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Friday, August 16, 2013


India Pundit blogs record with deep regret and sorrow the paramapadam advent of yet another near and dear one, a father figure who was also the family priest - Ubhaya Vedanta Sri. Sundarraja Iyengar Swamigal, fondly known to the family as Vatthiyaar Maama. He was 90 when he left us all grieving.

Sri R. Sundarrajan, who was a salesman of electrical supplies, was also a professional priest for many families in Tamilnadu, though he mostly frequented only the ones in Chennai, Srivilliputtur and his favorite hometown, Srirangam. Some of the families are from the upper echelons of the society, but nevertheless held him and his vidwat in great respect. He was a sort of a bridge between disparate Iyengar families within the city. A short stature man of quicksilver temper with a thenkalai thirunaamam across his broad forehead culminating near his furry eyebrows, his laughter would expose his unruly teeth which he would cover with his right hand. He had a pet peeve against many of his peers, because he knew them to be charlatans who he claimed were only money-minded that were not qualified to conduct religious ceremonies properly. He taught us brothers Vedic Mantras, Sukthas and Thiru Aaradhanam (daily worship of God). He taught us Medha Suktham and the renowned Raja Rajeshwari Mantram fortified with powerful Beejakasharas. His brother-in-law was the priest for my Upanayanam while he himself was the priest for my brother, my cousin and my son's Upanayanam. He also conducted my grandpa's Shataabhishekam. In short, he was my dad's older brother who had even the right to get annoyed with my dad at times.

Blessed with three daughters, the devout srivaishnavaite couple that he and his wife  (one of my many mothers) were, lived in a traditional rental home in Saidapet, Chennai. Few years back, his wife reached the holy Thirunaadu, even as she was attending the Vaikunta Ekadasi festival (the very Ekadasi day if I remember it correctly) at the Srirangam Temple. She had leaned on the bamboo support of PeriyAzhwar's palenquin at the Aayiram Kaal Mandapam (1000 pillared Hall) and breathed her last. She had died within the temple precincts. I suppose that had weighed in on his mind for a while. He continued living with his daughter Kalyani.

Like my loving Aacharaya Swamigal, he was yet another pillar of our family, the other being my father. The three years 2011, 2012 and 2013 are watershed years for our family because of three father figures leaving us - my father, my preceptor and finally my priest. Vaathiyaar Maama loved my parents, my wife and my son a lot, but he was specially fond of me and my brother. We were like the sons he never had. My letter encomium on his departed wife, in traditional Sri Vaishnavaite language, impressed him so much so that he proudly showed it to his friends and relatives. He had even framed it for display in his Srirangam home.

May he decorate Nithya Vibhoothi as a fragrant Tulasi garland as he was here (his backyard grew a forest of Krishna Tulasi plants). And may he be reunited with his blessed wife (a mother to me) who left us years back. And may they serve Our Lord and His Consort together as a liberated couple.

My family feels devastated as much as my sisters Kalyani, Ranganayaki and Maduravalli (I have been blessed with a mother, a wife and a sister, all named Maduravalli). But then there is also a crazy hope of a blessed reunion with our elders, in some nebulous future. God be our strength at this time of bereavement!

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