Monday, June 9, 2008

Andavan Pichhai

Today I want to narrate the story of a woman, Andavan Pichhai, who is probably unknown to most Bhagavan devotees. Her name, which she assumed in later life, means ‘mad for God’. The events of her life are so extraordinary, the retelling of them is likely to cause most people to laugh or shake their head in disbelief. I will narrate the facts that I have been able to collect on this matter and let readers judge for themselves.

Almost all the information I will give in this post has come from a book entitled The Gift of God or Andavan Pichhai by Smt and Dr Krishna Rao. It was published by the Divine Life Society, Sivanandanagar, Uttar Pradesh, in 1983.

Bhagavan does have a major role in this drama, but he does not appear until quite late on in the narrative. Bear with me while I first set the background. For those who like a good story, it’s well worth the wait.

Andavan Picchai was born in Mylapore, Madras, on September 6th 1899. Her birth name was Maragathavalli, and she was the second child of T. Sankaranarayana Sastri and Sitalakshmi. About three years later her mother, Sitalakshmi died and her husband remarried shortly afterwards. However, it seems that he did not have much time either for his new wife or his children since he was perpetually engrossed in his studies and his spiritual practices. The children spent a lot of time with his brother, Venkatasubbiar, who developed a great love for his niece Maragathavalli. (At this point in the narrative her biographer starts calling her ‘Maragathamma’, so I will use this name when I refer to her in future.)

Maragathamma hardly ever opened her mouth. A private tutor was engaged to teach her since in those days girls did not go to school, but she frequently managed to escape from her tuition. Her father gave her the nickname ‘Nirakshara Kukshi’ – ‘one who does not know a single syllable’.

In other families, where female education was not considered necessary or even desirable, this would not have mattered, but most of Maragathamma’s family were highly educated, and they expected all their children, both male and female, to be literate and knowledgeable.

Maragathamma’s grandfather, Tandalan Ramakrishna, was a distinguished Sanskrit scholar, and most of the family was well versed in English, Tamil and Sanskrit. Her father, Sankaranarayana, was also an accomplished Sanskrit scholar and both he and his brother, Venkatasubbiar, were well-regarded lawyers.

When Maragathamma was a small child, Guruswamy, a relative on her mother’s side, gave a promise to her grandfather that he would marry her to his own son Narasimhan. Although Narasimhan was not happy about the proposed marriage, he agreed to it in order to honour his father’s promise. The marriage took place in April 1908 when the girl was barely nine years old. Narasimhan was about twenty at the time. Although child brides sometimes lived in their parents’ house until puberty, in this case Maragathamma was immediately dispatched to the husband’s house with jewellery and a dowry of two bungalows.

During the Navaratri celebrations of 1908 Maragathamma was taken back to her father’s house. Her grandmother had been a great devotee of Tiruttani Muruga and throughout her childhood Maragathamma had listed to tales of the greatness of Lord Muruga. During this visit she had a life-defining vision. This is how her biographer describes it:

One day [during this Navaratri visit to her father] when she was lying down near her grandmother, she beheld a vision. In that she saw Lord Muruga, as a young boy of twelve, come to her slowly and reluctantly, gently playing with His peacock. He playfully took her hand in His own, lest she should get frightened of Him. He pressed it with love and told her, ‘I love you very much’... He asked her to talk to Him. Being very shy she kept quiet, waving her hand in the negative. He asked her to open her mouth. He pulled her tongue out and wrote ‘Om’ on it with His vel or spear. He then initiated her into the Shadakshari Mantra, viz., ‘Saravanabhava’. He vanished that instant saying that He would meet her again some other time. From then on she felt Him in her heart, from where He started prompting her to sing. She narrated this incident to her grandmother and asked her to keep it a secret and be silent about it. Her grandmother was, however, very happy to hear Maragathavalli talk and sing so fluently. She then asked her to go and see her father. The girl rushed to the father in the library, where, as usual, he was busy reading. He was surprised to see his daughter there as she had never been to the library room before. He took Maragathamma on his lap and enquired of her the reason for coming there.

The girl told him that she wished to talk to him. This made the father very happy as she had never expressed anything like that to him before. As a matter of fact, until then, she used to talk like a small baby, with a little lisp. That day was the first occasion when she talked normally. Then she sang her first poem before him. It was so beautiful and so full of profound meaning that Sankaranarayana asked her who had taught her that. She told him it was that ‘payyan’ [boy] whom they all worshipped as Lord Muruga. The gist of the poem, which was in chaste Tamil, was: ‘In the beginning there was only one; this one became three, which again multiplied into many.’ The father was so overjoyed to hear her describe this great truth, he called out to his brother to listen to her. His brother too was extremely happy. Sastri then asked her to compose a song on Muruga, then one on her husband, and later on her parents. She spontaneously sang all of them. She composed and sang songs on Avvaiyar and Lilavati of Bijaganit fame (daughter of Bhaskaracharya). They were all so immensely pleased that they dressed her up as Goddess Gayatri and took pictures of her in several poses. After this incident, Maragathamma became unattached to everything except the memory of the vision of Lord Muruga which remained in her heart; and she revelled in him.

Maragathamma gave her own version of this event in a foreword which she wrote for her own biography in 1983. This is how she described it:

During my tender age, full of innocence, Lord Muruga of Tiruttani took me completely under His charge. He graced me with the ability to sing. He asked me every day to offer a flower [song] as in the olden days [when] Andal gave ‘Tiruppavai’ to Lord Ranganatha when she was young. And songs began to come out of me. The purport of what I sang on that first occasion was:

‘He stood before me and asked me to adorn His twelve shoulders with garlands of songs. O dear friend, hear how, during my tender age, Muruga called me aside and told me ‘Although you may appear as a crazy one to the world, be united with Me with undiminished and unadulterated devotion while you are busy with your daily works. Your heart will always overflow with deep devotion unto me.’

I was not even ten years old then and could not even speak clearly, but once He took me into his fold with abundant love, He saw to it that songs came out every day to be offered to Him. On some occasions the garland would be colourful and long. He entered into my heart long before this body was given in marriage. The heart was ever with my Lord, secretly enjoying His blissful presence, while the body was mechanically serving my husband and family. Once the Lord had entered the secret chamber of my heart, there was no room there for anything else – such as father, mother, husband, family, relations, name and fame, joy and sorrow, love and hatred, anger and greed and jealousy. This experience of mine found expression in a song:

‘I dived deep into the ocean of the Lord’s love and took out the pearl called Muruga.’

In the years that followed Maragathamma became fully immersed in family life. Her husband Narasimhan became a lawyer, and she gave birth to many children. Her first pregnancy ended with a still-born child. She was less than thirteen years old at the time. A few years later she gave birth to Guruswamy (born 1917), Shankar (1919), Kalpagam (1921) Ganapathi (19230 and Seshadri (1924).

Two days after the birth of Seshadri she had another vision of Muruga. She went into a kind of trance and ended up singing over 600 verses extolling Muruga in the form of ‘aandi’ a beggar. Her flow was stopped only when she heard the cry of her baby, begging for food. Apparently, Seshadri had been crying for food for quite some time before Maragathamma became aware of his needs. The nurse who was attending her scolded her for neglecting her baby while she was absorbed in her devotional singing. This precipitated a minor crisis in the family because the nurse told Maragathamma’s mother-in-law, Kaveriamma, about the event.

Apart from the issue of neglecting the baby, Kaveriamma complained that singing songs that praised God as a beggar would end up making the whole family beggars. She also said that since Maragathamma was in a state of ritual impurity, having just given birth to a baby, she should not be composing songs in praise of God. Kaveriamma collected all Maragathamma’s songs, hid them, and made her take an oath that she would not sing songs on Muruga again, or even talk about him.

Being a dutiful daughter-in-law, Maragathamma took the oath because she knew that she always had Muruga in her heart. She did not have to promise that she would not think about him or be aware of him internally.

More children followed. Venkataraman was born in 1926, but a couple of days after delivering him she developed septicemia because part of the placenta had stayed inside her and become infected. He doctor said that she needed an operation to remove it, but Maragathamma declined an anaesthetic and remained perfectly still, quiet and conscious while the doctor removed the infected material. She had apparently developed an ability to suspend body consciousness and be unaware of pain, or at least be completely unaffected by it.

More children followed: Kamakshi was born in 1928, Padma in 1929 and in 1936 Vasudevan. Padma became something of a child prodigy. She began composing songs when she was only three years old and became a devotee, even at that age, of the Sankaracharya of Kamakoti Peeta. She went blind, regained her sight after the Sankaracharya intervened and sent her to a doctor who restored her sight, but in 1936 she passed away at the age of eight while she was presenting a home-made garland to a Devi statue.

One son, Vasudevan, died of a serious illness; Shankar had some sort of accident that made him mentally retarded, and he died in 1940. The others grew up and were successful in their chosen fields.

None of these family dramas dented Maragathamma’s equanimity since the inner vision of Lord Muruga was always with her. Songs would come to her in the usual way, but she refused to sing them out loud even after her mother-in-law, Kaveriamma, passed away in 1930 after a long illness. Kaveriamma had made her take the oath of silence on Muruga, on her husband, and on her children. She feared that if she began to sing again, something bad might happen to her husband and children. She complained internally to Muruga about this situation, and soon after that she felt his presence within her disappear.

