He was the cook who was in charge of preparing food for the pontiff of the Matha.
The cook had been discharging his duties diligently and with all sincerity. Though the food he prepared for his master was frugal, he made sure to ensure that they were tasty and that the seer never went hungry.
Days passed into weeks and weeks into months and the cook continued to serve the seer with extreme devotion and “madi.” Whenever, the cook get the time or the opportunity, he came and stood by the huge hall where the Seer gave discourses in Bhagavath Geetha, Shashtras and other religious texts.
The cook was particularly amazed at the mastery of his seer when he spoke about Madhwacharya and his Sarvamoola Grantha. The lyrical manner in which the seer explained the nuances of Dwaitha philosophy and the many interpretation he gave made the cook realise that he was losing some of the most valuable things in life.
Since then, the cook began to frequent the hall and listen to the discourses of the seer. Unfortunately, for the cook, he was not able to make “head and tail” of the discourses. All that he could understand was that the discourses dealt with religion and philosophy.
The cook could also not make out the context and meaning of the discourses. The seer’s oratorical skills and his excellence in interpretation were all that the cook understood. Realising that he would never get an opportunity to study and understand these texts, the cook began berating himself.
The cook felt that he would die a nobody and that he would never be able to understand the nuances of Dwaitha philosophy. Try as he might, the cook failed to grasp the meaning. Every time he tried to understand the words of his master, they flowed over his head. By the time he could make out the meaning of a word, the master had already gone on to the next word and sentence and the meaning and context were lost.
One day, the cook listened awestruck at the discourse of the seer on Nyaya Sudha. All that the cook understood was that Nyaya Sudha was by Jayatheerta and that Jayatheertha was the favourite disciple of Akshobya Theertha. The every day lecture on Nyaya Sudha made the cok realize how ignorant he was and how he perhaps would never be able to learn.
When one such discourse on Nyaya sudha ended and the disciples dispersed for lunch, the cook called some of them aside and expressed his desire to know more about the Nyaya Sudha. When the disciples probed further, the cook confessed that he wanted to learn about the book and understand it.
The disciples had a hearty laugh about the cook and his desire. They made fun of him, saying that leaning and understanding Dwaitha philosophy and that too a work by Jayatheertha is not as easy as cooking.
One of the disciples was more sarcastic. He taunted the cook saying tat Nyaya Sudha is not a vegetable that can be easily cooked. What he meant was that even a vegetable can be cooked easily but not the granthas of Jayatheertha.
The cook was shocked at the fun the disciples made of him. When he went to the seer’s room to serve him food, the cook could not control himself and burst into tears.
The seer asked the cook the reason for his tears. When the cook told him about his desire to learn and the fun made of him by the disciples, the seer meditated for some time and asked the cook to come to the hall where he gave the discourse the next day.
When the next day dawned, the disciples were surprised to see two seats on the podium. Normally, only their master sat on the podium and gave them lectures on various topics. They assumed that the other seat was for some other great scholar.
The seer entered and took his seat and looked around the hall. He then motioned to a person standing near the door to come. When the person entered the hall with tentative steps, the disciples were surprised to see that he was the cook.
The seer asked the cook to climb up the podium and sit beside him. Even before the disciples could react, the seer placed his hand on the cook’s head and chanted mantras of Hari. He then asked the cook to start his discourse.
To the amazement of the disciples, the cook began a masterly talk on the Nyaya Sudha. The words kept on flowing like a river and the surprised disciples had a hard time making sense of some of the words and phrases.
As soon as the discourse ended, the cook fell at the feet of the seer. The cook was overcome with devotion for the seer who then told him that he would forever remain the scholar that he had shown himself that day.
The cook’s fame as a master orator spread far and wide and even Raghavendra Swamy was impressed by his skills. He then went on to write several works, each of them a gem in Madhwa literature. People thronged in large numbers to his dicourses.
The name of the cook was Venkanna (he is no relation to the Venkanna of Raghavendra Swamy). Since he was a cook, he became popular as Roti Venkannachar.
The seer was none other than Raghutthama Theertha. He had been pleased with the sincerity of the cook in wanting to learn. He had decided, therefore, to give the cook the gift of knowledge and he had obtained permission from his beloved Rama for doing so.
Raghuttama Theertha (1537-1595)was the 13th pontiff of the Uttaradhi Matha. His brindavana is on the banks of Pinalini near Tirukoilur in Tamil Nadu. His aradhana falls in January and it is celebrated with great pomp and fervour.