Sunday, July 22, 2012


Apologies for my long absence. I haven't felt much like writing in the last few months, even though I have several big projects that are still awaiting completion.

Here is an article I recently co-wrote with T. V. Venkatasubramanian. The biographical information all comes from
Kumaradevar Sastra Kovai, by P Arumugam Mudaliar, published by Golden Electric Press, 1923.

Kumaradeva, a Karnataka king who renounced his throne to attain liberation, was part of a distinguished lineage of Gurus who lived and taught in South India in the 16th and 17th centuries. According to his hagiography, Kumaradeva had spent his penultimate incarnation in Mallikarjuna, nowadays known as Sri Sailam, in Andhra Pradesh. In that life he was performing nishkama tapas – rigorous and selfless meditation – and directing it towards Lord Siva. He had a companion, another sadhu who was performing tapas alongside him.

Siva became aware of this anonymous sadhu’s strenuous efforts and decided to manifest before him to offer assistance.

‘Devotee, what boon do you want?’ he enquired.

The sadhu had been harbouring a request in his mind, but when he opened his mouth to speak, something completely different came out.

The details of the unplanned request are not known, but they were bad enough to cause great anger in Siva, who cursed him with the following words: ‘May you become a jatamuni [a kind of demon with long matted hair]!’

This was a not a curse for some future life; the transformation was immediate.

Shocked by this sudden turn of events, the devotee prostrated at Siva’s feet and pleaded with him.

‘I made a mistake by not asking for what I really desired. Supreme Being! What can I do now? When can I be released from this curse?’

Siva gave him the following prescription: ‘Go to Vriddhachalam [a town near Chidambaram] and live there on the branches of the mature bodhi tree that is growing on the bank on the Manimutta River. The devotee who has been performing tapas next to you will, in his next life, be born as a king in the Karnataka region. After ruling there for a brief period, he will develop a distaste for worldly life that will lead him to Peraiyur Santalinga Swami. He will attain liberation through the grace of this swami. His Guru will then instruct him to go to Vriddhachalam where he will stay under the same bodhi tree in which you will be living as a jatamuni. If you prostrate to him and beg him to release you, you will be freed from your curse.’

‘When will he attain liberation?’ asked the jatamuni.

Siva replied, ‘He has already taken five consecutive pure incarnations. In each one he performed intense nishkama tapas and directed it towards me. This is his sixth pure birth. In his next life he will attain liberation.’

Saying, ‘This is my good fortune,’ the jatamuni took leave of Siva, went to Vriddhachalam, took up residence in the tree specified by Siva, and waited for the time when he would be released from his curse.

The destinies ordained by Siva then began to unfold. The devotee who had been doing tapas with the jatamuni took a new birth as Kumaradeva in the Karnataka region. He ruled there as a king for a short period of time before taking sannyasa. After his renunciation, he asked his former chief minister to send a message to Peraiyur Santalinga Swami that gave details of his history, his renunciation, and his desire to see him. Then, without waiting for an answer, he went there in person and fell at the Guru’s feet.

Santalinga Swami wanted to test the maturity of Kumaradeva.

He looked at his kaiettu tambiran, a scribe-disciple who always stood near the Guru in order to write down important teachings, and said, ‘Appa [a term of endearment], this person looks like a king. He is not fit for this path. Ask him to go home and rule his kingdom again.’

The scribe was a mature man who could see or intuit that eighteen distinct marks that are said to appear only in those true devotees who have intense and extreme maturity were all manifesting in this former king. Since he did not want to disobey his Guru or reveal this information to Kumaradeva, he contrived to pass on the information to Santalinga Swami in sign language.

Santalinga Swami was aware of all this himself. Softening his stance a little, he turned to the tambiran and said, ‘Tell him to go outside and cut grass for my bullocks’.

Kumaradeva was given a sickle, along with a rope to tie the cut grass with, and was dispatched to the nearby fields where he joined a group of pallars (members of an agricultural caste) who were already engaged in cutting grass.

