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In the Presence of the Divine

Narratives of Experiences with Maha


Periyava
Volume Two

Interviewed and compiled by


G.Sivaraman

Translated by
Sujatha Vijayaraghavan
(with notes)
Maha Periyava Jayanti 2015

In the Presence of the Divine


Volume II
TRANSLATORS NOTE
Some of you may have read In the Presence of the Divine, volume I, which was published in
2011. This book was my translation into English, of the first three volumes of the Tamil series,
Darisana Anupavankal, so that those who could not read Tamil and those that had not seen Maha
Periyava, could experience a little of the infinite saga of the play of His grace through these
narratives. Many readers and devotees both in India and abroad express their gladness and send me
emails asking me when the second volume would be published. Sri Mettur Swami, told me a few
days before his passing to translate the narratives documented by G.Sivaraman into English, just as I
had done the first volume of narratives from print.
It is proposed that by Maha Periyavas grace, translations of these narratives will be serialized in
this web page, releasing one every Anusham (for 2015 on June 2, June29, July 27, August 23,
September 19, October 17, November 13, and December 10, respectively), making it available to all
devotees and readers across the globe. In lieu of the End Notes of Volume I, here I have added
footnotes to facilitate the full import of the context, keeping in mind non-Tamil and non-Indian
readers inside and outside the country. I have often relied upon Sri Periyavas own explanations of
concepts in his characteristically simple style (Deivattin Kural,7 volumes) for my understanding.
Other sources that have helped me are cited in the footnote. Since I have retained the methodology I
used in the first volume, to explain it, I quote a part of my Preface to it:

Both culture-specific terms as well as quotations and significant events are footnoted and/or
glossed in the main text, when they appear for the first time.

Since diacritical marks will be used in the quotations, I have given below the pronunciation
chart as in Volume One; these are not used for well-known terms.

English words used by Maha Periyava, will always be in bold font, in the course of the
narrative.

The narratives are reproduced as they were spoken retaining their spontaneity, naturalness
and fluctuating sequences of recollection, without reorganizing it in a logical, linear manner.

Sanskrit and Tamil verses referred to, unless quoted in full in the course of the text, are given
in the footnote. In certain cases, notes are given where reference to its substance is made in
the text.

Usages that are popular are given as they are in lieu of other options, such as Pillayr for
Gaea, because in the overall exercise, the intent is also to retain the culture and regionspecific details, though of course the spoken dialect turns a casualty in English translation.

Sanskrit words are at times pluralised for convenience, as for example, stras.

Diacritical marks clarify pronunciation in the case of quotations, references and culturespecific items, and have been avoided in the case of names of narrators, places and other
commonly known terms in popular usage, to prevent the reading becoming cumbersome.

Devotees have referred to Periyava in many different ways, as Periyav, Mah Periyav,
MahSvmi, r Mah Svmi, r Periyav, r Chara, Paramcry and r Paramcrya
Svmi. These are given as they are without attempting to substitute them with any one
specific term.

In lieu of the Bibliography at the end of the book in the print version, here further reading and
books referred to, are suggested in the footnote itself.

Item in footnotes will appear once and will not be repeated in subsequent narratives.

In the footnotes, the abbreviations HD, GT and SL are used respectively for The Hindu
Dharma, The Guru Tradition, Saundaryalahiri (all English translations) frequently cited for
ri Periyavs explanations. The source texts for these three translations is Deivattin Kural
(DK) in Tamil, comprising the talks given by ri Periyav from 1907 to 1994, on
innumerable topics relating to the Veda and Hindu dharma.
As I said of the first volume, the aim is to take its reader as close as possible to the
magnificently kaleidoscopic expression of Divinity incarnate, as seen spontaneously with the
human eye of love.

Pondicherry
Maha Periyava Jayanti, 2.6. 2015

Sujatha Vijayaraghavan

In the Presence of the Divine/Vol II/ Key to Pronounciation/Page 1 of 2


KEY TO PRONUNCIATION I
SANSKRIT

VOWELS
rural

-a

fr

bill

-i

polce -

bull

-u

rde

mery -

mane -

grey

-e

gait

- ai

show

-o

frau

- au (German)

CONSONANTS
beak-k

inkhorn- kh

gutsg

loghut-gh

king-

pet-p

uphill-ph

cub-b

abhor-h

matm

dulce-c

church-ch

jet-j

hedgehogjh

singe-

true-

anthill-h

drum-

stronger d - h (no eg.) - no example

petit - t (Fr.)

stronger t - th

this - d

adhere dh

fun n

loyal-y

red-heart - r

love-love

stronger l - (eg., ply)

van - v

sure

shelf -

sun s

hum h

* These are approximate examples.


*********************************************************************************

In the Presence of the Divine/Vol II/ Key to Pronounciation/Page 2 of 2


KEY TO PRONUNCIATION II
TAMIL
VOWELS
rural- a

fr-

bill- i

polce-

bull- u

rde-

grey- e

elongated

aisle- ai
goat - o

- goose

frau - au (Ger)
CONSONANTS
beak

-k

king

chat

- c (lightly c)

singe -
true

- no example
petit

- t (Fr.)

night - n (higher case); as lower


case, used in word-endings
pet

-p

mat

-m

loyal - y
red

- r (lower case)

- unique to Tamil - no eg;


indicated at times in print as zh;
( eg. je suis - Fr. approximation
only)
- stronger l ( eg. bottle, approx.)
- mery (higher case)
* These are approximate examples.
*********************************************************************************

1. Ugram1 Thiagu Thatha


I first came to Periyava in 1939. I was born in 1924-25. Periyava was camping in
Mudikondan after he returned from Rameswaram following his pilgrimage to Kasi. He shifted
camp in and around Nannilam. He was going to Thirukannapuram through our village. My
native village is Thenkarai, one kilometer cast of Panangudi. Our village had fifteen or sixteen
houses, a small agraharam. 2 Two or three years had passed since my fathers death. I had
completed High school. We were a group of boys playing playing tag the thief on the river
bank at about five thirty in the evening, almost dusk, when Periyavas mna3 came along the
river. The procession stopped for a few minutes to light the fire wood torches for the way.
Periyava was visiting Thirukannapuram and returning that evening. The mna was turned at an
angle, away from our direction. As a young lad I wore my hair in a massive knot and I heard
Periyava say Call that boy with a turban on his head!
Periyava put out his covered head, and called out to me in Telugu, looking at me specifically,
Hey, you . . . whats your name? Is it Raju?
I too replied inTelugu Avva, nuvvu cheppedi serigga vundi (Grandma, what you say is right!).
I thought it was an old lady talking to me. In those days, widowed girl-children - who had been
married and widowed before puberty- lived at Pyi Chattram in Tiruvarur. They would give us
snacks like seedai and murrukku to eat. They used to wear rust coloured sarees and cover their
shaven heads with it. Only Periyavas head was stuck out of the mena it was a big one - and
we were not face to face with each other. I thought it was one of them. Nothing much could be
seen except the covered head in the growing darkness. Periyava laughed and dipping his hand
into a small silver pot - three such pots would always be placed in the mna - gave me some
sugar candy. Nuvvu ikkada vundavoddu.Nee amma daggara ceppisi repu tellavariki vochee . . .
no tho vundavalasindi . . . (You need not stay here. Tell your mother and came over tomorrow.
You are to stay with me).
He added, Tomorrow there is bhika4 at Nannilam
Parameswaraiyers house - he was your fathers friend - and pja at Perumakudi. Be there!
I thought, Here is a generous old lady and she is going to give me lots of good things to eat!
In a minute or so the gowrikalai5 was blown and the mna moved away. I did not know till my
mother told me, that it was Periyava.

kitchen and household store


literally the first (agra) garland (hram);the roads/section of a town or village where Brahmins lived, surrounding
the temple precincts; town planning in the ancient towns of India pivoted around the temple with the roads running
in quadrilateral lines, so as to form a meaningful, esoteric design, leading finally into the sanctum sanctorum where
the deity formed the nucleus of the spiritual geography; in later times the term simply came to mean the main street
in the village running generally between the temples, often of iva and Visu.
3
closed palanquin with side doors used for Periyavs ceremonial entry into towns and villages in early years and
inside which he sat in retreat for hours or days in the later years.
4
lit. alms, the food eaten by ri Periyav is always referred to as bhiks; bhiksvandana: or salutations through the
offering of alms to the Master or generally ascetics; annabhiksa: cooked rice or generally cooked items of food;
bhikscrya: student-celibate period when food is received in alms
5
very long trumpet-like instrument, used in iva temples announcing the arrival of the deity.
2

2
In the Presence of the Divine
The village meanwhile had flocked on the river bank and gathered around me demanding
to know what had happened. What did Periyava say? everyone asked me in one voice.
Ayina Avva Kaadura . . . ayina Peddayina . . . (That is not an old lady, my boy. . . .That is
Periyava).
I repeated the conversation to my mother. Fathers friend Parameswaraiyers family is offering
bhika. Will he go to their house for bhika?
No she said and explained that one offered bhiksvandana at the Matha.
How did Periyava know that Telugu was my mother tongue and that Parameswaraiyer he used
to visit my father now and then - was my fathers friend? One look at you and he knew what
language you spoke, everything about you.
My grandfather of the fourth generation preceding mine, had put aside three m6 of land
exclusively for Periyava. Rice from that piece of land was handed over to the Matha. Our family
owned about forty villages. Then the property was partitioned between two groups of Vthimr7,
ours and those of Vtkudi. There was infighting and that put an end to everything. By 1941-42,
we left everything behind and came away.
The next morning a cart drawn by a single ox was readied and I was sent to Nannilam which was six miles away- our Supervisor accompanying me. We were there by ten in the
morning. By about half past twelve the pja was over. Periyava began to give trtha prasda 8.
Where is that boy? See if he is here!
I went forward and Periyava told me offer my prostrations. I saw quite clearly now that
Periyava was not an old lady. I received the prasda.
I said, I left my place this morning and came here. This is such a huge sansthna9. . . elephant,
camel and all . . . but not one man has thought of asking me if I have had my meal!
Periyava laughed and sent for Pasla10 Venkataramaiyer who cooked the chinna samayal11for
Periyava. . . . He was also known as Krishnapuram Venkataraman . . . Yes, Pazhakadai
Venkataramaiyer also he later ran a fruit shop. The gentleman came.
Periyava said, Give this boy the sam12!
Since I did not know any Sanskirt then, I did not know what it meant. I simply assumed that I
would be treated to a sumptuous feast. I was taken in and a big leaf was spread out in front of
me and the left-over of Periyavas meal was served on the banana leaf. I began eagerly. There
was neither salt nor spice in any dish.

Ancient land measurement unit in Tamil regions; One m is equal to 14,400 sq.feet of land
A sub-sect of Smrtha brahmins
8
consecrated abhisek water distributed after worship; prasda: consecrated offerings distributed at the end of
worship or benedictory gifts such fruit or flower received from saints.
9
Court of royalty; ri Kci Kmakot ankarcrya Matha is traditionally referred to as ri Matham Sansthnam
10
Lit. learning place, refers to the school where the Veda is taught
11
Lit. small meal; refers to the bhiks prepared for Periyava
12
Lit. residue, what is left over of another thing; refers to leftovers of food items prepared for Periyava; when
directly taken from the Masters leaf after his meal it is called ucchia prasda and is considered most rare of all
gifts from ones Master
7

3
Volume II- Article No 1/Ugranam Thiagu Thatha

Is this how Periyava eats without salt or spice? Its so awfully bland! I would much rather eat
my meal with kuzhambu and rasam. Give me some smbr13 if there is I said.
Then I was served all that I asked for and I ate to my hearts content.
Periyavas bhiks never included salt, tamarind and chilli right from the beginning. But
earlier when he was camping in Madanapalli, near Kadiri, on his way to Kasi, his intestine
descended because of the rigorous pryama 14 that he practiced. It was shifted back to its
position by a doctor whose name I do not now remember. That doctor advised Periyava to eat at
least two small, steamed idlis at night for the next six or seven years. You must not fast at
night, he said. and you must not fast all day long as you do!
If it does not interfere with my spiritual regimen, then alone will I eat something!
So Periyava ate two very small idlis at night but gave that up too, after Pudu Periyava was
inducted in the Matha. Powdered grain and pulse will do, wont it he argued, and began to take
some of it. Then he eschewed that also and took a little puffed rice grain.
Venkataramaiyer served me sweet milk pyasam and other items. As he did so, he said
Eat well, my boy, till you absorb the lead coated inside the cooking vessels into your body!
Only then can you serve the Matha well!
I understood nothing then.
I returned to Periyava, who was still giving trtha. He always spoke to me in Telugu.
What! Have you eaten?
Yes
Was it is a good fare?
Yes
Did you ask for smbr?
Yes . . .
Periyava turned and said generally to those near him, He is Telugu you know and so he cant
eat without lentils!
All this went on even as he continued to distribute trtha prasda.
That evening Periyava called me and said Go and get yourself a paper and pencil.
There was this gentleman called Raghavan who gave me these. Periyava gave me dictation of
ten words in Tamil, ten in English, a few arithmetic sums - multiplication and substraction - and
then a few in mental mathematics. After I completed the test, wondering why I was being tested,
Periyava told the attendant nearly Hand over this boy to the Manger!
I sent back the Supervisor from our place. My mother had given me an extra pair of a
four cubit dhoti. She had understood the import of Periyavas words the previous evening, I had
not. I had a shirt, though we did not wear one those days.
13
14

