Sri Seshadri Swamigal's 143 birth anniversary is celebrated today.
The mention of Tiruvannamalai evokes memories of Ramana Maharishi but it was another enlightened soul that revealed him to the world. It was indeed Sri Seshadri Swamigal, who literally brought to light the existence of Ramana even as he was immersed in meditation in the underground cave oblivious of the havoc that insects were playing on his body.
Born to a pious couple Kamakoti Sastri and Maragadam in 1870 at Kanchipuram, young Seshadri had a good grasp of all subjects from a tender age. After upanayanam in his seventh year, he started learning the Vedas and other scriptures and by 14, he not only began to discuss with learned scholars but even defeated many in debates. His rigorous worship in solitude with pictures of Arunachala, Rama and Kamakshi was a matter of concern for his care takers. Frequently he meditated and chanted in the shrine of Kamakshi for long hours. As home was unsuitable for long hours of intense prayer, he chose the cremation ground for the purpose and even stayed there overnight much against everyone’s wishes. The family locked him in a room on his father’s ceremony day and when opened after the rituals, was shocked to find that the boy had disappeared.
Sri Seshadri left Kanchipuram and after a sojourn at Kaveripakkam Sri Mukteswara temple, (30 k.m. from there) he moved to Thiruvannamalai in 1889 and spent the remaining 40 years of his life there on its streets, market places and pavements. He was an Avaduta though it appeared as if he was wandering aimlessly like a mendicant or recluse.
Constantly on the move, he was in dirty rags, his hair matted and body unwashed for weeks. Local shopkeepers, however, believed that whatever he touched with his ‘golden hands’ did brisk business through the day. In a few official photographs, displaying which is still considered a good sign, he is seen with a heavenly-smile on his face, eyes half-closed in contemplation. Seldom could one see him resting or eating. When he sat, he was always in Swastik Asana, his ankles crossed and the rest of his body out of contact with the ground, as was his detachment from the body and material things of the world.
It is on record that Paramacharya on finding a photograph of the swamigal in this posture wondered when he would attain that kind of detachment. At a later date, when a sofa was brought into Ramanashram for Bhagavan to sit, he said, “I wish I could be as detached from my body as Seshadri Swamigal is.” Paramacharya initiated steps to convert Swamigal’s house into a memorial, called ‘Sri Kamakoti Seshadri Swamigal Nivasam.’
Ramana Maharshi arrived at Arunachalam six years after the Swamigal, who on recognising his spiritual prowess used to call on him frequently when he was staying at Pavazhakunru. Protecting him from curious onlookers and stone pelting urchins, it was Swamigal who first spotted Bhagavan’s greatness. Locals addressed Swamigal as Mother Parvathi and Ramana as Skanda.
Swamigal shed his mortal coil on January 1, 1929. His body was interred at the foot of the Arunachala Hills, about 400 yards from Sri Ramanashram, in the presence of Bhagavan Ramana who watched the proceedings in stoic silence. Swamigal, all through his life, shunned publicity and drove away visitors and onlookers who invaded his privacy. A samadhi was later erected in the place where regular pujas are being performed.
Tail piece: Records reveal that Sri Arunachalam who had arranged for the Mahan’s centenary celebrations in 1970 at Tiruvannamalai Sri Seshadri Swamigal’s Ashram had narrated an incident to Bharaneedharan, playwright, cartoonist cum pilgrim writer On one occasion, Swamigal was invited for lunch. He was served all the items which he mixed. Making tiny balls out of the heap, he threw them in all directions and got up wiping his hand on his dhoti. Why did he not partake of the food? “How can I, when so many animals, birds and celestial beings are standing around hungry?” was the retort.