Around City -
This a Experience Story Of A Devotee
Our Sincere Thanks To Shri. Bharanidharan (
T.S. Sridhar )
was the fag end of 1969. On my way from Tiruvannamalai to Vellore, I
stopped at Polur to have darshan at the samadhi of Saint Vitthoba.
We met Duraiswami Swamigal at the mutt who introduced me to a Mr. R.
Pargunam. The latter’s father had been a contemporary and devotee of
Vitthoba and had had a close association with the saint. Pargunam
narrated certain incidents he had heard from his father about
Before I took leave of him, I asked him if he had known any living
yes,” he said enthusiastically, and added, “There is a swamiyar at
Poondi. A recluse, he had wandered for several years around nearby
villages. Seven years ago he settled on the pyal of a house there.
He has not stirred from there since. Only last month; I was there.
You must have his darshan.”
“Where is Poondi?”
“About seven miles from Polur, on the main road to Tiruvannamalai.
You will have to take a diversion to reach Poondi village,” Pargunan
We left immediately for Poondi accompanied by Duraiswami Swamigal.
After proceeding about five miles on the Polur-Tiruvannamalai trunk
road, we took a turn to the right at Kalasapakkam and travelled
along the River Cheyyar.
“This area has been Poondi Swamiyar’s haunt for a number of years.
Whether it was blazing sun, or torrential rain, whether it was
biting cold or thick mist, he used to spend his days and nights on
the river bed only,” said Swamiji.
“Does he belong to Kalasapakkam?”
“No one knows his name or place of birth. For over three decades, he
was seen roaming about in the neighbouring villages. About seven
years ago he came to Poondi and sat in a small house permanently.”
“What is his age?”
looks a man of sixty. But those who have seen him 25 years ago say
that they do not find any change in his appearance and that he does
not seem to be aging at all. You cannot assess a Siddha‘s age from
his appearance,” stated Swamiji.
we travelled, we enjoyed the natural beauty of the rural landscape.
Because of good rainfall, there was a perceptible flow in the
otherwise dry river. The leaves of a row of peepul trees on the bank
rustled in the cool breeze, somewhat reducing the rigours of the
we neared Poondi, I asked, “Is the house occupied by the Swamiyar in
the interior of the village?”
it is on the main bus route. See, there! Do you see that group of
persons standing near a house? That is the house. We park the car
here,” said the Swamiji and driver Palani brought the car to a halt.
got down from the car and walked up to the house.
was a small, tiled house. It had two pyals on either side. The one
on the right was a square one, four feet by four feet, and the one
on the left was rectangular, four feet long and two feet wide.
the left pyal sat the Poondi Swamiyar. His head was poised at an odd
angle. He glanced from time to time at those who stood around. He
held a couple of boxes of matches in a tight grip in his right hand
as he patiently combed his moderate beard with the fingers of his
left hand. Every now and then he looked intently at his fingertips,
as if searching for lice or dirt. Then he got back to combing his
beard with serious intent.
young man arrived, went to the Swamiyar and whispered in his ear.
The Swamiyar nodded assent with a gruff ‘hmm’. The young man picked
up a cigarette, placed it between the Swamiyar’s lips and lighted
it. The Swamiyar asked for the box of matches. Now the Swamiyar had
three boxes of matches in his right fist! He smoked with his left
hand. I found him smoking in an unusual way. He inhaled, removed the
cigarette, blew out the smoke, almost immediately took the cigarette
back to his lips, inhaled, removed it and blew out smoke. He did
this rapidly again and again, like a fast-motion shot in a movie,
finishing a full cigarette within a couple of minutes! He let out
only a little smoke, yet did not seem to swallow much of it.
admirers fell prostrate on the ground, stood up, touched his feet
with veneration, and asked for sacred ash as prasad.
may take it,” came the curt command. They took it from the cup,
smeared it on their foreheads and left, merely saying, “We are
going, Saami”. “Let good befall on your endeavours,” responded the
Swamiyar, looking down, then looking up for a split second with
boy came with a bottle of aerated water. He opened the bottle and
offered it to the Swamiyar, who took it and drank it at a stretch,
without once removing the bottle from his lips. As he handed over
the bottle to the waiting boy, he let out a noisy and prolonged
belch. The boy took a piece of cloth and wiped the Swamiyar’s mouth
and nostrils. The Swamiyar received these ministrations like a
Before the boy left, the Swamiyar took a pinch of sacred ash,
smeared it on the boy’s forehead and bade him go.
had been staring at the Swamiyar all this while. He suddenly looked
at me. Nay, I felt a cool spark strike me. When I had read about the
efficacy of Shirdi Sai Baba’s ‘yogic glance’ I could not comprehend
its full import. When I experienced the power-packed glance of
Poondi Swamiyar, I could imagine the impact Sai Baba’s yogic glances
would have had on his devotees.
who had been watching the happenings without being impressed, fell
at his feet the moment he glanced at me. It was an act performed
unconsciously. It was a spontaneous response to a look that thrilled
me beyond words.
woman admirer put a peppermint in the Swamiyar’s mouth, as if she
was feeding her child. He stretched his hand and asked for the piece
of paper in which the peppermint had been wrapped. An inexplicable
impulse prompted me to offer something to the Swamiyar. I asked my
friend to get a cup of coffee from a nearby ‘tea shop’.
