Thursday, November 25, 2010
Chapter Three: In search of a Siddhar.
To accompany this chapter, please see this video chronicling my visit to Balu Swamy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XJQRD24Pbo
IN SEARCH OF A SIDDHAR.
Two days went by and I hadn’t heard any news from Mr Ramamurthi with regard to Balu Swami and our trip to Karur. So, I called him only to be informed that due to lack of contact details, the Siddhar could not be tracked down.
I was a bit disappointed but refused to give up hope. I searched on the Internet for the phone number for Karur temple. Within a few minutes, I came across a site that gave me the contact number for the Temple Administrative office. I glanced at the clock. It was 2.30 p.m. Most temples close from 12 noon until 4 p.m. and there was only a remote possibility that someone may pick up the phone in the temple’s office!
Nevertheless, I rang the number and after a few minutes it was answered!! Quickly, I introduced myself and enquired if I could obtain Balu Swami’s contact details. The person at the other end hesitated and then said “ I’m not sure if I can get this information for you. Please call back after half an hour”.
I sighed, this seemed like a polite refusal! After waiting patiently for half an hour during which I read the Siddhar’s 30 verses, I called again. The same person answered! However, the man said “ I don’t know where the Siddhar is at the moment. But I can give you the phone number of a man who owns a shop near the temple. This person might be able to help”.
I took down the name and cell number of this contact and dialled the number. The man’s wife answered and said her husband was very busy working and asked me to call back later. However, I provided this lady with a brief background on why I was interested in meeting the Siddhar since I had come across Karuvur Siddhar’s verses on “Puja Vidhi”. I asked her if either she or her husband were acquainted with the Siddhar . The lady replied that they did indeed know him well; in fact they were his devotees. Yet, she too didn’t know where the Siddhar was that day . I told her I’d talk to her husband that night.
It was 9.30 p.m. when I called the shop owner in Karur. He informed me that Balu Swami wasn’t in Karur and had gone off to spend a fortnight in isolation at an undisclosed spot. Although he could give me the phone number of the host family where the Siddhar was staying, he seemed pretty certain no one could get access to him.
I thanked the shop owner and took down the phone number. It was 10 p.m. by now and quite late to disturb anyone. However, I decided to take a chance. After a few rings, the phone was answered and I introduced myself once more, and requested if it was possible to come and meet Balu Swami.
The host’s reply was quite firm. He said “ Balu Swami has come to stay with me because he doesn’t wish to be disturbed. Also, at the moment, he is undergoing certain stresses arising from the yogic austerities he does. I don’t know how long it will take for him to come out of this condition. It could be a few hours or a few days. After he comes out of this situation, I shall mention your phone call and if he wants to see you, I’ll contact you”.
That was that!! I gave the man my cell number and retired to bed. I didn’t hold out much hope of visiting this Siddhar.
The shrill ringing of my cell phone woke me up. I glanced at the clock. It was 11.30 p.m. It was the man who was putting up Balu Swami in his house. He said “ Amma, Balu Swamy would like to talk to you”.
I was astonished “ But, but”, I stammered “ I woudn’t know what to say to a Siddhar”. The man reassured me “ Balu Swami is a very genial and casual person. Don’t worry” So saying he passed the phone and very soon I was talking to the Siddhar.
After the first few minutes, I felt completely at ease, as if I was talking to a person I’d known for a long time. Balu Swamy seemed really delighted to know that I’d come a long way from New York in search for him!! ( i.e. Karuvur Siddhar) “Of course”, he said “ you must come and meet me. But first, I’m going to give you a mantra you must chant for the next 24 hours. I’ll see you after that”. He proceeded to give me a mantra and made me repeat it several times making sure I got it right.
I could hardly believe this was happening. I spent over an hour chatting to this cheerful man who seemed quite happy to meet me a day later. I mentioned Ramamurthi would accompany me as well. Balu Swami laughed and said “There’s another man called Lakshmi Narayanan, do bring him along too. Oh, by the way do you have any dietary restrictions? You must have lunch here!”
I thanked him for his hospitality, promised to recite the mantra for the next 24 hours and then come to see him.
I called Ramamurthi the following day. Before I could share my news, he said “ Amma, it looks like Balu Swami’s whereabouts are not known. Better luck next time”.
I replied “ I have done my homework and traced him to a little village near Dindigal. I plan on leaving tomorrow morning. Can you come and bring Mr Lakshmi Narayanan as well”?
The next day, we started at 6 a.m. I couldn’t believe I was travelling with two complete strangers in the search for a man who might be a Siddhar? Perhaps an incarnation of Karuvur Siddhar?
During the car journey, Ramamurthi entertained me with a lot of interesting stories. His friend, Lakshmi Narayanan, a younger man remained quiet yet attentive and I could detect an intense spiritual aura around him.
