robes and staff, was never seen by his parents. Traditionally, relatives
keep their distances from sannyasis as they are required to give up all emotional
attachments. We wonder if our swamigal’s parents were proud of their son for taking up
the task of eradicating the sorrows of the people of this world or if they were miserable
that they cannot see their own son while the rest of the world praises and adores him. But
one thing was certain. In future, whenever somebody came up to them and enquired
about Swamigal, both of them maintained silence.

An excerpt of how he became the 68th pontiff was best told by Acharya himself and
published in Bhavan’s Journal, Bombay:
“ In the beginning of the year 1907, when I was studying in a Christian Mission
School at Tindivanam, a town in South Arcot District, I heard one day that the
Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam who was amidst us in our town in the
previous year, attained siddhi at Kalavai, a village about 10 miles from Arcot and 25
miles from Kanchipuram. Information was received that a maternal cousin of mine who,
after some study in Rig Veda, had joined the camp of the Acharya offering his services to
him, was installed on the Peetam.”
“He was the only son of the widowed and destitute sister of my mother and there
was not a soul in the soul in the camp to console her. At this juncture, my father who was
a supervisor of schools in the Tindivanam taluk, planned to proceed with his family to
Kalavai, some 60 miles from Tindivanam, in his own bullock cart. But on account of an
educational conference at Tiruchirapalli, he cancelled the programme.”
“My mother with myself and other children started to Kalavai to console her
sister on her son assuming sannyas ashram. We traveled by rail to Kanchipuram, and
halted at Sankaracharya mutt there. I had my ablutions at the Kumara-koshta Tirtha. A
carriage of the Mutt had come there from Kalavai with persons to buy articles for the
Maha Pooja on the 10th day after the passing away of the late Acharya Paramaguru. But
one of them, a hereditary Maistri of the mutt, asked me to accompany him. A separate
cart was engaged for the rest of the family to follow me.”
“During our journey, the maistri hinted to me that I might not return home and
that the rest of my life might have to be spent in the mutt itself. At first I thought that my
elder cousin having become the head of the mutt, it might have been his wish that I was
to live with him. I was then only 13 years of age and so I wondered as to what use I might
be to him in the institution.”
“But the maistri gradually began to clarify as miles rolled on, that the Acharya,
my cousin in the poorvashram had fever which developed into delirium and that was why
I was being separated from the family to be quickly taken to Kalavai. He told me that he
was commissioned to go to Tindivanam and fetch me, but he was able to meet me at
Kanchipuram itself. I was stunned by this unexpected turn of events. I lay in a kneeling
posture in the cart itself, shocked as I was, repeating Rama Rama, the only spiritual
prayer I knew, during the rest of the journey.”
“My mother and the other children came some time later only to find that instead
of her mission of consoling her sister, she herself was placed in the state of having to be
consoled by someone else.”
“My robes of sannyas were not the result of any renunciation on my part, nor had
I the advantage of living under a Guru for any length of time. I was surrounded from the
very first day of sannyas by all the comforts and responsibilities of a gorgeous court.”