"Where is Poondi?"
"About seven miles from Polur, on the main road to Tiruvannamalai.
You will have to take a diversion to reach Poondi village," Pargunan
We left immediately for Poondi accompanied by Duraiswami Swamigal.
about five miles on the Polur-Tiruvannamalai trunk road, we took a turn
to the right at Kalasapakkam and travelled along the River Cheyyar.
"This area has been
Poondi Swamiyar's haunt for a number of years. Whether it was blazing
sun, or torrential rain, whether it was biting cold or thick mist, he
used to spend his days and nights on the river bed only," said Swamiji.
"Does he belong to Kalasapakkam?"
"No one knows his
name or place of birth. For over three decades, he was seen roaming
about in the neighbouring villages. About seven years ago he came to
Poondi and sat in a small house permanently."
"What is his age?"
"He looks a man of sixty. But those who have seen him 25 years ago
say that they do not find any change in his appearance and that he does
not seem to be aging at all. You cannot assess a Siddha's age from his
appearance," stated Swamiji.
As we travelled, we
enjoyed the natural beauty of the rural landscape. Because of good
rainfall, there was a perceptible flow in the otherwise dry river. The
leaves of a row of peepul trees on the bank rustled in the cool breeze,
somewhat reducing the rigours of the blazing sun.
As we neared
Poondi, I asked, "Is the house occupied by the Swamiyar in the interior
of the village?"
"No, it is on the
main bus route. See, there! Do you see that group of persons standing
near a house? That is the house. We park the car here," said the Swamiji
and driver Palani brought the car to a halt.
We got down from
the car and walked up to the house. It was a small, tiled house. It had
two pyals on either side. The one on the right was a square one, four
feet by four feet, and the one on the left was rectangular, four feet
long and two feet wide.
On the left pyal
sat the Poondi Swamiyar. His head was poised at an odd angle. He glanced
from time to time at those who stood around. He held a couple of boxes
of matches in a tight grip in his right hand as he patiently combed his
moderate beard with the fingers of his left hand. Every now and then he
looked intently at his fingertips, as if searching for lice or dirt.
Then he got back to combing his beard with serious intent.
A young man
arrived, went to the Swamiyar and whispered in his ear. The Swamiyar
nodded assent with a gruff 'hmm'. The young man picked up a cigarette,
placed it between the Swamiyar's lips and lit it. The Swamiyar asked for
the box of matches. Now the Swamiyar had three boxes of matches in his
right fist! He smoked with his left hand. I found him smoking in an
unusual way. He inhaled, removed the cigarette, blew out the smoke,
almost immediately took the cigarette back to his lips, inhaled, removed
it and blew out smoke. He did this rapidly again and again, like a
fast-motion shot in a movie, finishing a full cigarette within a couple
of minutes! He let out only a little smoke, yet did not seem to swallow
much of it.
Two admirers fell
prostrate on the ground, stood up, touched his feet with veneration, and
asked for sacred ash as prasad.
"You may take it,"
came the curt command. They took it from the cup, smeared it on their
foreheads and left, merely saying, "We are going, Saami". "Let good
befall on your endeavours," responded the Swamiyar, looking down, then
looking up for a split second with sparkling eyes.
A boy came with a
bottle of aerated water. He opened the bottle and offered it to the
Swamiyar, who took it and drank it at a stretch, without once removing
the bottle from his lips. As he handed over the bottle to the waiting
boy, he let out a noisy and prolonged belch. The boy took a piece of
cloth and wiped the Swamiyar's mouth and nostrils. The Swamiyar received
these ministrations like a well-behaved child.
Before the boy
left, the Swamiyar took a pinch of sacred ash, smeared it on the boy's
forehead and bade him go. I had been staring at the Swamiyar all this
while. He suddenly looked at me. Nay, I felt a cool spark strike me.
When I had read about the efficacy of Shirdi Sai Baba's 'yogic glance' I
could not comprehend its full import. When I experienced the
power-packed glance of Poondi Swamiyar, I could imagine the impact Sai
Baba's yogic glances would have had on his devotees.
I, who had been
watching the happenings without being impressed, fell at his feet the
moment he glanced at me. It was an act performed unconsciously. It was a
spontaneous response to a look that thrilled me beyond words.
A woman admirer put
a peppermint in the Swamiyar's mouth, as if she was feeding her child.
He stretched his hand and asked for the piece of paper in which the
peppermint had been wrapped. An inexplicable impulse prompted me to
offer something to the Swamiyar. I asked my friend to get a cup of
coffee from a nearby 'tea shop'.
seated on his pyar. Prominent around him are lithograph pictures of Lord
Murugan with the Lord's Vel and the focus of worship. Besides the Vel,
at least four images are of Murugan.
