Wednesday, October 02, 2013


As you already know, I hail from Malleswaram in Bangalore.  It's the area with the maximum TamBrahm population.  The Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt is very close to my house, and I was always filled with fascination when I entered the temple premises.  The Veda Pathashaala kids have a unique charm about themselves and it's quite interesting how they carry on with their daily lives with a sense of discipline and devotion.

As a kid, even as I went to college and work, I had the habit of going to the Mutt at least once a week.  My mother was much more regular than me.  The priest conducting the daily prayers and rituals was an epitome of perfect Vedic intonations.  There is something striking when somebody can recite the hymns with grace and authority.  The rendering, with the constant ebbs and flows, is easy to leave anyone in a state of trance.  It's pure bliss.

After a few visits, I knew pretty much everyone in the temple.  I approached the person in charge of the Mutt.

"Sir, I would like to learn Vedas", I said meekly.  I barely did Sandhyavandanam correctly and so I was not a subject matter expert when it came to these things.

"What do you want to learn exactly?",  he asked.

This is a hard question.  I knew Vedas encompass everything, and there was no way that I could have handed out a list.  The list is endless.  On the contrary, I didn't even know what it comprised of.  So, if I had to fill the list, it would have contained maybe two bullet points.  I was in a predicament.  I wanted to give him a decent enough response that did not make me look like as if I did not know anything.

I used to go to the Asthika Samaj (again, located close to my apartment in Malleswaram) for the Pradosham.  There, I used to be fascinated by the folks reciting Rudram.  I always dreamt that I should be able to recite like them one day.

So, the first thing that came to my head was Rudram.

"R-U-D-R-A-M", I said.

"That's what I want to learn."

He looked calmly at me.

"Okay, good.  At least, you know what you want to learn.  Come tomorrow at 4."

That was a Sunday evening.  Monday at 4 sounded vague.  I was working at that time.  There was no way in the world I could get home by 4.

"Sir, I will be at work tomorrow.  4 is too early", I said.

"Exactly! Who goes to work so early in the morning?", he asked.

That's when I realized that he was referring to AM and not PM.

"That works perfectly", I said.

I mean that doesn't work in any way.  But, I did not want to lose the chance of learning Vedas from an experienced practitioner.

"Okay, I will see you tomorrow", he said and walked off.

I came home and told my mother about the plans.  My father who was listening to all this from the adjacent room immediately gave a premonition.

"There is no chance that this guy is going to get up that early.  Don't keep the alarm and waste all our sleep."

I immediately opposed.  One of the primary things that a son always does is to oppose his father before towing the line like a good boy.  Ultimately, it's the father who always wins.

"No father.  I am going to get up early in the morning.  I am destined to learn the Vedas.  This is a great opportunity.  Who lives so close to the Shankar Mutt and gets a chance to learn Rudram.  Why don't you also join?"

It felt like a perfect pitch.

"Do whatever you want but don't wake the household."

I went to bed early that night.  When I got up the next day, it was 7 in the morning.  Immediately, I sprang from the bed.  I asked my mother, "Why didn't you wake me up?"

"Even the Lord himself can't wake you up, when you are asleep", my mother said.  I knew what that meant.  I did not make any further attempt to break the shackles and ask for early morning Vedic learning.  It just was not feasible.

Similarly, two years ago, I was in the Shiva temple in the Bay Area on one of the Pradosham days.  There, there was this gentleman, who was reciting Rudram in the most vibrant way.  It was enchanting.  I also approached him and told him I like to learn from him.

He told me, "You are most welcome.  I chant every morning at 5.  You can come for the chanting, and once that is done, I can teach you at 6."

I took his address and phone number.  Unfortunately, the same fate as of almost ten years ago prevailed.  I still had a hard time getting up from the comfort of the bed in the wee hours of the morning.

Then, subsequently, at the beginning of the year, he told me that he plans to conduct weekly lessons at 5 in the evening every Saturday.  That definitely felt like a perfect proposition.  It was as though the Gods were finally at peace with me.  I felt that this was the "perfectly perfect" opportunity.

I went every week eagerly.  I just wanted to learn Rudram.  Only after talking to him did I realize that Rudram had two parts - Namakam and Chamakam.  I made a sincere attempt.  I can say with some amount of conviction that I am in the right direction to recite the Namakam and Chamakam.  Of course, I can never say with confidence that I am chanting it right.  It comes with many hours of practice and I have just got started.  But, the feeling of looking at the Namakam page of Mantra Pushpam and reciting the verse is a fantastic feeling.

Bay Area has been awesome and there have been a lot of benefits in the move from Kansas to California.  But, even if all the other benefits are nullified, the very fact that I got a chance to learn Rudram far outweighs everything else.

Being close to the Shankar Mutt in Bangalore, I always felt that I was "this" close to learning Rudram and other Vedic chants.  But, it took me a period of another ten years and a distance of ten thousand miles to finally fulfill my wishes of getting a chance to learn the Vedic Chants.