THE APPALAM SONG, ALAGAMMAL AND RAMANA MAHARISHI

Alagammal, Ramana’s mother decided to settle down in Tiruvannamalai sometime in the year 1916 and stayed there till her death in 1922.

Initially, she lived with Ramana and some of his fellow-sadhaks /friends, particularly Palaniswami in the Virupaksha cave. The son was the Guru and the mother his disciple. He taught her through his silence and she remained totally dedicated to her son/Guru.

When Kavya Kantha Ganapati Muni, the great Sanskrit scholar visited Virupaksha and announced to the world that “Here lives a great Rishi. I have found my Guru and for all of you, he is the Maharishi – Ramana Maharishi” crowds started flocking to Virupaksha and soon the crowds became unmanageable. It was then that one of Ramana’s disciples Kandaswami decided to build the “Skandashramam” further down the hill which would make it easier to manage the crowd of visitors. Also, many people, particularly the old found the steep climb to Virupaksha extremely difficult. The name “Skandashramam” is a play on this Kandaswami’s name and also a reference to Lord Subramanya.

Ramana’s mother ran the Skandashramam kitchen and things started to function with clockwork precision. It was also the time when Ramana slowly started to break his silence. It was soon after his second “death-experience” near the Tortoise rock not far from Virupaksha.

It was here that the mother’s spiritual progress took on a completely new turn – Perhaps the Maharishi realized that her end was near and he had to hasten the progress. He stopped calling her “Amma” and sometimes ignored her. When she wept, he told her “Now, every woman is my mother. So also every one here is your son or daughter” When Alagammal, started treating every disciple and every visitor as her own son or daughter, he resumed calling her mother. Alagammal thus became mother to everyone in the Ashram.

He would make fun of her orthodoxy and kept at it, till the time she dropped that too. However, there were times when motherly love overflowed and on one such occasion, Alagammal decided to make appalam (pappadum) specially for her son and asked him to help just as he used to do when he was a little boy. Ramana refused saying “if you are making it only for me, I cannot have it and since that thought has entered your mind you shall labour alone and then give it to everyone else…”

It was in this context that he wrote this “Appalam song” a brilliant poem on the science of realization. The English translation below and the original in Tamizh as an image (in the Maharishi’s own handwriting)

Verse 1
Here encased in the five sheaths of organs, Mind,
Intellect and Sleep of blissful-ignorance
And different from them, grows the kernel, the self, the abhiman felt as ‘I’.
Pound it with the wisdom-pestle of the enquiry “Who am I ?”
Reducing it to powder as “not I” “not I

Verse 2
Now mix the juice of the edible-cactus Pirandai
This is sat-sanga, the company of the elevating which removes discord
Add Jeera and Black-pepper which are Shama and Dama, equanimity and self-restraint
Toss in some salt of Uparati which is non-attachment
Round it off with Heeng which is good vasanas, the tendencies which free us

Verse 3
With an inward turned pestle of mind pound away ‘I-I’
Unrelenting at its stubborn out-going disobedience
Then with the rolling pin of Shanti, roll out on the platter of evenness
The Appalams and see for yourself !

Verse 4
Taking the bottomless vessel of endless-Mauna
With the wholesome oil of the One Self of all
Fired by the flames of wisdom’s enquiring
Fry the Papads without let-up
Till the questioning self reaches and remains The Source
Thus you can have the papad and eat it too !

Credits (For the English translation of the verses and the picture): http://www.arunachala.org/docs/appalam-ittup-paru/

appalam-ittu-paaru-tamil-sm

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THE IMPORTANCE OF MAUNAM (SILENCE) IN SADHANA

Some of the greatest rishis taught through silence. Dakshina murthy was the silent one. So also was Ramana, so too the great avadootha Sadasiva Brahmendra, the Kanchi Paramacharya was known to go into prolonged periods of complete silence stretching into days and it was during these times that he seemed to exude unparalleled brilliance. Sri Aurobindo called it that which one enters into, lives within, and grows within.

RAMANA MAHARISHI:
Silence is ever-speaking; it is a perennial flow of language; it is interrupted by speaking. These words obstruct that mute language. There is electricity flowing in a wire. With resistance to its passage, it glows as a lamp or revolves as a fan. In the wire it remains as electric energy. Similarly also, silence is the eternal flow of language, obstructed by words.

What one fails to know by conversation extending to several years can be known in a trice in Silence, or in front of Silence – e.g., Dakshinamurti, and his four disciples. That is the highest and most effective language.

