An Illustrious Life

Amma2

Smt Gnanapurani Madhvanath (also known to her friends as Gnana and to many  as SriG Amma) was born in Chennai on October 23rd, 1934 to Sri V.S. Chengalvarayan and Smt. Saradha, into a large joint family steeped in Tamil traditions of Saivite and Murugan worship.  Her father Sri V.S. Chengalvarayan and grandfather Sri. V.T. Subramaniam had played a pivotal role in the revival of Tiruppugazh, so much so that their family was known as the “Tiruppugazh Kudumbam”.  Their family home on Lingichetti street was a place for various saints and devotees to congregate, and she spent her childhood growing up in the company of visiting ascetics such as Vallimalai Swamigal and Mouna Guru Swamigal, and had occasion to meet Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi (as a 9-year old) and Kanchi Periyaval, amongst others. Another frequent visitor during this time was a young Pithukuli Murugadas, he would in later years refer to Gnanapurani as the “scientist amma”.

A brilliant student with an independent streak, she opted to pursue Physics rather than Tamil, and went on to do a B.Sc. and MA in Physics at Presidency College, Chennai.  Upon post-graduation she joined the Alagappa Chettiar College for Women in Karaikkudi as a lecturer in Physics. After a year she left to  join the recently created Atomic Energy Establishment (later known as the Bhabha Atomic Research Center or BARC) in 1957 as one of their first women researchers. In 1961, she was deputed by BARC to Kansas University (KU) at Lawrence, Kansas, USA, to pursue a Masters in Biophysics. At a time when students from the Indian subcontinent were generally scarce in the USA, and it was extremely rare for single Indian women to travel abroad, she travelled to the USA on her own with her father’s blessings and encouragement. Her academic success at university paved the way for many of her juniors at BARC to travel to KU for higher education.

In 1963, she returned to BARC and continued to work on applications of radiation in medicine and industry. In 1966, she married Madhvanath, her BARC colleague and classmate from her B.Sc. days. The same year she took a leave of absence from BARC to join her husband at Univerisity of California at Berkeley, where he had enrolled in the PhD program.  At Berkeley, she conducted research studies at Lawrence Berkeley Research Laboratory on the effect of radiation on plant cells.  In 1969, a son Sriganesh was born to them. In 1971 they returned to India and rejoined BARC.  Forced to choose between her career and the increasing demands of motherhood, she left BARC to become a full-time homemaker. In 1972, a daughter Vaishnavi was born. She took her duties as a mother very seriously, and focused her energies on ensuring that her children excelled in both academics and the Indian fine arts.

In 1988, she suffered a great personal tragedy when her daughter Vaishnavi, then 16 and a first year student of economics at SIES college, lost her life in a drowning accident during the torrential Bombay monsoon. In 1992, she decided to visit Buffalo, NY, USA, to spend some time with her son, who was by then a PhD student at the University of Buffalo. Madhvanath joined them shortly thereafter, following his retirement from BARC. Their home in Buffalo soon became a popular hangout for Indian graduate students looking for home cooked Indian food.

During this time she came in contact with Haran Aiya (Chaitanyananda), an ardent worshipper of the Divine Mother in the ancient Sri Vidya tradition, who had set up a Devi shrine in the garage of his home at 33 Park Circle, Rochester, NY.  The introduction to Aiya and Sri Vidya came as a soothing balm to the grief of losing her daughter. She soon became a regular visitor to the temple, and was initiated into the Sri Vidya tradition by Aiya. She also met Aiya’s guru, Sri Amritananda of Devipuram (fondly called Guruji) when he visited Buffalo and Rochester. Interestingly, they had been acquainted with each other from their earlier days at sister organizations BARC and TIFR.

In 1992, she was requested by Aiya to help with bringing out a revised and expanded edition of Sri Vidya, a comprehensive manual for worship of the Sri Chakra that he had compiled over the years and transliterated into Tamil. After returning to Chennai in 1994, she took up this monumental task, and the book “Sri Vidya: Sri Chakra Puja Vidhih” was published in 1995. Being the first manual of its kind for Sri Vidya, it drew the attention of scores of Sri Vidya upasakas in South India, and many travelled to her home in Tiruvanmiyur in Chennai to get a copy of the book, which was distributed at no cost.  This brought her into contact with the community of Sri Vidya upasakas in Chennai, and many of these upasakas became firm friends.

Over the next 20+ years, she continued to work on various book projects for the Rajarajeswari temple of Rochester, including Sanskrit and English versions of Sri Vidya, and additional puja manuals that the temple brought out every Navaratri. The work often involved long hours transliterating original Sanskrit texts into Tamil and Roman scripts with diacritic marks to indicate the correct pronunciation, and then doing several rounds of manual corrections to the hardcopy proofs generated after typesetting. It was painstaking work requiring enormous attention to detail and knowledge of Sanskrit, Tamil and English, which she carried out with characteristic dedication.   During this time, their home in Chennai became the default landing point and lodging for Aiya, Guruji and scores of other visitors to Chennai from Rochester and elsewhere, and she and Madhvanath frequently travelled with them on various temple tours of South India.

