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January - March 2023

Kashi, the Confluence of Saints V. S. Krishnan

Kashi is one of the most sacred cities in India. The abode of Lord Viswanath, Kashi is considered as the spiritual capital of India. Kashi is the holy place where Shiva shines as the Self in the heart of all. It is believed that one who dies at Kashi instantly attains Moksha. Kashi is the confluence of saints and sacred r ivers. During his long pilgrimage, Sri Adi Shankara arrived here, followed by his disciples.Unlike other places where he halted briefly, he stayed at Kashi for a long period. Standing at the banks of Ganga, he said that the effulgence of the Self shines forth at Kashi. The word ‘Kashi’ means ‘that which shines’. The Self which is pure Consciousness, alone shines forth. “Here in Kashi”, he said “the inner light of Consciousness is experienced effortlessly.” Only those who know Kashi as the Absolute awareness of the Self can understand its significance.

Sitting under the huge banyan tree in the sacred Manikarnika Ghat, Bhagavadpada explained the essence of Upanishads to disciples and devotees assembled before him. Addressing Ganga, he said: “Oh Mother, Ganga, those who drink with their eyes thy beautiful form even from a distance, experience the bliss of being in Vaikunta. Even the position of Indra is trivial to those who fall into thy lap”. Once, while Acharya was giving discourse, a young Brahmachari hailing from Tamil Nadu came and said: “Oh Swamin, I have fallen into the ocean of Samsara and save me by casting thy glance which bestows the knowledge of Self”. He was Sanandana and Acharya accepted him as his first disciple. Acharya gave him the Upadesa and enlightened him with Atma Vidya.

One day, while Shankara was walking from Manikarnika towards Annapurna Temple

with his disciples, an outcaste (Chandala) was coming from opposite direction. It was unusual for outcastes to take the street generally used by saints. Afraid of causing pollution, some ran away. Then, a local brahmana who was nearby shouted at Chandala: “Move Away” , “Move Away”. But the outcaste was unmoved. He said, “Oh Brahmana, to whom are you saying ‘move away’? If you are addressing this body, know that this inert body is not ‘me’. If you are asking my Atma (Self) to move, it is not different from you. The Self that shines in all of us is non-dual and ever pure. Identifying with the body is your illusion. Reject the body as an outcaste and remain fulfilled in Brahman, the eternal reality.” Shankaracharya also heard it, walked silently, went to his hermitage and remained there in profound silence. He pondered over what the outcaste said. The “Manisha Panchakam” which Adi Shankara composed subsequently explained the nature of Guru, who is Brahman.

  1. “I am the Consciousness which shines in all states of waking, dreaming and I am that which stands as witness to all. One who has deep conviction that “I am That”, he is the Guru; whether Chandala or Brahmana.(Jagrata Swapna Sushupti…1)
  2. “The world is only an expanded image of Consciousness. He who has conviction: “I am the pure, eternal, blissful truth, the substratum of all”, he is the Guru, whether a C h a n d a l a o r B ra h m a n a . ( B ra h m o ..2)
  3. “A man of discrimination who is aware of the ever changing nature of the world should seek a Guru who is established in Brahman and listen to him with He who contemplates with a pure heart and tranquil mind, he who realizes the truth, he who is liberated, he who has burnt up the Sanchita and Aagami Karmas in the fire of knowledge and leaves the body to prarabdha, he is our Guru. (Saswanna swarameva.  3)
  1. Consciousness is experienced clearly within as “I-I” in creatures like animal, men and all. It is by the light of Consciousness that inert entities like the mind, senses, body and the objects are known to If this spark of awareness as “I” is captured and held within, the mind merges with the Self. The sage who constantly abides in this Consciousness and experiences absolute bliss is the real guru, whoever he may be (Yathirya. 4)
  2. In the mind of those in whom worldly thoughts have completely subsided, that Consciousness i s realized and the enlightened one remains submerged in the bliss of The one whose intellect is thus dissolved in the ocean of Bliss is not merely a knower of Brahman but Brahman itself. (Yathsow 5)

Manisha Panchakam which Shankara composed at Kashi is regarded as one of the best treatises on the greatness of Guru. Acharya then proceeded to the temple of Annapoorna and composed the immortal verse, “Annapurnastava”.

Years later, Kashi became the destination for Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swamigal of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam who came in the lineage of Adi Shankara. In the course of his pilgrimage, Acharya arrived at Prayaga and from there he travelled by foot (120 km) and reached Kashi on 6th October 1934. He was received by the citizens of Kashi in thousands. A warm welcome was given to him by Maharaja of Kashi, Sri Madan Mohan Malaviya and distinguished scholars and pundits. At the request of

Sri Malaviya, Acharya visited Benaras Hindu University and in the address he delivered during the welcome ceremony he said that education is not gaining knowledge of the world around us but gaining knowledge about our own Self. It was the aspiration of all devotees to reach Kashi, immerse in the sacredriver Ganga and worship Viswanatha. “All the stains accumulated over the period gets washed away the moment one takes a dip at river Ganga, ” said a saint who has found fulfilment by being in Kashi. A young man who has come to Kashi just out of curiosity asked the saint: “People coming from all over the land take bath here and in the process the dirt and stains of all get accumulated here. How then the river can continue to retain its purity to newcomers?” The saint replied: “Yes, the people leave their stains and dirt here but at the same time, the renounced saints also come and take bath here. When realized saints who are pure and perfect take bath here, the whole river becomes purified again. While the people leave behind their stains and sins, the saints add sanctity and purity to the river.” Among the many other saints who continue to visit Kashi and find fulfilment in life, mention must be made about Sri Kumaragurupara Swamigal from Srivaikuntam in Tiirunelveli District. Kashi, s i tuated far at North appealed to Kumaraguruparar, the d i sc i p l e of Dharmapuram Adheenam. Driven by devotion towards Lord Shiva, he crossed all hurdles and reached Kashi and visited the temple of Lord Viswanath. He renovated the temple of Kedareswar which was in a dilapidated state. He addressed the inter- religious conference held at Kashi. He was eager to establish a Mutt and recognizing his erudite knowledge and dedication, the authorities gave all support to him. He established the Mutt which became one of the foremost pilgrim centres of Kashi. The Mutt continues to function as a unique institution spreading the glory of Saivite philosophy. Swamigal stayed at Kashi for over 30 years, (1658 to 1688) dedicating himself to Shiva worship. Apart from Sakala Kalavalli Malai in praise of Goddess Saraswati, he also composed Meenakshi Amman Pillai Thamizh and Thiruvarur Naanmani Malai.

Sri Muthuswamy Dheekshithar is one among the Sangeetha Trinities. Born in Thiruvaroor in 1775, interest in music came naturally to him. Having adopted Muruga as his Gnana guru, this musical genius went from Thiruthani to Kashi. He stayed at Kashi with a great saint,  Chidambara Yogi for 5 years. At that time only, he was in for a big surprise. After immersing himself in Ganga while walking through the shores, a lady appeared and presented to him a Veena. It was with this Veena, he composed many Ragaas. It is believed that the lady who presented the Veena to him was none other than Goddess Saraswathi.

Tamil Nadu has a special connection with Kashi. People here regard Kashi as the Mukthi Sthala, the holy place that liberates. There is a widespread belief in Tamil Nadu that a visit to Kashi is incomplete without a visit to Rameswaram. Saints and sages have hailed the cultural unity between Kashi and Tamil Nadu.