Siddha Sankaralinga Swami
Thirty-five years ago, in the town of Ulundurpet, in a quiet little upstairs apartment, I had the great blessing of meeting Siddha Sankaralinga Swami, an incarnation of Kailaya Sattamuni and Durvasa Maharishi. He was quite an interesting man.
At the start of the day, he used to put a 4 cubits long white cloth around his waist, then come downstairs. Then, he would walk for 2 kilometers. If he passed a tea shop, he would stop and ask for a cup of tea. Naturally, he was followed by several devotees, who would get the cup of tea he requested and serve it to him. After only two sips he would be finished, then give it back to the devotees to share and enjoy as an offering. When all had had their fill, he would return back to his apartment for his shower. His devotees always kept warm water ready, and the Siddha would sit down on the floor as they carefully poured the water over him. They did it with such grace, as though they were performing a sacred ablution. While they bathed him, he would chant: “Om Sankaralingaya Namaha,” and his devotees would repeat the chant with him. That is how he became known as Sankaralinga Swami.
Just the mere sight of the Siddha Sankaralinga Swami could solve any chronic problem his devotees might have. Therefore, the rich and poor, people from all walks of life, visited him in many numbers. Unfortunately, as the Siddha’s popularity grew, so did his landlord’s impatience. He complained that the crowds visiting the Swami had gotten out of hand, so the devotees began searching for a new home. They eventually settled on a lot behind the Ulundurpet Court, near a traveler’s bungalow owned by a man named Lingam. After seeing the place for myself, I got to work. I instructed Radha to build the Swami a cottage from coconut sheet, and we were even able to furnish it with an oven and cooking utensils.
For a while, Siddha Sankaralinga Swami stayed in the cottage. But soon he moved away to stay in the apartment of Gunasekaran, an assistant director of HR&C (Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Department) and a close acquaintance of mine. Still, our cottage went to good use. Siddha Sankaralinga Swami’s devotees improved its water facilities and used it as a location to feed porridge to 200 – 300 people a day.
I remember, when I was still fully occupied in service at my Guru Kagapujanda’a ashram, whenever the rice would run out, my Guru would tell me, letting me know that we did not have enough for the free food offering – annadhanam – that would usually feed 300-500 people on a daily basis. Then, I would go to Chennai right away to meet people and spread charity, in hopes of gaining enough resources to return to the ashram. I would carry five liters of Sanjeevi oil with me and distribute it to the people I knew to relieve joint pain, body heat, and diabetes. In return, I would receive the necessary rice and groceries I needed.
On one occasion, for my bus fare to Chennai, my Guru the Siddha gave me Rs 30 from under his deer skin seat. Then, he asked if this would be enough? I was stunned, thinking, How could it be? The regular fare to Chennai is RS 27, which left me only RS 3 for tea on my way to the city, not counting what I needed to get back home. But I trusted Siddha. He knew that I would find funds for the return trip.
“It will be enough,” I said. With a smile, he bid me goodbye.
The universe works in mysterious ways. When the bus stopped in Ulundurpet, I had the sudden urge to get off and visit Siddha Sankaralinga Swami. Without hesitation, I followed my instinct. When we met, we spoke some, and he offered me a place to stay while I was in town. At first, I was uncertain, but eventually I took him up on his offer. For the rest of our conversation, he just smiled at me, almost mockingly. But I said nothing, just met his stare with a peaceful one of my own. I tried to focus on my purpose.
During my stay with the Swami, he would often pick someone from his regular audience of followers and devotees to accompany the person he had selected to do the shopping for the day’s feeding into town. On this day, he picked me. It was my responsibility to buy all the necessary ingredients. When I checked my pockets, I got nervous – all I had was Rs 24. That would take no time to spend, and then where would I be? How would I afford my ticket home? But I didn’t complain or ask questions. Instead, I did the math: I could buy a dosa or pancake and some vegetables. If I went to the Greengrocers, they would give me more vegetables if they knew it was for the Siddha. There were lots of options. Somehow, I made it work. When I returned, I left everything I had bought at his feet. When he looked up to take note of the food, he quickly turned his attention to me. He knew there was something troubling me, my ongoing dilemma: How would I ever make it to Chennai? In that instant, I decided to meditate on him. As we spoke mind to mind, his smile slowly returned.
After a while, I asked him to bid me goodbye, but he would not. I didn’t know what to do. So, I did all I could do… I waited. When I finally got permission to leave, I rose quickly, before he could change his mind. As I was leaving, one of Sankaralinga Swami’s attendants loaned me Rs 20 for my bus fare to Chennai, and I was able to continue on with my original mission. In Chennai I explained the benefits of charity and gave the Sanjeeve oil to those who needed it, and from those who already knew the oil’s benefits I received the necessary funds to buy and ship the rice and groceries I came for back to my ashram.
