Panthulu Lakshmi Narayana Sastri was a scholar and adept in composing extempore poetry.
In 1943, a close relative asked me to translate into Telugu, Ganapati Muni’s Sanskrit work Uma Sahasram. I at once agreed. This was the first time I saw Bhagavan’s picture, and it drew me like a magnet. During the 1946 summer vacation of the college where I served, my wife and I set out on a pilgrimage to Tiruvannamalai.
As we entered the hall, the Veda parayana was going on. Bhagavan was seated majestically on the sofa. His first sight evoked great faith and ineffable bliss in my heart. I was so moved that as Bhagavan rose for breakfast I could not restrain myself and fell prostrate at his feet. In the process, all the books which I had brought to present to Bhagavan fell on the floor. A devotee 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 Bhagavan under the title Atmabhista Nivedanam.
When I entered the hall again, I introduced myselfto Bhagavan in Sanskrit, not knowing that he spoke Telugu. When I said, “Uma Sahasram maya Andhrikritham” (I have rendered Uma Sahasram into Telugu), he replied, “Oh, you are translating Uma Sahasram into Telugu”, and even corrected my use of the word Andhrikritham. Bhagavan somehow knew that I had not finished the work, and when he enquired how far I had gone with my translation, I confessed that I had translated only a hundred slokas. Then I requested him to permit me to read out the poem I had composed in my room. Bhagavan nodded his consent and I recited the verses with a strong emotional fervour.
On the third day, I had the fortune of reading out the Uma Sahasram which I had translated, and informed Bhagavan that I had written to the publishers of the Sanskrit original for permission to publish the translation, and was awaiting their reply. Bhagavan advised, “If you meet Kapali Sastri in Pondicherry, he will help in obtaining the necessary permission.”
While talking to Devaraja Mudaliar [No.35] I told him about my inability to go to Pondicherry as I had taken a vow for a pilgrimage to Chidambaram, and that if I went there, my finances would not permit a visit to Pondicherry.
After reaching Chidambaram, I accommodated myself in a pilgrims’ lodge. All the time I was spending money very thriftily in view of my meagre finances. While talking to the steward of the pilgrims’ lodge, I told him of my visit to Bhagavan and how I was unable to follow his instruction to go to Pondicherry. He told me that a visit to Pondicherry would not cost much and convinced me to extend my journey. He even accompanied me to the bus station and voluntarily purchased a ticket for me out of his own pocket.
I arrived at Pondicherry on May 10, 1946, and went to see Kapali Sastri. I introduced myself in Sanskrit and presented him with a copy of my Andhra Dhyanyalokam. In the afternoon I read out to him my translation of Uma Sahasram. He listened carefully and commended my translation and felt it was faithful and lucid. He promised he would do whatever was necessary to get my work published. When I was about to leave, he gently said, “As I am staying alone without my family, I am unable to offer hospitality to you, so you must kindly accept at least this.” So saying he forced five rupees into my hands. In retrospect, calculating the additional expenditure on the 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 be passing through Tiruvannamalai on my way Backto Vijayanagaram. I had not realised this before and was elated at the prospect of seeing Bhagavan again.
As I was about to enter the Ashram, I saw some devotees near the gate, one of whom was telling the others, “Sastriji is now coming from Pondicherry.” I was surprised that they knew of my unexpected change of route. I went up to them and asked how they knew I had been to Pondicherry. I was told that after I had left for Chidambaram, one of the devotees told Bhagavan about my departure. He had then replied: “He will go to Chidambaram, from there to Pondicherry, and then come Backhere. He will leave for Vijayanagaram only after giving us a performance of his extempore poetry.”
At the Ashram, the devotees asked for a performance of my poetry; the subject chosen was Bhagavan. When I started composing poems, I felt as if some divine force had taken possession of me. An advocate from Guntur jotted down the poems, twenty in all, while the recitation was going on. When the recitation was over, he gave me the paper, requesting me to fill in the blank spaces. I told him that the poems came to my lips spontaneously by Bhagavan’s grace and I did not myself remember what I had said. Bhagavan also remarked, “Even if he tries, the original form cannot be recaptured.”
Later, I was told that when Devaraja Mudaliar had said to Bhagavan, “It seems that Sastri is a great poet”, Bhagavan replied, “Yes, I agree.” But he was quick to add, “All this is only an activity of the mind. The more you exercise the mind and the more success you have in composing verses the less peace you have. What use is it to acquire such accomplishments if you don’t acquire peace? But if you tell this to people, it does not appeal to them. As Ganapati Muni used to say, in going forward one can run with speed, but when it is going backwards, that is, running inwards, even one step is hard to take.” When I came to learn about Bhagavan’s opinion on the composition of extempore poetry, I greatly curtailed my poetic ambitions.