Arutprakasa Vallalar saint Ramalinga Swamigal
A saint in the mould of great Indian tradition
By V Shanmuganathan
During the nineteenth century, a new phenomenon has been brought to the world. Marudur is a small village about 15 kms, south west of Neiveli, which is very well known to the world as an area containing a vast sphere of lignite and this is located in Tamil Nadu. There lived a couple Ramiah Pillai and Chinnammal, who were devoted to the God and having much faith in Shaiva siddhanta.
One day, when Ramiah Pillai was away from home, a saffron-clad saint came to his house. The guest was treated courteously and fed with good dishes. Having been pleased immensely with the courteous treatment given to him, the saint at the time of his departure, blessed his wife with some sacred ash (vibudhi) and uttered the following words. “You will beget a son, who will be able to deliver the art of deathlessness, which will be a boon to the entire world”. So saying the saint disappeared. Though it has been acknowledged by all as a remarkable event, the intricacy lying therein has to be understood only from a higher plane. Days passed in and at the end of the gestation period, the lady gave birth to a male child on the fifth day of October 1823.
Blessed by the divine grace, the beloved parents showered their love and affection on the darling child and brought him up with great care. The child was named ‘Ramalingam’.
Usually human beings are called after the names of God in India. The common belief that is prevailing in the society is that once they call on this name, they are induced to remember the God often.
In Hinduism, it is a tradition to take a new born child to the temple and offer prayers before the deity to benefit the child with His Blessings. On this basis, when the child was five months old, the parents took him to Chidambaram temple to offer their grateful prayers. As usual the priest lit the camphor and offered it to the Lord at the sanctum sanctorum. No sooner the vision appeared, the child laughed loudly and gazed for a few seconds. It is a real laugh the child had? What does it suggest? One has to understand that the effulgence of the inner light of grace (Arut Jothi) has been realised by the child as soon as the outer light came to his visibility.
This pleasant experience has been expressed in some of the poems edited by the saint subsequently. Some of the excerpts are given below: “No sooner the Light was perceived, happiness prevailed on me”.“The sweet nectar was tasted by me as soon as the Great Light (Arutperunjothi) became visible”. It is quite natural that the inner light is omniscient, and anyone having a mastery over it can enjoy happiness with a blissful state.
Years rolled down. The elder brother grew and he showed some interest in looking after the family, and as Chennai was considered to be place, where he can have a better career, the family was shifted to Chennai.
When Ramalingam was five years old, Sabhapati, his elder brother, decided to formally educate his youngest sibling Ramalingam but the young child however showed a deep disinclination towards formal education but on the other hand preferring trips to the local Kandasamy temple. Ramalingam relented on the condition that he be given a separate room of his own. Now, in the solitary confines of this room, he set up a mirror and in front of it he lighted a lamp. With these as aids he relentlessly meditated and this was the beginning of the young boy’s spiritual journey. The first reward came in the form of a vision of Lord Muruga.
His elder brother Sabhapati was a learned scholar and upanyasaka (one who tells religious stories). It so happened that once Ramalingam had to substitute for his brother at an upanyasam session. His brilliant exposition and uninterrupted flow of words while enunciating a verse from the Periyapuranam by Shaivism, an epic poem by Sekkizhar narrating the episodes connected with the 63 Nayanars amazed the onlookers. Later his brother also graciously acknowledged the mental and spiritual superiority of his brother. Totally averse to money, he was later on to shun food and even sleep. He started renouncing the world from the age of thirteen.
Ramalinga Swamy gained his experience from his inner soul. He was able to awaken himself within by lighting a lamp. The grace of God was showered on him. Sitting before a lamp, concentrated his thoughts on a certain spot in the mirror, where the brilliance of the lamp fell and he used to be lost in deep meditation. By the divine grace so obtained Ramalinga Swamy was blessed with the knowledge of all arts and skills and gifted with the ability and talent to perform wonderful deeds. Then he shifted himself to a village called Karungali in south arcot district near Neiveli.
