Interview with sampath, blessed childhood friend and classmate
Sampath is one of the blessed direct eyewitnesses to the childhood of The Avatar. Holding the record for spending maximum hours with The Avatar prior to the declaration of the international mission, Sampath’s recollections are like parts of a jigsaw puzzle which he strives to put together repeatedly, moving between his direct yet incomprehensible memoirs of his childhood friend, hearsays from others who were present at other times, and reading books about Him that were published later where other happenings are described. Sampath tries to repeatedly share what he could never comprehend but has always held on to so diligently as the chosen one by Existence for his enviable role, and he remains the only evidence in many vital scenes in The Leelas of The Avatar.
Sampath is one among the hundreds who witnessed this grand enactment put on by the Cosmos in the early years of the Divine Advent. Even though Sampath was the closest friend of The Avatar during His childhood, Sampath found himself continuously awestruck by the inexplicable ways of the young Avatar: Barely having crossed a decade on planet Earth, The Avatar seemed to have the knowledge of centuries when He spoke. He was the favorite of all the enlightened beings who lived in Tiruvannamalai and could exemplify even the most arduous spiritual feats like levitation, telepathy and even being in two places at once!
But for a reason not known to Sampath, even though The Avatar was leagues beyond the comprehension of His contemporaries, He continued to involve Sampath in many of His activities, including yoga classes, alankar (deity adornment) for various deities and Girivalam (circumambulation around the sacred Arunachala Hill). Sampath remembers His time with The Avatar as the most sacred moments of His entire life, ingrained in Him with immense endearment forever.
Interview with Sampath
My schooling background: meeting The Avatar
What I am going to say would have happened between 8th and 10th grade of school. 5th to 7th grade, my father sent me to Panrotti, Tamilnadu – saying I won’t study properly if I am in Tiruvannamalai and that it is better if I study outside Tiruvannamalai. At the end of three years, I expressed that I do not wish to go back to school there and I wish to stay in Tiruvannamalai and study. Tiruvannamalai is my native town and it is world famous for its temple festivals. I did not want to miss all those festivals.
First instance of seeing The Supreme Pontiff of Hinduism
I joined school in Tiruvannamalai for 8th grade. At that time VDS Jain school was the most famous school in Tiruvannamalai. On the first day of school, I attended morning prayer at 8:30 am. I arrived a little late. By that time the boys had started moving towards prayer. They told me to leave my bag somewhere and join the prayer. In the prayer, there was a table with a number of shields. Suddenly, a loud voice from behind me said, ‘Hey look here! The shields that my father gave!’ I looked back to see who it was. I saw a bright face with holy ash smeared on the forehead. His friend asked him, ‘Why did your father give this shield?’ The boy replied, ‘My father is the head of the Rotary Club.’ Actually, on behalf of the Rotary Club, they had conducted some games for the children and given some shields to distribute. Swami’s father was Rotary Club Secretary so he had apparently given the shields. He was referring to it that his father has given the shields!
My father was also in Rotary Club. I was thinking that only my father was associated with the Rotary in a big way and how come this boy was saying this about his father. I asked him who his father was. He replied: Chandru. His father was known by the nickname Chandru at that time. I told him my father was in the Rotary Club and that he only would have given the shield. To that he replied, ‘My father is the head.’ Then I thought probably there was a head and he might have given. Anyhow, by that time, he had put his arm around my shoulder. And he said, ‘Your father is also in the Rotary, my father is also in the Rotary. Then you sit next to me.’
The first day itself I got a chance to sit next to him. Soon after prayer got over, we went to the classroom. I didn’t have to search for a place. He used to sit neither too much in front nor too much in the back – in the third or fourth row. He made me sit next to him. All the students had fixed places, but somehow he organized things and arranged for me to sit next to him. From that day onwards, till 10th grade, whichever class or classroom we went to, I would sit next to him only.
First visit to Swami’s house
When we met the first day in school, he said to come to his house. I asked him where his house was. He said, ‘It is in Tiruvoodal Sreet, AKS complex. There will be a cycle store there. On top of that in the first floor is my house.’ Then one day I walked and went to his house. It was a Friday. Since the next day was a Saturday and holiday at school, I thought we can play happily on Friday!
When I went, his mother was washing clothes. She asked me who I was. I asked her if it was Rajashekaran’s house. She said yes. She said that he was inside and to go and see him and that there was a dog and to be careful of it. They had a dog, a very active dog. Whoever comes, it will simply intimidate them. It came barking towards me. In their house, once it starts barking they will know that some guest has arrived. Swami came behind the dog screaming, ‘Hey Mani!’ His voice used to be shrill and innocent at that time! He immediately caught hold of its collar and said, ‘Va da, va da (come, come).’ Then he told me, ‘This dog is always like this. If it gets used to you it won’t do anything. Come in.’ By that time, I had climbed on to a raised square step afraid that the dog might bite me! He came and took me inside from there.
In the house, there was a bedroom in the rear. In the center there was a hall. The hall was divided into two. In the right half, on one side, there was the kitchen with the gas stove. On the other side, on a slab, there were many idols and photos. It was evident that Swami was maintaining them. That was my first visit. He told to come the next day as well.
I went the following day. In the morning, if he starts doing his puja (offering to God), no one will know when it will finish. It was around ten or ten thirty in the morning when I went. Generally at that time, he would not have even eaten breakfast. His mother would be cooking. She cannot keep any of her things anywhere on the floor. He would have filled the floor with his things. She can keep them only on that one table that was there. Both of them will be sitting next to each other and doing their own things. He will be removing the deities’ cloths one by one, performing holy bath for them etc. He would have occupied the entire space. She would tell him, ‘Why can’t you keep your things a little away from mine? How can I take out the dhal and other things and use them for cooking?’ He would never bother himself with what she says. He would just continue with his work.
Worship as a Lifestye
It used to be very interesting for me to be with him. From when I was young, since I used to stay very near the temple, early morning, I used to go to the temple everyday. At that time the offering at the Arunachala temple in Tiruvannamalai used to be perfect. The priests at that time followed the ancient tradition that their forefathers had followed perfectly. At that time, although the temple was very famous even then, there were not so many people moving inside the temple at any given time. The local people used to come there for the various offerings and the priests lived out of the money that they got with the few people who visited the temple. They used to be very sincere. Anything they did they felt they did for Arunachala and whatever He gave them, they took back happily. That was the attitude at that time. I used to observe all this at that time.
As early as when I was in the 5th grade, every day I used to go with my father for the ritual of waking up the Lord in his chambers at 5am sharp every day. It used to happen every day at sharp 5am. At that time, the temple elephant used to go to Kumara Gopura Street, pick up the holy water, and proceed with the Odal drums (special drums famous in Tiruvannnamalai) and cymbals to the temple. A temple priest used to accompany the elephant. He would ride on the elephant, bring the holy water, pour it in the main steps of the sanctum, open the door, enter the sanctum, perform the offering for the Sun and Moon God, followed by the fire ritual, and then only attend to the Shiva Linga (Shiva deity).
When we watch those priests offering, devotion will swell in us automatically. They will do it so sincerely. So from those early days, my father took me to the temple and I had observed everything for many years. Whether I had devotion or not, the attachment to such things happened in me automatically.
Concepts like we have to pray to Arunachala, we should be with devotion, going to the temple is fun, one should not waste time in other things etc., entered me deeply. That is why I struggled and studied for three years from my mother’s older sister house, away from my hometown. After I joined there for my 5th grade, every time I came back home, a big war used to happen at home.
Once I finished 7th grade, I came back to study in Tiruvannamalai. And since I was with spiritual inspiration, the moment I saw Swami, I felt an instant bonding and attachment to him. I felt he was different and that it would be fun to join him in his activities.
My mother used to offer to Lord Ganesha every day at home. She used to ask me to sit with her for offering. She would read Vinayagar puranam – verses on Lord Ganesha, on Divine Mother. So when I saw Swami doing similar things, I would tell him all that my mother used to do worship at home. When he heard all that, he developed an instant attachment to me.
These days, in no one’s home they do such elaborate offering. They generally have a slab on which they keep two pictures of some deities and offer some thing to them. Because of this the children these days do not develop a great attachment to God. Since we were brought up with the attachment to God, for play also we wanted only offering for God and for devotion also, we wanted the same thing. Anyhow, when he spoke about these things to me, I was able to talk about it and so he developed a good impression about me!
He asked, ‘Do you have Ganesha deity in your house? I have a separate Ganesha deity.’ And he showed me his deity. I said that we too had and showed him our one. Then he said, ‘Both of us have everything in common! Let us both do everything together hereafter.’ So any activity, we both would do together thereon.
Worship as play
He asked, ‘Do you go for the temple festival to the temple?’ I said I would go without missing even once. Then he said, ‘In our street the Arunachala deity comes in procession.’ I said, ‘In our street too it comes.’ The deity has to make it to Mada street by going through Tiruoodal street and going down the Peria Street. Their house is on that side and our house is on this side. So both of us will get to see the deity for any function. When the deity comes to the slope of the street, we will be able to hear the procession band. We will all come out of the house and get on to the street and watch the deity in procession. Likewise in their house too, they will be upstairs and they will hear the procession band when the deity comes to their street. They will run downstairs on to the street to see the deity in procession. So for every function, we used to see the deity without fail in various decorations, and all that made a deep impression on us. When we discussed all these things, the bonding between us increased. He would say, ‘You have also seen the Arunachala deity so many times, I have also seen the deity so many times.’ Then he would say, ‘When we play, why not we do things like decoration of deities, offerings etc.?’ I agreed.
We used to have one Ganesha idol and do all decoration for it. According to Hindu mythology, Shiva gave His appearance as an infinite column of light here in Tiruvannamalai, where His two extreme ends – head and feet – cannot be known. That is why while in other temples, they worship and decorate Shiva in the standard human form, here in Tiruvannamalai, they do it slightly differently. No where else in the world they do decoration like they do here. On top of Shiva’s head they will keep diamond hair and cover up the original hair of the deity. There will only be a sharp edge. There will be no hair that is visible. Then, they will make a big stomach and cover up His feet so that the feet are not visible. The reason is this mythological story about Shiva’s appearance in Tiruvannamalai as an infinite column of light whose head and feet could never be reached. So we too, in the same way, would keep a big stomach with cloth as buffer for our Ganesha, and make him into that Shiva!
Then he would say, ‘Alright, it is not nice to just keep our Shiva at home. Let us take Him and show Him to the main Shiva deity!’ I would agree. As we started playing in this fashion, my brothers, his brothers and a few friends started joining us, and we became atleast ten boys in the group. We would all together lift our Shiva to take to the temple. We used to create a lot of noise while doing it! We have seen in the temples for every function, how much noise they make to lift those heavy deities for procession. They will not be able to lift it silently. They will shout, ‘Hey come on! Lift the other way! Lift higher! etc.’ So we also used to shout to each other and lift our deity! We would cary our deity, and when the temple deity comes on to the streets, we would park our deity in front of it. We will keep camphor in a plate and give it to the temple priest. He will offer it to the main deity and give it back to us. Then we will offer it to our deity.
Then we started thinking: it is not nice to do all the different decorations for Ganesha itself. In the temple they do for five different deities, so we should also do for five different deities. At that time, the artisans used to make the deities in out of soap stone in the neighboring street in a desolate house. We went and asked that man there if he would make and give us the deities. He agreed.
The moment we hear the sound of the approaching deity in the neighboring street, we would say, ‘Hey come on! The diety has come to the slope.’ And we would carry empty boxes and tins tied with with ropes around our necks and play them as percussion instruments and start in a procession with our own deity! The main deity would stop in front of every house that had a camphor plate offering. We used to stand as a big team. It would stop in front our team. We would then give our camphor plate and they would offer it to the deity and give it back to us. We would then offer it to our deity and distribute sugar crystals or jaggery whatever we could manage at that time – as prasad (food offered to the Lord) to all the boys.
Making vehicles for the Gods
Then we saw: in the temple deity procession, five deities would come – Ganesha, Muruga, Shiva and His Consort, Divine Mother separately, and Chandikeshwara. We decided that we should get ready these 5 deities. At that time quite a bit of money used to jingle in our pockets. In both of our houses, they used to give money. My mother used to pamper us a lot. If we asked for anything she would immediately give us money. So we had a collection of the money we received – in 10s and 20s. We took this money and went to the man who made the deities. First, we asked him to make us the main Shiva deity. He said it would cost 40 rupees. We said we do not have that much money and requested to make it for 25 rupees. He agreed and made the shiva deity for us for 25 rupees. Swami liked it a lot. He told the man to make one for him separately. Next, we decided we should make the other deities too. Finally we made two sets of 5 deities: one set for us and one for him.
