Chitrapur Rathotsav (Shirale Teru)
By Late Amembal Sundar Rao

Rathotsava 2001            Rathotsava 2000             An artist's impression of the Rath

The prevailing view is that continuance of Chitrapur Rathotsav (Shirale Teru) is paramount for our benign community, spiritually, socio-economically, and culturally and one may add aesthetically. According to the graphic observation of our 1971 Saraswat Census Report and Directory, "If there is any single connecting link which holds together the widely scattered units of the community more strongly and more surely than any other, it is the great Chitrapur Math with its brilliant line of revered Gurus." And the gorgeous Rathotsav at this sacrosanct Math provides, in addition to intense religious fervour, a unique occasion to our diversified Bhanaps for renewing old attachments and making friendships, not to speak of reconnoitering for eligible brides and bridegrooms on the congregational front.

Sacred places receive their sanctity from godly persons who had lived or are living thereat. The divine vibrations sent out by these holy personages constitute an unending spiritual legacy to mankind. These sanctified places provide an impetus to seekers for progress in their spiritual pursuit. This fact explains why temples and maths are resorted to by the pious everywhere and at all times.

The preponderance and supremacy of sacred temples in our lives was pointedly stressed by our revered Swamis from time to time. On one occasion, the devotees of Mulki a township in the South Kanara District, approached Krishnashram Swami at Shirali, and stated that they intended to have a Temple of Uma-Maheshwar constructed at Mulki and requested that the holy foundation be graciously laid by Krishnashram Swami. Swami advised the visiting devotees that their proposal to establish a Temple in their town was laudable. Swami counseled, "Lord Bhawanishankar is all-pervasive, while you perform your worldly ties, your thoughts must always he centered on God. Homes provide a limited scope for the performance of elaborate religious rites and rituals. Hence the idea of constructing Maths and Temples has been generated. Assemblage of persons with common motives of piety and solemnity has its own spiritual benefits. Congregations of persons in such situations of severity instill in one another the grace of Divinity. Your plan for the construction of a Temple are praiseworthy".

The annual Chitrapur Rathotsav (Shirale Teru) is by no means a routine, prosaic and monotonous event. It is a gorgeous festival providing a magnificent opportunity for our comrades in the community to get together and pray in unison and communion at the Sanctum Sanctorum of Lord Bhawanishankar and the revered Samadhis of a galaxy of resplendent Swamis. The vibrations and waves of piety, which are generated at the various holy rituals, are to be experienced and not merely expostulated.

The genesis of Chitrapur Rathotsav is of immense interest. The year was 1862. The day was Rathasapthami, and the occasion was Rathotsav celebrations at Venkatapur. Young Pandurangashram Swami sought leave of Krishnashram Swami, "May I visit Bhatkal today to witness Rathotsav". Guru Swami demurred and said endearingly, "No, child. A Sanyasi and future Mathadhipati must not; your Presence at the festivities would invoke ridicule." To Shishya Swami's plea that a Rathotsav was very dear to him, and that he would be exceedingly jubilant at witnessing Laxmiraman beseated in the chariot, Krishnashram Swami reiterated that a visit was highly improper. Guru Swami however offered consolation, to the paramount exultation of Pandurangashram Swami and eternal gratification of the Saraswat Community, that an annual celebration of Rathotsav festival would be arranged at Chitrapur Math. The seeming insistence on visiting Bhatkal to witness Rathotsav was only a precursor and a process of laying the ground for the celebration of the Festival at Shri Chitrapur Math in the future, and Pandurangashram Swami had forsooth a clear vision of the order of things to come.

Ratha was promptly constructed, and on Chaitra Shuddha Purnima of the same year, the Chariot, which was a thing of beauty and pre-eminently a joy forever was ready. On the same day Rathotsav was celebrated with ceremonials, pomp and grandeur. Visitors from far and near flocked to the celebrations, and were unanimous in their encomiums that they had neither seen before such an exquisite Ratha nor such lustrous Rathotsav festivities. Shirale Teru was thus revered Pandurangashram Swami's transcendental gift to the Chitrapur Saraswats, then, current and future.

Chitrapur Rathotsav lent grace and glory and reigned supreme in the socio-religious annals of the community for all over 75 years. Economic conditions governing the Chitrapur Math were in the meantime steadily deteriorating, and because of financial constraints the popular and prestigious festival was perforce discontinued from 1939 during Anandashram Swami's regime.

H.H. Parijnanashram Swami revived the Rathotsav against heavy odds in the year of grace 1973.  Revival of an event which had remained in suspended animation for a period of 34 years necessarily posed numerous problems, the most formidable of which was a natural calamity, as most parts of the country were then facing acute drought conditions and the festival involved congregation in the Math of hundreds of devotees stretched over three or four days. Differences of opinion existed among the laity in regard only to the timings of the restarting of the festival and not to the factum of resurgence;
but Swami's ardent wish and resolve prevailed and verily large numbers of devotees visited the
Math in universal jubilation, some of the youngest persons participating in the gorgeous festival for the first time and elders with nostalgic memories of earlier celebrations.

An occurrence of Divine Grace relating to the project would require mention. An essential wooden component of the Ratha (Dhwaja Sthamba) required replacement in view of its having been in disuse for over three decades. People went in search of the special tree all round, but without success. When anxiety rose in the minds of the authorities, a Saraswat devotee just then dropped at Bhatkal on transfer as Forest Ranger and the mission was accomplished at the Forester's hands overnight.

The narration about the revival in 1973 of the glorious Chitrapur Rathotsav celebration would be incomplete without mention of Parijnanashram Swamiji's deep thinking on the subject. During the Sadhana Saptaha in Bombay in April 1972, Swamiji announced that it was his considered opinion that revival of Rathotsav was salutary in the interests of the community. Swamiji indicated that the main purpose was not so much that there were pressures from large sections of the community for revival, or that the financial condition of the Math had improved. The principle objective was, Swami stressed, that the lore of the rites, rituals and essential forms of the Rathotsav viniyogas was within full knowledge of a limited number of Vaidiks, and with disuse, this knowledge was dwindling, leading possibly to ultimate extinction. This knowledge should be preserved and revitalised in the case of a venerable Math with a little less than a hundred years of Rathotsav heritage.

The inspiring chronicle of the initial installation, and subsequent resurgence after a break, of the Chitrapur Rathotsav, would undoubtedly instill piety and reverence in every person towards celebrating for all time the glorious Festival in our hallowed Punyabhoomi, particularly in the light of the gracing in a short while, by another Avatar, of our resplendent Dharmasana, which has been sanctified by the Tapas of the eminent personages of our lustrous Guru Parampara (not to speak of the comfort and speed which would imminently be provided by the mundane Konkan Railway).

                    -------- Reproduced from Kanara Saraswat- November 1994 issue.--------------