While her work on Sri Vidya literature was her primary sadhana, she recited the Lalita Sahasranamam daily and served the devotees of the Mother in every capacity.  Adept at English, Sanskrit and Tamil, she had also picked up Kannada and Telugu to be able to converse with her husband’s family, and some Marathi by virtue of living in Bombay.  When Aiya started to introduce Vedic suktams into his pujas at the temple, she took to learning and reciting suktams such as Sri Rudram with great enthusiasm.  In 1996, she was given purnadiksha (complete initiation) into Sri Vidya by Aiya, and the name of “Guruguhamba”, a reference to Murugan, her family deity.

Gnanapurani was also a lifelong student of Carnatic music. While in Bombay she learned music from Pallavur Mani Iyer, a student of Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar and a composer in his own right. She also learned several rare Purandara Dasa Kritis from the vainika Sri C.K. Sankaranarayana Rao, and compositions of Annamacharya, bhajans and abhangs from various teachers at every opportunity. She also taught music to anyone who came seeking it, in Bombay, Buffalo, Rochester, and in Chennai, but as a matter of principle, never charged any fees for this service.

In 2005, she and Madhvanath moved to Bangalore to be closer to their son who had relocated to Bangalore from the US. She dedicated herself to being an active grandmother to her two grandchildren Sashwathi and Skanda, and taught them music and bhajans from an early age. Her home also served as the local Sai center and they hosted Sai Bhajans every Thursday. She also taught the Lalitha Sahasranamam to those interested, and hosted its chanting at her home every Friday. She continued to teach music to interested students.

In 2013, she fulfilled a life long dream to visit the famed Murugan temple of Kathirgamam in Sri Lanka.  She also had occasion to visit all her favorite temples – Kanchipuram, Tiruttani, Devipuram and Chidambaram (for Aiya’s 70th birthday) the same year.

On April 9th, 2014, in her 80th year, Gnanapurani left the mortal plane. It was the day after Ramanavami and the tenth day of Vasantha Navaratri, and she had just spent the last week of her life serving Guruji and Guruji Amma from Devipuram who were visiting Bangalore and staying with her.

The last book she worked on was the 2014 Navaratri publication for the Rajarajeswari temple, which, fittingly, was dedicated to her family deity Subrahmanya.

She made numerous friends of various ages and from all walks of life over the years, such was her genuine interest in getting to know people. She touched various lives in countless ways, and will be fondly remembered for her humor and lively conversation, her ever smiling and gentle demeanor, her unassuming nature and humility, her selfless acceptance of every request made of her with no regard for personal cost or inconvenience, her work ethic, her hospitality and generosity.

May her soul forever rest in peace at the divine feet of mother Lalitha.

Photo Gallery

Some pictures from Amma’s life may be found here.  

Additional Links

Some of her contributions to Biophysics are more accessible now, thanks to Google (see publications, Masters thesis). The Rochester temple website is here.

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44 thoughts on “An Illustrious Life

  1. My mind has been on Amma these past few days and I keep seeing her smiling face and that unique chuckle of hers. What an amazing person she was and a very special friend to me. Your biography of her makes me realize anew how humble she was. I (and my mother too) were really blessed to be engulfed in her embrace. Some of my favorite memories of her include chatting with her about anything and everything on lazy Sunday afternoons, garage sale shopping and listening to her neat treatise thereafter on the merits of garage sale vs. yard sale vs. moving sale, and of course, relishing every morsel of her delicious vathal kulambu. I will forever remember Srig Amma and our friendship with great fondness.

  2. Amma was instrumental in initiating many things in my life, for starters she felt I would make a good teacher eons ago when I did not have any confidence in my own self , now I know that being a teacher is so fulfilling and stimulating. Also, she is the reason that I learned Lalita Saharsranamam, it was her insistence that I started going over to Thiruvanmiyur every Friday to recite the Sahasranamam and of course, the food too!

    Amma has taught me many things and I have shared some great laughs, great conversations and great times with her. Have to mention, she also initiated me to watching Golden Girls in the US.

    Brilliance personified is how I see her..although not in her mortal plane, her contributions to Science and Spirituality is amazing and personally, to me, I believe is a blessing. From BARC to Bangalore, via the US Amma has always be supportive and positive…. Will cherish my memories and hope to live up to the person she would want me to be.

  3. I’ve had amazing days with my patti. She was a wildly fun person though rather quiet and humble. She had a variety of talents – music, physics, proof reading and many more… My patti was my first music teacher, who gave my voice the main foundation. She also encouraged me and told me that my voice was good. I used to want to learn a new song everyday, and she knew so many that she could actually be ready with a new song for me. She has told me many interesting stories about gods, life, death and people’s ways of life. I used to keep asking her to tell me the story of ‘kamala’, a foolish woman who by luck gets rich, and her nosy neighbor chamki, who tries out her technique but has to run for her life 🙂 Patti was a great cook, who loved to make varieties of food. When ever we went to her house for lunch, she used to make at least 15 different dishes! She also used to collect raw mangoes from the park and prepare them with salt and chilli powder for all of us to eat! All in all my patti was an amazing person and I will miss her a lot! But I am happy that she can be happy with her daughter Vaishnavi in heaven.