Once the five deities got done, next we discussed what all should be done to get them ready for the procession. Whatever they did in the temple we decided we would do identically. We will not do anything different from that. It was a ten day festival. For Ganesha, they had the mooshika vahana – rat as vehicle. For Muruga, peacock was the vehicle. For Shiva and His consort, – the sacred cow was the vehicle, for Chandikeshwarar too, the sacred cow was the vehicle. Now we had to get ready all these things!
Then Swami said, ‘For making these vehicles, if we use wood, it will not work out. It will be too expensive. So we will make them out of clay.’ We agreed. Now suppose the next year’s Kartigai Deepam festival for which these deities would be used comes in the Tamil month corresponding to October – November, then the Ganesh Chaturthi festival comes in the month of July – August. During Ganesh Charturti, to make the Ganesha clay deities, in the markets, they would offload heaps of clay. Only till about three in the evening, sales of Ganesha deity will happen. After that sales will stop and the workmen will leave behind all the clay and go away. Using the tricycle that Swami’s people had for delivering their own shop items, we would go around and load all the clay and go to Swami’s house and offload it there in the half empty balcony. For the program that is going to happen in November, we will store the clay in August itself! It will become rough and dry over time. So when the function approaches, around two to three weeks in advance, on a weekend, we will soak it in water. Then we will nicely knead it and beat it for usage!
Swami used to know the technical ways to handle things. He would have thought of earlier itself. First, I got one deity ready which came out in a very nice way. But when we put it to dry, it started cracking and breaking and the parts of the body came away – head, legs and hands came away part by part. Then he gave it a thought and said, ‘Let us not do things this way. We will keep the broom stick as reinforcement inside and then build over it.’ Once we did it that way, even if cracks appeared, it would never break. It would hold onto the stick and retain its form. The vehicles would be around half foot to one foot in height. The total height of the deity would be around quarter foot – around the size of the palm. So when it is put on top of the vehicle, it will come to around one foot in height. Over and above that, when we decorate it with garland, jewels etc., it will come to around two feet overall height. We have to place it on our shoulders. We ourselves would be around three to four feet tall. So it would be correct!
In the temple, during the festival, the main deity will come around on a different vehicle on each of the ten days. The first day, it will come on a cow, the second day on purusha amrutam, the third day on the snake etc. So there would be ten different vehicles on the ten days. We will get ready all ten vehicles for our deities also! These vehicles, we could not keep in his house because it will be a disturbance to his mother and also there will be a lot of mud that would enter with the vehicles. In my house, there was a big garden area. So we got the vehicles ready in the space there and upstairs there would be storage space. We would stack them all there. If it was a silver cow vehicle in the temple, we would stick silver paper on our cow. If it was gold cow at the temple, we would stick gold paper on our cow!
We would get ready all the vehicles with the due decoration. Amidst the large gathering at the festival area, everyone would see our deities and vehicles with great interest!
Spring festival at the temple
We would participate in the Poo pallak utsav – festival where the main deity is brought in a palanquin decorated with flowers for the proceedings. We would make our own palanquin with wood. We would fix spot lighting on it, keep the deity in it, and decorate it completely with flowers.
Then there would be the Vasanta utsav as well. In this festival, a doll will be there, handled by the priests like a puppet, to pick up flowers and shower on the deity! It will have independent hand and leg movements just like a puppet. The dolls that we get in the shops will not have such independent movements. They will be just one whole piece. What he will do for it: he will buy a doll from the shop. He will heat up a thin piece of rod. Using this, he will cut the hands and legs of the doll at the joints. Once you keep the heated rod on the plastic doll, it will just melt. So in this fashion, he will just cut the limbs away and put a thin rod through the body and join back the limbs through screws. The limbs will then have separate movements! Then we will fix a hook on the head for it. Then we will fix a hook on the rear of the doll to enable us to pull it. Then we will punch the palms and fix a bucket between them to hold the flowers.
The first time we decided to this festival, he did a trial in his house. But the space was too less and also we had to put the flowers with our hands. In the temple, they will operate the doll from upstairs. They will pull the ropes from the second floor and the doll will come down to the ground floor where the deity will be. From the second floor, one person will pull the rope that is connected to the doll’s back side. The doll will then dance and go towards the deity and shower flowers on it. So we thought we should also operate it in the same way; we should not put the flowers with our hands. So between our house and the opposite house balconies, we too stood and operated the doll. We kept our deity on the pathway between the two buildings. One team will be with the deity and one team will stand in the second floor of our house and operate the doll. The doll will descend onto the road, shower flowers on the deity and then move back upstairs towards the second floor to where we were standing. In the temple, the deity will come around the Medler (Magizham in Tamil) tree ten times during this time. After every round, the deity will come back to the same spot and the doll will descend and shower flowers on it. That used to be the pattern. On our part, we will simply make our deity go ten times in a circle on the road itself and come back to the same spot when the doll will descend from the second floor and shower the flowers!
As we were engrossed in our own version of this festival in our road and balconies of our houses, one man staying opposite to my house was sitting outside his house. He was from Dubai. He had come to India to conduct the ceremony of handing over the sacred white thread to his son to symbolically mark the child’s spiritual learning.
It was at that time that the handy cam had come into the market. This man had brought with him a handy cam from Dubai. He put a chair outside his house, and was getting it ready, fidgeting with it because the next day early morning was the function for him. We were doing conducting our festival at six in the evening the previous day. When he saw what we were doing, he became very interested. He must have thought, ‘What creative things these small boys are doing,’ and he came out and recorded the program completely with his handy cam.
Living with deities
Soon we had a thought: only during festival time, we seem to be enjoying these decorations. We have to enjoy during other times also. It is boring during other times.
My house was near Ammani amman gopura street. Ammani amman gopura is the name of one of the nine gateway towers of the Tiruvannamalai temple. The street on which this tower is, is named after the temple tower itself. In the Ammani amman temple tower, there will be many more statues sculpted at the lower level when compared to the other towers. What we used to do: we would all stand and say 1, 2, 3… and run towards the tower and each one would catch on to one statue. Whoever catches whichever statue, that statue belongs to them! Then we would fill water in our water bottles from the temple tank and offer holy bath from it to our statues. We would wipe them, offer vermillion and sandal paste and wave lit camphor on a plate. As food, we would offer puffed rice and peanuts.
One day he said, ‘It is alright to do all this, but we should do real decoration for temple deities.’ In Tiruvannamalai temple, whatever be the festival, they would do sandal paste decoration for the main deity – the Shiva Linga. When they do that, you will be able to see the reality of the deity. The sandal paste decoration will touch our hearts. It will be as if the deity has come alive and talking to us. Every day’s decoration will be unique. It will never repeat in any way. They will give it so much thought and do it so differently each time. We started observing all this.
There is the Kalabhairava deity in the temple. Ashtami (eighth day after full moon) and navami (ninth day after full moon) are important days for the deity. There will be many people praying to Him for freedom from bad times in their life, and they will spend a lot of money for the deity as well. Also, the priest in charge of this deity will do a different decoration each time for Him. We watched all this and Swami one day said, ‘How beautifully they are doing things. It is as if the deity is alive and seeing us. Why not we too do these things?’
At that time sandal paste was very cheap. A box of it used to come at around three rupees or so. There will be hundred sandal tablets in it. With that we could adorn ten deities since our deities were quite small. We enjoyed doing the sandal paste decoration for our own deities. But after some time we saw that the faces did not turn out well as our deities had tiny faces. It would be quite impossible to apply the sandal paste independently on the deities’ nose, eyes etc. He then said, ‘We have to go for a bigger deity for our present level of operation.’
Sandal decoration for Banyan tree Ganesha (#11 GANESH)
There is one Ganesha deity in the circumambulation area of the Tiruvannamalai temple (Ganesha is the son of Lord Shiva, the Hindu God). He sits under a banyan tree. When we saw Him we felt He was a grand one and we should decorate Him. He is in the outer fourth concentric circumambulation of the temple. He had an artistic look about Him. He was about 3 feet in height. Swami said, ‘We should conduct a function for Him.’
We decided we should collect money for it, that we should put up a thatch roof covering over Him and conduct it like a regular function. He said we should not just perform holy bath and leave it but since he is inside the temple so we should do it in a grand fashion. We asked him what if the temple priests got angry at our activities with the Ganesha. He told us, ‘They will not get angry. We have been doing these kinds of things for some time now.’ We said, ‘But we were doing only outside the temple. Now we have entered the temple itself.’ We were quite scared. He told us, ‘Who is going to come here and scold us? If they say something, we will simply leave everything and run away! Don’t worry.’ But we pacified ourselves saying it is anyway our area, so it is alright.
We never asked the temple priest permission to do these things. We collected everything right from the different holy bath powders and performed the holy bath. We planned completely for the entire function. In the morning – holy bath. After a half hour gap, in the afternoon, sandal paste decoration. In the evening, lit camphor offering. For the camphor offering we decided we would invite all the elders in our respective houses. Likewise, after the holy bath, there was decoration. Then in the evening we called the persons who would put up tents and they put up a tent. Senthil’s father had a shop inside the temple. At that time the odal miraas – the man in-charge of maintaining the odal drums and controlling the odal drummers – used to eat in Senthil’s father’s shop. We requested him, and he sent two odal drummers!
Then we thought, we have arranged for so much, we should call the officer of the temple! We took a white sheet of paper and wrote out an invitation. We didn’t want to print because it will cost us money. We wrote: In this date in this place there has been holy bath and sandal paste decoration for Ganesha. We request you to kindly come and receive the blessings of Ganesha. Yours sincerely, the boys of this temple. We took the letter and went straight to the office. The officer happened to be my relative’s neighbor so I knew him. When he saw me he asked how come I was there. I told him I belonged to Tiruvannamalai. He was happy to hear it. His son used to play with me when we were younger. That boy was with him them. He said he would send his son for our function! How can he come for a function of small boys’? But we invited him with such enthusiasm! We also put in a word that we wished to have the odal drummers play for our function. He reinforced our request to the odal drummers!
These are all very unique experiences! Imagine entering the main temple’s office room and inviting the AC (Assistant commissioner) for a function such as this! We could make out he felt like laughing. He simply said he will send his son and he will follow. Anyhow, we took his son to the spot, offered lit camphor to Ganesha and took a group photo. Then we took one separate photo with just the two of us and Ganesha. That picture was a close up picture. Swami’s face will be so beautiful in that. There will be a real majestic look in his face in that photo. In that group photo, we both will be standing one on either side of the deity. He would be wearing saffron dhoti (Lower garb worn by Indian men) and I would be wearing blue dhoti. Swami in school (uneducated are those)
In school, we would absorb everything completely in the class. They used to enforce a lot of discipline in that school. Our class teacher for 8th and 9th grade used to really shout and beat everyone. But she would never beat the two of us. She will just call out to Swami from where she is standing, ‘Brother… Sekar!’ That means, we have to become quiet! If we talk anything further, the next second she will screw our ears. I think it was the pull she had for Swami. And since I was with him, like how the thread that binds the flowers also starts smelling fragrant, I too got special treatment! Occasionally if we spoke unnecessarily, she would tell us to keep quiet. Then we would stop talking.
During exam time, Swami wouldn’t appear to prepare too much. We won’t do any joint study. I don’t remember discussing anything of studies with him!
About social life too, he would never talk. He will only say, ‘It is going on… ’ That’s all!
After that, he won’t deeply go into the subject and say things like, ‘In my house, there is this problem, that problem etc…’
If he is going out for meditation, he will change into saffron clothes and go. He will wear a shirt with saffron dhoti. When he goes to the meditation spot he will remove his shirt.
With Yogananda Puri
Our yoga teacher Raghupati Yogi, used to give us initiations often. We could never know what initiation he is going to give, why he is giving etc. But Swami used to become sharp and alert at that those times of initiation. He would tell us later: Raghupati Yogi was not a 100% enlightened person. He has touched a point, that’s all. With the backing of that experience, Raghupati Yogi found an attraction to Swami as soon as he saw him. He felt an inspiration to work with him. Since we were with Swami, he gave us too all these things.
Suddenly he would call us one day and say he is going to give us mantra initiation. Swami, my younger brother, Senthil and I were his students. He would give us some initiation or the other. Suddenly he would call us and tell, ‘Come at 6 am tomorrow. I am going to give an initiation. Bring some offering to the teacher.’ We used to ask him what to bring and he used to say, ‘Bring 2 beetel leaves, beetel nuts, banana fruit and one rupee as offering.’
