The Great Gracious Light!

The Great Gracious Light!

The Great Solitary Mercy! 

The Great Gracious Light!

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Birth of Saint Ramalingam

Birth of Ramalinga, alias Thiru Arutprakasa Ramalingam was born at Maradur, on Sunday October 5 th 1823, at 5.54pm. Maradur is a village fifteen kilometers north-west of Chidambaram, the famous shrine of the Dancing Siva in Tamil Nadu, South India. His father, Ramaiah Pillai, of Saiva faith, was a village accountant and a teacher. His mother, Chinnammai, was from Chinnakavanam in the vicinity of Ponneri, a village in Chengelpet District, near Madras. Ramaiah Pillai was childless after losing five wives in succession. Chinnammai was his sixth wife, and she bore him two sons, Sabapathy and Parasuraman, and two daughters, Unnamulai and Sundarambal. Vallalar was the fifth child. Legend tells as it is often said about saints and prophets in general, that his birth and mission were prophesied by a Saiva ascetic who visited Ramaiah’s house. It is even said that Siva Himself came in the garb of the ascetic, disappearing after stepping out of the house.

When Ramalingam was six months old, his father died, and his mother moved to her village, Ponneri. It is said that when he was around five months old, his mother took him to Chidambaram: In tender age when, with my mother, I came to You in Chidambaram, and the screen being lifted the Divine revealed the vacant space behind, You admitted me to the secret which is as clear as the void space O Lord, my Joy, You ripened me at once, without bitterness in my heart. Chidambaram temple is dedicated to Siva Nataraja the cosmic dancer. I would like to introduce to you what is my understanding about Siva Nataraja. If we go back into the principle of creation and the manifestation of the golden sphere of light is the manifestation of God’s Grace light coming down into the matter, inside this sphere we have the flame. Vallalar speak about it and perhaps you might have had the same experience yourself. You look at the image of Siva Nataraja and you see a circle with flames around it, this represent the golden sphere of light. Inside the circle you have the cosmic dancer, but who is this cosmic dancer in reality? He is the flame which is dancing inside the golden sphere of light, this flame is the causal fire (kaarana-agni) of your heart. This means that if you wake up this causal fire in your heart, you can realize the manifestation of the golden sphere of light. Now we see that the Sphere and Siva Nataraja are dancing above a crippled being, this cripple represents the ego, the illusion. So when we realize the golden sphere of light which has the potentiality to be manifested with the awakening of the causal fire first. Then only the ego or illusion will vanish or the ego will serve the Divine purpose.

Early Childhood

Within a year (1824) Vallalar’s mother moved to Madras to join her eldest son, Sabapathy, who was a reputed scholar and made a living giving religious discourses. They lived at 39 Veerasami Pillai Street, near Seven Wells, in the present postal zone 1, Vallalar Nagar of Madras. On his early boyhood experiences He addresses to His God: When I slept in the narrow platform, As a boy, as I was turning around on my bed I fell and You hold me half-way and laid me softly on the ground, O Hands of Love... When Vallalar was five, his brother Sabapathy started teaching him. But Vallalar was indifferent and spent his time getting lost in Divine thoughts. He used to contemplate, wandering in the streets and sauntering in the corridors of the Kandaswamy Temple near-by, all day long. Unable to control him, Sabapathy Pillai instructed Vallalar to be look after by a Tamil scolar, Sabapathy Mudaliar of Kanchipuram, who had been his own teacher. The savant proved equally ineffective. Discovering that his student was already attracting a vast audience in the temple with his talks and songs, he gave up the task of teaching Him. Losing patience, Sabapathy Pillai forbade his wife, Paapaathi Ammai, to feed or host Vallalar in their house. However He surreptitiously used to come to the house through the back door, when Sabapathy was away or asleep and Paapaathi Ammai used to serve him food lovingly. She also graciously asked him at least to please his brother taking his studies seriously. He promised, requesting however that he might be provided with a room of his own on the second floor where he could pursue his studies on his own. The request was granted. The hard-hearted, returned home, and with a lot of satisfaction Sabapathy saw that his younger brother, never left the house or even the room where he remained shut all day through. It was probably during these days that, dispossessed, he turned into a juvenile ascetic way of life for a while. In a poem he recounts to His God: Oh Lord during the years of my play-time boyhood, let me recall the time I spent with my friend mate, when I say: I do not care for this world no more, do you?’ We turned our back to the world, having no more desire for this life and we attended to leave it. And You, in Your grace, called us back to this life towards deathlessness, and for this, O Lord my Mother, I thank You today.

From Nine to Twelve years At this time he was pressed into service by his brother Sabapathy. One day substituting the young girl who used to read the religious texts from palm-leaf scripts for the discourses of Sabapathy, Ramalingam rendered them so soulfully that the audience thereafter insisted that only he should recite the hymns. One day Sabapathy, who had a discourse scheduled in the house of a patron, named Somu Chettiar, was ill with fever. He sent Ramalingam to the patron’s house to inform him accordingly and to sing some songs from Thevaram and complete the prayer meeting. When Vallalar went there, the audience had already gathered, and he did not want to disappoint the crowd. Ramalingam took one word from the Tamil Periaya Puranam which starts with the words “All the World” and he explained in detailed all the worlds which no human has ever discovered till date now He kept talking till late at night, without palm-leaf scripts, Ramalingam spoke. A flood of inspired eloquence flowed from him. This was the first talk that he, coming out of the loneliness of his closed room, gave. He won his listeners completely. From then on they wanted Him to conduct all the discourses, and not his brother. Sabapathy agreed gracefully, turning to audiences elsewhere. Ramalingam had a visitation of Divine Grace at the age of nine (1832). He himself tells us this in one of his poems: You who are the dispenser of men’s needs and means, O Self-Effulgent Light, Glowing Central Flame of Cosmos, Guide of my life who possessed me when I was nine and led me to be ruled by You,in You I have lost myself and have no more to ask you. The divine fellowship however did not resolve his spiritual struggles which he dates back to the age of twelve: Since I was twelve my feeling of compassion towards others will grew to the extent of melting even mountains.