Kumaradeva held a bunch of grass in his left hand and attempted to cut it near the ground with his sickle. However, being completely inexperienced, he only succeeded in inflicting a severe wound on the hand that was holding the grass. Instead of getting upset about the gaping wound, he got angry with his right hand for being so incompetent.

The pallars, who had been observing the strange and unskilled behaviour of the new grass cutter, approached him and asked him who he was.

‘Oh, I am just a worker who has been asked to cut grass to feed the bullocks that pull Santalinga Swami’s cart’.

The pallars were not convinced. His incompetence at one of the most basic agricultural tasks, combined with his aristocratic bearing, led them to believe that he might be a king. When they saw that he was incapable of accomplishing the simple task that had been assigned to him, they took pity on him, cut the grass that was required, and tied it with the rope that Kumaradava had been given. They then lifted it up and placed it on his head so he could walk off with it. Unaccustomed to bearing heavy loads, Kumaradeva’s head buckled under the weight. Realising that Kumaradeva did not have the necessary neck muscles to carry the grass to its destination, the pallars carried it to the math and placed it outside the door.

On the two succeeding days Kumaradeva was again sent out to cut grass for Santalinga Swami’s bullocks, and each time the pallars cut the grass for him and delivered it to the math. On the third day the worker who was carrying Kumaradeva’s load for him met the tambiran who had conveyed Santalinga Swami’s original orders. He told him about the strange new worker who couldn’t either cut or carry grass and who had slashed his hand on his first attempt. The tambiran reported these developments to Santalinga Swami.

Santalinga Swami decided that he would test Kumaradeva a little more. He came outside and got angry with him, just to see how he would react. Kumaradeva became a little frightened when Santalinga Swami verbally attacked him, but other than retreating a little and standing some distance away, he displayed no reaction to the assault.

That night Santalinga Swami called his tambiran and said, ‘Pack two separate cooked-rice parcels for myself and Kumaradeva. Hang them on opposite ends of a pole and give the pole to Kumaradeva. Then ask him to accompany me with it.’

They set off together, with Santalinga Swami walking in front of Kumaradeva.

After travelling for some time Santalinga Swami turned round and rebuked him, shouting ‘Why are you delaying?’

Kumaradeva replied fearfully, ‘On one side the acchu lingam [axis lingam] is tugging me, and on the other side the gana yuddham are pulling.’

In this highly cryptic pronouncement the acchu lingam represents the Self while the gana yuddham (the hordes of warring warriors) represent the outward-moving senses who are always trying to take attention away from the Self.

This enigmatic but profound reply sent Santalinga Swami into a state of ecstasy. He sat down on the bank of a nearby tank with Kumaradeva and asked him to mix the rice from the two packages. Kumaradeva obeyed the command and then served Santalinga Swami, treating the rice as naivedya [sanctified food offered to a deity]. When Santalinga Swami had indicated that he had received enough, Kumaradeva took some himself, treating his portion as prasad.

The two of them spoke together before Santalinga Swami decided it was time to return to the math.

This meeting was a turning point in their outward relationship. Kumaradeva began to perform sadhana under the supervision of Santalinga Swami and soon realised the Self through his Guru’s grace.

Since Siva had ordained that the enlightened Kumaradeva would one day travel to Vriddhachalam to release the jatamuni from his curse, Santalinga Swami turned to him one day, addressed him as ‘Maharaja,’ and ordered him to visit that town.

Kumaradeva took leave of his Guru and began to travel there on foot. As he was walking through a forest near Chinnasalem, Pazhamalainathar (Siva residing at Vriddhachalam) appeared in the form of a brahmin. Knowing that Kumaradeva was walking towards his town, he set up a wayside stall that served free drinking water to travellers.

As Kumaradeva approached, the brahmin addressed him saying, ‘You seem to be exhausted. Drinking water is available here. Drink as much as you want and quench your thirst.’

Kumaradeva accepted the brahmin’s offer before continuing with his journey to Vriddhachalam.

The long walk exhausted him. When he finally arrived at his destination, he decided to rest under the shade of the large bodhi tree that was growing by the side of the River Manimutta. Within minutes of sitting down he fell into a deep and blissful sleep.