Silence is the most potent form of work. However vast and emphatic the scriptures may be, they fail in their effect. The Guru is quiet and peace prevails in all. His silence is vaster and more emphatic than all the scriptures put together. These questions arise because of the feeling, that having been here so long, heard so much, exerted so hard, one has not gained anything. The work proceeding within is not apparent. In fact the Guru is always within you.

SRI AUROBINDO:
Silence is all, say the sages.
Silence watches the work of the ages;
In the book of Silence the cosmic Scribe has written his cosmic pages;
Silence is all, say the sages.

What then of the word, O speaker?
What then of the thought, O thinker?
Thought is the wine of the soul and the word is the beaker;
Life is the banquet-table – the soul1 of the sage is the drinker.

What of the wine, O mortal?
I am drunk with the wine as I sit at Wisdom’s portal,
Waiting for the Light beyond thought and the Word immortal.
Long I sit in vain at Wisdom’s portal.

How shalt thou know the Word when it comes, O seeker?
How shalt thou know the Light when it breaks, O witness?
I shall hear the voice of the God within me and grow wiser and meeker;
I shall be the tree that takes in the light as its food, I shall drink its nectar of sweetness.

PARAMACHARYA OF KANCHI – CHANDRASHEKARENDRA SARASWATHI:
Maunam is an important method of worshipping God. Maunam in this context does not mean merely silence. It is also the process of keeping the mind free of all thoughts. It implies that we should keep all our senses under perfect control, so that during the period of silence, the limbs may not move even involuntarily. Such a maunam will enable the divine spark within every one of us to become active in its progress towards the realization of the Paramaatma. The waves of thoughts that continuously rise and fall in our minds keep the all-pervading Atma hidden from us. Once the flow of thoughts is checked, the Atma begins to function. This kind of maunam is also an attribute of a muni.

That is why we have been enjoined not to think for a while every day – tooshneem kinchit achintayan तूष्णीम् किञ्चिन्तयन्.

 

ARULMIGU KALYANA VENKATARAMANA SWAMY TEMPLE

The moolavar (main deity) here is Kalyana Venkatraman. The “Venkatraman” in my name comes from here. Located in Thanthondri Malai (Karur district), this is not far from Tirumanilayur; Periyar; Karur. The “T” in my name stands for Tirumanilayur the place of my forefathers.

My grandfather moved from here to teach English literature at the St. Joseph’sArts and Science College, Bengaluru, many years ago when the British still ruled and the state of Karnataka was not yet formed. I was born in Bengaluru and so was my father. Therefore for all practical purposes Bengaluru is my native place.

Our Kuladeivam however is this Kalyana Venkatraman a “Swayambu-Murthy”. This Perumal stands majestically inside a little Kudavarai (cave) on top of this west-facing hillock called Thanthondri (Thandoni) Malai. The cave was artificially deepened and a stage erected over and around the Swayambu Perumal. Here Arulmigu Kalyana Venkataramana Swamy poses with his consort Lakshmi on his chest. This is one of the few temples where there is no separate sannidhi for the “Thayar” (Mother Goddess).

According to the Sthala Puranam, Adiseshan prevented Vayu from entering Vaikunta at a time when Thirumal (Vishnu) was in conversation with Thirumagal (Lakshmi). They got into a fight and the Lord in order to put an end to the fight organized a contest – a test of strength, he asked Adiseshan to wrap his body around the Tiruvenkata Malai (Tirumala) and asked Vayu to use his strength to dislodge the mountain from the coils of Adiseshan. Vayu lost the contest. He however waited for Adiseshan to relax his coils, turned himself into a great cyclone and blew so hard that a piece of the mountain dislodged and landed at Thanthondri. This is why Thanthondri malai is also called “Then Tirupati” The Tirupati (Balaji) of Tirumala decided to make Thanthondri also his residence and declared that this hillock would possess the same holiness and divine shakti that Tirumala possesses.

During the month of Puratasi (Kanya Maasa) it is our family tradition to worship this Kalyana Venkatramana Swamy on one of the Saturdays of the month. For the puja a “Maa Vilakku” (a lamp made of rice powder and in which ghee is used instead of oil – this Maa Vilakku is then taken as Prasad). Today (September 30, 2017) was the day of that Puja. A few photos of the puja and also of Tanthondri malai.

 

Photos of Arulmigu Kalyana Venkatraman, courtesy: http://www.thanthoniperumal.tnhrce.in/index.html

THE KANCHI PARAMACHARYA ON WHY HINDUISM IS ACTUALLY A NAMELESS RELIGION

What is the name of the religion that is practiced in the land of Bharatha? Some call it Hinduism, some Sanatana Dharma – but isn’t Sanatana Dharma an overarching term that refers to all the religions that are Indic in origin? And, is Hinduism really the name of this ancient religion. The Paramacharya of Kanchi Sri Chandrasekarendra Saraswathi calls it the nameless religion. Why? Because it is the most ancient religion – the mother ship, the fountainhead of all other religions. The Paramacharya asks – “If there was only one religion that existed all over the world, why would anyone need to give it a name?” Below, is a summary of the Paramacharya’s views on this question.

