Culture, History, Religion, Spirituality

Sadasiva Brahmendra – The Avadutha-Mouna Muni

Two events changed the very contours and course of Sadasiva Brahmendra’s life completely – the first transformed him from a Brahmachari on the threshold of Grahastha-ashrama-dharma into a Sanyasi and the second from a Sanyasi into a Mouna-Muni (silent sage), an epitome of the“Dakshinamoorthy-Swaroopa”

In his celebrated “Atma Vidya Vilasa” (“Living in the Knowledge of the Atma/Self”), which Sri Ramana Maharishi considered a masterpiece on Advaita, Sadasiva Brahmendra describes in the space of 62 verses what and how it “feels” to live soaked in the bliss of “Atmanananda” (The joy of self-realization) Anyone who reads it along with Sadasiva’s life story would be able to conclude that it is actually an autobiographical account of Sadasiva’s life particularly after he “crossed over to the other side”

Consider verses five and six below where he talks about that momentous moment when the crossover happened:

स्वाविद्यैकनिबद्धः कुर्वन्कर्माणि मुह्यमानः सन् । दैवाद्विधृतबन्धः स्वात्मज्ञानान्मुनिर्जयति ॥ ५॥

He who was earlier bound by his own ignorance (despite possessing all knowledge of the Vedas), and who was engaged in and tied to (worldly) activities and felt bewildered (as a consequence of that), now shines as a victorious sage, having by God’s grace, shaken-off his shackles, with the knowledge of and the realization of the Atman (his own Self).

मायावशेन सुप्तो मध्ये पश्यन्सहस्रशः स्वप्नान् । देशिकवचःप्रबुद्धो दीव्यत्यानन्दवारिधौ कोऽपि ॥ ६॥

He who was sleeping (in ignorance), completely under the influence of maya and seeing a thousand dreams (in the waking state too), is now awakened by the words of his guru and (forever) delights in the ocean of bliss.

Sivaramakrishna to Sadasiva:

No one is clear on the exact date-of-birth of Sadasiva Brahmendra. However, there is universal consensus that he was a contemporary of two other prominent Hindu saints of the time Sridhara Venkatesa Ayyaval and Sri Bodhendra Saraswathi the latter being the 60th Jagathguru of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. This would place him in and around the 18thcentury. The three were in fact Veda Pathashala classmates.

Sadasiva was born to the couple Moksha Somasundara Avadhaani and Parvati and was named Sivaramakrishna. It was later that he came to be known as Sadasiva, for he was forever in an exalted state, merged and completely soaked as it were in Siva-Tattva.

Sivan Sir (Sri Sadasiva Sastrigal), a great saint in his own right and the purva-ashrama brother of the Kanchi Mahaperiayava Shri Chandrashekarendra Saraswathi has dedicated an entire chapter to Sadasiva Brahmendra in his Tamil book “Yeni Padigalil Mandargal”

In that book he never refers to “Sadasiva” as “Brahmendra”. He calls him “Brahmam” meaning “pure essence” because he believed that Sadasiva had transcended the human form and was a living example of “Brahma-Tattva” in its purest form. At several places in the book he also chooses to use the pronoun “It” to refer to Sadasiva.

As was the custom in those days, Sivaramakrishna was invested with the poonal (sacred thread) when he was five and enrolled into a Veda Pathashala where he was the brightest star – precocious and gifted but with an argumentative streak bordering on stubbornness and a strong determination to win every argument. As soon as he finished his study of the Vedas, his parents got him married and as was the custom during those days, Sivaramakrishna continued to live with his parents as a Brahmachari and his wife stayed with her parents till she attained puberty.

Soon after she attained puberty a grand function and feast was arranged by Sivaramakrishna’s parents to welcome her to their house. As his mother was busy with the arrangements, Sadasiva’s food was delayed. He was hungry and when he asked his mother to serve him food, she jokingly retorted that his wife was coming home, hence the delay and he probably should also tone down his expectations post-marriage. This stray remark had a strange effect on 17-year old Sivaramakrishna. He thought if this is my state before my wife comes home what would it be after she comes home and he fell into deep contemplation. That night he walked away never to return.

