Sri Ramana Leela is a Biography of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi by Sri Krishna Bhikshu Edited and Translated by Pingali Surya Sundaram
IT was 1903. Bhagavan was seated at Adimudi shrine surrounded by disciples. A scholar from Andhra came and interpreted the famous invocatory sloka
“Suklambaradharam Vishnum sasivarnam catur bhujam
prasanna vadanam dhyayeth sarva vighnopasantaye”
as if it applied to Bhagavan in this manner:”He also wears a white cloth (Kaupina); as he abides in the Self he is Vishnu (all pervading), he has devoured (destroyed) Manas, Buddhi, Chitta and Ahamkara. He has a peaceful countenance, he removes all obstacles in the way of those who meditate.”
The following year the same scholar visited Arunachala during Kritikkai and recited the one thousand slokas, entitled Sivasahasri, extolling the Deity. The listeners were very pleased with the scholarship and beautiful style of the composition.
Everyone wondered who that person of simple appearance but with profound scholarship was. They came to know that he was from Andhra and belonged to Kaluvarayi agraharam near Bobbili. His name was Kavya Kantha Ganapati Sastry. They expressed their appreciation of the gifted and blessed being of rare talents.
Truly Ganapati was a blessed child. In 1878 his father Narasimha Sastry was performing japa at Kasi in front of Vinayaka’s image. He suddenly felt that a small boy was advancing towards him fromVinayaka. That was also the time when his baby son was born back home. The father named the child Ganapati.
Till he reached the age of five all kinds of ailments including dumbness troubled Ganapati. In his sixth year he was branded with a hot iron rod upon which all ailments left him. He was also able to speak thereafter.
He then began his studies. Thereafter his life was miraculous with unexcelled intellectual skills of great comprehension, phenomenal memory and amazing intuition.
There was nothing he could not understand, nothing he could not commit to memory after hearing once, no sastra that was not grist to his intellectual mill. By the time he was ten, he had memorized several kavyas. In Astrology he was capable of drawing up a panchangam. He also had the capacity to compose Sanskrit verses extempore. As he studied epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata two great ambitions arose in him. One was to become a great poet like Vyasa and Valmiki – and why not, he thought, was he not already capable of composing poetry? The other ambition was this: in the puranas rishis like Viswamitra, and devotees like Dhruva had by the power of their japa become capable of creating a fresh world or obtaining an abiding place in the firmament. Why not he also become one like them? With such great ambitions the lad continued his studies.
By the time he was twelve, Ganapati composed a Sanskrit Kavya, Bhringasandesa in the mandakranta metre imitating the poet, Kalidasa. Within a couple of years he was proficient in Chandas, Vyakarana, Kavyas, and Puranas. He was an extempore poet, an ashtavadhani and an orator. In 1900, while he was at Kasi his friends encouraged him to visit Nawadweepa to participate in the scholars’ meet held there. At that meet of great and reputed scholars, he demonstrated his unmatched literary gifts and talents. Thus he earned the title “Kavya Kantha,” At that time, he was barely twenty two.
For the fulfilment of his second ambition, Ganapati got initiated in several mantras. Among these, his favourite was the Siva panchakshari. In order to perform japa in the prescibed manner, he studied a number of agama sastras. He mastered all the spiritual literature in Sanskrit.
He got married at the age of eighteen but with the permission of his father and wife he left on a pilgrimage to the banks of Ganga, Narmada and Godavari to perform japa. He visited almost all the holy places of India twelve times, for performing japa. Though there were occasional spiritual experiences he did not obtain the darshan of Siva, which he desired ardently.
At Varanasi, the pleased goddess gave him honey in a dream. At Nasik the temple priest mistook him for a thief and the people of the place beat him up. In anger, he cursed that the people of Nasik should also be hurt like himself physically. Within one month, an unprecedented cyclone struck the town and hurt the people. He had divine powers but they were of no avail to himself!
As Ganapati Sastry was studying Vedic literature there arose before his mental eye the glorious Aryan civilisation where people lived in harmony and discipline and were generally happy and peaceful. He compared it with the conditions obtaining in the country in his own time where people were rigid and lifeless. The people made themselves inflexible and bound themselves to various customs and above all, occupied the first place among the enslaved nations of the world!
He then resolved that he should reform society and restore ancient values. For this, he decided to bring together and lead young men dedicated to eradicating all the divisive forces in society and to performing mantra japa as the rishis of ancient times did so that a new Aryan society could be built. In this endeavour, Ganapati thought, mantra japa was the key.
Ganapati chanted the Sivapanchakshari a billion times; so also he wrote down the name of the Deity a billion times all of which had gone waste. In 1904 Ganapati was appointed as a Telugu pandit at Vellore. He began taking practical steps to realise his ideal and gathered a band of disciples round him. He spent his time in teaching than in imparting mantra japa to the students. He felt even that was not fruitful and decided to resume mantra japa at Arunachala and reached that place in 1907.