She implored him to return and give her darshan again. After a few days she heard a voice within her saying, ‘Why are you searching for me outside? Am I not inside you? Look within and you will see me.’

He introverted her vision and immediately lost herself in an ecstatic vision in which she became aware that Muruga was everywhere, not just inside her. When she returned to her usual state, she said that it reminded her of the occasion when Krishna opened his mouth and his mother Yashoda saw the whole universe within him.

In March 1948 Maragathamma went on a trip to Srisailam for Sivaratri to please one of her relatives who had a desire to go there. On her return, she became slightly ill, a condition that persisted for several weeks. In May, as she was walking down the staircase in her house, carrying one of her grandchildren in her arms, she slipped, fell and fainted. She was put to bed and the doctor who was brought in to attend on her declared that she had had a heart attack. Two of Maragathamma’s sons who had become doctors returned home to help with her treatment. She was unconscious, her pulse was beating very slowly, and her general condition was deteriorating to the point where her relatives began to fear for her life.

And now (and this is where the story starts to get very, very weird) we have to leave her unconscious in bed for the moment to give some background information on events that had happened elsewhere a few years before.

There was a yogi named Ramakrishna who lived in Pinnavasal, Tamil Nadu. He came from a Telugu brahmin family that had settled in Tamil Nadu. His Paramaguru was the famous Sadasiva Brahmendra. Ramakrishna had stayed in the Avudaiyar temple for twelve years doing Devi upasana with the Navakshari mantra. He did severe tapas and apparently acquired many siddhis. At one point he had married, but he had never lived with his wife. His wife was deeply devoted to him and wanted to serve him and be with him all the time. She accepted that they were never going to be man and wife, but she thought that she could at least be his devotee and serve him to the best of her ability. However, whenever she came anywhere near him, Ramakrishna would drive her away, saying that he didn’t want her to be with him. Driven to a state of despair by these continuous rejections, the wife uttered a curse that her husband would have to be born as a woman and suffer as much as she had done herself.

Ramakrishna was well versed in Sanskrit; he had many devotees, and he travelled widely all over India. Though he was a guru in his own right with many followers of his own, he had a desire to take sannyasa. He went to Rishikesh in 1942 to ask Swami Sivananda to initiate him. When Swami Sivananda refused his request, he went back to Pinnavasal to resume his tapas. Having failed in his quest to take sannyasa, he initiated himself.

In 1943, shortly before he passed away, Ramakrishna’s Paramaguru Sadasiva Brahmendra appeared before him and told him that he would have to take another birth to fulfill his wife’s curse. Ramakrishna begged him to spare him from this curse, but Sadasiva Brahmendra told him that since his wife was a very devout woman who had gained power of her own, the curse would have to take effect one way or another. Sadasiva Brahmendra did tell him, though, that, as an alternative option, he could enter a living woman’s body in his subtle form and go through the ordained sufferings.

Ramakrishna decided that he would try to take that second, rather bizarre, option. He took mahasamadhi in 1943, having already informed his devotees that they should not seal his samadhi shrine. A tube of some sort was left connecting the interred body to the outside world.

Now we go back to Maragathamma, who, when we left her, was lying unconscious in her family home in May 1948, five years after Ramakrishna had been buried. Late one evening Maragathamma’s heart beat and pulse completely stopped. At that same moment Sadasiva Brahmendra appeared to Ramakrishna, pointed to Maragathamma’s body and told him, ‘Now is the time for you to enter this pure and holy body of a saint. This body has been a temple of Lord Muruga for more than twenty-four years. Such a holy body will not be available to you at any other time.’

Ramakrishna somehow managed to move his subtle body into the body of Maragathamma during the period when her heart had stopped. I have read the relevant paragraphs in Maragathamma’s biography a few times, but it is not clear from them whether the authors are implying that Ramakrishna was reborn into Maragathamma’s body after dying five years before, or whether he existed in some state of suspended animation in his samadhi shrine and managed to escape at the right moment through the tube he had arranged to have inserted there. I get the feeling that they are implying the second, highly probably option. However it happened, Ramakrishna entered Maragathamma’s body and somehow took up residence there. Immediately afterwards, ‘Maragathamma’ began to revive. She opened her eyes, having been unconscious for most of that day, and saw a group of people who appeared to be strangers.

She closed her eyes, with thoughts welling up inside her: ‘Who is this mother they are referring to? Who am I? They must be calling this body ‘mother’. If so, who is the one inside it? Am I their mother, or I am that which I have always been so far?’

With these thoughts floating around, she relapsed back into unconsciousness.

Maragathamma was bedridden for nearly six months, during which time she lived on a liquid diet and became very weak. One by one her relatives would come and say, ‘Don’t you recognise me? I am your son?’ or ‘Don’t you remember me? I am your daughter.’ All her relatives were confused and worried by her strange behaviour and reactions to them.

Eventually, Maragathamma heard a voice inside her that said, ‘Time will reveal what the soul hankers for. You will get whatever you want. What you have asked for, you have obtained. Make the best of the available circumstances. You asked for an abode where you could live peacefully. This body has been the hidden temple of the Lord where he was worshipped with incessant prayers. You never wanted the miseries of a birth in a mother’s womb. Now you have been given this body by His supreme benevolence. In this you will be vouchsafed the darshan of great saints. You will visit various kshetras and temples. Take on the duties that come before you and surrender your acts to the Lord.’

The hearing of this message caused her body to cry out ‘O Lord!’ and eject itself from her bed. Her relatives thought that she had had another heart attack and put her back to bed. What had actually happened was a sudden understanding by Maragathamma, the original tenant of the body, that her body had become the home of someone else. Her memories came back, along with the understanding that there were now two people living in her body. Perhaps it was the intention of Sadasiva Brahmendra to place Ramakrishna in a body whose former occupant had just died and departed. And perhaps Ramakrishna showed up a little too soon because, when he installed himself, the jiva of Maragathamma was still in residence. The end result, though, was that there were two occupants of the body, and in the initial period after Ramakrishna arrived, it was he who seemed to be the more dominant of the two.

In January 1949 a trunk belonging to Kaveriamma was opened. Kaveriamma was the mother-in law who had confiscated Maragathamma’s poems and forbidden her from singing them out loud. It had lain unopened since Kaveriamma had passed away in 1930. The trunk had contained many things – money, documents and so on – but when it was finally opened, it was discovered that white ants had eaten everything except for the notebooks in which Maragathamma had written her verses. Taking this to be a sign that they should be published and brought to the attention of a wider audience, they were sent to Tiruppugazh Mani, a devout Muruganar bhakta, who arranged for them to be serialised in a magazine that he was editing. These were Maragathamma’s first published works.

The morning after the notebooks were sent for publication Maragathamma had a vision in which Muruga appeared to her in a glorious light-filled form. He came close to her, lifted her chin with his hand and asked, ‘Do you not know me?’

Maragathamma prostrated at his feet and called out his name to show that she knew who her visitor was.

Muruga spoke to her: ‘Yesterday you gave away all my songs. Do you not like them or need them any more? More than garlands of gold, beads and flowers, I love garlands of songs. The songs are like flowers moistened with tears and woven into a garland in the heart of the devotee. From now on, start singing hymns on me as you used to do before.’

‘O Lord!’ cried Maragathamma, ‘I have forgotten everything. The flame of light that was burning in this body has gone out. The gift of singing was given by you and also the oath not to sing. The bird that used to sing has flown away from this cage. You know very well the one who is residing in it now. Are you just playing with me?’

The Lord replied: ‘The oath was for the previous soul. Although the body is the same and the previous bird has flown out, do I not know who is the one residing here now? The power to sing is given by me. I am the one who prompts you to sing. You are but a penholder who is dipped in different-coloured inks. I am the eternal poet who catches hold of you to write the songs. I have given you the understanding to know yourself, and still you have not come out of your delusion.’

After saying this, Muruga laughed loudly. Then he continued to speak:

‘This is the first vision that you asked for. In this drama many such scenes will be opened out for you, one after the other, filled with joys and sorrows. Be a witness to all that is going to happen henceforth. The duty of composing songs has been allotted to this pen only by me.’

Muruga then disappeared in a brilliant flash of light. Maragathamma, inspired and empowered by the vision, composed a spontaneous song which described her recent vision. The songs began to flow again.

That evening Balambika, the man who had taken the songs to Tiruppugazh Mani, came to see her with the message that the songs had been highly appreciated and would be published. Balambika also handed her a packet of prasad and a small pamphlet which described a function that had taken place in Tiruttani on December 31st 1948. In the prasad packet there was a paper with a photo of Arunagirinathar on one side and Muruga on the other. Arunagirinathar was a famous Muruga bhakta who lived in Tiruvannamalai about 500 years ago. Up till the arrival of Ramana Maharshi, he was probably the most famous saint that Tiruvannamalai had produced. Maragathamma, though, was more interested in the image of Muruga that was on the reverse of the paper: it was a picture of the form in which Muruga had appeared to her that very morning.