Spiced sauces to go with rice, the last always cooked with lentils
Regulated breathing and control of the movements of vital airs in the body

4
In the Presence of the Divine
We went to Thanjavur from there, then to Tiruchi and so on and only nine months later,
in November- December did I return home for my fathers annual ceremonies. We were camping
at Bhikandarkovil during Deepavali for which I was given a pair of four cubit dhotis. I always
wore only khaddar dhotis.
I said, I cannot accept these. I wear only khaddar!
So two four-cubit pieces were torn off from the khaddar piece kept aside for Periyavas use. We
always carried khaddar cloth which we dyed in ochre for him.
Can you spin? asked Periyava.
Yes, I can . . .
Nowadays no one does the dyeing as we used to. The process was like this. A thick
decoction would be made from jphara seeds15 ground to a paste. A little sesame oil could be
added to the decoction which would be a bright red. Then it would be mixed into tender coconut
water and ochre soft-stone, which was used for coloring. The cloth would be dipped into this
mixture and put out to dry, then again dipped for a second time and dried. The process would be
repeated a third time and after that, the ochre dye in the cloth will not fade for a life-time. Today
even the art of preparing kumkum16 is forgotten. Karur Krishnamurthi had a small cement tank
built in his house exclusively to prepare the ochre dye for Periyavas cloth.
Periyava never used anything from the Matha, took nothing from the Matha for himself,
not a piece of cloth, rice or grocery, not a single paisa. Let me tell you about an incident that
took place about ten or twelve years after I came to the Matha. The camp was at a village called
Ravagadagandi, near Ponneri. The camp was under a big mango tree and we were making do for
Periyavas bhika with some milk and curd, storing our kitchen and other things on the pyol of a
house near-by. I was concerned, for it was very hot summer and he had not had any fruit for ten
or twelve days. Sethuraman of Madras came for daran17 and was sent to Madras with
instructions to return after some work was done. I wanted him to get a dozen of whichever was
available, orange or musambi.
When will you come again?
Tomorrow or the day after tomorrow . . .
I gave him ten rupees.
Then get me some orange or musambi . . .
Two days later he got a dozen each of both.
After pja, to add to the bhiks, the one who prepared it, made some mosumbi juice and placed
half a wooden tumbler of it near Periyavas leaf. Periyava came and sitting down for bhiks,

15

Bixa Orellana, a hedge plant with all its parts having medicinal properties, the seeds especially medicinal,
contains natural colouring matter, bixin and fatty oil.
16
cured turmeric that is generally vermilion in color
17
Lit. view; seeing a saint or a deity with the consciousness of partaking divinity; visvarpa daran: daran of
a saint or a deity, as soon as the saint awakens in at dawn, or when the sanctum sanctorum is opened at dawn in the
latter case

5
Volume II- Article No 1/Ugranam Thiagu Thatha

asked him, Where did the fruit come from? Who brought these fruits? I did not notice anyone
offering these fruits during pja!
In those days banana came from Kumbakonam. For offering during pja, only banana of the
poovan variety would be used. It would be stored in a box and taken out sparingly only for pja.
Ugram Mama gave me the fruits.
Call him!Periyava had not touched anything laid out before him.
Raju! Periyava asked, Who brought these fruits?
I knew at once that I was trapped and it was not my best day after all.
What is it? Periyavas tone went up.
I made a clean breast of the matter. Its more than ten days since Periyava had some fruit. The
tender cocnut has so little water in it, it is not satisfying. So I asked Sethuraman to get me
mosumbi or orange for ten rupees from Madras.
This ten rupees . . . have you made a voucher for it? The question was shot back when I had
hardly finished speaking.
Yes and I took Sethuramans signature also!
Do you not know that I take nothing from this Matha except vibhti18? Did not Viswanathan19
tell you this? Will you pay for this?
Yes... I replied.
Then how can I take this? This is ivas property20, isnt it?
I was stunned.
I was worried not only about his rejecting the fruit-juice but also about the fate of the remaining
four or five fruits. So I fell down in prostration in a flash, not directly to Periyava because he
would not eat the meal if someone prostrated to him when he sat down to it, but I did so facing
another direction.Periyava must forgive me and accept it, because I did this unknowingly I
said.Had I said I shall pay from my salary the tumbler would have flown across the room, in
response to my presumptuous reply.
Will you pay for this from your salary?
Yes.
My salary was then thirteen rupees a month. We hardly got the salary, perhaps once or twice a
year. I went to the office and got a bill prepared in my name. I brought back the bill, and
showed it to Periyava who sat unmoving till then. Only then did he drink the juice. I narrated
this incident to Sivan Saar21. He said One must obey Periyavas words to the letter. One must
not move a hairs breadth away from his instructions, or do anything in forgetfulness even. Ask
him directly, no harm in that . . but do not move away from his instructions.
Never buy anything for my bhika said Periyava.
18

powdered sacred ash


Senior Manager
20
A popular proverb in Tamil ivas property is end of ones clan illustrates this wide-spread conviction.
21
Periyavas younger brother, Sadasiva Sastri, acknowledged by Periyava as an enlightened yogi of great spiritual
stature, known thus to his close circle of friends
19

6
In the Presence of the Divine
After this incident took place, I was very, very careful. I never bought anything for Periyava.
A variety of rice-grain was called Ksn came from Mudikondan. Periyava did not eat
rice grain harvested from replanted sapling as it is usually cultivated. Grain had to be scattered
on the ploughed field and the paddy that came up on its own was harvested and given for his use.
This used to be done by Chinnaattu Vanchi of Mudikondan who had ear-marked a portion of
their familys cultivable fields for Periyava. It was de-husked by hand-pounding after harvest in
this manner. The pestle has a lower portion made of stone and an upper portion made of wood.
Once the grain dried, it had to be fed into the pestle in small portions and ground and the husk
would come off. This was called Ksn rice-grain. It makes excellent uppuma. One small
measure of rice would last for at least three months for Periyava, because only a fistful of grain
would be cooked every day. The rice would be of a very fine quality, small and slender like
cumin seed. When a fresh stock arrived we would make usili22 of the old stock and finish it off.
It must not go waste.
One donna23 or silver leaf-cup of this rice would be placed for offering during
Candramoulvara pja24 as havis25. The rest stayed back. In any case, all the items like curry,
kootu, rasam, a savoury and payasam would be made, because bhiks was being offered. Every
dish was un-salted, un-spiced and so insipid. A dish would be kept nearby. He could not get up
and wash his hand after the meal, because the danda26 would be there. If he held out his hand, we
would drop a little Bengal gram flour, then a little clay and then rinsing his hands in water, he
would get up. If we held out a plate of aromatic spices, he would take one and pop into his
mouth. Then he would come out to give trtha prasda. That was the procedure in those days.
Periyava stayed for days on end, fasting. If we expressed anxiety, he always told us,
Feed many people plenty fully and if they all have eaten well, take it that I have eaten . . .. one
look at a dish and he would tell us if it was well-made or not. Our days were filled with an
inexplicable joy. Even now, my mind is full of memories. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of
the night and look at the discourses of Periyava. All the old scenes and past years would run
through my mind like a shadow. My son wonders what wakes me up in the middle of the night
and asks me What are you doing, reading at this time of the night? Periyava would say, Look,
how I have eaten and fill himself with a deep breath. A big belly would protrude in a moment.
The next moment, he would suck in the stomach and it would disappear.
We would serve the items on the days menu on the huge leaf and move away. The small
quantity of rice kept on a leaf-cup would be split into two portions by a deft gesture. One portion
22

broken grain that is cooked and spiced generously


leaf-cup, made of cured banana or teak or pipul leaves or from fresh leaves for use as containers in pja
24
ri Candramoulvara is the tma-linga brought by di ankara from Lord iva. Ritualistic worship of it (with ri
Tripurasundari as the divine consort) as prescribed by the strs, is performed daily by the pontiff of the ri
Matha, thrice a day for the welfare of the world.
25
freshly cooked, plain unsalted white rice the steam of the essence of which as the steam emanating from it, is
accepted by the deity
26
ascetics staff
23

7
Volume II- Article No 1/Ugranam Thiagu Thatha
along with portions of all the side dishes would be sent to the Gomta.27 There was no question
of asking for a second helping of anything. The meal-time was the only occasion when Periyava
had some leisure. He would eat, asking us a number of questions about this and that, and the
meal would take at least half an hour, when the crowd was small. We would be a little further
away by the side, conversing with him, but not looking in his direction. Now and then taking
small portions of the honey, Periyava would take this meal, spending about fifteen minutes over
it. A little honey would always be placed on Periyavas leaf. He would touch it with the tip of
his finger. If it was glutinous, it was mountain-honey and he would take it. Not otherwise.
Periyava would sit for pja by nine in the morning and it would be late afternoon by the
time he got up. Pja would go in till one or two or three in the afternoon, one could not say when
it would be completed. It would be completed when Periyava was completely satisfied. He
would then go for snna. Hot water was always kept ready for his bath. Then he would come in
for bhiks. Periyava always came rushing in for bhika because he would be eager to get back
and start distributing trtha prasda to the devotees who had come to the pja. In those days
devotees would wait even late in the afternoon for the pja to be completed and the prasda to be
distributed.
Periyava would be seated on this side of a double screen that hung between his wooden
seat and the line of devotees. Periyava sat in such a way that one could not see him even if one
bent ones head and tried to catch a glimpse of him. A thick screen cloth ran left to right and
over-lapping it another ran right to left, making a two-layer screen. The trtha prasda was given
with an uddri. If Periyava dipped this very long handled bubble-spoon once into the trtha, he
would serve three devotees. A vessel called tapana ptr would be kept beneath so that no
sacred water fell on the floor. Periyava knew who came for trtha and in what situation, though
he was behind the double-screen. If there was something wrong about the person, he would say,
Hmmm . . . sternly and I would get the person out of the queue. If ladies came wearing a sixyard saree above the petticoat, as it is usually done, and not clad in the traditional nine-yard
saree, they would get no trtha when the hand was put out. Periyava would say, Hmm . . .
firmly, which meant that they should move on. Even if it was four in the afternoon by the time
the pja got over, Periyava would give trtha prasda to the devotees who waited. Once the
devotees got trtha, they would go to eat at the sandarpaakau28 where food was served. If
there were people in the crowd in whose house a birth had occurred while they waited for the
trtha prasda, Periyava would simply say Hmm . . . sternly and I would, for my part take the
person out of the queue. The devotee would move away in tears. Periyava would depute
Ramachandran or me to say iu, meaning child - that is a child is born in their family - and
one us would tell the devotee why he or she was asked to leave the queue, even before the good
news reached their family. If Periyava said yogosi it meant that someone had passed away in
27
28

lit. cow-mother, refers to the cow in general


where food is served to devotees

8
In the Presence of the Divine
their family29. If he showed three fingers and said, slam it meant that an Iyengar30 in the
crowd was called.
If there was any problem where the devotees ate their meal, Periyava would stop giving
trtha, go and take a quick look around and then return to resume his work and the devotees who
took the thirtha and left, knowing nothing about Periyavas exit and return would explain the
interval to each other in our hearing. OhPeriyava was lost in meditation for a while! If the
crowd was very large I would be drafted in to control the crowd because I was tall and well-built.
Periyava would also go to see how the devotees were served.
The wife of Venkataramaiyer, Principal, Kumbakonam College, would come every day,
wait for the trtha without taking food or water, receive the prasda and take some home in a
small vessel for her family. Periyava would tell her You poor thing! Your husband cannot fast
till he receives trtha prasda . . . You are the daughter in law of the family . . . so you fast every
day and take it on his behalf, praying for his welfare also!
One day when Periyava was distributing trtha - it was almost two-thirty in the afternoon- this
lady moved up in the queue.
Hmm . . . said Periyava.
Mami I said, Move on!
I want trtha prasda from Periyava . . .
No trtha for you today, move on and give way to the next person I said executing my office
sternly. The lady moved away without a word, but burst into tears. As she walked towards the
exit at the rear of the building, Periyava told me Tell Sethuraman to stand in your place for a
while and go and tell that lady that she has become a grandmother!
I parked Sethuraman and went towards the lady in a state of total confusion.
Now this lady has a striking personality. What is this, Periyava saying that she has become a
grandmother all of a sudden!
I was puzzled and could make no sense of the instruction. I did not know these subtleties then,
for I was just a lad. I rushed to the exit at the back and shouted behind the lady, Mami . . . you
have become a grandmother . . . You are grandmother! and came running back without waiting
to see the consequence of my words! Her daughter in law had given birth to a boy at twelve or
one in the afternoon in Calcutta and Periyava had sent away the lady at half past two without
prasda, even before the family received a telegram giving them the good news. The next day
the family informed the Matha of this. The child was named Kamakoti or Mouli, I think. The
gentleman was very talented, but not in good health.
Periyava would look at the outstretched hand and say Well Govinda! So you have come
after so long . . . Look after your father! He knew how to welcome devotees. The screen was
only for us. Nothing remained hidden from his view. Sometimes, devotees who could not attend
29

