FATHER'S LAST MOMENTS Pt.2
(For a miniscule account of his life see Part I)
His last moments were so remarkable that as one who went through the unique blessed experience of watching how a noble soul should leave the body fully resonating with the shlokas 5 to 14 of B.G. Ch.8. I cannot but record it here for the sake of posterity to understand what Lord Krishna meant by these shlokas and to know what great traditions dominated this land from time immemorial.
It was January 8, 1956. My father was living in Madurai (South India) with me, my wife and three children of ours. Generally he was in perfect health, doing his daily religious routines which start with a bath in the early morning, sometimes in the river, but mostly as his age advanced, in the home. He went through a routine of pUjA for possibly one or two hours. Then throughout the day he would keep himself busy reading and writing. He is the author of several manuscripts of advaita character. I have heard several of his religious expositions. Naturally as every Hindu expositor would do, if the context demanded, he would refer to these slokas of the gita in these expositions. And when he expounds on the name and glory of Narayana, he used to say that one should cry out ‘Narayana’ so loud, that it is heard even in distant VaikunTha, the abode of Vishnu. Whenever as a teenager I heard these statements from him, I used to treat them as just rhetoric, but I did not realise he was really serious about it, until he showed me how one must die.
One month before his demise, he fell ill for a few days, even lost consciousness, but recovered very soon. Thereafter he even exhibited signs of double vigour. He resumed his river bath, and visits to the temple for darSan and so on. One day he called the pundits, (it was an eclipse on that day, perhaps solar), performed some rituals (which later I understood was a prAyaScitta ritual), performed an actual godAn (gift of a cow), and so on. Since he was generally religious and of a most saintly type, we took these things for granted and did not realise that he was gradually preparing for his final exit from this world. December-January corresponds to the Tamil month of Margazhi (Recall:mAsAnAm mArgasIrsho’ham – B.G. 10 -35) which corresponds in the divine reckoning, to their early morning time: 4 to 6. During this month throughout the Hindu world, morning pujas will be performed certainly in all temples, but also in most families of the traditional kind. My father used to do this early morning puja (which would be in addition to the daily puja which came later in the morning at the usual time of 8 or 9). His routine for the early mornings during December-January was to get up at four, heat water for his bath and have his bath. The previous night itself my wife would have kept ready the firewood and the pot of water that was necessary. He would himself light the firewood and heat the water. After bath he would sit for the puja. Simultaneously, he would also light the small charcoal oven (known as kumutti in Tamil) and put on it a small vessel containing water and moong dhal and rice with a few spices, for making Pongal, for thenaivedya to the Lord after Puja. The necessary materials would all have been kept ready for him by my wife the previous night itself. He would finish the Puja about 5-45 or so, and just before the Arti time the rest of the family (myself, my wife and children) would wake up and have darSan of the Arti.
This routine was going on every day. But on the 8th January 1956, early morning, around 4-15 or so, he called me aloud and woke me up. I got up and noted that something was strange that morning. He said that he had just taken a quick bath, and was about to begin the puja, but he felt not quite well. ‘Go brush your teeth and come quickly’ he said. My wife also got up and both of us were ready for him in a few minutes. He asked me to bring a shawl and cover him up. I saw he was shivering. He sat opposite the pujaaltar where all the puja materials had already been arranged as usual the previous night itself. He asked me to open the vessel containing Ganges water (which had earlier been opened on the day of the eclipse a few days earlier) and give a few drops to him. He took up the rudraksha mAla from the puja materials and wore it. Also he wore the vibhuti as well as the usual Urdhva-pundram on his forehead. He spoke only a few words to get the things done as he wanted. My min d began to find meanings for the instruction he had given me a few days earlier that I should read aloud the Gajendra Moksham chapter from the Bha. daily while he would be doing the early morning Puja – which I had been following.
This day he made me sit near him and asked me to go get the book and read ‘ambhasya pAre’. This refers to the first chapter of the Maha-narayana-upanishat. which follows the three chapters of the Taittiriya Upanishat. in the taittirIya brAhmana of the yajurveda. It is a long paragraph going over to four pages. I have heard him say on many occasions that this particular anuvAka (paragraph) contains all the great mantras. I picked up the book from his bookshelf and started reading it. By that time I realised the gravity of the situation because when I noted that he was not starting his puja, but just asked me to sit and read this portion from the veda, and remembering the instruction about the Gajendra Moksham regimen of the past few days, I knew he was preparing himself for the final journey. Naturally I faltered in my reading, both because of the excitement and also because I had not been keeping myself in touch with the reading of these passages due to my worldly activities and professional obligations. When I faltered, he told me, ‘See, you have not been reciting it regularly and now you are faltering’. And then he started shouting the name ‘Narayana’, ‘Narayana’. His crying out the name of ‘Narayana’ repeatedly became so loud in the next few minutes, that later in the day my friends who lived a furlong away from me were going to report to me that they heard the shouts of ‘Narayana’ in the early morning several times. He must have cried aloud the name ‘Narayana, probably more than a hundred times that morning. I became fully aware of what was going on, from his point of view; so, I did not disturb him. But he signalled to me and put his head on my right lap while all the time crying out ‘Narayana’. The recitation of the Narayana name did not stop at all.
My wife in her anxiety called a neighbor, who called another neighbor who was a doctor. The doctor came, examined, gave a coromin injection and went away. But all the while my father, though fully conscious, did not respond to any of the mundane conversation that either the doctor or my wife generated. The children (ages 8, 5 and 3) came and watched the drama that the grandfather seemed to be enacting. He just signalled to them to sit. My wife offered some black coffee (there was no milk in the house at that time) which he did not refuse. He allowed it to go through his throat. He was lying on my lap and the nArAyana mantra was going on still aloud. It was clear that he had already bid good-bye to this body and its mundane associations.
I had now finished reading ambhasya pAre, and not knowing what to do further and not getting any further instruction from him, (because he was now not allowing himself to be distracted even a little from his loud nArAyaNa recitation) I started reciting the purusha sUkta which I happened to know by heart. As soon as I started it, he signalled to me that that was OK. The decibel level of the narAyana recitation was going down now. My wife got panicky and went out to call the same doctor once again. She returned in just a few minutes with the doctor. By this time he had stopped reciting Narayana and appeared to be sleeping, still on my lap. The time was 5-40 AM. The doctor came and pronounced him dead.