  4. Gnana patti
    Patti was a highly talented and strong person for her age.
    She lived a simple life.
    She would wake up and go to the park and collect mangoes and gooseberries with which she would make flavorful pickles. She was very enthusiastic about making me sing and dance which she felt I had a huge talent for!
    She taught me so many things about how to live a simple life…
    She taught me how to sing, cook and sew…play basic veena ( I loved that!)
    She was a very friendly person, she had so many friends!
    She was very attached to her sister, sasi chitti…
    She was a very, very talented person.
    She looked so healthy and young for her age and every time I asked her “how old are you?” she would answer “ I am 22”.
    She didn’t want others to think that she was old. I will miss the sleepover with Madhu thatha and Gnana patti…
    We would go to her house at 6 in the evening after playing, and then we would cook together, eat, watch TV and then she would tell us bed time stories.. ‘gajan’ and the story of ‘kamala and her mother-in-law’ were my favorites.
    We would go have a feast every Sunday in her house…
    Her favorite foods puffed rice( pori ) and RASAM!!
    I do not believe she is gone she has just left the mortal world she comes to me in my dreams and in my imagination…. I am happy for her because she has successfully lived the journey of life… we are going to miss her.. but she is happy and I know that…

  5. What an inspiring life that Purni mami as we have known her led.Nirai kudam thalumbadu(Acomplete full pot never spills) That was Purni mami, My husband,I and a couple of my Bhajan group members including my teacher would forever fondly recollect the Pancharatna practice sessions that we had the previlege of attending at her home in Mayflower last year for the composers’ day fest in Magnolia initiated by SRiG. Whenver I asked her about her career in Physics she in her usual humility would say dismissively”Oh that was my purvasrama” Whoever came across her humble being would fondly recollect their association with her in music or bhajans or any other spiritual activities .She was a humble Margadarshi. She was meticulous in honouring our annual navarathri tambulam invites. My husband was invited by her to learn music as per his request that would remain an unfulfilled desire.While we have never had enough of her & were planning to get more opportunities to be associated with her in Magnolia,she became very dear to God who has taken her to His Abode for her eternal peace.Our blessings to her son and family.May God give them the strength to cope with this tragedy & irreplaceable loss to them and the BM community

    1. Some of her contributions to Biophysics are more accessible now, thanks to Google. Some of her publications appear here, and her Masters thesis at KU “NTA Films in Fast Neutron Dosimetry” here.

  6. Many of the highlights of my life were spent with Sri G Amma. I have so many precious memories of spending time with her and Appa, they are both so special to me. I feel her presence extremely close during these first days that she has just left her body. I feel that she is here so close, so loving and encouraging and supportive as she always has been. She was a brilliant person whom I love dearly.

    The first time we met was in Rochester during Navararatri 1997. I don’t recall any akward introductions, and feel like we were always very close. She cared for me like a mother with all her unconditional love. When I first went to visit her and Appa in Tiruvanmiyur in 1998 I was traveling with my mom and good friend Steve. My mom was not feeling well and Sri G Amma and Appa gave their bed to my mom. I remember they rolled out a thin grass mat and laid it on their cement floor in their living room by the swing and they slept on the floor with so much simplicity and generosity. They had no interest in anything fancy or extravagant or indulgent and were utterly humble.

    I remember Aiya telling me that if I went to India without visiting Kamakshi that I would be in the dog house. So my annual trips to India always included the mandatory stay with Sri G Amma and Appa as my home away from home. From Chennai the three of us went on the most amazing pilgrimages together which I will never forget. I am forever grateful that they accompanied me on these special trips, to Kanchi, Tiruvanamali, Chidambaram, Pondicherri, Madurai, Trichy, Kumbakonam, Rameshwaram, Tirukadiyur, and more.

    Of course my first Kamakshi darshan with Amma was a peak experience in my life. And another unforgettable time was giri valam around Arunachalam when Amma taught me the 11 names of Shiva, launching me on my life long love of chanting Sri Rudram.
    She also told me the story of meeting Ramana Maharishi when she was 9 years old and how he looked at her and told her in his soft and gentle voice, “You are truly Gnanapurani.” WOW! That story always give me a thrill.

    I can not end without mentioning what an inspirational gift she gave to countless by transliterating so many texts for our tremendous benefit. I am forever grateful to Amma and forever adoring her great soul. She is my inspiration.

  7. I tried multiple times but cant get myself to talk about gyana aunty in past tense. That is what she was to me….maybe soon

  8. Gnana Athai was a role model to me. I learnt a lot from her. She was so humble, simple and talented. Anything you ask any time she was ready to teach to anybody like Goddess Saraswathi. Every Year for Swami’s birthday(Sathya Sai Baba) she used to help us practice Bhajans and help with celebrations which we will miss dearly. Though we were all technically considered to be senior citizens, she strongly believed that we are all young at heart and capable of doing anything we wanted. She stood for all the values that I aspire to. Brigade Millenium will not be the same. I know she is still amongst us and guiding me as she did in the physical form.