Both birth and death are followed by prescribed days of seclusion by the family, during which time its members
are not allowed to participate in /perform ceremonial and fire-worship, receive offerings or visit temples; generally
called a period of impurity
30
Lit.a trident; here a ri Vaiava, who wears two white and one red vertical stripes on his forehead, like a trident

9
Volume II- Article No 1/Ugranam Thiagu Thatha

the pja would come in time to queue up for the trtha prasda. Even as he dropped the trtha into
the outstretched hand from behind the curtain, Periyava would say Soyou could come only
now! How is every one at home? or Did you tell your husband that you were coming here?
and so on.
Banampattu Kannan came much after I went to Periyava. It must have been in 1946 or
1947, when Periyava camped in Thiruvidaimarudur. He was my assistant. Periyava sent away
his brother Kuppu, who went to live in George Town, in Madras. Kuppu invited trouble with his
gimmicks. Sivan Saar would advise me to always, Say Yes to whatever Periyava said and
never to say No! If Periyava wanted the rickshaw to turn a narrow corner Kannan would argue
with Periyava. He would give vent to his anger. It is so difficult to get along with this ascetic.
How are we to go through this turning? But if we took the rickshaw forward we would make the
surprising discovery that there, the turning was wider at the back than it had seemed and that the
rickshaw could turn easily. One had to simply do what Periyava told us to. At times Periyavas
instructions would be very difficult to carry out. Those of us who were trained from the
beginning with Periyava knew how to take his instructions and carry out his commands. Those
that came later took long to learn. We always felt an inexplicable bliss when we were with
Periyava. Those days were filled with a bliss that cannot be described in words. That joy was not
of this world.

This happened when Periyava was camping in Villianur. Periyava had agreed to stop
there for a few days mainly because of the hosts aged mother. The host was Venkataramaiyer,
the owner of a rice-mill, who had only then celebrated his astiabdaprti 31. He had no children,
though he was blessed with a son when he was sixty-two, two years after Periyavas visit. His
third wife who was forty at that time bore the child. Periyava played a prank when we were
camping in this village. The backyard of the gentlemans house, stretching right up to the banks
of the Cauveri was filled with milch cow and calves. Usually when Periyava camped in a
village, the cows in everyones shed would be brought and left at the place where Periyava
stayed, so that there could be plenty of milk for abhiseka 32. You keep pouring measures of milk
into the bison-horn filter and it drain down through the aperture at the other end for a very long
time. One day, when it was still quite dark, Periyava went out and untied all the calves which of
course were suckled by their mothers to their hearts content. When it dawned, the calves were
seen prancing around. There were at least a hundred milch cows there so you can imagine the
scene. Venkataramaiyer was furious.
Call the cow herd! he thundered.

31
32

ceremonial celebration, with fire-rites, on the completion of sixty years, considered a full life-span
consecration of deities, referred to as tirumajana in the Vaiava tradition

10
In the Presence of the Divine
The poor chap knew nothing and was probably slapped once or twice by his master. Quite
innocently Periyava asked What is all that noise about?
Venkataramaiyer went in to give the news that the calves had been let loose.
So what are we to do for the milk? How will I manage?
The gentleman was flustered.
Listen . . . dont beat that cowherd. Dont worry. Today there would be plenty of milk, more
than usual . . . said Periyava at once.
Surprisingly, that day the cows yielded much more than usual. C.P.Ramasamy Iyer and other
dignitaries came for daran during this camp.Two years later when the camp was in Mayavaram
we heard that Venkataramaiyer had been blessed with a son. Periyava said That day, remember
. . . how many calves were suckled, how happy they were . . . it is that . . . which has given him
a child today. Three months ago I went to those parts.The landscape has changed completely.
When Periyava camped in Villianur, he would imitate the call of every cow in its own
peculiar way, such that the calf of that particular cow whose voice was being imitated would
come leaping to Periyava, as if he were its mother. So perfect would the imitation be. Periyava
could caw exactly like the crow and all other birds. It would take a whole pot of water for him to
gargle in the morning. He would tie a turban around his head, and while he waited for the pot to
be replaced with another full one, he would balance the one with a little water on his head and do
the karagam33 dance. Sometimes he would fling the brass pot and shout, Catch. When he was
offered prakumbha 34, he would pick up the coconut by twirling its tuft and without a pause
throw it towards one of us, flipping it up, saying Catch! Sometime he would show us
silambam35 just like folk performers, playing his dada around his fingers in such speed, doing
such fantastic leaps! At night if we flashed the torch ahead of us Periyava would walk in front of
us following the beam of light. All of a sudden we would find him walking behind us. When
garlands were offered to him he would swirl it and fling it to us to catch. Such games he played!
There was no branch of knowledge that was not known to him.
When Periyava was in Kumbakonam, he would often be in total seclusion for long
periods, that is between one full-moon day and the third full moon day, which were the days
when the ascetic has to have his head and face shaved. Three sheds of thatch would be put up
one after the other and Periyava would retreat into the last. This full moon day was known as
vapana prima - vapana refers to the tonsuring of the ascetic. When we took the pja offerings
inside, we would ring our bell before hand, place the offering inside, close the door behind us
and come back. During the periods of retreat, Periyava would ring a small hand-bell so that we
knew he was coming out of his seclusion. We would move away. Periyava did all the three pjas
33

A common folk-dance done balancing a bedecked pot; also performed as a vow carrying a pot of milk to temples
a ceremonial welcome of dignitaries with Vedic chanting and offering a pot crowned with coconut and
mango leaves, holding water imbued with mantra
35
a form martial art where a smooth pole is wielded as a weapon to the deft and stylized movements of the limbs
34

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Volume II- Article No 1/Ugranam Thiagu Thatha

of the day in strict accordance with the rules, reducing nothing, while living thus in total retreat.
Periyava would ring the bell after the pja and retreat. We would bring out the prasda and the
trtha and Appukutty striga would distribute trtha. His vantage was such that no one could
see him, but he could see everyone from there. Periyava took only a little buttermilk and fruit
during such periods and his bhika would be placed in the narrow gap between the doors on a
wooden plate. Appukutty striga and Ramachandraiyer served him during these periods.
Periyava got me a job in 1955. Periyava was then camping in a place called Marathala
Sayinaapuram. One day when Periyava was reading the newspaper and he said There is an
advertisement for the post of Senior Hindi Teacher at the High School in Thiruvaiyaru. He
called the Senior Manager and said Fill out an application on Thiagus name!
Dr.Mahalingaiyer had come for daran. This was sometime before June, before Jayendrar had
been anointed as his successor.
Periyava told Mahalingaiyer, who had come that day, There is a vacancy for Hindi teacher in
the High School in Tiruvaiyaru. Will our Thiagu get the job? He is well-qualified in Hindi.
Mahalingaiyer said I know the Headmaster very well. It can be done
I am myself going to leave the Matha. Once I leave the Matha what respect will these boys,
who have served me command in society? Must we not do them a good turn? The new
Swmiga has come to the Matha.
Mahalingaiyer later took the application and actually came back with the appointment order.
The youngsters in the Matha teased me. No more food for you in the Matha. You are getting a
job! You had better get started!
I thought they were teasing me. Why, you fellows! You think you can play the fool when my
back is turned on you!
Periyava had been talking about sending me away on a job for almost ten days then. He would
tell me You must know how to walk into a class, not sloppily like a dunce, but like this,
stylishly! He would fling the upper portion of his ochre cloth on his shoulder and show me how
to walk majestically. Even then I thought he was simply playing one of his pranks.
Why must I leave? I too shall be on ascetic!
I was thirty then.
That is all very difficult, my boy said Periyava. You have seen ascetics and you know what
they are like. You can attain salvation as a householder too. Amb36 will be gracious to you.
I could not think of leaving Periyava and going away. I had been avoiding seeing Periyava face
to face for a couple of days. Periyava called the Senior Manger, Viswanathaiyer.
Viswanathan, look here. . . your disciple is stubborn!
I was always receptive to the Senior Managers words.
The Senior Manager said, Thiagu, Periyava wants you to go out and take a job. He speaks of
leaving the Matha himself. It is better that you do as he says.
36

lit. amb- mother, used to refer to the Divine Mother

12
In the Presence of the Divine
Two days before I saw Periyava after the pja. It was eleven o clock.
I wont go away to take up a job, leaving you I said.
What is it? he said.
Why must I take up a job?
What if I forbid you to come to the Matha?
The devotees belong to the Matha and the Matha to them. What have ascetics go to do with the
Matha? From today onward I do not want a salary. After all I eat so little, one meal a day is
enough. I will follow your palanquin just like Karuppan. Let me just be like him!
Karuppan was a black dog who walked in the shade of Periyavas mna, and shifted with us from
camp to camp.
Thiagu said Periyava. I am going to leave the Matha. Later if I wanted ten rupees, a letter
could be sent to you, Send me ten rupees I could say and you would. See . . . it is not for your
sake, take up the job for my sake. . . After all do you have a family,wife and children? It is for
my sake
It worked. I put my palms together and said Then I will . . .
The salary was forty rupees. Of that surely I could send ten rupees to Periyava, I thought.
What did your Saar say? You would have surely consulted your Saar!
Periyava always referred to Sivan Saar as Your Saar when he spoke to us. Otherwise when he
referred to Sivan Saar in the course of his conversation, he would say Saatthu, which was the
latters nickname in his family.
Yes, I did . . . He said Periyava is going to leave the Matha. It is good that you leave now and
take up a job outside, I told Periyava.
Actually my application for the job had been drafted by Sivan Saar who told me this with
a laugh, later on. The next night Dr.Mahalingaiyer was with Periyava. Periyava took some
prasda in his hand and leaning forward looked at ball of sandal paste37 in the pja and then gave
it to me. I was shaken and all strength seemed to have drained away from me. Senior Manager
Viswanathaiyer said, Take it, my boy and somehow I managed to take it.
Mahalingam said Periyava. See that he has two sets of jubba, dhoti and agavastram38. Take
him to Tiruvaiyaru, make sure he takes up the post and then come back and report to me!
At that time, past eight at night, the Khaddhar shop was opened on Mahalingaiyers request on
conveying Periyavas instructions. It was Periyavas relative Vengu Bhagavatars son Babu who
opened his shop. In those days the agavastram was not very broad. I was given four jubbas,
four dhotis of four-cubits each, and four bordered agavastrams.
We left early next morning after taking the morning meal at Mahalingaiyers house. It
was a Wednesday. I joined on the eighth of June. Once I reached Tiruvaiyaru I began counting
the days for the weekend . . . Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, then I could leave on Friday
evening to go back to Periyava, I thought. I was taken to the Head Master and I joined duty.

37
38

The Mru, Tripurasundari, is always fully covered with sandal paste.