He would give each one of us a different mantra as initiation. And he would say that we must chant the mantra within us all the time – when we are bathing, eating, walking etc. We would start chanting but soon we would get bored so we would leave it. But Swami would intensely chant it all the time. If Raghupati Yogi says we have to meditate, Swami would become alert.
He would give what is called jyoti darshan – A vision of Light. Abruptly something will strike him and he will say, ‘Today, I will give you jyoti darshan.’ He will take us and go to the paadaala lingam – the place where Ramana Maharishi did his first meditation in Tiruvannamalai. He was there for I think eight and odd years. He will take us there and make us sit. He will touch the spot between our eyebrows with his thumb and ask, ‘See if you are able to see some Light.’ We won’t be able to see anything. He used to say, ‘See properly. You will see Light. Seeing the Light again and again, you will become like a Light yourself. I am able to see the Light. You are saying you are not able to see it.’ After trying for some time, we used to get up and come away. But Swami seemed to have felt something every time. Raghupati Yogi then apparently gave him separate lessons. But I don’t know those details.
We moved closely with Raghupati Yogi for one and a half years. During the time our play used to be idol worship and we conducted festivals identical to the ones that happened at the temple, we got the association of Raghupati Yogi. Later, when we got the association of Kuppamma ayah, Swami expressed that Raghupati Yogi, although was our teacher, could not elevate us to fulfill us. He could feel this point clearly.
A Shocking Revelation
One very surprising thing happened one day. When our teacher Raghupati Yogi gives the mantra initiation, he would call each of us individually and give it, and he would say not to tell the mantra to the other and to chant the mantra silently within; not even to lip it. These were his rules. I asked Swami one day, ‘He has given a mantra. Can’t I see the Divine Mother with that?’ He promised I can’t. I asked why. He said, ‘There is no life in that mantra. How can you chant it?’ I asked him what he meant by there is no life in it. He said he will tell me, and after closing his eyes for two minutes, opened his eyes and said, ‘Is this not the mantra given to you?’ and he recited the mantra given to me! That was the most shocking incident for me. I asked him how he knew. He asked me if it was the mantra. I said yes. He asked, ‘Is there the syllable Om in this?’ I said no. He asked, ‘Then how will there be life in it?’
We would wonder: if there is no Om, may be there is no power in it. Then we have been chanting a mantra with no power in it? Then I asked him, ‘How do you say Om is the life in it?’ He said, ‘According to the Vedas (ancient spiritual literature), the whole world, if you trace it back to its origin, has originated from the Omkara – the Om sound. Om is the starting for everything. They say the whole world started from it. So the utterance Om has to be part of any mantra. They will not give any mantra without it. If it is not there in the mantra, there will not be much power in it. Any mantra has to start with Om.’ That incident got over with that.
We thought, if he is able to know these things by himself, then there is something special in him. Only at that time, we started realizing this. But fear started gripping me. Only because of that fear I started maintaining a gap with him. The relationship became cordial. When we meet, I would ask, ‘How are you…’ etc…We would meet as usual every time. Wherever he went, he would not go without telling us. We would also go and see him in his house. The meetings would happen, but none of the earlier exchanges would happen. But there would be a visible change in him every time we saw him.
Kuppamma Ayah and Swami
Once he started moving with Kuppammal, a lot of difference could be perceived in him. His participation in alankar etc. reduced a lot. After every interaction with her, we could make out that there was something going on in him but we could not make out anything more than that.
His house was in Tiruoodal street. My house was in North Gopuram street. He has to go past my house to go to Kuppamma Ayah’s (‘ayah’ is used to refer to elderly women with respect) house. Everyday he used to come to my house, see me and then suddenly tell me that he is going to Kuppamma ayah’s house.
Earlier, he used to discuss with me about going to the temples, what decoration to do, what to get ready etc., but after association with Kuppamma ayah, he would go there only more often saying she asked him to come. And if he goes there, no one knows how long it would take. If he goes at around eleven in the morning, it would take four of five in the evening. Once he comes he will tell me, he went and saw paati (meaning elderly lady, referring to Kuppamma ayah) and that they discussed a lot of things. Then he will start some topic that they discussed, but suddenly he will stop saying he will tell later. Maybe because I did not have the maturity to receive it he did not tell me those things at that time. Every time he would start to tell something with interest but he would stop as soon as he starts and fall into silence saying he will tell later.
Kuppamma came from a lineage where they believed in one Guru having one disciple. Because of that, she used to tell him not to tell anyone about what transpired between the two of them. Sometimes with a lot of enthusiasm he would tell me I should go to paati’s house with him. By then he had introduced me to her as his friend so she feels at ease. She would say a few words, give me water, or give something to eat. Then she would start saying to him, ‘Alright, today you can say something on this subject…’ The moment she says that, I myself used to feel like coming away from that place. I would say that I will go and come back later and I would simply leave the place.
At that time I used to be a little afraid of her also. She used to wear a big bindi (red dot worn between on the forehead between the eyebrows to activate the energy center in that location.) and when she talks, she would look at you with great intensity in her eyes. At that time I was afraid of God as well as very involved with the concept of God. I was aware there was a tremendous energy and I used to wonder how it might be etc. At that time, Swami used to explain a lot about it to me. He was an Ambal Upasakar – worshipper of Divine Mother.
Constant energizing of Parashakti deity
Once Kuppamma ayah gave him a mantra. At that time, Senthil – our friend – used to sell puja items in their store. They would sell idols made out of a mix of 5 metals: copper, bronze, gold, silver and brass. From that store, he bought a small Parashakti deity (female form of the Cosmic Energy also called Divine Mother) around 2 to 3 inches in height. He put it in his pocket. From then on he will chant that mantra that she gave continuously, except probably during sleeping time. Even in his sleep, he might have chanted, I don’t know. If he wakes up, he will pick up the deity from his pocket. His hand will be in the pocket on the idol all the time. Like how we rotate the rudhraksha beads while chanting a mantra, he will rub the idol’s face with his thumb for every utterance of the mantra. That idol is was made up mostly of fibre metal only, so if you keep on rubbing it, it will cause the paint to come away and it will turn black. If you see the face of that idol in the spot where he used to rub it, you can see that the face is reddish in colour (this idol is part of the archives today). This happened when we were in 10th grade, after the phase when we had played with deities etc.
Yogananda Puri Arranges for Photography
Raghupati Yogi was a very old man. We were all very small kids at the time of our association with him. So it used to be very jolly for us to be around him. He used to keep a running race from Kritikka Mandapam (a pillared hall in the Tiruvannamalai temple) to the gate at the far end. He too would run with us and come! It used to be a lot of fun. Just by playing, time used to pass. Then he would suddenly say, ‘Today is a superb day. Today, bring offering for Guru and come. I will give you all initiation.’ Then we would sit for initiation. The offering to the Guru was 1 betel leaf and nut, 1 banana and 1 rupee!
One day he told us, ‘You should come wearing white clothes,’ We came. The photo where Swami would be sitting on a deerskin, his eyes seeing upwards…at the age of 10… that was the first picture Raghupati Yogi took of us when we came wearing white clothes. That first photo was the first ever photo of Swami in meditative pose and it was taken by Raghupati Yogi. Purely for the purpose of clicking the picture he had asked us to come. He brought the deerskin to the studio. There was an old studio there. He asked us to come there. He told us, ‘Today, I am going to take a picture of all of you. Each of you should bring a white dhoti and upper cloth. Nothing else you need to bring.’ We said, ‘We will wear trouser and shirt and come and then change just before posing for the picture.’ He said, ‘Do whatever you want but you should be only in dhoti and upper cloth while taking the picture.’ We agreed and went.
Mystical connection with Yogi and Kuppamma
A lot of mystical things might have happened between Swami, Kuppamma ayah and Raghupati Yogi. I might not have been able to feel it, but it has happened 100 percent, that much I know. Otherwise I myself won’t accept it. My mind will resist a lot asking: is this right, is this wrong, how come they are saying like this etc. I would go on thinking. But as far as they are concerned, I was able to accept it fully because I felt that was the truth. Only because they had connection between them, things were possible.
See, when I was studying in 8th grade, I got introduced to Raghupati Yogi and Swami took me to yoga class, then to mantra initiation class. Raghupati Yogi said he will give mantra initiation. But when he saw that the effect of the initiation on us was lesser when compared to Swami, then automatically like when if a master is teaching three people, if two students are dull and one is bright, then how his concentration and interest in the bright one will increase, same way too Raghupati trained Swami deeper.
Then if you see, he would conduct annual day functions. Outside the temple, near a pillared hall, he would erect a thatched roof structure and what he would do…He was an 82 year old man mind you… He would tighten an iron rod on his chest and hold his breath. Then with one quick exhale, he would break the rod! Such kind of activities, he used to do many and show us. Whether Swami practiced all those things, I don’t know. For such things, we should have the full concentration and depth. We should have the capacity to absorb these techniques. Swami has gone to his house many times by himself.
To Kuppamma ayah’s house too he has gone many times. Every time he goes, he would come to me and tell, ‘Today I went to Raghupati Yogi’s house. Today I went to Kuppama ayah’s house. It felt good. I did well today. It was a different experience today.’ He used to say such things. But the exact details I didn’t know.
Training with Yogi
We used to meet Raghupati Yogi only in one place – Krittika Mandapam. From there he used to take us to various other places. There was a hotel called Udipi hotel nearby. The hotel owner was Yogi’s friend. He used to take us there often for tea, breakfast etc. As soon as the owner sees us he would ask, ‘Oh! You have come with all your students!’ He would reply, ‘Take care of my students.’ Time used to pass in that way… cheerfully. To teach yoga, he would take us to his house. A few other people would also come and request him to teach them. At that time, because he was old, he could not bend fully and do the postures. He could only guide. So he used to take us with him. He used to tell them, ‘My boys will do. Watch.’ He used to ask us to demonstrate the postures. They used to watch.
Ganesh Chaturthi and multifarious decorations
When we finished the function for the Ganesha under the banyan tree, we became highly inspired and enthusiastic. We felt we should do decoration in all the temples. In the main Tiruvannamalai temple, we knew that they won’t allow us, but there were so many temples that were not cared for and which were maintained by ordinary priests. So we went to other Ganesha temples. On Ganesh Chaturthi day, the birthday of Lord Ganesha, we will start early in the morning. At 5:30 am, the priests will finish the holy bath for the Ganesha deity in their temples and at 6’o clock, they will hand over the deity to us for decoration. If we started at five in the morning, we will finish at around eleven, mid-morning. Then we will go home and eat something hurriedly or miss our meals before we move to the next temple. Or sometimes at the temple itself, they will give something to eat. They will think that we are small boys struggling, and we have not eaten anything, so they will give us some food! We will not eat anything during the time we are doing the decoration. We will finish, come out and then eat. We used to be so strictly disciplined about these things. Then from 11 am to 3 pm, we would do decoration in the next temple. From 3 pm to 6 pm, it will happen in the next temple. By 6 pm, decoration in all temples should be finished because at 6 pm all the temples will offer lit camphor to Ganesha on that particular day.
At that young age, we used to be so intense about doing the decoration in as many temples as possible between 11 am and 6 pm. We used to run from one street to the other to the other! We used to be so intense.
Before starting any decoration, we used to plan amongst ourselves: how many temples have we booked for. What decoration are we going to do in each temple. We would not repeat any decoration across the temples. Even the lace that we used in one temple, we would not use in another temple! The foil paper that we used in one temple, we would not use in the other temple. If in one temple we planned for decoration with 9 varieties of grains, in another temple we would plan for fruit decoration, and yet another temple it will be flower decoration. We will think of different ideas and lay the plan.
In school, during the half yearly and quarterly holidays, we will do all the temple decorations, singing and dancing! We will be waiting for the holidays only for this! In December, during the half yearly holidays, Kartigai Deepam festival will be there. In Tiruvannamalai, schools compulsorily close for Kartigai Deepam – 10 days of holidays. It’s a special Government rule for this town. Police will come from other places. They would use the schools to accommodate all of them so, they would declare holidays for all the schools.
If you see, during the quarterly holidays, Vinayaga chaturthi and Durga puja festivals will happen. During the annual holidays, Vasanta Utsav festival will happen in the temple. During January holidays if you see, the Tiruoodal festival will happen. Through the year there will be some festival or the other in Tiruvannamalai. We will go for everything and enjoy.
