Sri Swayamprakasananda Saraswati Swami (Alangudi Periyavaa) – 1
Srimad Bhagavatam is liberation bestowing Holy Text [Moksha Granta]. Mahans have opined that mere reading/listening to the Bhagavatam liberates one. The uniqueness of this Holy Text is that every letter in it is verily Lord Krishna! No wonder that mere reading about/listening to the Lilas of Jnani of all Jnanis [Lord Sri Krishna] bestows liberation not only at the end of one’s life on earth but also has the ability to bestow Jivan Mukti state [‘realising’ one’s nature even while living in the physical body]. This has been illustrated in the life of Sri Swayamprakasananda Saraswati Swami, popularly known as ‘Alangudi’ Periyava. The youth Ramakrishna attained Jivan Mukti by merely reading the Bhagavatam.
Here, we bring to you the life history of of the great Mahan ‘Alangudi’ Periyava whose samadhi is in Mudikondan, a village near Tiruvaroor, Tamizh Nadu state, S.India. The ‘aradana’ of the Mahan was celebrated on 18th May 2008.
A week long Bhagavata Saptaham was performed in this connection and Sri Sri Swamiji rendered Srimad Bhagavata discourse.
Sri Swayamprakasananda Saraswati Swami (Sri Alangudi Periyavaa) – Part – 1
Narayanar, a poor Brahmin lived in Alangudi, a small village in the fertile Chozha kingdom. He had completed his Vedic studies and was a highly virtuous man. He earned his living through priesthood, assisting people in conducting Vedic rites and scriptural duties. A married man, he lived as per scriptural injunctions laid down for a householder and was deeply devoted to Gopala Krishna. After many years of marriage, through the Grace of Sri Venugopala Krishna swami, he was blessed with a son. Christening the child Ramakrishna the parents brought him up with
much love and care. The child’s ‘akshara-abhyas’ [learning to write] was performed at the age of five. When he turned seven the holy thread ceremony was performed; thereafter, he was left under the care of a great scholar for education. He learnt the Vedas wholly and became an adept in ‘Sikshai vyakarana’ that form part of the Vedas.
The parents desired to find a suitable bride for him. However, Sri Ramakrishna feared married life, as he felt it to be a block to Hari Bhakti [devotion to Lord Hari]. He considered married life a camouflaged well. One should be careful not to fall into this; instead, move into a forest and take efforts to attain Lord Hari. He felt that this was the essence of all the Shastras [scriptures]. Feeling that the Grace of a Guru was most needed to strengthen his Jnana, Bhakti and Vairagya [wisdom, devotion and dispassion] he was in search of a proper Guru. Sri Balakrishnananda swami appeared in his dream, imparted Sri Nrisimha Mantra to him and also gave him Srimad Bhagavatam. After this Sri Ramakrishna’s Hari Bhakti [devotion to Lord Hari] reached its pinnacle. He began to remain in solitude doing Mantra japa and reading the Bhagavatam. Due to the Grace of Sri Balakrishnananda, Sri Ramakrishna earned deep love for Srimad Bhagavatam; and, through reading the Bhagavatam, earned deep Jnana.
The parents forced Sri Ramakrishna into marriage. Unable to go against the wishes of the parents he married the virtuous girl that they had chosen for him. Marriage did not spoil his pristine state. The fortunate bride was still in her parents home. Sri Ramakrishna was deeply upset by the new bondage. One night, he had a dream in which he found himself in a forest and many dacoits trying to bind him. Suddenly, a lion appeared from nowhere, roaring ferociously. The dacoits threw the rope down and took to their heels. He realised that Lord Nrisimha would soon save him from the cruelty of his relatives who were the real dacoits trying to bind him to the world. The next morning he received the news of his wife’s death.
Mahans feel that the worldly ties are bondages that keep them away from their spiritual life. In Srimad Bhagavatam, we see how Sage Narada takes the death of his mother as an ‘anugraha’ [blessing] (1:6:10). Sri Periyava had a similar feeling when he heard this news. He performed the death rites for his wife.
After the death of his wife his dispassion deepened. All worldly comforts seemed trivial. He spent all his time in meditating on his favourite Deity Lord Nrisimha who had protected his great Bhakta Prahlada. The relatives mistook his attitude to be longing for his lost wife and began to make plans for another marriage. Sri Ramakrishna sensed the danger. Days passed and suddenly one early morning, like the great Mahan Sri Sadasiva Brahmendra, he attained the ‘unmathha’ state. He ran away from home. He was twenty-eight years of age when he attained ‘self-realisation’.
