Nivrutti Tippa Bhatta
Sri Venkatarama Bhatta’s wife, the Revered Mother Akkayyamma hailed from Mudiyanoor, an Agrahara[i] populated by the Vaidika Brahmanas of the Mulukanadu sect. It appears that at some point in history, it was filled with Vidwans and scholars of a high standard. The surnames and family names of people from that Agrahara testifies to this: “Sridharam,” “Naishadham,” “Puranam,” “Paaraayanam,” “Nivrutti,” and so on.[ii]
Srimati Akkayyamma was the younger sister of “Nivrutti” Tippa Bhatta, a great Vidwan. Not only was he learned in the Veda, he also had a deep mastery over literature. During lunch time on occasions such as the Shraddha, he would launch on a learned commentary or an exposition of some literary or philosophical topic. His brother-in-law, Sri Venkatarama Bhatta would use such occasions to tease him, “the numerous knots of Tippa Bhatta, which have no end.”
Sri Tippa Bhatta’s younger brother, Sri Gangadhara Sastri was learned in the Vedas and deeply wedded to tradition and Karmas. He had once performed the Suryanamaskara in our home for an entire Mandala (48 days). Each time he saw me he would point to the dhoti he was wearing and say, “Your grandfather gave this. Just look how brilliant the border is, even after all these years. You were born as the fruit of Surya, (the Sun Deity). Therefore you must be extremely hygienic, pure, and devout at all times.”
He would visit our home on every Monday of the Karthika month (typically, September—October) to perform the Rudra Abhishekam.
The Earnings of Sri Tippa Bhatta
In this context, it is pertinent to mention a few words about the lifestyle and life-status of those Vaidika Brahmanas.
All the Brahmanas in the Mudiyanoor Agrahara carried on worldly occupations. Meaning, they had a share in the lands donated by some king in the past for the purpose of preserving and perpetuating the study of the Vedas and other Shastras. The harvest of ragi, rice, etc emanating from those lands was the main source of their livelihood. They lived in mud houses constructed in the ancient style. They had extremely little need for money of the coin and currency note variety. They had only six days in each month to earn something. On Saturdays, they would leave home at four in the afternoon and would arrive at the Sri Anjaneyaswami Temple in Mulbagal at around six or six-thirty.
Sri Tippa Bhatta was tall and stout and walked real slow. After the Vaishyas took a Darshana of Sri Anjaneya Swami on Saturday evenings, they would offer a coin (copper or bronze) each to the Brahmanas present in the temple as Daana. In this manner, Sri Tippa Bhatta’s earning was around ten paise per week and about forty-five or fifty per month. This apart, there were two Ekadashi days[iii] every month. On those evenings, he would earn about eight or ten paise. The next day, that is, on Dwadashi (Twelfth Day), the Vaishyas would offer traditional charity: six paise from each Vaishya home. A total of about twenty-five or thirty paise from four or five different homes. In all, Sri Tippa Bhatta’s earnings were a grand total of eighty-five or ninety paise. Apart from these, he would obtain a Dakshina (offering of money) during ceremonies such as Shraddha. That amounted to one or two rupees per year.
Therefore, even if we made a generous estimate, his annual monetary earning amounted to about ten or twelve rupees.
In spite of this condition, Sri Tippa Bhatta never bowed down before anybody, never had a scowl on his face. He spent his entire lifespan joyfully by laughing and making others laugh. He had a large family. Sons, daughters, and relatives all lived with him. Not for a day did he feel anxious or bitter. Perhaps those people were innately oblivious to something called poverty.
The Culinary Prowess of Akkayyamma
Srimati Akkayyamma was a spectacular cook who had attained perfection in whatever dish she made. The firsts in this list include Kajjaya (a sweet delicacy), Obbattu (another sweet delicacy), and raw mango broth. Making the Kajjaya is a pretty arduous task. The first requirement is to obtain the highest quality of rice, which should first be soaked. After ascertaining its consistency, it needs to be dried in shade. Before it fully dries up, it needs to be poured into a stone mortar and pounded to a fine powder with a wooden pestle. This is the first phase. In this age of preparing instant powders with mixers and flour mills, this manual process is sure to cause arms to break and fall off. Today, there’s neither that difficulty nor that heady fragrance—that indescribable, divine aroma wafting from the mixture of finely-shredded coconuts, fried gingelly seeds, and homemade ghee. Today we experience the sweet. Any dish to which jaggery is added certainly tastes sweet. But the mellowed tempering that results from an optimum mixture of ingredients is what brings aroma. It is this tempering that one needs to learn from Srimati Akkayyamma.
