[This week, as suspense around the nomination built, the temple priest found himself standing barefoot outside the sanctum giving a telephone interview to CNN. At another point, a man who gave his profession as “drawing master” came forward with a sheaf of temple sketches that he hoped to pass on to Mr. Srinivasan in honor of the occasion.]
Credit Serena De Sanctis for The New York Times
— A bare-chested priest sat
cross-legged in the temple of this farming village on a recent morning and
recited all 1,008 names of Vishnu, the Hindu god, in the hope of soon receiving
good news from
the White House. India
A junior priest sprinkled the idol, known as Balaji, with shredded tulsi leaves and rose-water. The subject of their prayers was Sri Srinivasan, an Indian-born judge on the Court of Appeals for the
who is rumored to be a top
contender for President Obama to nominate to the Supreme Court. District of Columbia
, Judge Srinivasan is known as
a brilliant lawyer, and — what may be more important this year — so difficult
to pigeonhole ideologically that his current appointment passed a bitterly
divided Senate 97-0. Washington
In Mela Thiruvenkatanathapuram, though, he is known as the grandson of a local schoolteacher and yarn merchant who drove an ox-cart and typically wore a traditional wraparound dhoti.
Neighbors say Judge Srinivasan’s grandfather, Padmanabhan Iyer, was neither rich nor powerful, but his ability to commit scriptures to memory made him an object of awe: He was capable of chanting mantras for two hours without as much as glancing at a text. The family is Brahmin, members of Hinduism’s highest caste, which was long associated with priesthood.
Every morning, at , Padmanabhan lined up his six sons for a half-hour of chanting, said Shankara Lakshmi, a granddaughter. All grew up to occupy government posts, except the youngest, who was hired as a mathematics professor at the University of Kansas — and whose son, in turn, became an American judge who may soon ascend to the nation’s highest court.
“The prayers chanted by the grandfather have descended on the grandson,” said Kulathu Srinivasan, 62, a distant cousin who organized a temple ceremony last month to appeal to the deities on the judge’s behalf.
The cousin’s friend, Ganapathy Subramanian, a retired physics teacher, said the practice of chanting enhanced memory and cognition. “These mantras, they are not created,” he said. “They are from the universe.”
It is one of the Indian rules of existence that ancestral villages matter. Despite the fact that Judge Srinivasan was born in northern India after his parents had left the village in
, and he emigrated to the Tamil Nadu State as a boy, people here refer to
him as “our son.” United States
This week, as suspense around the nomination built, the temple priest found himself standing barefoot outside the sanctum giving a telephone interview to CNN. At another point, a man who gave his profession as “drawing master” came forward with a sheaf of temple sketches that he hoped to pass on to Mr. Srinivasan in honor of the occasion.
“Here, at the southern tip of
, from the India , a very great man was born,”
the drawing master, Pon Vallinayagam, said with a flourish. “This man is coming
to the highest position of the greatest court. We, the people of the village,
the people of village of Mela Thiruvenkatanathapuram , we think it is a great
This village, pronounced
MAY-la THEE-roo VEN-ka-ta NA-tha
POO-ram, has a deserted feel, so quiet at that you could hear the squeak
of a rusted hand-pump as a woman filled a bucket with water. The community
emptied out during the second half of the 20th century, when many Brahmins left
rural villages for cities in great numbers and entered modern professions. Many
proved to be extraordinarily successful.
These days, many of the Brahmin’s ancestral homes have collapsed in on themselves, and prayer is the village’s most vibrant business. Prosperous Brahmin families return regularly to make donations to their family deities, among them the four-armed, copper-alloy figure called Lord Srinivasan. Such visits can be brought on by a crisis: One family donated a gold tongue to the temple because their child was unable to speak; a wealthy man whose family owns a Dubai-based shipping company made an emergency visit to ask for help when one of his cargo ships was caught in a cyclone, said V. Murali Srinivasan, a third-generation temple priest.
The priest had a dreamy look as he thought through the events of the coming days. If Judge Srinivasan is named to the Supreme Court, he said, the village “will be known throughout
Outside the temple sat a farmer named Kanakaraj, who grows rice on a meager half-acre of land. He has been observing the unusual goings-on, and when asked what he knew about it, gave a sudden, dazzling smile.
“Our son in
, he is a judge,” he said. “I
don’t know about the family. But a judge — a judge is like a god.” America
March 15, 2016
An earlier version of this article misspelled in one instance the name of a village in
where the family of Sri
Srinivasan once lived. The village is Mela Thiruvenkatanathapuram, not Mela
Hari Kumar contributed reporting.