Poondi Swamiyar seated on his pyar. Prominent around him are
lithograph pictures of Lord Murugan with the Lord's Vel and the
focus of worship. Besides the Vel, at least four images are of
local enthusiast who had been busy offering me unsolicited
information about the idiosyncrasies of the Swamiyar, told me that
he would accept anything only if he had the mind and mood for it,
and if he accepted what was offered, it meant the giver had his
blessings in ample measure. Hence, it was with much hesitation and
trepidation that I proffered the coffee to the Swamiyar.
gave me a searching look and accepted the coffee. I observed his
fingers. They were long and thickset. The hand was also large and
sturdy. If he stood up he would be a stalwart figure.
drank the coffee too in an unorthodox fashion. He neither raised his
head nor removed the cup from his lips. He slurped the coffee fast
with his tongue, as a cat would drink milk from a plate. I was
immensely pleased that he had not only accepted my coffee but drunk
it with relish. No sooner had he finished, another admirer brought
him a cup of tea. He drank that too in the same manner. His ways
were indeed strange.
Different fruits and eatables were littered all over the place. He
was surrounded by oranges, apples, grapes, plantains, laddu, halwa,
boondhi, chocolates, peppermints, biscuits and what not! On his lap
lay a cigarette packet, two chocolate wrappers, a one rupee note.
There were two glasses with left-over cold coffee. Pictures of
various gods hung on the wall. There was a small but imposing vel of
Muruga. A colour picture of Lord Muruga was nailed to a pillar
opposite him. The Swamiyar concentrated on it at regular intervals.
Behind the pyal, there was a small room. The various eatables
offered to the Swamiyar were dumped in it up to the roof. Cigarette
packets, boxes of matches, garlands, fruits, plantain leaves, bits
of paper and a thousand and one things had been thrown in as
directed by him. Nobody dared touch even a trivial thing found on
the pyal without his permission.
was startled to find the fruits that had been thrown in were fresh.
They had not become rotten. No stink emanated from them. I could not
see even a single fly or ant.
was introduced to a man named Subramani, who was standing near a
thatched shed opposite the house. He was a tailor. He had been
attending on the Swamiyar for the past three or four years. Before
that, when the Swamiyar was occupying the bigger pyal on the right,
he did not allow anyone to even come near him.
during the last three years had he let others clean the pyal and
bathe his body. Subramani brought food for the Swamiyar from his
house, both in the morning and in the evening, but the Swamiyar “had
never asked him or anyone else to bring him anything to eat. He
would eat only if he was spoon-fed. If he did not feel like it, he
would reject the food summarily. The Swamiyar sat through the whole
day. Only at night would Subramani assist him to stretch out on the
pyal. It was anyone’s guess if he slept at all. At four in the
morning, he would be assisted to sit up and resume his usual
“Does he talk to people?” I asked Subramani.
yes. He will talk freely, provided he is in the mood. Sometimes he
gives direct answers to queries. Sometimes he replies with indirect
and oblique remarks. We then have to try and understand the meaning
with a little effort.”
“Have you ever had occasion to ask his name or about his native
yes. Several times, but in vain. He will not reveal them. He would
silence me by saying, ‘They are divine secrets’.”
“Has any miracle taken place here to prove that he is really a
Siddha Purusha? I asked.
Subramani wanted to say something, but seemed to hesitate.
“Please be frank,” I encouraged him.
“So many things happen every day... I am not clear in my mind if I
should narrate them or not. You must be very cautious and careful.
He is not an ordinary Swamiyar. You should gauge him according to
your own personal experiences.”
took leave of the Swamiyar and left for Vellore.
week later, I was back in Poondi and spoke to him. I said, “Swami, I
was here last week. I could not resist the desire to see you again,
so I came.” I just spoke inconsequentially, merely because I felt an
urge to say something. I least expected him to reply.
most unexpectedly he spoke. “Even Nagarathnam Pillai says so. He
says, ‘If you think of me, I must be here’. Don’t you know Arcot
Nagarathnam Pillai? I mean Vellore-Arcot...”
was reassured and emboldened.