It has turned into a tradition; whenever I go to Sankaralinga Swami’s place, similar drama occurs. I borrow my bus fare to Chennai and pay it back when I return to Ulundurpet.
The next time I asked my Guru the Siddha for permission to go to Chennai, he was quick to answer.
“Get a bus straight to Chennai. Do not go to Ulundurpet.”
“Why?” I asked, somewhat disappointed.
“It is enough to meet a Saint once. If your heart is pure and you have charitable thoughts, he will come looking for you. Now you seek the purpose of your life.”
When I was in Chennai, usually once every ten days or so, Sankaralinga Swami would get a car to come see me. Once when he came, I took him with me to the New Woodlands Hotel to meet with Gangai Amaran, to make him pay the rent for the car Swami hired. It was nearly lunch time when Gangai Amaran came to meet with us, and I made him ask the Swami what he would like to eat, too.
He wanted bajji, a fried food consisting of a portion of batter. It was very rare for one to get a bajji at lunchtime, because it is a snack item and not a meal. However, Gangai Amaran was a friend of the owner of the hotel. Thus, he special – ordered a bajji for the Swami. Swami ate one bite and gave the rest to me. I ate it, collected the rent for the car from Gangai Amaran, and completed my duty.
Another time when the Swami visited Chennai, the matter of his car rental had to be addressed again. So, I approached the cabinet minister S.D. Somasundaram’s P.A Rajaram, at the Chief Secretariat, to discuss the fee. At that time, M. G. Ramachandran was the chief minister. The building was crowded and the security was tight. The P.A came late. Suddenly, Swami got out of the car without any robes on his body and urinated in the direction of the Chief Secretariat, but this act was not visible to anybody. Time with the Swami was never dull.
Once, Swami gifted a gold ring to my oldest son, but I had to sell it to pay for his car rental. Another time, he visited me in Chennai at midnight. Out of courtesy, I asked him what he wanted for dinner. He asked for spicy rice pudding. At that time of night, it was almost impossible to find rice pudding. But by a miracle, I found some steaming – hot in a restaurant.
On another occasion, I was staying in the quarters of Thiruvannamalai Temple administrative officer Mr. Sivakumar for a few days. One night as I meditated, I saw Siddha Sankaralinga Swami crawling. I told Sivakumar I had a feeling that the Swami would soon be visiting the temple. As a confirmation to my vision, the swami’s disciple called me on the phone. He said that the Swami would visit Thirvannamalai and wanted to know where I was. I told him I was staying at Thirvannamalai myself and invited him to the temple quarters. All of this was to Sivakumar’s amazement. He found the entire situation incredible – only yesterday had I said the Swami might visit, and today we had gotten his call!
When the Swami came, I got him food. He ate, and then took leave from me. Again, I meditated on him, and again I saw him crawling like a baby towards me. I looked at him sharply, and he returned my look. This is, and always will be, one of my unforgettable memories.
The one meal the Swami ate at the Thiruvannamali Temple dissolved the misery and sorrow of ten million devotees of the temple. Sivakumar was astounded at such a blessing.
“With a single glance from the Guru, a million sins accrued have been erased,” he beamed.
I could write a whole book on the Swami.
There was a time when I was languished in a painful family situation. My child Sundaramahalingam did not have a proper environment in which to spend his childhood. His grandmother would often chain him to a pillar, and visibly enjoyed his agony. As a father, I could understand my two-year-old child’s longing look when it would be time for me to leave, pleading with me to take him along. He looked like a caged lion cub. I longed for the Siddhas to defend him.
Then came the miracle. Siddha Sankaralinga Swami came to me at lightning speed. He persuaded me to come and stay at his house. He also requested I bring my family. He took me, my wife and child in his car and dropped us off at his house. Then he disappeared for the duration of our stay. I can never repay him for his kindness.
Only the realized, the wise people, will understand the lessons a householder (a married person) learns compared to an ascetic.
Swami’s last stage is approaching. His physical condition is not well. But in spite of his condition, he still visits me whenever he can. Once during a visit, he stayed at my house. That night, I laid down next to him and had a dream. In this dream, a few angels informed the Swami that his grandson (referring to me) had arrived. Swami replied, “He is coming and going, but he does not respect me.”
I used to be busy with my charitable work whenever he visited, and often I couldn’t give him the attention I felt he deserved. In my dream, he locked me with his legs so that I couldn’t leave and told me that I must stay there. It was then I understood: soon, the Swami would attain Samadhi. However, in the same dream, I left Swami and went back to my Guru the Siddha’s Ashram in Perambalur. When I arrived, I told Siddha Sankaralinga Swami I no longer had the opportunity or arrangement to stay and continue my charitable work with him. Then I woke up.
Siddha Sankaralinga Swami attained his Samadhi a few days after this dream. But he is at peace with me, and also a great supporter of my work.
OM Sankaralingaya Namaha