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A replica of Sri Ramanuja

An artist is the creator of beautiful things. The universe is beautiful. To reveal art and conceal the artist is the aim of art. The Veda does this. The Vedanta (Upanishad) reveals the artist. The 'seer' perceives it. The preceptor delivers this truth.

Sriman Sribhashyam Appalacharyulu is at once a seer and a preceptor. To the grammarian, linguist and author in him, both `Truth' and `Beauty' are identical concepts. He always finds beautiful meanings in beautiful things. He is a cultivated personality.

The epithet `Sribhashyam' is associated with Sri Ramanujacharya. How it became a surname?

Said Appalacharyulu: "My ancestors to the nearest forefathers had been the honourable clan of students tutored in `Sribhashyam' (commentary on the Badarayana Sutras known as `Brahma Sutras') under the able guidance of the descendants of the direct disciples of Sri Ramanuja. By teaching `Sribhashyam' since time immemorial, my ancestors had earned that title. It is now my surname. I was born in Padmanabham, a village came to be known by the deity atop the steep hill. My father, I am told, had performed the uphill task of circumambulating the hill many times praying for a son and he begot me. My father was equally devoted to the deity of Simhachalam, known as Appanna. I am thus Appalacharya.''

Weighed down not by age but by enormous and profound learning and scholarship, he is humble to a fault. Humility is his ornament.

``Yes, Ramayana is my forte. It might be a blessed coincidence: I was born on April 6, 1922 (Sri Rama Navami). Adikavi Valmiki's epic has become my heart and soul. It is a unique mix of aesthetics and ethics. A matchless classic, marvellous piece of poetry, a work of art, non pareil....,'' he told this scribe, uttering it as an inspired soul living in the inward sphere of things, effusing the qualities of originality, sincerity and genius.

When sought an enlightenment on Uttarakanda of the Ramayana, its authorship in the context of the abandonment of Sita, he asserted: "It is part of the Valmiki Ramayana. Without it, the number of slokas (totally 24,000) falls short by 2,000. It is history - music straight from the heart of Valmiki rendered in poetic excellence. It isn't fictitious.''

This writer stood speechless and was reminded of Gibbon, who started writing `The Decline and Fall of Roman Empire'' as history which ultimately took shape as a masterpiece of English literature.

Was Rama justified in being so heartless towards Sita?

``All things which we see or work within this earth are a kind of appearance. Under all, there lies the essence of a divine idea of the world, the ever-flowing 'elan vital' (creative force responsible for growth and evolution of living organisms) in the visible universe. `Raso vi saha', says the Upanishad. Life is larger than law (Dharma) and literature,'' the teacher of teachers (Mahamahopadhyaya) explained the esoteric import of the `divine idea' underneath these appearances.

``Dharma has several variants. Dharma of governance and Dharma of matrimony are not one and the same. Very often they run counter to one another and face rough weather. Rumour and public calumny make a ruler, coward. The wife of every great man more often than not suffers from this misery and bears this heavy cross. To sustain one, the other Dharma has to bow down. Sita alone knows this. To uphold the Dharmic majesty of Rama, she chose the altar of sacrifice and sought refuge in Mother Earth. Be positive. Discourse, not disputation, is my path.''

His commentary on the Ramayana is called `Tatva Deepika', but it excludes Uttarakanda. "It is not meant for daily recitation (paarayaanam),'' he clarified.

Annamayya saw every incarnation of God like Nrusimha, Rama and Krishna in Srinivasa of the Seven Hills. Appalacharyulu sees Srinivasa in Rama. He is inspired by the benedictional verse, "Ma Nishada'' of Valmiki and sees Srinivasa in between the lines of that couplet. Underneath the appearance of the Seven Hills he sees the `divine idea' in the seven kandas of the Ramayana. Playing on the sonic similarity of `ko' and `ka' in Telugu, he has titled his lectures as `Yedukondalu-Yedukandalu'. With his command over Upanishadic logic, he has proved that Rama was never conscious of his divine identity unto six kandas of the epic and he had emerged as `Narayana' in the seventh kanda only - this 'Narayana Tatva' he calls the `divine idea'. The seventh hill, Narayanadri, shrouds Lord Venkateswara from behind. The booklet of his lectures reveals his ingenious interpretative skill.

According to Valmiki, Rama immerses himself in the Sarayu. Appalacharyulu narrates that event as Rama's final and last dip in the ocean. Perhaps, he has departed from the text with a purpose to show that the soul of the ideal man - the best among men (Uttama Purusha) - has merged in the divine paramount (Purushottama).

Be it the Ramayana, the Tiruppavai or the songs (paasurams) of Alwars - Dravida Prabhandham - he excels in speaking extempore, reaching everyone learned and layperson alike. `Alwar' means one who is immersed in devotion (bhakti), according to him. Did Alwars interpret the Vedas? "No, but what they sang was found in the Vedic lore. Truth is the same, whether propounded by the Alwars or the Vedas. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was an illiterate, but what he spoke was an echo of the Upanishads.''

In the Vaishnavaite scriptural tradition, `Guru Parampara Prabhavam' in Tamil and `Prapannamrutam' in Sanskrit speak of `Nityasuris' - the permanent inhabitants of that `divine abode' (Vaikuntha dham) - and whenever commanded by the Lord, they descend from blue heavens to manifest the `divine idea' to every new generation in a new dialect. Every limb of this Mahamahopadhyaya, the master exponent of the Ramayana, is resonant with the ever-vibrant chant: `Rama Rama'. He must be one such Nityasuri.

Degrees, diplomas, positions, accolades and honours are legion for Appalacharyulu. Study is a mere pretext. Spiritual knowledge and literary scholarship are his heritage. These titles have been honoured by his acceptance. They can never measure up to the heights of his erudition and spiritual insight.

``I never saw God,'' muttered Maxim Gorky after coming out of the hermitage of Count Leo Tolstoy, in a trance, like Moses coming out of Mount Sinai, baffled at the dazzling brilliance of the light he saw and the boom of the voice he heard. "If there is a God,'' Gorky proclaimed, "he must be like the Count.''

None among us could have seen Sri Ramanuja at this distance of centuries. But he must have been like Appalacharyulu!

A cat is known for emptying milk vessels by stealth. If it is thrown before a milky ocean, dismayed it gapes and blinks at it not knowing what to do. This writer is in such a predicament. Writing about this Titan is a blissful experience that defies description.

Sriman Sribhashyam Appalacharyulu turns 82 on this Sri Rama Navami. The effulgence of a thousand 'Ramachandras' (moons) is illuminating his face, shedding not the splendour of fire but a mild celestial radiance. A noble spectacle indeed!


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