I recounted earlier that Maragathamma had heard an inner voice reassuring Ramakrishna, the co-tenant of her body, that all would be well. The voice promised ‘you will be vouchsafed the darshan of great saints’. This promise bore fruit when Maragathamma came on a pilgrimage to Tiruvannamalai in March 1950. This is how her biographer describes the first part of her visit:

On 27th March 1950 many ladies, including Amma’s sister-in-law, planned to go to Tiruvannamalai. They requested Amma also to go along with them to have Ramana Maharshi’s darshan. When they reached Tiruvannamalai, it was almost ten o’clock in the night, and they rushed to the temple. The pujaris of the temple met them at the big outer gate and told them that they were returning after closing the temple. Members of Amma’s party told the pujaris that they wished to have the darshan of the Lord through the grills before the lights were switched off. Half the party went inside, while the other half stayed behind. Those who went inside first visited Siva’s temple and had his darshan. When they went near the Devi’s temple they saw a charming young lad sitting on the steps and singing in a melodious voice. He told them that he would do puja and archana to the Devi on their behalf. They said they had not brought any flowers or fruits. The boy replied that there was a plate full of flowers and fruits inside the sanctum, and they could share its contents. The visitors were happy. The boy opened the door of the sanctum, did puja and archana, and gave them the prasad. In their hurry the visitors had not brought any cash with them. Amma had only one old copper coin, the ring-like quarter anna of the olden days, which she gladly offered. The boy took it and happily wore it on his little finger like a ring. He said he would take his full dakshina [payment] the next day. They asked him his name and the boy replied that it was Dandapani. While Amma and the others were coming out, the lights went out. Everyone rushed out except Amma. The boy caught hold of her hand and led her inside the temple to a place where there was a small shrine of Muruga. It was at that spot that he had emerged from a pillar to give darshan to Arunagirinathar, the great bhakta saint and author of Tiruppugazh. Dandapani told Amma that he always stayed in that temple and narrated several stories to her. Then, leading her up to the others, he said, ‘You have won. I have brought you to light.’ Then he vanished. All the members of the party came to the temple the next morning to search for the boy, but they could not find him anywhere. When the previous night’s incident was narrated to the pujaris, they made fun saying, ‘How could you perform puja when the temple was already closed and we ourselves had already gone out?’

As I mentioned earlier, Arunagirinathar is one of Tiruvannamalai’s most famous saints. His most well-known work, Tiruppugazh, is revered and sung by all Muruga bhaktas. Arunagirinathar received the gift of poetry in the same way that Maragathamma did. While attempting to commit suicide by jumping off one of the gopurams in the Arunachaleswara Temple, Muruga appeared before him and saved him from death. In return for saving him, Muruga asked Arunagirinathar to tour the Tamil region, singing songs in his, Muruga’s, praise. When Arunagirinathar confessed that he didn’t know how to sing or write songs, Muruga asked him to open his mouth. He wrote on Arunagirinathar’s tongue, and by doing so, bestowed on him the gift of being able to compose and sing songs in praise of him. In another interesting parallel, according to the traditional biography, Arunagirinathar once spent time in a different body. He once moved into a parrot’s body in order to obtain a flower from an inaccessible palace because he had been told that it would cure the king of Tiruvannamalai’s blindness. That is far too long a digression to describe here, but I would like to tell the story, alluded to in the last long quote, of how Muruga manifested before Arunagirinathar in the Arunachaleswara Temple since it explains who Dandapani, the young pujari, was.

Arunagirinathar followed Muruga’s instruction and spent the next few years touring South India, singing songs in praise of Muruga wherever he went. After his extensive pilgrimages, encompassing at least 200 towns, Arunagirinathar finally returned, settled down in Tiruvannamalai and spent the remainder of his life there. The traditional story of his life includes several incidents that took place during this period either in the Arunachaleswara Temple or nearby. In the first of these stories Pravuda Devaraya, the local king, invited him to appear in court because he had heard of Arunagirinathar’s high reputation as both a poet and a saint. Arunagirinathar, who had no interest in the affairs of the world, ignored the invitation. Pravuda Devaraya, who had a high regard for scholars and sadhus, then came in person and requested that Arunagirinathar come for a visit to the royal palace. Arunagirinathar, noticing that the king was a devout man, accepted the invitation, went to the palace for a visit and had several honours bestowed on him by the king.

In the court of this king there was a famous scholar, Sambandandan, who had a tendency to boast both about his spiritual attainments and his religious knowledge. He had managed to establish himself as a favourite of the king. When he heard about the reception accorded to Arunagirinathar, he felt that his position in court might be threatened. His jealousy motivated him to hatch a plot against Arunagirinathar which he hoped would belittle his new rival in the eyes of the king. Sambandandan had done great tapas earlier in his life, so much so that he had obtained a boon from Kali, his ishta devata (chosen deity), that for a period of twelve years she would appear before him whenever he summoned her. Knowing that he could call on Kali to appear at any time, Sambandandan proposed to the king that he and Arunagirinathar should have competition in which each would try to make his chosen deity manifest in a form that would be visible to everyone. Sambandandan not only persuaded the king to agree to the competition, he also persuaded him to add a stipulation that the loser of the competition should leave the kingdom and never return. Although the king agreed to the rules of the competition, it seems that he did not pass on the full details to Arunagirinathar. He merely told him that he had organised a competition in which the two devotees would try to summon their favourite deities. Arunagirinathar agreed to take part, saying that if Lord Muruga could be persuaded to appear, he would give the king darshan and bless him.

The competition was held in public in the Arunachaleswara Temple. Sambandandan, full of confidence, undertook to manifest his God first. To the accompaniment of great pomp and ceremony, he called on Kali to appear, but for some reason she refused to manifest herself. In some versions of the story it is said that the twelve-year period of the boon had expired the previous day, so she was no longer under any obligation to appear. Since Sambandandan was still able to communicate with her, even though he could not make her appear, he got a promise from her that she would hold Muruga tightly in her arms so that he would be unable to manifest when Arunagirinathar called on him.

Arunagirinathar began his attempt by singing a song. After praising Muruga at length in verse form, he summoned him to appear:

…O Lord Muruga who resides in the heart of Pravuda Devaraya in such a way as to make it dance with joy! O Lord of Lords! Come dancing, O Lord, come dancing in such a way that when you dance, everything dances…

In some versions of the story Muruga manifests immediately, but in other accounts he fails to appear because he is being held tightly by his mother, Kali. In the version in which Muruga is restrained, Arunagirinathar devised a strategy to counter Kali’s influence. He first sang another song that was so entrancing, Kali unconsciously began to loosen her grip on her son, Muruga. When Arunagirinathar sensed that this was happening, he sang a different song that summoned Muruga’s vahana, his peacock, to appear and dance before Muruga and Kali. The peacock promptly appeared and danced in such an enticing way, Kali momentarily forgot to hold on tightly to Muruga. At this crucial moment Muruga leapt out of her arms, mounted his peacock and entered the physical world through one of the pillars of a mantapam in the Arunachaleswara Temple, breaking it in the process. A temple has since been built around this broken column to commemorate this great event. The manifestation of Lord Muruga was so dazzling, the light he emanated caused Pravuda Devaraya, the king, to lose his eyesight.

This traditional story is so full of improbable events, it would be tempting to dismiss the whole episode as quaint myth. However, the central event of the story, the manifestation of Lord Muruga in public in response to Arunagirinathar’s pleas, finds some corroboration in two verses from the Tiruppugazh:

In the midst of the assembly of Your devotees who deserved Your compassion… You came once in Tiruvannamalai…

O Victor on the peacock! You came to my help in Tiruvannamalai in a way that people of the world can perceive and praise your great compassion.

There is no mention of a competition in any of the verses, nor are the activities of Sambandandan and Kali alluded to, but there seems to be enough textual evidence in the Tiruppugazh to suggest that, prompted by Arunagirinathar, Muruga appeared, mounted on a peacock, before a large assembly of people, including the king, who had gathered there with the express purpose of determining whether or not Arunagirinathar could make his chosen deity appear.

So much for the traditional story. I mention it because the pujari who performed the puja for Maragathamma said he lived in the temple that had been built over the broken pillar in the precincts of the Arunachaleswara Temple. When one allies that with the fact that he declared himself to be Dandapani, one of the many names of Muruga, it is clear that Muruga Himself appeared before her in the temple and conducted the puja for her.

After having darshan late in the evening, the party waited until the next day before proceeding to Ramanasramam to have Ramana Maharshi’s darshan. This is the account that her biographer wrote of the events that followed:

After darshan at the temple, they all went to see Ramana Maharshi. It was a Monday, and a pradosha day at that. There was a large number of people for his darshan. When Amma entered the ashram she felt a great joy, and although this was her first visit, she had a feeling of being familiar with all her surroundings from a long time. She forgot herself and was oblivious of her companions. Her mind stopped and all the five senses completely ceased their functions. Yet she could vaguely see from afar only Bhagavan Ramana in his reclining posture with eyes closed. His face was beaming with a brilliance and there was not a shadow of the pain he was actually suffering from. She felt as if she was floating in an ocean of bliss and was being carried away beyond the dualities.

When Amma came near Bhagavan she was abruptly shaken from her stupor as if by an electric shock. The whole body started trembling and her heart was pounding hard. She prostrated before him and looked up. At that instant Bhagavan’s gaze fell on her. His eyes were shining brilliantly and showering compassion all around. From them a streak of light like that of lightning flashed out. He gave her an initiation, through the eyes, of the Shadakshari Mantra. This pierced her soul and once and for all the darkness of ignorance in her heart was completely removed. The great truth behind the mahavakya flashed in her and she realized the secret of ‘WHO AM I?’ This gave her an ecstatic experience of merging her individual soul with that of the supreme soul and in this unique state she felt the whole universe within her only.