Periyanayaki, the goddess presiding at Vriddhachalam, came to know of his arrival. She took some milk that had been kept for her abhishekam and came in the form of a brahmin woman to where Kumaradeva was sleeping. She sat down next to him, placed Kumaradeva’s head on her lap, and fed him with the milk she had brought.

Kumaradeva woke up, saw the woman, and asked who she was.

She replied, ‘Kumaradeva, I am Periyanayaki. Come and stay forever in my place and live happily here.’

Then she mysteriously vanished into thin air.

This incident left Kumaradeva wondering, ‘Mother, what can I possibly give you in return for this grace?’

Within minutes he was lost in ecstasy.

The jatamuni, who had been staying on the branches of the bodhi tree, observed all this and thought that the person he had been waiting for had finally arrived. He climbed down the tree, took the form of a brahmin, and fell at the feet of Kumaradeva with great humility.

‘Who are you?’ enquired Kumaradeva.

‘I am a jatamuni.’

‘Why have you come to see me?’ enquired Kumaradeva.

The jatamuni then narrated the story of how the two of them had once been sadhus together, and how Siva had cursed him to remain as a jatamuni in the bodhi tree until Kumaradeva came there to release him.

When the story had been concluded, Kumaradeva carried out Siva’s wishes and released the jatamuni from the curse.

Kumaradeva remained in Vriddhachalam since his Guru had asked him to be there. Some accounts say that he used the shade of this bodhi tree as his base.

One day Periyanayaki appeared to him again and requested him to compose some jnana sastras (scriptures on true knowledge). Kumaradeva doubted that he had the capacity.

He replied, ‘Though I am your slave, I am not able to do this’.

Periyanayaki told him, ‘I myself will abide in your tongue and complete the sastras’.

Kumaradeva accepted the order and went on to compose sixteen jnana sastras. In one portion of the sixth sastra – which is entitled Jnana Ammanai and is addressed to the deities of Vriddhachalam who enabled him to compose the work – he gave details of his life and his spiritual development. The lines all conclude with the exclamation ‘ammanai!’ This is a celebratory shout that indicates joy and delight in all the incidents and opinions that are mentioned in the poem. The original ammanai poem was composed by Manikkavachagar in Tiruvannamalai over a thousand years ago. The ammanai exclamation in that particular poem is thought to have been derived from a triumphant shout of joy made by young girls as they scored points in a game that involved keeping a number of balls in the air.

Here, then, is an extract from Kumaradeva’s own ammanai poem, his exultant retelling of his path to liberation. 'Azhattu Pillaiyar' (first line) is Ganapati in Vriddhachalam; 'Vriddhambhikai' (third line) is Siva's consort in Vriddhachalam; 'Sankari' (towards the end) is a more generic title for the consort of Siva.

Worshipping the feet of Azhattu Pillaiyar – ammanai!
I rooted out doubt and erroneous understanding – ammanai!
Reaching the feet of Vriddhambhikai – ammanai!
opening the eye of true jnana ammanai!
and meditating and dwelling on the conclusion – ammanai!
I will now declare what I have experienced, as I experienced it – ammanai!
Father, mother, wife, relations – ammanai!
these are attachments of the soul – ammanai!
Wealth, ornaments, land, empire – ammanai!
these are attachments to objects – ammanai!
These two are external attachments – ammanai!
Remaining with these – ammanai!
thinking there is no lack in – ammanai!
noble lineage, wealth, handsome looks, attire – ammanai!
I lived for some time, wallowing in them – ammanai!
without paying attention to the excellent path – ammanai!
not performing Siva bhakti, tapas, and offering gifts – ammanai!
It was through providence that my mind became clear – ammanai!
Impermanent, impure and misery-causing – ammanai!
maya of this nature is most certainly unreal – ammanai!
Eternal, immaculate and having enduring bliss – ammanai!
this state of liberation is one’s own [state] and real – ammanai!
After realising this, disregarding completely – ammanai!
the happiness of a householder’s life – ammanai!
I renounced it in my youth as false and moved towards – ammanai!
the golden feet of jnana Guru Santalinga – ammanai!
I came, I praised him, and I prostrated – ammanai!
He placed his golden feet on my head and then – ammanai!
made clear to me the path of liberation – ammanai!
He said, ‘Exert yourself on tapas at Vriddhachalam’ – ammanai!
Obeying his command I stayed there – ammanai!
remaining there motionless, night and day – ammanai!
I merged in tapas ammanai!
Vriddhambhikai came and taught me – ammanai!
As she was explaining I realised – ammanai!
clearly the experience that is free from doubt and wrong understanding – ammanai!...