I mentally recited the Siddhar’s mantra continuously until we reached the outskirts of the village near Dindigal.
By 11.30 a.m. we entered the modest little house belonging to Muniandi, where Balu Swami was staying.
The house was small, just two small rooms with a very low ceiling. Hardly any light filtered inside through the narrow windows overlooking the street. Outside, was a small verandah covered with a thatched roof. A mat was laid out on the floor and there, leaning against the wall, his mouth full of betel leaves, red juice dripping down his chin, sat a wizened old man with a huge pot belly and a fluffy, white beard. This was Balu Swami!
“Welcome, welcome, all of you” he said, his eyes twinkling with delight and a huge beaming smile on his face. “ Do come and sit near me”. He beckoned us to come closer. After paying our respects and placing a few bags of fruits near his feet, I sat directly in front of him.
Ramamurthi and Lakshmi Narayanan had brought in a few tall bottles of a drink called Bovonto. They placed this offering near the Swami. The host, Muniandi, his wife , the shop owner from Karur and his young wife joined our party and we were all seated in front of Swami.
The Swami took a swig from a bottle of 7 UP that was next to him and passed it around for us to drink. He looked at me and said “ There are two things I don’t like people telling me to do. I don’t like being asked to eat and I don’t like being told to have a bath”.
I stared in amazement!! He carried on “I haven’t eaten solid food for the past twelve years at least. I chew these betel leaves, but don’t swallow it. I just spit it out!! I haven’t had a bath in just as many years. Now, tell me do you think I smell”?
I shook my head both in disbelief as well as an answer to his question. All of a sudden something stirred in my memory. I had read that the Avadootha sect were also not bound by either rituals or general requirements like physical hygiene. Very often they wandered like mad men through the countryside, bodies caked with dirt and matted hair. In other words, these enlightened souls were impervious to bodily requirements.
Although my Guru, Sri Shanthananda wore a ochre robe , it is said that his Guru and Parameshti GURU, including Sri Sadashiva Brahmendrar wandered about completely naked.
As if he was reading my thoughts, Balu Swami asked me “ Now, why did you travel so far to come and meet a “paradesi” (outcast) like me?”
However, before I could reply, Balu Swami started to make some strange noises, and at the same time began tapping different parts of his chest, neck, shoulders and stomach. I wasn’t sure if he was in pain. His devotees sat silently and gestured us not to talk.
After emitting a series of hollow sounding gasps, Balu Swami eventually stood with his back against the wall and started to bang his arm and shoulders rather violently against it. Even at this point his devotees did not seemed concerned.
Finally, after a long shuddering sigh and a swift jerk of his body, Swami returned to normal and resumed conversation. He told us he had “no collar bone” and his “bones” were literally “melting” within his frame. He explained that the Kundalini power rising through his spine often subjected him to various stresses. He demonstrated this by asking each one of us to feel the vibrations at the base of his spine and I could feel the upward movement of this power, to the base of his skull!
Next, he announced that the fragrance of many flowers and sandalwood could emanate from his body. He stretched out his hand and asked the three of us to smell and experience the different perfumes. I couldn’t really make out the scent of Jasmine or sandalwood like he claimed but maintained a prudent silence. However, both Mr Ramamurthi and his friend nodded their heads indicating they could detect many fragrances.
For several hours Balu Swami spoke to us that day on a wide variety of topics relating to Saiva Siddhanta philosophy, the message of the Lord in Bhagavad Gita, spirituality, and the main goals of human life.
Quoting extensively from various holy texts and scriptures, he explained the great Vedantic truth of the non duality between the individual and the Supreme creator.
Balu Swami’s viewpoint is extremely simple. He says “ Just contemplate on the unity between you and the Supreme being. Recite the mantra I give and throw away all rituals, all other mantras in praise of different deities, and traditional practices that have clogged up your mind. What is the use of going to a temple? The priest there is going to take your money, chant a few praises for the Lord. IS that going to make you happy? NO!!
So, delve deep within yourself, realise the true nature of the Atma. Understand that “you”(Atma) are not associated with either your body, or the actions and feelings associated with that. Understand that you will only get total peace of mind only when you master the art of not reacting to the problems of this material world.”
A lot of what he discussed with us that day is no different from the wisdom revealed in the Upanishads and I thought of Bhagavan Ramana’s advice to every individual, “ Find out who you really are, discover the immortal nature of yourself!” Certainly, Balu Swami’s doctrine is similar to that of many learned saints and sages. However, his remarks about the unimportance of rituals prescribed in the Vedas, or questioning the necessity of pilgrimage to temples, may not be accepted by many Hindus since not everyone has evolved to such a high state of spiritual development.