A local enthusiast
who had been busy offering me unsolicited information about the
idiosyncrasies of the Swamiyar, told me that he would accept anything
only if he had the mind and mood for it, and if he accepted what was
offered, it meant the giver had his blessings in ample measure. Hence,
it was with much hesitation and trepidation that I proffered the coffee
to the Swamiyar.
He gave me a
searching look and accepted the coffee. I observed his fingers. They
were long and thickset. The hand was also large and sturdy. If he stood
up he would be a stalwart figure.
He drank the coffee
too in an unorthodox fashion. He neither raised his head nor removed
the cup from his lips. He slurped the coffee fast with his tongue, as a
cat would drink milk from a plate. I was immensely pleased that he had
not only accepted my coffee but drunk it with relish. No sooner had he
finished, another admirer brought him a cup of tea. He drank that too in
the same manner. His ways were indeed strange.
and eatables were littered all over the place. He was surrounded by
oranges, apples, grapes, plantains, laddu, halwa, boondhi, chocolates,
peppermints, biscuits and what not! On his lap lay a cigarette packet,
two chocolate wrappers, a one rupee note. There were two glasses with
left-over cold coffee. Pictures of various gods hung on the wall. There
was a small but imposing vel of Muruga. A colour picture of Lord Muruga
was nailed to a pillar opposite him. The Swamiyar concentrated on it at
regular intervals. Behind the pyal, there was a small room. The various
eatables offered to the Swamiyar were dumped in it up to the roof.
Cigarette packets, boxes of matches, garlands, fruits, plantain leaves,
bits of paper and a thousand and one things had been thrown in as
directed by him. Nobody dared touch even a trivial thing found on the
pyal without his permission.
I was startled to
find the fruits that had been thrown in were fresh. They had not become
rotten. No stink emanated from them. I could not see even a single fly
I was introduced to a man named Subramani, who was standing near a
thatched shed opposite the house. He was a tailor. He had been attending
on the Swamiyar for the past three or four years. Before that, when the
Swamiyar was occupying the bigger pyal on the right, he did not allow
anyone to even come near him.
Only during the
last three years had he let others clean the pyal and bathe his body.
Subramani brought food for the Swamiyar from his house, both in the
morning and in the evening, but the Swamiyar "had never asked him or
anyone else to bring him anything to eat. He would eat only if he was
spoon-fed. If he did not feel like it, he would reject the food
summarily. The Swamiyar sat through the whole day. Only at night would
Subramani assist him to stretch out on the pyal. It was anyone's guess
if he slept at all. At four in the morning, he would be assisted to sit
up and resume his usual posture.
"Does he talk to people?" I asked Subramani.
"Oh, yes. He will
talk freely, provided he is in the mood. Sometimes he gives direct
answers to queries. Sometimes he replies with indirect and oblique
remarks. We then have to try and understand the meaning with a little
"Have you ever had occasion to ask his name or about his native place?"
"Oh, yes. Several
times, but in vain. He will not reveal them. He would silence me by
saying, 'They are divine secrets'."
"Has any miracle
taken place here to prove that he is really a Siddha Purusha? I asked.
Subramani wanted to say something, but seemed to hesitate.
"Please be frank," I encouraged him.
"So many things
happen every day... I am not clear in my mind if I should narrate them
or not. You must be very cautious and careful. He is not an ordinary
Swamiyar. You should gauge him according to your own personal
I took leave of the Swamiyar and left for Vellore.
A week later, I was back in Poondi and spoke to him. I said,
"Swami, I was here last week. I could not resist the desire to see you
again, so I came." I just spoke inconsequentially, merely because I felt
an urge to say something. I least expected him to reply.
unexpectedly he spoke. "Even Nagarathnam Pillai says so. He says, 'If
you think of me, I must be here'. Don't you know Arcot Nagarathnam
Pillai? I mean Vellore-Arcot..."
I was reassured and emboldened.
"What is Swami's name? From where does the Swami hail?" I asked hurriedly.
"What harm did I do
to rice-mill Govindaraja Mudaliar, or what did he do to me? Everything
belongs to those good old days... good and bad... order and
discipline... transport, justice, honour... what do you say? They laid
the roads. Buses plied... electricity came... they planted the posts...
Konerikuppam, Pilluru, Melvaidyanatha Kuppam... Friday shandy... will
there not be a crowd? Those who come to buy and sell, and their
children... everything must go on automatically... mustn't it? Do you
concur with me? Annamangalam, Adimoolam... Ernamangalam Sivaraman...