One might ask the question as to how this was fair to his wife but that is a question that is relevant only to those on the human plane of existence. For those like Sadasiva, or Ramana, or the Buddha for example when the “call” comes there is no room for such thoughts. The individual is led as it were by a force that takes complete control over him/her who has submitted to its will – complete Sharanagati. 

For a few years he was a parivrajaka, a wandering monk before he met Sri Paramasivendra Sarasawathi Yati and became his disciple.It was during his time here that he composed three of his great works on Advaita- ‘Bramhasuthra Vrithi’, ‘Yogasuthra Vrithi’, ‘Siddhantha Kalpavalli’

It was here that the second big change happened – Many other saints, philosophers and scholars used to visit Sri Paramasivendra Saraswathi’s ashram and they used to indulge in debates on topics of Vedanta, philosophy and so on. Sivaramakrishna who as we noted earlier had a strong argumentative streak used to participate in all of these debates and always won each and every argument – he was fierce, stubborn and never gave a quarter and argued aggressively with the sole intention of winning. Many senior scholars felt humiliated and some of these vanquished scholars went to Sri Paramasivendra Saraswati and complained to him about how they felt humiliated by Sivaramakrishna.

The Guru called his disciple and asked him “Siva, of what use are these debates? When are you going to conquer your tongue?” This question triggered something in Siva and he answered “Guru!Today I believe that I have truly received your grace…” That was it, the great scholar, the fierce debater, the argumentative young man descended into absolute silence and never opened his mouth again.

This event must have happened when Siva was probably in his early twenties. Records show that he was well over a 100 years old when he attained Sajeeva-Samadhi- so he never uttered a word for well over eighty years of his life – Siva that day became Sadasiva, the mouna muni. He also walked out of the ashram much like he had walked out of his home – he became an Avadutha, the sky-clad sage with not a care for the body or social etiquette or the vicissitudes of the individual ego.

He used to sit under a tree or simply lie down on the ground completely unaware of his surroundings or his own body lost in meditation. Some of his ashram mates who saw him in this state, reported back to his Guru saying that Siva had become insane. The Guru who was aware of what had happened replied “It is that ‘madness’ that I myself have been searching for. I am sad that the very same ‘madness’ that has overwhelmed Sadasiva has not yet come to me. I would gladly give up anything to be overcome by such madness…

Sadasiva – the Kalpataru

Sadasiva had completely consumed Sivaramakrishna andhe wandered oblivious of himself but conscious of only his “Self”. He slept in the open fields and was sometimes found lying in the cowshed in animated conversation with the cows. People who took him to be a madman soon realized that there was a strange peace that pervaded his presence and he seemed to emit an other-worldly Shakti. They also noticed that any place he visited was soon transformed. If he slept in the courtyard of a house during the night and walked away without a word early next morning it meant that the people of the house could expect a long unfulfilled wish to finally come true – it could be the desire for a child, relief from a chronic disease or escape from poverty and soon.

There are several miracles attributed to Sadasiva Brahmendra some bordering on the unbelievable and incredible. It would be beyond the scope of this article to chronicle all of them. We will however look at one of them that has been immortalized in stone at the Isha Yoga Center in Coimbatore. Once Sadasiva walked right through the harem of a Muslim Nawab who had pitched his tent on a field. Sadasiva, stark naked walked in from one end and out through the other. The Brahma-Jnani that he was, he walked in a trance oblivious to the women and their screams of horror on seeing a naked man.

On witnessing this, the Nawab overwhelmed byuncontrollable rage, ran after the naked saint and with his sword drawn severed one hand of Sadasiva from behind with one stroke of his sword. The severed hand fell down. But Sadasiva unaware of the fallen arm, the bloody stump, or the flowing blood kept walking.

The shocked Nawab picked up the severed arm and ran after Sadasiva, caught up with him and fell at his feet apologizing profusely. Sadasiva noticed him and gesticulated asking him what the matter was. The Nawab showed the severed hand to Brahmendra and apologized once again. Sadasiva once again gesticulated to him to place the severed hand in its appropriate spot. To the amazement of the Nawab the severed hand fixed itself without any problem whatsoever and Sadasiva walked on. His fame spread far and wide after this incident and people tried to meet him or make him sit at one place or establish an ashram but for Sadasiva none of this mattered. He remained till the end a wandering Avadutha.