Raw mango broth has become extremely rare nowadays. I haven’t seen it since the last thirty or forty years. When it was three-quarters ripe—but before it became soft—Srimati Akkayyamma would pluck native mangoes, add jaggery, and then make the broth. That was the most perfect, the most suitable broth to be mixed with rice and eaten. This sour-sweet delicacy was a kind of honey.
It is said that Zebunnisa, the younger sister of the Delhi Badshah Aurangzeb was travelling in a palanquin from Agra to Mathura. The palanquin was carried on the shoulders of people belonging to the hunter tribe on a route filled with dense jungles. She parted the curtain of the palanquin in order to savor the wild, scenic beauty. Her gaze soon fell upon a young cowherd. She called him over and opened up a conversation. She had learnt Sanskrit, like her brother Dara Shikhoh: “Who are you? What’s your occupation?” The youth gave this reply:
Tarunam sarpapashaakam navodanam piccalaani ca dadhiini |
alpavyayena sundari gramyajano mrushtamashnaati ||
A curry made of tender greens, hot rice, rock-like curd which slips from the finger—villagers are content with such a grand feast which doesn’t cost much.
This was exactly the quality of culinary delight that existed about seventy years ago.
The school had declared a holiday for a few hours on a certain Dwadashi (twelfth day of the fortnight). About eight or ten students including me had gathered at around nine in the morning. The location was a road that lay en route to the Narasimhatirtha in the easterly direction of our town. Of the vast rows of trees, purple-berries were the most in number. Each of us climbed a tree and ravished the fruits to our hearts’ content. And then after we climbed down, a fear struck us: what if somebody came to know what we’d done? And so, we went hunting for that which would erase the blue colour on our tongues: raw tamarind. We ascended the tamarind tree and ate raw tamarind.
Convinced that we had accomplished a great adventure, we returned to school, forgetting ourselves. By the time we reached, my father already present there with a large mirror. He called us out individually and said: “show your tongue,” and held up the mirror. It was then we realized that the evidence of our thievery hadn’t been erased. I underwent the “service” of the cane. We conferred and whispered among ourselves: who had ratted out the details of our adventure? The secret surfaced the same evening.
Sri Venkatarama Bhatta asked me, grinning nonstop: “Did your father beat you severely? Or was it mild? I had told him not to cane you harshly.”
Earlier in the morning, Sri Venkatarama Bhatta was returning on horseback from some random village. He spotted me on the tree. He could’ve warned me right there. But he informed my father when he bumped into him later. Sri Bhatta himself explained the reason: “It isn’t a mistake to eat purple-berries. And I didn’t want to spoil the fun you young lads were having. But you must be aware of the real danger. The danger of the purple-berry tree is in its branches. They break easily. If that happens and one of you fell down, you could break your hands or legs. That’s the reason I told your father to warn you guys. The blow from your father’s hands is strong. It’s fine now.”
Actually, my father hadn’t beaten me that harshly. He was standing there. Grinning.
To be continued
This is the second 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] A locality in a village or town in which typically only Brahmanas lived. Historically, kings, chieftains, etc would donate an Agrahara in grants so that Brahmanas could peacefully discharge their sacred duties of teaching, puja, and the imparting of wisdom and solace to the rest of the society.
[ii] These titles or family names had various origins. In this case, the origins of the titles are as follows:  Sridharam: Derived from a saint/scholar named Sridharaswami who lived a few hundred years ago. He was renowned for his extraordinary commentary on the Bhagavatam and Shankaracharya’s Bhagvad Gita Bhashyam. His corpus of work is known as SridharI. Therefore, any person or family who had developed expertise in giving discourses or writing on the SridharI were known by the title of “Sridharam-vaaru” (Vaaru in Telugu variously means “belonging to,” “them,” or a term of respect for any person).  Bhashyam: Those learned in Adi Shankara’s commentaries on the Brahmasutras (also known as Shariraka Bhashyam).  Naishadham: Those learned in Sriharsha’s Sanskrit work, Naishadheeya Charitam, authored in the 12th Century. This work is considered as the last of the Pancha Mahakavyas (The Five Great Long Poems). It was translated with great aplomb by the versatile and talented 15th Century Telugu poet, Srinatha as Shrungara Naishadham.  Nivrutti: Those who were well-versed in the philosophy and texts of Nivruttidharma, or the Dharma of Renunciation. These texts include those of Vedanta and Sanyasa Dharma.
[iii] Ekadashi (literally, Eleventh Day) is the beginning of the waxing or waning phase of the moon each month. It is considered auspicious by Hindus.