  9. The name Gnanapurani defines it all. She lived a life which should be of inspiration to so many. I became a relative to her thanks to my daughter in law. When I visited her at her house in Bangalore- may be in 2010- along with my daughter in law, I could see the childlike character of her and zest for life . She had interest in everything she came across. She with her family including her grand children and other relatives came to our home in Chennai on Jan 1, 2011 and what a day it was. I have a few photographs which will remind us of that happy day for ages to come. She had inspired her children and grand children in no small measure, be it love, respect, religion, music, knowledge, values in life and her scientific temper. She was a great anchor in the life of her husband Mr Madhavnath as well who is equally accomplished. Together they appeared to me a happy and ideal couple in love with each other all through their life . What she has left behind her are her memories . We should celebrate her life as a message and blessing to those who have known her.

    Kesavan

  10. Sri G has given a very moving account of his mother’s achievements in the later part of her life. Though Mrs. Gnanapurani’s career in BARC, which she called ‘purvashrama’, lasted only for a decade and half, it was equally illustrious. The list of her scientific publications in a span of just two years during her stay at the University of California, Berkeley and the citations by other scientific workers in that field is just one indication of what she would have achieved had she continued in her profession.
    After completing her Masters degree in Radiation Biophysics at the University of Kansas, she initiated, in BARC the program of monitoring scientists working at nuclear reactors for exposure to harmful neutrons radiation, by employing the photographic emulsion- a new technique at that time. It constituted a tiny gadget containing a special type of photographic emulsion. When worn on the body of a person, it would record the number of neutrons the person is exposed to, which would become visible under a microscope, after processing. For hours together she would peep through the small eye piece of a powerful microscope to identify and count the tracks left by those invisible but harmful particles and advise people how to protect themselves from excessive exposure.
    Mrs. Gnanapurani’s penchant for teaching was enormous. She trained scores of students in the diploma course on radiation safety organised by DRP/ BARC. Today, many of those students occupy responsible positions in major cancer centres, planning and executing radiotherapy of cancer patients and protecting the staff from undue exposure to the same radiation in the course of their duties.
    Back in the late 1950s we were a bunch of youngsters from different parts of the country, just finished studies and stepped into professional arena. Her openness and friendly personality was like a powerful magnet attracting the raw pieces of iron that we were. We all would rally around ‘VCG’ (that is how she was fondly addressed) to find solace to our home-sickness and solutions to our problems- personal as well as professional. The fond memories of those innocent days, though masked by the events of the subsequent decades, still haunt me. Would it ever be possible to turn the clock back?

    M.S.S.Murthy.

    1. I accidentally ran into this shocking news when I was looking for a publication in connection with my ongoing work. Very difficult to take the news. Believe, probably yes; but accept no. It all feels like yesterday. . Please convey my feelings to UM. About 20 years back I met the Madhvanath family in New York State. Again, shocked and for loss of words. Will be in touch. Srinivasan (Subramanya Srinivasan)
      karuthiru64@yahoo.com

  11. Mami was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful people I had the priviledge of knowing. Though her accomplishments could not be contained even by her most humble demeanour, I never realised until I read the above note, what an extraordinary life I was in touch with. Mami, my janma is blessed that, albeit fleetingly, it was graced by your presence.

  12. wonderfully, candidly and aptly written passage by Srig abt his most beloved, most affectionate, simple, god-fearing, unassuming mother; A very very great soul, continuing to bless every one of us from Heaven

    Our Aneka kodi namaskarangal to the great, very great, very very very great soul in Heaven.

  13. It was in 1995 , to receive the book sri vidya puja vidhi, we me the Madvanaths at Trivanmiyur, was so taken aback by the simplicity and devotion later on reaching back on the errors found , She said that what ever they could get as first hand information is said and are open to corrections, this started a long , a very long innings of our chariot of srividya books from Rajarajeshvari peetam Rush, the transliteration into English , Devanagari, every year book,with special works, I used ti hand over the data and sources, which were meticulously written down – proof checked, printed and released during navaratri. On the way she learnt all the avarana pooja methods and i strongly feel that writing them itself is a greater pooja in deep inside that just performance in the physical. My self and my mother were so close, were regulars on shukla shashti to sing thirupugazh , learnt a bit in those nice period. She appreciated the tala -laya , saying that it is usually natural for malayalees, (not to comment on my hard voice and no sruti songs which she had to endure.). Being away from chennai, even now i dont miss here, thinking that she is n Bangalore,