The first year of our association with each other, it was like that – enjoyment and play with decorations and festivals. In the second year, after we got the Arunai Nayaki temple for ourselves for decoration, we would plan for multifarious decorations and adornments for the Divine Mother.
Swami will think so creatively for the adornments. He would carve the carrots and use it to adorn the saree of the deity. He would say, ‘It won’t be nice if you cut and stick the vegetables at random. It will be good only if the colour is for the full saree.’ Then he would say, ‘Carve the carrot. Its colour is not enough. Mix a little kesari (orange colouring) powder and darken it.’ We will then mix it and make it dark. Then he would ask, ‘For the border of the saree, what colour would match with fanta orange, what will be a good contrast?’ In the chosen colour we will design the border.
Carrot will stick well on sandal. We will first place the sandal paste on the deity and then do the dress design with vegetables. According to whether we wish to put on a saree or any other kind of clothing, we would do the decoration. When we decorated that Ganesha with navadaaniyam – nine grains, we really enjoyed it besides the effort. We missed taking a picture of it. Seeing the decoration, Kuppamma ayah became very happy and said, ‘You will become a very big person in future!’ This Ganesha is the one in the temple on the narrow lane that is there on the way to the first experience place.
Like that, when we go to a temple, the first thing he will do is: he will remove the cloth of the deity and see if in the deity’s form there are any damages. First he will see how much dirt there is on the deity! After noting that, he will scold with whatever words comes to his mouth, the caretakers of the deity. He will not use very bad words. He will use words like dogs etc. He will say, ‘See how all they have kept this deity.’
Normally these priests will apply oil everyday on the deity and then promptly pour water on it for the holy bath. The grease in the oil will simply settle down on the deity. First he would scrape all the settled oil with grime and dirt with a blade. If I ask him, ‘What? You are scraping the deity with a knife?’ He would say, ‘Yes. Then what to do. It is so dirty, only if we scrape with a knife the dirt will come out. It is okay to use a knife. Scrape so that it doesn’t scratch the deity, that’s all.’ So we will completely remove everything and clean. Then we will pour two mugs of water and then only we will apply the sandal paste.
He would say, ‘Think that the deity is sitting there live and do the decoration.’ Later if you see, out of my own growing interest I would saying how to do things and he would become silent and just watch. He will watch what we are doing and sometimes give directions: ‘This is wrong, that is not nice, change this, change that…’ He would give such guidance and then remain silent and watch. I don’t know what he would observe so deeply.
As far as the decoration is concerned, only if you go around and see varieties of decorations, you will get the ideas to decorate. Sometimes we would have decorated with only flowers. Generally, we will apply sandal paste uniformly on the entire deity including the face. Then like how we put on our clothes, we will decide on the colour of clothes, style of clothes etc. For Divine Mother, we will give a contrast colour saree and blouse. For example, for a red colour saree, we will give a green colour blouse.
We will decide: what kind of border should come for the saree. When the deity is sitting, how will the border fall. Will it come this way or that way. We would get ready with these ideas first. Then we will decide what items we are going to use that day for the decoration – like rice or grain or vegetable. If we were using grains, we would use only grains. If we were going to use pearls, then the whole thing we will decorate with pearls. Or we will do completely with flowers or completely with vegetables or completely with fruits.
We will freeze these ideas and make a list first. If we plan to put a crown on the head, we would see the deity’s head, measure its height and decide: this crown will require half kilo grapes, so many boxes of sandal etc. Then what all we need for the saree, we will write down and make a list first. Then we will go for a quotation. Based on that we will decide, ‘This much money is going to be spent. Alright, let us do it,’ or, ‘It is coming to too much. We will change a few items. Instead of grapes we will put something else,’ etc. So we will change it and make a clean list and then go and buy the things and come.
We will not ask anyone for money for these decorations. The reason why people easily allowed us to do decoration at the temples is, they know we will sponsor the whole thing ourselves! For them the deity will get ready, that’s all! Because of that they will allow us. Our parents will generally give us money. We will use the money totally for this. I don’t remember spending too much on buying and eating nonsensical stuff. From 8th grade up to the time I finished my degree, I don’t recall seeing any movie. For fifteen years, I did not see a movie! 9 years I spent with Swami, and then 5 years under my uncle. So 9 plus 5 is 14 years, when I did not go to a cinema theatre. After 14 years, I came to Tiruvannamalai and got married and went with my wife to the theatre, that’s all!
48-day circumambulation around the Sacred Arunachala Hill
First one year of our association with each other, used to be only play. We would go circumambulate the Mountain often by ourselves. The two of us did a 48-day continuous circumambulation around the Hill once. Whatever time suits us we will start circumambulating every day. It would mostly be in the evening after 4 pm. The Sun would be setting.
During circumambulation, he would walk silently. One time, when going around the Mountain, Senthil wanted to attend to nature’s call. At that time I asked, ‘They say when you are going around the Mountain, you should not attend to nature’s call.’ He replied, ‘What is inside you have let outside… that’s all! If it is wrong, then how does it matter whether it is inside the body or outside? It is anyway there! Do your work! How can you say that if it is inside your body it is not wrong, but if it is left outside, it is wrong?! He continued jokingly, ‘When you come in circumambulation around God, you should have emptied yourself inside and started right? Why did you have it inside?’ When he said it that way, you will understand immediately! Earlier to that, when he was in a phase with only devotion, he would have replied, ‘You should not attend to nature’s call etc..’ He would have belonged to the category of people who thought that way. But now he had moved to the next category…!
When we circumambulate, we won’t stop for rest in between. We will keep going. We would chant the mantra given by Raghupati Yogi and walk. We won’t talk either. This period was probably when he was in the 9th or 10th grade. Because only then we would get a long gap of holidays. It was believed that if we came around the Mountain for 48 days, what we think in our mind will materialize. But we did it more because we had an intense attachment to Lord Arunachala. He was the one who said, ‘Okay, let us come around continuously for 48 days and see what result we get.’ For all of us put together, he got the greatest result in his life!
The elders used to say that the 48 days was for the mind to become integrated. But we would not be oriented that way. On one day we will do with commitment, but the next day we would think, ‘My leg is paining, but I have to come around for 48 days, so I better do it today,’ and we would start again! Every day, we used to come around with a different state of mind. But Swami did it with the same deep consciousness, so he got the result. We could sense that he got something out of it, but we don’t know it exactly because at that time he never used to explain those things to us deeply. We feel it is because we did not have the capacity to absorb those things at that age.
Swami moves to a tent in the balcony
One day, in the balcony of their house, Swami put up a tent by himself with the correct sloping angle etc. One person can sleep there. He got it ready to that level. Also, his mother had started telling him that he is overdoing things and disturbing her in the kitchen. So he decided and made this tent for himself and arranged all the deities’ photos etc. there. Inside, you could see dhotis, cloths, only items meant for deity decoration.
Like how a brahmachari or a sannyasi will live, he would live there. It was his tent. He used to lie down and keep rubbing the parashakti idol and constantly chant the mantra. Two times I have gone there on a Sunday. In the afternoon, that whole street would be silent. Generally in towns if you see in the afternoons, it will be very silent since people will be taking rest. I used to feel very bored on Sunday afternoons. The other kids also won’t be there. So I used to go to his house. I would think I can go and be with him and discuss something about the temples etc.
When I go there, his mother would say, ‘He is in the tent only.’ Then I would go to the tent. When he sees me, he would get up. If you see his face, there will be such an intensity in it. If you are intensely engrossed in something, and you look up from it, how it will be… his face will be like that. Once he gets up, he would see his right hand palm in silence for a while. Kuppamma ayah used to tell him that Parashakti resides in the right palm. So very often he used to hold the Parashakti deity in his hand and also gaze at his right palm.
He used to tell me too that when I wake up in the morning, not to suddenly open my eyes and look around but to look at only the palm first. Till date, I have this as a habit! As soon as I wake up, I will look at my palm first. He would tell that I should see it like I am seeing Parashakti there. Then the mind won’t get diverted anywhere and also there won’t be any disturbance in the mind. And, anything else that you see thereafter you will be only relaxed. He would say that in the morning, if there was a chance to see any awkward or scary thing, the mind will be disturbed for the whole day. So it is good to see the palm first. When he got disturbed due to some reason too, he will first see his palm. Then it will take at least ten to fifteen minutes for him to relax and talk to us. He would have gone so deeply in. We won’t know what is going in him but we will know that he is very deep into something.
Round about this time, distance started creeping in between him and us. The friend idea started dissolving and even addressing him in singular became rare. I could make out some difference in him. But I could not get myself to ask him what it was and to share it with me. I was not so fast on the track he was moving in. But I could not step out also. I wanted to be his friend all the time. He would ask me, ‘Did you see Parashakti’s face today?’ he would refer to the deity as aatha – Tamil word for mother. I would ask him what he had done to deity. He would say, ‘I did a lot of chanting. I could feel the vibration going in fully. Touch and see.’ I would touch the idol. It would be a little hot! Then I would just keep quiet. But I would know that he is doing something. Then suddenly he would ask, ‘Do you want to see Her live form?’ I would wonder why he asked this so suddenly. I would reply, ‘I wish to see.’ Then he would go into silence, lower his head and look at his palm and say, ‘mmm’. That is all. We would remain silent for a while. Then after that, some other topic will come up and this will be forgotten. Then I would wonder why he asked me in the first place and then never showed me. A lot of interest and curiosity will rise within me to ask him again about it but when I see his silence and his body language, a certain fear will be there about asking him again. I would not.
Arunai Nayaki Amman – dream, devotion, decoration
Once, we came to know of one Arunai Nayaki amman temple – a temple dedicated to the Divine Mother. Since he became an intense worshipper of Parashakti, we decided we should do decoration for that temple deity also. Just the previous day, we had completed a 48-day continuous circumambulation of the Arunachala Hill in Tiruvannamalai. He had told that we should do a 48-day circumambulation of the Hill. Forty-eight is considered to be one mandala (cycle). I agreed and somehow we completed it.
Once during those 48 days he said, ‘We should go and see Arunai Nayaki Amman.’ I was already familiar with that temple. There, there would be a lot of activities such as palm reading, bearing of fire pots, driving away ghosts with the beat of drums etc. When I used to see all that, not that I had fear, but I never used to like it. I expressed to him that I didn’t wish to go there. He asked, ‘Why do you see all that. Have you seen the deity inside?’ I said, ‘Yes, She will be very majestic and powerful.’ He said, ‘Then what is the problem. Let us go and see Her today.’ So we went. They used to do the decoration in a very majestic and perfect way. She is around five and a half feet tall in sitting position.
When we went and saw Her, he said he had the feeling he was meeting an old relative after a long time. I asked him if he was feeling like that because he was a worshipper of the Mother. He said, ‘No, it is a very deep feeling.’ He said we should do decoration for the Mother. I was shocked. We ourselves were only 4 feet tall. The deity was five and a half feet tall!
By that time itself, he had taught us all the methods of calculations: for this tall a deity, how much sandal paste is needed, how much foil decoration paper sheets are required, all these calculations we would do with the appropriate rates and immediately arrive at a total cost, say 100 rupees or 150 rupees. Then we would decide how much money each of us has and whether we should go for money collection outside. So we would have an idea: for this deity, how much it would cost, will we be able to do it etc.
For this particular deity, if we do the decoration and it doesn’t turn out well…we were a little apprehensive about the reaction of the temple priest. He was a very ferocious looking person with matted locks. Anyone he sees, he would utter only bad words to them first. Even if he wants to call anyone, he will first utter a few bad words and only then call that person! In this circumstances, we wondered if he would even allow us inside. But Swami said that we have to do decoration for that deity. So we said, ‘Alright you go in front and ask. We will all stand behind you.’ Then I remembered there is one man known to my father’s older brother and that we could ask through him. But Swami said that we can ask ourselves. We agreed. We all went and stood a little away watching Swami approach him.
He went straight up to him and fell at his feet! Immediately that man cooled down! Then he said to him, ‘Swami, we wish to do decoration for the Mother.’ That man looked at him for a moment and laughed. He asked him, ‘How tall are you and how tall is this deity? How will you do decoration?’ He replied, ‘No Swami. You can ask around. We have done decoration for this Ganesha temple here, that other temple there. We will do very nicely. We ourselves will spend money and do.’ The priest was the sort who liked to do things without much expense. Also he was not very keen about things like gathering a lot of people in the temple or organizing for palm reading or anything of that sort. He just thought: alright, these young boys are going to do decoration. It is getting done free of cost. That’s all. Then he asked, ‘When are you going to do the decoration?’ We said Friday. He said, ‘On Friday, there will be a lot of crowd. Will you finish on time?’ We said we will start in the morning itself. He said, ‘Friday is Full Moon day. I will offer turmeric powder holy bath to the deity.’ At that time, for every Full Moon day, they would offer turmeric powder holy bath. After 11 am, they would offer the regular holy bath. To finish it, it will take around two in the afternoon. He asked if we can start at 2 pm and finish quickly. We requested that he finished his work earlier than usual on that day alone. He said, ‘Alright, I will finish the holy bath by 8 am itself.’ By 9 am, he finished. We went in.
