Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Other Swami Of Thiruvannamalai


In the last two hundred years India witnessed the birth of a galaxy of eminent spiritually oriented persons who, by precept and practice, brought back to our memory the spiritual glory of our country by leading such a life. To name a few, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi, Sri Seshadri Swami, Sri Aurobindo, The Paramacharya of Kanchi, Sri Chandrasekhara Bharathi of Sringeri appeared on the scene at the appropriate time and led humanity as Path Finders to the Eternal. The only one among these who is less well known to most of us is Seshadri Swami of Tiruvannamalai whose life, as an Avadhuta, reminds us of the life of Sri Sadashiva Brahmendra who preceded him by about 300 years back. Both Sadashiva Brahmendra and Seshadri Swami were born Jeevanmuktas whose inherent greatness many people could not realize.

Sri Seshadri Swami was an older contemporary of Bhagavan Ramana and like Ramana he left home early in his younger days with Arunachala as his ultimate destination. He was born in 1870 to a pious couple, Kamakoti Shastry and his wife Marakadam at Kanchipuram. The couple named him Seshadri after the family deity Lord Srinivasa. The attendant astrologers predicted and prophesized a saintly life for the child, a prophecy which was evident at every stage of his subsequent life. As a young boy he would often offer flowers to the deity in his house and would remain there with his eyes closed for hours together as if in deep meditation. It is said that when he was just 4 years old, during a temple festival a street hawker in Kanchipuram was spreading his merchandise for sale which included the images of several deities. One day when his parents attending the festival took Seshadri to this shop, the child selected and picked up one particular image. When his father gave him the price of the article, the vendor refused to take money because he was much impressed by the eagerness with which the child picked up the image. Parents were taken aback. Next day when the seller went to the temple again for selling his ware, he was patiently awaiting the arrival of Seshadri and his parents. When he saw them, he exclaimed that on account of the touch of the child the previous day, he was able to sell all his ware within a few hours whereas in normal tomes it would have taken him a few days to sell all those goods. This ‘golden touch’ manifested on many occasions in later days and from the time of this incident onwards the term’ Golden Hand’ stood for Seshadri.

Being a highly precocious child, Seshadri was able to grasp all the subjects taught to him quickly. His Upanayanam was celebrated in his seventh year, making him eligible for the study of the Vedas and other scriptures. The rapidity with which he assimilated whatever he was taught astounded his teachers. Seshadri soon rose head and shoulders above the other students. By the time he was 14 he had become a master of all the Vedas and Shastras and could take part in Vidvat Sabhas, defeating even stalwarts in intellectual debates and discussions.

Seshadri used to spend long hours in meditation, sometimes in the temple and sometimes in his room when he would lock himself up inside the family prayer room and start meditation. The meditation would go on for hours together. With all this, he was disturbed in his meditation and he therefore decided to go to the cremation ground for his meditation at night. He would meditate there the whole night and return home early in the morning. When the family started objecting to this practice of meditation in the cremation ground, Seshadri became more adamant and continued his Tapasya in the cremation ground.

The climax to Seshadri’s frequent visits to the cremation ground was reached on the day of the Shraddha [Annual ceremony’] of his father’s death who died in 1889. Seshadri was then 19 and he was brought by force to the family house and locked up in a room to ensure that he stays at home during the ceremony. When the religious ceremonies were over and his uncle unlocked the door, he was taken aback to notice that Seshadri had mysteriously disappeared from the room. The family attributed the escape to Divine Will. This event signal led Seshadri’s break with the family once and for all, since he never returned to Kanchipuram ever thereafter.

Seshadri’s main aim was to reach Tiruvannamalai eventually, a place which became subsequently popular all over the world with the establishment of the Sri Ramanashram later. He made a slow walking pilgrimage to Arunachalam but once he reached that holy place he never left that place till he died forty years later. All these forty years he remained a wandering mendicant [Parivrajaka as it is called in Sanskrit] and as a recluse, wandering from place to place. During this period a few details about his external habits and activities are known but no one could account for his often eccentric behaviour. For example, he would sometime take an oil bath smearing his entire body with oil and with the oil still glittering on the body, he would roam about in the streets for days together. When people assembled around him amused by his strange behaviour, he would call out some selected person in the assembly by his name even though he had never met him earlier. He would tell openly all about the past misdeeds done by the person, with all relevant details.

The most astonishing exhibition of his power was a demonstration he gave during a hot mid-summer day. Several people had gathered around him complaining about the heat and asking him to make it cool by getting rain. Seshadri acceded to their request and in the next few minutes there was torrential downpour flooding the streets of the town.

Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi arrived at Arunachalam six years after Seshadri. Seshadri could immediately recognize the high spiritual powers of Ramana. Whenever urchins troubled Ramana, Seshadri did his best to prevent any harm to Ramana. Unable to understand the wayward ways of Ramana, street urchins thought that he was a lunatic and used to throw stones at him for fun. Later Seshadri used to call on Ramana every day when he was staying in Pavalakuru, a habit which he continued till Ramana moved to the Virupaksha cave. Occasionally both the saints used to sit together and eat and more often both were seen together. They were then recognized as ‘Seshadri Brothers’ and called Ramana ‘Chinna Thambi’ [Younger brother].

After a long and colourful career, reminiscent of the life of Sadashiva Brahmendra, Seshadri gave up his mortal coil on 1stJanuary 1929, as decided by him earlier. He was 79. He was buried at the foot of the Arunachala Hills, about 400 yards away from the Sri Ramanashram. Ramana Maharshi himself attended the last rites and watched in silence as the body was laid to rest. The whole of Tiruvannamalai was present for the last rites. Town people have never forgotten him even 80 years after his death. His anniversary is celebrated every year in great style by large crowds even now. A small shrine has now been built over his Samadhi.


ARTICLE NO..563--Sri Seshadri Swami of Tiruvannamalai
Wednesday, April 21, 2010 10:25 AM


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