  14. ‘Gnana athai’ is how my sister, Savita and I called her, blindly following how my parents called her. I have always wondered if ‘athai’ was the best way to address her.. I’ve thought about it a lot, but have never arrived at the perfect way to address her. Maybe that’s because there’s no perfect word to describe her! Gnana athai was one of the very few people I could easily make a conversation with – and I am generally known as a quiet person among my family. For me, Athai was an all-rounder. I was frequently in awe of her varied talents and her knowledge about almost anything one could think of. I was even more in awe of her simplicity and modesty, in spite of the huge treasure trove of knowledge that she was. She re-ignited the passion for music in me and my sister. After a basic course in music, it was Athai who expanded our music knowledge, taught us the theory, patiently corrected our many mistakes and prepared us for a performance we had to give. She herself used to write songs (with swaras for each word) for us in our book, and she would write these well ahead of each class – her systematic way of managing her different daily activities always amazed me. I am indebted to her for teaching me not only music, but also how to live a good life filled with values. Her dedication to her duties, and the effort she put into doing the little things that mattered to others, is something that can be matched by none. She was simple, yet elegant; traditional, yet modern; highly skilled, yet down-to-earth.
    Over the last few months, I was lucky enough to interact with her a few times: she (and maama) invited me for breakfast at their home (and later thanked me for giving them an opportunity to cook a good breakfast!), she gave me my first harmonium lesson, gifted me with a jewelry box and a beautiful framed photo of Swami. My last (physical) interaction with her was on March 26th – one day before I left Bangalore to start my job in Gurgaon. Athai and Maama themselves took the pain of coming to our home, just to give me their blessings before I left – this is a memory I will always cherish. I can write pages about athai and still not feel justified about doing a good job describing her. She has not gone anywhere. If anything, she has only grown closer to our hearts. Her ever-smiling, beautiful face will continue to live in our hearts, and her work will lay paths for us to lead better lives.
    With loving Sai Rams, and prayers for her soul to merge with Swami,
    Sowmya Karthikeyan

  15. Muruga Saranam,
    I worked with both Dr. Madhvanath and Gnanapurani Amma from 1965 onwards at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, BARC, More than that I am one in their Thiruppugazh Kudumbam. She had given me valuable books on Thiruppugazh and she is my first Guru in Thiruppugazh. The message of her sudden demise is a great shock to me. I pray Chenthilandan to bless her ever lasting peace.Let her soul rest in the lotus feet of Chenthilandavan
    Ayappan
    Muruga saranam

  16. Sriganesh’s tribute to his mother is simply superb. I can imagine how very proud she must have been of him all his life. I am just unable to accept this loss of one of my best friends from my days in TIFR and BARC in the late fifties and early sixties.

    My friendships with her and her husband Madhvanath did not end there. We kept in touch all these years both in terms of professional activities and personal friendship and last but not the least our common spiritual threads.

    My mother too used to be very fond of Sriganesh’s mother. They shared their common interest in Carnatic Music Besides, both Madhvanath and Gyanapurani could speak Telugu, the only language my mother could converse in. We were also colleagues of their Guruji from TIFR. He and his wife from Devipuram were guests at their house in Bengaluru when I visited them on Monday the 7th of April 2014. I was very happy to see them again after a longer visit a week earlier. And then this tragedy just two days later.

    You can visualize my tears as I am writing this.

    Hi MSS Murty Thanks for bringing back those old memories from Chembur. Please send me an e-mail and tell me more about your life after Chembur. Gopala Rao

  17. I met mami in Buffalo. I was a grad student then. Once a week, we would get driven over to SriG place, mami would teach us music and then feed us. I knew a little about her life, but in the typical way that it is for people that surround us at any given time, it turns out — I knew so little. She was content to be the person who greeted you, once a week taught you some classical music and fed you. There was no need for you to know and understand her other dimensions. She just made this interaction with you as lovely as it could be. She wore her strengths lightly, and with grace. 

    However, she did exist in those other realms, and do the work that she did in all of them — and having known her, I know that my own mind understands words such as “pioneering” , “successful” differently — because I have her as an example of someone these words can be applied to. Knowing people who have interpreted the world for them selves, in the ways that they need to, liberates us. This is what I took away from those weekly sessions — in addition to the music and the food. 

    She has a very lovely and subtle sense of humor. I think of her as similar to Sir Bernard from Yes Minister. Not a lot of lines. But the few she delivered were hilarious, and betrayed a deep understanding of things at play. I think of her, always, with a twinkle in her eyes.

  18. I am unable to think Purani is no more in the world . I have known her since 2006 but it feels feel I knew her my entire life. She is not only a friend to me but also a guru and my mentor. I could always go to her to ask her advice and she was always willing. She always had time for me not matter how busy she was . Despite all her talents she remained humble. She is an example for a “nirai kudam “. I cannot imagine Thyagaraja Festival without her in Brigade Millenium. I will miss my dear dear friend.

  19. i know Gnanapoorani Mami from the year 2005,when Mama & Mami moved into Mayflower.I became one of her students in the LALITHA SAHASRANAMA GROUP.She is not only our Guru but also our well wisher and a Good friend.We looked to her as a role model to emulate.
    It is extremely difficult to express our nice loving memories and association in mere words.We were always in constant touch with her in some pretext or other.We attended classes ,functions and celebrations together,shared lots of common interests like receipes,music .TV programmes.
    Personally i learnt many things form her,viz LS,Lalitha Thrisathi,Sri Rudram ,Some Upanishads ,
    Thirupugaz stanzas,Kandar Alangaram etc.She intiated me to Sri Vidya Path and i became the disciple of Ayya and Guruji.She could clear so many doubts in various spiritual subjects .