Seeing everything as ‘I’ – ammanai!
I remained without any anxiety – ammanai!
Only my being manifests and exists – ammanai!
only my consciousness appears – ammanai!
only my bliss is experienced as happiness – ammanai!
all is only sat-chit-anandaammanai!
I saw and attained myself through myself – ammanai!
I remained, experiencing happiness alone – ammanai!
I became convinced that the happiness experienced in objects – ammanai!
is only my own bliss – ammanai!
From now on I will not think of or desire any object – ammanai!
There is no bliss in it – ammanai!
I obtained freedom from desire and fear – ammanai!
as I became the eternal blissful one – ammanai!
Whatever happens to come to me in the present – ammanai!
I will experience it in a state of desirelessness and abide in the [natural] state – ammanai!
When I think, I see myself as ‘this’ – ammanai!
as the various non-existent objects – ammanai!
In my thought-free state I see only myself as One – ammanai!
Seeing only myself here and there – ammanai!
I remain without any anxiety… – ammanai!

There is nothing other than ‘me’. I swear to this – ammanai!
I will hold the red-hot iron in my hand [swearing] that this is the truth – ammanai!
Not knowing myself for such a long time – ammanai!
was like languishing in fear, without knowing my way – ammanai!
What recompense can there be in me – ammanai!
for the compassion of Sankari , who has no equal – ammanai!
for bestowing her cool grace? – ammanai!
From now on it will be proper for me to render elegant service – ammanai!
wholeheartedly to her devotees – ammanai!
May this holy kshetra of Vriddhachalam shine forth – ammanai!

(Jnana Ammanai, sixth sastra, lines 1-34, lines 67-88, lines 91-100.)

Though Kumaradeva’s written works are studied in Vedanta maths, he himself was brought up in the Virasaiva tradition. This is a subdivision of the Saiva faith which originated in Karnataka about 800 years ago. It still has many adherents there. The traditional accounts of Kumaradeva’s life stress his Virasaiva background and beliefs and generally include the following entertaining incident:

Once Kumaradeva went to Tiruvarur to witness its annual festival. As Sri Tyagaraja, the presiding deity of Tiruvarur, was travelling in his chariot, moving through the main streets that surrounded the temple, Kumaradeva stood in front of the moving vehicle and had darshan of the deity.

Two Saivas who witnessed this spoke to each other in a sneering way: ‘Look at this deluded Virasaiva!’

The implication in the original Tamil is not that Kumaradeva is a deluded person, but that the Virasaiva faith is based on deluded principles.

When he overheard this comment, Kumaradeva addressed Thyagaraja: ‘Lord, if the Virasaiva faith is a delusion, then let this chariot continue. If it is the way of grace, then let this chariot come to a halt.’

The chariot ground to a halt.

After issuing this challenge and achieving the desired result, Kumaradeva went and sat under the shade of a nearby tree.

The king of Thanjavur, who was also a trustee of the temple, learned that the chariot had unexpectedly stopped. Since he had taken a vow that he would not eat until the chariot had returned to its starting point, he became extremely concerned and initiated several different attempts to get the chariot to continue. The chariot, though, refused to budge from its spot.

Feeling both anxious and exhausted by his failure, he prayed, ‘Lord, what can be done now? Through whose agency has this event occurred? My vow is not possible to fulfil.’

The king then learned about the incident between Kumaradeva and the taunting Saivas which had occurred earlier that day.