“What is Swami’s name? From where does the Swami hail?” I asked
“What harm did I do to rice-mill Govindaraja Mudaliar, or what did
he do to me? Everything belongs to those good old days... good and
bad... order and discipline... transport, justice, honour... what do
you say? They laid the roads. Buses plied... electricity came...
they planted the posts... Konerikuppam, Pilluru, Melvaidyanatha
Kuppam... Friday shandy... will there not be a crowd? Those who come
to buy and sell, and their children... everything must go on
automatically... mustn’t it? Do you concur with me? Annamangalam,
Adimoolam... Ernamangalam Sivaraman... They put up a tollgate...
took money and gave a receipt... But it is valid only for the
night... Next day you must obtain a fresh receipt. Understand?” He
went on in this strain. I could not make head or tail of his
disjointed statements. To ascertain the probable period during which
the incidents he referred to took place, I asked him, “Were the
Englishmen in the country then?”
“The Japanese were also there,” quick came the reply. I surmised he
was referring to a time during World War II.
“May I know Swami’s name and his birthplace?” I asked again, taking
advantage of his conversational mood.
“I can’t tell you all those things,” he replied in a huff and I felt
From the subjects he discussed and the idiom he used, it would
appear that he had spent long years in rural areas. The core of his
observations was agricultural problems and village development. But
we could not divine the content or decipher the meaning of his
utterances. Was he talking about the past, present or future? It was
impossible to guess.
Poondi Swamiyar does not reply to all questions. When he condescends
to reply, some are direct answers, some are indirect references. He
talks to persons at random. Most of the time he keeps a stoic
silence. He looks at familiar and unfamiliar faces with equal
indifference. It is extremely hard to observe any perceptible change
in his expression.
Admirers and disciples from neighbouring villages trickle in
throughout the day. Some fall at his feet, take the sacred ash and,
smearing it on the forehead, speed away. If they take leave of him
saying “Poi varen, Saami”, he sometimes replies “Nallathu, poi va “
(very good, you may go), sometimes he simply nods assent, and at
other times he remains as still as a rock, just staring at them.
Some take him into confidence and discuss their personal affairs. He
gives them a patient and sympathetic hearing and sends them away
with words of advice. He imparts knowledge through a colloquial
language which will catch the imagination of rustic minds or by
quoting a proverb which is used in day-to-day life. The deeper we
ponder over them, the clearer the underlying import and significance
An old woman complains to the Swamiyar with deep hurt about her son
who has become a spendthrift because of his evil ways. In the
Swamiyar’s comforting words to the unfortunate woman, his deep
concern for her is obvious.
“What can we do about it, Ammal This is the Kali Age. If we spend
twelve annas in a rupee, we must save four annas. We need not covet
others’ wealth or aspire to their property. We must be satisfied
with a cup of gruel. Don’t you agree with me, Ammal As is said in
the proverb, ‘The mother’s heart is melting in love and the son’s
heart is-hard as stone’, you suffer agony. What to do? This is the
Kali Age. Nobody will sympathise with another’s suffering. If we
step on a thorn, even the man next to us will not come to our
rescue. Times are bad, what to do? You can lead a comfortable life
only if you lead a careful life and save something for the winter...
small drops make an ocean. Arulilarkku avvulagam Mai, Porulilarkku
ivvulagam Mai (Those who do not have compassion are denied the joys
of the other world. Those who do not have wealth are denied the
pleasures of this world).”
The woman intervenes and mumbles something. The Swamiyar continues,
“Yes, yes... it is not without significance they said ‘You will hurt
the same leg again and again, and the very same famished family is
destined to suffer more and more’... Bad company. Who can help it,
this is the Kali Age? You need not take much precaution if you raise
greens in the garden. But if you plant a drumstick sapling nearby,
you must put up a fence all round. Otherwise someone will steal the
drumsticks when the tree starts yielding... This is such a hopeless
Another devotee announces his plans to start a business, taking a
friend as his partner. He seeks the Swamiyar’s blessings for the
“Even in some families, brothers born to the same mother do not live
in amity and peace these days... they quarrel among themelves... you
be careful in your venture,” advises the Swamiyar.
I reached Poondi on my next visit, it was nearly 9 p.m. The peaceful
village was asleep. A couple of persons standing in front of the
Swamiyar’s pyal were conversing in whispers.
We went near him. The fan was on and the fakir was stretched out.
His eyelids were closed, but his toes were moving a little.
Subramani switched off the light and drew the curtain.
“When will you wake him in the morning?” I asked.
“The question of waking him only arises if he sleeps! If you call
him at any time during the night, he will open his eyes. He is lying
down only because we do not want him to sit all the time. The day
before yesterday, a group of people suddenly arrived from Coimbatore
at midnight. We called out to him. He immediately sat up and talked
to them. He also ate the fruits they gave. Do you want to talk to
him? I shall ask him to sit up,” said Subramani.
