The author was a great scholar and an adept in composing extempore poetry. His experiences during his visit to Bhagavan were recorded by Devaraja Mudaliar in his diary Day by Day with Bhagavan. Sri Sastri described his visit in a booklet in Telugu entitled Sri Ramana Sandarsanamu, and this is an abridged translation of his booklet.
In 1943 a close relative of mine, Brahamashri Vedula Ramamurthy, handed me a copy of Ganapati Muni’s Sanskrit work Uma Sahasram and asked me to translate it into Telugu. This was the first time that I had seen Bhagavan’s picture and it drew me to him like a magnet. I at once agreed to translate the work, feeling that the offer was divinely prompted.
When the college where I was lecturing closed for the summer vacation in 1946, my wife and I set out on a pilgrimage to Tiruvannamalai, visiting Kalahasti and Tirupati en route. As we entered the hall on May 5th, 1946, the morning Veda Parayana was going on in Bhagavan’s presence. Bhagavan was seated majestically on the sofa, and even the first sight of him evoked great faith and ineffable bliss in my heart. I was so moved by my emotions that I could not restrain myself, and as Bhagavan rose for breakfast, I fell prostrate at his feet. I was so unconscious of my surroundings that all the copies of my books which I had brought to present to Bhagavan fell on the floor. One of the devotees picked them up and helped me to go to the dining room. After breakfast I went to my lodging and composed twenty verses in Sanskrit in praise of Sri Bhagavan under the title Atmabhista Nivedanam.
When I entered the hall again, I introduced myself to Sri Bhagavan in Sanskrit, not knowing that he spoke Telugu. When I said to him, “Umasahasram maya Andhri kritham” (I have rendered Uma Sahasram into Telugu), he replied, “Oh, you are translating Uma Sahasram into Telugu”, in pure Telugu, and even corrected my use of the word Andhri kritham which means “completed translating”. Bhagavan somehow knew that I had not actually finished the work, and when he enquired how far I had gone with my translation, I confessed that I had only so far translated a hundred slokas along with their commentary.
At the conclusion of this conversation, I requested Bhagavan to permit me to read out the poem I had just composed in my room. Bhagavan nodded his head and I recited the verses with a strong emotional fervour.
On the third day of my visit, I had the good fortune of reading out to Sri Bhagavan that part of Uma Sahasram which I had already translated. After the reading was over, I informed Bhagavan that I had written to the publishers of the Sanskrit original for permission to publish my translation, but that so far, I had not received any reply from them. Bhagavan advised me: “If you go and meet Kapali Sastri in Pondicherry, he will be able to help you to obtain the necessary permission from the publishers. The permission will come with no difficulty.”
That afternoon I said to Bhagavan: “We have stayed here for three days. If Bhagavan gives us leave to go we shall go tonight. If not we shall stay two days more.” Bhagavan gave no reply. Later, on the way to the dining room, I was talking to Devaraja Mudaliar about the publication of my book. He told me that since Bhagavan had suggested that I go to Pondicherry and see Kapali Sastri, I should go there, and that if I did, the required permission would easily be obtained. I explained that I was unable to go to Pondicherry as I had taken a vow to make a pilgrimage to Chidambaram, and that if I went to Chidambaram, my finances would not permit me to extend my journey to Pondicherry. On my request, he explained to me the best way of reaching Chidambaram by drawing a map on the floor. As the explanation was proceeding, Bhagavan passed by and he stopped and asked Devaraja Mudaliar if he was explaining the route to me. Devaraja Mudaliar said yes, and added that I was asking for instructions on how to get to Chidambaram as it was not possible for me to go to Pondicherry. “Is that so?” replied Bhagavan. “Won’t Sastriji go to Pondicherry?” and after this brief comment, he passed on his way.
That night we left the Ashram and reached Chidambaram the next morning. We accommodated ourselves in a pilgrim’s lodge and had the darshan of Lord Nataraja in the temple. All the time, I was spending my money very thriftily in view of my meagre finances. In the evening I was talking to the steward of the chatram (the pilgrim’s lodge), and I told him of my visit to Bhagavan, and how I was unable to follow his instructions to go to Pondicherry. The steward told me that it would not cost much to go to Pondicherry, and he eventually convinced us to extend our journey. He even accompanied us to the bus station and voluntarily purchased a ticket for us out of his own pocket.
