In the holy land of Bharat it is said that during every century, there would be at least a single Jivan Mukta born to accomplish a divine mission and to re-establish a divine faith.
True to this saying this Mahaan, Shri CV Srinivasa Iyer was born to re-establish the supremacy of Lord Ayyappa, at a time when - the divine will wanted to spread the glory of Ayyappa Bhakti.
Birth and Childhood
Brahmashri. CV. Srinivasa Iyer hails from a family of Vedic Brahmins of typical Palakkad Iyer family. As the infant grew, Srinivasa Iyer took over the responsibility of his family and worked with a Tram Transport Company in Chennai. When the tram transport slowed down, he came back to Palakkad and worked at a textile shop.
His leadership qualities soon began to emerge and his progress was a surprise. When the owner of the textile shop, due to his ill-health decided to sell the shop, Srinivasa Iyer himself came forward to buy it. Thus he became the owner of “National Ware House” a famous Saree shop located at Angadi, Palakkad
An Ideal Brother
Meanwhile his younger brother Shri.CV.Krishna Iyer was a peculiar person - he had his own way of dealing with things. His interest was more in devotion and prayers. Ayyappan and Murugan were occupying his mind than family obligations.
Shri.CV.Krishna Iyer got associated with many Gurus and devotees, started trekking Sabarimala in mid 1930s. Initiated into the worship of Lord Dharma Sastha and Kiratha Sastha at a young age, Shri.Krishna Iyer, remained celibate throughout his life, dedicating his entire life to the worship of Bhagavan Sabarigireesha. This person, who was initially criticized by his brother, became instrumental in inculcating the Ayyappa Bhakti in the family. Shri.Krishna Iyer was a systematic and rigid devotee and undertook the vigorous vruthams and Sabari yathra several times.
At this juncture, Shri. Srinivasa Iyer had two daughters and had lost his wife at a very young age. His focus was more on development, as he still had his family obligations to fulfill. In total contrast to his brother, Srinivasa Iyer, had the concept that his own conscience is the guiding deity and God, as such, came only next. This had not really changed, but a divine intervention by the Lord changed his direction in its totality.
A Tryst with the Divinity
About this time, a certain family incident gave him a shake, which made him challenge the Lord. The Lord made use of this opportunity (I was told that the Lord appeared in his dream and answered his queries) and invited him to Sabarimala. As per the wishes of Lord Ayyappa, only during his middle age - he started his first Sabarimala Yatra, with the help of his younger brother Krishnan, who was undertaking the yatra for years.
He reached the Sannidhanam for the first time – needless to say - an instantaneous blow struck him. We don't know what exactly happened. As usual – a unique play of Ayyappan! Methods of visualizing the absolute truth are many and varied; in that instance, Srinivasa Iyer saw that absolute truth in “Ayyappan”; He had set himself on the task of realizing “Thathwamasi”. He felt that his life's mission was there.
Thereafter his spiritual progress was on the fast track and he came into contact with great people and the truths of the Vedanta were getting clearer to him. Slowly he retired from the “Official life”.
Sabarimala yathra became a part of his routine life. He was closely associated with the Veteran Guruswamy's of yesteryears like Tharakkad Rama Iyer, Palai Bhaskara Iyer etc
His devotion to Lord Ayyappa remained unflinching and he had a magnetic pull from the Lord, so that he made it a point to visit the temple not only during the Mandala Pooja and Makara Vilakku, but whenever the temple opens for pooja.
A True Bhaktha is Acknowledged
During one such Maasa pooja at Sannidhanam: the whole day's schedule was over and everybody was waiting for Harivarasanam. The Melshanthi was ready for the Tantri's formal permission to close the shrine. But the Tantri said, “let's wait for some time”. Since it was a monthly pooja, all the rituals were completed on time and there was no much crowd. The time was ticking and nobody knew the reason why they are made to wait. The time crossed 11.00 Pm and the priest said “A destined person has not yet arrived (varanda aalu vannitilla)”. The crowd became restless but nobody could make out what is happening. The time is now 11.35; But the tantri again said “there is an inner call or an intuition – whatever you can name it. Ayyappan is preventing me from closing the shrine. I think we are waiting for a Bhakta”.
Everybody was looking at the Padhinetampadi entrance. And the exciting moment came at 11.40 when Srinivasa Iyer came running climbing the holy Pathinettampadi. His car had some problems on the way and that had caused the unusual delay. As soon as he came in front of the Lord, the Tantri signaled to start Harivarasanam. Everybody was awestruck seeing all these. The people who were all around were astonished and jointly called aloud “Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa”. Srinivasa Iyer heard the entire episode and became bowled over by the care Bagawan had towards him. With tears rolling down his cheeks, he did a Sashtanga Namaskaram to Ayyappan. Immediately after Harivarasanam, all the devotees present there requested Srinivasa Iyer to stand in front of Pathinettampadi and they did Sashtanga Namaskaram to the “True Bhaktha”.