Our religion which predates all these (other religions) had spread all over the world. Since there was no other religion to speak about then, it was not necessary to give it a name. When I recognised this fact I felt at once that there was no need to be ashamed of the fact that our religion had no name in the past. On the contrary, I felt proud about it.

All religions barring our own were established by single individuals. “Buddhism” means the religion founded by Gautama Buddha. Jainism was founded by the Jina called Mahavira. So does Christianity owe its origin to Jesus Christ.

In none of our ancient sastras does the term “Hindu religion” occur. The name “Hindu” was given to us by foreigners. People from the West came to our land across the Sindhu river which they called “Indus” or “Hind” and the land adjacent to it by the name “India”. The religion of this land came to be called “Hindu”. The name of a neighbouring country is sometimes applied to the land adjacent to it. Let me tell you an interesting story in this connection. In the North people readily give alms to anybody calling himself a bairagi. These bairagis have a grievance against Southerners because they do not follow the same practice. “Illai po po kahe Telungi” is one of their ditties. “Telugus do not say “po, po” but “vellu” for “go, go”.”Po” is a Tamil word.

Then how would you explain the line quoted above? During their journey to the South, the bairagis had first to pass through the Telugu country (Andhra); so they thought that the land further south also belonged to the Telugus. There is the same logic behind the Telugus themselves referring to Tamil Nadu as “Arava Nadu” from the fact that a small area south of Andhra Pradesh is called “Arva”. Similarly, foreigners who came to the land of the Sindhu called all Bharata beyond also by the same name.

However it be, “Hinduism” was not the name of our religion in the distant past. Nor was it known as “Vaidika Mata” (Vedic religion or as “sanatana dharma” (the ancient or timeless religion). Our basic texts do not refer to our faith by any name.

That is why I say: “SINCE THERE WAS NO OTHER RELIGION TO SPEAK ABOUT THEN IT WAS NOT NECESSARY TO GIVE IT A NAME”

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SIGNIFICANCE OF NAVARATHRI GOLU

Bommai Golu or Kolu is a Tamizh word that refers to the practice of the display of dolls during the Navaratri festival. Contextually and symbolically it can also be understood to mean “Divine Presence”

Known as “Bommala Koluvu” in Telugu and “Bombe Habba” in Kannada, this practice is an old tradition that is fast losing its significance and there are few families that continue this tradition today.

Often, this stems from a lack of knowledge with regard to the What, Why, and How of this tradition. The Navaratri festival is observed twice a year – once in the month of “Mesha” or “Chaithra” when the Vasantha Rithu segues into the Grishma Rithu (roughly corresponding to the beginning of summer) and then again in the month of ‘Kanya” or “Aswayuja” when the Varsha Rithu segues into the Sharad Rithu (Autumn/Winter) – it is the latter that is more popular and when someone talks about the Navarathri festival, it is this Navarathri that they are referring to.

In writing this post, I have largely relied on the Kanchi Paramacharya’s discourses on “Ambal” and “Goddesses of Navaratri” and to a lesser extent on Swami Sivananda’s (Divine Life Society) essay on the subject.

The “junction-points” mentioned above – “Vasantha-Grishma” and “Varsha-Sharad” are important periods of climactic and solar influence. These are periods when even a little sadhana done with sincerity goes a long way. During Navarathri we pray to the “Malai-Magal” (Daughter of the mountain, a reference to Parvathi who is the daughter of Himawan), Alai-Magal (Daughter of the waves, a reference to Laskhmi who emerged out of the ocean of milk), and “Kalai-Magal” (Daughter of supreme knowledge, a reference to Saraswati). The Navaratri festival begins on the Prathama tithi (first day) of Shukla Paksha (bright lunar-fortnight) of Kanya Maasa.