They put up a tollgate... took money and gave a receipt... But it is
valid only for the night... Next day you must obtain a fresh receipt.
Understand?" He went on in this strain. I could not make head or tail of
his disjointed statements. To ascertain the probable period during
which the incidents he referred to took place, I asked him, "Were the
Englishmen in the country then?"
"The Japanese were
also there," quick came the reply. I surmised he was referring to a time
during World War II.
"May I know Swami's
name and his birthplace?" I asked again, taking advantage of his
"I can't tell you all those things," he replied in a huff and I felt snubbed.
From the subjects he
discussed and the idiom he used, it would appear that he had spent long
years in rural areas. The core of his observations was agricultural
problems and village development. But we could not divine the content or
decipher the meaning of his utterances. Was he talking about the past,
present or future? It was impossible to guess.
The Poondi Swamiyar does not reply to all questions. When he
condescends to reply, some are direct answers, some are indirect
references. He talks to persons at random. Most of the time he keeps a
stoic silence. He looks at familiar and unfamiliar faces with equal
indifference. It is extremely hard to observe any perceptible change in
disciples from neighbouring villages trickle in throughout the day. Some
fall at his feet, take the sacred ash and, smearing it on the forehead,
speed away. If they take leave of him saying "Poi varen, Saami", he
sometimes replies "Nallathu, poi va" (very good, you may go), sometimes
he simply nods assent, and at other times he remains as still as a rock,
just staring at them.
Some take him into
confidence and discuss their personal affairs. He gives them a patient
and sympathetic hearing and sends them away with words of advice. He
imparts knowledge through a colloquial language which will catch the
imagination of rustic minds or by quoting a proverb which is used in
day-to-day life. The deeper we ponder over them, the clearer the
underlying import and significance become.
An old woman
complains to the Swamiyar with deep hurt about her son who has become a
spendthrift because of his evil ways. In the Swamiyar's comforting words
to the unfortunate woman, his deep concern for her is obvious.
"What can we do
about it, Ammal This is the Kali Age. If we spend twelve annas in a
rupee, we must save four annas. We need not covet others' wealth or
aspire to their property. We must be satisfied with a cup of gruel.
Don't you agree with me, Ammal As is said in the proverb, 'The mother's
heart is melting in love and the son's heart is-hard as stone', you
suffer agony. What to do? This is the Kali Age. Nobody will sympathise
with another's suffering. If we step on a thorn, even the man next to us
will not come to our rescue. Times are bad, what to do? You can lead a
comfortable life only if you lead a careful life and save something for
the winter... small drops make an ocean. Arulilarkku avvulagam Mai,
Porulilarkku ivvulagam Mai (Those who do not have compassion are denied
the joys of the other world. Those who do not have wealth are denied the
pleasures of this world)."
The woman intervenes
and mumbles something. The Swamiyar continues, "Yes, yes... it is not
without significance they said 'You will hurt the same leg again and
again, and the very same famished family is destined to suffer more and
more'... Bad company. Who can help it, this is the Kali Age? You need
not take much precaution if you raise greens in the garden. But if you
plant a drumstick sapling nearby, you must put up a fence all round.
Otherwise someone will steal the drumsticks when the tree starts
yielding... This is such a hopeless age..."
announces his plans to start a business, taking a friend as his partner.
He seeks the Swamiyar's blessings for the project.
"Even in some
families, brothers born to the same mother do not live in amity and
peace these days... they quarrel among themelves... you be careful in
your venture," advises the Swamiyar.
When I reached Poondi on my next visit, it was nearly 9 p.m.
The peaceful village was asleep. A couple of people standing in front
of the Swamiyar's pyal were conversing in whispers.
We went near him.
The fan was on and the fakir was stretched out. His eyelids were closed,
but his toes were moving a little. Subramani switched off the light and
drew the curtain.
"When will you wake him in the morning?" I asked.
"The question of
waking him only arises if he sleeps! If you call him at any time during
the night, he will open his eyes. He is lying down only because we do
not want him to sit all the time. The day before yesterday, a group of
people suddenly arrived from Coimbatore at midnight. We called out to
him. He immediately sat up and talked to them. He also ate the fruits
they gave. Do you want to talk to him? I shall ask him to sit up," said
"No, please don't
disturb him. I will be committing a sin if I make him sit up when he is
stretching his tired limbs. We intend spending the night here. I shall
meet him in the morning," I said.
At exactly four a.m.
we were awakened by the voice of the tea-shop owner, who was pleading
with someone to get up and fetch the milk.
