Leela of Arunagiri Yogishwara
The First Darśan
The Temple Elephant in the wee hours
It was around the age of ten and a half, before My enlightenment experience; maybe eleven. One day, as usual, I was going around the temple. Actually, the temple was the place I was brought up; literally brought up! Some of our aadheenavasis and swamis were trying to buy the house in which I was brought up. I said, “If you have to make a memorial for the place where I was brought up…if you have to make a memorial in the place where I was brought up, you should make the memorial in the temple, not in the house, because I spent more time in the temple than the house where My parents were staying!”
The moment I remember the temple, I remember that joy! I can say that the temple was everything for Me in My life. Early morning at around 4:30, the temple elephant would carry the water pot for the deity’s bath. It would go crossing the street where we used to live, from My family temple to the main temple. My whole family and community were very closely associated to the temple and its administration. So from My family temple, that water pot would go every morning on the elephant. They would be beating the drums! The moment I heard that sound I would be joining that team, going and opening the temple! And at night when the deity was put to bed, only then I would leave.
I see Him for the first time…
In the temple, behind the main shrine there is a small four-pillared hall-like structure. And below that structure is a small cave-like structure. That is also a small two-pillared structure. It looks like a cave. I used to think it was a cave because of the darkness inside. I remember it was around Śivarātri day that year. I remember the festivities for Śivarātri were very closely associated with this moment when I first saw Him.
(February 16 was Śivarātri in the year 1988, the year The Avatār was 10)
Suddenly I saw a young Sādhu walking out of that cave. He would be around 30 years of age.
If I have to describe his beauty and grace: young, well-built, long hair, sacred ash on the forehead, kumkum (vermillion) and a single string of rudraksha, copper sundara vadam earrings with rudraksha, a single piece of kavi cloth around the waist and only one towel on the shoulder, bare chest. I can still remember the golden skin shining; not just fair, literally the skin was shining in golden color; his whole body was literally shining. The towel was only down to the lower knee level, not like the whole dhoti. Rudraksha on the hands were also shining. His hair was left free. It was so beautiful, like Dakshinamurti’s jata. It was standing on its own beautifully; long hair. His Third Eye was tilak-shaped, subtle yet visible. It was a bulge of skin, fleshy yet stiff – the same as it feels when you touch your closed eye. You would wonder whether it is an eye, or just the skin in that shape! The main thing I have to tell is: the wide smile!
An Instant Feeling Connection
The moment I saw him I went and touched his feet. I knew he was a great Sādhu, and he must be a jivan mukta (liberated being). Any Sādhu I see, I will go and touch the feet. I introduced Myself. In those days, I had a richer intro than what I have now! My grandfather was a big philanthropist. Of course, the whole village knew his name. So I introduced Myself as his grandson, standing broad and proud. He was speaking very compassionately.
Our First Conversation
As usual I had my regular questions for any Sādhus that I saw:
“Where are you from?”
“Who is your guru?”
“And what do you do? Have you achieved enlightenment, and can you teach Me?”
I started asking the same questions.
I had a very intense yearning at that age itself, to have the darśan of God.
He smiled and started answering. He was speaking very compassionately.
Other than the question, “Who is your guru?” he answered everything, and then we moved to some ordinary topics.
In those days ‘ordinary topics’ means – when is the next utsav (festival) in the temple; why are they not putting enough flowers on the deity nowadays; when are they celebrating each utsav; why they are celebrating it and why they are not celebrating it – these were our gossip topics!
The whole city would gossip only about the temple; whether they talked good things or bad things, it would all be about the temple! Good things would be like, ‘Oh! Nowadays a lot of people are coming to the temple’, and bad things would be, ‘Why are they not maintaining the temple properly?’ That’s all would be the maximum rumors or gossip we knew! And I was having all these small talks with him. He was also sitting and having all these small talks with Me, about who is who in town, who is doing what, etc!
So it is not that he spoke only about Vedānta, enlightenment, the techniques to achieve enlightenment, or science of enlightenment, Advaita. Even though My questions were all about enlightenment, he was not speaking only about enlightenment. He was making jokes, comments and funny observations about various things. He even spoke about who is going around with whom and who is doing what! I don’t know how we became so intimate, so close on Day One itself.
I still remember that I even spoke about a temple priest having an affair with the temple dancer!
He sat and spoke even those things to Me!
I still remember him asking, “Do you see this big street brahmin continuously going to that fourth street? Why is he going to her house all the time?”
And I said, “Yes, yes, he goes there and directly comes to the temple; he doesn’t even go to his house and take a bath!”
Such Friendliness He Radiated!
If I have to give the essence of My first meeting with him, I won’t call it Advaita. I won’t call it enlightenment. I won’t call it spirituality. I won’t say, “I met a Guru” and all that…I will only say the essence of that first day meeting was the friendliness he radiated; the extraordinary friendliness he radiated and the space he gave Me. Love is too poor a word sometimes. Friendliness to the extreme, to the extent that even when I was sitting next to him I would feel like placing one of My fingers on him, on his body, on his leg or on his hand. I would just put one of My fingers on him, just wanting to be touching him, or I would just hold his little finger while talking.
So the first day I went up to holding the toes. I did not want to irritate him also. I think I was sitting on his right side, so I was holding his left toe. He was sitting with folded legs and I was holding his left toe.
I feel He was seen by all, not just by Me
One thing I want to be on record: I don’t want to say that only I saw him, because when I was sitting and talking to him, the watchman who walked in that area, or one or two people who came there to fetch water from the temple tank, did not look at Me in any weird way. See, if I was sitting and talking alone, they would have looked at Me in a very weird way! You will know by the way they see you, whether they are looking at you weirdly or just casually. They did not look at Me in a weird way. The way they looked at Me, I am sure that he was seen even by them, not just by Me.
While The Avatār concluded as above on the subject of whether or not Aruṇagiri Yogīśvara was visible to others, the Arunācaleśvara temple jawan – the very watchman who The Avatār mentions above – who is now retired, was discovered and interviewed.
He unknowingly goes on record in the annals of history, with his unassuming sharing on what he saw… or rather didn’t see…!
“He has sat many times near the Aruṇagiri Yogīśvarar mandapam behind the main sanctum. We would never be able to guess where He would sit. He would just be suddenly sitting in a spot. There is one small mandapam there. There is a stone there. He would have got the enlightenment sitting there only. After that only He went out and things happened.
He would sit on the steps near Aruṇagiri Yogīśvara mandapam and watch the kalash (metal inverted pot-like structure atop the temple towers) atop the Annamalayar shrine tower. There is no occasion there to talk to anyone. But He had the habit of talking to himself. He would sit there and talk to himself. I have seen him sitting and talking on the steps. There would be three steps. It used to be my duty time at the Amman (Devi) shrine.
I have never asked Him why He was talking to himself because…He had more involvement than our usual involvement with Annamalayar (Lord Shiva). He was always in that thought (of God), so I used to think, ‘Alright, He is talking to somebody….why to go and disturb Him.’ In the case of such people, only they know if there was anyone there or not (to whom they are talking). Only to such Siddhars (mystics) and enlightened beings, the other forms will be visible and they will talk to them.
When it was time to close the gates, I would call Him, ‘Come, it is time.’ He would go away through the backside.”
– POTTU RAJENDRAN
One thing I want The temple jawan (watchman) at that time. He was My best friend in the temple.
– HDH NITHYANANDA PARAMASHIVAM