A small digression here – Why display the dolls at all? Why this nine-day celebration? The Paramacharya notes during his discourse (probably in response to a question, I am not sure). “It has become fashionable to question everything nowadays. Well, the most important purpose is Loka-kshemam (Universal welfare). When people focus all their energies on the divine – chanting, praying, singing, organizing satsangs and “Katha-Kalakshepas” (Hari Kathas), there is a tremendous release of the “Shakti of Ambal” The culture was that people displayed the dolls and prayed that the divine presence come and reside there in the Golu and Ambal is the most compassionate – she comes when called.” Then Satsangs were organized where the women from the neighborhood sat in front of the Golu and sang songs. Parents, grandparents told stories from the Bhagavatha, Ramayana, Mahabharatha to children – this released Shakthi into the atmosphere. Hari Katha’s were organized at temples and more Shakti…This Shakti of Ambal diffused into and permeated the atmosphere leading to Loka-kshemam. Today, it is this lack of Shakti, this failure to collectively work for Loka-kshemam that is sorely lacking amongst the Hindus of the country today.”

Coming back to the festival, during the first set of three days Para-shakti is worshipped as Durga, then as Lakshmi during the second set of three days, and as Saraswathi during the last set of three days. As the Lakshmi Ashtothram and Saraswathi Ashtothram state “Brahma-Vishnu-Sivathmikayai Namaha” it is the one Parashakti in different garbs functioning multi-variously.

The Golu is arranged on a “Golu-Padi” (Padi = steps). Usually 9 steps are built but odd numbers of 3, 5, and 7 are also seen. However 9 is the ideal number. The nine steps could be taken to refer to the nine ways of worshipping Ambal – “swarnam, kirthanam, smaranam, paadasevanam, archanam, vandhanam, dasyam, sakyam, atmasevadhanam” They are also representative of the Nava grahas, nine planets (nine planets as per the Hindu astrological almanac which includes the shadowy planets – Rahu and Kethu). From the bottom to the top the size of the steps progressively get shorter, with the top most step being the shortest – symbolically telling us how we must keep narrowing our focus in order to progress in our sadhana. The arrangement of dolls should also follow the pattern of progressive complexity with the dolls of Shiva, Vishnu, Devi etc. occupying the top most position, with the avatara-purushas and the Rishis occupying the next lower steps and so on.

The pride of place on the Golu-padi is reserved for the “Kalasham” or the “Kodam” because it is in the Kalasham that Ambal is invoked and it is in the Kalasham that she resides during Navaratri.

Marapachi dolls made of red-sandal-wood or silk-cotton-wood, or rose-wood are traditional dolls that are the first to go up onto the golu padi. They are the male-female”pair-dolls” and are handed down from mother to daughter

The Paramacharya also notes – “For, the nine days it is women who perform all the pujas. This does not stop the men from doing their share of pujas, it is just that during Navaratri women get the special preference and rights for doing the puja during Navaratri” – The Paramacharya shows here how there is no discrimination whatsoever in the Hindu religion and all these feminists who raise a hue and cry about the Shani-shingnapur temple and Sabarimala do it with no understanding of Hindu Dharma.
What the Hindus need more than anything else is to imbibe this spirit of Navaratri and build the collective Shakthi that the Paramacharya talks about. Too much energy is being expended in wasteful pursuits…

ON THIS GANDHIAN PRINCIPLE OF AHIMSA

Image result for Bengal killings partition

A good friend (who I have great respect for) wrote on the blood-lust that was on display the last few days on the lanes of SM, the need for introspection, and to practice the Gandhian philosophy of Ahimsa. He is right to the extent that some of it was over-the-top and bordered on the maniacal and there is indeed need for introspection on both sides. Here, I am however focusing on this oft quoted “अहिंसा परमो धर्मः” and Gandhi’s endorsement of it.

Contextually, it has to be looked at as:

अहिंसा परमो धर्मः धर्म हिंसा तथीव च
“IF NON-VIOLENCE IS THE PRIMARY DHARMA; SO TOO IS VIOLENCE IN THE CONTEXT OF PROTECTING DHARMA”

How I understand this is as follows: I will on my own volition cause no living being harm but it does not in anyway prevent me from using Himsa to protect myself, my family, and my dharma when faced with annihilation – This is in fact THE DHARMA.

And, Ahimsa is not just the act, it is also Vaak, Manas, Tvak, Chakshu, Jihva (Speech, Mind, Skin, Eye/Sight, Tongue) and so on…By this criteria, practitioners of Ahimsa should not be indulging in abuse of the verbal kind as well and if they do that then they cannot take refuge under the umbrella of Ahimsa.

And, what is the practicality of ahimsa? The true test of Ahimsa is if you can apply it when you or your near and dear ones are personally in danger. When a crazed Jihadi is smashing heads and bones with a Van as his WMD will you practice ahimsa?

When Suhrawardy unleashed his hordes on the Hindus of Bengal killing, raping, maiming and butchering men, women, and children the Hindus of Bihar and Punjab indulged in retaliatory killing of Muslims – What did Gandhi do? He went on a fast asking that Hindus stop Himsa and told the Hindus to die cheerfully at the hands of their “Muslim brothers” HIS AHIMSA WAS A CLOAK FOR HIS COWARDICE.