She was in a daze and she could just visualise her party offering various fruits at Bhagavan’s feet. Amma had brought only seedless grapes.

Maharshi that morning was in a jovial mood and remarked, ‘Have you had the darshan of Dandapani?’ His mention of the word ‘Dandapani’ sent a thrill through the heart of his listeners since they felt that the Maharshi was confirming that the boy who had done puja for them the previous night was no other than Lord Muruga Himself!

And then pointing to the grapes brought by Amma, Ramana Maharshi said, ‘These grapes this body likes very much’. He took a grape and put it in his mouth and distributed the rest to all.

It may seem a little incongruous that Bhagavan initiated her into this particular mantra, but that seemed to be part of her destiny. Throughout her life, whenever she came into the presence of great beings, she found herself being initiated into this particular mantra. It happened six times in all. In this case, though, it seemed to be accompanied by a direct experience of the Self, the true impost of the mantra. Bhagavan not only gave her the mantra, he also gave her the fruit of chanting it.

The party left Tiruvannamalai that day, but two weeks later Maragathamma returned because she had heard that Bhagavan was seriously ill. A second darshan ensued:

On 12th April 1950 Amma and others went to see Ramana Maharshi again as his physical condition was reported to be very serious. His left arm, which had been operated on, was under bandage. There was a stream of visitors to see him and so each visitor was allowed just a minute to tarry by his side. Amma’s turn came. She wanted to prostrate to the Maharshi but she held in her hand a copy of Ramana’s photo which she had bought earlier at a stall. Even as she was wondering where to place it, Ramana himself took it from her and held it in his right hand, enabling Amma to do proper pranam to him. Then he smiled, gave her back the photo copy and held his right hand in abhaya mudra. Amma felt sad at not being able to converse with him. Two days later the world heard the news that the Maharshi had attained Mahasamadhi.

The blissful state in which Amma remained for quite some time was brought out by her in a short drama which she wrote on the 19th June after returning to
Madras. This was titled Jiva-Brahma Aikya [The Union of Jiva and Brahman].’

Amma gave the above script to Chengalvarayan Pillai for perusal. At that time Muruganar, a Ramana bhakta, was with Pillai. Pillai read through the drama appreciatively and then handed it over to Muruganar who took it with him to his own place. Going through the drama he was highly thrilled and commented that even after being with Bhagavan for a long period, he could not get such an experience, and even if he had one, he would not have been able to give such vivid expression to it. Amma’s exposition and the explanation of the blissful state of samadhi were so convincing that Muruganar asked Chengalvarayan to get it published. So the script was given to Sri Pani for publishing. Unfortunately however, it was eaten away by termites while on the shelf.

Pani was quite upset and ran to Amma and requested her to write it out again. But Amma, who was not in the least perturbed, said that once the jiva-Brahma aikya had taken place, there was no need for any article or drama, and that was probably why the manuscript got destroyed.

Maragathamma returned to her house and resumed her usual life. Sometime in 1951, while she was sitting in her courtyard, she heard the voice of Ramana Maharshi saying that two grandsons would soon be born to her. He asked her to name the first one Ramana and the second one Dandapani. Ramana (the baby) was born in June that year, and Dandapani followed on 20th August. One more major Ramana experience was to come, and it took place about a week after the birth of her grandson Dandapani:

On 28th August 1951, the day of the gayatri japa, Amma told her cook that she would manage the kitchen and that he could join the male members of the family for the japa. The cook was a Naishthika Brahmachari. He went upstairs, after placing a large vessel of water on the stove for making coffee. Amma went into the courtyard at the back of the house – where also the puja room was situated – to decorate the puja room with kolam or rangoli. The courtyard was the place where, on bhajan days, they all sat together and performed bhajans. There was a platform there, built around two trees, and when Amma opened the door into the courtyard, the sight which greeted her eyes froze her into a statue. In front of her was Ramana Maharshi, sitting on the platform in his usual pose, holding Dandapani’s hand.

He spoke to Amma, ‘Are you afraid of me, thinking that I am a ghost? Please come close to me. I have come to talk freely with you, as you desired when you met me last time.’

He asked her to clasp Dandapani’s hand tightly and not let him go. Amma prostrated to the Maharshi and sat near him. He explained [many philosophical things] to her and initiated her into the gayatri mantra. Being a woman, Amma felt hesitant to recite that holiest mantra, but the Maharshi made her repeat it along with him. Much of his upadesa, however, was transmitted to Amma through his piercing look.

Once again Amma prostrated to Ramana and tried to touch his feet. She could not do so. Ramana Maharshi laughed and told her that her gross body could not feel his subtle body. He blessed her by placing his hands on her head. That she could feel. The Maharshi then explained that he could touch her. The vision then vanished and she lost count of time. She was transported to the highest consciousness. In her very position of prostration she went into samadhi.

That was Friday. Amma’s husband and his sister came to the kitchen at about
10 a.m. to have coffee. Amma was not there; and they found the water boiling in the vessel. They thought that Amma must be in the puja room. Instead they found her in the courtyard, near the bhajan platform, in the prostrating position and unconscious of the world around her. She was carried inside and given injections which however failed to revive her. The next two days also Amma remained in the same condition.

On Sunday morning, the bhajan party arrived as usual. Tiruppugazh Mani asked where Amma was and was told that she was unwell. He insisted on seeing her and so a chosen few were taken upstairs. They saw that Amma was in a state of samadhi and they started singing ‘Kandar Anubhuti’ [an Arunagirinathar composition] in a loud tone, interspersing it with cries of ‘Haro Hara!’ Amma slowly opened her eyes. Seeing her husband and others seated and she herself lying, she tried to get up, but could not do so. They all asked her not to bother and slowly helped her to a sitting position.

Mani then applied kumkum on her forehead and prostrated before her. He queried her about her state of consciousness and her experiences during samadhi. A song burst forth from Amma’s lips in which she explained that she climbed six steps and saw ‘Annamalai Jyoti’ [the Light of Arunachala]. When she went further, there was nothing, and she merged into that nothingness. When they wanted more explanation of her experience, she could not say anything, because as soon as she thought of it, she again lost consciousness of this world. Later on, however, through the grace of Bhagavan Ramana, she wrote a number of songs called ‘Shashthimalai’, giving a description of all the six states of consciousness.

The Tiruppugazh Mani mentioned here is the same man who had first published Maragathamma’s poems. Tiruppugazh Mani had had a Guru, Pinnavasal Swami, who had promised him, just before he passed away, that he would return and give him darshan in some other form. When Maragathamma first went to see him, it was the day before Sivaratri and Tiruppugazh Mani said he was busy. He asked her to return the following day. That night Tiruppugazh Mani had a dream in which his old Guru appeared and ridiculed him:

‘I promised I would come and give you darshan in some other form, and when I did so I asked you if you would be able to recognise me. You told me that you would recognise me in any form I took. Yesterday morning, you not only failed to recognise me, you also sent me away, saying you were busy.’

On her visit to Srisailam in 1949 Maragathamma had been initiated by Tiruppugazh Mani into the Shadakshari mantra. When they met later, Maragathamma asked if he remembered the incident. Tiruppugazh Mani replied that he had never been to Srisailam. In that moment she realised that Muruga Himself had appeared to her in the form of Tiruppugazh Mani and given her the initiation. Having received this initiation from him, she accepted him as her Guru. When Tiruppugazh Mani realised that his former Guru had given him darshan as Maragathamma, he in turn accepted her as his own Guru. Thus there was the strange situation of each of them being the other’s Guru.

In the early 1950s Maragathamma became something of a minor celebrity in Madras. Bhajan groups were formed to sing her compositions, and one of her songs, recorded by a famous singer of the era, sold a huge number of records. Her house was besieged by visitors, so much so that her husband asked her to go and temporarily live with her family in Delhi to give him a respite from all the activity in his home.

Though the yogi Ramakrishna had taken up residence in Maragathamma’s body in 1949, the developments of the next few years seemed to be part of the natural progression of her own life. The passion for Muruga and the composition of songs praising him were very much ‘her’ samskaras, rather than ‘his’. However, in the early 1950s, the presence of Ramakrishna took over and directed the body in a wholly different direction.

In the early 1940s, while he was still occupying his former body, Ramakrishna went to Swami Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh and asked to be initiated. When Swami Sivananda refused, Ramakrishna went home and initiated himself. This pending desire for an association with Sivananda Swami came up in 1954 when Maragathamma went to Rishikesh and met Swami Sivananda. The jiva of Ramakrishna immediately asserted itself. ‘He’ became a disciple of Swami Sivananda, and took the desired sannyasa initiation from him. Swami Sivananda was delighted to have such a great devotee come to him. He gave Maragathamma his own robes and sandals as a measure of the respect he felt towards her. The desire for sannyasa was wholly Ramakrishna’s. Maragathamma still had a family, and her husband was wholly opposed to the move. In order to satisfy all the parties Maragathamma/Ramakrishna took formal initiation from Swami Sivananda, but then he sent her back home to live as a sannyasini in her own home in Madras. Ramakrishna fulfilled his desire, and Maragathamma was allowed to remain with her family.

In the next decades it was Ramakrishna who was directing operations. At one point Swami Sivananda even asked Ramakrishna, the tenant of Maragathamma’s body, to perform a kriya ceremony for the ‘departed’ soul of Maragathamma:

Amma was asked to perform religious rites to her previous soul… As instructed by Swamiji, Amma [i.e. Ramakrishna] performed the kriya ceremony of the soul of Maragathamma; and the ‘double’ that had been pestering her till then vanished for good.