He is said to have met Raja Thondaiman of Pudukottai and initiated him into the Dakshinamurthy Mantra by writing the mantra on sand. The King picked up the sand and this sand is preserved till today in a casket and worshipped at the Dakshinamoorthy temple inside the Pudukottai palace in Pudukottai

The Dhana Akarshana Yantra in the Kalyana Venkataramana Temple in Thanthoni Malai (who is the Kula Deivam of this author) was also placed there by Sri Brahmendra.

Sadasiva Brahmendra attained Jeeva Samadhi in Nerur (Karur district of Tamil Nadu). There are reports of people having seen him enter into Jeeva Samadhi simultaneously at 5 places symbolizing the dissipation of the physical body into the panchabhutas – the other four being Manamadurai, Puri, Kashi, and Karachi. Of these it is only the Nerur Adishtanam that remains popular and also there is a small Shiva temple at Manamadurai. The others have disappeared due to lack of knowledge or sheer negligence.

It is ironical that Sadasiva Brahmendra’s kirithis like Manasa Sancharare, Bruhi Mukundethi, Pibare Rama Rasam, Gayathri Vanamali, or Bhajare Gopalam are more famous than the great saint who composed them. Perhaps their popularity is due to the fact that they have been sung by Carnatic greats like M.S Subbulakshmiand BalaMuraliKrishna.

It is believed that Sadasiva Brahmendra still residesin a Bilva tree near his Samadhi and anyone who meditates there can experience his presence and grace. It might not matter to the Brahmam (Sadasiva Brahmendra) that so few people know of him because as he notes in the fifty-third verse of his autobiographical Atma Vidya Vilasa:

The king of sanyasi’s rests alone, established in the Self within and enjoying inner bliss; he rejects nothing that comes to him and never desires what does not come to him…

However, it should matter to those who are on thepath for there is much to gain from not just reading about Sadasiva Brahmendra but by also visiting his Samadhi at Nerur.


Pictures:The Nerur Adhishtanam and the Samadhi of Sadasiva Brahmendra

This article first appeared on Sirf News and can be accessed here

Culture, History, Obituary, Religion

Jayendra Saraswathi – The Shankaracharya Who Chose Path Less Traveled

The 69th mathadhipati (head of the mutt) of the revered Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham, Sri Jayendra Saraswathi who attained samadhi on Wednesday, 28 February, was interred in the Brindavanam inside the mutt premises. Sri Jayendra Saraswathi was not only very different in personality from his immediate predecessor Sri Chandrashekarendra Saraswathi but also from most acharyas of the Kanchi lineage. He broke barriers, pushed the envelope, tested the limits of orthodoxy that his predecessor insisted upon and guarded all his life, and took risks while charting the mutt through previously uncharted territories in his quest to expand the footprint of the Kanchi mutt.

His belief in and single-minded pursuit of “manavaseva is Maheshwaraseva” (serving the man is serving God) transformed what was a mutt that was purely focussed on the spiritual into a socially and culturally vibrant organisation that today runs several hospitals, schools, Veda pathashalas, a deemed university, senior-citizen homes and several temples.

Sri Jayendra Saraswathi was also instrumental in inspiring and establishing the world famous Sankara Nethralaya group of eye hospitals. His outreach programmes aimed at bringing Dalits, the poor and downtrodden into the fold of Hindu dharma and weaning them away from the clutches of evangelical Christianity meant that he had to bend and sometimes break the rigid rules of the mutt. This earned him enemies both within and without and he suffered for it but he never took a step back. It wouldn’t be wrong to say if the paramacharya was a present-day version of Sri Ramakrishna, then Sri Jayendra was a modern day Swami Vivekananda. As the MahaPeriyava once said, “If I am the ichchhashakti (will power), he (Jayendra) is the kriyashakti (power of execution).”

Here we look at some of the key events that shaped the life and legacy of one of the great gurus of our times.