When the asura hordes disturbed the yajnas and threw flesh and blood into the sacrificial fire did not the Rishis ask Rama to kill the Asuras? When Shisupala indulged in unprovoked verbal Himsa did not Krishna sever his head after he crossed the line for the 100th time?

Where would we have been if Dharmic rulers like Shivaji had not stood up for the protection of our Dharma?

Himsa that leads to the destruction of a Dharma and the practitioners of that Dharma cannot be confronted with Ahimsa. And if in the face of Himsa, the practitioners of that Dharma sit and watch in the name of Ahimsa then there is nothing more adharmic than that.

Didn’t the Lord himself say:

यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत । 
अभ्युत्थानमधर्मस्य तदात्मानं सृजाम्यहम् ॥४-७॥

परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम् । 
धर्मसंस्थापनार्थाय सम्भवामि युगे युगे ॥४-८॥


Photo Credit: Available at: http://www.oldindianphotos.in/2011/01/calcutta-communal-riot-or-great.html. Last accessed: Sept 8, 2017.

THE GURU IN HINDU DHARMA – KANCHI PARMACHARYA (1)

The 68th Paramacharya of Kanchi – Jagadguru Sri Chadrashkarendra Saraswati Mahaswamigal was in the eyes of many Sri Dakshinamurthy himself incarnate. The Paramacharya’s speeches and discourses were compiled by Ra. Ganapati who worked for the Kalki magazine and also assisted Rajaji in editing the journal Swarajya. His greatest work though is his magnum opus – “Deivathin Kural” (The Voice of God), running into 7 volumes and almost 8,000 pages which contain the compiled speeches of the Acharya.

It won’t be wrong to say that the Paramacharya was a modern day Veda Vyasa – his knowledge of the Vedas and Vedanta was probably second only to Vyasa himself. Interestingly just as Lord Ganapthy was Vyasa’s scribe, the Paramacharya’s scribe was Ra (R) Ganapti.

In the Vivekachudamani, Adi Sankara Bhagavadpada defines “Who a Guru is” {Verse-33}

श्रोत्रियोऽवृजिनोऽकामहतो यो ब्रह्मवित्तमः । 
ब्रह्मण्युपरतः शान्तो निरिन्धन इवानलः
अहेतुकदयासिन्धुर्बन्धुरानमतां सताम् ॥ ३३

“The Guru is one who symbolizes the spirit of the scriptures. He is sinless, and unmoved by desire, and among the knowers of the Brahman, the best (Brahma-uttama). He is one who has found his peace in the realization of the Brahman and is soaked in it. He is calm like that fire that has consumed itself (retaining its warmth). A boundless, limitless ocean of mercy and compassion, he is the friend of all good people who prostrate before him in humility”

The Paramacharya fitted this definition of a Guru to the T.

Paul Brunton in his book “A search in secret India” dedicates an entire chapter to the Paramacharya and begins with a short description of the Acharya’s countenance –

I look at him in silence. This short man is clad in the ochre coloured robe of a monk and leans his weight on a friar’s staff. I have been told that he is on the right side of forty, hence I am surprised to find his hair quite grey. His noble face, pictured in grey and brown, takes an honoured place in the long portrait gallery of my memory. That elusive element which the French aptly term spirituel is present in this face. His expression is modest and mild, the large dark eyes being extraordinarily tranquil and beautiful. The nose is short, straight and classically regular. There is a rugged little beard on his chin, and the gravity of his mouth is most noticeable… with the added quality of intellectuality.”

In the photos below all of what he describes and more can be experienced…”

The Paramacharya’s answer to Paul Brunton’s request that he take him as his disciple is another gem. He couldn’t do it himself as he was a Mathadhipathi.

“…His Holiness does not reply till after an interval of protracted silence.
“Yes. I know of only two masters in India who could give you what you wish. One of them lives in Benares, hidden away in a large house, which is itself hidden among spacious grounds. Few people are permitted to obtain access to him; certainly, no European has yet been able to intrude upon his seclusion. I could send you to him, but I fear that he may refuse to admit a European.”
“And the other ?” My interest is strangely stirred.
“The other man lives in the interior, farther south. I visited him once and know him to be a high master. I recommend that you go to him.”
“Who is he ?”
“He is called the Maharishee. I know him to be a high master”

It was the Paramacharya who guided Paul Brunton to Ramana Maharishi and Brunton became one of the greatest disciples of the Maharishi

kanchi-parmacharyaSri+Sri+Sri+Maha+Periyava