Ramakrishna had taken over so completely, he wanted to remove all traces of the body’s first occupant. To some extent he succeeded. Consider this account he wrote of his association with Swami Sivananda:

‘That day when I was half insane, knowing and yet not knowing my whereabouts, and was struggling like a ship caught up in a storm. I came to the [Sivananda] ashram. Though I was almost a stranger, Bhagavan Sivananda acted like a light house and gave abhaya [freedom from fear], calling me by his side. He gave me mantra diksha. This was the seed of knowledge implanted in the dry ground of Pichhai’s heart by his graceful personality. He watered and manured it by his nectarine upadesa, now and then, till it became a healthy sprout. Being well protected by his Guru kataksha, it grew into a small sapling. On March 3rd 1954, an armour was put on it by giving sannyasa, and I was sent back to live in the world in my own house as a sannyasini. The plant started bringing forth flower and fruit within the household fence from 1954 to 1968, being well-protected all around. If it had continued to stay there itself, the raw fruit might have dried up and withered, and fallen away without ripening. Hence on 4th July 1968 it was removed to Vaishnavi [temple in Madras] to be under the protective care of the Devi. It started to ripen there. It was felt that the ripe fruit, if left on the tree, was likely to be eaten away by crow, sparrow, squirrel or monkey and be lost. Mother Vaishnavi Devi wanted to give the fruit, when it ripened, to Gurudev Bhagavan himself, who had planted the seed. The fruit came into the hands of Swami Chidananda, Gurudev’s beloved one [and successor], so that he could offer the ripe fruit at the right time to Gurudev himself.’

In the late 1940s Maragathamma took Tiruppugazh Mani, a great Muruga bhakta, as her Guru. It is inconceivable to me that this Maragathamma, who had spent a lifetime being devoted to Muruga to the extent that she was permanently aware of Him in her heart, would suddenly decide that spiritually she was ‘struggling like a ship caught in a storm’ and in need of another Guru who could save her, particularly one who was not imbued in the Muruga bhakti tradition. It was simply Ramakrishna asserting his own desires, even to the extent of trying to exorcise the spirit of Maragathamma from her own body.

I mentioned the story of the kriya ceremony to a foreign woman from Ramanasramam yesterday. She snorted in disgust and said, ‘Typical man! First he moves in without permission, and then he tries to kick her out of her own home.’

Did he succeed? I like to think that Maragathamma survived her ‘funeral ceremonies’ and continued to exist as a silent and possibly liberated witness to the decades of sadhana that Ramakrishna put in with Swami Sivananda. Perhaps her own spiritual work was done when she attained the ‘jiva-Brahma aikya’ ( the union of jiva and Brahman) that she spoke and wrote about after her darshan of Bhagavan in 1950. Perhaps the second half of her life ran its appointed course merely in order to enable Ramakrishna to fulfill his allotted destiny with Swami Sivananda. I can’t comment with authority on any of this, but I am encouraged in this belief by a foreword that she wrote for her own biography that came out in 1983. In it she wrote:

He [Muruga] took permanent residence inside my heart and his presence was felt whether I was awake or asleep. It is so from the time he entered my being in 1908 till this day, the Lord guarding me like the eyelids protecting the eyeball. He has shown me that he exists in all forms, that he is present in all names, and that he alone appears as father and mother, as uncle and aunt, as lover and the beloved, and as children and relations. He bestowed the vision of his divine presence in all his creatures and showed the way to serve them all with love and affection. I found the one Supreme reflected as many, like the one sun reflected as many in the waves of the ocean. My mind became calm and undisturbed, reflecting the Lord’s presence, as the placid lake reflecting the full moon.

He is the
OM, the source of all. He is the Lord Ganesha who removes all obstacles in the path. He alone appears as so many deities and is the serpentine power rising from the muladhara to the sahasrara. It is the Lord Muruga who has taken hold of me completely and has protected me so far, and for the remaining small tenure of my life, may he keep me in peace and solitude to be in His presence only. Let me serve others in utter humility and affection. He appeared before me several times and blessed me….

He who is in the past, the present and the future enters into perishable bodies and, residing in them, makes them dance to his tune. He himself is the dancer. He fills the cosmos as well as the atom. He has made this body bring out this story or else how can this inert lump ever do anything?

What is one to make of the central premise of this story – that, following a curse, Ramakrishna became the co-tenant of Maragathamma’s body? Swami Sivananda accepted it, and so did Swami Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi, the former Sankaracharya of Kanchipuram. He had great respect for Maragathamma and, recognising the relationship between the two jivas, personally gave her permission to remain at home with her family after taking sannyasa from Swami Sivananda. He is also on record as saying that she (or rather Ramakrishna) is only the fifth Hindu on record to take up occupancy in another body, the others being Raja Vikramaditya, Adi Shankaracharya, Tirumular and Arunagirinathar. Since Swami Sivananda and this Sankaracharya are among the most respected spiritual figures of twentieth-century India, their opinions have to carry some weight in this matter.

Maragathamma did not remain in Madras for the rest of her life. She went back to Rishikesh and stayed there for many years. At the age of eighty-nine, when she became seriously ill, she returned to Madras and passed away there in her family home in November 1990. She was ninety years old at the time of her death.

I have my own very minor postscript to add to this story. In 1992 I was in Lucknow, trying to persuade Papaji to tell me the story of his life. Although he had promised to do so, he never uttered a word on the topic during the first few days of my stay. Then, one afternoon, I found myself sitting next to him while he was having his afternoon tea. I asked him if he had ever heard of Maragathamma, and I gave him a brief synopsis of her life that included the early visions of Muruga and the subsequent darshan of Bhagavan where she experienced the full meaning of ‘Who am I?’

After remaining silent for a few moments, he replied, ‘I should have asked myself “Who am I?” when I was eight years old. If I had done it then, I wouldn’t have had to spend a quarter of a century chasing visions of gods.’

Then, without further prompting, he told me the whole story of his life, starting from his first samadhi at the age of six up till the moment he had his meetings with Ramana Maharshi in 1944. It took over an hour. That tea-time narrative was the basis of the account that appeared in Papaji Interviews. After Papaji had read the first draft of that chapter (I posted it to him from Tiruvannamalai) he wrote to me and asked me to come back and write the full story of his life. That project, the writing of Nothing Ever Happened, took up the next four years of my life.

41 comments:

indianspirituality said...

Dear Sir,

There is an option of scheduling the post. You can even preview the post before you can publish the same by going into edit posts. Just click the title of post and the post will be visible (in case you have scheduled the post to be published in future).

While creating a new post, there is an option of "Post Options"


I have my blog named
http://www.indiaspirituality.blogspot.com/

I schedule every post at 4:00 AM Indian Time for the next day.

Alternatively, we can preview the post from create post, while we are typing.

I hope this should solve the problem.

Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Ramana Maharshi have great influence on me.

AUM

Sujal

David Godman said...

Thanks for the advice. I do use the preview function, but it rarely gives an accurate picture of what the final post will look like. I think the discrepancy between the way the preview and final published version appear may be down to the way browsers interact with fonts and layout instructions.

Creating a new private blog where I tinker away unobserved by readers will solve all my display problems.

Murali said...

David,

This whole story of Andavan Pichhai is a rollercoaster drive in the fairy land.

1. The original premise why Ramakrishna took the body of Marakatamma was to undergo the sufferings of his neglected wife. How did that get satisfied?

2. I have read some accounts of Bhagavan describing many times the events like time warping..where one soul living simultaneously in two bodies and very extraordinary events like simultaneous existances of same soul etc., I remember him quoting some wierd stories in Yoga vashistam to explain these. Do you have some of them?

3. How many people knew that Marakatamma had two souls in her body? I gather from your narrative that two (i.e., Sivananda and Chandrasekhara) knew.

Regards Murali

Murali said...

David,

How do I setup the feature where I get a mail when you post something here?

Regards Murali

Praveen R. Bhat said...

Hi David,

I found your blog yesterday through your website and was happy to see that you blog almost daily.

i) "Then he smiled, gave her back the photo copy and held his right hand in abhaya mudra."

Only last week, I was speaking to a Ramana devotee, whom Ghabriji directed me to, about how none of Bhagavan's photographs have him in abhaya mudrA pose! Have you come across any? Nonetheless, at least I know that he did grant abhaya from this story. Thanks.

ii) On your conversation with the lady yesterday about Ramakrishna's performing kriyA for Magarathamma post samnyAsa, I think the incident may be grossly misunderstood. It would be an error to think that Ramakrishna would do it with any ill intention, more so with Swami Sivananda himself suggesting it. The kriyA is called for as a part of the samnyAsa ritual itself. If this was not done due to plain initiation and return home for Magarathamma, Ramakrishna performing kriyA makes sense. And in case the entire samnyAsa ritual was carried out, even then since there were two occupants, possibly another kriyA makes sense.

iii) "He is also on record as saying that she (or rather Ramakrishna) is only the fifth Hindu on record to take up occupancy in another body"

Could you please clarify as to who is on record about the above? From the passage it seems the Kanchi Paramacharya. If so, would it be possible for you to share the source which records the same? Thanks.

iv) Having seen your response to another posted comment, would you not like to change the blogger template with wider text space? This one seems to be built for people who have lesser content and more ads instead. And, there is a lot of scrolling to do to read your beautiful narrations. :)

David Godman said...

