An episode during Mahaperiyaval's study
One of those who taught the Acharya during this period was Ganapathi Shastrigal of Painganadu near Mannargudi. He was a versatile scholar. Before he was forty years of age, he had written about a hundred works, in Sanskrit - short and long. He was awarded the title of ‘Mahamahopadhyaya’, by the Government of India, posthumously - just ten days after his demise.
Ganapathi Shastrigal was residing in a house opposite to the Sankara Mutt, Kumbakonam. He would go to the Math early in the forenoon and teach the teen-aged Acharya for about an hour. In the evenings, lessons in Sastras, Sanskrit, etc. were imparted to the Acharya. In the spring season, the teacher and the student would sit for an hour or more, on the sands of the dry bed of the Cauveri, near the mutt and there the lessons used to be carried out.
One evening the tutor was teaching. The Acharya was frequently thrusting the fingers of his left hand in the sand. Ganapathi Shastrigal observed this. The next morning he went to the mutt as usual. After prostrating to the Acharya, he said “Please permit me to leave Kumbakonam and go to my village”. The young Acharya was much surprised and he asked the teacher, “What is the reason for this sudden request of yours?” Shastrigal’s reply was a bit stern. He replied, “A student, desiring to acquire knowledge, should be quite attentive when lessons are going on. Concentration of the mind is essential. My guru used to tell his pupils that one sitting on sand but not touching it and one having a knife on his hand, but not doing anything with it and one having his mind fixed in something worthy, as examples for a “Sthita-prajna’ (one with a steadfast mind).Yesterday evening your Holiness was a bit inattentive to what was being taught yesterday evening”.
The Acharya quickly interposed and said, “I was attending although I was thrusting my hand into the sand off and on. I shall now repeat all of what was taught yesterday evening”. Ganapathi Shastrigal who was struck with wonder at the amazing memory and precociousness of the young Acharya, said, “I feel that I am not necessary hereafter. Your Holiness can learn everything without the aid of a tutor and I can go”. The Acharya was loath to part with such an erudite teacher. And Ganapathi Shastrigal continued as teacher for about 10 more months.