    .I always admired her for her kindness,humility,and her positive approach to life.She made me feel very close and important .My husband and myself had the privilege of interacting with her closelyOn 1st,march,2014 we had chanting of LS in Sri Rajarajasehwari temple ,i was fortunate to be with her through out the day.I will always cherish the memories of Gnananapoorani Mami.

    We in the spiritual group will miss her physical presence.but we will carry on the various bhajans and slokas taught by her.

    Myself and my husband offer our Namasakarams and prayers for her soul to rest in peace
    Sulochana & Ramaswamy

  20. This is a lovely tribute to Poorni mami. Poorni Mami was a Guru, philosopher, guide and an adviser for me. I feel very lucky to have had her as my guru and friend. I will miss her a lot.

  21. Thank you Sri Ganesh for this write up and thank you Geetha for alerting me about this note.
    As one of her nephews, I was constantly told by my parents that I should aim to get at least 411 out of 600 in my SSLC exam for that was the difficult bench mark set by my Athai (in the mid sixties).
    My father also used to tell us how she was the only one while loudly spelling out a word would say, ‘f a t h e r apostrophe and s’ instead of ‘f a t h e r apostrophe s’ . The mention of AND after apostrophe, added that much needed perfection. No wonder she was a Gnana Poorani. Having been born on ‘bharani’ star she certainly ruled the dharani.
    I still remember the lovely blue T shirt (the first one I got) that she gave me when she returned from the US in the early sixties.

  22. Sri Chengalvaraya Pillai has dedicated his life for highlighting the glory of Thiruppugazh. Devotees of Lord Muruga acknowledge with gratitude the great contribution he has made in retrieving the Thiruppugazh songs, compiling them and publishing them. He was a great devotee who set an example how a life of perfection should be led. Smt. Gnanapurani Madhvanath was born to such an illustrious father. Naturally, she has inherited the qualities of devotion, disciplene and dedication from her father. To be born in a Thiruppugazh Kudumbam is indeed a blessing and Gnanapurani had that blessing. She was one among the few in the recent generation who had the opportunity to move closely with saints like Sri Ramana Maharshi and Sri Vallimalai Sachidananda Swamigal.

    When we visited their residence at Bangalore last year Sri Madhvanath and Gnanapurani received us with great affection and hospitality. While I was discussing with Sri Madhvanth, Smt. Gnanapurani also joined in and enquired how we were getting on and what book I was writing. She took keen interest in the progress of my book and encouraged me to proceed ahead with determination. She then served us some delicious dishes, coffee and above all gave us one precious gem; the book titled “At the Feet of Murugan” compiled by her., Sasivalli and Thanigainayagan. This book gives me great inspiration now. When Madhvanath informed me with grief that she was no more, I could not believe. Instantly, I remembered the title of her book “At the Feet of Murugan”. I am sure, by leading a life of pure devotion she would have reached the feet of Lord Muruga.

    It is a great loss to the devotees of Muruga that a strong link to Thiruppugazh stalwart, Chengalvaraya Pillai, is disconnected. But I am sure the legacy of Thiruppugazh which V.T. Subramaniam Pillai, Sri, Chengalvaraya Pillai, Sri Sachidananda Swamigal, Guruji A.S. Raghavan had created would live on and prosper. I pray Lord Muruga for her soul to rest in peace.

  23. I read at least three times the writeup of Srig about Gnana amma. I came to know about several aspects of her life in this world unknown to me earlier. Every time I read about her, my respect for her grew manifold. Such a simple lady had many, many versatile talents. I can only say that she is a source of inspiration for all of us.

  24. Come Thursdays and her doors would be open for sai bhajans. For me it was on Thursdays but I guess for others it must have been most likely every other day.that’s how I remember smt Gnanapoorni . if we woke up early we would meet her at the park exercising with her laughing club friends or walking or meditating .she always seemed at peace .her voice was beautiful . but she would always encourage others to sing. I am sure many like us whose lives she enriched will miss her presence at the millennium .I consider myself fortunate to have known this noble lady.
    Seetha
    Cassia-209

  25. The first memory, I have of meeting Aunty, was on Vijaydashmi day 1989 as my music teacher in her house in Chembur. As time went the relationship changed and she became an integral part of my daily life and was not just my music teacher.I would be there everyday after school. I am unable to think of her in past tense, as when I eat toasted bread with butter and molaga podi I think of her, so that’s almost every day. She was more my best friend. The amazing part was I, all of 16 and she much older. We spoke about everything under the sun, teenage issues, crushes, life after death, academics, religion,God, prayers, sports, a never ending list….. My parents always referred to her as my ‘God mother’ but she is far more than that to me. The song ‘Nee irangayenil pugal yethu,Amba’ is my favorite song, among many songs taught by her and when she used to sing, it was mesmerising . I guess I am and was blessed to have her in my life. She will always be a guiding star…..