We got up and saw a
kitten running about near the Swamiyar's pyal. I had seen it there
before. It would play about on the Swamiyar's lap, curl itself and sleep
snugly in his lap, dance on his shoulders, sip the milk from the tiny
aluminium cup near him. But the Swamiyar would not take notice of
anything. I had not seen him touch the mischievous kitten even once,
much less fondle it.
The kitten mewed
once or twice. "Probably this is Suprabhatham for the Swamiyar,"
commented my friend Bobji. We heard the Swamiyar cracking his fingers.
Soon afterwards, the boy from the tea-shop arrived with a cup of hot tea
and called out "Saami". The Swamiyar sat up immediately. After he
finished drinking the tea, he coughed noisily.
Subramani went up to
the Swamiyar, wiped his face with a piece of wet cloth, changed his
shirt, smeared his forehead with vibhuti (sacred ash), applied chandan
and kumkum, garlanded him, removed the curtain and performed the usual
pooja. Those who were standing around and the people who had arrived by
the first bus offered their worship.
The Swamiyar had
opened 'shop' for the day. The lucky ones would benefit by stopping
there and getting blessed.
Everyone whom I contacted and made enquiries of said this
Siddha had been roaming about in the surrounding rural areas for thirty
years or more. I wanted to see the spots associated with the Swamiyar.
There is not a
single temple in the area which he has not visited, no tree under which
he has not sat, no boulder on which he has not slept. The villagers
point out many landmarks, saying with enthusiasm "Swamiyar used to sit
here", "He slept there", "He would have his food in this house", or "He
would frequent that shop".
Twenty years ago
they found him in the Mettupalayam stream to the left of the Cheyyar
River, and housed him in a newly constructed hut. He would wander about
throughout the day and retire to the hut in the evening. Sometimes he
would sleep in a nearby cremation ground. He had been walking aimlessly
with a bundle on his head and another in his hand when they found him.
Someone who had been very kind to the Swamiyar, expecting him to do him a
favour in return, was disappointed. Hurt by the insult, he belaboured
the Swamiyar mercilessly as a result of which the Swamiyar left the
place and went to Pulluru, a nearby village, where he stayed midst
thorny bushes and cactus hedges. He then settled in a running brook. He
would not move out of it even if there was a heavy downpour. The
villagers, fearing that he might be washed away by the gushing waters,
prepared a bamboo cage for him. But one day he was caught in a flood and
almost drowned. The villagers rescued him, warmed his body by burning
straw and kept him in Pachaiappa Nayanar's house.
This information was
given to me by Ponnusami Nayanar, a former Chairman of the Panchayat
Board. For him, Poondi Swamiyar was God himself. He was emotionally
charged whenever he referred to the Swamiyar. With moist eyes, he
narrated episode after episode which bound him to the Swamiyar for ever.
Once, due to a
village feud, somebody robbed his sugarcane grinding machine. Complaints
lodged with the Police were of no avail. Ponnusami Nayanar, for whom
this was a grievous loss, went to the Swamiyar and stood before him,
mentally calculating the chances of recovering the machine.
suddenly said, "Your property is safe. You will find it in the river
bank near Nasari grove. Go and search for it."
"The wonder of it
was that that same day, someone saw a nail jutting out of the sand, and
when we dug there, we found the machine intact. The Swamiyar had
correctly pointed out the spot where the robbers had buried the stolen
machine. From that day, he has been my God. At least once a day, I go to
him for darshan. I do not talk to him. I pray mentally, and he answers
my prayers and sets things right. Recently, there was a mild disturbance
in my domestic life. There was a difference of opinion on a vital
problem between myself and my son. I was naturally worried. The Swamiyar
appeared in my son's dream and resolved the matter," narrated Ponnusami
Many persons I met
and talked to recounted several such miracles. The Swamiyar seems to
have registered a strong impression in everyone's mind by influencing
their life through some inexplicable act or other.
Once, while walking
along the riverside at night, a person was rendered speechless with
horror when he saw the dismembered body of the Swamiyar, the limbs
strewn in different directions. He fled from the gruesome scene and
spent a sleepless night, but the next morning he found the Swamiyar hale
and hearty, going about his business normally.
that the Swamiyar has never begged for his food. Some have seen him eat
mud and stones when hungry.