As soon as we go in, he would first see the deity. What happened on that occasion was, the day previous to the decoration day, he had a dream: Exactly how that deity will be without clothing, how Her body structure would be – came in the dream. When the priest gave permission to decorate, Swami became very happy and he said, ‘We should know more about Her. We should know what Her purpose is.’ I asked what for he wants to know all this. He said, ‘No, there is something in this deity. She is very powerful. All the temples we were doing decoration for till now were relatively new ones. This is the first ancient and powerful temple we are going to take up. We should know more about Her.’ I said alright and asked how to ask. He said he will talk to Kuppamma ayah and come.
Kuppamma ayah said, ‘In order to kill the devil Mahishasura who represents the human ego, in the sacred chant – Devi Mahatmyam – the Mother comes to Tiruvannamalai. It is here in this temple that he was killed by Her.’ At that time, Arunai Nayaki Amman came as Mother’s army leader. Mahishasuran’s right hand general in the army was an evil person. His name is mentioned in the chant – Arunachala Puranam (verses depicting the story of Arunachala). Arunai Nayaki Amman is said to have killed him. There is also a statue of that man lying crushed beneath Her feet in the temple.
As soon as he heard this and saw the statue of that man, he spun into action. In both our houses there was only the new version of the Arunachala puranam. He said, ‘This is the new version. It has been released only some twenty or thirty years back. We need the older version.’ He said that the older version was with Kuppamma ayah and he went and brought that book. We read page by page. Only in that book, there were two extra lines that said She was Mother’s army leader and She killed that particular evil person. In the newer version, it was just mentioned that She was in the war. But in this version, it was clear. He read it and said, ‘See, we are going to do decoration for such a great lady!’
He made me understand that if I went into the real significance of the deity and then did the decoration, the impact will be entirely different. He would say, ‘Generally if we go and do the decoration, we won’t know the impact of it. Now after this knowledge if we go, we will know Her power. Now you will know how powerful, how significant She is, how important She is.’ When he said all these things, I used to get gooseflesh… I used to be engulfed with the feeling: She is so powerful. She is so great. We are going to actually touch Her and do the decoration. Do we have the qualification? Do we belong to such a qualified caste? Because in those times there were rules that only certain people from certain communities can touch certain deities. When it was like that, how is it that we were going to do it for Her? When these thoughts came up, our sincerity for the job increased.
We decided we should do things in a very neat way. We decided: we should not eat or drink even water when we are doing the decoration. We should buy fresh and clean things for the decoration. We should ourselves sit and grind the sandal into paste. All these thoughts started forming within. With this inspiration when I slept, the form of the deity, how She was seated in the battlefield, how Her structure was beneath the clothing – that form appeared in my dream as well! I have never seen the deity like that ever. With the total inspiration when I went to sleep, this form appeared, the night before the decoration. When I woke up in the morning, I wondered: this form seems to be Arunai Nayaki amman’s form, but I have seen Her differently at the temple with Her usual adornment. Then I thought, because of the devotion I had towards Her, maybe She gave this kind of an appearance to me. With that mood I went for the decoration. Meanwhile he also seemed to have had different visions of Her. We met and at 9 am we entered the temple with all the things for the decoration.
We had collected nearly 400 rupees. With just 400 rupees, you will be surprised how many things we could get at that time for decoration! When we removed the clothing and saw the form, both of us got a shock. For a minute, the rise of emotions was too much. It is an unforgettable moment in our lives. Whatever we saw in the dream, the exact form was there! My devotion towards Her increased a lot. I felt we should do things with tremendous sincerity for Her and that She was really sitting there, very powerful. For him, it was more than that. He had seen more than that. He said, ‘Last night, She spoke to me. I saw Her.’ He then prostrated in front of Her. Then he said, ‘She is really sitting here. Do things sincerely for Her. Don’t have any other thought. When you do the decoration, let your total concentration be here.’
All this can be taught only by a mature Guru. How to pray to God. How to tread the path of devotion etc. Normally at home, what we pray, it is different. But how does a real devotee pray to God? One should sincerely imagine that the deity is really there and pray with that mood. Only then will the real impact be got. At that time, this happened in us naturally itself – how to pray, how to offer puja, how to do decoration etc. That incident was a very powerful one.
We did the decoration very sincerely. We started at 9 am and finished at 6 pm without even drinking water in between. It was my first experience of that kind. After the decoration was done, even that priest was surprised. He said that even trained temple priests will not do in such a fashion. That was the first time we were doing an entire face with sandal paste. Till then we had done only for Ganesha (elephant God). And for Him, on the face there will be two tusks. However you do the sandal decoration, it will not change the look. But for Mother, you need to work well to bring out the facial features.
The priest was very pleased with our skill. He took a big plate, kept bananas, apples, sweet lime, all that had come as offering that day, asked everyone to sit, picked up some flowers, blessed us and gave it to us. Then he told us that any special decoration in the temple thereafter, we should only do.
On special Full Moon days every year, they will do very grand decoration in this temple. Every year the Tiruvannamalai temple priest will come here and do the decoration but with a lot of fuss saying he is very busy etc. That particular year, this priest never called him because we were there. Next, for some function, we were unable to make it because of some school work. When he approached his again, the priest said, ‘You now have big priests (referring to us!) doing things for you. You can keep them and do everything.’ There was ego clash between them because of us! This was when we were studying in 9th or 10th grade.
Till the Arunai Nayaki amman incident, all that we did was just play. It was just an expression of our childhood attachments. But after seeing Arunai Nayaki amman in the dream and seeing that She was alive sitting there, things started changing. Swami would say about Her, ‘She is there sitting. Do things sincerely. You should not talk when you are inside the sanctum doing decoration.’
At that time, ladies were doing the rituals in that sanctum. They only offered the holy bath, decoration everything. Once they enter the sanctum, they will start talking their own topics while doing the decoration. It will take at least three hours to complete the decoration. They will exchange all sorts of stories and do the decoration. They were mostly unmarried women. Swami never used to like all this. He used to say that She is really sitting there and even if She doesn’t directly talk to us, we should understand that She is there and do things appropriately. He used to tell me all this one after the other. He used to say, ‘You should not offer as if you are offering to a statue. If you do as if you are doing for a statue, the whole thing is a waste. There is no meaning in what you are doing.’
Normally, people would say that if we did the decoration without having a bath or after eating a full meal, it was a sin. But he spoke differently. He would say, ‘She is our Mother. When we do for Her, we should do with a pure heart. We should do it totally.’ When he puts it that way, we will automatically feel like following it. We would naturally think that he is right and wonder why people were scaring us by saying other things. When we used to think that we are doing for our Mother, the interest increased. We then did a lot of decoration for Her after that.
More Incidents with Kupammal
He has had many conversations with Kuppamma ayah. What he asked her and what she told, we don’t know. Until the Arunai Nayaki amman incident we were like friends. After that incident I felt there was a distance coming between us. Whatever incident happens, he would visit me and tell me briefly about it. He would say, ‘Today I went to Kuppamma ayah’s house. She taught me a mantra. She taught me this subtle concept.’ I won’t understand anything. I would say, ‘Alright, she taught you something. Good.’ And I would leave it at that.
Every time he visited Kuppamma ayah and came, there would be a difference in his face. When he sets out to visit her, let us say on a Sunday, he will start out normally. He would say, ‘I am going to visit Kuppamma ayah.’ I would say alright. When he comes back he would look as if he is so deeply engrossed in some thought. He would sit and analyze what he had heard. He would give us the message from his visit but we won’t understand anything. Kuppamma ayah and he would have analyzed something and he would have returned. For whatever he says, we would simply say, ‘Is it so, is it so….’ That’s all.
He has apparently met many people through Kuppamma ayah. From her circle she has introduced him to four or five people.
There was a Malayala Maantrikar – a person who has gone to Kerala and studied Mantrikam. Mantrikam is to do with mantra and tantra – ancient Eastern metaphysical sciences. If you want to achieve something, if you chant a certain mantra in a certain way you will achieve it. They have a clause in passing on their knowledge to anyone. They will take promise from the person learning that he won’t use it for his own self-use. If in your life, there is an inevitable instance where through you some good is to happen, then you can use it. Else you should never use it for yourself. This person was rigorously trained in this science and was associated with Kuppamma ayah.
In their families if you see, there will be so many problems. But they will never use their mantra or tantra to sort it out. So Swami has met these kinds of persons. He told me once that he met this Malayala Maantrikar who taught him something which caused immense satisfaction in him. Because of that, without even asking Kuppamma ayah permission, he promised to him that he will never use it for any personal issue. When we were going somewhere on the road, he showed me an old man saying he was the one had taught him those things. He said, ‘I promised to him whole heartedly that I do not need this mantra or tantra for my use and that I will never use it.’
Kuppamma ayah told him where all the mantra can be used and then initiated him into it. But once he was initiated into it, he decided he didn’t need it. Not that it had any less power in it but because he had understood that there were many things much beyond all this and that this would be of no use to him at that stage of his seeking. He said that it was alright for the ones who belonged to that category of people but not for him.
The Kundalini Yoga practitioner’s prophecy
Once we met someone who was a good practitioner of Kundalini Yoga. We were with Raghupati Yogi. When we were doing the circumambulation of the temple, the man called us. He pointed to Swami and asked, ‘Who is this boy?’ Raghupati Yogi said that he was his student and that he was teaching him yoga and meditation. The man said, ‘He is not your student. He will become a much bigger person than you.’
Raghupati Yogi asked him, ‘Who are you?’ He replied, ‘I am a Kundalini Yogi practitioner. When I see someone at the time my kundalini energy is in a high state, some things like this will occur to me, and those things will never be wrong. They will always be right.’ He was from a place called Paandalam on the way to Kallakurichi in a village in South India. He gave us his address and said we could visit him and talk at length. But we were only small boys at that time and we could not go out of the village anywhere so we left it at that. We didn’t note down the address properly either. We know he is from Paandalam and we know his name. With these two details, how does one trace him? So we left it that.
In Tiruvannamalai, there was once a man who had finished a one month course on Kundalini Yoga in Rishikesh in North India and returned. Swami wanted to see him and so he took me and went. But that man was not available at that time. The next day he went by himself and met him. After that, for two or three days he was in a strange state of appearance. He had apparently discussed for long hours with that man.
The mystic from Kollimalai
Many people have seen him and told him that he will become a big person one day. He would share all those things with me. Once one mystic came from Kollimalai. He was called Kollimalai Siddar. He used to visit Arunachala often. He was associated with Raghupati Yogi as well. Once Raghupati Yogi took us and introduced us to him as his students. When he saw Swami he commented, ‘This boy looks to be so clear!’
Ganesha adorned with nine different grains (Worship as Play)
So many people who have seen him have told similar things about him. On one occasion, we did sandal paste decoration for Ganesha. On top of it, we did adornment with nine varieties of grains (nine grains associated with the nine planets). We separated out the grains according to their colour, made a dress with them and did the decoration. We brought Kuppamma ayah and showed her the decoration. When she saw it, she said, ‘You will become a very big person. All these things are clear indications of it. These grains are showing me all that you are going to do in future. These are all very ordinary things for you. In future you will do many great things I am able to see.’
Swami’s love for Tirumoolar’s songs
In between, he would sing many of the Siddar (A particular sect of Mystics) songs – songs sung by ancient mystics. He would sing the 18 Siddars’ songs. He would often sing the Paambaatti Siddar song which used to go: pudumbaai, pudumbaai. Then he would read Tirumandiram – saint Tirumoolar’s verses. He would read them from a book for a long time. After reading it, he would be continuously saying something about it. I did not have the capacity to absorb any of it. He would ask me, ‘What did you absorb. What did you understand?’