  26. Gnana Aunty and I were friends since childhood. She gave me the nickname Chandraleka after the movie because I was a tomboy. Later it became Chandra, then Chandru. In those days Radio Ceylon was the only station that used to play movie songs. Gnana and I were glued to the radio from start to finish. She would even quiz me by humming the songs. Gnana was a mentor to me in so many ways. I consider her to be an “allrounder”. She was great in everything from literature, arts, fashion and cooking. She also knew a little bit of French. She had a strong character and delightful sense of humor. Although we eventually went our separate ways we always kept in contact.
    I will miss her.

  27. I am saddened to hear the sudden passing away of Gnanapurani from Dr. Gopala Rao. My deep condolences to Dr Madhvanath and Dr Sriganesh. Both Gnanapurani and U. Madhvanath were my teachers at BARC in the DRP course during 1963-64. Gnanapurani was a very compassionate, kind and sympathetic lady. She was gracious to her students and hospitable.
    I used to visit BARC to give guest lectures and met both Gnanapurani and Madhvanath both in Office and at their residence at BARC Quarters, as we used to be guests of Dr BKS Murthy. We visited BARC during 1972, 1977, 1982 and 1987. We met their son and daughter in 1987. It is a tragic loss that their daughter passed away afterwards. We met Dr. Madhvanath in San Antonio, Texas during the World Conference on Medical Physics when he was elected as the Vice President. Later on I lost touch with Sri G. Subramaniam of DRP, BARC and Dr. Madhvanath.
    I am inviting both Dr. Madhvanath and his son Dr. Sriganesh and his family to visit us here in Louisvile, KY.
    May the soul of Gnanapurani rest in peace! We miss her smiling face.

  28. Mr.Sriganesh
    I am saddened to know about the demise of your beloved mother Smt.Gnanapoorani. Apart from Science, I could get an opportunity to know about the great talents of your mother in many other areas and her deep devotion to Lord Muruga through your blog which was forwarded to me by Dr.G.Venkataraman. After going through the life sketch of your mother, I consider myself to be very lucky to have worked under such a highly talented person, though for a very brief period in DRP, BARC prior to her taking voluntary retirement in order to take care of you and your younger sister. When she suddenly announced about her retirement plans, it was a real shock for myself, because I lost our opportunity to work and learn under the able guidance of your ever smiling and kind mother. Though she is no more, the charm of her ever smiling face and kind words will always remain in my heart.
    Kindly accept my heart felt condolences and convey the same to your father Dr.U.Madhvanath..
    I pray GOD to keep the departed soul of your mother in peace.
    V.G.R.Subramanian

  29. Amma was Gnanapoorni, Annapoorni, Ganapoorni to me! Her smile is etched in my memory. I came to know of her during my graduate studies at Buffalo. Extremely soft spoken, humble and simple person. I had the great pleasure and privilege of learning music from her. She made music more fun. I would talk about a song or ragam and she would have that song (or a song in that ragam) ready by the next class. She was an ocean of knowledge. Will truly miss her!

  30. A tribute to my Thiruppugazh Guru Smt Gnanapurani Mami

    tvayyarpitamanasā tvām paśyan sarvam tavākrititayā satatam
    bhajatē (a)nanya prītyā sa jayatyarunāchala tvayi sukhē magnah
    —Verse 5 of Arunachala Pancharatnam written by Bhagawan Sri Ramana.

    Meaning: O Arunachala! He who, seeing you always by mind which has been surrendered to you, without a sense of otherness loves everything as your form, victoriously attains the goal of human birth, having merged his individuality in you, the real self, who are the form of bliss.
    Life is truly a mixed bag. In this roller coaster ride of life, one is bound to experience both surprises as well as unpleasant shocks. This is one such time, where stark reality is hitting me hard. I feel inconsolable for the last several days, since when I learnt that Gnanapurani Mami is no more with us in this physical plane. I am unable to overcome the sorrow and grief and my eyes are still brimming with tears of gratitude as I pen down these words for her as my humble tribute.
    Sri Arunagirinathar in his Thiruppugazh yearns and prays for the company of Lord Sri Subramanya’s devotees in the following lines.

    “uraiyaiyum aRivaiyum uyiraiyum uNarvaiyum unpAtha kanja … malarmeedhE
    uravodu punaithara ninaitharum adiyarodonRAga enRu … peRuvEnO”

    Meaning: to enable me to resolutely dedicate my words, intellect, life and feelings at Your hallowed lotus feet, when shall I be fortunate to mingle with Your devotees who always think of You?

    Any one who had even a brief association with Mami would definitely understand the import of the above prayer and would definitely credit themselves of having done such prayers in their past lives, as a result of which they have been granted an association with a truly noble person as Gnanapurani Mami. I am definitely one such fortunate person. I came to know Mami through SriG, who happened to be my senior colleague at HP Labs. Since then, my family (my parents and my brother and I) has been embraced by her love, grace and tutelage.
    I had the enviable opportunity of learning music and Thirupugazh from Mami for over 2 years, during my stay in Bangalore and I wish those days could come back when I would just call Mami twice or thrice in a week to know if she is free to give me a class and then I would just drop by her residence for a great session of music and wisdom. I pray that my memories would never fail me in recounting those visits.
    Mami did not teach me just lessons in Karnatic music or Thiruppugazh but through a very positive aura she always carried around her, inspired and revealed a whole new perspective of life that is deep rooted in devotion, simplicity, sincerity and spirituality. Her life stands as a great testimonial of her accomplishments in academics, fine arts and spiritual service and I am no one to certify that. But what always took me by surprise was that she could carry the weight of her accomplishments with immense modesty and utmost simplicity. Perhaps it is this unassuming nature that enabled her to strike a chord with everyone – with the most simple-minded and the sophisticated, young and old, trendy and traditional. For example, I remember sharing a book called “The Prayer of a frog” by Antony De Millo, in which the author takes a contemporary and humorous point of view on religion and spirituality. Mami read the book, enjoyed it as much as she would have enjoyed reading a treatise on Shaktha philosophy or Tamil Sangam literature.