There was a short break for lunch. Balu Swami watched us eat, but did not partake of any food. However, he requested for just a handful of rice and rasam from me and then took a little morsel of food from the two men too, most of which he returned to them as “prasadam”.
Following lunch, we came out on the Verandah again and Balu Swami resumed his talks. He told us that every month on Full moon days, he does a special puja at Karuvur Siddhar’s shrine. Following this he gives speeches on various spiritual topics and then, over a thousand poor people and visitors to the temple are given a hearty meal. He showed us samples of his written work and the speech he was currently working on.
Most of these referred to the wise teachings given in the Bhagavad Gita. Yet, Swami’s interpretation and explanations were clear and concise.
The hours slipped by quickly. Actually, Mr. Lakshmi Narayanan and Ramamurthi had fore-warned me that Balu Swami had the habit of talking for a long time and would not allow visitors to depart quickly. Mr L. wanted to depart by 4 p.m. so we could visit the famous temple of Pazhani ( abode of Lord Murugan) located close to Dindigal.
Mr. Ramamurthi had come on this trip only to get the Siddhar’s approval and blessings so he could proceed unhindered with his temple renovation. However, every time he started the topic, the Siddhar distracted us by discussing something else.
After lunch, Mr Ramamurthi brought up the story of his temple project one more time and sought the Siddhar’s blessings. Balu Swami laughed and said “There is no doubt that the good deeds (punyam) you have done in your past life have made it possible for you to be in this spiritual field, renovating so many temples. However, if you had been listening to what I said earlier, you would have realised that your main priority is NOT to worry about this temple project that has stalled. Instead your main focus should be to attain liberation. Understanding that you, the Atma, and God or Param Atma are one and the same gives you instant liberation. Throw out all the cobwebs in your mind. Cast away all previously given mantras. Just chant, with full faith, the mantra I’ve given you. That is enough”.
Then suddenly, he looked at Lakshmi Narayanan and asked “ You are getting worried that I’m not letting you go. What other agenda did you have in mind before coming to see me?”
The latter mentioned about the visit to Pazhani temple and requested permission (uthiravu) to depart since if we left immediately we might be able to get there in time for the evening darshan.
Balu Swami looked at me and asked “ Why have you come here?”. I replied “To see you”. He laughed , got up and asked me to come with him to the Puja room.
This was the inner, second room of the tiny house. On a desk in one corner were photographs of a few Hindu deities as well as those of Jesus, Aurobindo and the Mother. The Siddhar gave me some sacred ash ((vibhuti) and asked me to swallow it. Then, placing his hand on my head he asked me to repeat a mantra. This was different from the earlier one he’d given me over the phone. However, Balu Swami told me that I should start chanting this new mantra immediately.
I prostrated him and came out to join the others on the verandah.
Balu Swami lay down on the mat . He told me to grasp the big toe of his right foot. He requested Mr R to hold on to his hand and Mr LN to touch his leg. The two devotees from Karur were similarly asked to sit beside him and hold on to him. Then he remarked “We’re all going to do some meditation now. You will feel the energy coming from my body and entering yours. When you see a bright, white glow in the center of your eyes, you will realise that the mantra I’ve given you is working. So, start reciting the mantra mentally, all of you! I’m going to take rest for a while”.
I closed my eyes and sat by the Siddhar’s right foot, holding on to his toe. I didn’t feel any “current” entering my body. I was mentally chanting the mantra the Siddhar had just given me. About half an hour passed and although I was focused, I did not see any bright glow. In fact, when I normally sit down to meditate, I’m able to slip into a quieter state quite easily. That day, it seemed difficult.
The Siddhar’s voice rang out “ Are you seeing a bright glow?”. Two of his devotees replied they could. So did MR. LN and Mr. R. I said “No, I cannot see anything.” Also, by this time my knee started to hurt. I have a torn ligament and have been warned by doctors not to sit cross legged.
The Siddhar announced we could have a small break. I told him I had difficulty sitting on the floor. He made me stretch out my legs and held both feet tightly in his hands for a moment. Then he said “Now, you won’t have knee pain anymore”. He asked me to follow him to the puja room once more, applied vibhuti to my forehead and told me to sit in a chair while he placed his hand on my head. I closed my eyes and sat on the chair. For a long time, I felt the gentle weight of the Siddhar’s hand on my head. After another half hour or so, he told me to open my eyes. He gave me instructions to repeat the mantra every morning before dawn for two hours.
It was quite late in the evening by now. Certainly we couldn’t go to Pazhani . In fact, all three of us had spent about 8 hours in this little house and were tired. Sensing this, the Siddhar finally gave us permission to depart. He suggested we stay at a lodge in Karur overnight, visit the famous temples of Karuvur Siddhar and Sadasiva Brahmendrar’s Samadhi at Nerur the following day.