Even that was useless in that in spite of all his learning he could not grasp the implication of mantra japa. He was sorry that years of japa did not secure for him the darshan of his ishta devata.
During the Krittikai festival of November 1907 while Ganapati was seated in meditation he heard a voice saying that the Deity was asking for him. He opened his eyes but could not see anyone in the vicinity. It was as if it was a disembodied voice. He began walking towards the Arunachaleswara temple, performing his mantra japa within. As he came near, the temple car which had not moved till then began moving. Ganapati prostrated there but even then the Diety did not grant a darshan. Ganapati’s grief only increased. The following afternoon he sat in a disciple’s house quietly and the name Brahmanaswami occurred to him suddenly. Then he thought that the Swami who had direct experience of the Self would know the secret behind japa and that he would be able to solve his problem.
He resolved to seek the Brahmanaswami’s refuge. He was not sure whether the Swami would still remember his interpretation of the sloka Suklambaradharam but thought he would still seek the Swami’s guidance. The Swami was his only saviour, he concluded. Ganapati Sastry immediately set out for the hill in the hot midday sun.
By the time the emotion-charged Ganapati reached Virupaksha cave, the Swami was sitting alone on a rock. Ganapati prostrated before him and clasped his feet with both hands and in a choked voice said,
I have studied all that has to be studied. I have learnt Vedanta sastra completely. I have performed mantra-japa to my heart’s content. But till now I have not been able to grasp what tapas really means. I have now approached you to know what it is. Please enlighten me on the nature of tapas.
The Swami fixed his gaze on Ganapati for fifteen minutes. Ganapati was awaiting the reply anxiously. No one else intruded and disturbed them. The Swami spoke in Tamil- “If you enquire and observe where this I-thought arises from, the mind gets absorbed in it. That is tapas. While performing mantra japa if you enquire and observe where the sound of the mantra arises from, the mind gets absorbed in it. That is tapas.”
The tormented heart of Ganapati had instant solace and got pacified. He recognised that after the Vedic times this was the only upadesa of its kind. A new path for attaining moksha was indicated here. Nobody else had discovered this path earlier. The Swami, the yogi par excellence, had spelt out his supreme upadesa to the mortal Ganapati at the sacred spot of Arunachala in appreciation of Ganapati’s prolonged japa. Subsequently, this upanishad was taught to disciples and seekers all over the world.
Those who saw the path to moksha were rishis. Ramana who showed this unique path was also a Maharshi.
Ganapati Sastry stayed for some hours there and after ascertaining the name of the Brahmama Swami he composed extempore five slokas in praise of “Ramana”. At that time Sastry was not aware that Lakshmana Ayyar had referred to the boy Venkataraman as Ramana. Ganapati was instrumental in reviving the name which had fallen into disuse. The next day, Ganapati gave the upadesa to his disciples and told them that it was given by Ramana. He also enjoined on them to refer to the Swami as Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. This name became world famous.
By definition, a person with the following attributes is traditionally referred to as a rishi – one who is celibate, one who performs severe penance, one with complete control over passions, one who is absolutely truthful and one who has mastered the Vedas and Vedangas.
The syllables “bhaga” in the word Bhagavan meant prosperity, perfection, dharma, fame, sreyas, jnana, vairagya and the like. Both the words ‘rishi’ and ‘bhagavan’ were appropriate in the case of Ramana. Ganapati felt that he got the upadesa due to the grace of Goddess Uma. As a token of gratitude, he composed Umasahasram (one thousand slokas in praise of Uma) and dedicated the book to her-all in three weeks. Inspired by the divine presence of the Maharshi he dictated the last three hundred slokas to four amanuenses. The Maharshi who was watching silently till then asked, “Has everything been noted?” Kavyakantha submitted that it was all noted. Those slokas are held to be Maharshi’s but merely voiced by Ganapati. Though he revised several slokas of the work subsequently, Ganapati found nothing to revise in the last three hundred slokas.
In the first three months of 1908 the Maharshi, Ganapati, and other disciples stayed at the Pachaiamman Kovil at the foothill of Arunachala. Most of the expenses relating to the stay were borne by Ramaswamy Ayyangar, a devotee. During that period, Ganapati, took to meditation as taught by Bhagavan. One dawn, a brilliant light arose and touched the forehead of the Maharshi six times, Ganapati noticed this and also observed that the light got absorbed in the aura around the Maharshi’s head as six star- like formations.