Collarless long-sleeved kurta, dhoti and bordered upper-cloth

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Volume II- Article No 1/Ugranam Thiagu Thatha

I would not eat in hotels. So the Head Master made arrangements for me to hire a room
in Vadakku Veedhi for a rent of three rupees a month. I cooked my meal in my room, since I
had refused to eat at the ptala opposite the school. I felt restricted in the staff room because I
was so used to moving about freely in the Matha. There were forty or so teachers. They would all
stare at me as if I were some kind of a rare creature from the zoo, because they knew that I had
lived in the Matha for several years and served Periyava.
The Head Master announced a new scheme - once a week, for five minutes, each teacher
had to talk on his subject. One had to talk only for five minutes, at the end of which a bell would
be rung. One could not ramble. This was done during the school assembly. Since I had joined
just then, I was called to speak that week. I did not know what to say. I was thrown off-guard.
About two thousand boys were standing in front of me. The teachers were on this side, staring at
me. What was I supposed to say? I had never made a speech before.
Periyava, I said I did not want the job. . . now what am I going to say?I called out to him
mutely.
Helplessly, I bowed down my head in silent salutation to Periyava. Suddenly I saw a red light in
front of me and I was filled with courage. I began to speak.
Mavamanigae ! Sagsiriyarga!39 I began my address.
Then for the next five minutes I spoke about the origin and nature of Hindi language, because
some of my fellow teachers had been asking me if Hindi was an abrogated and hybrid language,
whether it had literature and so on. The popular belief was that Hindi had no grammar. I traced
the origin of Hindi to Sanskrit and concluded that Hindi was a filiative language of Sanskrit, as a
daughter to her mother. Exactly at the end of five minutes I concluded my talk with Jai Hind!
The applause was thunderous and later the teachers crowded around me and praised me for the
precision and excellence of my speech. I was talented in managing time because I had served
Periyava, they said. I had originally begun talking in Tamil and when there were cries of Hindi!
Hindi! had switched over to Hindi. I said that that I would elaborate the topic in four parts in
subsequent talks.
On Friday evening I took a bus and went back to Periyava at Pandanallur. The boys there
thought that I had quit my job and had come running back. Periyava had told me that I could
come back for the weekends. I stopped in the corridor to take off my jubba and to tie the
agavastram around my waist as a mark of respect in Periyavas presence. We did not wear a
shirt, only a four cubit dhoti in the Matha. Periyava sent word to me that I was to present myself
just as I was. He wanted to see me in a full suit of clothes so to say!
Panditji Periyava welcomed me, and continued to repeat my address verbatim,
Mavamanigae! Sagsiriyarga. . . . How well you spoke!
I was terrified. My limbs were shaking I confessed. Sivan Saar would say that if we
remembered Periyava, then we could tide over every situation.

39

Precious students, Fellow-teachers!

14
In the Presence of the Divine
Oh! That is nothing at all . . . all will be well in course of time.What did you teach today?
Have they given you the time-table?
The truth was I had no idea as what a time-table was. Classes had not started yet.
Periyava would welcome me the moment I got up after prostrating to him What news,
Mavamanigae ?
Periyava always called me Thiagu but after I took up the job in school called me Panditji. As
long as I was bachelor every Friday evening, come what may, I would rush off to Pandanallur to
Periyavas presence and would be there by seven at night. On Sunday night I would tag along
with whoever came for daran from Kumbakonam. As soon as school closed for vacation I
would go to Periyavas camp and stay on there till school re-opened.
Periyava also arranged my marriage. My quarrel with Periyava happened after that. My
wife was three months pregnant then. Periyava was camping in a village called Bembi, near
Kalavai, at that time. My wife was fourteen years younger to me. I was such a hefty fellow and
she looked like a little stick beside me. When we reached there, Periyava told Pattamaniaiyers
wife, Look! The daughter in law of the Matha has come. You must serve them a grand feast in
our traditional way, with pi and mavadai. The lady prepared a grand, traditional feast with
morekuzhambu. We stayed there for three days. On the third say at about four in the afternoonI had to get back to work- we went for daran and prasda. Periyava was taking his bhika, the
door was ajar. One could see him if one peeped around the door. After bhika Periyava came
out, called my wife forward and gave her prasda and blessed her.
Periyava I said with folded hands prasda for me!
Not necessary, you can leave now commanded Periyava.
I was terribly hurt. I went straight to the Manager and told him this.
Thiagu is upset that he was not given prasda said the Manager on my behalf.
What prasda? Why prasda for him? He belongs to the Matha. The prasda was for the
daughter in law who has come now, said Periyava firmly.
I played a trick. The teachers at school will ask for it!
I say No prasda even for him, then wherefrom for the teachers! Get the cart ready! Is he
leaving or not?
I left the Matha with a heavy heart, but I was also angry. When I boarded the bus at Kalavai I
gave vent to my anger. Sivan Saar always said Dont trust those asceties . . . all frauds! Take a
stick and break the tonsured head . . . those chaps must not be let off easily! I recalled this.
All the way from Kalavai to Kanchipuram I rasped and raved, calling Periyava names.
That night we ate at Viswanathaiyers house, and I told his wife - who had known me since I
came to the Matha as a boy- that Periyava had slighted me. Even if a farm-hand got married and
came to see you, what you do is to give him nice gifts and invite the couple to receive it together.
When such be the case, I who had served the Matha for so long, go after my wedding on my first
visit with my wife and I am told No prasda! Why, he could have given me a little vibhti and

15
Volume II- Article No 1/Ugranam Thiagu Thatha
akata40 at least. Viswanathaiyers wife said, Thiagu, if Periyava did not give you prasda that
must have been for a reason. You will know of it later. It is not because Periyava is angry with
you. There is no need for you to get so upset. Only after I heard her words of comfort did I cool
down. Yet, for the next year or so I did not go for daran.
A year later, I sold my house in Tiruvaiyaru to a young man who had earlier taken tuition
classes in Hindi from me. I thought I must get the boy prasda from Periyava on that occasion.
The earlier incident of being turned away without prasda somehow slipped right out of my mind
and we got ready to go. Periyava was camping in Agaram, near Poonamalle in Madras. We
took the seven o clock train. When we reached the camp, many big shots were sitting there,
M.S.Amma, Sadasivam, K.Balasubramaniam and so on.
It was Vyasa pja41 day and Periyava was giving halved coconut with Bengal gram
placed inside it. Turning to K.B. Periyava asked, Balasubramaniam, how many names are there
in the sahasranma42?
One thousand names make a sahasranma, Periyava!
This Thiagu here, none can offer names like him. He worshipped me not just with a thousand
names, but a lakh of them Mundam43 break his head! Dandam! Break his limbs! All the way
from Kalavai to Kanchipuram till Viswanthaiyaers wife consoled him. Even I have not do such
archan44 to Amb !
Periyava placed one halved coconut over another, both filled with Bengal gram and giving it to
me, said Here . . . now take double prasda!
I moved sideways and stood quietly. My eyes filled with tears. That year my wife had a
premature delivery and the doctors said that it was a miracle that she survived.
It was like this . . . the astrologers were repeatedly saying that his horoscope predicted the loss
of his wife and that he would be married again for a second time. So I gave prasda to his wife
to save her. This chap thought that I had insulted him! I wanted to change the dwikaatram into

40

Also mantrkata: whole rice grain dipped in turmeric, used in and infused with the power of ritualistic worship
as well as the grace of the Master,given to or sprinkled upon a person as a blessing, hence also called
balamantrksata.
41
Also known as Kra Dvaipyana and Bdaryaa, Vysa classified the Veda into four (hence Veda Vysa),
authored the eighteen purs, compiled the cardinal doctrines of the Vednta in a systematic manner in the
Brahm Stra and authored the Mahbhrata, the biggest epic in the world; considered the first in the line of
preceptors; The period of cturmsya (lit. four-month period) is initiated invoking the grace of ri Veda Vysa
and the other preceptors of self- knowledge, through Vysa pja. This period begins in sda (June-July) from the
day of Sayana- ekdai or eleventh day in the fortnight of the waxing moon and ends in the month ofKrtika
(October-November) on Utthna- ekdai, in the fortnight of the waxing moon. The ascetic vows (hence vrata)
to stay in one place and spend the time in spiritual practices.
42
the thousand names of a deity
43
Tonsured head
44
ritualistic worship invoking the names of the deity

16
In the Presence of the Divine
ekakaatram45. Ramachandra! he continued, addressing Melur Mama, Dont underestimate
your disciple!
When my elder son was born, Sankar, I had no particular urge to go and see Periyava
and ask for prasda. Sivan Saar said, You need not go and ask for prasda and make much of
all this! Sivan Saar visited us often.So I did not go. Subbrayar, the Ayurvedic doctor from
Thanjavur had gone for daran. We had just completed the puyavacana46 and were sitting
down as a couple to receive the blessings of the elders, when Dr. Subbarayar arrived, bringing
Periyavas blessings with a piece of silk cloth, a small coin, and prasda. He had been instructed
to reach before ten o clock before the rituals concluded.
After this incident, I was filled with a desire to se Periyava. The camp was than in Karvet
Nagaram, in Andhra. When I prostrated, Periyava said, You will live prosperously without any
want. It is quite natural that you should feel upset. After all the fellow before you was a fraud
and his wife, a strange sort. Yet I call them forward as a couple and give them prasda and then
ignore you and only call your wife. Why! A youngster is sure to get upset.
None can cajole a person out of anger like Periyava. The cause of the anger or disappointment
will evaporate into nothingness! One would feel elated and nothing would seem wrong. The
matter would be closed once and for all.
One day Periyava said, Bring your Saar, I wish to see him! Periyava was then camping
in Chidambaresa Aiyers house in Villupuram. Periyava always referred to Sivan Saar as Your
Saar when he spoke to us. So I conveyed this to Sivan Saar! I went to see Periyava once a week
regularly, apart from spending my vacation with him. After Periyavas daran I would come
back to Kumbakonam, halt for the night at the Matha, where Sivan Saar stayed, and then get
back. So we went to Periyava.
You need not introduce me instructed Sivan Saar on the way.
Why must I introduce you? You are elder and younger brothers I replied.
Nothing of the sort . . . both of us are renunciates . . . he an ascetic and I a householder, thats
all! When we reached there, Sivan Saar stood in the corridor.
Call your Saar in said Periyava.
They conversed for about ten minutes. Periyava then gave Sivan Saar a very tattered old book in
English - the Old Testament and a book about Egypt and ancient civilizations. Periyava
instructed Sivan Saar to translate the whole book into Tamil. So Sivan Saar sat in the library of
the Matha in Kumbakonam, referring to books and spent the days writing.
Thiagu, have I not told you many times, that one must avoid the friendship of the ascetic and
the musician. Was it for nothing that they say The ascetic as a travel companion and the
musician as friend is good only as far as the pyol of the house!
45

46

two spouses and one spouse


On the eleventh day after the birth - traditionally the end of the period of impurity - cleansing through mantra and
naming of the baby is performed.

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Volume II- Article No 1/Ugranam Thiagu Thatha

Periyava also says this. What does it mean Saar?


Now look! I was free and could move about the way I liked. Now look, here I am, glued to this
place. It is to keep me pinned down that this assignment was given to me!
A quarter aa worth of snuff would be regularly supplied regularly to Siva Saar while he was at
work. Sivan Saar would often quote this proverb about avoiding the friendship of the ascetic and
the musician, but I never really understood it till then. Maharajapuram Viswanathaiyer was a
case in point. He would turn down food before his concert. After we came back, well past
midnight, he would ask for a quarter measure of almonds, roasted to a turn in ghee, with some
milk to go with it. Now, what could one do, and should not one pause to consider whether the
host was equipped to serve these at that time of the night in a moments notice?
I have served many a Swami, many an ascetic and have even buried a few. Many of them
are, as Sivan Saar says, frauds. They ask you for the impossible at times. Periyava had instructed
me to serve bhika to Andhra Swami at one point of time. Periyavas pja would be over only by
two or even later in the afternoon. Periyava himself would take his bhika so late in the
afternoon. How then could I take it to Andhra Swami earlier? The offering of cooked food had
to be made to Candramoulvara and then I would take some of every dish, along with the rice
and serve it Andhra Swami. He would take a glass of buttermilk with sugar mixed into it in the
morning, so he had no cause to complain.
One day when I served him bhika he said What food is this? What kind of sambar is this? Get
a raw mango, scrape off the peel, and cut into tiny pieces and saut it with chilli powder and salt
in plenty of oil. Get that done for me to eat with the rice. Not this... and picking up a handful
of the rice mixed with smbr from the banana leaf, flung it across the room on me. Actually the
smbr made in the Matha with pumpkin was a delicacy and everyone, even judges, waited for
it.
I said I am not bringing any move bhika for you. You may choose to eat or not to eat and
went away. Is it right for an ascetic to show such anger, flinging food from ones leaf on another
person? What kind of renunciation is that?
That evening Periyava asked me Did you give upadea47 to Andhra Swami?
I told Periyava what happened and he sent for Andhra Swami.
There is no dearth of mango in Kumbakonam after all, if only he had spoken in a civil manner
and not flung the rice from his leaf at me.
Periyava instructed Andhra Swami to stay in a portion of the Matha - the northern corner where
the adhina48 was built - for three days and fast in solitude in that portion of the Matha. Finally
when this ascetic left, he blessed me profusely. Periyava changed him completely.

