When he reached 100 years of age, the thought occurred to Guhai Namasivaya: ‘The span allotted to man by Brahma is 100 years. That is enough for this worldly life.’
He had his disciples prepare a samadhi pit for him, intending to enter it and give up his life there. He composed what he thought would be his final verse to Arunachala (241):
If one enquires into the matter
it will be found that Arunesan is even more compassionate
than either a mother or a loving father.
Now tell me, will He allow the illusory body
of this devotee to go on suffering,
even though it has lived for a hundred years,
or will He allow it to die?
However, just as he was lowering himself into the tomb, Lord Siva spoke to him, ordering him to stay a further 100 years on earth. His resigned response to the Lord’s intervention is recorded in one of his verses (441):
You who come and bestow Your grace
on those who say:
‘Guru who, out of grace, dispenses samba rice,
sugar, honey, ghee, milk to nourish me!’
After allotting me one hundred [more] years of age,
bestow Your feet.
In saying ‘bestow Your feet’ Guhai Namasivaya is asking Siva to guarantee union with Him at the moment of his death. One hundred years later, a similar tomb-side scene was enacted. In the traditional story of his life Guhai Namasivaya voluntarily gave up his body by sending the prana (life force) out through the brahmarandhra on the top of his head. This was a practice he probably mastered during his early years as a Siva yogi.
Just before he entered his samadhi pit he composed his final two verses in which he expressed how happy he was to abandon his sick and old body. He also declared that had crossed the ocean of birth and death and no longer needed to incarnate again (451 and 97):
We have reached as our refuge
the feet of our Sonagiri Father.
We have crossed the ocean of demeaning births.
We will have no regard for that lotus-seated creator [Brahma],
nor will we pay any attention to Yama [the god of death],
that cruel one who rides a powerful buffalo.
No more shall I endure this body
that is the dwelling place
of three hundred and sixty maladies,
and which dies.
Arunesar, You whose matted locks
are adorned with the crescent moon
and the River Ganga!
Henceforth, abolish births
for myself, Your devotee.
Siva granted his request. An anonymous verse, presumably composed posthumously by one of his disciples, narrated that Siva (Arunesar) had enabled Guhai Namasivaya to move on from being a divine ‘walking lingam,’ in human form to a samadhi shrine on the slopes of Arunachala (437):
On that day Arunesar enabled Namasivaya,
he who is the form of the walking lingam,
through grace, to attain the divine state
as a samadhi shrine on the tall divine form which,
in ancient times, was impossible for Brahma and Vishnu to know.
The phrase ‘walking lingam’ could also be translated as ‘dancing lingam’. The phrase translated as ‘attain the divine state’ is also used to denote physical death.
An alternative biography of Guhai Namasivaya
Most of the verses by Guhai Namasivaya that are featured in this book were originally found in a notebook in Ramana Maharshi’s handwriting that was discovered in the Ramanasramam archives in the 1980s. Since most of these verses do not appear anywhere else, we have surmised that Ramana Maharshi copied them from palm-leaf manuscripts that were stored in the Guhai Namasivaya Temple. Ramana Maharshi lived there briefly around 1900, and then occupied the nearby Virupaksha Cave for a further fifteen years. The Guhai Namasivaya Temple did have a collection of palm-leaf manuscripts, but they disappeared without trace several decades ago. I spoke to the owner of the Guhai Namasivaya Temple in the 1980s about these manuscripts. He informed me that they had been given to someone who had promised to publish them in Tamil, but both the man and the manuscripts disappeared and have never been traced.
This notebook, now the only surviving record of much of Guhai Namasivaya’s output, contains an introductory prose biography of Guhai Namasivaya that differs substantially from the account given in the previous section. The primary topic is an extensive pilgrimage that Guhai Namasivaya took from Sri Sailam to Tiruvannamalai. The narrative also takes great pains to stress how committed he was to the Virasaiva faith. The source of this alternative version is unknown since it was written anonymously and has no title. However, the prose format gives a clue to its age. Tamil biographies of saints were almost invariably written in verse until the beginning of the 19th century. Though this would indicate a composition date several centuries after Guhai Namasivaya passed away, it does not rule out the possibility that the information it contains is derived from an earlier poetic source.
I am giving a translation of this previously unpublished biography here. Some portions that elaborate on Virasaiva philosophy have been omitted since they are overly technical and not germane to the narrative. The original text is in roman. My own explanatory notes are interpolated in italics and appear inside square brackets.