“No, please don’t disturb him. I will be committing a sin if I make
him sit up when he is stretching his tired limbs. We intend spending
the night here. I shall meet him in the morning,” I said.
At exactly four a.m. we were awakened by the voice of the tea-shop
owner, who was pleading with someone to get up and fetch the milk.
We got up and saw a kitten running about near the Swamiyar’s pyal. I
had seen it there before. It would play about on the Swamiyar’s lap,
curl itself and sleep snugly in his lap, dance on his shoulders, sip
the milk from the tiny aluminium cup near him. But the Swamiyar
would not take notice of anything. I had not seen him touch the
mischievous kitten even once, much less fondle it.
The kitten mewed once or twice. “Probably this is Suprabhatham for
the Swamiyar,” commented my friend Bobji. We heard the Swamiyar
cracking his fingers. Soon afterwards, the boy from the tea-shop
arrived with a cup of hot tea and called out “Saami”. The Swamiyar
sat up immediately. After he finished drinking the tea, he coughed
Subramani went up to the Swamiyar, wiped his face with a piece of
wet cloth, changed his shirt, smeared his forehead with vibhuti
(sacred ash), applied chandan and kumkum, garlanded him, removed the
curtain and performed the usual pooja. Those who were standing
around and the people who had arrived by the first bus offered their
The Swamiyar had opened ‘shop’ for the day. The lucky ones would
benefit by stopping there and getting blessed.
Everyone whom I contacted and made enquiries of said this Siddha had
been roaming about in the surrounding rural areas for thirty years
or more. I wanted to see the spots associated with the Swamiyar.
There is not a single temple in the area which he has not visited,
no tree under which he has not sat, no boulder on which he has not
slept. The villagers point out many landmarks, saying with
enthusiasm “Swamiyar used to sit here”, “He slept there”, “He would
have his food in this house”, or “He would frequent that shop”.
Twenty years ago they found him in the Mettupalayam stream to the
left of the Cheyyar River, and housed him in a newly constructed
hut. He would wander about throughout the day and retire to the hut
in the evening. Sometimes he would sleep in a nearby cremation
ground. He had been walking aimlessly with a bundle on his head and
another in his hand when they found him. Someone who had been very
kind to the Swamiyar, expecting him to do him a favour in return,
was disappointed. Hurt by the insult, he belaboured the Swamiyar
mercilessly as a result of which the Swamiyar left the place and
went to Pulluru, a nearby village, where he stayed midst thorny
bushes and cactus hedges. He then settled in a running brook. He
would not move out of it even if there was a heavy downpour. The
villagers, fearing that he might be washed away by the gushing
waters, prepared a bamboo cage for him. But one day he was caught in
a flood and almost drowned. The villagers rescued him, warmed his
body by burning straw and kept him in Pachaiappa Nayanar’s house.
This information was given to me by Ponnusami Nayanar, a former
Chairman of the Panchayat Board. For him, Poondi Swamiyar was God
himself. He was emotionally charged whenever he referred to the
Swamiyar. With moist eyes, he narrated episode after episode which
bound him to the Swamiyar for ever.
Once, due to a village feud, somebody robbed his sugarcane grinding
machine. Complaints lodged with the Police were of no avail.
Ponnusami Nayanar, for whom this was a grievous loss, went to the
Swamiyar and stood before him, mentally calculating the chances of
recovering the machine.
The Swamiyar suddenly said, “Your property is safe. You will find it
in the river bank near Nasari grove. Go and search for it.”
“The wonder of it was that that same day, someone saw a nail jutting
out of the sand, and when we dug there, we found the machine intact.
The Swamiyar had correctly pointed out the spot where the robbers
had buried the stolen machine. From that day, he has been my God. At
least once a day, I go to him for darshan. I do not talk to him. I
pray mentally, and he answers my prayers and sets things right.
Recently, there was a mild disturbance in my domestic life. There
was a difference of opinion on a vital problem between myself and my
son. I was naturally worried. The Swamiyar appeared in my son’s
dream and resolved the matter,” narrated Ponnusami Nayanar.
Many persons I met and talked to recounted several such miracles.
The Swamiyar seems to have registered a strong impression in
everyone’s mind by influencing their life through some inexplicable
act or other.
Once, while walking along the riverside at night, a person was
rendered speechless with horror when he saw the dismembered body of
the Swamiyar, the limbs strewn in different directions. He fled from
the gruesome scene and spent a sleepless night, but the next morning
he found the Swamiyar hale and hearty, going about his business
Everybody asserts that the Swamiyar has never begged for his food.