In our house that particular book was not there. I then asked my father buy one copy. Swami would show in that book, the words Om Namashivaya would have been composed in many different ways juggling with the words Namashivaya Na Shiva Shiva Om etc… The saint would have also represented the chant as a chakra – wheel. Swami would point out all that and explain everything. I am not able to explain it clearly, but used to understood all that clearly. If we see it itself, it will be so confusing! Many wheel representations will be there. Every twenty to thirty pages there will be Tirumoolar’s wheel representations. He will mark all those and do all sorts of things with them.
For a few days he was concentrating only on those things. He would analyze: “what is the data in this, why have they said this?” I didn’t know what he was actually doing at that time. He used to do all this research only in his house. He never had any disturbance there. He had his own room. He would go off into his room. If you go to his room, you could see books in the attic-shelf in boxes. Since it was a small house, they would pack everything in boxes and stack them on top. He would take them out, read them and then put them back. There would not be disturbance to others either. He would read mentally, not loudly or softly or anything. While reading, he used to go deeply and clearly into it. When you are deeply engrossed in reading something, you will not be able to read aloud.
Lord Muruga temple decoration
Swami’s aunt’s house is there in a nearby village. There is a Muruga temple there (Muruga is the second son of Lord Shiva). We went there and found the temple priest competing with us! Swami’s uncle, that is the aunt’s husband’s older brother arranged everything for us there. He had arranged for the decoration on Panguni Uttram, a day auspicious to Lord Muruga. We started doing everything with great interest as it was a big temple, dedicated to Lord Muruga, recently energized through kumbabhisheka – special energizing process to rejuvenate the energy of the temple. We were greatly pulled by the fact that soon after kumbabhisheka – when the cosmic energy is clearly installed one more time after many years – we would be doing the decoration for the main deity itself!
Even before going there, we started discussing how to do the decoration, what colour dhoti to put on the deity, what cloth to put on the upper body, what to put on the lower body etc. We got all the things ready and went. When we went there, we realized that a priest belonging to that village who was in Chennai, attending to some work in a big temple, took a day off since it was function time in the village and had come to the temple. He entered the temple with all the authority of the temple priest. He said that he is the rightful person to do the regular decoration and that he would only be doing the decoration that day. We became teary eyed and sad. We wondered how when we had taken so much pains in getting everything ready, this priest came in from nowhere and declared this.
We wondered why Lord Muruga was doing this to us. At that time, Swami got very angry. In those times, he would get very angry! He said that he is not going to let it go and that he would talk to his uncle. He asked his uncle how the temple priest could do this. His uncle was a chief man in the village. He was the one who conducted the functions at that temple. He felt bad when he saw the things we had gotten ready. He wondered what to do when he saw our great interest and effort. He went up to the priest and told him that we were with great interest to do the whole thing and that we should do it together. Immediately, the priest took up the upper half of the deity for decoration and we took up the lower half! We started doing the decoration. Then the priest saw how we were doing and moved away for us to do the whole thing.
From the beginning, even if these decorations were just like playing, there was an intense devotion in it to do it properly. When the devotion intensified, we got the feeling that we were doing it for the live deity.
Receiving the First Initiation after The Avatar’s First Enlightenment Experience
An important incident in my life:
Just before Kuppamma ayah’s departure, at the time she declared she had given to him everything as her sole disciple, he has apparently gone to the Pavazhakundru rock in Tiruvannamalai and tried to meditate. That was the time he had his first deep spiritual experience where he saw 360 degrees around him with eyes closed. The morning of the initiation he came and said he was going to see her. After that, I don’t know if she told him to try to meditate or what…he has gone there and tried to meditate. The experience seems to have been over at around three in the afternoon.
He came straight to my place and from the road itself he called my name. I was sitting near the pillar by myself. I came out and saw… I saw a change in him. The change was something like the difference between a child’s playful appearance and a meditator’s appearance. To describe how he looked I should tell you about Isakki Munivar, Kuppamma ayah’s Guru.
Isakki Munivar would come around the circumambulating the Arunachala Hillock everyday. He would first come from his house to the circumambulation starting point. He would be carrying a conch and a saakandi (flat circular gong). He would not talk to anybody. He would continuously blow the conch and beat the gong. He has to pass by my house if he has to go to the temple and his house. At that time, all the boys in the street would go and fall at this feet. He would stand waiting for them to finish and then move on seamlessly. It was an every day feature. When we hear the sound of his coming, we would become alert and be ready. He would also see us coming and stand until we all fell at his feet; then he would move on. Then he would finish the circumambulation and sit down in the Panchamuka ashram. Anyone who comes and tells any grievance, he would just show some gesticulation. After telling him, if that person came around the Hill, their problem would be solved! His appearance everyday made a deep impression in my mind. He would appear wearing just a cloth around his waist and stand there. He would not look particularly at anyone or smile at anyone. He would just stand as though without any feelings. He would not even look to see if people have finished prostrating etc…he would just move on.
That day, Swami appeared to me to look like Isakki Munivar. When he called me ‘Sampath’, I ran out to see him. Until I came out and stood, he was fine. After that, he said to come with him and put his arm around my shoulder. Then he started moving his body, his facial expressions started changing. Whatever he felt at the time of the first experience, I think remained with him at that time. He was slightly smiling, and he started holding me tightly. I started getting afraid, wondering what he was doing. He said to walk with him. Little did I know I was receiving the historic first every energy darshan from an enlightened being.
We walked and entered the Tiruvannamalai temple and went into the Kalyana Sundareshwar sanctum. It is in the second concentric circumambulation path. There is a Laburnum tree (Kondrai in Tamil) there with a stone pillar under it. He sat down there and asked me also to sit. He started tightening his grip over me. After a while, he leaned back and smiled. He asked, ‘Can you see an ant moving behind you?’ I asked where. He said, ‘Behind me.’ I saw there was a trail of red ants moving on the tree. He said he can see it without even turning his head. That was it…!
I asked him, ‘Sekhar, what happened to you?’ I felt everything was different about him. His actions… everything. He said to sit down and again, and started smiling and gripping me. His body felt hot. My fear started increasing. Something like this had never happened until then. He was fine when he went but on his return, he was like this. Ten to fifteen minutes passed but he remained like that. With passing time, he started gripping me even tighter saying that he felt very good. I felt he might not release me at all! I started getting very scared. Moreover, it was in a temple and here he was hugging me! I didn’t have a clue what was going inside him. Suddenly I told him, ‘Please wait for a moment, I will go to the toilet and come,’ and I came away. That’s all I know!
I went home and wondered with fear what had happened to him, why he was behaving like that. After some time, I went back to that spot and saw, he was not there. After that when I read his life story books, I could see that he has gone to Kuppamma ayah’s house and she has given him an appropriate diet for three days and brought him back to normalcy. I don’t know what happened after that. I just know that he was so deep into his first spiritual experience. Only after reading the books now, I came to know that that was his first experience. Only now, I am able to understand it. Now I understand, at that young age, if he was able to hold on to that deep experience stably, and was even able to answer me cogently, it was a profound thing.
A visible change after first enlightenment experience
After this experience, there was a 100 percent change in him. He showed no interest in coming to the temple, offering puja etc. He would just listen to what we told him: today this decoration…alright…today this puja…alright… He would show no further interest. But he would visit Arunai Nayaki very often. He would ask how She is. If he called from the polytechnic, he would ask, ‘How is Arunai Nayaki?’ We would say, ‘She is fine Swami.’ He would ask if the functions were going on well for her and we would say yes. That time around, I started using polite language with him. From that experience onwards, the old singular language dropped and respectful language came in towards him. Earlier, we used to fight physically. I was taller than him. I used to put my hand on his shoulder at a point he would feel a lot of pain. He would scold me saying I was taking the life out of him. But after that experience, fear stepped in and I never touched him. We used to call him ‘Sekhar’. From far, we used to call out ‘Rajasekhar’. But when we were near each other, we used to say ‘Sekhar’.
The Avatar’s habit of reading and wandering in Tiruvannamalai
We have been to a lot of places together in Tiruvannamalai – like Virupaksha cave, Guhai Namashivaya cave etc. When we go to these caves, he will tell the history of those places and those Masters who lived there, in a very deep way. He would describe how they were, how they did penance etc. To an extent, we knew those stories. We would have listened to it earlier as a story, but when he narrates them, he would say it in such a mesmerizing way. He would say, ‘They have done so much of penance. They had the power to talk to God!’ He has read all that in the verses of Arunachala Puranam completely. He has read the old edition of that book from Kuppamma ayah. He would read a lot. Since he read all the historic stories, he would know them all well.
If he reads one subject once, he will go fully into it, he will not need to sit and read it again. Also, Arunachala Puranam is such that if you read it once, all those stories will settle in your memory. In Ramanashram, there is a room where Ramana Maharishi attained samadhi – final resting. Swami will frequent that place. He will sit there and meditate. There will be pin drop silence in the room. I will not be able to sit continuously, but he will sit continuously for hours.
He would go to Pavazhakundru (Coral rock in Tiruvannamalai where he had first deep spiritual experience) often. After his first deep spiritual experience there, he spent a lot of time in that place. For hours together he has spent there in deep meditation. Every time he surfaces from there, you can see a big change in his face. After concentrating deeply on an intense subject, if you suddenly break from it, how your appearance will be, like that he used to appear. I was able to understand that, so even the thought to ask him questions will not rise in me. I would know that he has done something intense and come. We would just keep away from any questions.
Ramakrishna’s Gospel book
During the 5th semester, Kartigai Deepam – the festival of lights would happen in Tiruvannamalai. In those days, for the first time, from Ramakrishna Tapovanam ashram in Tirupaaraiturai they put up a stall during the festival. That was the time Swami bought and gave me the book Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.
I don’t know what kind of classes Kuppamma ayah gave him, but suddenly he started buying many books and reading. Kuppamma ayah had many books. He would get all that and read. The book reading habit became stronger. At that time there would be only books in house. He was reading a lot of Ramana Maharishi’s books as well.
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s Gospel comes in three parts. He bought all three. First he read Ramakrishna’s life story. Impressed by it, he bought the Gospel books. When he finished the life story he told me, ‘I was reading this in the polytechnic, It was nice. There is Gospel book. It is very interesting. In his life, the devotees who were with him have narrated incidents that happened just as they happened. It is so alive to read. It takes us to that very spot. To that extent, it is interesting. I am reading it. Once I finish it, I will give it to you, you read it.’
He told me that sat continuously through day and night, and finished the Gospel book in just one day’s time! After reading it, he got thoroughly impacted and told me, ‘In life, this is a great treasure. You should not miss it. Come with me.’ And he took me to the temple. There he went to the stall. At that time there was a Swami there who had put up the stall. He said to him, ‘Swamiji, I want those three parts of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. The Swami asked, ‘Only yesterday you purchased the three books, so soon you want another set?’ He told him. ‘No, it is for my friend.’ The Swami said, ‘We brought only five sets and all five are over no sooner than they arrived. I don’t know what is there in that book. It is moving so fast.’ But Swami insisted, ‘No Swami, I need it compulsorily. I have to give it to my friend.’ The Swami told, ‘Okay, you are asking with such great interest. And you are all young boys. I will definitely give you. If I call and tell to those in the Trichy bus now, it will come by the Trichy bus. You come definitely in the morning and collect it.’ He made the phone call, told the Trichy bus people and it arrived the next day morning. I think that was the first gift that Swami gave me!
He gave me the three parts of the book and said, ‘Read this, It will be useful in your life.’ Until then, I had devotion to God. But I had a fear about everything. I thought about God with only respect. I thought that if I did any mistake it would be a big mistake, and that certain things are sin and certain things are good merits; certain things are right and certain things are wrong. I used to have a lot of confusion at that time. Only when I started reading those books I understood how simple spirituality is. In that book, Ramakrishna has said a lot about sannyas. He would say, ‘This ordinary life is a waste. Don’t get deluded too much by woman and gold. Those are the biggest illusions that bind us. We have to get liberated from these illusions.’ He would tell many things point of view of married life but a lot more from point of view of renunciation. He would often refer to Goddess Kali as his own. If you see, there will be many similarities between Ramakrishna’s life and Swami’s life! Both of them appeared to be worshippers of Divine Mother.
Kuppamma ayah’s initiation and Attaining Mahasamadhi
Once his interactions with Kuppamma ayah started increasing, his participation in temple deity decoration started reducing. Then, only we would be going around doing decoration in different places. He would come for everything, just see the arrangements and leave, that’s all.
Only now when we read his biography, we come to know that he met many people like for example Annamalai Swamigal. At that time, although we were with him, we did not know all this.
