Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
Ican see your brows going up at the caption. I can almost hear you wonder what possible connection the exalted Srimad Azhagiasingar could have with aluminium vessels, which vaidikas would not even touch normally. However, do read on.
It was an extremely hot day in May, with the Sun beating down mercilessly. It was too a time when the monsoon had failed and consequently the rural economy was in doldrums. Even though they do provide us with our daily food, farmers are indeed a cursed lot, having to depend on the mercy of the rain god for their livelihood. Normally, it doesn’t rain and the crops wither away. And when it does rain, it pours and inundates the fields, washing away all crops or making the ripe corn germinate.
Coming back to the Vaikaasi Veyyil, it was excruciatingly hot even inside houses. Unfortunate indeed were those who had to be on the roads, especially vendors of various wares whose lot it was to carry goods on their heads or on cycles and roam about the streets in search of buyers. And when they did find buyers, the latter would drive a hard bargain and bring down the prices to uneconomic levels, resulting in the seller, even after undergoing a lot of strain, being out of pocket.
A vendor of aluminum vessels was making his way slowly through the village streets, wheeling his cycle overloaded with vessels. He had tied up the vessels with the vehicle in such a way that his form was hardly visible among the vessels of various shapes and sizes. As he wheeled the cycle up and down village streets, hawking his wares in a hoarse voice, perspiration ran down his forehead in rivulets. It was 1 pm and he had not been able to sell a single vessel. Poverty was rampant in the all the villages of the area, compounded by the monsoon failure. It was no wonder therefore that he could find no buyers—people will buy vessels only if they had something to keep or cook in it. He had not had even a single tea since morning and his head was beginning to spin, with hunger and the heat.
On the verge of desperation and dehydration, he entered the next village on his route, named Mukkur and started going through one street after the other, keeping the Agrahaaram for the last, since normally Brahmins would not buy aluminum vessels. When he was short of even a single buyer, he turned as a last resort and without any hope of concluding a sale, to the Agraharam. By now his voice had become almost a whisper. This street too was deserted, with none daring to brave the punishing heat.
The vendor espied an elderly person sitting on the covered verandah of one of the houses, adorned with “naamam” all over his body and holding a stick in one hand and a book in the other. Without any real hope of making a sale, he summoned up all his reserve strength and cried out “Aluminia Paatram” as loud as he could, for, he presumed the old gentleman to be hard of hearing.
The “Periyavar” appeared to have heard him and beckoned to him. The vendor stopped wheeling his cycle, put on the stand with some difficulty and went near, in the hope of asking for a few rupees even though he had no hope of selling his wares. With a surprisingly stentorian voice which one would not associate with his age, the old gentleman asked the vendor whether he had had his lunch. This solicitous enquiry opened the floodgates for the vendor, who started narrating his miseries in detail. He recounted how he had started from home early in the morning without even the usual gruel, had been roaming the villages with absolutely no sale at all to show and how his entire intake from the morning had consisted solely of water from roadside pipes.
The impassive face of the elder did not reveal whether the sob story had made any impact on him: however, he called to someone who came running and stood before him in an obsequious manner. He instructed the newcomer to feed the vendor of vessels and bring him back. When the servitor murmured something about it being long past lunch time and about being unsure of availability of any food, the old gentleman got angry and firmly said that the vendor had to be fed, even if it meant cooking food all over again.
The elder appeared to be a person of authority, for, the servitor immediately made arrangements for the vendor’s lunch, ensured that he had his stomach’s fill and brought him back to the elderly gentleman, who was deeply engrossed in a book. Upon the vendor being presented to him again, he enquired whether the former had lunched, to which the grateful vendor replied in the affirmative. The senior citizen then asked the vendor the price of each item of his wares and sought a quotation for the entire stock.
Puzzled as to why the gentleman was asking him for the price of something he would never buy, the vendor told him that the stock was worth Rs.500 and represented his entire capital. The elderly benefactor then told the servitor who had been standing nearby in an attitude of subservience, to bring Rs. 600 and give it to the vendor, which he complied with alacrity.
Having received the princely sum of Rs. 600 which it would have taken him several days, perhaps even a month, to realize and entailed a lot of roaming around in the hot sun, the vendor fell down before the old gentleman with folded hands, with no words to express his gratitude. While arriving at the village, he was hungry, desperate and penniless: he was now leaving the village a well-fed man, with a minor fortune in his pocket.
Though none dared question Srimad Azhagiasingar as to why he had purchased aluminium vessels for which the Mutt or its adherents had absolutely no use, the question in their minds was answered before long. The Pontiff instructed the external kainkaryaparas of the Mutt to take the vessels and distribute them among the dalit and down-trodden dwellers of the village who were, in turn, delighted to receive the unexpected gift from the Periya Saami.
Two stones were thus felled by the elderly Pontiff with a single stone—the vendor’s misery in not finding buyers for his wares despite a full day of strenuous marketing efforts was instantly cleared with a generous buyer taking up his entire stock in a single lot, and what was more, without any haggling over prices. While the tradesman was used to people seeking credit for purchase of vessels and often failing to settle the account, here was a gentleman who not only took up the whole lot of vessels, but also paid immediately in cash, allowing a more than reasonable profit margin, which would keep his family fed and clothed for quite some time. And as far as the needy villagers were concerned, it was a god-send for them in those hard days.
What prompted such an exalted person as Srimad Azhagiasingar to enter into a commercial transaction with a socially and economically insignificant tradesman?
Defining Kaarunyam or Mercy, Swami Desikan tells us that it is a burning desire to provide succour to those who suffer, without any vested interest of one’s own and without an axe to grind—anuddhishta sva prayojanaantara para du:kha niraakarana icchaa. It was this exalted emotion of Kaarunyam or overwhelming mercy, that prompted the Pontiff to help the miserable seller of vessels, without even an application from the latter.
This Azhagiasingar had a heart of gold which would melt at the sight of anyone’s suffering. Legions are the people, Brahmins and others too, whom he had helped monetarily and otherwise too. He was generous to a fault, with anyone with a worthy cause eminently sure of obtaining assistance from him. And especially pronounced was his concern for the underdog and the downtrodden in society, who could always find in him a sympathetic saviour. It was his credo that none who came to the Mutt to worship Malolan should leave with an empty stomach.
When the Rajagopuram at Srirangam was under construction, this Azhagiasingar had a lot of prasaadam made in the Mutt’s kitchen and distributed it to the labourers working on the site on a regular basis. At the time of the samprokshanam of the grand Rajagopuram, the police had issued orders that auto rickshaws should not ply in the streets of Srirangam, beyond the new tower. Auto drivers numbering around a hundred and fifty came to Sri Matham and represented to Srimad Azhagiasingar that their livelihood for the three days was lost and appealed to the Pontiff to have the orders reversed. Srimad Azhagiasingar however did not interfere with the police order, but told the auto drivers that they could have food at the Mutt along with their families for all the three days and would also be paid Rs. 300 each. In return for enjoying Malolan’s hospitality, they would have to mingle with the huge crowd expected for the consecration ceremony and ensure that no petty theft, pick-pocketing or untoward incident happened for those three days. The drivers accepted happily and the grand function, attended by lakhs of people, went off without a single untoward incident.
One could perhaps go on narrating incidents like this from the life of the great Mahatma that Srimad Mukkur Azhagiasingar was: he was renowned as Kaliyuga Karnan, with his palms made red always by giving, especially to the needy.
Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore