Ganapati Sthapati

A Visit with Ganapati Sthapati

Sri Ganapati Sthapati, the foremost South Indian temple architect, was recently in the
Washington, D. C. area for the consecration ceremonies of one of the many temples he has
built for the Hindu community in the USA. James Hartel, a long-standing member of Arunachala Ashrama, went to meet him, accompanied by a few other local devotees. James will be studying temple sculpturing and architecture under Sri Ganapati Sthapati’s direction in India from September to January and he came down from his central New York home to meet with him regarding this study program.

Sri Ganapati Sthapati is the son of Vaidyanatha Sthapati, the builder of the Matribhuteswara Temple and New Hall in Sri Ramanasramam. Vaidyanatha Stapathi also sculpted the life-size granite image of the Maharshi displayed in the New Hall in front of the stone couch, which was also his handiwork.

Though highly learned in the Sastras, especially related to the temple construction, and though a gifted sculptor and temple architect in a long lineage of temple architects, Vaidyanatha Stapathi was barely able to feed his family with the income earned by his profession. The times were not favorable, and his son, Sri Ganapati Sthapati, was naturally discouraged from entering into his hereditary profession. That’s where the Maharshi’s intercession and grace altered the son’s decision and crowned him with unimaginable success. Living for ten years in the proximity of Sri Bhagavan, Sri Ganapathi offers us a few glimpses of the guidance and grace he received during that period in the following interview that took place when James Hartel and friends visited him.

The summer evening was cool. It had just rained a little. The sun escaped from the clouds and lit up the Rajagopuram of the Maha Vishnu Temple near Washington D.C. We were waiting in anticipation to meet an elderly gentleman who is said to have been in the physical presence of Sri Bhagavan. The crimson light falling on the Rajagopuram aptly showcases the work of the man we are about to meet, Ganapati Sthapati. A little while later we meet him in the quarters adjacent to the temple.

When we brought up the notion of interviewing him, he was quick to point out that anything of spiritual worth cannot be formalized in an unnatural fashion. The spirit of what is being discussed can never really be captured in words. It has to be natural. We were asked to write whatever we can remember from memory, later on, and not to tape the interview.

His words on Bhagavan started with a question: "You do know that there can never be anyone like Bhagavan - don’t you? Sri Bhagavan is svayambu - no external help was necessary for Him to realize the Self. He was a pure soul. It is by Sri Bhagavan’s Grace that I am doing what I am doing today. I have seen Sri Bhagavan when I was young. He would call and talk to my father and me. We behaved very casually in His presence. My father was Vaidyanatha Stapathi. It was not common for Bhagavan to initiate conversations, but He was very free with my father and me. I do not know why. I can only consider myself fortunate.

"Once when Bhagavan was reading the newspaper, he announced that I had passed in my SSLC examination. I do not know how he knew and remembered my registration number to be able to recognize it in the results published in the newspaper. A similar thing happened when my intermediate results were published. Bhagavan said, ‘It looks like you have passed in first class.’"

On being asked if Bhagavan instructed them during the construction of the temple, he said it was his father’s duty to go and report to Bhagavan about the construction progress.

"When deciding which college to go to, there was a consensus that pursuing an engineering degree in Madras would be beneficial. But my father had a meager income of Rs. 100 per month, obtained from building the temple in Sri Ramanasramam. How could we afford my education in a far away place? Bhagavan one day said, ‘There is a college that is going to be open locally. Vaidyanatha Stapathi’s son can study there.’ It turned out that the newspaper reported that a college, Alagappa Chettiar College, was to be opened in Karaikudi. My name appears first in the college registry there. There was no engineering degree then at the campus. In fact, the college was started without any real buildings. If I had gone away to study engineering I would not be doing what I am doing today.

"My father was quite a disciplinarian. He would not eat in Sri Ramanasramam when he was doing work in the temple. He did not want to eat where he was getting paid for the job. But the solicitude with which our family was treated can never be forgotten. Sri Niranjanananda Swami used to send food prepared in the Ashram to our house. The person delivering the food would be asked to remind my mother and us that our father should not come to know that his family was partaking of Ashram food. Despite my father’s way of separating work from personal relations, we were treated as part of Bhagavan’s family.

"When I go to Sri Ramanasramam I still feel so one with it. There is no part of the Ashram that feels alien from myself; one feels so much at home. People used to come with their bundle of questions about pressing problems to Bhagavan. They may not even get a chance to unbundle their difficulties, but it would all melt away in His presence.

"The increase in knowledge and wealth that I have experienced in my life is all due to Bhagavan’s Grace. Everything comes from Him. For instance, I have written books about Vastu Sastra. Where did the knowledge come from? I have written another book entitled Who Created God? expounding ideas methodically. I did not have the wherewithal to write these things. It is Bhagavan’s Love and Grace that has enabled everything. In all these years of work I have had no real sickness. The work does not feel like a burden. It is God’s work. Age is a different thing. It is ‘time’ that creates, sustains and terminates things we see. But the essence of what is done is timeless.

"There is no need for me to say these things, but it does come out in some situations."

There were tears in his eyes as he spoke.

"What is your idea of a pujari at the temple? A pujari should accept what is offered on the plate. He should not ask. He should endure poverty and worldly suffering while maintaining the ideal. In those days when I went with my students to the big temple in Tanjore, the temple priest will be looking forward to welcoming visitors even from far. You can see him rising from his seat as we approach. He would do the archana and arati and kindly inquire about our visit. It is the humility with which they conducted themselves that set them apart from the current generation.

"People normally say that they do not want any more births. I say that I should have many births and in every one of them I will be glad to serve as Sthapati.

"When someone asks me who I am, I say that I am one of the aboriginal people of India. Some historians have dated the Vedas to be a few thousand years old. But the Vedas itself states the geography of the region in which it originated to be an island, surrounded by water (jambudveepe). This must have been before the land masses became what they are today. The tradition espoused in India is indeed timeless."

When the interview was over, we had been in his company for over an hour. We had our supper before meeting him and we had inadvertently delayed his to 10 p.m. When we expressed our apologies for the delay, he quickly dismissed it and with the remembrance of Sri Bhagavan lingering in the air he ambled over to the dinner table!

As a parting gift, he provided us with copies of his work on Rajagopurams and Vastu Sastra.

This is from THE MAHARSHI News Letter