Saloon lessons

As I was offered a seat in a revolving chair one Wednesday early morning, I was reminded of my age-old working days in an IT company even as I was gazing at the mirror in front of me. The chair would have been high enough for a project manager to oversee his team leaders and team members working. But now I was alone and was about to be worked upon. ‘Hhhmmm’, began Chakrapani, the veteran old man,  trying to find his voice after gulping down a cup of coffee. ‘Kaapi saapidareengala aiya?’ he showed his hospitality as he would do every time I went to him. I politely refused his offer thinking if there was really enough left in the flask in his hand.

‘Mithuna raasi kaarargale’, beamed the astrologer in the television set who appears daily with a serene and smiling face raising the hopes of a million viewers perhaps, but with the same set of messages, yet carefully managing not to repeat the same on the following day. He also recommends a place of worship and a specific God to offer a puja for each astrological sign thereby raising the commercial prospects of the respective temples and their priests as well. ‘Tlick tlick’ went on the scissors in Chakrapani’s hand targeting the two month old beard that had spread wildly on my countenance. ‘Simha raasi kaarargale’, continued the astrologer after a commercial break filled with advertisements on undergarments during spiritual prime hours. Dropping his scissors suddenly and raising the TV volume with the remote, Chakrapani went in to a samadhi in with his eyes and ears wide open. When the astrologer harped on to wish the kanni raasikkaarargal, the TV’s volume was reduced a bit and Chakrapani’s went high. ‘Jayalalitha voda nakshatram thaan ennodathum – magam nakshatram simha rasi.

He then began his lessons on astrology to his only obedient student for the hour, who without much choice had to stay calm without any movement. The potential risk in being otherwise was too much. Chakrapani was one of the few hair dressers of the previous generation who partially met the requirements of vaidika customers, either in form only, or in function as well. Being in the form-er group, I was one of his regular clients. ‘Josyam theriyuma?’. I wondered how the daily repeated morning doses of astrology in various channels can make anybody an expert. All that one needs is patient and attentive hearing.  I said am not too much interested. ‘Enna raasi?’. ‘Kumba raasi’, I replied. ‘Poorattadhiya?’ he guessed my star with a masterly skill. ‘Romba nalla raasi. ithellaam pothu palan, kodiyila orutharukku thaan balikkum. avanga avanga jathakam eduthukittu poi kekkanum’. ‘nadakkarathu thaan nadakkum. Jnayitrukkizhamai varavendiya nee innaikku thaan vanthirukka. Innaikku thaan varanumnu vithichirukku. Yaaralayum maaththamudiyaathu’. He revealed his ideology of fatalism in life.

Finding a date for kshavaram is an arduous task for functional vaidikas. Even if one is a vaidika by form only, as I am, one has to be carefully away from the sight of other vaidikas as there is a chance of being confronted with expressions like ‘innaikku ashtami aache!’ etc when it is done on prohibited days. Sunday was a prathamai tithi and so I decided to go on Wednesday instead. But I had already informed Chakrapani that I would come on Sunday without verifying the tithi. Chakrapani had a good memory and he promptly quoted that as a testimony for his principle on fatalism in life. The Vedantin in me was rushing to talk about the individual will and a possibility to change one’s fate or karma with efforts but then he had a knife in his hand and I had a fear for my life in my mind.

‘Saami’ went on Chakrapani, ‘avanga avanga uzhaichu saapidanum. thaanam vaanga koodathu. namma uzhaichu aduthavangalukku kodukkanum. ithu thaan en kolgai vaazhkaila’. He recounted with pride how he had refused earlier two or three plates of food that was offered to him by autorickshaw drivers on the day or aruvathumoovar festival that just got over. Aruvathumoovar festival draws a huge crowd every year and leaves the roads badly crowded with half eaten food plates and crushed plastic cups with so many people eating to their capacity whatever is offered in the way. The auto drivers religiously collect money from their customers and feed the passers by with a sense of self-less (sponsored by others) social service. ‘Ethukku naan athai vaangi saapidanum. vendamnu sollitten. Naan uzhaichu paisa koduthu thaan saapiduven’. He then went on to criticize those people who subsisted on such offerings.

