Sadgopan Sampath: The Man Behind the Wheels of Ahobilam Math

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Meet Sadgopan Sampath, 79, who has dedicated his life to the upliftment of an entire village along with his services to the Ahobilam Math.

At first sight, Sadgopan Sampath (79), appears frail. His white dhoti and shirt appear to be just apt for the hot weather and when he starts speaking, he reveals his strength of character. His eyes light up when he reflects how, way back in 1956, he was initiated into the mantras by the 43rd jeeyar (head trustee) of the Ahobilam Math.

A little about Ahobilam Math

The Ahobilam Temple complex is one of the seven or eight Swayam Vyakta Kshretram or the Swayambhu temples of India. It is believed that these temples appeared on their own, no one made them. Officially there is no written record of these temples. There are nine such temples, each dedicated to the nine different forms of the god Narasimha Swamy, the fabled half-man half-lion God, who killed the cruel king, the father of Prahlad.

The legend goes that Prahlad defied his father, who had declared himself as God and had refused to worship him as he believed there was a superior power to his father. The king made his sister Holika sit with Prahlad in her lap and a huge fire was lit around them. Now Holika had been given the boon that she would not burn. The fire raged on while Prahlad prayed quietly. Then from the fire arose the angry form of Lord Narasimha, the half-man half-lion God and destroyed Hiranyakshyap and his wicked sister.

This is why Holika Dahan (the burning of holika) is celebrated every year on the day before Holi, the Indian festival of colours, as a symbolic victory of good over evil. I had heard of the Ahobilam Math but could not believe my eyes and my ears when I was told of the nine forms of the god, Narasimha. Incidentally, Ahobilam math has had an unbroken chain of Jeeyars for the last 600 years. And no, it is not a hereditary title. Incredible don’t you think!

The Jeeyars

The first jeeyar, a young ascetic, Satakopa jeeyar is said to have been initiated by the Lord himself, more than 600 years ago. The young man was instructed to carry an idol of the lord and go from door to door to propagate Sanatana dharma and the Sri Vaishnava philosophy. Thus, the Ahobilam Math was born in 1398. It is known as the Math on wheels since it is always on sanchara, and the word of the lord is still being spread, according to the tradition of the Math.

For hundreds of years, the place was closed to pilgrims as it was in the midst of forest and jungle. Then the earlier jeeyars opened the place to pilgrims and in the present day, prayers are offered in all the nine temples. The pathways have been cleared and are being maintained by an assiduous group of people who have dedicated themselves to this work.

Sadagopan Sampath is one such person. He has the General Power of Attorney of the Math. This has given him enough scope to bring his organisational skills into full play. At the time of his initiation, he was still working in Hyderabad, but his emotional attachment to the math had already grown by then. After retirement, he was asked to join the service of the lord and deputed to work on the development of the Ahobilam village, 53 km outside Allagadda in Andhra Pradesh.

The single most important task at that time was to ensure that the pilgrims could reach all the nine temples. With the help of the Tata Trusts other charities, pathways were developed so that the pilgrims could reach. Then in 2017, which marked the 1000th anniversary of Sri Ramanujacharya, major restorations of the temples and other structures were done.

As of today, the facilities for the pilgrims are far better, though Sampath says, “Much more needs to be done.”

After 25 years in a pharma company in Mumbai, Sampath returned to Hyderabad to join the family business. After his father’s death, he worked for his family business till 2008 when he dedicated himself completely to the development of the infrastructure at the Ahobilam village and Math.

He admits, “I get a lot of pleasure in helping the village. There were no roads and the local school was in bad shape with no benches and no facilities. With the help of the Tata endowments, we have changed a lot of things and I feel the school is as good as any in the city.”

An average day for Sampath begins with the Vishvaroopa Seva. Then from 8-10 am, he has a series of meetings with the engineers and others who are now restoring many of the crumbling and dilapidated structures to bring them back to their original shape. At one point, they dug four feet down into the ground and found some exquisite sculptures. An earlier effort had been made to raise the level of the ground and these beauties had been buried in the exercise.

Sampath’s work includes looking after the finances and the administration of the Math. He is not only an archaka ( priest) but he also supervises all the operations and the everyday running of the activities that happen in and around the temple complex. His responsibility is to run the temple in the best possible way.

While answering regarding the Temple funds and the government interference in the same, Sampath informed that the Math has filed a case on the abuse of the government order. The Math has got a stay and they have been told that they can henceforth run their establishment without any interference.

“The Math is officially 600 plus years old, unofficially many hundred years more. So far we have never had any misuse or misappropriation of funds. That is a clause which the government has to follow but they do not. Therefore we have filed our petition. In fact, in the last decade that I have been attached to the Math, I am proud of the fact that our corpus of funds has grown many times.”

Vatsala, his eldest daughter, said: “My father is my idol. I hero worship him for his steadfast values, especially of honesty and integrity. I hope and pray I have some of these virtues in me.”

Image Courtesy: Author

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About Author

Shyamola Khanna

Shyamola Khanna is a freelance writer and a trainer of soft skills, based in Hyderabad. She is a published author and her first book, 'The COW in Kargyll' was well received. In case you are wondering - COW is an acronym for the Commanding Officer's Wife! While she awaits the release of her second book she continues to paint and indulge in photography.