    I have never seen a teacher who is more accepting of his/her student’s shortcomings than Mami. A person of the same pedigree in music would have strong reservations in the students they take. But when I requested her to teach me, she immediately accepted me despite my amateurish capabilities in music and gently asked me “do you want to learn music or songs?”. That took me by a real surprise and immediately made me think what I should look for in my music lessons. She was always very kind enough prepare fresh write-up of the songs (with swara sthanas) that she would teach me that day. Often these songs were written after some serious search into her own notes just because I requested her to teach the same. Gayiye Ganapathi Jagvandana in Yaman Kalyani was the first song she taught me. Karpagame Kann Paarai in Madhyamavathi, Ragahavendra Raghavendra in Siva Ranjani, Unai allaal vere gathi illai in Kalyani, Sri Ganapathi in SOurashtram, Sadhinchane in Arabhi and one of the Tyagaraja Pancharatna Krithis are some of the most memorable songs that she taught me. Finally, “Adamodi Galadhe Ramaiyya Maatta” in raga Charukesi by her favorite saint composer Thyagaraja was the last song I learnt from her along with a meticulously written notes that I still preserve.

    It would be incomplete to talk about my music lessons from Mami without touching Thirupugazh. It was the time when Mami was preparing her short book on Maathrukaa pushpa maalai. I often I called it my Thiruppugazh-101 syllabus. I requested her to teach me all the songs in the booklet so that I could participate in their Thiruppugazh Bhajan sessions. Needless to say, it was a great experience to learn these songs tuned by none other than Sri Vallimalai Swamigal himself. By teaching me these songs, I feel that Mami has initiated me into the Thiruppugazh manthra that has only been growing and encompassing me since then.
    I will deeply miss her and her loving guidance in my life just as I am entering a new phase of my life. However, I recall the great lines of Sri Arunagirinathar in his Mayil Virutham, which proclaims the following:

    naan mugam peRuvar, annam ERap peRuvar,
    vaani thazhuvap peRuvar, makaraalayam peRuvar,
    uvaNam Erap peRuvar, vaarija madandhaiyudan vazha annaayagam peRuvar,
    Ayiraavadham peRuvar, Amudhaasanam peRuvar, mel aayiram piRai thozhuvar,
    seer peRuvar, pEr peRuvar, azhiyaa varam peRuvar

    Meaning: Ardent devotees of Sri Thanigaimalai Murugan attain the status of Lord Brahma, Goddess Saraswathi and Lakshmi. They will enjoy all the benefits of the abode of the Celestial beings, and finally attain immortality.

    Although Mami has left her physical frame, I am sure that as a devout soul she has attained the feet of Lord Sri Thanigai Murugan and I pray that she continues to bless us all.

    || Muruga Charanam ||

  31. Srig, Thank you for setting this up for us all to share. It’s wonderful to learn more about Amma (Aunty) from you and everyone else.

    I feel blessed for having known her – as a grad student and beyond. She brought playfulness and joy to our music sessions, not to mention all the tasty food we got to enjoy. Her handwritten music notes are so meticulously prepared and to be treasured.

    As they say in Hindu philosophy, birth is not the beginning and death is not the end. She is with us in a different way now.

  32. I am standing last in the Q, I happened to read on late Chengalvarayan, that led to her. I have always believed that for a noble soul to be born, the ancestral chain has to be noble, this had been true in this. Like to know more about the devi peetam mentioned in this blog
    Pure science and spirituality are one and the same.

  33. It would be nice if her renderings of Tirupugal are posted in this memoriam for the benefit of those who wish to hear her voice

  34. Sairam. We can never ever forget Gnana Mami. We have visited mama/ mami’s residents a couple of times. She used to welcome us wholeheartedly. We can definitely say that from her we have learnt how to live a simple life, share unconditional love in abundance and keep learning and sharing with others. Her blessings from the Heaven on all of us are assured and will keep us going

  35. Accidently came across this blog. It was so heartwarming to see Gnanapoorni’s aunty’s photo and learn about her amazing accomplishments. Feel truly blessed to have known her. She taught music to Paapu (Vaishnavi) and me in Bombay. She was such a patient and wonderful teacher. We spent more time eating the yummy snacks aunty would make. Unfortunately i couldn’t bring myself to talk to her after the tragedy, My parents moved away soon and we lost touch. Om Shanthi.

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