His knowledge of procedures, sampradayas, and tradition was something remarkable. Also, he had a habit of talking anything “on face”. So people who really cared for pristine practices, correct methodology, and religious benefits always sought his help. His strict discipline, dynamic personality and the power of Upasana earned him respect from all corners. All the priests and officials of Sabarimala had great regard for him.
He was given special status as “Devaswom Board Guest” and soon he became an inseparable part of the Ayyappan Cult. Whenever any issues cropped up at Sabarimala, Srinivasa Iyer was consulted for making any decision.
When the Acharya Swamigals of Sringeri Visited Sabarimala during 1980, Srinivasa Iyer was invited by the devaswom board to accompany them.
Soon Srinivasa Iyer became “Chaami Iyer” or “Chaami Anna” to everyone.
He was an embodiment of all the virtues which normally apply to enlightened souls. Not only the devotees and disciples had an attachment with him, but even the staff members of Sabarimala, ordinary labors, other Guruswamys, and even the Melshanthis also had a special regard for him. Many have had the opportunity of getting his blessings and have come up in their life.
Blessed were they who saw him
The following words are used by those who know him well to describe him: Majestic, strict disciplinarian, at the same time a Karuna Moorthy, face shining with tremendous Tejas, His piercing powerful eyes makes one bow down involuntarily due to its extraordinary potency, exemplary simplicity in every aspect, firm in guiding disciples in Upasana, authoritative, always interested in the welfare of sishyas, desireless, straightforward, unflinching devotion to Ayyappa. In total - his personality created an instant impression upon the people.
Though a man of such a caliber, he was totally unassuming and a person who always cared for others. Any individual will always find solace in him. A simple namaskaram would bring forth from him an abundance of blessings and love and one could feel the depth and warmth of the same. Most of the devotees in and around Palakkad considered(and still considers) his house Swami Nadai – equal to that of a temple. He was an embodiment of devotion and compassion and nobody would return empty-handed after seeing him. And above that never has a person returned from his house unfed. Be it morning, or late night, never a day would pass without devotees having their food. He was a true friend in need of all devotees.
The Benevolent Guruswamy
Despite being such a giant personality, he remained humble. I feel blessed to be his great grandson. Though a small child, he was very happy with my religious inquiries. I have asked him numerous queries and always he answered politely. He found myself drawn towards Ayyappa, and blessed me immensely. This I think inculcated the druda Sasthru Bhakthi in me.
Though he was a grihastha, he was living a saint's life working very hard for the spiritual upliftment of the ordinary souls. As a Guruswamy he took several hundreds of devotees to Sabarimala. True to the “Ayyappa thathwam” - his clan of disciples comprised of laymen to Vedic scholars. Many veteran Guruswamys we see today were his disciples. He was fondly known as “Chaami Anna” with respect and love from his sishyas.
Chaami Anna was a pleasing personality and served the devotees and the Lord to the maximum extends possible and had a very cordial relationship will all the devotees without even a pinch of Ego. He was very particular to feed the needy and believed that service to fellow beings was only true service.
All his Words are Sathyam
He was not only an ardent and sincere devotee – but was a realized and elevated soul. I have heard from many of his associates that all that he says is the total Satyam and no one dared to defy his instructions.
Once an Uthsavam was taking place at Sabarimalai. Chaami Iyer, one among the typical Guruswamys of yesteryears, was very keen on offering food to the devotees. The festival went on very well and everybody enjoyed the event. At the end of the day, almost everything was over and people started moving out. Sabarimala was almost empty and Chaami Iyer's group was the last set to leave. They had packed all their materials and started moving towards Pampa.
Suddenly Chaami Iyer stood there for a while. He summoned one of his disciples, “You alone stay back here! Prepare some food for 40 people and wait”. Saying so, he immediately left for Pampa.
The disciple was really surprised on hearing this. Almost everything is empty; what to cook? And where are the materials? And moreover, the festival is over and almost everybody has left. Who is there to eat? Though he had so many doubts he never dared to question his guru; He immediately ran from pillar to post. Some rice was available with the devaswom – but was not good enough for cooking. Lamenting about his fate when the disciple was waiting, suddenly a person came there and handed over the materials; “We brought these materials for annadhanam; now the entire crowd had gone and even we are in a hurry to leave. You may please use these properly.”
Without much ado, he prepared some foodstuff and began to wait. In the next five minutes there appeared a group of Ayyappanmaars, who had come for darshan. They had no idea about the system there, so lost their route and finally came to sannidhanam. Everybody was hungry and was badly in need of food. They never expected a sumptuous meal there waiting for them. The disciple, who was the only person there, received the devotees and served them. And just casually he counted the heads – it was exactly 40!
The Beloved Brother
The life sketch of Chaami Iyer would be incomplete without mentioning about his brother Shri. CV Krishna Iyer. Shri. Krishna Iyer's role was inevitable in all the spiritual accomplishments of Chaami Iyer.