Some have seen him eat mud and stones when hungry.
went to see his haunts in Prayappattu, Mottur, Natchatrakoil,
villages to the north of Poondi.
The villagers worship the Swamiyar as God. They love him as their
child. They believe by personal experience that a mere look from him
will relieve them of their troubles and that a pinch of sacred ash
from him will cure incurable diseases.
“If he is not inclined to give us prasadam, it is impossible to get
it from him whatever tactics we might adopt. Once, I saw a very
affluent person trying to get prasadam from his hands by offering
him various things, but the Swamiyar would not yield. He was
insistent that the visitor must take the sacred ash from the cup
himself. I have never seen him discriminate between the rich and the
poor, or a familiar face and a stranger,” a villager told us. “A
spotless saint with no requirements”, “A wise and dispassionate
sage”, “One who is always immersed in his inner self, completely
oblivious of his body”, “A true Siddha who showers his blessings
speaking the language of the eyes”. These are some of the favourite
descriptions given by his admirers, but the Swamiyar remains an
enigma, who does not fit into any of these descriptions.
was the middle of 1971. I was in Poondi again after a lapse of about
six months. When I approached the Swamiyar, he was engaged in his
‘yogic practice’ (as the local gentry would have it), shutting his
eyes, raising his eyebrows in jerky motions, clenching his teeth
tightly, shaking his head at an odd angle. I had observed him
before, engaged in such continuous and contorted facial
gesticulations. In such moments, devotees normally refrained from
talking to him. He is said to be in ‘yoga’. No one was sure when it
would cease. It might last half an hour, two hours or, sometimes,
even four hours at a stretch. I sat in the thatched shed opposite,
observing the Swamiyar intently. A village schoolmaster came to me
and said, “I feel sorry that you cannot converse with the Swamiyar
at present. As you have come after a long break, you must have much
to discuss with him. He has been in ‘yoga’ for the past two days. He
has not exchanged even a word with anybody.”
Assuring the well-meaning teacher that I had not come to talk to the
Swamiyar but only for darshan, I waited for twenty more minutes.
I approached the Swamiyar with the intention of taking leave of him.
Just then, I was goaded by a sudden inner urge to reveal the dream I
had had the previous night.
I said, “Last night, the Kanchi Sankaracharya appeared in my dream
and suggested that I write something more about you”.
The moment he heard me utter the name ‘Sankaracharya’, the Swamiyar
stopped his ‘yoga’ abruptly and listened to what I had to say.
“I have already written what little details I could gather about
you. If you are pleased to provide me with more information, I will
be only too happy to record it,” I ventured hesitantly.
“Yes, go on... write...,” said the Swamiyar enthusiastically.
“I can write only if I get more facts. I am told your good self had
stayed in nearby villages like Kanchi and Kadaladi. Will I be able
to gather some information if I go to those places?” I asked.
“Well and good... you may go there... there is a mutt for
Sankaracharya in Kanchi...”
I was intrigued because I thought that the Swamiyar was confusing
the village Kanchi ten miles away with the town Kanchipuram more
than sixty miles away. The Sankaracharya’s chief mutt is situated in
“Do you mean the Big Kanchipuram?” I asked.
“No, I am referring to Kanchi. The mutt there is a brick and mortar
building... the work of a maistry (master mason).”
“Is there a temple?”
“Yes, yes... go and see it for yourself. There are three lingas. Ask
Narayanaswami Chettiar... he will tell you everything.”
“Which Narayanaswami Chettiar?”
“Temple trustee Narayanaswami Chettiar.”
I headed for the village of Kanchi. We went past Kadaladi and
reached Kanchi. It was a tiny little village. It didn’t look like a
place where you would find a monastery. But because the Swamiyar had
told me so, I confidently asked a person stretched out on the
verandah of an unassuming building whether there was a Sankaracharya
mutt in Kanchi.
“There is no such mutt here, but we have a ‘Sankara Nilayam’,”
answered the person, sitting up.
“Where is it?”
“This is the building. I am the caretaker. When Kanchi Sankaracharya
was here last, he expressed a wish that we must acquire a building
for a school to teach the Vedas. Hence we bought this by
raising-public donations. Why don’t you step in and have a look?” he
said and conducted us in. I followed him, unable to suppress my
surprise at unwittingly coming to the right building first stop.
There was a large portrait of the Sankaracharya in the main hall. I
paid my obeisance.
I realised that the Poondi Swamiyar must have referred to this
building as the mutt. It was just an ordinary brick and mortar
masonry structure. The Swamiyar must have described this as ‘maistry
work’ in his own inimitable language!
I went to the Siva temple whose deity is known as Kara Kandeswarar.
