Sri Anna Subramanium
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Sri Anna Subramanian, known as "Anna" to his friends and disciples, was a spiritual leader in the community and a prolific writer authoring more than 100 spiritual and religious books. He got his education at an orphanage school run by Ramakrishna Mission in Chennai at a young age. He then devoted his entire life serving the orphan school, first as a teacher, then as its principal, and later as its administrator until his death at the age of 97.
Naganarasimhan Subramanian, later to be known as ANNA, was born on 20 September 1895 to his mother, Arundhati, to his father, Naganarasimhan, who was an Elementary school teacher who later became village karnam. Born in a poor family in Tiruchengodu, Salem District, Tamil Nadu, India. The eldest of six sons (Subramanian, Krishnaswami, Ramaswami, Ganapathy, Mahadevan, and Sankaran) and three daughters (Eswarambal, Sharadambal, and Lakshmi), his family lived a hand-to-mouth existence.
Because ANNA's home town in the mountains was fairly small and isolated, he studied most of his elementary education in Tiruchengodu and Bhavani (1900–1911), and studied all of his high school education by boarding at the National High School (1911–1914) in Trichinopoly. There, along with the regular curriculum, he had religious training and vedic study (the study of the ancient Hindu hymns and scriptures). From high school, he passed first in the SSLC and received a gold medal.
Being an exceptional student, he passed the Indian Matriculation Examination with a high score, higher than many other students in his area. By distinguishing himself from the others in his district, he received scholarship aid throughout his college experience. However, he still did not have the financial means to go to college from his hometown of Salem. Just when all hope diminished, a well-wisher suggested that he go to the Ramakrishna Mission Students Home in Mylapore for some help, and even provided him with the money for the trip.
Immediately upon going to the Ramakrishna Home in 1914, he was admitted and came under the care of the founder-secretary, Sri C. Ramaswami Iyengar and Maharishi S. Vasudevachari, the warden-treasurer. Maharishi was also the Vice-Principal and Professor of Physics at the Wesley College, a well-known college in India. Through him ANNA received his first job as a Demonstrator in Physics at that same college five years later, in 1919. Both Iyengar and Maharishi served as his mentors and guides through college and when the Ramakrishna Mission became his new home.
As a Teacher
Some of the good habits that ANNA stressed were: Gandhi's teaching of non-violence, the virtues of self-discipline, love of God, fear of sin, and dignity of labour.
One of ANNA's biggest contributions as a teacher which was not only helpful for his students but for other students and even teachers as well, was his idea to teach classes in Tamil. Since the British had ruled India for many decades, most schools taught in English, however because of ANNA, the use of Tamil in classrooms spread throughout the state of Tamil Nadu and became quite popular.
Every Monday ANNA would give weekly tests to his students as he observed silence. One day, without advanced notice, the Director of Public Instruction, Mr. R. M. Statham, and the District Educational Officer, Sri Sachidanandam Pillai, arrived at the school for an inspection. Most other teachers would have broken the silence during the test to give a friendly welcome to these important men, but ANNA did not. After going around the classroom and taking a couple of notes, he wrote that ANNA was running a model institution as an exemplary headmaster.
A teenager named Mahadevan, was an intelligent student, but at the same time extremely mischievous. He would find it amusing to do things that other students would not even attempt. Once he upset the most senior teacher in the entire school, and when ANNA heard about it, he personally gave Mr. Mahadevan six beatings to the hand in front of the entire school. However, this did not bother Mr. Mahadevan as he chuckled the whole time. When it was over, he burst out laughing ignoring the fact that the senior teacher had been hurt. All of the students were surprised to see Mahadevan's reaction, and when they looked to see how ANNA had reacted, they saw that he was crying. He cried because a student, who was perfectly capable of understanding what he had done wrong, chose not to repent even after a public punishment. From this story, one can tell that although ANNA was very strict, he still had a soft side. He felt that anyone of any age and personality was capable of changing his attitude.