We arrived at Pondicherry on 10.5.1946, and when I went to see Sri Kapali Sastri he was teaching some lessons to a student. I introduced myself in Sanskrit and presented him with a copy of my Andhra Dhyanyalokam. Kapali stared at me with surprise and said to me in fluent Telugu, pointing to his student: “He is the son of Ganapati Muni’s intimate disciple, Sri M. P. Pandit. As he is preparing for his M.A. Degree examination in Sanskrit, I am teaching him Dhyanyalokam in Sanskrit as it is prescribed for their study. Now you arrive here with a Telugu translation of the same work. I think your book will help me a lot in teaching the lessons.”
In the afternoon I read out to him my translation of Uma Sahasram, along with his commentary. He listened to it carefully and commended my translation by saying that it was faithful and lucid. He promised me that he would do whatever was necessary to publish my book as early as possible. When he was about to leave he gently said to me: “As I am staying here alone without my family, I am not able to offer my hospitality to you, so you must kindly accept at least this.” As he was saying this, he was forcing five rupees into my hands.
In retrospect, when I calculated the additional expenditure I had incurred on my trip to Pondicherry, I found to my surprise that it had cost me only five rupees extra!
Before leaving, Kapali Sastri told me that I would have to travel through Tiruvannamalai on my way back to Vijayanagaram, and he asked me if I would again break my journey at Tiruvannamalai. I had not realised this before and I was elated at the prospect of being able to see Bhagavan again.
I reached the gates of Sri Ramanasramam on the morning of the 11th. As I was about to enter the Ashram, I saw some devotees standing near the gate, and I heard one of them telling the others, “Sastriji is now coming from Pondicherry.” I was so surprised that they knew of my unexpected change of route, that I went up to them and asked them how they knew that I had been to Pondicherry. One of them informed me that after I had left for Chidambaram, one of the devotees told Bhagavan about my departure. Bhagavan had replied: “He will go to Chidambaram, from there to Pondicherry, and then he will come back here. He will leave for Vijayanagaram only after giving us a performance of his extempore poetry.”
When I entered the hall and prostrated before Bhagavan, he immediately asked me: “Did you go to Pondicherry from Chidambaram?” I replied with great devotion and excitement that only Bhagavan’s grace had taken us to Pondicherry and that that same grace had brought us back for Bhagavan’s darshan.
Later the devotees asked me to give them a performance of my extempore poetry, and when I humbly asked what subject I should compose on, they at once chose Bhagavan himself as the subject. As I started composing my extempore poems, I felt that some divine force had taken possession of me and was composing the poems. I remembered only the beginning and the end and I did not know what I was reciting. Sri Sambasiva Rao, an advocate from Guntur, jotted down the poems, twenty in all, on a piece of paper while the recitation was going on, but as he could not keep pace with my fast recitation he left some blanks to be filled in later. When the recitation was over, he gave me the paper and requested me to fill in the blank spaces. I told him that the poems had come to my lips quite spontaneously by Bhagavan’s grace, and that I did not myself remember what I had said. Bhagavan then remarked: “Those poems cannot be filled in. Even if he tries, the original form cannot be recaptured.”
Later I was told that after I had left for Chidambaram, Devaraja Mudaliar had said to Bhagavan: “It seems that this L. N. Sastry is a great poet. Nagamma is all praise for his poems and tells me that he is the best Telugu poet to come to Bhagavan for at least five years.” G. Subba Rao, who was also present apparently agreed with him. After listening to these comments Bhagavan remarked: “Yes, I agree he is a great poet. He is a pandit in the Raja’s college at Vijayanagaram. Nobody would take him for such a great poet, he looks like a very ordinary man, but he wants to become an avadhani (one who can compose extempore poems on any subject). But all this is only activity of the mind. The more you exercise the mind and the more success you have in composing verses or doing satavadanam (giving attention to many things at once) the less peace you have. What use is it to acquire such accomplishments if you don’t acquire peace? But if you tell people this it does not appeal to them. They cannot keep quiet and they must be composing songs. As Nayana (Ganapati Muni) used to say, in going forward one can run any distance at any speed, but when it is a question of going backwards, that is, running inwards, even one step is hard to take.”
When I came to hear of Bhagavan’s opinions on the composition of extempore poetry, I followed his advice and greatly curtailed my poetic ambitions.