If there’s anything good in my life, Sri Vedamurti Venkatarama Bhatta is one of the people responsible for it. He is akin to my grandfather.
Sri Annambhatta and his son Sri Venkatarama Bhatta were not only the Purohitas for the three generations in my family—my great grandfather, grandfather, and father—they were also our Gurus; they were akin to family. I have been named after my great grandfather. That noble man was born in the Devanahalli region. He left for Mulabagal on Government work and settled there, perhaps a hundred-and-twenty or twenty-five years ago.[i]
During that period, the British Government had taken over the administration of the Mysore Princely State. Back then, there was a practice whereby the infantry division of the army would march back and forth from Bangalore and Madras once every fifteen or twenty days. Owing to this, the unit would halt at certain places, camp for the night and proceed the next morning. Mulabagal is exactly sixty miles from Bangalore. Therefore, it was fixed as an appropriate place for putting up the army camp. Around 1850, the Government appointed Sri Gundappa as the Commissariat Officer—the rank of a Sheikhdaar—to oversee all the arrangements and to ensure that the army camp was provided with all the necessary supplies.
Sri Gundappa belonged to the Brihaccharana sub-sect of the Dravida Brahmanas. However, in that period, there was nobody from this sub-sect residing in the Mulabagal region. Sri Annambhatta was the most renowned Brahmana in the town. Therefore, Sri Gundappa had to earn the friendship of Sri Annambhatta.
A far ancestor of Sri Gundappa named Sri Shyama Bhatta was a Vaidika Brahmana[ii]. Hailing from the Dravida Brahmana sect, he had migrated to the Mysore region in search of livelihood. After obtaining employment variously as a Shanubhoga (village accountant) and Patel (a village headman), he gradually moved away from being a Vaidika Brahmana and eventually became a Laukika Brahmana. As a Shanubhoga of the Hosakote and the Bettahalasuru regions, he had to regularly visit Government offices. To this end, he had to wear the Rumaal (ornate, official headgear) and gradually came to be known by the moniker, “Rumaal” Shyama Bhatta. One of his descendants was the aforementioned Sheikhdaar Gundappa.
Friendship and Helping Hand
It appears that compared to the Brahmanas of today, the Brahmanas of that era were steadfastly devoted to tradition and the performance of Karma[iii]. Therefore, Sheikhdaar Gundappa, realizing the necessity of a Vaidika, sought the friendship of Sri Annambhatta.
Their homes were opposite each other. Sri Annambhatta’s house was far more ancient than ours. As the years rolled by, the two houses, instead of being two separate homes, became two branches of the same family. That was the extent of the thick bond of mutual friendship and affection. Be it festivals or even in the drudgery of routine life, the two families were counted as one. A portion of the food cooked here was shared there and vice versa.
I haven’t seen Sri Annambhatta. Even Sri Venkatarama Bhatta was about sixty when I came of age. His two elder sisters were Annamma (or Annapoornamma) and Ammannamma. Both were widows in the traditional sense. The older of the two passed away ten days after I was born. Upon hearing the news, she exclaimed in Telugu, “Mamayya [Maternal Uncle] is born.” That became my name.
The two sisters used to address my great grandfather, Sri Gundappa as “Mamayya.” Ammannamma was alive during my childhood and used to address me only as “Mamayya.”
Fixing the Bride and the Groom
Villagefolk used to approach Sri Venkatarama Bhatta in the matters related to fixing weddings. Their questions normally revolved around matching horoscopes and ascertaining auspicious times for weddings. Several villagefolk wouldn’t have horoscopes. They didn’t know how to read and write. When such people approached him, Sri Venkatarama Bhatta would ask the name of the prospective bride and groom. He would assign a star based on the first letter of the name [of the bride or groom as the case maybe). For example, “ABC Ashwini [star] or XYZ Bharani [star],” and so on. The next step after assigning the star was to decide the suitability of the marriage bond. Every star has a symbolic animal associated with it. My star is Moola. Therefore, I am a dog. Hence, the bride whose star is associated with a mouse is the most suitable to wed him. This was how prospective brides and grooms were matched.
When villagefolk visited Sri Venkatarama Bhatta when he wasn’t at home, his elder sisters, Annamma and Ammannamma would themselves apply the aforementioned formula and fix the wedding match.
