Swami Madhuranandaji Maharaj (1922-1999)
Swami Madhuranandaji: A Picture
'As is the appellation so is the appeal. Madhuranandaji is nothing but Madhura, sweet through and through. A picture of humility, a model of simplicity, this devout mahatma is at once a bhakta and a jnani, a selfless worker and an inspired singer of Lord's glory. To his devotees he is a veritable mother, a guide and a guru, as also a friend and a well-wisher. All this is possible because he has forfeited his ego, lost his so-called personality, and now goes about as Mr. Nobody, free as a dry leaf. Anybody's will is his will, since his will has expired, evaporated, in the fire of Knowledge.'
—This word-to-word-true picture of Swami Madhuranandaji is painted by Swami Chaitanyanandaji, a renowned sadhu of Uttarkashi, a disciple of Swami Sivanandaji of Divine Life Society, Rishikesh and a longstanding acquaintance of Swami Madhuranandaji.
Swami Madhuranandaji was born on April 14, 1922, in Eraniel, a small town in Kanyakumari district, Tamil Nadu. His original name was Subbhiah Pillai. Even from early days he had a natural bent towards temples, worship, devotional songs, in short, towards spiritual life. Monks had a special attraction for him. If he happened to see a monk he would leave every other business and serve him whole heartedly.
At twelve, once the swami's teacher lauded the glory of vegetarianism while explaining a couplet of Thirukkural (26:10), a classic in Tamil literature. The meaning of the couplet runs thus: 'All the world reveres him with folded hands who is established in non-injury and abstains from flesh food.' Once heard, then and there the swami gave up the non-vegetarian food. In spite of the repeated requests of his mother, he never again turned towards non-vegetarian food.
Another striking trait that one finds in the young lad is, his dairy reveals, his unflinching adherence to moral virtues. The entry reads: 'Today I was impolite with X-; as a penance, gave up supper.'
With his Guru
At the age of eighteen Swami Madhuranandaji met his guru, Swami Ambanandaji. As his practice, the latter gave Mother's charanamrita and sugar candy prasad to Swami Madhuranandaji and blessed him. That was an unusual meeting, which lasted for a very brief period but the impact of which had an everlasting bearing on Swami Madhuranandaji. He felt a spontaneous and irresistible attraction towards Swami Ambanandaji that he wrote later, 'When I left him I felt that my body was drifting with me while my soul had been trailing him'. From then onwards he started frequenting Sri Vivekananda Ashrama at Vellimalai where Swami Ambanandaji lived. The natural spiritual inclinations of Swami Madhuranandaji got channeled in the presence of Swami Ambanandaji and gradually, the idea of joining the ashrama and leading a monastic life dawned in the swami's mind. But, because of his mother's importunate requests he had to postpone the idea and complete his college studies. He got his B.A. degree in philosophy. By that time several offers for jobs came to him. But the seed of monastic life was so strong within, he discarded all those offers, renounced his hearth and home and joined the ashrama ultimately. Then he was twenty-three.
Swami Madhuranandaji, as most of the youngsters of his time, had an attraction for freedom movement and the ideals preached by Mahatma Gandhi. The swami used to wear khaddar dress. Gifted with an oratorical tongue, he used to address public gatherings and took an active part in the freedom movement. He could not give up his association with the freedom movement even after joining the ashrama. He used to attend the meetings and address them on occasions. Often it would be late night when he returned from such meetings. In those days one had to walk at least 3 kms in pitch dark from the bus stop to reach the ashrama. But to his astonishment, when he got down the bus he would invariably see Swami Ambanandaji waiting there with a hurricane lamp to show him the way. Swami Ambanandaji's unbounded love never for a moment paused to think that Swami Madhuranandaji had been coming from a political congregation, attending which was not in tune with the rules of monasticism. Swami Ambanandaji knew for certain that as the love for Sri Ramakrishna dawns in the young man he would correct himself in time. And, he was proved true. It was such incidents of pure love of Swami Ambanandaji, which anticipated nothing in return, that transformed the young lad into Swami Madhuranandaji. Later Swami Madhuranandaji would say that living with Swami Ambanandaji had been an experience of pure love every moment. (A brief note on Swami Ambananda by Swami Madhurananda in Tamil)
During early days, the ashrama was nothing but a thatched hut and seldom had the inmates got three simple meals a day. Poverty, one of the basic prerequisites of monastic life, thus came about of its own accord in the life of Swami Madhuranandaji. Poverty makes the soul humble, induces one to rely on God and His grace unreservedly and take to spiritual practices wholeheartedly. As years passed, Swami Madhuranandaji occupied himself fully to the services of the ashrama as well as intense spiritual practices.