He went to Kumaradeva, prostrated to him, and appealed to him for help. Kumaradeva, though, was unmoved.

He told the king, ‘What business do you have with this “deluded” person? Go away!’

The king persisted by both praising and beseeching him, adding, ‘You should forgive this fault of ours and make the chariot move again’.

Kumaradeva finally agreed to help by taking up the matter with Sri Tyagaraja directly.

Accompanied by the king and his entourage, he stood before the chariot and addressed the deity: ‘If the Virasaiva faith is the way of grace, let this chariot move. If it is delusion, then let the chariot remain motionless.’

Immediately, and to the joy of everyone watching, the chariot began to move, reaching its starting point without any further problems.

The first jnana sastra that Kumaradeva composed under the supervision of Periyanayaki, was Maharaja Turavu (The Renunciation of a Great King). This later became a standard text on Vedanta in the Tamil-speaking world. It is one of sixteen Vedanta texts that comprise the syllabus in some traditional South Indian maths. Maharaja Turavu covers many topics but its principal theme is extolling the virtues of physical renunciation and ascetic living.

In Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk number 648, Bhagavan mentioned one of its verses with great approval:

In Maharaja Turavu [Kumaradeva writes that he] was seated on the bare ground, the earth was his seat, the wind was the chamara; the sky was the canopy; and renunciation was his spouse.

Then Sri Bhagavan continued:
I had no cloth spread on the floor in earlier days. I used to sit on the floor and lie on the ground. That is freedom. The sofa is a bondage. It is a gaol for me. I am not allowed to sit where and how I please. Is it not bondage? One must be free to do as one pleases, and should not be served by others.

‘No want’ is the greatest bliss. It can be realised only by experience. Even an emperor is no match for a man with no want. The emperor has got vassals under him. But the other man is not aware of anyone beside the Self. Which is better?
Bhagavan's Maharaja Turavu quote is a free rendering of verse 64. The full translation is as follows:

The king remained resplendent with the earth as his bed, and the sky, appropriately, as his canopy. Existing in happiness as the one Self, the moon and the ruddy sun became his lamps, the wafting breeze his befitting yak-tail fan, and renunciation his wife.

Though the verses of Maharaja Turavu that praised an ascetic and frugal lifestyle clearly resonated with Bhagavan, he did not accept Kumaradeva’s contention, repeated in many of the verses, that physical renunciation was an essential prerequisite to Self-realisation. There is no record of Bhagavan ever giving permission to a devotee who wanted to give up his family or financial responsibilities in order to pursue a spiritual life full-time. If Bhagavan was asked about this, he would usually reply that it is the mind that has to be renounced, not physical circumstances, and that realisation did not depend on adopting a particular lifestyle.

Sadhu Natanananda (known in his earlier life as Natesa Mudaliar) was one of the devotees who sought Bhagavan’s permission to renounce family life and become a sannyasin. As a keen student of vedantic texts, Natananananda had probably read Maharaja Turavu and accepted Kumaradeva’s prescription that physical renunciation was a pre-requisite for serious seekers. This is why, in refusing his request, Bhagavan cited a typical renunciation verse from Maharaja Turavu before going on to point out that in later works Kumaradeva had changed his view and taught that renunciation of the ego was more important than the external variety. This is B. V. Narasimhaswami’s account of Bhagavan’s reply:

[Around] 1926 Natesa Mudaliar approached Maharshi and said that he desired to become an ascetic, as that seemed the only course for him, since domestic life was standing in the way of his achieving peace and control of mind. Maharshi tried to dissuade him, and pointed out that if one quitted home to escape a single hindrance and went to the forest, ten hindrances would beset him there, as though they came up on purpose to test his mettle.

‘But do not ask me why I came [here to Tiruvannamalai],’ said Maharshi. ‘Somehow I came then.’

[Bhagavan then] quoted Maharaja Turavu [saying] that the king, when he left home and all, no doubt said, ‘If a man goes southward [from a starting point in South India] he will never go to the Ganges. Similarly, one who stays home will never obtain liberation.’ But the same king at a later stage said that there was no difference between domestic life and a hermit’s.