Later in his teaching career, Sri ANNA began to use the Gandhian method of punishment. One day a boy broke an object. ANNA did not know who had broken it, and when he asked no one came forward to admit that they had done it. Instead of punishing everyone, as some teachers might have done to induce the guilty person to come forward, ANNA fasted until the boy confessed. Because the boy could not bear to see ANNA fasting on his behalf, the very next day he admitted to ANNA what he had done. Upon hearing this, ANNA kindly corrected him and started eating again. He felt that this punishment was much more effective than the ordinary one.
As a Writer
ANNA was a prolific writer and wrote about a variety of topics. He did most of his writing after he retired in 1957. He did write a little earlier in life, however; in 1930 he published the first Math book ever written in Tamil. This was the only textbook he wrote with the purpose of paying back the loans that he had needed to give all of his siblings a solid education. From then on he only wrote religious books, and never wrote for money. All the money he received from the books was donated to the Ramakrishna Mission. In 1946, ANNA wrote his first book based on the Bhagavad Gita; it was published in the city of Attur. Between this time and 1957, ANNA still wrote here and there in his free time.
After Sri ANNA retired, a friend of his suggested that he put his multilingual language to use by translating the various Indian scriptures in the form of simple books. One such scripture is India's most sacred and ancient called the Bagavad Gita. In fact, his favourite subjects to write about were the Bagavad Gita and a prayer called the Vishnu sahasranama, 1008 phrases naming the Hindu god Vishnu. He translated these popular scriptures in Tamil, English, and Sanskrit, and along with translating them word for word, he added notes on the meaning behind each section. The task was time consuming, as many of the scriptures are long, some of them 500 plus pages, but it was something that Sri ANNA enjoyed doing. He knew that after he completed this task, it would be of huge help to many people because translations for these ancient texts were, and still are, in high demand.
In addition to translating many scriptures, he also abridged many of the famous stories in India's history, such as the Mahabharata, an epic story about a battle between good and evil. He also took the time to explain the importance of many Indian rituals and the proper prayers to go along with them, and included how the rituals should properly be performed, down to the tiniest detail. When writing, ANNA mainly focused on the religion, culture, and philosophy in India as those were the subjects closest to his heart.
Throughout his life, ANNA wrote over 100 books ranging on topics from Math to Hinduism, his main focus. He signed every one of them in Tamil, no matter what language it was written in, and wrote all of his books under the name ANNA. ANNA spent most of his last 35 years of life writing and continued to write till the day he died. He wrote to help others expand their knowledge of the country of India and its culture, not for his own fame or fortune. He did not accept any money from his lectures and speeches or from his books, donating it all to the Ramakrishna Mission.
As a Religious/Spiritual Leader
ANNA felt that all the different gods in the Hindu religion were all part of the same Almighty. When a friend of his brought him a book on a specific god, Lord Shiva, Sri ANNA brushed it aside and reminded him that all gods were all the same by saying, "Hari Hara Abheda Stuthi. " Although he saw oneness in all gods, there was a god and goddess that he specifically worshiped because they had a special meaning in his heart. The god that he worshiped was Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and this was because the Ramakrishna Mission had helped him when he needed it the most. He worshipped the Divine mother Parashakti, and there is an interesting story about why he worshipped her.
One day, while Sri ANNA was staying in the town of Kanchipuram, he had a dream. ANNA saw a guru who told him to chant a Devi prayer and become her worshipper. As ANNA always trusted gurus, the next day after he woke up he did just that. That same day, as it was Ekadasi, one of the many special religious days, ANNA was to give a lecture on Lord Krishna. After the lecture, Ramananda Ayya (Telugu Brahmin), a school teacher and a Guru of the Upanishad Brahmendra Math, who was also a worshipper of Devi, initiated ANNA into the Sri Vidya upasana (see Appendix for ANNA's spiritual lineage). From then on, ANNA was a worshipper of the Devi, when prior to it he had been more of a worshipper of Lord Krishna.