Subramanian from Irulneeki

MR Seshadri, assistant professor at the Meenakshi Sundararajan Engineering College, Chennai, remembers the Monday of 22 March 1954 when the boy Subramanian received his sannyasa deeksha and mahopadesha at the Mukthi Mandapam on the banks of the Sarvateerthakulam (tank) in Kanchipuram.

To the 10-year old Seshadri who was at the Sri Matham that day, with his mother Rajammal (who was a close friend of Subramanian’s mother), the boy Subramanian came across as a jovial, happy-go-lucky young man with a large grin and an innocent face. He says, he wondered then if the young man knew what he was getting into.

From that day on, 19-year-old Subramanian became the 69th head of the Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham and was given the sannyasa name of Sri Paramahamsa Parivrajakacharyavarya Sri Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal. It would set him on a tumultuous journey where he would experience great highs, desperate lows, unimagined fame, respect, and glory while also being subjected to needless calumny and slander all ending though in glorious vindication and final sublimation in the divine.

Subramanian Mahadeva was born on 18 July 1935 in the small village of Irulneeki in Mannargudi, Thiruvarur district of Tamil Nadu, to Mahadeva Iyer and Saraswathi. Initiated into the learning of the Rg Veda at the age of 5, Subramanian continued his further Vedic studies and the dharma shastras at Thiruvidaimarudur under the tutelage of BrahmaSri Krishnamurthy Sastrigal. This move to Thiruvidaimarudur came about through the grace and direct intervention of the 68th Mathadhipathi, Paramacharya Sri Chandrashekarendra Saraswathi who knew the family; this was an early indication that the senior pontiff was taking a keen interest in the boy Subramanian.

Soon enough in the year 1948, the Paramacharya sent a word through the mutt managers to the family that he considered Subramanian as the most suitable to succeed him as the 69th pontiff of the revered Kamakotipeetham. Six years later would come the initiation into sannyasa followed by a 17-year period of study, training, meditation, and contemplation under the direct guidance of Sri Chandrashekarendra Saraswathi. Devotees started referring to the senior pontiff as “Maha-Periyava” and the younger Jayendra Sarswathi as “Pudhu-Periyava”.

The story goes that, in addition to all the other qualities that the MahaPeriayava saw in the boy Subramanian, one characteristic that he noted was that the boy’s horoscope showed a strong dhana-akarshana (attraction to wealth) in addition to jana-akarshana (attraction to people) and jala-akarshana (attraction to water). That was the time when the mutt found it difficult to get sufficient funds even for the daily puja. The MahaPeriayava’s intuitive decision to choose the boy Subramanian would turn out to be a masterstroke as the latter turned out to be truly an irulneeki (dispeller of darkness) for the mutt in particular and dharma in general. He would also set the mutt on a completely new and hitherto uncharted path that would make it one of the highest profile Sankara mutts of the country.

Image result for jayendra saraswathi

Flight and return

On 9 September 1987, several lakh devotees lined the streets of Kanchi and thronged the mutt to welcome back their dear Swami who had deserted them 17 days earlier[2]. Many had tears in their eyes and the atmosphere was charged with the chants of “Jaya Jaya Sankara, Hara Hara Sankara” as the crowd of devotees sighed in relief and others openly wept on once again seeing the smiling and familiar visage of Sri Jayendra Saraswathi. Even the heavens opened up that day and the uncharacteristically heavy downpour flooded the narrow streets of Kanchipuram, but this did not dampen the spirit of the devotees. Apparently, Sri Jayendra’s socio-cultural outreach programs and attempts to take the mutt to hitherto uncharted territories and political activism when he took on the divisive Tamil-centric Dravidian agenda of M Karunannidhi stating that Sanskrit was his father and Tamil his mother did not go down well with many people including those in the mutt. This activism and socio-cultural outreach did not go down well with old mutt hands and this was perhaps the reason for his sudden and unannounced disappearance from the mutt. He said later that he returned because of his love and attachment to the Paramacharya and to assuage the anxiety of his devotees. Soon after his return, he was closeted with the MahaPeriyava for over two hours. He announced later that he had obtained permission to plunge into the hustle and bustle of society and make a difference.