Murali

I also wondered what kind of 'punishment' this was. Ramakrishna acquired a very pure vehicle for himself, one that enabled him to have Bhagavan's darshan and later on, this pure vehicle, still occupied by the pure soul of Maragathamma, impressed Swami Sivananda enough for him to give the sannyasa initiation that he clearly had a strong desire for. It seems to me that he was the winner here, and Maragathamma the loser. However, I got the feeling that this co-occupancy was physically unpleasant for both of them. Maybe there was some suffering involved in that.

Like you I vaguely recollect some Yoga Vasishta stories that had similar components, but at the moment none of them is jumping into my memory.

As for your third question, I think a lot of people 'knew'. Whether they believed it or not is a different matter. I singled out Swami Sivananda and the Sankaracharya because they are well known and have some spiritual authority. Certainly Swami Chidananada, Swami Sivananda's successor was aware of this, and accepted the twin-jiva story, and I assume that all the members of Maragathamma's family knew about it. I would also guess that Tiruppugazh Mani and a few of her close Murugan bhakta friends would be in the know, but that is conjecture. Her biography came out in 1983, seven years before her death, so from 1983 to 1990, the story can be regarded as public knowledge.

Praveen

You should get in touch with John Maynard at Ramanasramam. He has recently catalogued all the available photos of Bhagavan, many of which have still not been published. He should be able to help you to discover, one way or the other, if such photos exist.

It was not explained which kriya was performed, but it was definitely done at the suggestion of Swami Sivananda. My description of it as some sort of 'exorcism' was probably too strong a term, but I did get the feeling from reading the text that it was some sort of attempt to nullify what Ramakrishna perceived as a still-existing troublesome presence within him. I am not an expert on these rituals, but it didn't come across as some sort of initiation.

The statement that the Sankaracharya had announced that this was the fifth case in Hindu history of a jiva occupying another body does not come from the biography from which most of the rest of this posting came. I found it online in an article about Andavan Pichhai that was published by the Himalayan Academy, which is one of the Sivananda organisations. I will hunt up the link and post it here tomorrow.

I will have a look at the other templates and see if there is a wider one that I like. I am not planning to run any ads here, so I probably could make better use of the screen space.

David Godman said...

Praveen

Here is the article I referred to. It's from Hinduism Today from 1992
(http://www.hinduismtoday.com/archives/1992/05/1992-05-04.shtml)

I'll paste the whole thing here since there are a few more incidents in it that I didn't mention. Her life seemed to have been be a long succession of visions and miraculous events, and I simply didn't have space to fit them all in.

Though Andavan Pichhai is well known in the musical circles of Chennai as a distinguished composer, her 'twin-jiva' story seems to have attracted very little interest or attention.




May 1992
Tamil Songstress "Crazy for God"

At age 9, relentlessly teased, Valli spoke shyly, her little girl's voice turned more airy by a lisp. It was an ironic karma. Her father, Sankaranarayana Sastri, was a prized national poet, known from his home in Madras to the capital in New Delhi. Eighty-one years later, the same Valli at age 90, died as Andavananda Mataji, an orange-robed songstress caught in the shining comet slipstream of Lord Muruga. She composed hundreds of songs out of her vision trances. And there was a paranormal event that puzzled many: a mid-life coma that turned into a dual occupancy of her physical body. She kept company with Swami Sivananda and Shankarachariya Chandrasekarar of Kanchi. The story of caterpillar Valli - born in 1899 - to butterfly Mataji - died 1990 - is written by a relative, Meera Prakash. Nearing age 10, one night Valli went to bed, an aching prayer in her heart. The next morning, she got up with great purpose and went to stand beside her father. Surprised, he asked gently, "Do you want to tell me something?" Valli nodded, closed her eyes and recited a poem, the gist of which went, "The One did become many; Creates, preserves and annihilates; That which is beyond the reach of the Vedas, and stands Alone, such Parabrahman do I. Maragathavalli (her full name) bow down to with both hands joined together in prayer that my speech may become poetry singing His praises."

Sankaranarayana Sastri gazed in thunderstruck amazement at her rhetoric and knowledge. "Where did you come by this gift?" he asked. She recounted how Payyan (Lord Muruga, Kartikeya in the north) came to her and asked her to put out her tongue and wrote Aum upon it with His spear. He sat beside her and blessed her with divine knowledge enabling her to find the nectar of the reality of wisdom. She lost her baby-like lisp and was able to sing His praises then.

This set Valli on a path of inspired writing to God in various forms: Krishna, Shiva, Devi, Muruga and so on. Nothing could stem the songs once started - not marital status, or children or household bonds. She performed her karmas fully, but always kept part of herself in a detached corner, reserved for her devotion to Lord Muruga.

Her on-going communion with Lord Muruga propelled her in a direction away from the family, the songs pouring out of her at temples, religious ceremonies and even at the time of the delivery of one of her children. In 1924, unheeding the cries of her newborn infant, Maragathavalli was in a state of trance, beholding Muruga in her vision, song after song pluming forth from deep within her - about 600 in all, jotted down by her niece sitting beside her.

Maragathavalli's mother-in-law was upset at this, predicting the fortunes of the family ending up as that of the renunciate Muruga. She extracted a promise from Valli that she would never again sing praises of Muruga. Tortured at this mental incarceration - for Muruga appeared again and again in her vision beseeching her to sing - Valli begged release from this plight. In her high strung state, she suffered a heart attack and sunk into a coma.

How did Muruga extricate her from this condition? He brought another player into her life. Ramakrishna, an ardent Devi worshipper and a siddha (accomplished yogi) lived in Pinnavasal near Nerur in Tamil Nadu. He carried his devotion to Devi to such an extent that he sadly overlooked his wife. Incensed, she cursed him to suffer the life of a neglected woman, as she had undergone.

Ramakrishna had been denied sannyas by Swami Sivananda at the time, but greatly desired it. Sensing death's stealth, he took self-sannyas, and before his mahasamadhi, mysteriously instructed his devotees to leave a gap in the center of his samadhi grave. The curse was on his mind, seriously. His final act was to search for a devout woman his astral body could function through after his death. He found Maragathavalli.

Valli came out of her coma with a jerk. The two astral bodies - Ramakrishna and Valli - were jointly anchored in Valli's frail body. He to live out his wife's curse, she given a reprieve to sonorously invoke Muruga. It is very difficult to understand the complexities behind this merging. The only explanation available is through her song, of such intense nature, intricately woven with mysterious allusions that it's difficult for lay eyes to fully perceive and understand the significance of this new transformation in her life. The concept left many puzzled. Only a few occult masters such as Swami Sivananda and Swami Mounananda recognized the double astral occupancy. The Kanchi Shankarachariya, Swami Chandrasekara, threw an historical light on the phenomenon by stating that Valli was the fifth recorded Hindu to host the astral body of another. The other four who entered host bodies were Raja Vikramaditya, Adi Shankarachariya, Tirumular and Arunagirinathar.

The years streamed by. In 1953, circumstances led her to the steps of the Divine Life Center in Rishikesh, India. Swami Sivananda set her on a path of privation and rigorous duties. He initiated her in the same Shadakshara mantra as Muruga did when she was nine. Swami Sivananda instructed her to do 10 million mantras in a cave near the ashram. Nothing deterred her from the path she had set upon - not meager food, cold weather, insufficient clothing or her humble surroundings. She answered only to the call of Muruga, who kept urging her to come and get Him. One day she could ignore the voices no longer and her footsteps led to an opening above the cave where she discovered an idol of Muruga. A voice emerged out of the silence asking what had kept her so long, and asked her to establish Him in a suitable place. The deity was placed by Valli's own hands in the ashram's music hall.

Eventually, she was given diksha (initiation) and became a sannyasini, earning her name "Andavan Pichai" and subsequently "Andavananda Mataji." There was nothing new in this name. Since she was mad for the love of Muruga, she used to decry herself as pichi, "crazy," for Andavan, "God."

Her husband, Narasimha Sastri, and children strenuously objected to her sannyas. Realizing she had not fulfilled her karmas as a wife and mother yet, the Kanchi Shankarachariya gave her permission to stay at home until her husband's death. He had built a hut for her to live in after his death in Tamil Nadu. But circumstances again took her back to Rishikesh. She returned to Madras only when she became seriously ill at the age of 89, in 1988. She remained in Madras, served by relatives and devotees until her mahasamadhi on November 19, 1990. She left behind a legacy of wisdom in Tamil, Telegu and Sanskrit songs.

On one occasion songs to Devi poured out of her in the presence of the Sringeri Shankarachariya, nine in all, each one a beautiful rendering of poetry, music and rhythm. At the end, Mataji, totally unconscious of her surroundings, was bleeding from the crown of her head. The Shankarachariya, holding flowers and kumkum from the Devi puja pressed a handful of the kumkum to stop the blood.

Once Mataji went to the Nerur Samadhi, where some brahmins habitually recited the Sri Rudram. When they saw her sitting in isolation chanting the Rudram, they took exception (they felt a lady should not be reciting it) and went to set separately to start their own chanting. To their bewilderment, they found they had all forgotten the words and could not proceed. Deeply ashamed and awed, they fell at her feet asking forgiveness. They recited the Rudram together.