‘unga aalungale sai baba koil munnadi kothudathelaam vaangi saapidaraangale. nyayama? pillai kutti illayo illa ennnanu theriyala. irunthaalum ethukku antha maathiri seyyanum?’. This question slapped me on the face as I have always kept worrying about the growing number of old parents being left behind by their sons and daughters who proudly work for other countries and have settled down with colorful cards as their identities. Not all parents are fortunate enough to be capable of living on their own without stress though being supported financially. And there are others who earn and live in this country yet neglect their aged parents.

What is the community doing for this segment of people? The sight of an old Srivaishnavite, with bright urdhvapundram and clad in panchakacham, knocking the closed windows of cars and begging at the signals of C.P.Ramaswamy road on a daily basis brings restlessness in my mind. But then I distract myself with the thought about my helplessness to this bigger social evil that is staring at all of us! Well the problem could be on either sides – neglected kids go on to neglect their aged parents. What are we doing as a society to take care of the neglected elderly? Does every old person have the capability and vairagya like that of Chakrapani?

Dr. Sreeram Jaganathan

Research article on Lord Vamana

In the year 2005, I presented a research paper on Lord Vamana in a 2 day National Seminar on “LORD VAAMANA in Art, Literature, & Religion” held at Mysore during 23-24 March 2015. The paper was titled “Lord Vamana in the Bhagavata Purana”. This paper brings out the meaning of the word Vamana – it does not mean a dwarf – and also details how the Bhagavata Purana glorifies the avatara as such. The link to the paper is as below:


My association with the Madurantakam Patashala

by Dr.Sreeram Jaganathan

It was an afternoon sometime during the beginning of December 2012 I got a call from Sri Dr.S.Padmanabhan, the present Srikaryam of Sri Ahobila mutt and the HOD, Department of Sanskrit, University of Madras, ‘Sreeram! Can you come to the department?’. When the call came I was at home, sitting on a bench, contemplating on my decision to have quit an engagement a day before, which was my only source of financial support, due to some difference of opinion. The support was all the more important as I had earlier quit a 10-year old (or young!?) career in Banking and IT industry in the year 2009, and with utmost temerity (personally to me it was divine grace), plunged in to the study of MA Sanskrit (full time) from the Department of Sanskrit, University of Madras, subsisting on meagre personal savings, supported by parents and spouse. I had completed M.Phil in October 2012, guided by Sri Dr.S.Padmanabhan. My temerity to quit TCS in 2009, (I had a daughter who was studying LKG then) had already raised the eye brows of near and dear and it was promptly termed madness, the effect of Saturn and what not! And now this happened and I was sulking.

‘Sreeram! This is Sri D.P.Kannan, Secretary of the Patashala at Madurantakam. The Patashala needs a teacher for English. They are not able to find a full-time teacher. Can you help them as a part time teacher with your knowledge in the language?’ asked my Acharya, Sri Dr.S.Padmanabhan. SriDr.D.P.Kannan, to whom I had been introduced earlier and who knew my background added,’The post has been lying vacant for quite some time. Yesterday as I was performing evening Sandhya, I was thinking about a suitable candidate and all of a sudden, your face flashed. So I just came to the department to seek Swami’s (Sri Dr.Padmanabhan’s) approval. Are you interested? It is a part time engagement and you will have all the flexibility’. My joy knew no bounds as my sulking was heard by Krishna, the Paramatma. He was answering through Sri Dr.Kannan.

The day Sri Dr.Kannan took me to the Patashala and introduced me to the Principal Dr.Varadagopalakrishnan, I was feeling quite at home and wondering at the turnout of events in my life. The Principal was too happy at my joining and was ecstatic in introducing me to other teachers of the Patashala. From then on it became a routine to take the 6-hour journey (3 hours one-way) to the Patashala for at least two days a week from Chennai. It was a refreshing experience to interact with the young minds, brilliant by nature, but were intimidated by the foreign language. Their own family background and the special emphasis of the Patashala system on traditional education added to their woes with English. I had a huge challenge before me! Though I began to teach them the fundamentals of the language besides their syllabus, I soon understood that it was not an easy task to continue with the basics as my own time was limited and I had a mandate on hand – to complete the syllabus in time!