When Swami was doing his third year of Diploma in Mechanical Engineering, Kuppamma ayah passed away. Information was given to him and he came as her sole disciple and did the final rites. Before Kuppamma ayah passed away, she called him one day and told him to wear a rudraksh rosary and gave him a tiger skin mat. Her Guru was Isakki Munivar. Their lineage was such that there would be one master, one disciple, that’s all. They would never take in the second disciple. That was their tradition.
So Kuppamma ayah, since she accepted Swami as her disciple, gave him her small water pot (carried by wandering mendicants), bamboo staff, tiger skin – all the items that she used during her period of intense austerity. She gave him all these on the day she gave him the initiation. Then she blessed him and gave him a paper stating that on this date, to this person, I am giving a name and accepting him as my disciple. This, he told me in advance happily. He told me that she was going to give him that initiation paper along with those items. I asked him what for all this. He said, he felt he might become a sanyasi in future; that this worldly life will not suit him; that this initiation was an important event towards that direction. It was then we started understanding the difference – that for sanyas life, there were these traditions etc. But there was fear wondering what was going to happen.
On that particular day of initiation, Kuppamma ayah called him near the Panchamukha ashram in Tiruvannamalai, and gave him the initiation. We don’t know the details of it. But for two to three days prior to that day, he was like a different person. He was as if he was holding some vow. He looked like he was ready to absorb something. That day, he went to Khadi Bhavan – a khadi fabric outlet, purchased saffron cloth and came and showed it to me. He said that the next day was the initiation and that the new saffron robe and rudraksh rosary that she used were ready. We have photos of when Kuppamma ayah handed him over the bamboo staff near the Panchamukha ashram. She had called for the photographer. I asked him why all this and he said he didn’t know and that ayah had asked the photographer to come. So she apparently knew who he was which is why she had called the photographer…
Then she gave him the initiation, sent him to take a picture at Skandashram and a few other places while sitting by himself. No one is supposed to see the initiation when it is happening so there was no one there watching. The next day he gave me a copy of that photo to keep. I don’t know if he thought that if he left, all these things would be missed or what… but he gave me a copy.
Once the initiation was over, he changed a lot. Shortly after the initiation, Kuppamma ayah departed. Earlier itself she seems to have told him, given him a yantra (energised copper foil with a mystical representation of the cosmos etched on it), and told to keep it under her body when she died. She had also apparently explained the procedure to adopt for her final rites.
During that incident, Swami was studying in his final year and I was in my first year. I could not take leave because they were very strict in the polytechnic at that time. So I did not attend the ceremony. I am not aware of what happened during the ceremony. There were some devotees of Isakki Munivar who were present at the ceremony. It was through them that news reached Swami about her death. They all tried to become disciples of Kuppamma ayah and later pressed to become disciples of Swami, but to no avail. So they gave up. But they all knew that he was the disciple from the beginning. They also knew his father and grandfather well. Since they knew all this, as soon she passed away, they readily sent him the message. It was Kuppamma ayah’s instruction also.
Interestingly, almost every time she met Swami, she would say that he was her disciple and that he would become a big person one day. Also she would say what all should be done after she died; what all should be kept on her place of final resting. Since she had told everything so clearly, they sent the message to him once she departed. Swami came and did everything. For the 7th and 9th day ceremonies also, Swami came back and completed the proceedings. But I don’t know the details of what he did. He just told me that he did everything, that’s all.
After every incident, he would come and say that such an incident happened. But what exactly happened etc., I would not know. If I think back now, I feel he could not share many things with us at because that time if he had told all that, we did not have the maturity to understand it.
Because he finished all the organized religion at young age itself, he understood things quickly and instead of struggling for ten years without managing to get even sannyas, in just two years he left everything in RK Mutt as well and went away on his own.
Why do Paramahamsas come to planet Earth? They come to live and show the real life and bring people to their path. Everyone can give general advice. I can sit you down and advise for you for one hour or more. You can sit me down and advise me for one hour. But no one really lives the advise practically and shows. The people who live every word and show are the Paramahamsas. That is the explanation of that word. That is: one has to live like a common man and attain the ultimate. Only then it is enlightenment.
If Ramakrishna Mutt has developed to this extent today, if devotees are getting inspired to that extent, the reason is, Ramakrishna has lived and showed the people, in every step of his life. In those stories, he would have lived like how an ordinary man would have lived. Suppose there was a problem, they would have called a doctor, the operation would have happened, all the regular things would have happened. But what would have been special was, they would have observed it with great awareness. They would have seen it like a watcher without getting affected by it. That they would have explained, and so we will be able to understand what it is. Likewise, Swami too in his biography would have shown that he was inspired by Ramakrishna Mutt and that when he was struggling, he went in the route of Ramakrishna and then step by step he left that too and went, and developed a lot more and also gave back to us a lot more. All this these Masters do only for the rest of the world to follow.
Based on Swami’s life, what all you research and record is what the future generations are going to use to develop themselves. His decoration work in the temple etc, how many ever times you put down, for it to really get into people as inspiration and start working on them, you need to describe how his state of mind was during every incident and action, how all he yearned, how all he got results etc.
The Avatar in Ramakrishna Mutt
After he went to Ramakrishna Mutt, he wrote the first letter saying that he was fine and everything was good. He said that Ramakrishna Mutt Swamis wanted to see Tiruvannamalai.
The Mutt would take their brahmacharis often on tours. Once Swami went there, he simply unleashed all the glories of Tiruvannamalai to them! They all decided it will be good to go only with him to Tiruvannamalai and that they would go to Tiruvannamalai that year itself. They came to Tiruvannamalai. It was then that I saw Swami for the first time as a brahmachari! He will be superb to look at! Simply superb! After going there, all the childishness had left him and he looked totally mature. Fully changed, shaven with a tuft of hair behind his head. He will be actually like Vivekananda at that time. If you look at Vivekananda’s young age pictures, the ones taken before he took up sannyas, he will look just like him in those pictures. He was wearing white kurta… and looking simply superb!
What is spirituality? What is life…? All this I started thinking only then! That was the first time I started thinking about all this. I thought, ‘Oh, there is a life like this as well.’ Till today, I have not had the courage to leave everything totally and come away but I think about it very often.
Swami wanted to go up the Arunachala Hill and see how they light the lamp atop the Hill. So my friend Senthil, me, my brother and all the Swamis went up the Hill. When we were atop the Hill, we took some pictures which is what you see now in His book Formless in Form.
Letters The Avatar wrote from Ramakrishna Mutt
Once he went to Ramakrishna Mutt, he became very mature. At that time he had written a letter to me. He had written how we struggle to earn money in this life and how all we should not waste that money. And how to use it for all good reasons. Now at the Bangalore ashram, there is one Parashakti idol that he made out of soap stone. We got another identical one made because he said after going there he suddenly felt he should for puja to Parashakti. But what we got ready and sent was an expensive one. It came to around 600 to 700 rupees. He said to get ready a small one for about 50 to 100 rupees. We got ready the bigger one out of enthusiasm. For that he had written the letter: This is not the age where you earn. You are still dependent on your parents for money. You should not spend money like this.
I have two more letters with me that he wrote. In that there won’t be much details. He would have enquired about everyone, that’s all. Even after going to Ramakrishna Mutt he remembered all of us well and wrote letters enquiring about us. He would say, ‘If there is time, come and see me. How are you, how are studies going?’ etc.
Let me see which letter came first:
Anbulla Subbu, Sampath, Senthil, Kumaran ellorukkum, inda siriyanavin vanakkangal. Naan iraivanudaya perung karunayaal sadanaigalai oralavukku seidu varugiren. Neengal inda siriyanaukkaga Annamalayanayum abhitakuchalabalayum arunai nayakiyayum vendumaaru ketukkolgiren. Neengal ingu varumbodu, engal veetil keetu, en pada purattayum matrum nam guruvidam kaetu en maan tholayum vaangi varavum.
(He has referred to Raghupati Yogi here. He gave him a deer skin.)
Maan tholai vaangi, adil enda alavukku periya saduram alavu vetti edukkamudiyumo, anda alavukku veti eduthukondu varavum. Adil vetti edukkapatta pagudigalaagiya kaalgal, thalai paguthi, neengal vaithukkollungal. Oru noothi yettu rudraksha maalai periya rudrakshamm, engal veetil ulladu. Adai enakku kaetu vaangi varavum. Yen pooja vigrahangalai, neengal petrukollalaam. Ingu varumbodu tharugiren. B. Senthilayaum marakkadu thavaraadu azhaithu varavum. Mudinthavarai, September muppathu thethikku mun varavum. Muppathaanthethi modal, aaraam thethi varai, ingu Durga Puujai. Anda nerangalil engalukku konjam tightaaga irukkum. Arunai Nayaki Amman Navaratri alangaram.
(He has written: in Arunai Nayaki amman temple too, since there will be dussehra festival decoration, I may be tight with work.)
Adanaaldaan, veru ondrum illai. Kumaran eppadi irukkan? Sampath eppadi padikkiraai? Senthil ozhungaaga padikkiraana? Subbu nandraaga kadayai paatrukollgiraaya? Isakki Saamiyaar vibhooti pai engal veetil kaetu vaangi varavum. Pachai kalar pai. Thaali kayiril katti vaithirukkum. Saada cotton thuni pai. Ungal udanadi bathilukku, Brahmachari Rajasekaran, Ramakrishna Mutt, 16 Ramakrishna Mutt Road, Mylapore, Chennai.
Ippadikku, brahmachari Rajasekaran.
Beloved Subbu, Sampath, Senthil, Kumaran,
This small boy’s salutations to you all. By the grace of God, I am continuing my spiritual practices to good extent. For this small boy’s sake, I request you to pray to Lord Arunachala, Divine Mothers Abhitakuchaambal and Arunai Nayaki. When you come here, get my sandals, and from our Guru, get my deer skin mat and come. (He has referred to Raghupati Yogi here. He gave a deer skin.) In the deer skin, cut out as big a square as you can and bring it. Keep the remaining portions that is legs, head etc with you. There is one 108 bead rudraksh rosary in my house. Ask them and bring it for me. You may take my puja deities. When you come here, I will give them to you. Bring B. Senthil along with you when you come without fail. As far as possible, come before September 30th. From 30th September to 6th October, there is Durga Puja festival here. We will be tight for time then. You too will be busy with Arunai Nayaki Amman’s Dusshera (a festival of nine sacred nights dedicated to Divine Mother) decoration. That is why I am saying this, for no other reason. How is Kumaran? How are you Sampath? Is Senthil studying well? Subbu, are you taking good care of the shop? Ask in my house and bring Isakki Swami’s holy ash bag. It is a green bag. It will be tied with a sacred marriage thread. It is an ordinary cotton bag.
Expecting your immediate reply, Brahmachari Rajasekaran, Ramakrishna Mutt, 16 Ramakrishna Mutt Road, Mylapore, Chennai.
Your’s truly, brahmachari Rajasekaran.
Om Namo Bhagavate Ramakrishnaaya Anbudan Sampathukku, Rajasekaran 2:12varaivadu
Nalam, nalam ariya avaa. Neenda idaivelaikkup piragu kadidam ezhuthugiren. Unnidamirundu kadidam ethirpaarthenalladu May maadam neril varuvaai enru ethir nokinen. Nalladu. Eppadi irukkirai? Siva Subramaniam, Bharaneetharan, Senthil anaivarum eppadi irukkiraargal? Kumaran eppadi ullaan? Vazhkai eppadi ullathu? Sadhanaigalai seigiraaya? Mudinthaal, oru murai yedenum Gnaayatrukizhamai neril vandu paarkavum.
Om Namo Bhagavate Ramakrishnaaya
To beloved Sampath,
I am fine and eager to hear the same with you. I am writing to you after a long gap. I was expecting a letter from you or that you would visit here directly in May. Good. How are you? How are Siva Subramaniam, Bharaneetharan and Senthil? How is Kumaran? How is life? Are you continuing your practices? If possible, come on any one Sunday and visit here directly.
This question, ‘How is life’ was a strong question at that time! Because to that extent he has worked in that field, and when he is asking such a question, we can’t take it as a simple question! When we read that line, fear will rise inside, ‘Oh god! what he is asking about? What are we doing? Are we doing properly or not…’ Lots of such doubts will rise!’