We went to see his haunts in Prayappattu, Mottur, Natchatrakoil, villages to the north of Poondi.
worship the Swamiyar as God. They love him as their child. They believe
by personal experience that a mere look from him will relieve them of
their troubles and that a pinch of sacred ash from him will cure
"If he is not
inclined to give us prasadam, it is impossible to get it from him
whatever tactics we might adopt. Once, I saw a very affluent person
trying to get prasadam from his hands by offering him various things,
but the Swamiyar would not yield. He was insistent that the visitor must
take the sacred ash from the cup himself. I have never seen him
discriminate between the rich and the poor, or a familiar face and a
stranger," a villager told us. "A spotless saint with no requirements",
"A wise and dispassionate sage", "One who is always immersed in his
inner self, completely oblivious of his body", "A true Siddha who
showers his blessings speaking the language of the eyes". These are some
of the favourite descriptions given by his admirers, but the Swamiyar
remains an enigma, who does not fit into any of these descriptions.
It was the middle of 1971. I was in Poondi again after a
lapse of about six months. When I approached the Swamiyar, he was
engaged in his 'yogic practice' (as the local gentry would have it),
shutting his eyes, raising his eyebrows in jerky motions, clenching his
teeth tightly, shaking his head at an odd angle. I had observed him
before, engaged in such continuous and contorted facial gesticulations.
In such moments, devotees normally refrained from talking to him. He is
said to be in 'yoga'. No one was sure when it would cease. It might last
half an hour, two hours or, sometimes, even four hours at a stretch. I
sat in the thatched shed opposite, observing the Swamiyar intently. A
village schoolmaster came to me and said, "I feel sorry that you cannot
converse with the Swamiyar at present. As you have come after a long
break, you must have much to discuss with him. He has been in 'yoga' for
the past two days. He has not exchanged even a word with anybody."
well-meaning teacher that I had not come to talk to the Swamiyar but
only for darshan, I waited for twenty more minutes.
I approached the
Swamiyar with the intention of taking leave of him. Just then, I was
goaded by a sudden inner urge to reveal the dream I had had the previous
I said, "Last night,
the Kanchi Sankaracharya appeared in my dream and suggested that I
write something more about you".
The moment he heard
me utter the name 'Sankaracharya', the Swamiyar stopped his 'yoga'
abruptly and listened to what I had to say.
"I have already
written what little details I could gather about you. If you are pleased
to provide me with more information, I will be only too happy to record
it," I ventured hesitantly.
"Yes, go on... write...," said the Swamiyar enthusiastically.
"I can write only if
I get more facts. I am told your good self had stayed in nearby
villages like Kanchi and Kadaladi. Will I be able to gather some
information if I go to those places?" I asked.
"Well and good...
you may go there... there is a mutt for Sankaracharya in Kanchi..."
I was intrigued
because I thought that the Swamiyar was confusing the village Kanchi ten
miles away with the town Kanchipuram more than sixty miles away. The
Sankaracharya's chief mutt is situated in Kanchipuram.
"Do you mean the Big Kanchipuram?" I asked.
"No, I am referring
to Kanchi. The mutt there is a brick and mortar building... the work of a
maistry (master mason)."
"Is there a temple?"
"Yes, yes... go and
see it for yourself. There are three lingas. Ask Narayanaswami
Chettiar... he will tell you everything."
"Which Narayanaswami Chettiar?"
"Temple trustee Narayanaswami Chettiar."
I headed for the
village of Kanchi. We went past Kadaladi and reached Kanchi. It was a
tiny little village. It didn't look like a place where you would find a
monastery. But because the Swamiyar had told me so, I confidently asked a
person stretched out on the verandah of an unassuming building whether
there was a Sankaracharya mutt in Kanchi.
"There is no such
mutt here, but we have a 'Sankara Nilayam'," answered the person,
"Where is it?"
"This is the
building. I am the caretaker. When Kanchi Sankaracharya was here last,
he expressed a wish that we must acquire a building for a school to
teach the Vedas. Hence we bought this by raising-public donations. Why
don't you step in and have a look?" he said and conducted us in. I
followed him, unable to suppress my surprise at unwittingly coming to
the right building first stop. There was a large portrait of the
Sankaracharya in the main hall. I paid my obeisance.
I realised that the
Poondi Swamiyar must have referred to this building as the mutt. It was
just an ordinary brick and mortar masonry structure. The Swamiyar must
have described this as 'maistry work' in his own inimitable language!
I went to the Siva
temple whose deity is known as Kara Kandeswarar. There I learnt of six
other Kara Kandeswarar Temples along the banks of the Cheyyar river, in
Kadaladi, Mambakkam, Madhimangalam, Yelathur, Poondi and Kuruvimalai.
They are together known as 'Saptha Karaikandam'. These Sivalingas were
established and worshipped by Lord Subramania, in atonement for the sin
he once committed of cutting off the heads of seven holy Brahmins.