Mataji's kirtana songs were published as Kirtanamala with musical notation in 1961. It was released at a function in Madras, at which many famous singers like M.S. Subbalakshmi, Musiri Subramanya Iyer, S. Lalitha honored Mataji by singing her songs in her presence.

Today, these songs and many more are being spread by her daughter Kamakshi, who has started the Andavan Pichai Bhajan Mandali.

Article copyright Himalayan Academy.

Praveen R. Bhat said...

i) Thanks for the reference on photographs.

ii) I think I left scope for misunderstanding my comment. I didn't particularly comment on exorcism, but merely on what "Swami Sivananda even asked Ramakrishna, the tenant of Maragathamma’s body, to perform a kriya ceremony for the ‘departed’ soul of Maragathamma" could have meant. During saMnyAsa dIkshA, one part is initiation into the order and the other is kriyA or last rites for the person being initiated. So the kriyA is not initiation ceremony and if his/ her kriyA was not done when initiated, then Swami Sivananda's instruction may have been for that remaining part. Possibly this kriyA was done much later after saMnyAsa initiation itself since she went back to stay with her family.

iii) Thanks for the article. A correction though: Himalayan academy has nothing to do with Sivananda ashram, but Yoga Vedanta Forest (YVF) Academy does. The former is run by Saiva Siddhanta Church!

Jupes said...

David, thank you for this utterly incredible story, so spellbinding and deeply engaging. There is one thing that I wondered about, when I reached the point where Maragathamma met Bhagavan and learned "the secret of Who Am I?" Do you think that Ramakrishna might have experienced any of what Maragathamma was experiencing at that time? Since they were separate consciousnesses, it seems obvious that he would not have simultaneously realized the Self just because he was occupying the same body. But, from what you understand of this, do you think he might have at least had a sense of what was happening to her and maybe even have felt some of it?

David Godman said...

Praveen

I only managed to find one photo of her online, a tiny 12 kb picture that only displays well at the size of a postage stamp. There are some photos in the book I referred to. I will scan one or two of them and post them here before I return the book to the library.

Thanks for the correction on the Himalayan Academy.

Jupes

That's a good question. I wondered about this myself. It's all conjecture, of course, but it seems that the jiva that attained the union with Brahman was 'hers'. I'm sure Ramakrishna had a great experience there himself, but I don't think his jiva was mature enough for union at that stage.

I am going to try to find a copy of the long poem that Maragathamma wrote after her 1951 vision and experience of Bhagavan, the one that put her into samadhi for a couple of days. If there is anything interesting there, I will post it here.

Anonymous said...

Hi David,

Is there any indpendent mention of her visit to Ramana Maharishi in Ramana Maharishi's books/records around that time. It would be nice to get some indpendent validation of accounts from other sources that dont relate to her directly....

Anonymous said...

that's one crazy story..i didn't believe manifestations of God were possible until I read Papaji's experiences in 'Nothing Ever Happened'. I have a question - Why did Dr.Bakre's family decide that Papaji was their guru. How was the whole family convinced that he was their guru within a few hours of meeting him? I don't think that's explained in the book. Thanks!

David Godman said...

Her first visit was only two and a half weeks before Bhagavan passed away. I think that the people who were recording stories at that time were more interested in the state of Bhagavan's health than in the experiences of new visitors. Remember also that Maragathamma decided not to publish her own account of the visit after the white ants had eaten her first manuscript. This story didn't come out until years later.

Many people had extraordinary experiences with Bhagavan in the last few months of his life. His body may have been failing, but his spiritual power was undiminished.

There are no independent accounts to corroborate any of this, but the incident with Chengalvarayan Pillai and Muruganar sounds reasonable. Though Chengalvarayan Pillai was primarily a Murugan bhakta and scholar (he wrote excellent commentaries on Arunagirinathar's works in Tamil) he also had a deep respect for Muruganar and his poetry. He helped Muruganar with his editing and publication work, and Muruganar frequently went to Madras to confer with him about his books. The incident referred to in this account probably took place while Muruganar was having a publishing consultation with him in Madras.

In the preamble to the Ramanapadananda piece I posted a few weeks ago, I included an extract from an old edition of The Mountain Path in which it was pointed out that one reason why Muruganar's books were so free of errors was because Chengalvarayan Pillai was involved in the publication process.

Anonymous (2)

I can't answer that question. I remember Papaji himself being astonished at this turn of events. I remember him saying things like, 'What made them do this? They invited a complete stranger in off the streets, did pada puja to him and even drank the water they had washed his feet with. I wouldn't even drink that myself!'

Dr Bakre is no longer with us, but his sons are still devotees. I have spoken to both of them, and they dealt with this in a very matter-of-fact way. It seemed to be something that just happened, rather than something that needed a long explanation.

arvind said...

David, on Sri Ramakrishna’s curse and “punishment”:

Even tho’ Sri Ramakrishna occupied Maragathamma’s very pure & holy body it still constituted “suffering” for him. This is because an evolved soul like him as described in the write-up, probably very close to some form of “siddha-hood”, if not outright enlightenment, is clearly looking forward to when and how quickly he can shed the burden of the body and be “free”.

So for him the mere occupation of any body, however pure, for any further length of time was an unbearable thought, even if that body contained all the worldly pleasures of this world & not necessarily “sufferings” as is generally understood.

We may remember Sri Bhagavan’s words:

“ … a wise one, a jnani, looks forward to casting off his body. Just as a coolie who carries a load on his head feels relieved soon after he reaches his destination and puts it down, so a jnani bides his time until he may cast off this load of his flesh and blood embodiment.” [from “Conscious Immortality” Pg 115]

Praveen R. Bhat said...

@David: Oh, don't bother of her photos for me. I was just thanking ya for the reference of John, Ramanashram, for Bhagavan's photos.

@Arvind: What you said makes perfect sense. Even Sadasiva Brahmendra told Ramakrishna about having to take *one* more birth. It was only a curse that made him suffer for few more decades, else he was near mukti. Thats particularly the reason why he was so keen and desperate for saMnyAsa. In Advaita Vedanta saMpradAya, even if a person is near mukti, he gets it only if he takes to saMnyAsa. I don't personally think that Ramakrishna was the only winner in it; any embodiment is a suffering for one who strives for moksha. IMO, saMnyAsa was for Ramakrishna and not Maragathamma, else Kanchi Paramacharya would have not allowed her to go back to her house post-saMnyAsa against the parampara. (Also note that only Sivananda ashram initiates women into saMnyAsa and not Kanchi maTha). Thanks for quoting Maharshi.

Krishna said...

Wonderful post and wonderful discussions .

Subramanian. R said...

Dear David, I was reading again the Andavan Pitchai story of 9th June.
I am not able to reconcile to the
two-soul one body feature. Were
not two souls indicating two minds?
Bhagavan said that there is only one
mind; only 'vasanas' are two; good
and bad. Even in Yoga Vasishatam,
Bhagavan was always highlighting the philosophic aspects and did not
give much importance to the 'puranic' stories. Again, when someone came to Bhagavan saying that he is talking to the subtle-body of Seshadri Swami, He replied, "Let him come and tell me and then we shall see!".

David Godman said...

I agree that this is a deeply improbable account. Having weighed up all the pros and cons I find I am willing to accept the 'pro' judgement of the Sankaracharya since I belive that he was a highly evolved and saintly man who had the capacity to see for himself what was going on inside this particular body.

One of his primary functions was to uphold vedic dharma and make sure its rules were properly adhered to. I don't think he would have allowed Maragathamma to return home and live with her husband immediately after taking sannyasa unless he could see that there were two parties involved in this initiation: Ramakrishna who wanted to be a sannyasi and Maragathamma who wanted to stay at home with her family.

Ravi said...

David,
I truly appreciate your sense of balance and proportion-how you have beautifully set aside all persuations of our limited experience and 'reason' in favour of APTA vakya of a jivanmukta like the sage of Kanchi ,more so in something that apears as bizarre as two souls inhabiting a human body .I also appreciated how quick you were to back papaji's disposal of 'Leeches'when I had raised some doubts on the adequacy of that approach.All sincere aspirants need to have this sort of Faith ,at the same time as one employs the utmost of Rationality and objectivity.
I have enjoyed reading your 'Living By the Words of Bhagavan'-the Biography and teachings of Sri Annamalai Swami as also your other wonderful articles on papai,Nisargadutta Maharaj,your Blessed Mother(whom you endearingly called 'The Spin Doctor'!),your Father(here in this Blog).I was rofoundly moved when i read how you lived for a year in Tiruvannamalai in that deserted place after fixing a gate and stretching ourself diagonally!
You obviously have Sri Bhagavan's Grace with you.
Godspeed to you.Many Thanks for all that you are doing.

Narayanan said...

I am highly appreciative of the article on Aandavan Pitchi Maathaji
and her experiences with Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi. I have tried to get copies of her songs and Vedantic works. Even P.T. Pani Publishers have closed down and I do not know whether any books of her songs or Kirthanamaala is available anywhere. Do you know where the books may be available? If Mrs. Kamakshi is conducting Bhajan Mandali in the name of AAndavan Pitchai, what is the address and whether such books may be available with them? Please share any relevent information.
Dr. M.Narayanan
kahanam@yahoo.com

David Godman said...

I tried unsuccessfully to find copies of her poetry, particularly the verses she wrote after her vision of Bhagavan in 1951. One devotee who knew one of her surviving children said she would try to help, but so far I have not heard back from her.

sachu said...