Along with believing in God and Swamis, ANNA was also rooted in ancient traditions and scriptures, and the spiritual morals and values they taught. He followed the best known rituals found in them, specifically the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita. In prayer, he felt it was important to chant the four pillars of support and protection whose names all start with "G”; those names are Gita, Gayatri, Govinda, and Ganges. He felt that chanting these names was a sound guide for living and that it is a duty not to forget them, as they will give purification of the mind just by remembering them. Some other prayers that he felt should be chanted daily are prayers from the Bhagavad Gita, Vishnusahasranamam, and Lalithasahasranamam, even if it was for just ten minutes a day. However, "Neelakanta Vaahanam……" was ANNA's favourite one. ANNA believed that praying to God would help in everyday life.
ANNA did not just believe in God, he also had moral standards by which he lived. One of these standards was "Silence is Golden"; he therefore never talked much. In addition, he believed in reducing his wants to a bare minimum and was never materialistic. Gandhi was one of his role models and he practised Gandhi's ideals of morality and simple living. He also practised the saying from the ancient Indian scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, "Work is Worship. " He felt that during student life and in the beginning of his career, work was worship. After reaching a certain level in his career and accomplishing much, he felt that work was still worship. However, after retiring, he believed in "Worship is Work. " During retirement he felt that worship should be the only work one should do. His entire retired life, ANNA followed this principle.
In addition to these, Sri ANNA had a few more beliefs. ANNA felt that the poor were blessed. This was not something he could practice, but he believed that God was continuously looking after the poor, which is the reason he said he ended up getting an excellent education although coming from a very poor family. ANNA believed in this statement so much that even when he did not have enough money for his daughters' weddings, as his income as a teacher was small, he was not worried. He knew that God would help him, and he was helped. All of his friends, admirers, and students pitched in without any hesitation.
Lastly, ANNA had no prejudice against any other religion and accepted them all without reluctance. He believed that nothing was ever completely secular and that people should be able to see both the secular and religious sides of everything. He also taught his students to love and tolerate everyone no matter what he/she was like because he believed no one should harbour any hatred against anyone else.
ANNA was a great advocate of rituals, especially religious ceremonies, called pujas. He felt that if a puja was to be performed, it had to be done with the heart rather than just mechanically, otherwise, there was no point in doing it.
About 20 to 30 people on average attended ANNA's pujas, and often as many as 60 to 70 people came for the monthly Pournami puja. Anyone was welcome, even if the person was from another country. Once, people from Iceland who had heard about him even though they were not Hindus, came to one of his pujas, and he welcomed them with open arms. Food for everyone was not an issue as his wife, Smt. Visalakshi always made plenty. In fact, ANNA would not let anyone leave his home until he/she had eaten. He would not start eating until everyone else had sat down to eat. He never wanted to leave anyone out.
ANNA started performing the Pournami pujas in 1947. When he first started them, he would sit with the puja book and perform all the rituals until 11 P. M. After he started doing it more and more, it started to turn into a big occasion with many people attending and participating, especially when his grandchildren were still young.
One religious day that was extremely important for ANNA was Ekadasi. He and his wife would observe silence the entire day as a way of paying respect, and they would only eat a small portion of halwa (a jelly-like sweet) all day. After that, at night, ANNA would perform the Ekadasi puja. This day was so important to ANNA, that even though his daughter, Seetha, had her wedding on this day, he only arrived there at sunset, after the Ekadasi puja had been performed at the house of one of his students. ANNA would not break his religious rituals for anything.
ANNA was a guru to many people, although he was not officially one. He had many students and many admirers of the religious work that he did. He accepted everyone who wanted to learn from him, even if the person had another guru. If he/she did have another guru, he graciously told them to follow their original guru if anything that he said was contradicting. ANNA did not want anyone to have any conflict in his/her life because of him.
List of ANNA's Books
List of Books on Hindu Religion and Philosophy in Sanskrit with Tamil translation, transliteration and notes by Sri "ANNA" N. Subramanian, published by the Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Madras −4. Template:Columns-list
Books published through "NAVASUJA" Madras-28
- Apastamba Poorva Prayogam
- Apastamba Apara Prayogam
- Homa Vidhanam
- Siva Sahasranama Bhashyam
- Sakti Mahima Storam
- Ramakrishna Students Home Souvenir, 1993, Special issue dedicated to Sri ANNA.
- Sahana Jayaraman, "As We Cherish", 2010, Create Space, subsidiary of Amazon.com, USA.