There I learnt of six other Kara Kandeswarar Temples along the banks
of the Cheyyar river, in Kadaladi, Mambakkam, Madhimangalam,
Yelathur, Poondi and Kuruvimalai. They are together known as ‘Saptha
Karaikandam’. These Sivalingas were established and worshipped by
Lord Subramania, in atonement for the sin he once committed of
cutting off the heads of seven holy Brahmins.
Narayanaswami Chettiar mentioned by the Swamiyar was no more the
trustee and he was not in the village just then. Instead, I was
asked to contact one Venkatarama Chettiar, popularly known as ‘Kullappa’.
But as he was sick, I could not talk much with him. I could not
gather any worthwhile information about the Swamiyar’s story in
Kanchi other than the vague recollections of some old villagers.
As we were proceeding from Kadaladi to Madhimangalam, I saw an
imposing hill. On enquiry, I learnt that it was called the Parvata
Hills and that there was an Eswara shrine on the top. An old man
pointed out the white speck of a dome.
“Are there steps to climb to the top?” I asked.
“No, you will have to go up by a rough and irregular track. It will
take four to five hours to reach the top. It is difficult and
troublesome,” said the old man.
“Is regular worship performed for the deity?” I asked.
“The priest goes up only twice a year. But they say siddhas come
there every night to offer worship. If you stay overnight here, you
will hear the sound of the bells, smell the fragrance of burning
incense. In the morning you will find flowers on the Sivalinga.”
I had heard about the Parvata Hills some time ago as one of the
haunts of the Poondi Swamiyar. Since then, it had attracted me and
when I heard about its mystic association from this local, I decided
to climb the hill with my friends.
A month and a half later, we arrived in Poondi to seek the blessings
of the Swamiyar for our mountaineering venture! I was anxious to
have his advice, along with his blessings, for the expedition, as
the locals had painted a frightening picture of the difficulties to
be faced during the ascent.
I went to the Swamiyar and said in an undertone, “We intend climbing
the Parvata Hills. Have we your permission to go?”
“Oh, yes. You may go there,” he promptly replied.
“What are we expected to see there?” I asked.
“The Pachaiamma shrine. Sivaratri is important there. Annabhishekam.
Rathasapthami. I was there on that day,” recalled the Swamiyar.
I had previously been informed only of a Siva shrine on top, but
Swamiyar spoke of a goddess’ shrine. Though confused a little, I did
not seek clarification from him.
“Swami, I am given to understand that it is a rather difficult and
arduous journey. We need your blessings for a safe expedition,” I
“You may proceed.... big rails... small rails... crowbar…all jumper
work.” The Swamiyar spoke in monosyllables as usual.
I could not make out anything of what he said, but I kept discreetly
“Our intention is to go to Kadaladi and seek the help of the village
headman, Nageswara Iyer.”
“It is already late,” mumbled the Swamiyar.
We received the sacred ash from the Swamiyar and were on our way.
When we reached Kadaladi, about eight miles from Poondi, it was
nearly four in the evening. We met Nageswara Iyer, who was happy to
help us with our plans. I was anxious to start, without wasting any
time, and suggested we begin the climb with the aid of a petromax
lamp. But Iyer discouraged us. He said our safety was his
responsibility. He knew when and how to send us.
“You have dinner at my house, and rest for the night. Get up at five
in the morning, and have a bath before you leave for the foot of the
hills. I will make all the necessary arrangements,” Iyer said. He
was one of those whose bearing and manner of speech demand immediate
and absolute obedience. We put ourselves in his hands.
The journey up the hill the next morning was hazardous and
wearisome. But for the help of local guides and the company of my
friends, I would have surely retraced my steps half way. They coaxed
me not to give up the attempt. Physically I was exhausted, but some
indomitable will spurred me on.
The last lap was the worst. It was very steep and slippery. A huge
rock was studded with iron bars. I had to almost crawl up at a
snail’s pace, holding the bars one by one as I inched my way up. One
slip would have cost me my life.
“The Poondi Swamiyar must have referred to these iron bars as
crowbars,” I thought.
“Fixing these bars in the rock is known as jumper work; the Swamiyar
must have meant this,” explained Bobji.
By God’s grace we successfully negotiated the steep ascent, but
then, lo, ahead of us were a couple of girders bridging a yawning
gap between two rocks. We would have to cross that.
The Swamiyar had evidently referred to this bridge as the ‘big
“There you see the small rails,” pointed out Sundaresan, our
photographer. The Poondi Swamiyar had been absolutely correct. We
had to climb a small iron ladder to reach the top.
A fortnight later, we went to Poondi and recounted our experiences
to the Swamiyar. He listened without any comment. When I showed him
the photographs, he looked at them with interest but showed no
expression in his face.
