Obituary: Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati

Swaminathan (Chandrasekharendra Saraswati), philosopher and spiritual leader: born Viluppuram, Tamil Nadu 20 May 1894; died Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu 8 January 1994.

A REVERED philosopher and spiritual leader, Chandrasekharendra Saraswati was Hinduism's greatest scholar. He made a unique contribution to the preservation and study of its texts and its code of moral law. For the past 87 years he had presided as the 68th Acharaya, , or pontiff, in succession at the math (monastery) at Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham, near Madras. He was widely known as the Sage, or the Jagadguru, of Kanchi.

Sri Saraswati set out to teach the truth of non-duality expounded by the philosopher Adi Shankara, who had founded the math at Kanchi, and four others like it, in the eighth century. Saraswati taught by precept and example that men should realise the need for preserving and augmenting the culture of the spirit. His was a life of purity and wisdom which sanctified those who met him and many millions who have read his works. He had followers throughout the world.

The Argentinian scholar Eugina Borghini wrote of him that he lived 'like Jesus, homeless and devoted to a life of renunciation, with his contemplation, worship, penance and teachings, working for the welfare of mankind'. To the writer Paul Brunton 'His noble face . . . might have belonged to one of the saints who graced the Christian Church during the Middle Ages, except that this one possesses the added quality of intellectuality.'

He was born in 1894 at Viluppuram, about 100 miles south of Madras, and named by his parents Swaminathan after the second son of Lord Siva in Hindu mythology. Swaminathan was a brilliant pupil. In 1907, barely 13 years of age, he was initiated into sannyasa (professional ascetic) life, transformed overnight into the Acharya and given the sannyasa name Chandrasekharendra Saraswati.

On the death of the previous Acharya, earlier in that year, it had originally appeared that a maternal cousin of Swaminathan's would succeed as Acharya, leaving a widowed mother alone and bereft. Swaminathan set off with his mother and her other children to console his aunt. Later in life he described the fateful journey:

We travelled by rail to Kanchipuram, and halted at the Sankaracharya Math there. A carriage of the math had come there from Kalavai with persons to buy articles for the ceremonial worship on the 10th day after the passing away of the late Acharya. But one of them, a hereditary maistry (member of the supervisory staff) of the math asked me to accompany him.

During our journey, the maistry hinted to me that I might not return home and that the rest of my life might have to be spent in the math itself] At first I thought that my elder cousin having become the Head of the math, it might have been his wish that I was to live with him. But the maistry gradually began to clarify as the miles rolled on, that the Acharya, my cousin, in his earlier stage of life had fever which developed into delirium and that was why I was being separated from the family to be quickly taken to Kalavai.

I was stunned with 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 my 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.

Saraswati made an enormous contribution to the preservation of the four Vedas, - Hinduism's revelations, which are divided into prayer, practical ritual, singing praise, and the consideraton of political science. They are the treasure-house of knowledge on which Hinduism is founded. He also resuscitated the study and teaching of Dharma, Hinduism's moral law. For the past eight decades he convened seminars and conferences, where scholars were encouraged to arrange for the teaching of the Vedas and Dharma.

He was known as a great padayatri ('walking pilgrim') and had twice travelled the length and breadth of India, visiting thousands of Hindu pilgrim centres, carrying out for the first time a careful study of their histories and characteristics and meeting local scholars, poets and artists. His photographic memory was a byword. In 1927, the Acharya met Mahatma Gandhi at a place in Kerala. He, clad in Khadi, spoke in Sanskrit and Gandhi in Hindi. It was a historic meeting of the two Mahatmas.

The end of the Sage of Kanchi came peacefully at 2.58pm on Saturday 8 January. It was Sarvatra Ekadashi - an auspicious day in the Hindu calendar when Hindus observe fast and offer prayers to their chosen deities. As though it was a providential coincidence, the ruling star of the day happened to be his birth star - Anusham.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones