Saturday, January 23, 2010

Vadalur Vallalar


Ramayya Pillai and Chinnamai were leading a simple life at Marudhur in South Arcot district a village 15 km north-west of Chidambaram. Pillai was a teacher in a local school and an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. They were blessed with four children [Sabhapathi, Parasuraman, Sundarammal, Unnamulai]. A sage visited their house a fine morning and conveyed the message that a child of extraordinary brilliance would be born to them. Days turned into months and on 5th October 1823 a baby boy was born to the delight of the couple. They named him Ramalingam. When Ramalinga was five months old his parents took him to the Chidambaram temple and when the priest offered the traditional “Deeparadhana” to the Lord the child laughed aloud as if to tell the world that he will later worship the eternal God in the form of Deepam or Light as “Arut perum Jyothi, Thani perum Karunai”. Child Ramalinga lost his father within a year of his birth in the year 1824. The responsibility of the family fell on the shoulder of Sabhapathi the elder son of the family. Later the family moved to Madras.

Commencement of spiritual journey

Being a teacher himself Sabhapathi wanted to Ramalinga to get educated but Ramalinga showed no interest towards formal education but rather prefer to spend his time in the precincts of Kanda Swamy temple at Kandakottam, [which is near to the present day Parry’s Corner, Madras]. Sabhapati was upset with the behavior of his younger brother Ramalinga and as a punitive measure he instructed his wife not to give his daily meal. However the compassionate sister-in-law secretly fed him food and softly advised Ramalingam to pursue his studies at home. Ramalingam relented with a condition that he is given a separate room of his own which was agreed.

Now in the solitary confines of the room Ramalingam set up a mirror and in front of it lit a small lamp and start mediating relentlessly and this was the beginning of the young Ramalinga’s spiritual journey. The first reward came in the form of a vision of Lord Muruga and in the saints own words “The beauty endowed divine faces six, the illustrious shoulders twelve”. Ramalingam spent most of his time in his room. Sitting before a mirror, he used to meditate and compose poems. As he meditated his individual self had disappeared and the Lord he realized within revealed himself in the reflection on the mirror. Visiting the Kanda Kottam Murugan temple became the daily routine and he felt intensely emotional and poured out his devotion in the form of Deiva Mani Malai, Kandar Sarana Pathu, Shanmugar Kalaipathu etc.,

Interesting incident

Sabapathi was a learned scholar and also a upanyasaka [one who tells religious stories]. It so happened that Sabapathi has to give a spiritual discourse one particular day but due to his poor health condition could not able to go. He deputed Ramalingam to convey the message of his inability to perform. As the organizers could not make alternative arrangements they insisted Ramalingam to perform the role of his brother. A reluctant Ramalingam took the stage. However when he started enunciating a verse from the Periya Puranam he gave a brilliant exposition of Shaiva Sidhantha and kept the audience spell bound and awestruck. “No ordinary person can perform a divine discourse as effortlessly and magnificently as Ramaligam” this was one of the remark from the audience. Later his brother Sabhapathi felt ashamed that he could not able to recognize the greatness of his own brother. The Saint later himself expressed his gratitude to the divine of the performance he gave and said “Effulgent flame of grace that lit in me intelligence to know untaught”.

Divine Composition of “Thiru Arutpa”

Ramalingam gave beautiful expression of his devotion through songs. He composed many verses of poems and the foremost among them was ‘Thiru Arutpa’ which is a collection of 5818 poems divided into six volumes. Thiruvarutpa is considered as an outstanding work of literature and devotion. Such is the devotion and appeal of Thiruvarutpa and has been placed as part of the Twelve Thirumurai or collection of songs sung by Saivite devotees on Lord Shiva. Disciples thronged to hear him and drew immense inspiration from him.

Miracles of Vallalar

Burning the lamp with Water

In the village, Karunguzhi where the saint had his residence in the house of one Venkata Reddiar, one of his devotees, the saint used to go for writing poems, throughout day and night. One day the inmates of Reddiar’s family had gone out to a nearby village to attend a function and did not return in the night also. There was no oil in the lamp burning in his room. A vessel had been left by his side, and the saint who was much absorbed in writing the poems, without verifying the contents of the vessel, simply poured it in the lamp and it burnt the whole night. The next day all the family members returned home and found the vessel containing the water empty. Instead, the lamp was found filled with water and it was burning. Quite astonished to see the miraculous deed, they used to worship the saint as God with due reverences for his godliness.

In one of the poems written by him subsequently, the saint refers to the incident as not a miraculous deed, but treats it as an occurrence for exhibiting the real truth. We shall try to learn about the same in the paragraph coming hereunder. Generally a lamp is kept burning with the aid of oil. When it is exhausted, the lamp flickers and ceases to burn. So also for the existence of the human body, food is the main criteria. Without food the body cannot stand. But in the above case, the lamp is kept burning with the aid of mere water. If that be the case, one can infer that the human body also can survive with the water alone. The saint personifies the lamp as the body of the human being and the water as compassion. Thus he proved that he was an embodiment of compassion and did not discard it at any time. His love for humanity at large and the other living creatures was so intense that he always used to extend his help to the needy. In course of time, this compassion filled the entire body was transformed into a pure one (suddha dega) and finally immortalized and began to live there forever with eternal bliss.

Appearance in a judicial court

The bickering in the minds of men drive them to courts even though the issue involved therein will be of a trivial nature. The saint was also not spared in such circumstances. His fame remained unchallenged. One of the contemporaries filed a suit against the saint just to bring disreputation to his name. Such an incident occurred during the life time of the saint and it is narrated below. One Arumuga Navalar of Jaffna is remarkable among those who contributed much to Tamil prose literature. He did memorable work in spreading saivaism and saivite literature among the public. He became so much jealous towards the saint he questioned the literature in ‘Arutpa’ (gift of the Divine Bliss) the renderings of the Saint were complied and published by his disciples. According to Arumuga Navalar, it should be termed as ‘marutpa’ meaning that the renderings were made out only by a materialistic and not as ‘Arutpa’ the name with which it was published. The said Navalar thus filed a suit against the saint in the court of the District munsif at Manjakuppam praying for a decree for the withdrawal of the name ‘Arutpa’ by the defendant.

The case was taken on file by the court and it ordered the issue of notice to the defendant. On the date of hearing, Navalar was present in the court before time. Soon the Munsif resumed his chair and called on the defendant by name. No sooner his name was called on, the saint entered the hall. The plaintiff stood in reverence and greeted him with folded hands. His followers who had assembled there also followed suit. The munsif himself got up from the chair and paid reverence to the saint but it is said that it happened so without his own knowledge. A divine atmosphere then prevailed in the court hall, after hearing the heated arguments from both sides, the court delivered the judgment. In the course of judgment, the court held that ‘Arutpa’ is a valuable treasure to the world in Tamil literature and its outcome is entirely based on Divine inspiration. The Plaintiff, who was questioned about the respect he paid to the saint, said that the defendant is a wise and noble soul possessing extraordinary powers as a gift from the Almighty. This is the reason that made him to give reverence to the saint.

The court also held that in as much as that on his own admission that the saint is a wise cultured soul, it cannot be argued that his renderings were of a worldly nature. In these circumstances fully respecting the wishes of the saint the court decreed the case in favor of the defendant. It is to be seen that this district munsif who was elevated to the position of a judge to the Chennai High court, is none else than Justice Muthusami Iyer whose judgments are of a sane nature and as a memorial to him, a statue has been erected and seen in the High court Buildings, Chennai.
Countless were the miracles performed by the saint and pages will not be enough in this small book to bring out all his miracles. It is enough to know that he is an embodiment of all powers.

Divine Grace of Light [Arut Perum Jyoti Thani Perum Karunai]

Vallalar gradually started realizing God as the supreme power manifesting throughout the universe. Vallalar was immensely moved by the divine power of the Lord of Chidambaram. Here, Lord Shiva appeared both in form and without form. One can experience that which has a form by seeing it and feeling it. One can visualize that which has no form by imagining it or contemplating it. Vallalar experienced both the characteristics of form and formlessness in Jyothi, the divine light. It has a form because one can experience it and see it. It is also without form because one cannot feel it and it is likely to be extinguished. Vallalar believed that the Eternal Truth remains unrevealed and it is the Jyothi, the Vast Grace of Light, that causes the revelation of truth. A subject is able to perceive an object only when the reflection of the light falls on the object. If a precious stone meant for public display is kept in a dark corner it never gets noticed. It needs the focus of a light to bring out its full value in sparkling brilliance. The power of Jyothi is highlighted in all religions. It forms the foundation of all thoughts, all activities and systems. Jyothi is the eternal divine power that first originated in the universe. The cause of all actions, whether physical or chemical, is energy or heat. The source and origin of energy or heat is Jyothi. The Jyothi is invisible and merges with the energy. It is present everywhere; in sun, moon, light and fire. The universe operates on its own inherent energy.

There is self-sustaining energy in every atom or human cell. It is this energy that causes all movements and all activities. Jyothi gives the sustaining-power to a life. Jyothi gives life to all and there is Jyothi in every soul (Athma Jyothi). Rig Veda says the significance of Jyothi is beyond human comprehension. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says, Tamasoma Jyotir Gamaya – Oh Lord take me from Darkness to the Light. As Jyothi is manifested in different forms throughout universe and as divine power within every human soul, Vallalar advocated the Jyothi form of worship. He said that the Supreme Lord had revealed to him the powerful Mantra of Divine Light
“Arut Perum Jyoti, Arut Perum JyotiThani Perum Karunai, Arut Perum Jyothi”.
As favoured by the disciples, the literal meaning of this is given as the great effulgence of the Lord with his profound compassion coming to rule the earth.

Compassion towards all living entities [Jeeva Karunya Ozhukkam]

Another important aspect of Vallalar’s philosophy is Jeeva Karunya Ozhukkam, which means having a compassionate outlook towards all lives. Vallalar wanted the whole humanity to integrate into one single objective, the divine unity of souls, based on ‘Jeeva Karunyam’ or Compassion towards all living entities. It refers to one’s attitude towards fellow beings on the one hand and towards all other creatures like animals, birds etc. Vallalar could not bear to see the agony of people suffering from hunger. He stressed the quality of compassion for all. The privileged ones should help the less privileged and service to humanity is equal to service to God. God created, apart from humans, other species also like animals, birds etc. as part of the nature. Man, endowed with intelligence, was supposed to preserve the nature and protect these poor creatures. Unfortunately, he turned out to be the biggest threat for their survival. Man has silenced the feeble voice of conscience that came from his heart, surrendered to the dictates of his mind and fulfilled the nefarious demands of his body. According to Vallalar, he or she only is entitled to receive God’s grace who lives in harmony with nature and shows compassion towards God’s creations. He who takes non vegetarian food forfeits his privilege to seek entry into the temple of God.

Establishment of Sathya Dharma Salai

Vallalar established a number of institutions that survive today. Vallalar believed in the dignity of man and emphasized that religions should respect this dignity. He was the embodiment of compassion. When he saw people suffering for want of food, it reminded him of falling young plants drying up for want of nourishment. He expressed this feeling in one of his songs thus: “I felt sad seeing the falling ear of tender plants, withering for want of nourishment. I felt sad seeing frail people crestfallen for want of food.” (Vaadiya Payirinai Kanda Pothellam Vaadinen). In 1865 he established a poor feeding center called as Sathya Dharma Salai at Vadalur. On the inaugural day he lit the fire of the stone stove, with a declaration that the fire be ever alive and the needy shall be fed forever.

Sathya Gnana Sabai

Ramalinga Adigal opened a temple at Vadalur on January 25, 1872, called the "Sathya Gnana Sabha" (Hall of True Knowledge). This place is not a temple. An oil lamp is kept perpetually burning. There are seven cotton fabric screens, representing the seven factors that prevent a soul from realizing its true nature. The entire complex is bound by a chain with 21,600 links, said to represent 21,600 inhalations by a normal human being.

Establishment of Society for pure truth in Universal self-hood or ‘Samarasa Sudha Sanmarga Sabhai’

Vallalar established Samarasa Sudha Sanmarga Sabhai as the medium to translate his ideals into practice. The term Samarasa means equanimity, the concept that encompasses all religious thoughts and respects all faiths and religions. The term ‘Sudham’ implies purity and sublimity. Sanmargam means the right and truthful way. In short, it is a philosophy that transcends all existing spiritual thoughts and shows the perfect way of truth. It emphasizes the importance of discipline which Vallalar classified as discipline of senses Indriya Ozhukkam, Karana Ozhukkam, Jeeva Ozhukkam, and Athma Ozhukkam. Vallalar also stressed the importance of charity. He considered food offering (Annadhana) as the most sacred duty of all. Vallalar dreamt of the day when hunger and poverty would completely be eliminated. The philosophy of Sudha Sanmarga (Pure Gathering), built on the concept of love and compassion, aims at purifying the body, enlivening the mind, enriching the intellect and enlightening the soul, the different steps that lead to immortality. It follows the path of simplicity and discipline; the path of Sanmarga where there is no human distinctions.