Dear Sir,
I was so moved & touched by this write up. My namaskaarams to you. I was brought to this page on purpose I believe. There was so much of assurance for me by this post. I am not qualified or have the knowledge to pass on a comment but one thing I would like to say is that I am fortunate to have stumbled upon this wonderful, spell bounding write up.
Including you may everyone reading be blessed by the Supreme.
With much regards & respect
sachu mahadevan

Sankarraman said...

I think Andavan Pitchai is a great yogi, with the psychic nature being mixed up with spirituality. As per yoga, a person can create many artificial bodies and minds, known as, " NIRMANA KAYA, NIRMANA CHITTA," in yoga parlance. So her experiences are not to be disparaged or belittled. No doubt, from the exalted state of Bhghavan, concentrating only on the ultimate, all these experiences are illusory fabrications. One should remember that the great Yogi Patanjali, after expatiating upon manifold siddhis that the yogi comes upon, in Vibuthi Pada, says that the highest siddhi is the discriminating knowledge between the pure satva and the purusa, which discriminating knowledge also comes to a grinding halt for want of any external prop, the yogi thereby entering into the highest, " Asamprajna Samadhi," known as Dharma Megha. The purpose and the efficacy of yoga also have been acknowledged by Bhghavan. As long as there is some form of practice, it is only yoga, which is a sine qua non, for attaining Kaivalya, lest all our spiritual quest should be only the pandering of the intellect.

Arunachala Rama said...

Hi David,

Thanks for this posting. I was reading Sri Sri Muralidhara Swamigal's lecture in Chennai. Sri Muralidhar Swamigal talks about Smt Andavan Pitchai. Kanchi Sankaracharya stated that this sort of a feat - moving from one physical body to another -has been seen in the life of only four viz. Vikramãditya, Ãdi Sankara, Arunagirinathar, Tirumular and now as the fifth in this Lady's life!"

http://www.madhuramurali.org/swamigal/essay/ji_lecguruprabhava.html

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satheesh kumar said...

David
This is in connection to the article on 'Andavan pichchai' about whom Kanchi acharya has mentioned that she is the 5th person who has experienced such a possibility ('Parakaya Pravesam').

I would like to add one incident happened in the life of 'Robert Adams', which narrates such a manifestation, in his own words as below:


"When I was in Benares, in India, I went to see a Jnani no one ever heard of, named Swami Brahmanananda, which means 'The Staff of God.' He had three disciples that had been with him for about 50 years. He was about 90 years old.
I was invited to sit by him. I think I was the first Westerner to get permission to stay with him. So I sat with him for a few days, listening to him say nothing. He was mostly silent.

On the third day that I was there he announced to his disciples that his body was in pain, that it was arthritic, but that he still had work to finish on this plane. He said he was going to leave his body the next day at 3:00 P.M., and take on the body of a younger person. He said that someone would slip on the street--it was raining--and would crack his head. "I will take up that body."

I listened as I usually do, and we couldn't wait for tomorrow to come. (Laughter) Nobody cared that he was going to die, we wanted to see if he could do what he said. (Laughter)


At 3:00, he was sitting in the lotus posture, he stiffened, and he did die! I felt for a pulse and there was none. I pinched him. Nothing happened. His body was an empty shell. We fooled around with his body for about a half hour to see if we could bring him back to life. Nothing.

We heard a commotion outside. Sure enough, a young man had slipped on the street and hit his head. A crowd had gathered and a doctor was there. He was pronounced dead. All of a sudden, the young man got up and ran into the forest. No one ever heard of him again. Explain that one.
This is a rare, but very possible phenomena.

When you realize your omnipresence, when you begin to know who you are, that you are not the body-mind phenomena, that you are undivided consciousness, the absolute, then you know you can be everywhere at the same instant. You are everything."

vishy said...

Good info about Great Bhaktas.

Adiyarkum Adiyar that means He ( Shiva ) becomes Devotee to His Devottees.

If He wishes a plant also can attain the Bliss.( It happened in Chidambaram ) .

To be precise , any living matter can attain this true Nature by His Grace .

His Leela is present every where .
Only some come out .
Trust Him and become a true devotee.
Rest is assured .

senthilnathan said...

Dear All,

i am trying to get details on the of the History Andavan Pichai, Thanks so much for posting the articale , i am lookin to meet the family memebers of this great devotee of Our Lord Murugan, i tried and serached in the streets of korattur of chennai, but could nt, could any one of you please provide me the address, my email id is , senthil.irs@gmail.com

br said...

Dear David,
Many thanks for your service and blessed notes that help a lot for seekers and toddlers in the spiritual world, like myself.

If I could request you, is it possible to upload the picture of her holiness Andavan Pichai in your blog or if i could have your email addres, can send you my id.

It will be a blessing to see her.

my humble prostrations
bhas

David Godman said...

I tried unsuccessfully to get photos about a year ago. I contacted many people, including some of her descendants, but came up with nothing.

If you go to my site (www.davidgodman.org) and press the 'contact David Godman' button you will get my email address

Anonymous said...

David, Can you remember the Bhajans
Nisargadatta sang and listened to?
Were they the five Kirtans that his guru told him to sing?
It would be great to know more about the bhajans.
Thanking you

Upekkha said...

for br - Andavan Pichai

just try this link: http://www.rhythemmusic.net/component/content/article/66/1011-andavan-picchai-ndex

Upekkha said...

David

there seems to be a mistake on the the year Anadavan Pichai died. Acdg to her age of 99 it should read 1998 i/o 1990 as mentioned in your thread. See also http://www.rhythemmusic.net/component/content/article/66/1011-andavan-picchai-ndex

Upekkha said...

Correction

My arithmetic on Andavan Picchai were wrong, the year she died as per post of David correct. Sorry for confusion.

Upekkha said...

David

there seems to be a mistake on the the year Anadavan Pichai died. Acdg to her age of 99 it should read 1998 i/o 1990 as mentioned in your thread. See also http://www.rhythemmusic.net/component/content/article/66/1011-andavan-picchai-ndex

David Godman said...

Her first visit was only two and a half weeks before Bhagavan passed away. I think that the people who were recording stories at that time were more interested in the state of Bhagavan's health than in the experiences of new visitors. Remember also that Maragathamma decided not to publish her own account of the visit after the white ants had eaten her first manuscript. This story didn't come out until years later.

Many people had extraordinary experiences with Bhagavan in the last few months of his life. His body may have been failing, but his spiritual power was undiminished.

There are no independent accounts to corroborate any of this, but the incident with Chengalvarayan Pillai and Muruganar sounds reasonable. Though Chengalvarayan Pillai was primarily a Murugan bhakta and scholar (he wrote excellent commentaries on Arunagirinathar's works in Tamil) he also had a deep respect for Muruganar and his poetry. He helped Muruganar with his editing and publication work, and Muruganar frequently went to Madras to confer with him about his books. The incident referred to in this account probably took place while Muruganar was having a publishing consultation with him in Madras.

In the preamble to the Ramanapadananda piece I posted a few weeks ago, I included an extract from an old edition of The Mountain Path in which it was pointed out that one reason why Muruganar's books were so free of errors was because Chengalvarayan Pillai was involved in the publication process.

Anonymous (2)

I can't answer that question. I remember Papaji himself being astonished at this turn of events. I remember him saying things like, 'What made them do this? They invited a complete stranger in off the streets, did pada puja to him and even drank the water they had washed his feet with. I wouldn't even drink that myself!'

Dr Bakre is no longer with us, but his sons are still devotees. I have spoken to both of them, and they dealt with this in a very matter-of-fact way. It seemed to be something that just happened, rather than something that needed a long explanation.

senthilnathan said...

Dear All,

i am trying to get details on the of the History Andavan Pichai, Thanks so much for posting the articale , i am lookin to meet the family memebers of this great devotee of Our Lord Murugan, i tried and serached in the streets of korattur of chennai, but could nt, could any one of you please provide me the address, my email id is , senthil.irs@gmail.com

Murali said...

David,

How do I setup the feature where I get a mail when you post something here?

Regards Murali

sona said...

Pranam!
I read your posting about Andavan Pichhai- it was interesting.Thank you. I had the privilege of meeting Amma(that is what we called her)in Rishikesh at the Ashram where she lived( I think in the 80s) and also in Chennai at her daughter's house some years later. My aunt Radha had written the book and Amma had signed a copy for me and I remember she had taken my hand in hers and written something on my palm!! My mother and I had gone to to visit the Shivananda Ashram with Amma's daughter Kalpagam and her daughter-in - law. My uncle and aunt lived at the Ashram then. My uncle was a doctor and he would do free service for sick people there. I think I have some rare photos of Amma with Swami Chidananda and also with Shankaracharya of Kanchi.
Sincerely
Sona Amladi

Anonymous said...

I found this 'gem' on a spiritual forum. This nonsense speaks for itself: "About 14 or so people got together on Saturday
night. People held court. A young lawyer
of 30 named Andrew had many questions. He
had such a sparkling personality we all agreed that
he'd be wasting his time trying to understand
nonduality and that he should immediately start
giving Satsang. We decided we'd coach him in
answers and questions."
From he forum of Sarlo and written by Jerry Katz

Anonymous said...

Pranams, I AM VERY MUCH INTERESTED IN VIEWING HER PHOTOS, KINDLY UPLOAD OR SEND THEM TO MY EMAIL ID;slnvasu@gmail.com,
lot of thanks.