* * *
Chenna Mallikarjuna Devachariyar was the occupant [athibathi] of the Srisaila Simhasana [Peetam]. He had obtained the anugraha [grace] of Allama Prabhu.
[Sri Sailam is the pilgrimage centre in Andhra Pradesh where Guhai Namasivaya went from Karnataka to meet his Guru in the traditional account of his life. In this version, though, the Guru is not Sivananda Desikar but someone else. The presiding deity of Sri Sailam is Chenna Mallikarjuna. Chenna Mallikarjuna Devachariyar was the head of a math (monastic institution) there. We can assume that it was a Virasaiva institution of some sort. Allama Prabhu, the other person mentioned, was one of the founding saints of Vairasaivism.]
At that time there lived a devotee called Nanjaiyar. He was a sangama.
[Sangamas are Virasaiva devotees. The term also denotes the community of devotees.]
Nanjaiyar had a desire for a son. After prostrating in the prescribed way to Chenna Mallikarjuna Devachariyar, he informed him about this desire. The Guru asked him to return the following day.
After Nanjaiyar had left, the Guru prayed to his ishtalingam and in response received the following divine command: ‘Nanjaiyar does not have the good fortune of a child in his own line. However, as he is a crest-jewel of Guru-linga-sangama, through the upadesa of sthula panchakshara [the five-syllabled mantra ‘Om Namasivaya’], beginning with pranava, I, who am the import of this will myself be born to him.’
[The ishta lingam is a personal lingam that all Virasaivas wear on their bodies at all times. Virasaivas are enjoined to worship this lingam several times a day. The lingam is held to be Siva Himself, not merely a representation of Him.
There are eight shields (ashtavarana) that protect the Virasaiva. The first three on the list are the Guru, the lingam and the sangama. Virasaivas believe that these are the three forms of Siva. Calling Nanjaiyar ‘a crest-jewel of Guru-linga-sangama’ denotes that he embodies the highest aspirations of the Virasaiva faith.
Sthula means ‘physical’ or ‘material’. The panchakshara is the sacred five-lettered mantra ‘Namasivaya’, meaning ‘Obeisance to Siva’. Pranava is the sound of Om. The five-lettered mantra that begins with pranava is ‘Om Namasivaya’.
I think the text is suggesting that the holy mantra ‘Om Namasivaya’is going to take physical form in the incarnation of the Guru who would become known as ‘Om Namasivaya’.
Throughout this account Guhai Namasivaya is referred to as ‘Om Namasivaya’ rather than ‘Guhai Namasivaya’. His own disciple Guru Namasivaya also called him ‘Om Namasivaya’ in his verses. This would indicate the title of ‘Guhai’ was either given much later in his life, or possibly even after his death.]
Ten months later Nanjaiyar’s son was born. He was taken to Sri Marula Siddheswarasiriyar, who was also known as Avadhuta Asiriyar. This Guru was shining as the head of the Ujjain Simhasana.
[Marula Siddheswarar was one of the semi-mythical founders of Virasaivism who, if he lived at all, lived many centuries before these events took place. He is associated with Ujjain, a noted pilgrimage city in modern-day Madhya Pradesh. The Marula Siddheswarar of this story is not the original Guru but the head of the Ujjain Simhasana Math.]
From him [Marula Siddheswarar] the child received lingadharana initiation and the name ‘Om Namasivaya’. In his fifth year Om Namasivaya started his studies under Chenna Mallikarjuna Devar [the Guru mentioned in the first paragraph].
[Lingadharana is the initiation ceremony in which the Guru sanctifies a lingam and gives it to a disciple. In Virasaiva families this is often done very early in life, and is often combined with the ceremony is which a name is given to the child.]
At the age of eleven Marula Siddheswarar Deva initiated him into various Virasaiva traditions, after which he shone with the eight ornaments, beginning with vibhuti [sacred ash].
Om Namasivaya then appealed to his Guru, ‘Swami, the Arunachala paramjyoti lingam [the transcendent lingam of light], which confers liberation on thinking, which was beyond the comprehension of Brahma and Vishnu, which is the central lordly lingam among the panchabhuta lingams, which shines in the south in this universe, as in this body, is attracting my heart [ullam]. Therefore, my Lord, you should give your consent [for me to go there].’
[The panchabhuta lingams are the five Siva temples in South India whose lingams are associated with one of the five elements. The Tiruvannamalai lingam is the fire lingam.]