Though he practised the Maharshi’s way Ganapati’s original ideals did not leave him. Towards the end of March (1908) he wanted to leave Arunachala and asked the Maharshi whether the enquiry into the source of the ‘I- thought’ would result in the fulfilment of his ideals or whether he had to do mantra japa also. The Maharshi replied that the former was enough. Ganapati also asked the Maharshi whether his intention was good, to which the latter replied “Leave everything to God, your burden will cease and He will take on your burden. He knows what to do.”
Much later Bhagavan said, “While God sustains the burden of the world, the spurious ego assumes its burden grimacing like an image on a tower seeming to support it.”
Reality in forty verses – Supplement verse 17 – Tr. K. Swaminathan
With the Maharshi’s permission Ganapati left Arunachala in 1908 for Tiruvottiyur near Madras for performing tapas. He performed tapas in a Ganesa temple for eighteen days. On the last day he had a problem during the tapas and felt that it would be fine if the Maharishi were to give his darshan. He was asleep while being, wide awake. All of a sudden Ramana arrived there and sat by Ganapati’s side. Surprised at this, Ganapati tried to get up but the Maharshi pressed him on the head and made him sit. Ganapati felt as if an electric current had passed through him. He took it to be initiation by hand (hasta- diksha).
Ever since 1896 the Maharshi never left Arunachala but how can anyone account for Ganapati’s experience?
About twenty one years later, on 17 Oct 1929 to be precise, Ganapati narrated his experience to the Maharshi. The Maharshi also confirmed it, saying, “Several years ago I was resting at Virupaksha cave. I was not in samadhi. Yet I felt as if the body was floating in air. As the upward floating continued all material objects vanished from my sight, only white light was all around. Suddenly the body began descending and objects came into view. I thought this was what was meant by the disappearance and reappearance of those with occult powers (siddhas). It struck me that it was Tiruvottiyur and I walked along a main road. As I did so I noticed a Ganesa temple at a distance and I went in. I do not remember what I did or what I spoke. At that stage I woke up and found myself to be asleep at the Virupaksha cave. I narrated this experience at once to Palaniswami.”
Ganapati in turn confirmed that the description of the Ganesa temple as given by the Maharshi was accurate.
Kavya Kantha would visit Arunachala occasionally to have the darshan of Bhagavan. Between 1922 and 1929 he stayed at Arunachala with his family. Once, while at the mango tree cave the bones of his skull loosened and he experienced a softening of the area where the Brahma- randhra exists.
Ganapati himself confessed that however much he tried to follow the jnana marga he had not been able to achieve abidance in the Self. In the first years possibly the latent tendencies proved to be insurmountable obstacles. Also, the activities of the sakti in the body were intense which it could not bear. On such occasions he would seek Bhagavan’s help and get over that.
Ganapati Sastry used to say that sakti was of two types- mahas and sahas of which the former was divine and that only when sahas got transformed as mahas the bones of the skull loosend. Because of this sakti he could not bear to touch any metallic object and he always had to wear sandals made of wood. A number of his disciples also had experienced that sakti. Any copper coin held in the palm became golden.
Bhagavan had great love for Ganapati Sastry. His erudition, exalted ideals, and the power of his tapas endeared him to Bhagavan. But for Ganapati’s encouragement Bhagavan would not have composed poetry in Sanskrit and Telugu.
Bhagavan addressed Ganapati as “Nayana” as did the latter’s disciples. Ganapati was a great man with extraordinary foresight, and power of speech.
One may go to the extent of saying that he was a Vidyadhara in human form. His glory can be fully appreciated by going through Kapali Sastry’s Vasishta Vaibhavam. But for his ideals and love of the country which bound him, Ganapati would have attained Self reatisation.
He wrote a lot of poetry in praise of Bhagavan, one of these poems, Sri Ramana Chatvarimsat was recited in Bhagavan’s presence every morning. It is still recited at Bhagavan’s shrine.
In order to realise his ambitions Ganapati participated in politics and social reform activities till 1930. Thereafter he gave them up and devoted himself to tapas. He left his mortal body on 25 July 1936 at Nimpura near Kharagpur in his ashram.
More than the service he did for Bhagavan, Ganapati’s service to the nation in propagating Bhagavan’s message is greater. The answers Bhagavan gave to the questions of the disciples were incorporated as slokas in Sri Ramana Gita composed by Ganapati Sastry. This book is an invaluable guide to all. Simirarly, he translated into Sanskrit Bhagavan’s Ulladu Narpadu under the title Sat-darsanam. As early as 1903 Ganapati Muni, through his foresight, recognised the greatness of Bhagavan and spread the word. Under his guidance, his disciples Pranavananda and Kapali Sastry wrote commentaries on Bhagavan’s Upadesasaram and Sat-darsanam respectively. Kapali Sastry also wrote an excellent commentary on Bhagavan’s Arunachala Pancharatna. Ganapati’s disciples were all Bhagavan’s disciples too. They were spread all over the country and they carried forward Bhagavan’s message.