He had no consciousness of the body and wandered about as an ‘avadhoota’ [naked sadhu]. Unaware of the world he wandered about like a madman.
[Srimad Bhagavatam describes the state of a Jnani as ‘unmathha, mookha, jadavat’ — he is like a madman, the dumb and the inert].
His unkept hair hung in knots. The body was frail. The mind, however, going beyond the differences of man and woman remained pure. Almost always he was silent or chanting the Divine Names of Lord Narayana. Filled with the nectar of the Lord’s Name he would at times dance, at times sing, at times shed profuse tears, at times cry out loudly. Wherever the Lord’s stories were recited he would go and listen to it. But this would push him into ecstacy and he would begin to sing, dance and cry. He would experience horripilation. He would cry out loudly, “Narayana! Narayana!” At times he would fall down in a swoon.
During his wanderings he came to the Holy Place Thiruvisanallur. Sri Ramasubbha Shasri, who was proud of his scholarliness lived here. He was a thorn in the way of all other learned scholars. Due to the pride of his learning he held an indifferent attitude to the great Bhagavatam. But he turned over a new leaf after listening to Srimad Bhagavatam from Sri Ramakrishna swami, just once! He earned deep faith and taste for Srimad Bhagavatam!
Suddenly, a deep desire to discourse on the Bhagavatam took hold of Sri Ramakrishna Swami.
He arrived at the village Kamakshipuram. Sri Panchanata Iyer, a resident of this village, welcomed him with all reverence. Many others joined him. But the great renunciate said to them, “I have not come here for food. I have come here with the deep desire to discourse on the Bhagavatam. Is anyone interested to listen to it?”
Hearing this, some of them prostrated to the Swami and said to him, “It is verily our fortune that you have come here to bless us. But some amongst us feel embarrassed to see you an ‘avadhoota’ [naked Sadhu]. We do not possess your spiritual maturity; hence, though we all deeply yearn to hear the Bhagavatam we hesitate to come to your presence on this account.”
The surprised Swami said to them, “If this state of mine proves a block to giving discourses or listening to the Bhagavatam I will embrace sanyas and live according to scriptural injunctions.”
All present there were wonderstruck. The Swami at once set out and received sanyasa, as per Scriptural injunctions, from Sri Panangudi Swami. Sri Panangudi Swami gave him the ‘diksha’ name of Swayam Prakasananda Saraswati [one who shines on his own] because like Prahlad he had had attained Jnana without a Guru in a human body. Sri Panangudi Swami comes down in a great lineage of Mahans who were all Krishna Bhaktas and loved Srimad Bhagavatam.
Sri Ramakrishna swami embraced sanyasa [ascetic life] a s his state of ‘avadhoota’ was a block to his rendering Srimad Bhagavata discourse. He desired to give discourse on the Bhagavatam even to the spiritually immature. Therefore, embracing ascetic life, he began to wear ochre colour loin cloth, ‘gopi chandan’ on his forehead and held ‘danda-kamandalu’ in his hand and scrupulously followed the various rules and regulations prescribed for this life. He was ever doing Bhagavata parayana [reading] and discoursing the Bhagavatam. The Divine Lilas and ‘gunas’ of Lord Hari drew the great ‘avadhoota’ into a life of scriptural discipline!
Is it not the Divine Lila of the Lord to attract the hearts of Jnanis and make them sing His glory?
People who listened to the Bhagavatam from ‘Alangudi’ Periyava, who wandered about in the same state as Sri Suka, were indeed most fortunate. Sri Suka who had ‘realised his self’ and wandered about like the inert, dumb, child, took to Srimad Bhagavatam as he felt deeply attracted to the ‘gunas’ of the Lord: so too, ‘Alangudi’ Periyava had for sometime wandered about in this state and later, due to his deep love and taste for Srimad Bhagavatam, took to living as per strict scriptural injunctions and began to visit innumerable villages to give discourses on the Bhagavatam. He was the very personification of tolerance and patience. He was totally free from from anger and lust. He followed all the scriptural injunctions laid down for the ascetic way of life. Of these, bathing three times a day and food restrictions are very important. At times he would eat a little grated coconut and remain without food for months together; at times he would eat bilwa fruit and at times only milk. Some times he would eat ‘sathhuma’ [a health gruel].