The path of Sanmarga symbolizes truth, love and discipline which leads to the highest stage of divinity (Iswara Sakshathkaram) and immortality. Vallalar underlined certain principles which formed the foundation of Samarasa Sudha Sanmargam. These are:-

God is one. He is Arut Perum Jyothi, the Vast Grace of Light.
All are children of one God and there is no caste, religious or regional differences.
One should recognize the divinity in every soul, respect it and live in peace and prosperity, in a spirit of love and unity.
Compassion towards all fellow beings and compassion towards all lives such as animals, birds etc. should form the basis of all actions.
To reach God, tread the path of simplicity and humility and not through rituals or extravagant way of worship.

Pasithiru, Thanithiru, Vizhithiru!

Saint Ramalingar, giving the essence of his teachings said Pasithiru `Experience Hunger'' (not about food, but the soul should always yearn to reach God), Thanithiru `Be aloof'' (avoid getting caught by delusion) and Vizhithiru ``Always be aware'' (be constantly vigilant over the activities of the senses).

Normally, a seeker, bound by various attachments in the world, finds many obstacles in his spiritual journey. The family ties, the properties, passions, prejudices, attachments and affiliations all bind him, incapacitating him or her for any meaningful action. The 52 iron links that symbolically form a chain and surround the Gnana Sabhai signal the message that one who is determined and dedicated can remove these chains one by one, liberate himself and realize the Vast Grace of Light.

Vallalar as a Reformer

Vallalar saw many ills plaguing the society. Steeped in ignorance, people were following certain outmoded customs, dogmas, beliefs and practices. There were differences within Hindu religion. The need of the hour was transformation in socio-religious practices, change in concepts or mis-concepts and change in way of life. Vallalar felt this need. He wished everyone living in the spirit of universal brother-hood, showing compassion towards all lives. Vallalar perceived God not as an identifiable image, not necessarily in the form of an idol and not restricted to a class or religion. He perceived God as all-pervading divine power. He pointed out the lacuna in the prevailing practices and sought to dispel many ill-conceived notions. He sought to dispense with various practices like rituals. He sought to remove the artificial barriers and unite all aspirants under one common platform. He then took the role of a reformer, introduced the universal and uniform concept of Jyothi worship and Sudha Sanmarga.

The mission of Vallalar

He led a life of virtue, abstinence and discipline, though he prayed for all people, accepting their vices as his own. He always wore spotless clean white cloth around his body that symbolized gentleness and peace. He looked serene and majestic, his sparkling eyes conveying the message of love. He spoke in a low gentle tone. Even while singing, he maintained a low pitch. Perhaps, one could hear his voice rose while speaking for vegetarianism. He performed many acts of miracles but never agreed that he consciously exercised such powers or even possessed them. He not only fulfilled the aspiration of the soul but also healed the body. He was a good physician who prescribed clean diet habits, exercise, Pranayamam and Yoga for good health.

Vallalar believed that just as the soul, body also undergoes a spiritual transformation by the grace of Jyothi. When the body functions independently of sense organs, it becomes pure. When the soul within is sublime and sacred, it implies that the body in which the soul lives is also pure. Just as the contents are pure, the container also gets purity and sanctity. As a result of spiritual transformation, the body assumes a stage of divine Golden Deathless Body. It continues to remain in this divine stage deriving its own inherent energy and then attains immortality. In line with his belief, Vallalar is believed to have attained immortality.

Swami Ramalingam's Ascension on Thai Poosam Day

It was on a Thai Poosam i.e. on 30th January 1874 that Swami Ramalingam made his final merger with Jyoti and physically disappeared from the earth plane. No traces of his body were ever found. Vallalar drew some of his close disciples near and said “I wish to confine myself in the room here. Do not search for me and if you do, you would not find. I believe, God has willed it that way and I hope it would happen that way”. He then walked away, entered into a room and closed the door. It is believed that he sacrificed his deathless body and dematerialized so that he could continue his divine presence among his disciples, grace them and guide them. That marked the end of a great sage or the beginning of a new age. That marked the end of a glorious chapter of Vallalar that opened up a new chapter for man’s eternal quest to know the truth. That marked the end of a period of darkness that heralded the advent of a new era of awakening, the era of light and Jyothi.

May the light of love, the light of grace he kindled radiate its brilliance all over. May the beacon light he lit brighten up the world. May the flame of grace he brought bring a sense of unity and peace all over the earth!

Reference :

Harikatha by Smt. Tanjavur Kamala Murthy

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