‘Just as you are free from cares of home when you are here,’ said Maharshi, ‘go home and try to be unconcerned and unaffected even in the midst of home life.’

Natesa Mudaliar got the same negative reply on two or three later occasions when he again broached the subject of sannyasa. Maharshi’s words proved to be quite prophetic. Natesa Mudaliar, with an impetuosity which no doubt did credit to his heart, put on kashayam [orange robes] and became a sannyasi. But he was prevailed upon, after a few years, to resume his place as a householder and work for his family as a teacher in a school. (Self-Realization, 1993 ed., p. 224.)
According to Kunju Swami (The Power of the Presence, part one, p. 97) Natanananda asked Bhagavan to give him the orange robes of a sannyasin. Natanananda had brought the cloth to the old hall but Bhagavan refused to touch it. Natanananda then placed the cloth on the stool in front of Bhagavan that visitors put their offerings on. After a few minutes he took it away and began to wear it. A few months later, when Natanananda decided to give up his life as a sannyasin, he presented the orange robes to Bhagavan. For the rest of his life he only ever wore white clothes.

In his reply to Natanananda Bhagavan noted that Kumaradeva ‘at a later stage said that there was no difference between domestic life and a hermit’s’. This is most probably a reference to a sequence of verses in Advaita Unmai where Kumaradeva’s views are almost indistinguishable from those of Bhagavan.

81 There is no need to renounce everything. If karma leaves you, everything will leave [along with it]. If karma remains, they [objects] will associate with you. Give up clinging to them or renouncing them. Knowing that [these things manifest] according to your karma, exert yourself only to attain the firm knowledge ‘I am the Self’.

82 Even if those who are firmly convinced ‘I am the Self’ continue to remain as householders, they will lack nothing, and they will be free from all blemishes. Even if they renounce a householder’s life, will those who do not have the firm conviction ‘I am the Self’ attain liberation merely because of this [renunciation]? Will their births come to an end?

83 It is not appropriate to say that those who remain as householders will have to experience sorrow and delusion [soha and moha] and that for those who have renounced and become sannyasins, sorrow and delusion will leave. Sorrow and delusion will not end in those who do not know ‘I am the Self’. It will only end for those who have the knowledge ‘I am the Self’.

84 There is no need either to renounce this world or cling to it. It is enough for one to know that the world is an illusion. Instantly, it will leave. If it is asked, ‘What should be renounced and what should be clung to?’ the correct solution is to renounce jivatva – the feeling ‘I am a jiva’ – and instead hold tightly to Self-attention.

85 It is not necessary to think about choosing between a householder’s life and sannyasa. Neither is an obstacle. Self is attained by remaining motionless, excluding all thoughts except the thought of the one [Self]. The obstacle to merging with that Self state is the feeling ‘I am a householder’ or ‘I am a sannyasin’. Get rid of it.


Ramprax said...

Hi David,

Do you know what those "eighteen distinct marks that are said to appear only in those true devotees" are?
Please do share.

Thanks & Regards,

David Godman said...


No idea what they might be. Do you want to check to see how may you might have?

The Buddhists have their own list of physical attributes, but I doubt if it is the same as the one referred to here.

The text I took the biographical material from also stated that when Siva started his water stall to offer drinking water to Kumaradeva, he served the 'four different kinds of water'. I checked the Tamil Lexicon for this but couldn't find out what these four varieties might be. Does anyone here know?

Subramanian. R said...

Dear David,

Nice article about Kuamra Deva. The information contained therein and the ammanai song are not hitherto known to most of us. Thanks.

There is a brief write up as an introduction to Maharaja Turavu, in Kovilur Math book (Volume 2). There are a couple of information in the
introduction and the verse meanings.

Azhathu Pillaiyar is prayed to in the beginning as the son of Uma, who is described as a female-elephant! She is having breasts with sandal paste, two ivory teeth, two thighs and two hands and a trunk and she is shining with the effulgence of Saivam. The Ganesa is called Azhathu Pillaiyar, since perhaps his shrine is in a deep pit or cave like Patala Lingam of Arunchaleswara Temple. Azham means pit or depth.