Both the brothers were self-accomplished masters by their own capacity. It was very difficult for others to understand the relationship between the brothers. But their unseen innate bond was really wonderful. It is actually the backing and support of Krishna Iyer that made Chaami Iyer reach great heights. Krishna Iyer had his life as it were a shadow of Chaami Iyer.
The Pankuni Uthram at Sabarimala
The powers of realized souls are immeasurable, though not explicitly exhibited.
This quality of his made him venture into several endeavors which others wouldn't even dream of.
One such remarkable achievement is the Pankuni Uthram festival at Sabarimalai. For several decades for some reasons, the Pankuni Uthra Pooja was not being done at the Sabarimala Ayyappan temple. Though it was an auspicious day for Sastha, the temple was not even opened on that particular day. As per the divine directions, Chaami Anna took the initiative and this pooja commenced to be done by him.
Chaami Anna along with the support of other devotees made a special representation with the Devaswom board and made the temple open for the devotees. A spectacular Laksharchana and Vedic homams to Lord Sastha on the Pankuni Uthram day was performed judiciously and magnificently at Sabarimala for years by him. The pooja grew in popularity and at one point of time his party included nearly 500 devotees and 70-80 Vedic Scholars, 6-7 special busses and a fleet of Cars and Lorries to carry the necessary items for the magnificent ritual.
At Palakkad and Sabarimala he was a true illustrator of ideal bhakti. He organized the entire Pankuni Uthra Pooja. Those difficult days – when Sabarimala was a typical forest and each and every item has to be transported. Right from Camphor to Grinding stone, from provisions to even cows (for milk) everything had to be moved to Sabarimala. These Himalayan tasks were carried out only by the grace of Lord Ayyappa. Moreover, he never suffered for want of money or means of sustenance. He never asked for any donation or contribution from anybody. But everything was taken care of automatically – by voluntary offerings which poured in. But he always spent away then and there whatever money came to him and never retained a pie for the morrow.
The Pankuni Uthram celebration at Sabarimala conducted till 1989, still speaks his glory. And we have thousands of devotees who still talk about the electrifying poojas at Sannidhanam. The festival attained new heights with Purusha Sooktha Homam, Rudrabishekam, and even to Maha Rudram and Athi Rudram.
Even today whenever I go for poojas or lectures anywhere around the world, I would definitely see at least 2 or 3 disciples of Chaami Anna. Many many stalwarts and seniors exclaim that they have had the privilege of meeting him, trekking along with him, eating saddhi(food) along with him, and getting prasadam from him.
The Lord's Call Has Come
The pilgrimage to the Sabarimalai is very symbolic of the journey of the individual 'Atma' and it's joining with the 'Paramatma'. During the Pankuni Uthram festival of 1989, Chaami Anna, made a very significant remark that he will cease to live beyond the Pankuni Uthram festival that year and it was an intuition from his side and that Lord Ayyappa wanted it that way. Events, later proved that he attained Lord Ayyappa's world during the same date
We are nearing the end of our narrative of Chaami Anna's life.
As has mostly been evident in great lives, it is so in Chaami Anna's life that before he cast off his mortal frame it was afflicted with disease. He decided to throw down the mortal frame within seven days from that.
Pankuni Uthram festival had begun at Sabarimala, Chaami Anna was at Coimbatore as he could not travel to Sabarimala due to his ailment. But his mind was totally fixed on the events that were happening at Sannidhanam. He was repeating, “The poojas might have begun; its time for Deeparadhanai” Suddenly he said “It's time for me to leave” and wanted him to be removed from the bed and reclined on the chair.
Then he took a deep breath, held it inside.
“Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa” – he merged with the Lord. - And in doing so, left all of us, his devotees orphan to be guided by his spirit of selflessness and love and compassion to all.
My tryst with a phenomenon called “Ayyappa” started right from the day I took birth on this earth- because of my Great grand father Shri CV Srinivasa Iyer. (Chaami Anna) whom I consider my first Guru to Sastha. I was a small boy when he ceased his earthly connections, but even at that early age, I had the rare privilege of getting blessings directly from him.
He is the Guru for our Maha Sasthru Seva Sangam and I am very sure that he is blessing all of us even today and this perhaps, is the guiding force and the inner drive which is operating us till date.
Shri. Aravind Subramanyam, or “Sastha Aravind” as he is called fondly, is the great grand son of the famous and the revered Ayyappa devotee Sri.CV.Srinivasa Iyer (Kalpathy Chaaami Anna) who started the Pankuni Uthram festival at Sabarimala – hence tracing a cenutry old connection with the temple.
He has done his research on Sastha worship for the past 22 years and has penned around 10 books about Lord Sastha. His magnum opus Shri Maha Sastha Vijayam (Complete Purana on Lord Sastha) is worth mentioning - a massive book of 1000 pages. He has published research articles and books in the field of education and religion. He has also published and lectured extensively on Topics of Indian Heritage, Puranas and Devi Worship. He may be contacted at :
Thejovathy, 94 B, Third Street, Tatabad Coimbatore 641012
Phone : +91 99946 41801 Email: [email protected]
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