Sensing that the Swamiyar was in a receptive and communicative mood,
I returned to my usual questions which he had been parrying all
“From where has Swami come to Poondi?”
“I came to Kadaladi from Modern Theatres. In those days, we had the
Karthikeyan Bus Service plying in these parts... I was taken in one
of the buses. I spoke something. They could not understand. They
just blinked,” the Swamiyar went on.
“In what language did Swami speak to them?”
I thought I was being clever, putting that question. I thought I
could discover to which region of the country he belonged.
“I spoke a language they could not understand,” replied the Swamiyar,
eluding the net I had spread for him!
The Poondi Swamiyar had been using the name ‘Modern Theatres’ quite
often in his conversation. To verify whether it was the Modern
Theatres situated in Salem, I asked him, “Do you mean the film
“Yes,” he replied.
“If I go there, can I get some information about you?”
“Yes, you can.”
“Is there anybody known to you still alive?”
“Shall I go there and make enquiries?”
“Oh, yes, you may try.”
“Why did you come to Kadaladi from Modern Theatres?”
“I was just walking towards Singarawadi.”
“Where is Singarawadi?”
“Near Kadaladi. Wherever I went, I went without seeking anything in
particular. I would return without any regret or remorse. That
particular day, I was dejected that I had been born without a place
or name. When I came near the Police Station, I felt tired and
stretched out. Just then a sayabu came near me and asked, ‘Swami,
what brought you here?’.”
“Which sayabu?” I asked in great eagerness.
“Don’t you know Khadar Batcha. He is a fine gentleman. He is a
skilled conversationalist and he is too clever for anybody... So I
kept silent all the time, without answering any of his questions.”
“Swami, the Vinayaka temple is being neglected without pooja or
abhishekam. Why don’t you arrange for some one to look after the
temple?’ Khadar Batcha requested me. But I never spoke to him. It is
very difficult to vanquish him in talk. I simply dozed off. I got up
the next morning and resumed my walk. Four or five persons were
going towards the paddy field with pickaxes. Probably they were busy
with the ragi crop. Just then I saw about ten persons standing at
the bus stop, obviously waiting for the bus. I guessed that they
were pilgrims bound for Tirupati. I was resting under the tamarind
tree. Khadar Batcha came there... and taking out his penknife,
peeled a mango and offered it to me saying, ‘Eat it, Swami’. No one
can hope to beat him in conversation, so I received it from him and
He went on in this strain without a break. He spoke as if he was
witnessing everything he recounted. While he talked, the past, the
present and the future appeared to lose their meaning, and time and
space seemed to attain new dimensions.
While we listened to him, we entertained no doubts regarding the
veracity of his narration or any of its details.
Intrigued by his statement that he felt sorry that he had been born
without a place or name, I asked him, “Is such a birth possible?”
He coolly shot back, “Why not?”
The pooja over, the Swamiyar was put to bed. I was standing near his
head. The Chairman of the Swamiyar Committee suggested that I could
ask some questions.
I asked the Swamiyar to say something about the Parvata Hills and he
replied, “There were streets. I saw some hotels and shops. I went
upstairs and knocked at the door. A dozen persons were seated
inside, I thought the time and the atmosphere were not conducive, so
I came down.”
I could make nothing of his abstruse and obscure utterances. But I
was vaguely conscious that they had a deeper significance and
The Swamiyar refused to be drawn out any further on the subject.
Like the seven Karaikanda shrines, on the northern bank of the
Cheyyar, there are seven Siva shrines known as ‘Sapta Kailasam’. I
expressed my wish to visit these shrines and sought the Swamiyar’s
He blessed me and asked me to go to Vasudevampattu, Thamarapakkam,
Narthampoondi, ThenpalHpattu, Pazhankoil, Karappoondi and
I asked him, “Have you seen those temples?”
“I never go in. I just see them from outside as I walk along,” he
It was past nine when I left the Swamiyar and adjourned to the
thatched hut opposite, for my night’s rest.
It was nearly four in the morning when I awoke. I got up from my
bed, walked up to the pyal occupied by the Swamiyar, and stood by it
silently. The little kitten which was curled near the Swamiyar’s
feet, suddenly stood up, raised its back, bending it like a bow,
shook its body and mildly scratched the Swamiyar’s right foot. He
opened his eyes slightly, reacting to the sensation, and was helped
to sit up. The alarm clock shrieked. It was four to the second.
The tea vendor from the neighbouring shop brought a cup of tea. The
Swamiyar received it and drank it in his own queer style. Subramani
brought him water in a bucket, and gave the Swamiyar’s face, hands
and legs a quick wash, changed his shirt, applied sacred ash on his
forehead, garlanded him, lit camphor and swirled it before him.