47

instruction, teaching imparted by the master who keeps the disciple in proximity and guides him till the latter
attains self knowledge
48
place where an ascetic or pontiff is interned and marked with a basil plant; also called brindvan

18
In the Presence of the Divine
Take Odacheri Swami for that matter . . . if an ascetic asks you for a specific dish you
will not spare yourself any trouble to get it done . . . he would ask for unusual dishes like tavala
adai49 with its customary side-dish of tamarind chutney . . . all this takes a lot of readying the
ingredients, before it is actually cooked. If it was delayed he would ask Will it take long? By
dusk? peppering his questions with a lot of Sanskrit terms, all for the sake of the two or three
tavala adais. Tindivanam Sundaresa Sarma who became an ascetic would say, that it was not an
easy thing to give up ones taste and cravings for specific eatables.
I refused to prostrate to any and every ascetic, though some demanded that I do so. To me
Mahratta Swami is the only one I would recognize as Swami, they rest are samis50, ordinary
folk. Mahratta Swami was already ninety-eight or ninety-nine when I first saw him. He was
bent double, his head hanging low. He had circumambulated India three times. Once in every
three or four months he would come to Periyava for daran. He would hug Periyava. Periyava
would stand on a big plate and Mahratta Swami would literally perform abhieka of Periyavas
feet. Mahratta Swami would store this water in two or three bottles. Every day he would take a
spoon of this and drink it. His meal was half a banana or half a roti. He is the person to whom
Periyava gave a danda when he lost his, and it was he who said that he did not want Balajis
daran in Tirupati, content as he was with his daran of Periyava. He often said If there is such a
thing as God, it is here referring to Periyava.
We would gather around Mahratta Swami when Periyava was away. We liked to go out
for coffee when we were let loose like this. At Kumbakonam, Sivan Saar and I would go out for
coffee and two hot idlis. So if I sat near Maharatta Swami thinking how nice it would be to have
two rupees to buy myself coffee, he would hold out his coconut shell bowl, with two rupees
suddenly manifesting in it. We would be amazed and Mahratta Swami would give it to me
saying You thought of it. I have given it. Go and have some coffee and get some for your
friend also!
Whenever Periyava returned to the Matha in Kanchipuram, he would go in at once
seeking Mahratta Swami, like a cow looking for its calf. In his last years Mahratta Swami could
not see properly. Periyava would ask him Can you see me? and the Swami would say Yes.
Again Periyava would ask him What is in my hand? and Mahratta Swami would correctly
identify whatever Periyava had in his hand. Ramanatha Sastri took care of him in his last years,
bathing him and so on.
Mahratta Swami lived for one hundred and four years. Periyava sent word to us that the
ascetic would pass away soon. The day before he passed away he repeated incessantly I going
to Maharaj! I am going to Maharaj! We thought he was talking as was his usual wont and did
not give it any special meaning. Before he passed away he asked Srikantan Where is my Guru?
Ramamurthi replied In Kalavai. Turning westward in the direction of Kalavai, Maharatta
Swami shouted O Guru! and passed away. He was interned in Upanishad Brahmendra Math at
Kanchi.
49
50

made of ground pulses and lentils, spiced and cooked like dosa
an ordinary person

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Volume II- Article No 1/Ugranam Thiagu Thatha

We cannot understand Periyavas words. Often times only after the situation ended we
understood the full import of his words. So the best thing to do was obey his words to the letter.
I spoke about my anger with Periyava. Periyava once got angry with me. The camp was
at Esayanoor where Vysa pja and cturmsya was held that year. Vedapuri, now Brahmari
Vedapuri Sastrigal, was seven years old and Santhanam his brother, younger to him. All of us
who served Periyava and the Matha were holding a national conference on the pyol of the
house adjacent to Kokilattammas house. I could imitate anyones manner of speech. Vedapuri
had lost his mother as a child. That day while we were there chatting Vedapuri came by that way.
Why, Vedapuri I called out why is your hair unkempt? Why dont you knot your hair? I
spoke exactly like him and he burst out crying.
Vedapuri usually accompanied Periyava when he went to the Palar river. Seeing him weep
Periyava asked him Why are you weeping, my boy?
It is this Thiagu Mama . . . he is making fun of me?
What does he do?
He talks just like me!
When Periyava returned to the Mathas camp, as was the usual custom he washed his feet and
came in.
Where is Thiagu? Call him!
I went and stood before Periyava.
Did you make fun of this boy? Why did you do it? Say that you will not do again!
Then Periyava also told Vedapuri My boy, you had better be on good terms with that uncle.
Now and then he will give you a banana or an orange!
Soon the word that Periyava had pulled me up on account of Vedapuri spread that all over the
Matha. Later Kokilattamma called the boy and said, Vedapuri, it was after all our Thiagu. Why
do you go and tell Periyava about it? You must not report such things to Periyava . . .
Anyway, I gave up imitating others.
Periyava was an excellent mimic, ventriloquist and could mimic any instrument simply
by whistling its sound to a fine tune. Thiruvisainallur Vikatan Ramasami Iyer would come to the
Matha, perform the Bhgavata pryaa51, and leave with a honorarium of a hundred rupees and
a sack of grain. Periyava would reproduce the conversation of the elderly couple in exactly their
voices. He was often mischievous and put these skills to use to have some fun at our expense. If
he did not want you to disturb him he would sit behind a closed door and converse with an
imaginary person and the conversation would go on in two voices for as long as he wished.
Now, how could you open the door? Then when he came out, he would exclaim Ohwere you
fooled? He would wave his hands at you like a child at play. He could imitate the
51

Widely read pura on Vishnus incarnations, especially that of Krishna; its chanting or reading of this religious
text within a prescribed period of time, often accompanied by its exposition.

20
In the Presence of the Divine
ngaswaram52 by whistling. You would believe that someone was actually playing the
instrument if you did not see Periyava whistle. Kodavasal Natesan used to cough up blood,
because of years of playing the ngaswaram. Periyava would say, Thiagu for the management
of the store, Viswanathaiyer for the Mathas office, the big Kaaraan53 cow and the big elephant54
for the pja . . . All these left when Periyava left the Matha.
If the camp was in a village, especially on full moon nights, after the long day ended,
Periyava would sit in swastiksan, one leg flung over the other, on a cane chair. We would sit
huddled a little away, waiting for him to lie down so that we could rest. All of a sudden we
would hear such beautiful music, such melodies from a flute. If we turned around and looked, it
would be Periyava leaning back, looking at the moon and whistling a musical piece exactly like a
flute. Sometimes he would whistle such flute music sitting in the open terrace of the building if
the place was quiet and secluded at night. Periyava was also an excellent dancer. He would
dance the piece called kuthicchu pdaradhu,that is singing, clapping and leaping gracefully, all
simultaneously. Peiyava said that the Divine Mother Prvati does this dance in Parameswaras
presence during pradoa 55. He knew every mudr56 in Ntyastra. If the eye had to reach the
ear, it would. He has shown all the mudrs and rass57 to Padma Subramaniam58. He would
show the ras of anger on his face and the very next moment show that of joy. You can see all
this in Satara. Bhatt, whom I spoke to the other day, is Manager there. Every aesthetic emotion
was perfectly manifest in his expression. Of course he was a perfect yogi59.
Periyava took such care of Vedapuri, got him married, then got Vedapuris daughters
marriage performed also. Vedapuri would sometimes sit down looking worried, preparing to go
his village. If we asked him What is it Vedapuri ? he would say No water in the Kazhini . . .
For a long time, I did not know that cultivable fields are referred to Kazhini in the North Arcot
regions. When Periyava was in Mahagaon, Vedapuri was preparing to leave after a visit.
Periyava said, Why my boy, do you have to leave now? Here take all the money and tuck it in
your waist. What is it? Is there no water in the Kazhini?
We were reprimanded if we mimicked anyone but Periyava would talk to Vedapuri exactly like
him. Only we were not allowed to mimic others!

52

long trumpet-like wind instrument specifically fromTamil Nadu


A milch cow that is fully black without a spot of another colour, whose milk is specially auspicious for worship
54
A famous elephant named Prahalada belonging to the Matha
55
lit. evening; refers to the day of the month when Lord iva dances at dusk, especially for the Divine Mother
56
purposive gestures and postures in external or inward practice of Yog, here in traditional dancing; the ancient
treatise on dance, music and drama referred to is by Bharata Muni.
57
lit. essence; the predominant aesthetic emotion evoked by the complementary thematic & style used in a piece of
art
58
Renowned exponent and scholar on Bharatanatyam who designed the panels on postures of this dance at the
Satara Nataraja temple on Periyavas behest.
59
One skilled in yoga or union with the Divine or remaining steadfast in divine consciousness; here refers to prpti,
one of the eight occult powers signifying mastery in yoga, to be able to appear and disappear at will anywhere
53

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Volume II- Article No 1/Ugranam Thiagu Thatha

It so happened once when the camp shifted from one place to another somewhere in and
around Kalavai. The pja was unloaded and placed in a particular house. Periyava barely set
foot into the house when he flew into a rage and slapped himself upon his forehead. Aah . . .
aah! On such occasion only the Senior Manager could go near Periyava. I thought to myself
that there was going to be no sign of Periyava taking bhika that day. We guessed that Periyava
was furious because the pja had been placed in a house which had suffered the consequences of
the dark occult practices. The one who had organized the shifting it was Rajan - had chosen
that particular house because it was huge. We took care to tell Periyava our plans before we
executed them. It was always wiser and safer to tell Periyava everything just as it is, without
holding back any fact. Kannan used to ask me How is it that you go in and come out in tow
minutes? If one exaggerated the truth or spoke falsely then one must be prepared to spend an
hour in Periyavas presence, till the matter was thoroughly dissected, to be questioned to no end.
The Senior Manager, who knew how to cope with such situations said at once, We are shifting
to the neighbouring house, the bags are being taken away . . . we have already shifted them . . .
and so on. One has to be careful before shifting the pja from one place to another.
The naivedyam the food offering - made to Candramoulvara was prepared with great
care for Periyava was very strict about all matters connected with the pja. The place before the
pja altar had to be cleaned and sprinkled with water and a design would be drawn with rice
powder. A wet cloth would be spread and then a banana leaf would be placed on it. There is a
certain tradition as to where the rice is to be placed, where the side dishes and so on, all of which
would be in individual vessels that were placed on the leaf. Periyava never spoke during pja
time. Once he entered the pja mantapam everything had to follow in clock-work precision.
Periyava would put a vilva leaf60 in every dish. If salt had been forgotten in a dish, say rasam,
then the vilva would not be dropped into it. At home, we would get annoyed or may be ask for
the salt to be added, but that could not be
done. By merely looking at a dish Periyava would know what ingredients it had or lacked. The
leaf would remain poised on the tip of his fingers. The person who readied the coal to offer
incense would bring it in anticipation of the pja coming to a finish with the offering of
naivedyam. The ladle filled with glowing coal would cool down, be taken away and replaced
afresh but the vilva would still not have fallen on the rasam. Melur Mama and I would watch
from the side of the pja mantapam and would finally find out which vessel did not get the vilva
leaf. The vessel of rasam without salt could not be removed. It would continue to be there. In
the kitchen, salt would be added to the rasam remaining there and a fresh supply would be sent to
60

Aegle (Rutaceae) marmetos; in vernacular called vilva,bael,maredu & riphala; a sacred tree, its leaves, ripe and
unripe fruit and bark are replete with medicinal properties; leaves used in worship of iva. The network of veins
below the leaves is considered one of the five abodes of goddess Lakshmi, the other four being the point above the
forehead where the hair is parted by sumagali women, the pollen centre of the lotus flower, the top of the tail and
posterior rump of the cow and the forehead of the elephant as elucidated by ri Periyav on several occasions.(See
ri Periyavs exposition of this in SL and DK.)

22
In the Presence of the Divine
the pja mantapam in another vessel. Later after the pja, Periyava would mention it in a
lighthearted tone, I am a sanysi, so I eat without salt . . . Candramoulvara is not a sanysi . . .
he is having a good time with his younger wife! For a long time I did not know what this elder
and younger wife business was all about. I learnt of it much later. The business about the
younger wife was this.
In the mid-thirties, Periyava walked to Kasi on a pilgrimage. When camping in Kasi,
there was a theft in the Matha. The Mah meru61 was damaged for the thief had flung the pjabox. The Candramoulvara liga62 was found lying nearby. The next day Periyava was to accept
bhiksvandana from the Raja of Kasi. The Candramoulvara pja had to go on. So overnight a
Mah meru was readied in accordance with the rules of stra by Manager Kuppuswami Iyer
and installed for pja. Since then, this Mah meru has taken the place of the former one. Then
Periyava performed all the three pjas of the next day after four in the evening and took his
bhika the next, the third day, it seems. She is now the Tripurasundari seated there. So this is
how Candramoulvara got himself a younger wife! I learnt of this in a camp. Let me tell you
about it.
Periyava was camping in Nannilam taluk. The ways of Siva are unpredictable, worse
still the ascetics, they say. Our itinerary had been unpredictable and only Periyava knew of it.
So we ended up in a small hamlet, Ammangudi, near Semmangudi, Varagudi.. Nondi Ramaih Lame Ramaih who had been Periyavas classmate in the first class in school - invited Periyava to
camp for two days during ekdai and dwdai63 in his little village. The daily expenses would
be lesser than usual during ekdai, with the fasting and minimal cooking and so on. He offered
one hundred rupees and two big bags of rice gram.
Will that be enough for this huge belly, Ramaih?
There is nothing that Periyava does know said Ramaih, with his palms held together, This is
the most I can offer . . .
Take it and dont ask him for anything. . . let us camp here for two days, said Periyava. We
played marbles together. He would knock us hard on the knees.