Social service

Sri Jayendra Saraswathi believed that the only way to revive and re-invigorate the dharma would be to take it to the doorsteps of every home. Jana-Kalyana and Jana-Jagarana were born out of this desire to flatten the opportunities and reach the poorest of the poor irrespective of caste or socio-cultural status. The credit of bringing this missionary zeal to propagate the Dharma goes entirely to him. For example, during the Bhuj earthquake he traveled over 800 Kms meeting with victims, providing solace and courage and organizing reconstruction of destroyed houses.

His decision to issue certificates to trained priests belonging to any or all communities of Sri Tantra Vidyapeetham, Kerala was not only brave but path-breaking. To him should go the credit of being the first to break the caste barrier in the appointment of priest to temples.

The Veda Rakshana Nidhi Trust that runs and aids several Veda pathashalas, conducting examinations, awarding certificates, the Veda Sastra Pandita Raksha Sabha, the Veda Patha Nidhi Trust, the Dharma ParipalanaSabhas were all set up with the sole aim of promoting and preserving the rich cultural heritage of Bharat.

The Sri Chandrashekarendra Saraswathi Viswa Mahavidyalaya a deemed university, the special girls hostel in Kanchipuram, the many Sankara schools across southern India, the Sri Jayendra Saraswathi Ayurveda College and Hospital, the Kanchi Kamakoti CHILDS Trust Hospital, the SIES Senior’s Home in Nerul, Navi Mumbai and the world famous Sankara Nethralaya Group of Hospitals are all testimony to the vision and determination of Sri Jayendra Saraswathi. Sri Jayendra Saraswathi was firm in his view that it was more important to revive and rebuild old temples than establish new ones. He is credited with having conducted no less than a thousand Kumbabhishekams all over India including the North East.The temple in Gangtok, Sikkim for the Jawans at the border and the initiation of the Sindhu Pujan in Ladakh are examples of the extent of his outreach.

His vision is best captured by what he said during the Vajra Mahotsava celebrations on completion of 80 years in 2014: “Feed the poor. Look after the needy. Educate the illiterate. Empower them to earn their daily wages and lead a life of dignity. Every morsel of food they eat from your efforts is your bhiksha vandanam to me.

Jail term

A vicious campaign mounted by elements from within the political, intellectual, media establishments, and a few disgruntled elements from within the mutt led to a campaign of slander and vendetta that further led to the foisting of a false murder case against him and his arrest. He was denied bail and made to languish in jail for two months before coming out on bail.

A reading of the comments made by Justice Narasimha Reddy of the Andhra Pradesh High Court tells us how this coordinated campaign was organized and driven:

“…the amount of disrepute and sacrilege inflicted upon Sri Jayendra Saraswathi, as of now, is so enormous that it has hardly any comparables” “harshest possible words were used directly or in innuendo against him”.

“Today he is subjected to similar treatment as was Draupati (sic) in the court of Kauravas.”

He adds:

Not only individuals, but also a section of the institutions, such as the State and the Press, appears to be determined to belittle and besmirch the Peetam.

It is interesting to note here that during my conversation with MR Seshadri, he also mentioned that the MahaPeriyava had not only noted the strong “dhana-akarshana” but also had seen that Sri Jayendra Saraswathi would suffer a brief period of kara-graha-vaasam (jail term). We, of course, have no corroborative evidence to confirm this, but one can speculate that perhaps he had confided in Sri Jayendra Saraswathi and it was perhaps this that explains the equanimity and stoicism that he displayed before, during, and after this bitter period of his life.

Sri Jayendra Saraswathi will be remembered as the first of the modern Sankaracharyas who dared to break tradition and as someone who took the teachings of Adi Sankara to people beyond the Brahmin community. That he was much loved by people of all communities and castes was evident from the number of people who turned up to pay their last respects including many Muslims of Kanchipuram.

He converted an inward-looking spiritual mutt into a vibrant, socio-culturally relevant and philanthropically active organization in the key areas of health, education, revival of dharma and social reform. His successor Sri ViJayendra Saraswathi has his work cut out but his job has been made easier by his predecessor who chose to tread the path less travelled.

This article first appeared on Sirf News and is available here