Chettiar mentioned by the Swamiyar was no more the trustee and he was
not in the village just then. Instead, I was asked to contact one
Venkatarama Chettiar, popularly known as 'Kullappa'. But as he was sick,
I could not talk much with him. I could not gather any worthwhile
information about the Swamiyar's story in Kanchi other than the vague
recollections of some old villagers.
As we were proceeding from Kadaladi to Madhimangalam, I saw an
imposing hill. On enquiry, I learnt that it was called the Parvata Hills
and that there was an Eswara shrine on the top. An old man pointed out
the white speck of a dome.
"Are there steps to climb to the top?" I asked.
"No, you will have
to go up by a rough and irregular track. It will take four to five hours
to reach the top. It is difficult and troublesome," said the old man.
"Is regular worship performed for the deity?" I asked.
"The priest goes up
only twice a year. But they say siddhas come there every night to offer
worship. If you stay overnight here, you will hear the sound of the
bells, smell the fragrance of burning incense. In the morning you will
find flowers on the Sivalinga."
I had heard about
the Parvata Hills some time ago as one of the haunts of the Poondi
Swamiyar. Since then, it had attracted me and when I heard about its
mystic association from this local, I decided to climb the hill with my
A month and a half
later, we arrived in Poondi to seek the blessings of the Swamiyar for
our mountaineering venture! I was anxious to have his advice, along with
his blessings, for the expedition, as the locals had painted a
frightening picture of the difficulties to be faced during the ascent.
I went to the
Swamiyar and said in an undertone, "We intend climbing the Parvata
Hills. Have we your permission to go?"
"Oh, yes. You may go there," he promptly replied.
"What are we expected to see there?" I asked.
shrine. Sivaratri is important there. Annabhishekam. Rathasapthami. I
was there on that day," recalled the Swamiyar.
I had previously
been informed only of a Siva shrine on top, but Swamiyar spoke of a
goddess' shrine. Though confused a little, I did not seek clarification
"Swami, I am given
to understand that it is a rather difficult and arduous journey. We need
your blessings for a safe expedition," I requested.
"You may proceed....
big rails... small rails... crowbar…all jumper work." The Swamiyar
spoke in monosyllables as usual.
I could not make out anything of what he said, but I kept discreetly mum.
"Our intention is to
go to Kadaladi and seek the help of the village headman, Nageswara
"It is already late," mumbled the Swamiyar.
We received the
sacred ash from the Swamiyar and were on our way. When we reached
Kadaladi, about eight miles from Poondi, it was nearly four in the
evening. We met Nageswara Iyer, who was happy to help us with our plans.
I was anxious to start, without wasting any time, and suggested we
begin the climb with the aid of a petromax lamp. But Iyer discouraged
us. He said our safety was his responsibility. He knew when and how to
"You have dinner at
my house, and rest for the night. Get up at five in the morning, and
have a bath before you leave for the foot of the hills. I will make all
the necessary arrangements," Iyer said. He was one of those whose
bearing and manner of speech demand immediate and absolute obedience. We
put ourselves in his hands.
The journey up the
hill the next morning was hazardous and wearisome. But for the help of
local guides and the company of my friends, I would have surely retraced
my steps half way. They coaxed me not to give up the attempt.
Physically I was exhausted, but some indomitable will spurred me on.
The last lap was the
worst. It was very steep and slippery. A huge rock was studded with
iron bars. I had to almost crawl up at a snail's pace, holding the bars
one by one as I inched my way up. One slip would have cost me my life.
"The Poondi Swamiyar
must have referred to these iron bars as crowbars," I thought.
"Fixing these bars
in the rock is known as jumper work; the Swamiyar must have meant this,"
By God's grace we
successfully negotiated the steep ascent, but then, lo, ahead of us were
a couple of girders bridging a yawning gap between two rocks. We would
have to cross that.
The Swamiyar had evidently referred to this bridge as the 'big rails'.
"There you see the
small rails," pointed out Sundaresan, our photographer. The Poondi
Swamiyar had been absolutely correct. We had to climb a small iron
ladder to reach the top.
A fortnight later,
we went to Poondi and recounted our experiences to the Swamiyar. He
listened without any comment. When I showed him the photographs, he
looked at them with interest but showed no expression in his face.
Sensing that the
Swamiyar was in a receptive and communicative mood, I returned to my
usual questions which he had been parrying all these months.
"From where has Swami come to Poondi?"