Not just this. Annamma and Ammannamma would also supervise Vedic education. Even when Sri Venkatarama Bhatta was not at home, his disciples would come there and revise the Vedas. During the course of this revision, when a student would miss an alphabet or commit an error in the Swara (musical note), Annamma or Ammannamma would yell in Telugu, “ Hey, you’re missing the Swara! I must not correct it—my tongue must not recite the Veda. Rectify it yourself. I’ll tell my younger brother once he comes home.” In this manner, the students had the fear of being caught by Annamma or Ammannamma. Thanks to listening to the Vedas day and night, every single day, both women had earned authority in the method of imparting Vedic education.
Sri Venkatarama Bhatta belonged to the Mulukanadu sect of Brahmanas. His mother tongue was Telugu. His ancestral occupation was Pourohitya. In Sri Annambhatta’s time, the family was prosperous. He was in charge of Pourohitya for fourteen villages, owned agricultural land and farms. His vast house faced east and its expanse from north to south measured more than 200 feet. Apart from a large kitchen, and storehouse, it had a lovely portico. This was followed by a spacious courtyard floored with slab-stone and maintained to impeccable cleanliness. Beyond this was the bathroom and a cowshed which housed a cow, two buffaloes and their calves. Still beyond this were two horse-stables. A large, open field containing a small house lay beyond the stables. The house-help, a woman named Munivenkatamma lived here.
Beyond the field lay a well and beyond the well was the home of the Royal Purohita, Sri Subba Bhatta. An extensive verandah spread itself out in front of his house. Because there was soothing shade when the afternoon ended, a small gathering would assemble every evening on that verandah. My younger grandfather, Sri Ramanna was the chief of that gathering. That place had become akin to an office for folks like Attikunte Sripatiraya, Archaka Hanumappa, and Sahukar Peddavaradayya Shetty. Literature, philosophy, Purana, politics, the state of the world—there was nary a topic that wasn’t discussed there.
The northern side of the wall of the neighboring house jutted out to a length of about eight or ten feet. Ammannamma used to paste dried cow dung on this wall. As soon as she spotted me returning from school in the morning, she would say, “Mamayya has come. Now it’s time for my bath,” and stop pasting the cow dung and would head for her bath.
About four or five disciples would always be present in Sri Venkatarama Bhatta’s home. While some of them hailed from the neighbouring villages like Mudiyanooru, Hebbani, Gandipalli, and Nangli, others would also arrive from far off places like Madanapalli, and Punganur. Sri Venkatarama Bhatta taught them ritual procedures, Jyotisha, Dharmashastra, and Sanskrit literature. He taught portions from the Samhita, Brahmana, and Aranyaka of the Yajur Veda.
Because that home was renowned for Annadaana[iv], it was typical for people in their lineage to take on names like “Annambhatta,” “Annapoorna” and so on.
Sri Venkatarama Bhatta’s ancestors originated in Revanoor or Renoor or Ronoor. Sri Venkatarama Bhatta himself didn’t know where exactly that town was located. There are numerous places named Renoor. There’s a village by that name in the Srinivasapura Taluk.
To be continued
This is the first part of the English translation of the second chapter of D V Gundappa’s Jnapakachitrashaale – Vol. 5 titled “Vaidikadharma Sampradayastharu.” Translated by Sandeep Balakrishna.
[i] DVG wrote this volume of Jnapaka Chitrashaale in about 1972.
[ii] Typically, Brahmanas are classified as Laukika Brahmanas and Vaidika Brahmanas. The Laukika Brahmanas engage in worldly occupations and professions such as taking Government and private employment, and some even carry on businesses. Vaidika Brahmanas solely lead a strict religious and spiritual life. They typically impart traditional knowledge such as the Vedas, Sanskrit, etc and perform the duties of Pourohitya (see footnote on Sri Venkatanarana Bhatta) such as performing Pujas, naming ceremonies, Yajnas, weddings, and so on. The timeless Indian tradition holds a Vaidika Brahmana as one who leads a noble and spiritual life and places him at a higher standard than a Laukika Brahmana.
[iii] The word “Karma” in this case is used in the sense of performing various religious duties and rituals ordained in the Karma Kanda portion of the Vedas and as prescribed in the relevant Dharmashastras.
[iv] It is difficult to convey the full cultural import of the term, “Annadaana.” Literally, it means “donating food” to anybody who comes seeking or in general, a gesture of showing that food is always available in that particular home.