The Guru replied, ‘The divine grace gives its consent’.
Tents, palanquins and other items were collected. Three hundred and sixty sangamas set off on the trip, which began with many musical accompaniments. The idea was to perform a pradakshina of Indian sacred places that went first towards the sacred places of the West, and then towards those of the north. Later on, it would turn south.
On his journey Om Namasivaya went to a village full of Siva bhaktas. One Siva bhakta, in whose house a wedding was taking place, humbly invited him in. Om Namasivaya accepted the invitation, went inside and blessed the newly married couple. That night a fire broke out and the house and its occupants, including the bride and bridegroom, were burnt to death. The next day Om Namasivaya stood before the house with his paduka and asked for bhiksha. Both the house and its occupants were miraculously restored to their former state. The bride and bridegroom came out, prostrated to him and offered bhiksha. The onlookers thought that Om Namsivaya was Parasivam itself. They all prostrated to him and praised him.
[Paduka are the sandals of the Guru. The term also denotes one of the eight Virasaiva aids (ashtavarana) to faith: the practice of drinking water that has bathed the lingam or washed the Guru’s feet.
This story is one of the few that is common to both versions of Guhai Namasivaya’s life. In the earlier version Guhai Namasivaya offered vibhuti (sacred ash) to the householder before his house was reduced to ashes in a fire. In both cases the house and its occupants were restored to their former state.]
From there he travelled to the following holy places and had darshan of the deity in each one: Siva Gangai, Sambulingamalai, Ummattur, Nanjunda Koodal, Subramaniam, Tiruvanjaikkalam, Mookambikai, Gokarnam, Tareswaram, Seccheswaram, Koluveswaram, Mrideswaram, Kalyana Pattanam, Kottur, Kolipakam, Ambai, Virupakshi, Hemakootam, Vanavaasa Maanagaram, Uluva Maamalai, and Koodal Sangameswaram. In each place he accepted offerings and help from local devotees.
[These are all places in western India.]
Om Namasivaya’s group eventually reached Delhi and camped there. When the Muslim fakirs of the place heard that Om Namasivaya was camping near Delhi, many of them came to see him. Om Namasivaya heard from his devotees that they had arrived. He went out to meet them and gestured to them that they should sit down. Om Namasivaya did not speak, but remained instead absorbed in meditation [Siva-dhyana]. All the fakirs who had come became motionless and mentally silent. Before they left they reverentially offered varieties of fruit and prostrated to him, as they would have done to their own Guru. The silence they experienced with Om Namsasivaya did not last, and they soon reverted to their usual mental state.
The fakirs went and informed the Badushah about Om Namasivaya. After he had heard the fakirs’ positive report, he invited, with many ritual courtesies, the whole group to stay in a math that he controlled. He attended to all their needs with reverential devotion.
[‘Badushah’ is a generic name for a Muslim ruler. It does not denote any specific known historical figure.]
Some of the fakirs wanted to test Om Namasivaya. They showed the Badushah an iron pillar and suggested that this iron pillar should be heated to a red-hot temperature. They then declared that if Om Namasivaya could embrace this pillar without harming himself, they would accept him as being superior to all of them, and they would prostrate to him.
The Badhushah was initially frightened when he heard about this challenge. However, he decided to go ahead with it and promised that if Om Namasivaya could accomplish this feat, he would offer one half of his kingdom to him, and the other half to Om Namasivaya’s entourage.
Om Namasivaya was informed of the challenge and accepted it.
As it was being heated, Om Namasivaya asked the head of his sangamas to check if the pillar, which was being heated by a bellows, had become sufficiently hot. The man checked and reported that it was not yet hot enough.
When the fat iron pillar was glowing red and emitting sparks, Om Namaisvaya took hold of it and embraced it, remaining all the time in his natural [sahaja] state. All those who witnessed this fell at his feet and praised him as ‘Om Namasivaya with the Pillar’. One of the followers of Om Namasivaya later cut up the pillar into many pieces, made them into ornaments, and wore them on his person.
[The main elements of this story reappear in yet another account of Guhai Namasivaya’s life. In this variant version the story of hugging the pillar took place in Poonamalee, a town near Chennai. I will give this alternative version in the notes that follow the description of Guhai Namasivaya’s visit to that town.]
The Badushah informed Om Namasivaya about the vow he had made.