"I came to Kadaladi
from Modern Theatres. In those days, we had the Karthikeyan Bus Service
plying in these parts... I was taken in one of the buses. I spoke
something. They could not understand. They just blinked," the Swamiyar
"In what language did Swami speak to them?"
I thought I was
being clever, putting that question. I thought I could discover to which
region of the country he belonged.
"I spoke a language
they could not understand," replied the Swamiyar, eluding the net I had
spread for him!
The Poondi Swamiyar
had been using the name 'Modern Theatres' quite often in his
conversation. To verify whether it was the Modern Theatres situated in
Salem, I asked him, "Do you mean the film studio?"
"Yes," he replied.
"If I go there, can I get some information about you?"
"Yes, you can."
"Is there anybody known to you still alive?"
"Shall I go there and make enquiries?"
"Oh, yes, you may try."
"Why did you come to Kadaladi from Modern Theatres?"
"I was just walking towards Singarawadi."
"Where is Singarawadi?"
Wherever I went, I went without seeking anything in particular. I would
return without any regret or remorse. That particular day, I was
dejected that I had been born without a place or name. When I came near
the Police Station, I felt tired and stretched out. Just then a sayabu
came near me and asked, 'Swami, what brought you here?'"
"Which sayabu?" I asked in great eagerness.
"Don't you know
Khadar Batcha. He is a fine gentleman. He is a skilled conversationalist
and he is too clever for anybody... So I kept silent all the time,
without answering any of his questions."
"Swami, the Vinayaka
temple is being neglected without pooja or abhishekam. Why don't you
arrange for some one to look after the temple?' Khadar Batcha requested
me. But I never spoke to him. It is very difficult to vanquish him in
talk. I simply dozed off. I got up the next morning and resumed my walk.
Four or five persons were going towards the paddy field with pickaxes.
Probably they were busy with the ragi crop. Just then I saw about ten
persons standing at the bus stop, obviously waiting for the bus. I
guessed that they were pilgrims bound for Tirupati. I was resting under
the tamarind tree. Khadar Batcha came there... and taking out his
penknife, peeled a mango and offered it to me saying, 'Eat it, Swami'.
No one can hope to beat him in conversation, so I received it from him
and ate it."
He went on in this
strain without a break. He spoke as if he was witnessing everything he
recounted. While he talked, the past, the present and the future
appeared to lose their meaning, and time and space seemed to attain new
While we listened to
him, we entertained no doubts regarding the veracity of his narration
or any of its details.
Intrigued by his
statement that he felt sorry that he had been born without a place or
name, I asked him, "Is such a birth possible?"
He coolly shot back, "Why not?"
The pooja over, the
Swamiyar was put to bed. I was standing near his head. The Chairman of
the Swamiyar Committee suggested that I could ask some questions.
I asked the Swamiyar
to say something about the Parvata Hills and he replied, "There were
streets. I saw some hotels and shops. I went upstairs and knocked at the
door. A dozen persons were seated inside, I thought the time and the
atmosphere were not conducive, so I came down."
I could make nothing
of his abstruse and obscure utterances. But I was vaguely conscious
that they had a deeper significance and relevance.
The Swamiyar refused to be drawn out any further on the subject.
Like the seven
Karaikanda shrines, on the northern bank of the Cheyyar, there are seven
Siva shrines known as 'Sapta Kailasam'. I expressed my wish to visit
these shrines and sought the Swamiyar's blessings.
He blessed me and
asked me to go to Vasudevampattu, Thamarapakkam, Narthampoondi,
ThenpalHpattu, Pazhankoil, Karappoondi and Mandakalathur.
I asked him, "Have you seen those temples?"
"I never go in. I just see them from outside as I walk along," he replied.
It was past nine
when I left the Swamiyar and adjourned to the thatched hut opposite, for
my night's rest.
It was nearly four in the morning when I awoke. I got up from my bed,
walked up to the pyal occupied by the Swamiyar, and stood by it
silently. The little kitten which was curled near the Swamiyar's feet,
suddenly stood up, raised its back, bending it like a bow, shook its
body and mildly scratched the Swamiyar's right foot. He opened his eyes
slightly, reacting to the sensation, and was helped to sit up. The alarm
clock shrieked. It was four to the second.
The tea vendor from
the neighbouring shop brought a cup of tea. The Swamiyar received it and
drank it in his own queer style. Subramani brought him water in a
bucket, and gave the Swamiyar's face, hands and legs a quick wash,
changed his shirt, applied sacred ash on his forehead, garlanded him,
lit camphor and swirled it before him.