Continuation of letter
August 10, 11, 12, 13 thethigalil varavednaam. Anda naatkalil ingu oru vizha nadappadaal pesa mudiyaathu. Niraya niraya padikkavum. Thavaraathu saathanai seyyavum. College eppadi ulladu? Nalamaaga irukkiradaa? Naan June maadam muzhuvadm vada naadu sendrirunden. Rishikesh, haridwar pondra idangalil thangi irunden. June 28 aam thethi tirumbi vanden. Kelvipatteergala? Swami Shanmugaanandaji evvaaru ullar? Nalama? Ungal appa, ammavai ketadaaga sollavum. Nana kelvipatten, Subbuvum Bharaniyum madathil serapovadaaga, unmaya? Appadi yedaavathu yennam irundaal, yennai oru murai vandu paarkachollavum. Sannyasa vazhkai yenbadu vilayaattu alla enbadai purindukollavendum. Appadi avargalukku unmayaana vairaagyam irukkumaanaal, ingu engal madathileye kooda sera naan yerpaadu seigiren. Annal, dayavuseidu matravargal solvadaiketo alladu yennai paartho, anda yennathai varavazhaithukkondu yosikkamal mudivedukka vendaam. Appadi avargalukku sannyasa yennam irukkumaanaal, modalil udanadiyaga yennai vandu paarkachollavum. Unakku sila saadanai muraigalayum ubayogamaana sila arivuraigalaiyum suggestions koora ninaikiren. Mudinthaal oru murai varavum. Yella Gnaayatrukizhamayum madiyam 12 manikku munnaal yennai paarkalaam.
Ippadikku Brahmachari Rajasekaran Maharaj.
Do not come on the dates: August 10, 11, 12, 13. On these dates there is a function here so I will not be able to talk to you. Read a lot. Continue your practice without a break. How is college? Is it going on well? The whole of June I was in North India. I stayed in places like Rishikesh and Haridwar. I returned on June 28. Did you hear about it? How is Swami Shanmugaanandaji? Is he well? Tell your father and mother that I enquired after them. I heard: Subbu and Bharani plan to join some Mutt. Is it true? If there is a thought like that, tell them to come and visit me once. They should understand that Sannyas life is not a joke. If they have genuine commitment, I will organize for them to join our Mutt itself. But just because some one said or because they see me, let them not listen take a decision without proper thought. If they really have a serious thought about sannyas, tell them to first come and see me. I wish to share with you certain spiritual practices and some useful advise. If you can, you may come once. On all Sundays, before 12 noon, you can meet me.
Brahmachari Rajasekaran Maharaj
We visit Swami in RK Mutt
After that trip of the RK Mutt Swamis and brahmacharis, we visited Swami three times in RK Mutt, Chennai with a gap of three months between visits. Also, before they came to Tiruvannamalai, I went to Chennai once just to see Swami in RK Mutt. That was the first time I went to Chennai ever. I asked my father, ‘I want to see him. I feel a little out of sorts.’ He said, ‘Alright, but how will you go alone?’ I said, ‘My younger brother, friend Senthil and I will go.’ My father at that time used to desire that I should become a big guy and function independently. So he said, ‘Go boldly. Find out the address and go.’ I said, ‘I have got the address. We have to go to Mylapore. In Mylapore, we have to enter into Vivekananda Road and on it is Ramakrishna Mutt. If you ask around there, people will guide. There is nothing to fear.’ Then father said, ‘Alright, go.’
When we went there, we saw many fruit stalls outside the Mutt. We saw that the people who were going into the Mutt bought fruits and went. We thought maybe we should also take fruits as offering, and so we bought fruits and went in. he had told us earlier, ‘If you ask for brahmachari Rajasekaran, they will call me.’ So I said to them, ‘I want to see Brahmachari Rajasekaran.’ They said to sit.
When you enter the place itself, you can feel the clean vibrations of energy. It was the first time I was going there and I could feel Ramakrishna’s energy so clearly. I thought to myself, ‘Swami has probably come to a good place only.’ He came out. When I saw him, it was a different feeling. I don’t know how to express it. I don’t know if it was the feeling that I too wanted to leave everything and come away… or what…I don’t know…or because for a long time we had not met…I felt like that…. I don’t know the reason… but there was a different feeling inside me when he came and stood dressed in pure white clothes, with a tuft of hair on his head.
He smiled and said, ‘Come.’ His style had totally changed. It was the style that he has now! I asked him, ‘How are you?’ He said, ‘I am doing fine.’ He said, ‘If we sit here in the hall, it will disturb the people in the hall. Let us go sit in the side walks somewhere.’ He was totally changed in his style and manner. He addressed us in plural. He said to sit. He sat silently for a while. Then he asked, ‘Just to see me you came all the way from Tiruvannamalai?’ We said, ‘Yes, we came just to see you.’ He said he was very happy. Then he enquired about all the deities back home. When he asked us if we came all the way from Tiruvannamalai just to see him and we said yes, he closed eyes for some time and said, ‘Ramakrishna is truly living here. I saw him. I spoke to Sharada Devi (Ramakrishna’s consort).’ When he said that, I felt goose bumps through my entire body. I was thinking: what all he is saying… I still had fear.
I too had great belief on Ramakrishna, but when he uttered those words, the image of Ramakrishna Mutt changed 100 percent for me. I have read their books as well. That is the thing I like most in that ashram. Those stories that they have written. How much effort they would have put to collect those stories from different corners of the world and present them with a cogency. As you read them, even if you are not interested in spirituality, even if you are reading it only as a story book, it will just sink in totally. To that extent, they have taken pains and done it. With that impression, when I heard him say those words, I felt totally touched. I asked him, ‘So you say?’ He said, ‘Yes, he is here. Everyone can see him if they have the genuine intent. He fills this entire place. I am able to see him.’ Then we didn’t talk much. We waited for ten minutes. He said, ‘Eat and go. It would be nice if you ate.’ Then he said it was a particular day when outsiders were not allowed to eat in. He said, ‘You cannot eat. Don’t mistake me.’ We said not to worry and that we would go outside and eat.
Then someone there called him. At that time he was in-charge of the library. If you see their magazine Ramakrishna Vijayam at that time, there would be a lot of articles on Tiruvannamalai. He showed them to us. He had written on what is Tiruvannamalai Deepam festival and why they light it. If you read that you will be able to see his style of writing! Like how he spoke when he was a child, that same conversational style you can make out in it! It will be very interesting to read. As far as I know, that is the first book that Swami compiled. He had written about Tiruvannamalai. He seems to have enjoyed that entire period. He has maintained the library beautifully.
He has worked in many other departments as well. When I went to see him, he said he was library in-charge. Then he has taken care of publications. He has really developed his knowledge at that time by reading the entire library. He would share a lot about what he read. He will not tell in a broad way either. He will tell specifically, ‘I read this concept… I read that Upanishad… in Bhagavad Gita, Krishna said this…’ He would talk about so many things all at the same time, swiftly moving from subject to the other. Even now if you see, he will be speaking on something, and suddenly the mind will change to something else. After that silence… that’s all! He will neither say that he will tell later nor say that it is over so we stop asking further questions!
Anyway, we visited him three times. Every time there would be a change in him. One time he said, ‘There is Durga Puja – offering to Divine Mother coming up. It will be very beautiful. All of you come and see.’
But we went to Ramakrishna Mutt every time only to see Swami. We never participated in any of their functions. When we met him the second time he asked, ‘Now do you understand anything about spirituality? Are you able to take a decision?’ I said, ‘No, I am not able to understand anything.’ Then he said, ‘If you have any desire to become a brahmachari or sannyasi, tell me. If I tell, definitely Ramakrishna mutt Swamis will agree for you to join.’ At that time, my younger brother was very interested in this. Swami told him also, ‘If you want to come away, come. I will tell definitely put in a word with them. They will accommodate you.’ We said we will give it a thought and tell him.
Missing His Divine Friend When He was Working
I finished my diploma. After I finished my diploma, my grandfather told me, ‘You don’t have to go for a job. For us, only our own business will work out well. If you remain this way, you will start wasting your life.’ My father also gave pressure and they placed me in textiles. My uncle had a textile mill in Ariyalur near Trichy. There if you see, if you enter the shop at 8:30 am… firstly, we would wake up only at 8 am… Then we will get ready and how many ever idlis (Indian breakfast item) we can eat within 8:30 am – one or two or three – we will eat and go to the shop, that’s all. We would finish at night 1 ‘o clock. Even if we finish at 1’o clock in the shop, after that we will go to the warehouse and wind up the stock there and come back to the house and sleep at 2’o clock. We would sleep like we were dead tired.
In 365 days of the year, when are the good days of the Hindu calendar like Amavasya, Pournami, Kritika, or when are the bad days, I will never know. They will not send me for any good or bad events in others’ houses either. They might go, but they will make me sit in the shop and go. Five years passed like this. To the extent that what all happened in life to me until this period of five years might be erased, this routine impacted me. It was tremendous physical work as well. It was a different sort of life. During this period, I could not contact Swami at all.
When Swami left Ramakrishna Mutt, where he went etc, I don’t know. In between once, when he had gone to Tiruvannamalai, he has rung up from Tiruvannamalai to me. But at that time my uncle would be focused only on business. Even at home, if we talk any other topic, he would bark at us. Even when he is talking to his wife, he would say, ‘Today this worker girl did like this… the other girl did not work properly in the shop… you advise this girl in this fashion. Tomorrow, I will scold her and control her…’ He would constantly be talking only such things. Because he would talk only of business, even if the phone rings in the shop, he will not answer it. Even if there is an emergency call that someone has passed away or something like that, he will not care to pass on the message. He will continuously be doing packing and billing. To that extent, there will be heavy crowd all the time in the shop. Sales will keep happening continuously.
There is nothing called peak season or off season. Because of that, he became a business fanatic. Everyone else under him too, he had under his control. By his rules, no one should care about anything other than business or try to relax. If they relax, he would say, ‘You are not feeling well? Go, take an injection and come. If you feel like fainting, just faint. If you faint and fall, I will put another injection for you.’ That was his attitude.
At such a time in my life, when Swami came to Tiruvannamalai, he called saying he wants to talk to me. With my body trembling, I went and attended that call, fearing that my uncle might scold me. The fact that he handed over the call to me itself was a big thing. As soon as I picked up the phone he asked, ‘How are you?’ I said ‘I am fine Swami.’ Then he asked, ‘What else is special? Do you want to say anything?’ There was nothing to tell. Even if I start telling, I would be told to keep the phone quickly by my uncle, that’s all! I was that alert to what my uncle might say. If we talk over the phone, he will stare at us in a particular way. He would say, ‘This guy is talking uselessly over the phone. During this time, two customers we might have missed serving.’ So in that anxiety I said, ‘No, I will talk later,’ and kept the phone down. After that I could not contact him at all.
A telephone conversation with Swami after enlightenment
Once he got enlightened, I heard he came to Tiruvannamalai for the first time after enlightenment. He seems to have stayed in ******** Kumara Kovil – a temple. First he seemed to have come to Amman Temple. There he mentioned that two incidents happened. After that, his relatives at Kumara Kovil seem to have told him to come and stay at their temple and develop it. They brought him to this temple. After they brought him to the temple, each one started attending to their own duties. Maybe they thought, ‘He is after all a relative’s son…what new thing could he have learnt come…’ or what I don’t know. They just left him alone. He stayed there for three days. ********
Since my house was opposite to that place, Swami asked my mother if he could use our house for just having a bath. My mother told him that he could very well use it. I was in my uncle’s house at that time. For those three days, Swami went to my house for a bath and then went to the temple. My mother asked him if they can bring him breakfast. If he would say yes, she would take breakfast for him. At that time one day when he went home to bathe he seems to have asked, ‘How is Sampath?’ They told him, ‘He is fine, He is at his uncle’s shop.’ My father then asked him, ‘Should I make a call to him? Will you talk to him?’ He has agreed. Then they made a call and gave him. At that time too, the same condition prevailed at my end. My uncle was near me. I had just woken up. It was in the house only. Usually we get up only at 8 am because to go to sleep it would take 2 am, 3 am or sometimes even 4 am. The whole body will be aching as if it were punctured in various places. With that fatigue I answered his call. He asked, ‘What son, are you well? It is only me who is talking, are you well?’ His voice had not changed. I said, ‘I am well, are you well?’ He said, ‘I have come to Tiruvannamalai, I felt I should talk to you. Alright, any auspicious things happening? Is there anything else to talk?’ I said, ‘No.’ That’s all. He hung up.
At that time I didn’t know he was enlightened. The word ‘enlightenment’ itself I came to know only later. ******** So I knew that he had come to Tiruvannamalai, stayed for three days, our people did not look after him properly, then he left. The relatives had asked him to take the temple and run it but they were not willing to give the entire responsibility to him, so Swami didn’t bother about it. ********