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!
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 ।।