A woman accompanied
by her son approached the Swamiyar. "Saami, I took a vow to offer you
money, kindly accept it," she said and handed over 25 rupees in currency
notes. He received the money and kept it in his hand.
"Saami, the boy has
failed the pre-university course. Am I to send him for some job or start
a small business for him?" the anxious mother asked.
"Wait for 15 days.
You need not decide in a hurry... take it easy," he said with touching
affection and concern.
"Saami, we take our leave of you."
"Yes, you may go."
After receiving the prasadam, they departed.
A person was waiting
with three children. He had come the previous night. He had fallen out
with his father. In anger, he had left his home with his family. He had
left his wife with her parents and started in search of a livelihood,
taking his three children along with him. For a couple of days he had
wandered aimlessly and, unable to find mental peace, had come for the
He came near the Swamiyar and whispered his plight into his ears.
"What am I expected to do now, tell me, Saami?" he asked in innocent candour.
"You go back to your
father. How can you work anywhere with three little children. Who will
look after them? If the father is unreasonable and querulous, the son
should submit and compromise in the interest of domestic peace.
Take your wife and return home. Do you understand what I mean?"
"Yes, Saami, I will
do as you bid," said the person and, receiving the prasadam, took leave
of the Swamiyar.
Later that morning,
after a bath in the holy Cheyyar, we left for Kadaladi, and went round
the Parvata Hills, a distance of nearly 16 miles. The next day, we
visited the Sapta Kailasam temples in the company of Nageswara Iyer.
Back in Madras,
Poondi Swamiyar still haunted my thoughts. I had been made aware of the
Sapta Karaikandam and Sapta Kailasam shrines and the Parvata Hills only
because of this mystic. His utterances, with their psychic flavour, and
his simple and rustic homilies had captured my imagination and had
inexplicably drawn me to him again and again. But however much I tried, I
could not elicit any information about his birth or early days. I gave
up the attempt as a futile exercise. His parentage and place of birth
and early life still remain a mystery. In retrospect, I am convinced
that this adds to the awe of his enigmatic personality.
Among those who wrote to me about their experiences in the
Parvata Hills was A. Viswanatha Pillai, a Highways Inspector. He
belonged to Arunagirimangalam, adjacent to Madhimangalam. He wrote to me
to say that I should have chosen the Madhimangalam approach rather than
the Kadaladi route to climb the Parvata Hills. His family had been
going to the top on Sivaratri regularly for the past thirty years. Some
time later, he met me and invited me to go with him to the Hills on
turned to the Siddha Purushas who could disappear from view at will and
reappear the next moment in any form they choose. Pillai recalled
meeting a siddha in the Parvata Hills.
About 25 years ago,
Pillai had climbed the hill on Sivarathri with his parents and brothers.
Among those who are fed on that day was a person who looked like a
local woodcutter. He stayed with them overnight, and accompanied them on
their return journey the next morning.
As they were coming
down the Hills, they wondered whether the stranger might be a siddha and
whispered their doubts among themselves. The stranger, who intuitively
sensed the subject of their conversation, decided to clear their doubts.
He stood before a thorny bush and declared, "Some people here do not
believe in my powers. Let them know who I am." The next moment, the bush
split in two. The stranger stepped in between the two halves and the
bush closed again, completely covering him.
convinced that he was a siddha. After a minute, he came out of the bush,
Later he walked with them, engaging everyone in light conversation. They
arrived at the Pachai Amman shrine (mentioned to me by the Swamiyar) in
the foothills, offered worship and had a sumptuous lunch. The siddha
ate well, sitting next to Pillai. Later, they resumed their journey.
Three or four
persons were in front, the siddha was in the middle and Pillai and his
relatives were at the rear as they walked. When they came to a stream,
the Siddha stepped into the stream to quench his thirst. Suddenly, he
disappeared and all attempts to find him proved futile. They returned
home with a heavy heart.
Pillai told me that
when he had invited the stranger to join them for dinner the previous
night on the hill top, he had at first excused himself. He had said, "We
are twelve in all. Only I have come out. Some other day, all twelve
will come and dine with you." But Pillai had finally persuaded him to
dine with them that night.
After hearing Pillai
narrate his experiences, I remembered what the Poondi Swamiyar had told
me once. He had said that "when I went up and knocked at the door, I
saw twelve persons sitting inside and I had to return as the time and
atmosphere were not conducive then".
I still wonder
whether the twelve persons mentioned by the siddha are the same as those
referred to by Poondi Swamiyar.
The doubt persists
in enveloping darkness. I am waiting patiently for the light of dawn."
From Six Mystics of India
By Bharanidharan (T.S. Sridhar)