During the long bus trips to the Patashala, I would think about the grace of Paramatma that was behind the turn of events in my life, who had quit a lucrative job that came along with a lot of chances to get assignments in different foreign countries on long term bases. Before I quit, I lived in the Netherlands for nearly two years working for an assignment with ABN AMRO Bank through TCS. What a transformation this caterpillar had undergone to become a butterfly that was free from the bounds of corporate cocoon. I had changed completely both inwardly and outwardly!

Dr Sreeram Before and After Transforming
While working as a corporate employee at Amsterdam, Netherlands (in 2008). Right: While teaching English in the Patashala at Madurantakam (in 2013)

I learned from my extended family that my Grandfather’s maternal uncle, Sri.U.Ve. Putcheri Duraisamy Iyengar was the Veda vadhyar in the early 20th century at Madurantakam. Also, another ancestor of mine has served as a Tamil Pandit at a school in Madurantakam. But for these two tangential connections I had no other connection to boast of whatsoever. Perhaps their grace also played a role in my association with the Patashala, which was not even a dream in life until then. Parallelly I had registered for the Ph.D (Sanskrit) and managed to complete it in 2017.

At the Patashala I had the fortune to learn the basics of the traditional sastras from its brilliant teachers. I would go early sometimes to sit along with the students and listen to their classes. Sometimes the teachers would teach me in private also, to which I am grateful to them. I am especially indebted to Sri Sudarshan, Tarka vadhyar, who taught (has been teaching) me the basics of Tarka. I used to spend a lot of time with him asking many questions and engaging him in discussions. I would sit in the classes of Sri Dr.Lakshmi Narasimhan (famously known as Sri Needamangalam) sometimes and enjoy his teachings of Nyaya.

It is a pity that I am not able to continue with the assignment any longer. I had quit it in November 2017. With the birth of our son in December 2016, life has brought in additional responsibilities that demand my physical presence in Chennai. My own teaching activities in Chennai have increased which is also a reason for the inability to continue with the assignment. I am looking forward to visit the Patashala at least once a month and give motivational lectures to the students.

To conclude this almost an autobiographical note, I would like to exhort my most esteemed Srivaishnava community to ponder the following request. We should all come together, keeping aside our trivial internal differences, to revive this excellent Patashala model of our traditional education. For the sampradaya to flourish further, it is not merely enough if we build new shrines and consecrate newer idols of Perumal and Acharyas. We should focus on reviving the traditional methods of learning. There was a time when we did not have enough means to make our ends meet and so a generation or two or three even had to deviate from tradition and take up western education and occupation. Today the financial status of the society as a whole is quite conducive to let our children do the experiment of taking up studies in sastras and perhaps combine it with advance study in Science to make it more appealing to the modern times. Time and tide are now definitely in our favour.

There should be a blend of both traditional and modern approaches and we should lend our support by not only contributing money but also participating physically. At least some of us who have earned enough money in life should be able to get released from the confinements of corporate world and look at options of keeping this system afloat by engaging in a serious manner. It is already under severe threat as there are not many students who enrol in the Patashalas and every year the number of students is decreasing. It is facing a bleak future. Unless we do something to revive it and look at it as an excellent way of alternative education system and engage, we are at a risk of losing something very valuable.


मधुरान्तककान्ताय सीतायै लक्ष्मणाय च ।

करुणाकरदेवाय परिकराय मङ्गलम् ।।

मङ्गलं पाठशालायै भद्रसिंहाय मङ्गलम् ।

तथैवाध्यापकेभ्यश्च शिष्येभ्यश्चापि मङ्गलम् ॥

।। शुभं भूयात् ।।