Songs and Miracles

At the age of twelve, when his spiritual struggles began, Vallalar started to frequent the shrine of Thiruvottriyur, ten kilometers north of Madras, and to worship Lord Thyagaraja (the ascetic aspect of Siva) and the Goddess Vadivudai Ammai in the temple there. The temple was of ancient fame, celebrated in song by three of the four great prophets of Saivism, namely, Sambandar, Appar and Sundarar, who lived in the sixth and seventh century A.D. For twenty-three years, all through his stay in Madras, Vallalar used to escape from the city, and go daily to Thiruvottriyur on foot, composing poems and songs to the temple’s Deity, Lord Thyagaraja. Tired out, he would often spend the night there, sleeping in the open air. He used to visit also Thiruttanihai (the shrine of Muruga), Thiruvalidayam and Thirumullaivayil. And he also visited Thiruvallur and Thirukannamangai which are shrines of Vishnu, and composed several songs in praise of the presiding deities of these places. Thiruvottriyur was then a picturesque place on the seashore. There was a temple to dedicated to Nandi there, now dilapidated, and a stream, now dried up. He recalls this spot in a celebrated hymn of his which is popular also nowadays: O Tree, easeful rest from the summer day, O cool Shade, O Fruit in the Shade, O running clear Water of the Stream, O Sweetness of the Water, O odor of its Flowers, O Breeze on the bank, O soft Feel of the Breeze, O Joy of it all, my King, Mover of the Universe, My true Husband who married me in my flower, Deign to accept this, the flower of my song. We can have various interpretations about these verses; one is a description of inner alchemy. The development of the Godhead is the tree which gives a cool shade; from this an ambrosial fluid of Divine nectar brings a cool breeze in the body, a sweet taste and perfume. This is a true joy, the inner marriage is happening in the flower at the top of the head. Of this exquisite song we can also remark that it is related to all the five senses, addressing God in terms of one aspect of Nature after another, and climaxing in the addressing to Him as Husband with sensual over-tones. This poem also portraits his gratitude and feelings of Divine Grace perceived through the five senses. This is the expression and gratitude towards nature which are embodiment of God’s creation. It is stated that Vallalar had some mystic experiences and communication with God during this period. One day it was late at night when he returned from Thiruvottriyur to his brother’s house. He did not want to wake his sleeping brother and sister-in-law. Although he had not eaten his night meal and was tired and hungry, he laid down to sleep on the dais of the open front veranda of the house. He was soon woken up. Beside him stood his sister-in-law with the plate of food, he ate the food and went back to sleep. A little later he was awaken again, and this time his sister-in-law called him in to dine. In the explanations that followed, it became clear that the first time he was waken by a vision; and this was confirmed by a second vision of the Divine mother taking the form of Vadivudaiya Ammai , with a brass bowl plate in her hand. The vision shone before them and promptly disappeared. On another occasion, Lord Thyagaraja Himself, of the Temple, is said to have served him food. One day, going without food, as he often did, Vallalar lay sleeping in the open courtyard of the temple when the priest woke him and served him food. The next morning it happened that the priest had left Thiruvottriyur two days previously. We can notice that the Divine Himself is taking divers form, the Divine play manifested upon earth is to be lived by Vallalar. In a first place one as to understand and believe that such miracles are possible, this is part of Vallalar’ initiatrix experience, by experimenting Himself he came to truth knowledge of how all this takes place, in the second phase He himself could do such miracles. During this period, as during any period of his life, numerous miracles that he made have been recorded, of which we give one. In Thiruvottriyur he used to worship at Pattinattar Temple and rest for a while there. One day, when he was resting, an old woman who was spending her last days servicing in the temple, requested him to reassure her in her faith by performing a miracle. Vallalar took a handful of sand from the sea-shore and put it into her hand. He asked her to close her hand and then to open it. When she did this, she found a number of tiny lingas (symbols of Siva) in her hand, instead of the sand. It may be recalled that Pattinattar, the great Saivite saint who lived in the eleventh century A.D., is said to have disappeared into a linga in Thiruvottriyur. Except on rare occasions when he obliged some disciple or other who approached him for a favor, Vallalar refused to perform miracles, saying that such lesser performances take away one’s true spiritual gains. Such tokens of divine favor and such miracles spread his fame at once, while his transparent purity, sincerity and humility and his eloquence drew people to him, many well-known and important. Ones of them was Velayuda Mudaliar of Thozhuvur who became his disciple in 1849. Vallalar bestowed the title of Ubhaya Kalanithi Perum Pulavar to Thozhuvur Velayuda Mudaliar for his mastery over Tamil, English and Sanskrit Language.