A woman accompanied by her son approached the Swamiyar. “Saami, I
took a vow to offer you money, kindly accept it,” she said and
handed over 25 rupees in currency notes. He received the money and
kept it in his hand.
“Saami, the boy has failed the pre-university course. Am I to send
him for some job or start a small business for him?” the anxious
“Wait for 15 days. You need not decide in a hurry... take it easy,”
he said with touching affection and concern.
“Saami, we take our leave of you.”
“Yes, you may go.”
After receiving the prasadam, they departed.
A person was waiting with three children. He had come the previous
night. He had fallen out with his father. In anger, he had left his
home with his family. He had left his wife with her parents and
started in search of a livelihood, taking his three children along
with him. For a couple of days he had wandered aimlessly and, unable
to find mental peace, had come for the Swamiyar’s darshan.
He came near the Swamiyar and whispered his plight into his ears.
“What am I expected to do now, tell me, Saami?” he asked in innocent
“You go back to your father. How can you work anywhere with three
little children. Who will look after them? If the father is
unreasonable and querulous, the son should submit and compromise in
the interest of domestic peace.
Take your wife and return home. Do you understand what I mean?”
“Yes, Saami, I will do as you bid,” said the person and, receiving
the prasadam, took leave of the Swamiyar.
Later that morning, after a bath in the holy Cheyyar, we left for
Kadaladi, and went round the Parvata Hills, a distance of nearly 16
miles. The next day, we visited the Sapta Kailasam temples in the
company of Nageswara Iyer.
Back in Madras, Poondi Swamiyar still haunted my thoughts. I had
been made aware of the Sapta Karaikandam and Sapta Kailasam shrines
and the Parvata Hills only because of this mystic. His utterances,
with their psychic flavour, and his simple and rustic homilies had
captured my imagination and had inexplicably drawn me to him again
and again. But however much I tried, I could not elicit any
information about his birth or early days. I gave up the attempt as
a futile exercise. His parentage and place of birth and early life
still remain a mystery. In retrospect, I am convinced that 1his adds
to the awe of his enigmatic personality.
Among those who wrote to me about their experiences in the Parvata
Hills was A. Viswanatha Pillai, a Highways Inspector. He belonged to
Arunagirimangalam, adjacent to Madhimangalam. He wrote to me to say
that I should have chosen the Madhimangalam approach rather than the
Kadaladi route to climb the Parvata Hills. His family had been going
to the top on Sivaratri regularly for the past thirty years. Some
time later, he met me and invited me to go with him to the Hills on
Our conversation turned to the Siddha Purushas who could disappear
from view at will and reappear the next moment in any form they
choose. Pillai recalled meeting a siddha in the Parvata Hills.
About 25 years ago, Pillai had climbed the hill on Sivarathri with
his parents and brothers. Among those who are fed on that day was a
person who looked like a local woodcutter. He stayed with them
overnight, and accompanied them on their return journey the next
As they were coming down the Hills, they wondered whether the
stranger might be a siddha and whispered their doubts among
themselves. The stranger, who intuitively sensed the subject of
their conversation, decided to clear their doubts. He stood before a
thorny bush and declared, “Some people here do not believe in my
powers. Let them know who I am.” The next moment, the bush split in
two. The stranger stepped in between the two halves and the bush
closed again, completely covering him.
Everyone was convinced that he was a siddha. After a minute, he came
out of the bush, laughing heartily.
Later he walked with them, engaging everyone in light conversation.
They arrived at the Pachai Amman shrine (mentioned to me by the
Swamiyar) in the foothills, offered worship and had a sumptuous
lunch. The siddha ate well, sitting next to Pillai. Later, they
resumed their journey.
Three or four persons were in front, the siddha was in the middle
and Pillai and his relatives were at the rear as they walked. When
they came to a stream, the Siddha stepped into the stream to quench
his thirst. Suddenly, he disappeared and all attempts to find him
proved futile. They returned home with a heavy heart.
Pillai told me that when he had invited the stranger to join them
for dinner the previous night on the hill top, he had at first
excused himself. He had said, “We are twelve in all. Only I have
come out. Some other day, all twelve will come and dine with you.”
But Pillai had finally persuaded him to dine with them that night.
After hearing Pillai narrate his experiences, I remembered what the
Poondi Swamiyar had told me once. He had said that “when I went up
and knocked at the door, I saw twelve persons sitting inside and I
had to return as the time and atmosphere were not conducive then”.
I still wonder whether the twelve persons mentioned by the siddha
are the same as those referred to by Poondi Swamiyar.
The doubt persists in enveloping darkness. I am waiting patiently
for the light of dawn.
Thanks to Mr. Bharanidharan (T.S. Sridhar), This article appears in
his book Six Mystics of India (Madras: Ganesh & Co., 1996) pp.