61

Monism views creation - which is the manifestation of the Pure Consciousness - as the energy or akti and thus
the latent and the manifest are seen as being one and the same. The manifest is symbolized by the ri Cakra (the
auspicious disc) whose two dimensional form projected into three dimensions is called a Mah Meru or the Great
Mountain. The most sacred instrument of all symbols of worship, representing r Lalita Tripurasundari (the
beautiful goddess as sporting in the game of creation) it is formed by nine interlocking triangles (to form 43 smaller
triangles) that surround and radiate from the central point (bindu) visualizing the highest and invisible centre from
which creation and all levels of energy expand. The triangles are enclosed by two rows of (8 and 16) petals,
representing the lotus of creation and its reproductive vital force. The Meru has its esoteric form of complementary
sound pattern or mantra and formalized ritualistic worship which leads to merger into the Pure Consciousness.
Hence it is known as the most auspicious of all bodies of knowledge or r Vidya.
62
Also ivaliga: elliptical symbol, without beginning or end, representing iva in ritualistic worship
63
The tenth and eleventh day of every fortnight; fasting and spiritual regimen is prescribed for the former

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Volume II- Article No 1/Ugranam Thiagu Thatha

So we camped there, and the second day was extended to a third. Since it was just a hamlet,
Periyava would be free after pja. A Sroutiga64 from Kaasapakkam came there. After pja,
Periyava honoured him with a gold coin, a silk saree and a set of dhoti and upper cloth. He
commanded the Sroutiga to chant and the gentleman literally showered the camp with Sma.
Periyava would always become very happy when scholars came for daran and would converse
with them for hours, Besides Periyava had so much time in that little village. Periyava wished to
honour the gentleman and said slam and the trident meant three thousand rupees. Where
could I go for three thousand rupees? Ramaih had given hundred rupees which was in the cash
box and if I gathered together all the change we had I would muster about two or three hundred
rupees. So I told Periyava that three thousand was far beyond our means.
You hold the keys . . . and it is such a huge samasthn, you must indeed give the money to the
Sroutiga. What do I have? I am a sanysi I only know to do the pja said Periyava and
threw the responsibility on my shoulders. What was I to do?
I knew I had to listen patiently and agree with all he said.
Periyava performed pja and the Sroutiga spent the rest of the day in chanting and in discussion
with Periyava. Periyava wished to send the gentleman away on the evening of the third day.
Earlier, in the afternoon, Periyava called me and said Well we have to send the Sroutiga
back. He needs to arrange a wedding in his family!
The cashier was on leave and the Manager had gone to Kumbakonam. I was at my wits end.
Shall I go to Mudikondan and borrow three thousand rupees?
No . . . imagine the samasthn borrowing money!
Shall I go and see Vanchi Mama in Nannilam?
No . . . no . . . !
I could write a letter to Kumbakonam . . .
No . . . you must give it, in cash! By evening . . .
We would never say No to Periyava. So I said, Yes, as Periyava says, this evening we will
give a cash gift to the Sroutiga. By Periyavas grace, what is three thousand after all, one could
even gift three crores of rupees!
L.K. Ranganathan, a magistrate from Kumbakonam was driving the car and was
accompanied by his wife. The gentleman had been called to court to answer charges of
corruption, of taking bribes. A case had been going on against him for three years and the whiteman had suspended him from service. He was acquitted in the hearing held on the previous day.
The next day, that is, that morning, the lawyer handed over the formalities for the follow-up to
someone else and packing a box of curd-rice set out with his wife to in search of Periyava. His
wife had vowed that they would offer a monthss salary to Periyava if her husband was acquitted
of all charges made against him in the case. On the way they had made enquiries at
64

Srauti: from ruti; one who chants it and has mastered the Sma Veda is respectfully addressed as Srautiga

24
In the Presence of the Divine
Chidambaram, Mayavaram and so on and finally arrived at Ammangudi at about five-thirty in
the evening. I was not of course aware of this background. The judges salary was three
thousand five hundred rupees in those days. Although his wife had vowed a monthss salary as
an offering to Periyava, over and above that, the judge had brought three thousand five hundred
rupees of his own accord, One offering was in coins and the other in notes, and both were placed
on plates and the money covered with flowers and garlands which they had purchased on the
way. I did not know that money offerings were beneath the flowers.
Periyava was seated in the dilapidated house where we camped. It was almost five in the
evening.
A car was seen at a distance.
Look said Periyava a car coming even on this mud road.
Yes I replied.
I thought that for a couple of days I could camp here in peace It is understandable if it is
Nannilam or Mudikondan . . . but here in this tiny hamlet . . . they just dont let me off
Can you tell the flies to stay away from the jackfruit?
Oh . . . so you know to talk too!
Coming back to the judge and his wife, the couple got down from the car.
Where is Periyava? The judge asked me in a whisper.
Have you eaten anything since you left home? I asked in reply.
We must have Periyavas daran first, there is something that I have to tell him.
The milk was on the boil on the firewood stone. I flung some tea leaves into it and brewed the
couple a glass of hot tea each. They were very happy. Then they had a wash and the gentleman
changed into the traditional eight cubit dhoti and besmeared himself with stripes of sacred ash.
Whatever his principles, the gentleman had a striking appearance. In ten minutes he was ready
and I took the couple, who were carrying the plates - whose contents I did not know of - to
Periyavas presence. Periyava said, Put Pazhakadai Venkataraman on guard at the back door!
The chap was chatting and lazing around. I parked him behind the tottering old house.
The couple prostrated and got up. Periyava said, Does one go in search of beggars and
ascetics? The mendicant goes the way the wind blows and the ways of the wise are like the
ways of Siva, beyond anyones guess they say. They have not eaten since morning. They have
been making enquires about my whereabouts right from Chidambaram! Who would guide them
here . . . if the camp was at Nannilam or Mudikondan, one would know. Thiagu, did you give
them something?
I made some tea for them.
Oh, you know how to make guests happy. . .
Periyava did not talk to the gentleman right away. Periyava looked at the lady and said Soyou
have won!
Then turning to the judge he said, Ranganatha! Whether or not you took a bribe, only Iswara
knows with his palms turned upward and hands spread wide. But then, your wife - it is the

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Volume II- Article No 1/Ugranam Thiagu Thatha

wife who always saves the husband from any kind of difficulty made a prayer to me. My
husband must come out this without a blemish she prayed. Her prayer fell upon my ears. So I
thought to myself Now what kind of a responsibility is this! You had to be saved from that
mess. Anywayyou have gone to the flower market and got all these . . . good . . . now go on
and eat your meal!
The pyol was swept clean and banana leaves spread. The couple was served a meal there.
The judge had gone to England for his higher studies. In those days, such people were not
served inside the Matha. When they had their meal, Periyava called me and showed me what the
two plates had beneath the flowers. Look, how Candramoulvara listens to his wife. I told you
so! Two plates . . .three thousand five hundred rupees in coins and another three thousand
five hundred in notes. Take away the plates. Give that Brahmin the three thousand rupees in
notes. The coins, you may take for your treasury. So, did you do as I told you to?
Earlier in the afternoon Periyava instructed me to make a prayer to Tripurasundari.
Listen, do as I say! Go to the pja altar and say Hey, Tripursundari, you are the wife of
Candramoulvara. So he will do just as you say. Somehow get us out of this situation. Give us
three thousand rupees so that the Sroutiga can be packed off!
Go back and repeat it in a loudly!
So I went back to repeat it in a loud and clear voice.
Melur Ramachandraiyer was sitting there, fanning himself and dozing.
Hey, Tirupurasundari I said loudly, my palms held together, You are Candramoulvaras
wife . . .
Why, you fool, what is this babbling interrupted Ramachandraiyer angrily. Ramachandraiyer!
You had better be quiet I said. What do you know about our difficulty? Here you are
relaxing, leaning against the wall, fanning yourself and dozing away. We have to pack off that
Brahmin who has been here three days now!
I continued my prayer aloud.
Hey, Tirupurasundari! You are Candramoulvaras wife. So if you recommend the case to
him, he will do just as you say. Get us out of this fix, somehow. Please give us three
thousand rupees and send the Sroutiga back!
I spoke the words exactly as Periyava had coached me to and went back to him.
What did Ramachandraiyer say?
He is scolding me . . .
Listenwhen his wife comes here, they sit on the either sides of the curtain in the pjakau and
plan all their work. Like this
What have you given Kuppu?

26
In the Presence of the Divine
I am giving this lease to so and so his wife says and Ramachandraiyer say yes . . . yes.
You had better go to Mullangkudi . . .
I am giving one third of the harvested grain to so and so . . .
Yes . . . yes . . . and so on. So go and tell him Ramachandraiyer, you say Yes to all that your
wife says even at this age. So if our Tripurasundari, the wife of Candramoulvara makes a
request, why wouldnt he will listen to her? Go on . . .
So I went back and repeated Periyavas words verbatim to the elderly gentleman.
Go away, go away, you fellow . . .,
But I am only repeating Periyavas instructions.. Ramachandraiyer shooed me away from
there, shocked at my verbatim repetition of the conversation he had had behind the curtain
with his wife.
I went to the pjakattu and told Ramachadraiyer Mama, you listen to Mami and do as
she says, so you are successful in all your ventures! In the same way, our Candramoulvara
listens to our Tirpurasundari. Now we have got more than double the amount we wanted. Look .
. . !
Aah said Ramachandraiyer Seven thousand! All at one go! Just like that, all of a sudden! He
put his palms together. Parameswara, Parameswara and slapped his cheeks in repentance!
Later Periyava teased Ramachandraiyer, Why! If you nod your head in agreement with all that
your wife says, why would not Candramoulvara do so when his younger wife makes a
request?
I went back to Periyava after serving the couple.
Where does that lady sit in the car? Some wives prefer to sit at the back, some sit in the front
beside their husband when he drives the car.
Make sure that lady sits in the back seat. Otherwise all the way to Madras she will talk nonstop. Put the Srouti in the front seat said Periyava.
The Sroutiga had missed the five-thirty train from Nannilam. I told the judge This Sroutiga,
elderly man, has come from Kaasapakkam, near Madras, it seems.If you can take him along . . .
The judge was more than happy. He not only took the Sroutiga with him in his car but put him
in his home at Kaasapakkam, giving him an added gift of another thousand. I learnt of this from
Periyava the next morning. Periyava came from his snna in the village pond the next morning
and said, The Sroutiga has reached safely. Not only that . . . sahasram, so caturtam65. Thiagu,
you were worried about the Sroutiga going back home safely with so much money. Vaidiks66
know where to keep the money more safely than we do. We are the ones who are fooled . . .

65

66

A thousand, so four altogether.