Just before we departed, he told me to pay a visit to his house near the Karur temple and sit inside his puja room. He asked me to meditate there for a while. I promised to do this.
Balu Swami’s devotees from Karur travelled back with us that night in the car. Mr. Kalyanaraman ( the shop owner) said he would accompany us to the temples the following day.
The room at the lodge in Karur was stuffy and small. However, I was so tired that I quickly drifted off to sleep. Early next morning, I woke up and tried to chant the Siddhar’s mantra for an hour before dawn. Again, I really did not see a bright glow even though my mind was focused.
Later, in the morning we visited the famous temple in Nerur where the great Avadhutha saint, Sri Sadashiva Brahmendrar attained Samadhi. A poet and musician, Brahmendrar composed many songs that reflect the Vedantic concept of “oneness” with Brahman (Param Atma). Although he was often subject to ridicule because he wandered about wearing no clothes, this saint was totally absorbed in samadhi all the time and slowly people around him came to witness many miracles and realised his greatness.
It is said there are at least five places where Sadashiva Brahmendrar has shed his mortal body. However in Nerur, the story goes that a Bilva tree sprouted forth from the area where the saint had been buried. A shiva lingam from Kasi was established at the base of the tree and devotees come to this sacred spot to meditate.
The atmosphere inside the temple was calm and tranquil. I sat in meditation for a while seeking this great saint’s blessings.
Here is a video of Nerur Temple: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSfYGD7MiqU
I remembered my Guru, Sri Shanthananda Swamigal as well and paid my respects to all the respected saints in the Avadootha sect.
Mr. Ramamurthy mentioned that Brahmendrar was supposed to have worshipped Lord Shiva as Agneeshwarar in the Neyveli village as well. We prayed to the Lord for the successful completion of the temple.
On the way back to Karur we stopped off at a famous and ancient temple for Lord Muruga located in VennaiMalai. However, there is a separate shrine for Karuvur Siddhar inside the premises. The temple was fairly quiet without too many people about. I sat before the sanctum of Karuvur Siddhar and prayed for his guidance. Then we stood before the enchanting form of Lord Muruga in the main shrine and I beseeched this Lord, to help me on my spiritual path. I closed my eyes and repeated the mantra given to me by the Siddhar. Without warning, I felt myself slipping into a state of total silence. I couldn’t feel my body any longer. There was a strong vibration, rather like a bolt of lightning going through my body and bright, luminous circles of white light came pouring into me seeming to go deep into my body.
I opened my eyes and witnessed the alankaara Deepam being offered to the Lord!
Later, we went to Karur and I spent some time in quiet meditation before the Samadhi of the great Karuvur Siddhar. After that, we visited Balu Swamy’s house and I stepped inside the small puja room in his house and sat in silent contemplation.
We left Karur after lunch and returned to Chennai in the late evening. On the way back, I questioned my companions about their experiences, in particular, the bright glow they had claimed to have witnessed and the different fragrances they could smell from the siddhar’s body. This was important because I didn’t really experience the same and needed to know how I could be directed on to the right path!!
Both Mr R AND Mr LN smiled at me and said “ We said we could smell different fragrances and see that bright light because we were tired of sitting in that hut and just wanted to get away!”
This was such a refreshingly honest answer that we all broke out in laughter!!
There’s no doubt that Balu Swamy is an extraordinary person. Is he a Siddhar? Could he be a reincarnation of Karuvur Siddhar?
Definitely, Balu Swamy does not proclaim himself to be a mystic . On the other hand, he revealed himself to be an extremely humble and lovable man. However, the small band of his devotees are totally convinced about his supernatural powers and have placed full trust in him.
For a few days after my return I kept chanting the Siddhar’s mantra. However, I could not get up at 4 a.m. every day to do this and slipped into a pattern of reciting it at different times during the day.
Balu Swami called me two days after I met him and told me to keep chanting the mantra to the exclusion of all others. However, I could not bring myself to give up the mantra given by my Guru Sri Shanthananda Swamigal nor Sri Bala’s moola Mantram.
Meanwhile the auspicious festival of Navarathri was about to commence and my thoughts hovered around Sri Bala. Perhaps She was “testing” me again by making me chant mantras at the crack of dawn, while singing her sweet songs involves no physical stress and is more potent?
I’m not sure. However, all I do know for certain is that full faith and devotion (Bhakthi) to the Lord in any form, combined with dedication in carrying out rituals, whether these involve singing songs or reciting mantrams, are all different ways of elevating an individual spiritually and leading him to the final goal of liberation.
Once again, those wishing to help with the Lord Agneeshwarar Temple project, kindly contact:
Mr. Shankar Trivedi: firstname.lastname@example.org
cell no: 9445004908.
Mr. Ramamurthi: cell no: 9940398648.