The phrase 'pazhamalai' appears in the eleventh verse of the pAyiram. pazhmalai is a beautiful Tamizh translation for Vriddha chalam. vriddha is old, ripe. Even Tevaram calls it as tiru mudhu kunRam and not pazha malai. pazham = ripe, fruit; malai = achalam, mountain.

Maharaja is the name itself for the
King and does not merely denote King.

Kumara Deva was a Devi Upasaka, as per the above book. Like it is said about Sri Sankara, who was in heart
a Sakta and an advaitin in life and teachings. The commentator says because Kumara Deva calls her 'ezhil guru paraiye vAzhi' in the benedictory verse at the end.

Thanks for the article.

Subramanian. R

Subramanian. R said...

Dear David,

I also read in the same Kovilur book that Kumara Deva, apart from giving release to jatamuni, also used his powers to keep one Bhadrakali Upasaka
who was giving trouble in Vriddhachalam, lose all his mantric powers.

Subramanian. R

Unknown said...

Phew! real long wait! glad you have started again. I normally check your and richardarunachala's page every 3 to 4 days to check if anything is new

Shrini said...

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa used to say that a spiritually matured person can be identified by the redness on the person's chest. In fact the common photograph of Sri Ramakrishna in a meditative state was taken in a studio where devotees asked him to sit and started singing bhajans. The photograph was taken when Sri Ramakrishna went into ecstasy. Later, when this photograph was shown, Sri Ramakrishna identified it as taken during a trance.

Ravi said...

The story behind the commonly seen photograph of Sri Ramakrishna in a seated pose goes like this:
This picture was taken in front of the RadhAkAnta temple at Dakshineswar in 1884, when Sri Ramakrishna was 48 years old. According to Swami Nirvanananda, "Bhavanath Chatterjee, the Master’s devotee from Baranagore, wanted to take a photograph of the Master. One day he requested him very strongly to give his consent, and on the afternoon of the next day brought a photographer along with him from Baranagore. He could not make the Master agree. The Master just went away near the RadhAkAnta [Krishna] temple.

"In the meantime Narendra arrived on the scene and heard everything; he said, ‘Wait a bit. I shall put everything straight.’ Saying this, he went to the veranda to the west of the Radhakanta temple where Sri Ramakrishna was sitting and started a religious conversation with him. The Master went into samadhi. Narendra went and called the others and ordered them to get ready quickly to take the picture.

"In the state of samadhi the Master’s body was bent on one side and therefore the cameraman went to make him sit erect by softly adjusting his chin. But as soon as he touched his chin the whole body of the Master came up like a piece of paper - so light it was!

"Swamiji then told him, ‘Oh, what are you doing? Be quick. Get the camera ready.’ The cameraman took the exposure as hurriedly as possible. The Master was completely unaware of this incident.
Swami Vishuddhananda stated that when Sri Ramakrishna saw the photo he went into ecstasy and touched the photo to his head several times, saying: "The photo is nicely taken. This mood is very high - fully merged in Him. Here the Lord is fully depicted in his own nature."

The following is a quotation from Sri Sarada Devi: The Holy Mother, (p. 416) concerning one of the prints of this photograph:

"Disciple: Mother, that photograph of Sri Ramakrishna which you have with you is a very good one. One feels it when one sees the picture. Well, is that a good likeness of the Master?

"Mother: Yes, that picture is very, very good. It originally belonged to a brahmin cook. Several prints were made of his first photograph. The brahmin took one of them. The picture was at first very dark, just like the image of Kali. Therefore it was given to the Brahmin. When he left Dakshineswar for some place - I do not remember where - he gave it to me. I kept the photograph with the pictures of other gods and goddesses and worshipped it. At one time I lived on the ground floor of the nahabat. One day the Master came there, and at the sight of the picture he said, ‘Hello, what is all this?’ Lakshmi and I had been cooking under the staircase. Then I saw the Master take in his hand the bel leaves and flowers kept there for worship, and offer them to the photograph. This is the same picture. That brahmin never returned, so the picture remained with me."