Om Namasivaya told him, ‘Since I am a sannyasin, I don’t need a kingdom. I am going on a pilgrimage to Kedaram [Kedarnath]. Afterwards, I will go to Kasi and spend some time there. If you want to help me, you can arrange for a math and other facilities to be available for me when I finally reach Kasi.’
A few days later he started for Kedaram, worshipped for six months by devas and for six months by Virasaivas.
[The Kedarnath Temple is located at an altitude of 3,584 metres. It is snowbound and inaccessible for six months of the year.]
After staying there for some time, Om Namasivaya went on to North Vaidhyanatham and had darshan there. From there he went to Kasi and stayed for five years in the math that the Badushah had arranged for him.
At the end of that period Marula Siddheswara, the chief of the Ujjain Simhasana, came to see Om Namasivaya in Kasi and requested him to visit Ujjain. Om Namasivaya accepted the invitation and started for Ujjain. The officers of the Badushah, who were looking after Om Namasivaya on the Badushah’s behalf, informed him of the departure. The Badushah came to Kasi in an attempt to persuade him to stay.
Om Namasivaya was determined to make the journey to Ujjain. However, he asked the sangamas who had accompanied him on his travels to remain in the Kasi Math. The math there was renamed ‘Sangamapuram’. Om Namasivaya asked the Badushah to return to Delhi, which he agreed to do. However, the Badushah felt that something that had been gifted to a great being [his kingdom] should not be taken back. He gave it up and from then on earned his living through tailoring.
Om Namasivaya went to Ujjain with Avadhuta Asiriyar [Marula Siddheswara] and stayed with him for a few days. While he was there he began to get ready for his journey to Arunachala. Marula Siddheswara asked Om Namasivaya to accept as an offering income to which he, Marula Siddheswara, was entitled to in several places, including Kalatti. Om Namasivaya accepted the offer.
On his journey south a sangama came up to him and said, ‘I live in Raacchudi. My name is Vireswaran. You should spend some time with me.’
He took Om Namasivaya to a nearby temple and looked after him with great love. Vireswaran then allowed him to continue his journey.
Om Namasivaya promised him, ‘I will come when I want to’. Later, he fulfilled his promise and went to Raacchudi.
From there he went to Kalatti [Kalahasti] and had darshan of the holy feet of Guru Swarupa in the vayu lingam [wind lingam]. He stayed there for a few days.
Then he went to Poovirundavalli [Poondamalli, near Chennai] and placed the lotus flower offered first to the ishtalingam on his hand on the head of the Siva lingam in the temple. The archaka [temple priest] went and told the king that a kumbhabhishekam should be performed.
[Flowers can only be offered to a deity that have not been smelled or previously offered to anyone else. If such offerings are made, the lingam becomes ritually impure and an elaborate cleansing ceremony (the kumbhabhishekam) has to be performed.]
The king asked Om Namasivaya to explain his behaviour. Om Namasivaya replied that the flower offered to the conscious earth temple lingam [chit prithvi alaya lingam] can be offered to the insentient earth temple lingam [jada prithvi alaya lingam].
[Virasaivas believe that the body is a conscious temple, and that in offering a flower to an ishtalingam one is making an offering to a living lingam. The ‘insentient earth temple lingam’ is the stone lingam in the temple.
This explanation was not acceptable to the archaka.]
The archaka replied with a challenge: ‘If the garland on the temple lingam flies through the air and falls around Om Namasivaya’s neck, I will accept that Om Namasivaya is correct on this point. It will then be a victory for Om Namasivaya. If he accepts this challenge, he must also accept that the loser should offer as a fine twelve human heads and 12,000 gold coins.’
Om Namasivaya accepted the challenge and agreed to the terms.
The priest secretly arranged for a young brahmin boy to be hidden behind the lingam. The boy was given a rope and a stick, which were attached to the garland to ensure that it did not fly off. The priest also declared that only officials of the temple would be allowed to stand in front of the lingam while the test took place.
The boy who was hidden behind the lingam unexpectedly died while he was there. This in itself necessitated a kumbhabhishekam since the death of the boy while he was attached to the garland ritually contaminated the lingam. The boy was taken away to the cremation ground while the brahmins of the temple began to make preparations for the kumbhabhishekam.
Meanwhile, the garland itself had manifested, through Siva’s grace, around Om Namasivaya’s neck, and the cap which had adorned the head of the lingam appeared on the top of his head. The king and the others present prostrated to Om Namasivaya with reverential devotion. Om Namasivaya had won the challenge.