One who practises and guides others to practice the Dharma prescribed in the stras

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Volume II- Article No 1/Ugranam Thiagu Thatha

Mettur Swami was a fine man - an engineer who served Periyava. Every morning, he
would go to the Palar River and scoop two cans of fresh water from the river-bed for Periyavas
snna and be back by five in the morning with it.
Usually, I would be sent with prasda to VIPs like the royal families of
Thiruvananthapuram or Kollangode. Periyava would make detailed enquries about our visit, how
we were received, who received us and accompanied by whom, what words were spoken and so
on, down to the last detail. Similarly he would tell us how we ought to conduct ourselves. None
can train a person as well as Periyava could. During my periodic visits to Periyava once a week
and during vacation, I was sent on such errands.
Periyavas meal was sparse. Once camping in an open space, I had soaked a handful of
chickpeas. That was all I had in my store. Nothing else was available there. I ground it to a
paste on a flat stone lying nearby, after washing it clean. Periyava took three small balls of this
paste, dipping it in honey. That was his bhika that day. One had to obey his word,that was all.
If we worried that he did not eat, he would say, If all of you eat, take it that I have eaten. It is
just so. But Periyava would make enquiries about our meal and send word to the kitchen that
the cook was sending half-cooked vegetables to be served to the devotees or that the raw plantain
curry lacked salt. If we went to the kitchen, we would see that the vegetable, spread on large
leaves, was indeed half-cooked and raw on the one side.
Our days with Periyava were blissful. We ate whatever we got, whenever we could. A
prominent gentleman once said that we were bandicoots feeding on cashew and raisin. To us
almonds and broken and boiled rice grain were one and same. We ate what was available and
when we got it. Sometimes we had to make do with fruits. All said and done, it cannot take the
place of a meal. At least some rice with curd would do with a piece of pickle and some salt.
Kannan could not fast. Vaithas wife would prepare something for him now and then.
A gentleman called us bandicoots.
Periyava asked him, Who am I?
Periyava is none other than Parameswara!
Who accompanies Parameswara ? Ghosts, ghouls, and spirits, dont they? These are those
ghosts and ghouls! Can you fast as they do and work like they do?
Tirumular says wise men roam like a dog, go about like a ghoul and lie about like a
67
corpse. Periyava took such care of us and never let anyone slight us. Periyava would lie
67

The verse is from two other sources:


1)Saint Tyumnavar, 17051742), articulated the Saiva Siddhanta philosophy in Tamil hymns of which 1454 are
extant. This verse is from Gna Pulampal (lit. Lamentations of Wisdom):
[Peypl tirintu, piampl kidantu, pennai tipl ninaitu,
Tavam mudipatu ekklam?]
Wandering like a ghoul, lying (motionless) like corpse, looking upon on women as ones own Mother, (sans lust),
when shall I finish my Penance?
2) Verse 35 of Painattrs (dates not known), a Tamil Mystics composition
Wandering like a ghoul, lying (senseless) like a corpse,
Eating alms like a dog, laboring like a fox,

28
In the Presence of the Divine
senseless like a corpse, involved within himself, just as the wise are described. How can we
understood. Periyava would say, Take a stick and poke him hard with it. Now let him know
what pain is, how are we to describe it otherwise? So one can only experience it, not describe
the state of such divinity. What do the wise do? Again and again they fix the mind on the Truth
till they become one with it, just like the bee transformed from the larva. One must constantly
remember.Vedapuri neither went to school nor ptala. He does vahanti hma68 and chants
mantrs and today he is Brahmari Vedapuri. If one is with Periyava, one is blessed with
knowledge that manifests of its own accord. One does not have to go to school or ptala.
Many commented that Soundaryalahiri69 lacked a phalruti70. There was a lot of discussion and
the matter was submitted to Periyava.
Periyava asked, Can there be a text without phalruti?
Why, Look at penultimate verse. The adoration of Amb gives knowledge, then wealth and
finally liberation and enlightenment. This is the import of this verse. Is that not acceptable as the
phalruti?71 cry was ever so humble at all times. He did not speak the assurance directly but
stated that worship of Amb gives one all earthly fruits and then the highest of all, wisdom.
If you follow Periyavas discourses down the years, not once will you see him attacking
another or decrying another faith. He always took a neutral stand. Can we mimic the wise men?
If the purs say that Amb placed her foot on ivas head, can all women do the same to their
husbands?72 Now in this day and age we cannot do penance like Periyava. So as Sivan Saar used
Treating all women as ones own mother,
Greeting everybody with humility, will live like babes
Those who realise the Supreme Truth.
3)Tirumlar (dates debated between 6th and 12th centuries) a Tamil aivite mystic; His Tirumantiram of over 3000
verses, forms a seminal part of aivite metaphysics and the canon of devotional mysticism called the Tirumurai.
Periyava inspired an annual celebration in honor of Tirumlar,by devotees from Saatanur, the birth-place of the
yogi, encouraging the recitation of the entire collect of 300 verses in three days and circumambulating the arasamaram (called the king of trees), i.e., a pipal tree (Ficus Religiosa) situated west of the temple in Tiruvavaduturai,
where Tirumular sat in Yoga for over 3000 years.
68
commonly performed as a part of celebrations of our cryas like r ankara-jayanti and Guru-pourima; its
powerful mantras found in the Taittiryopanad (k-vall)kindle worldy success and ultimately enlightment.
69
lit. The Flood of the Sublime Bliss; di ankaras esoteric hymn in adoration of the Divine Mother as the
Supreme Being in its aspect of the akti or Creative Energy, known as the ri-Vidya; consists of nandalahari
(verses 1to 41, composed by Lord iva ) and Soundaryalahari (verses 42 to 100, composed bydi ankara) and
known by the latter title collectively; (See Soundaryalahari- An Exposition by ri Periyav; For Tamil, D K,Vol.
VI, pp 577-1321).
70
Lit. fruit-song; spiritual texts have a benedictory verse assuring the devotee of the fruits of reading it
71
sarasvathy lakmya vidhi-hari-sapatno viharate
rate ptivratya ithilayati ramyea vapua |
cira jvanneva kapitha- pau-pa-vytikara
parnandbhikhya rasayati rasa tvadbhajanavn. | | [Verse 99]
He who worships you sports with Saraswati and Lakshmi, (and is a) rival to Brahma and Hari. With a beautiful
body, he challenges the chastity of Rati (defeats Manmata). Living eternally and casting off contact with the body
and all bondage that is seized by spiritual ignorance, he relishes the joy called supreme bliss.
72
Refers to a puric episode, when iva, after bearing the Gaga in his matted locks, returned to Prvati who did

29
Volume II- Article No 1/Ugranam Thiagu Thatha

to say, at the most we must be righteous. Sivan Saar hardly spoke, Periyava spoke a lot for our
sake, making things easy for us to understand.
I had once gone to Sringeri with G.M.Ramaswami. r Chandrasekhara Narasimha Bharati, who
shared Periyavas name. The pontiff of Sringeri Matha came out and spoke to us. He made
courteous enquiries about Periyava? Does the Swami eat at all? How is his health? What brings
you her?
We came to offer our prostrations I said.
Periyava was camping inVasanthakrishnapuram. We reported our visit in detail.
Not only does he share your name, he looks like you too, Periyava I said.
Did you reciprocate the courtesy and enquire after his welfare? Periyava asked. I had no reply.
Europeans often complained that Periyava did not impart instructions to them directly.
Periyava reply would be, I am the head of an institution and am bound by its regulations. They
were sent to Ramana Ashram, like Paul Brunton73. Queen Irene of Spain would wait, sitting on
the stairs for Periyava and would come running joyously on sighting him. Such was her devotion
to him.
At Karegaon near Pandaripur Periyava was in the camp and an elderly man in
neighbourhood saw Periyava walking down street. He came to the camp later and insisted that he
had had Periyavas daran even when Periyava was in the camp. Periyava himself never spoke of
such things.It is after all one soul that pervades all existence. Periyava holds all existence within
him. He is that all-pervasive consciousness. That is why he knows everything happening
everywhere. Agaesans brother in law had died in that great plane crash into the Atlantic. The
family would get the news only late. Periyava sent word to Agaesan when he reached the camp
to return home at once, where the news was received later in the evening. Meanwhile Periyava
wanted moka dpa to be lit74 for all those who died in the crash. The newspapers reported it
the next day.
If a devotees mother or father was on the verge of passing away, then Periyava would
pack off the person home, no matter how much he pleaded to stay back in Periyavas presence.
Only later would he know why he was sent back. One evening, in Kumbakonam when Periyava
sat down to japa75 in the rear portion of the Matha, I went place an oil-lamp on its wooden
pedestal.we did not have electric lights then. No sooner did I enter into his presence, Periyava
not accept her Lord giving room to another. When iva placed his head at her feet to appease her, she is said to
have pushed him away with her foot. Thus the scar of the crescent moon on her foot. Further when Amb
incarnated as Meenakshi, the Pandya princess, the celestials verified that it was indeed the Divine Mother playing
on the swing as a child, by this identification mark.
73
Real name was Raphael Hurst (1898 1981); a British seeker,and author of many books like A Search in Secret
India (1934). was directed in 1930 to Ramana Maharishi by Periyava whom he saw in Kanchipuram.
74
lamps lit in the temple tower for the salvation of the dead
75
japa: inward chanting of the syllabic or mantra form of a deity; mouna japa is silent chanting without any
outward sign; smasna japa:japa done in the cremation ground; praava japa: japa of Om;Nma japa: japa of the
names of God; trakanma japa: chanting Rma Nma

30
In the Presence of the Divine
picked up a small brass pot and flung it towards me. I ran back. A short while later,
Viswanathaiyer, Senior Mnager went there and Periyava told him, Send Thiagu home, his
grandmaother is dying.
I left at once and my grandmaother passedaway at nine o clock at night.
When Periyava left the Matha, Sivan Saar was happy that Periyava could rest and sleep.
Periyava never had sleep, never any rest when he was in the Matha. As far he was concerned it
was Do or Die. Periyava often said that if one took up a responsibility then one had to execute
it perfectly.
There was once an attempt to murder me. I was just returning to the Matha, when
suddenly Rajendiran, the Head of the workers at the Matha, suddenly shouted out to me,
Swami, lower you head! I did and by a split second missed the long and sharp scythe that
would have sliced off my head and sent it flying. No sooner did I prostrate, Periyava said,
Such a long scythe stretching out his arm, and it was meant to slice off your head like this he
added sweeping an imaginary weapon in his hand. He is everywhere, because he is one all
pervasive.
I was once sent out on an errand. Periyava said, Dont come back fasting because it is
ekdai. Appukuttys wife she knew South Arcot recipes- makes excellent adai. Have some and
then come back. When I went to their house in the course of the work, the lady said, Dont
leave in a hurry Thiagu, I will make you some adai.
My wife was also born under the star Anua, so she too was blessed with Periyavas
graceful habit of hospitality. She was a fine cook and even when I happened to be away she
never turned away a guest without a meal. Jayendra Swami once suffered from sever chest
congestion. My wife made a decoction of herbs and medicines and it cured him.
Mudikondan Seenu, Sesahaih stri and Natarajaiyer came home. I had escorted
Periyava to Tiruvarur camp. My wife told them to bathe in the Caveri and come back for a meal.
By eleven she served them a meal and also packed some rice-uppuma for Natarajaiyer for his
journey via Vriddhachalam.
When they came to Tiruvarur to see Periyava, he asked, How did you manage the
vaisuvdevam?76
The trio said that my wife had served them a meal.
Why! The girl is born in the same star as mine. You must be fortunate to eat her cooking. The
rice-uppuma she makes is not like the one made here. It is delicious. Did she pack some for your
journey also?

76

also called bhtayaja; one of the five great sacrifices or paca-mahyajs; one of the samskars or religious
duties of offering food to all creatures of the world; done to expiate for the sins committed unwittingly; In this
context food is prepared by the wife of the householder for the thiti See ri Periyav on vaisuvdeva in HD,
Parts 22, Chap 8; Also see descriptive index of HD p 821.

31
Volume II- Article No 1/Ugranam Thiagu Thatha

Godavari Sitarama stri Gundulu came to our camp in a small village in Maharashtra,
after visiting Durgapur, Bombay and so on past midnight. We were huddled around a small
hurricane light in an orange garden. Its owner had put up a hand pump as a makeshift
arrangement for our use. We had no other facilities. Both Vedapuri and Srikantan had said that
they did not want to eat anything and fallen asleep. The next day was vapana pourima, and we
were to start for Sholapur. Suddenly Periyava said Sitarama stri is coming with others to see
me. They must be famished with the days fasting. Make some uppuma. I always had a kilo or so
of broken wheat-grain. I could hardly open my eyes. Somehow I put three stones together, made
a fire, put a deep vessel on the stove, seasoned generously with whatever I could lay my hands
on and emptied all the rava, added salt and water and cooked it. I was amazed to see the vessel
half-full and wondered how just one kilo of rava made so much uppuma.
At about 12.30, a van arrived and the gentlemen came eagerly to see Periyava. Periyava insisted
that they eat first. I served them the uppuma along with some spiced buttermilk which I had
readied.
When he gave them prasda, Periyava asked them, Did you eat something? What did Thiagu
serve you?
Sitarama stris grandson said that he had never eaten such tasty pongal. Another said that it
was sojji that was served with plenty of cashew nuts and another said that it was the best ever
uppuma that he had eaten!
The next morning we got ready to start. The Government had given escort police as a mark of
honour whenever Periyava walked from one place to another in Maharashrtra.Periyav said.
Why dont you serve these Special Police some of that uppuma. They are hungry and have not
eaten anything last night.
I wondered how I could scrape the leftovers which had been left uncovered the whole night.
What if a dog had sniffed at it or eaten of it I wondered. Not daring to reply I went and looked
at the vessel and was stunned to see it half-full again, with fresh uppuma, just as it had been
when I had cooked it! It was enough that Periyava said serve them and the vessel was filled
once more.
Those Policeman walked with us to Sholapur and would not go away back to their office. They
wanted to give up their jobs and join the camp, walking behind Periyava.
Nothing doing said Periyava, Go back to your jobs and home. They were finally sent away.
The camp was at Melur and it was Narasimha Jayanti77 then. Spiced jaggery juicepnkam - and flavoured buttermilk were ready and filled in large vessels. The other item that
are traditionally offered is vadaparuppu78 and mixed with pieces of cucumber. It was the height
of summer. Nagarajan, son of Sivan Sirs maternal uncle at Ichangudi was Manager at the
77

lit. victory; A saint or an incarnations day of birth; when the star Swati is in ascendance in the month of Vaikh
(April-May), the manifestation of Narasimha is celebrated at sunset. This precedes Periyavas Jayanti which falls
on Anua or Anurdha star.
78
soaked and softened broken green gram spiced with small pieces of ginger and green chillies

