I was on my road to recovery from a very long bout of fever.I must have been 10 or 11 years old, then. I distinctly remember my parents whispering to each other,"we will ask her and see if she can perform","if she is unable to ,how to tell them or let go of such an oppurtunity?", -"what a blessing if she can play in His presence!" etc. They found me awake and asked me whether I felt upto performing.I think I would have said yes,because I remember my mother immediately packing a suitcase and changing the strings on my veena,my father making arrangements for a private taxi and in no time we were heading somewhere.On my way I learnt that we were going to Kanchipuram.
To avoid breeze from outside blowing on my face in order to prevent a relapse of my fever,my parents made me sit inbetween them and I remember throwing a mini tantrum for not letting me have my favourite left corner of the backseat.
I very clearly remember my stomach growling for food and after many days of eating horrid idlis (till date I cannot stand them),I started feeling hungry .All through the ride,I kept fantasizing about eating my favourite potato fry,mysore pak,ladies finger fry etc.I must have drifted off to sleep,because the next thing I remember,I was standing in a sleepy state in the midst of rows of people in the middle of their lunch.Tantalizing aromas of sambar,rasam,koottu and curry wafted through the air to reawaken my longing for food.Weak and tired after the travel,I was positively famished.
When we were seated in one of the rows,my mother told the brahmin who was serving,"just get her idlis,she is not well".I was indignant that they were going to put me through idlis once again and threw another tantrum only to be reprimanded,"you don't want to fall sick again,do you?Don't you want to get well soon?"I started crying and some people nearby said"let her have rasam rice,it will not harm her".Even rasam sounded like heaven to me after the onslaught of idlis. I readily agreed. I begged and pleaded for an appalam,and was refused one because they were fried in oil which I was supposed to avoid.That brought fresh tears into my eyes again and noticing my plight one of the brahmins who was serving gave me an appalam,telling my parents'"nothing will happen to her,Periyava will take care of her."Half way through the appalam,I discarded it as I could not stomach anymore of it or the rasam rice.My parents were right as always, I was still having temperature!(After all these years,if I can still remember this scenario,I wonder how hungry I really must have been for that "appalam" to stay on in my memory!!!")Inbetween the meal as usual I was aware of people giving me inquisitive looks and whispering among themselves"she is Baby Gayathri".I always used to think that one of my two plaits had become loose or the ribbons had come off whenever people stared at me!It never ever occurred to me that they stared because I played the veena at a young age!
I don't remember what time we finished eating or even if it was on the same day, but the next thing I recall was the pooja of Sri Chandramouleeswarar performed by Pujyasri Maha Periyava at the Kanchi Mutt sometime around noon.
The crowd was overwhelming in the large hall.I sat inbetween the crowd and Maha periyava,who was conducting the pooja.As I played I noticed that Maha Periyava was totally immersed in His pooja and people were watching the pooja in hushed silence.I could sense a feeling of reverence and awe around me.To my childish eyes Maha Periyava appeared to be serious and strict.He would gaze in my direction now and then,without giving out any emotion.His eyes wore a blank look and I thought to myself that He was a serious person indeed!I felt a little scared of Him as I realised that everybody around me was equally overawed by His presence,including my father!There were no claps after every song as usual and I found it strange.I don't remember how long I played ,but after the concert we all prostrated to Maha Periyava and He raised His hands and blessed us saying nothing.We were later on informed that Maha Periyava was in "mounam" and would not talk for the day.
As we were preparing to leave,we were asked to wait for sometime.In a few minutes,one of the mutt managers rushed to tell us that Maha Periyava wanted me to play in His presence once more.We waited for a long time to be taken to a place that looked like a hut ,with people thronging the place.We were ushered inside along with the veena and I was asked to play all over again.In all the crowd jostling and general confusion, it was difficult for my childish mind to find its bearings.My father was right next to me to give me moral support.There was no mike,no mridangam or tambura.Inside the hut,inspite of the crowd there was a hushed silence,like the one I had witnessed during Sri Chandramouleeswarar Pooja.I looked around fearfully and found the solemn figure in saffron robes in the corner of the thatched hut,in partial light.It was late afternoon and the sun rays fell partially over the small,thin figure of Maha Swami,sitting with both knees together to one side.His posture and solemn eyes registered in my heart forever and I felt a wave of current pass through me.
"Papa,play,play",the mutt people urged me to commence my performance and I started playing.I simply don't remember what I played ,all I can recall is that my body instantly became drenched in sweat.The fever had broken and I was oblivious to everything else other than concentrating on my playing,inbetween looking at my father for assurance that I was on the right track.Strangely my father did not give me his usual signals,even he was totally absorbed in gazing at the solemn figure of the Acharya seated in the far corner.After a long while Maha Periyava got up to leave.As he left abruptly to the adjoining room-like place,some people asked me to stop and some asked me continue.I was totally confused as to what I was supposed to do. A person who went along with Maha Periyava to the adjoining room returned to ask me not to get up.He gestured for me to be seated along with my veena.My parents and myself waited along with the crowd not knowing what to expect.
After considerable time,Maha Periyava returned. In His hands He held a crown made of sandalwood beads and cardamoms. A huge "OM" in Sanskrit was drawn by cloves on the crown. He handed over the crown to the mutt administrators indicating that they should give the crown to me. As I received the crown, I saw Periyava conveying to me in sign language to place it over my head. Feeling a little shy and self-conscious, I placed the crown on my head. Resuming His earlier position, He gestured with His hands asking me to continue my performance with the crown on my head!!
I started playing the veena once again, with the added weight of the sandalwood crown on my head. As I lifted my head to catch a glimpse of Maha Periyava.My gaze encountered His form, sitting in His earlier position,with both his legs folded to one side,one of his palms resting on the floor next to Him and His body leaning slightly towards one side.The early evening sunlight streaming through the many holes of the thatched hut cast an enigmatic hue on Maha Periyava.The glow of sunrays that were focussed on Him , formed an aura around Him or was it a halo that was visible only to my pure,innocent ,childish eyes? His entire figure washed in the late evening glow haunts me till today when I sadly realise that I had the experience of a lifetime when I was a mere child! I was too innocent to grasp the enormity of my encounter!My only solace today is my hazy memory of all the events connected to the most sacred encounter that has defined my life.
The crown is with me,in my pooja room,representing Maha Periyava's Grace and blessings in my life.
Smt. Subbalakshmi Satyanand, well known as Meduri Subbalakshmi (child prodigy in Veena of the 70s) in one of her prayer-like Veena sessions ...
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