This picture which Sri Ramakrishna worshipped is now on the shrine at the Udbodhan Office in Calcutta, where it is worshipped daily.


Arvind Lal said...

Hi David, Ram

Just went through this wonderful post and saw the query:

‘Do you know what those "eighteen distinct marks that are said to appear only in those true devotees" are?’

Well, we tend to look for “physical” marks, but in Vedanta literature, the physical is decried, as anyone irrespective of birth and physical attributes is equally eligible for Moksa. Some would say that the physical attributes may not be there at birth, but appear later on when the sadhaka matures, like the red chest, or having constantly red eyes. But in classical literature these physical attributes are not usually mentioned for another reason - they can be duplicated otherwise; a habitual drinker for instance, will have red eyes. So the marks have to be of character and demeanor.

The great “Sorup Saram” has one such list, an authoritative one if you ask me. The ‘marks’ are covered in verses 37 to 40. That these are indeed marks of a pure sadhaka (and not those of one who is already Self-realized) is clarified in verse 36 just preceding this series. I have put the number of marks given in each verse in bold in square brackets at the end. Note that they add up to 18 in total. In fact, wouldn’t be surprised if the text of Kumaradeva’s story is directly referring to Sorup Saram when it mentions the 18 marks.

Sorup Saram

36. Question: Who will attain this experience?
Answer: Only those who are pure and who have the prescribed qualifications will attain it.

The experience of reality – eternally abiding and shining as oneness, as freedom from impurity, as fullness, and as truth – is attained only by those who are most qualified, pure, who have a steady mind, and who are undergoing their final birth.

37. Question: What are the marks of a pure one?
Answer: They are as follows: [The answer is the content of verses 37-42]

They will not utter harsh words; they will not hate anyone; they will be of cheerful countenance; whatever things they relish, they will not use them for themselves but will offer them to the great ones; they will not associate with evil persons; they will not curse anyone; their eyes will not blaze with anger. These are the ones who will rid themselves of birth. [7]

38. They will not value as real those things that are destructible; they will never speak out, saying, ‘This is good and this is bad’; they will not grieve over events of the past; they will not condemn anything; they are the exalted ones. [4]

39. They will not speak contemptuously of the ordinances of the Vedas; they will not remain without chanting and melting with devotion as long as they live; they will not forget death; they will not get attached to this world through weakness of mind; they are the ones who will not be born again. [4]

40. They will not experience at all sudden movements of the mind; they will only desire to know the path of salvation; their minds will not get immersed in attachments, saying greedily, ‘This is my wealth, my house, my wife and my children’. Such are the mature ones. [3]

41. Will they care for things that are valued by others as desirable and not desirable? When one really looks, those who become tranquil and eternal, who experience truth and abide in the final state are few in number.

42. Those who do not see anything other than their Self here and in the hereafter, who are beyond both and without any division, will they degrade themselves by not regarding as trivial this phantom-like world appearance that is an illusory play of the sankalpas?

[Mountain Path 2004, Jayanti, Pgs 75 – 103, translated by Dr. T. V. Venkatasubramanian, Robert Butler and David Godman; also I think there are posts on Sorup Saram in this blog elsewhere; the above is cut-pasted from David’s website].

Best wishes

kandhan said...

Hi David

Great post. Made me aware that there are so many literary works on advaita in Tamil that i am not even aware of. Also, there seems to be a close connection between Virasaivas and advaita in Tamil region.

Sujit said...

Hi David,

Would you have any further information about the author P. Arumugam Mudaliar? His background and any other information, if any, on living relatives now.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

thank you for all the light your help brings forth.

Anonymous said...

I would like to read Jnana Ammanai in Tamil. Is it available anywhere?

David Godman said...

There is a book entitled 'Kumaradevar Sattirak Kovai' that contains all sixteen works of Kumaradeva. It is available from is Sri Kumara Devar Madam, Pennadam Road, Vriddachalam 606001, Cuddalore District