Thursday, September 15, 2005

Devudu the sthitaprajna

I read an anecdote pertaining to a great man, Sri Devudu Narasimha Shastry, on my way to work today. One such moment in the day will really make your day. Though it was not a feel good story, it drove home the essential nature of human life and how one must conduct oneself in difficult situations.

Late Sri Narasimha Shastry is well known in Kannada literary circles. His "maha.." trilogy of novels (about Nahusha, Vishwamitra and Yajnavalkya) is just awe-inspiring. His other novels like Mayura are still popular. He was also a short story writer. He had a strong background in mImAMsa and Vedanta and great command over Kannada and Samskrita languages. All these make their presence clearly felt in his works. His wisdom reaches his readers through his noble characters. He has also translated the Yoga vAsiShTha into Kannada (a book that I really would like to read) - but that seems to be out of print for now.

Certain situations in his novels depict the mental state and experiences of the meditator (e.g Vishwamitra). Only a person that had had such an experience would be able to write as authoritatively and as vividly as Sri Shastry. It seems from his works that Sri Shastry was an adept in several Vedic upAsanAs. The incident I read this morning also shows that Sri Shastry had not only the intellectual understanding of these great works but had managed to live a life entirely based on those principles.

A crude gist of the anecdote follows (for a better read look at Sri. TV Venkatachala Shastry's udAracharitaru udAttaprasaMgagaLu - a wonderful book I mentioned in my yesterday's Kannada blog as well or better still - read Sri. Narasimha Shastry's biography).

Sri. Devudu and his wife had been invited to Udupi for a lecture on the BhagavadgItA. They took along a friend, Sri Krishna Shastry, with them. Just before the lecture, Sri Devudu received a telegram. He then requested the organizers for urgent transport to Kadur after the lecture. When asked about the contents of the telegram, Sri Devudu mentioned that it was about a publication and that his publishers wanted him in Bangalore as soon as possible.

The lecture began and was delivered most eloquently by Sri Devudu. His wife was also impressed. She felt that that particular lecture was the best he had delivered on the subject. After the lecture, all of them went to Bangalore and Sri Devudu then broke the real news to Sri Krishna Shastry. It turned out that Sri Devudu's eldest son had passed away all of a sudden and that news had been conveyed in the telegram. Sri Krishna Shastry was horrified at the news. This man seemed to be telling this news with this calm air about him and this was the kind of news that could break anybody's mind. Sri Krishna Shastry then asked Sri Devudu how he was able to deliver that phenomenal lecture knowing well that his son was no more.

Sri Devudu replied that he had given himself the gItopadesha. He had reflected upon "sarvadharmAn parityajya mAmekaM sharaNaM vraja" and other shlokas which the gItA is a treasure-trove of. He had also reflected upon how a sthitaprajna (a man of equaninmity) would conduct himself. He just did those as expounded by BhagavAn in the gItA. If Sri Devudu had mentioned the real reason to the organizers, it would have spoilt the efforts of all of the organizers. He decided to go ahead with the lecture

Sri Devudu then got Sri Krishna Shastry to inform his wife of the bad news. The mother of the deceased son fainted on hearing that and became inconsolable. The parents could not be even present for their son's last rites!

A man of such equanimity as glorified in the gItA was in our midst in flesh and blood! I feel honoured for living in the same city as such a great soul.

I hope none of us get to experience situations like these. But I am sure that it must be after looking at such great men that the following subhAShitas were composed.

vajrAdapi kaThorANi mRudUni kusumAdapi
lokottarANAm chetAMsi ko hi vijnAtumarhati

(The minds of great souls can be softer than flowers and harder than diamonds. Who can indeed fathom those great souls?)

saMpatsu mahatAM chittaM bhavatyutpala komalam
Apatsu cha mahAshailashilAsaMghAtakarkasham (bhartRhari's nItishataka)

(In times of happiness, the minds of the great are as soft as flowers. But in times of distress, they can be as hard as the boulders of a great mountain)

The hardness of minds in times of distress is similar to what Arjuna had when he had to kill even his grandfather BhIShma. It is similar to Lord Krishna's state of mind when his Yadava kinsmen were killing themselves in a spate of unfortunate violence. For softness of minds, we can think of Lord Krishna's grace when He decided to accept Vidura's hospitality and that of Lord Rama when He accepted Shabari's.

Some comment on the net has interpreted the latter shloka in the above pair as not so felicitous. I feel that his interpretation is not in order.

We must be thankful for the inspiring presence of such great people as Sri Devudu and such great works as the nItishatakaM in our midst, even if it is just in our minds.

sarve janAH sukhino bhavantu


Vinay Murthy said...

Shri Belagere Krishna Shastry (the one mentioned in your story) himself is a great example of a sthithapragna if you look at his life.

He has recalled this instance in both his book - Sahithigala Smrithi and his talk on the same book in Gokhale institute. The narration is heart wrenching.

Incidentally the lecture was on the characteristics of sthithapragna and devudu apparently said - "If I don't show the signs for a few moments, then what is the point of lecturing".

Great people.

Pooja P said...

Read the translation of Sri Devudu's novel "The glory of the Gayathri" a few years ago. Was impressed a lot by it. Now reading about it strikes a chord that indeed a person who could experience the trails of koushika (from being a kshatriya to finally reaching siddhi) could only write such a brilliant novel.
Thank you for this anecdote. Has filled richness to his memory.

naveen kumar said...

Dear sirs,

Had a chance to look at your blog while google-ing about shri.Devudu. Would there be any chance to get the contact info of DEVUDU PRATISTHANA?

Awaiting to hear from you.

Naveen (