Scriptures point out that one of the factors—the factor, in fact—that makes a successful spiritual life is the grace of an illumined guru. Swami Madhuranandaji was too fortunate to have one such in Swami Ambanandaji. The silent blessings of Swami Ambanandaji made the spiritual practices of Swami Madhuranandaji bear fruit and shaped his spiritual life unnoticed.
Swami Madhuranandaji lived with his guru for about six years till the latter passed away in 1951. (Life of Swami Ambananda by Swami Madhurananda in Tamil)
Days of Austerities
After the passing away of Swami Ambanandaji, Swami Madhuranandaji intensified his spiritual practices. Meditation was a passion with him and he could spent long hours in deep meditation at a stretch bereft of external consciousness.
Himalayas had an eternal attraction for him. He adored them. He used to go there every alternate year, spend a few months, and often, even a year or two, in intense spiritual practices. This continued till he became seriously ill in late 1980s. In Himalayas, he mostly stayed at the Dandi ashrama huts in Uttarkashi. In those days the huts used to be almost in primitive condition—dreary, deserted and sadly in need of repairs. About these days the swami used to say later with his own brand of humour, 'I was never alone in the hut. I had the holy company of rats, frogs and visiting friends like snakes. Rainy season meant I would have to struggle to find a corner where water didn't leak.' With the bare chapatti and pulses given as alms he spent his time in intense spiritual pursuits.
Apart from Himalayas, once the swami lived in the Kombai Swami Samadhi temple, Ithamozhi, Kanyakumari district for three years consecutively and practiced austerities observing silence and without touching money.
With Holy Ones
Along with such austerities Swami Madhuranandaji used to seek holy company and would avail of any opportunity to meet holy men and get their blessings. Sri Ramana Maharishi (Thiruvannamalai), Sri Ramdas Swami and Mother Krishna Bai (Kanjankad, Kerala), Swami Abhedanandaji (Abheda Ashram, Trivandrum), Swami Purushottamanandaji (Vasishta Guha, Hrishikesh), Swami Sivanandaji (Divine Life Society) and Tapovan Swami (Uttarkashi) were some of the saints he met. From them he got some guidance or some clarification regarding some doubt and hence he considered them as his upagurus (secondary gurus). It was from Swami Purushottamanandaji that Swami Madhuranandaji got explained the sannyasa mantras during the former's visit to Kanyakumari. Purushottamanandaji's spiritual power was such that, Swami Madhuranandaji recalled later, the mantras went on welling up from within and rolling in the mind continuously for three days.
Swami Madhuranandaji had a deep interest for visiting holy places. There was almost no pilgrim centre in India that he had not visited. Pasupatinath in Nepal, Kathirkama in Sri Lanka and Kailas in Tibet were three important centres outside India that he visited. He had left a vivid travelogue on Kailas. (Thirukkayilaya Yathirai by Swami Madhurananda in Tamil) Rich were his spiritual experiences in all these places.
Being a monk of the Ramakrishna tradition Swami Madhuranandaji was as given to service activities in an equal measure, if not more, as to hard austerities. He had been the president of Sri Vivekananda Ashrama after the passing of Swami Ambanandaji except for a brief period. It is needless to mention that it was during the period of Swami Madhuranandaji that the ashrama had expanded its activities in various fields. The contribution of Swami Madhuranandaji to the ashrama and society at large, especially, in uniting the Hindu forces and spreading Hindu religious consciousness is immense. This aspect of his life is dealt with elsewhere.
An illumined guru, pure life, years of intense spiritual practices, arduous austerities, service as a way of life, blessings of holy ones—what more is required to make a saint! And truly Swami Madhuranandaji lived a saint of Self realization! Conforming to the tradition of Hinduism, he seldom spoke of his spiritual attainments to anyone. Fortunately, he noted down some of them in the form of beautiful poetry and preserved it to posterity, which can instill hope in the hearts of the spiritual seekers and inspire them to take up spiritual practices in an intense way.
Before we go into his poems (Madhura Geetam in Tamil) let us see a rare few instances where he divulged his spiritual experiences directly. These have been referred to in his poems also:
1. The swami took up his Kailas pilgrimage with Swami Abhedanandaji in 1957. Unlike now, it involved more number of days and more danger in those days; a journey of life and death. Later, when one of his disciples asked him what he got undertaking such a troublesome journey, his straight answer was: 'What else! I realized I have no death; I am the eternal Atman!'