32
In the Presence of the Divine
Matha. He was always very tightfisted and would try to economise as much as possible, so
much so that if a certain thing costed ten rupees, he would try to get it for two rupees. I always
believed that one must buy what one wants and not economise too much Anyway, there was no
cucumber. It was the height of summer and no sign of the vegetable anywhere, not even one. I
told the cook, We have to make do with what there is. Never mind . . . spice the soaked lentils
with chopped ginger and green chillies!
It would be good if we can get at least one small, tender one said Nagarajan.
There are none at all anywhere, leave alone the small and tender ones I said.
Meanwhile Periyava came and when he took a look at the offerings that had been readied, he
asked me in Sanskrit No cucumber?(Urvragam nsti?)
Once the pja commenced or once Periyava entered the pjakattu he eschewed speech.
None is available I said.
What is that? None available! Has the world come to an end? Ready the cart and go out to get
cucumber. The deevatti salaam79 can go on now! There is still some time for sunset. So the
Mathas cart was readied, and I set out.
I told Ramasami the cart-man, See how fast you can race! We need to get back with cucumber !
Look out for it on the way!
We set off at top speed on the road to Kumbakonam. Barely five minutes went by and we had
just crossed Tirunilakudi when a peasant woman, very dark in complexion put out her hand to
stop the cart, wanting to cross the road. The cart slowed down. The woman carried a basket
piled with fresh cucumber just plucked from the garden upon her head. The cart halted.
Sir, do you want cucumber?
I gaped, hardly able to believe my eyes.
How much? I asked her recovering my composure.
Whatever you wish to give!
Five rupees?
She agreed and the basket was brought down and the contents emptied into the cart. In the
market I would have had to pay ten rupees such fresh cucumber and that too a basket load of it. I
paid her five rupees, the cart turned around and we raced back to Melur. We were in back in
exactly ten minutes.
So you got the cucumber? Periyava asked and added Oh, the cucumber was brought to you!
How much did you give the lady who stopped your cart?
Asst go out dusk summer stops us
I said Five rupees, and Periyava said Why, each cucumber deserves to be bought for a rupee!
That was true. I could have given ten rupees only. Who was that peasant woman who stopped
the cart on the highway at sunset time, and offered me a basket full of cucumber in the middle of
summer? I could fathom nothing of it all. Such extraordinary events happened.

79

Votive offerings in the evening to the accompaniment of instruments; closure of the days account in the Matha
submitted in Periyavas presence to Candramoulvara.

33
Volume II- Article No 1/Ugranam Thiagu Thatha

There were times when Amb herself came to the pja, would come and ask for saree
from Periyava and take it away. It happened during the camp in Tiruvidaimarudur.if Periyava
stayed in one place too long, then the daily crowd would thin out. Devotees from other places
would come, not so much the local devotees.
The pja was going on. It was about eleven in the morning. A woman who seemed
deranged stood at the entrance, facing the pja, laughing in a crazed fashion. The watchman on
duty chased her away but she would not leave. The Manager tried, again she would not leave.
Even as he was performing the pja, Periyava shot a glance at Ramachandraiyer for just a
fraction of a moment from the corner of his eye. Ramachandraiyer sent for me. I went there at
once. The womans saree was in tatters on one side. Immediately guessing that Periyava wanted
to give a saree to the woman, I rushed to the store, took out a new saree, brought it to the pja
kattu and placed it near Periyava. Periyava took it and flung it towards the crazed woman. She
picked it up and grinning and laughing ran to the coconut grove nearby, wore it, and throwing
the old, torn saree on the ground began walking away towards the canal, beyond the fencing.
Manickam who served in the Matha followed her to call her back and tell her to take away the
old one. He later said, I thought she was a gypsy and when she went away leaving the old saree
in the coconut grove, I wanted her to remove it because I could allow it to be thrown there. What
if the Master came that way? But she went behind the fence on the bank of the canal and then
just vanished! She was nowhere to be seen. Nor is the saree which she removed to be seen. It has
vanished too. There is something in this. Only the Master would know.
Later Periyava called Ramachandraiyer and said Ramachandraiyer, the silk cloth you
had kept in the pjakattu to be use for Amb was moth-eaten and had a hole in it. You must
take care that the cloth is not torn or moth-eaten. It is enjoined that the house-holder must not
wear a torn and darned dhoti. What then about Amb? So Ambal came and demanded a new
saree. Thiagu would say you have incurred an expense of fifteen rupees for the Matha because of
your carelessness, which you could have avoided had you been cautious. Take care henceforth!
A variety of silk known as ahimsa silk was used in the Matha, silk made from silk worm that
died naturally and not put to death for the sake of making silk. From that day onwards,
Ramachandraiyer would examine the cloth for the pjakattu a dozen times, very closely and
carefully, before he placed it there. He was like Nandikewara80, so loyal and dedicated.
Periyava would perform pja to his hearts content. Keep as many baskets piled with
flowers as you can, it would all be offered in worship. Pile the place with sandal paste and silk
and ornaments, it would all be used to decorate the Divine Mother. Those sitting on the other
side of the curtain would wait impatiently for the bell to ring. You could take a trip around
Madras and come back in time to get the prasda. Mahratta Swami often told us, Parameswara
has taken this incarnation just to adore the Divine Mother. Siva got all his powers by
worshipping Amb, and now Parameswara is adoring the Divine Mother. The pja would
80

ivas mount, considered chief of the Yogis.

34
In the Presence of the Divine
come to an end only when Periyava felt contented. Sometimes if it took very long we would
slowly part the curtain and look. We would see Periyava weeping in bliss and knocking his
forehead on the swing. He would shed tears of joy, and we would see his lips moving in an
inaudible manner as if he were talking to someone. In fact, we would keep a small handloom
towel there for him to wipe his tears. One day I got a shot on my face for peeping like this.
The Tiruppvai-Tiruvempvai Conference81 which Periyava conducted concluded at
midnight. After that Periyava took his purificatory bath and did the pourami pja since it was a
full-moon night. The pja went on and on. The curtain remained closed. Only two or three
devotees were there. Everyone else had left. It was about two in the night. I struggled to keep
my eyes open. There was no sign of the bell ringing. The night-guard on watch rang the hourly
bell twice and left to change guard.Slowly, very cautiously, I parted the curtain, may be just a
fingers space, and peeped. The water in one of the small golden cups was thrown exactly on my
eyes with the force of a whiplash, although Periyava did not turn around and aim at my face as
he did so. Everything happened in a flash, I lost my eyesight in both eyes but not before I saw a
small girl-child, a little more than an infant - may be less than two years of age - seated on the
swing with her legs hanging down and Periyava holding her tiny feet. It was the Divine Mother
seated on the swing.
I had lost my vision. I groped around blindly that night and the next day, my head
hanging down. I avoided meeting anyone and did not saying a word to anyone. Everyone in the
Matha said What is it Thiagu? You dont seem well! I did not tell anyone that I could not see
anything. At two o clock in the afternoon, Periyava sent for me. I went and prostrated to him.
Periyava gave me two grapes and asked Can you see me? I looked up and just as I had lost my
vision in a flesh, I got it back and could see Periyava. Is this the way to do pja? I asked.
Later after I got married Periyava directed a great ri Vidya upsaka82, a descendant of the
Haradatta83 lineage to initiate me into ri Vidya worship. I was in Madavilagam then. I knew
nothing of all this and asked if I had to chant mantras. Before he passed away my ri Vidya Guru
initiated me into odai84, which is never given to practionners, except in rare cases. Periyava
81

Tiruppvai-Tiruvempvai: collects of 30 verses and 20 verses celebrating esoteric union with ri Narayaa and
iva by the saints ndal and Mickavcakar respectively. It was Periyava who brought out these two texts to the
public making available its singing, set to music. For eight days from 25-12-1950, the Tiruppvai, Thiruvempvai
and Tirumurai conference was organized in Tiruvidaimarudur on Periyavas suggestion to promote the singing of
these texts and to create an awareness about them. On the last day Sattur Subramaniam and Ariyakudi Ramanuja
Ayyangar sang the Tiruvempvai & Tiruvacakam and Tiruppvai respectively, having set it to appropriate ragas
and having prepared the notations themselves, at Periyavas behest. For more details see Pujyasri Maha Swamigal
Varalaru (Tamil) by Sri Sambhamurthi Sastrigal, Sri Kuppuswami Iyer& P.N. Parasuraman and pub;ished by
Alliance Publishers, Mds, Vol 2.
82
A worshipper of the Divine Mother through the practice of ri Vidya.
83
A great worshipper of iva & practionner of ri Vidya; a shrine is dedicated to him at Kanjanur Agneeswara
temple in Tanjavur district.
84
The highest stage of ri Vidya, rarely initiated to aspirants; its mantra known as Mahoa has twenty eight seed

35
Volume II- Article No 1/Ugranam Thiagu Thatha
was near Chitoor, prior to returning to Tamil Nadu after initiating Bla Periyava85 into
asceticism. I went for daran.
So . . . your guru has given you what is not at all given to anyone! said Periyava. Your
grandfather of the fourth generation preceding did odai worship and that is why it has returned
to you now.
About four or five years ago, Periyava asked me in a dream why there was no place for
him in my house. That is when this photograph was framed and put up. A week before my wife
passed away, this was some year ago, she had dream. The place was Melattur, near Thanjavur
where we had both gone for daran decades ago when Periyava camped there. She saw the same
scene again -Periyava seated in his mena on the banks of the Vettaru. He beckoned her towards
him and signalled to me to stay away. In the morning she told me about it. A little later that
morning at about ten O clock when we had both finished our meal, Balakrishnan came with a
picture that another friend had told him to hand over to us. It was a picture of Periyava seated in
the mena on the river-bank, just as my wife had seen in her dream and just as we had seen him
together so many years ago in Melattur.
My wife said, Look at this picture, just as I described. You did not believe me then!
Periyava once asked me in a dream Is there place only for you in this house? Not for me? So
that is how I got this big picture framed and hung up.
This happened on prathama, the first day of the waxing fortnight. Eight days later on navami,
the ninth day, she passed away.
When the mind is still the breath is paused, this is kumbhaka86 in yoga. Each kumbhaka
adds a year to your life. The best thing to do is to think of Periyava. Devotees would pray that
Periyava live for 200 years.
Why must I ? Periyava would ask. Do I not have limbs like you do or did not my parents give
me birth even as yours did you? How long must I listen to all this?
My wife and I went for daran in the first week of January before Periyava attained
87
siddhi . Periyava said This is your last daran. That was our third visit that month, that is that
Tamil month of Marghzhi. So we thought Periyava meant that, since we regularly made three
trips to him every month. Balu who was serving Periyava said that Periyava was coughing
incessantly and that the doctor was worried. When Balu went out for something, Periyava looked
up and touching his throat gestured as if to say, Its nothing. I am fine. Go home. As soon as
Balu returned, Periyava dropped his head on his chest once more and assumed a former posture.
Eight days later we understood what Periyava had meant by the words This is your last daran.

syllables, excluding the first praava (the primordial AUM)


lit. child elder; a term used for ri ankara VijayendraSarasvati
86
Kumbha is pot and the body is suffused with the vital air that is unmoving
87
siddhi; lit. fruition, refers to a saints merger with the divine
85

36
In the Presence of the Divine
That day I was in Tiruchi and my brother was conducting Radha Kalyanam88 but I had
been seized with a bout of shivering at mid-day and felt restless. When I got the news I wanted to
reach Kanchipuram, but how could I. A lorry driver spotted me on the road and stopping of
hisown accord, said that he was going to Chengelpet and offered to give me a lift for three
rupees. He never took the money. I reached Chengelpet by four the next day, Kanchipuram by
six and the Matha by nine o clock. Periyavas grace is always there. Dont ask for anything
except to see him often. Nothing saves one like devotion to the Guru. It can make you roll a
mountain like Anjaneya and fill you with a unique bliss. We once had to catch a train for
Sankara Iyer, which left Egmore at seven in the evening. Periyava told him to board it at
Villupuram. We left Poonamalle and in just an hour and a half reached Villupuram, God knows
how! Close your eyes and think of him and he will play on your lap like a child. Memory is what
matters, memory of him, always.
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88

Lit. Radhas wedding; The celebration of the union of Radha and Krishna through the singing of Saint Jayadevas
22 (out of the 24) Atapadi hymns that describe the mystic merger of the individual soul with the Lord symbolized
through Radha and Krishna respectively; the music is intended as congregational singing co-opted into set structures
and formalized in classical tunes; often held in houses as a preface to events such as weddings.