Hot Sun and Shadow of a Tree
During this period he wrote his spiritual experience in the form of 6000 poems. This divine composition of poems are called Thiru Arutpa. Annamalai University has published a commentary for all the 6000 poems of Saint Ramalinga Swamy. Madras University has published a book on Arutperun Jothi.
One of the poems of Thiru Arutpa explains about the happiness prevailing in the outer world is only a fraction of inner divine experience.
“During the hot summer at 12 noon, a traveller waiting a long distance comes in sight of a green tree with full of branches and green leaves.
He sits under the shadow of the tree and thereby he is relieved of his tiredness and fatigue. What will be his feeling and appreciation about the green shade of the tree?
How glad will he be if begets a sweet, ripe fruit there to eat?
Nearby he sees a stream flowing with sweet cold water surrounded on either banks with coloured flowers emanating sweet fragrance bringing solace not only to the eyes but also to his mind.
He now feels that he is seated on a green meadow from where he takes rest.
The sweet breeze around him brings more comfort and thus he feels very fresh now with new gains and forgets all previous miseries.
The divine experience the saint acquired with the union of the Lord surpasses all such happiness prevailed in the outer world”.
Centre for True Knowledge and Compassion
Based upon his divine experience, Swamyji gave some mantras. He wanted his disciples to show Jeevakarunyam – compassion to all living beings. He established, Sathya Dharma Salai, in Vadalur. Annadhan was given to all the visitors without any distinction. He propagated the idea of vegetarianism. He was against the killing of animals for the sake of food. He encouraged the service of feeding the poor as the highest form of worship.
Ramalinga Swamy constructed a temple called Sathya Gnana Sabhai. It is a hall of true knowledge. He said God of this temple is “Arul Perum Jothi” (eternal light). It is the symbol of knowledge, mercy and compassion.
The oil lamp lit by him is kept perpetually burning. He said that our inner soul is blinded by seven veils. Greediness, selfishness, ego, jealousy, enmity, lust and vengeance are the 7 evils preventing us in the path of eternal bliss.
There are seven cotton fabric screens, representing the seven factors that prevent a soul from realising its true nature. During the time of Aarathi, Deepa Aradhana, all the seven cotton screens in different colours will be opened one by one and finally the devotee will have the darshan of the Supreme light.
Ramalinga Swamy delivered the messages through lectures, essays, heart melting poems and melodious songs. He insisted on the universal spiritual aspects of religion. He made an indelible mark in the religious history of India when he came out openly against the caste differences and the negative impact it had on society.
Ramalinga Swamy raised the flags of brotherhood on his one room residence Siddhi Valakam in Mettukuppam. In an attempt to redress the situation he established the Samarasa Suddha Sanmarga Satya Sangam.
He gave his last and most famous lecture, addressing the audience to look into the “nature of powers that lie beyond us and move us” and asking them to meditate on the lighted lamp. Saint Ramalinga Swamy is respected as “Siddhar” who attained moksha on January 30, 1874.
Thus, saint Ramalinga Swamigal propagated the worship of the inner light in each human being and living being as Arutperum Jothi. There are about one thousand Sanmarga Sangams in Tamil Nadu and other bordering states like Kerala, Karnataka, Andhara Pradesh where people worship light.
Atmosphere for Inculcating Values
In the year 1972, Mananeeya Madavarao Muley, then all India adhikari of RSS visited this Ashram. As the district Pracharak of RSS, I took him to the Satya Gnana Sabai (hall of true knowledge), Dharma Sabai and Siddhivalagam.
He was impressed by the symbolic removal of 7 screens of hurdles and finally worshipping the eternal light. He met the secretary of the mutt and had a long discussion. He specially told them that the Ashram is having a good atmosphere to give sanskars like brotherhood. Later on, after some years, RSS conducted its annual training camp called OTC. Mananeeya Rajju Bhaiya also visited the place and appreciated the role of Ashram in spreading the message of Swamyji.