2. Once he was living in a hut in Uttarkashi on the banks of Ganga. It was rainy season. One night he was sleeping when Swami Vivekananda appeared in his dream and standing from a higher place he hurried Swami Madhuranandaji to go to a higher place. It was as if he was ordering Swami Madhuranandaji to leave the hut at once and go to some higher altitude. Puzzled, nevertheless, the swami obeyed the command of him at once for it was so persuasive. He rushed out and spent the rest of the night somewhere else. In the morning, to his astonishment, he came to know that a sudden flood in Ganga had washed away his hut leaving nothing!
3. Once he was living at the Kailas ashram in Uttarkashi. The ashrama provided food and shelter for monks who intend to live an austere life. However, one needed to attend the Vedanta classes conducted by the abbot of the ashrama. Swami Madhuranandaji too attended the classes. But the subject was too high for him and he found it too difficult to follow it, in spite of the fact that he was well-versed in Sanskrit and Hindi, the media of the classes. Later he narrated: 'I used to sit like a fool in one corner of the class. All the teachings floated one foot above my head. I could grasp nothing. I felt ashamed. In a spirit of shame and gloom I prayed to Holy Mother intensely, "Mother, Will you remain quiet even after seeing me thus shrinking like a fool amidst those learned people! Will you not shed some light on these subjects?" A few days passed. It was one early morning around 3 o' clock. The whole room I was staying was suddenly illumined by a flood of light amidst which was sitting Mother, the Gracious. She intently looked at me with a benign smile beaming on her lips. Her eyes then started moving from right to left and left to right swiftly all the while focusing the gaze on me. I sat as if petrified but unbound joy welled up in my heart. Copious tears rolled down my cheeks. The vision lasted for a while. After this vision, I found the Mother had really shed light on me and gradually I could comprehend the intricacies of Vedanta.' Later days knew him as an erudite scholar of Vedanta who could expound Upanishads and Gita for pundits as well as explain them to ordinary people with ease.
One can clearly see in his poems his communion with Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother. Swami Vivekananda and his guru Swami Ambanandaji is absolutely real and he had their vision occasionally. We shall see the free translation of a couple of his poems in this line:
1. I am blessed. I am blessed to become the servant of Sri Ramakrishna!
By His grace I have attained Self realization.
No more birth and death for me.
Infinite is His grace!
Oh beloved ones, take to His name and Glory!
2. Wandered aimlessly not knowing who am [the real] I
All along babbling [false] I and nothing but [false] I.
Oh Ramakrishna! You came to me of your own accord;
Bestowed the blessed state of mukti rare for even gods!
3. All on a sudden You came to me;
showed your benign face beaming like a full-bloom lotus and left me swiftly.
Never again You come to me, not even turned towards me.
Oh Ramakrishna! Don't you know that I have none as my own but You!
4. On this durgashtami day Devi came to me adorned with a blue sari.
Her person shone like molten gold! Glanced me with Her benign look!
5. Oh Lord Vivekananda! Oh blazing light that frequents my dreams!
You have wiped out my karma placing your blessed feet on my head
You are none but the great God Siva, who dances in cremation grounds!
6. A father strives hard, earns money and ultimately gave it away to his son.
Oh my guru Ambananda!
Similarly, you too have bestowed on me the Self-realization,
the experience of Satchidananda and saved me from the clutches of maya!
It used to be a mart of joy to be in the company of Swami Madhuranandaji. He could carry all with his wits and jokes. At the same time, he never allowed the conversations to deviate from Sri Ramakrishna or spiritual subjects. Like a mariner's compass ever points to the north, his mind remained focused on Sri Ramakrishna. He had initiated many with mantra diksha and a few fortunate ones with sannyasa diksha. This initiation or the act of directing the deserving ones to a spiritual ideal remained one of the important activities of the swami.
People used to come to him with their problems; he would give them a patient hearing and administer simple solutions. They would leave relieved. He used to pray for them intensely without letting them know of this. For the devotees and disciples he remained a true mother; some of them even used to address him 'mother'.
The swami showed the signs of physical decline in 1980s. In 1989 it was discovered that he had cancer and ultimately he passed away on June 2, 1999.
For his disciples, devotees and for those who prays to him he lives and guides them unfailingly.