Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Rama Navami : Remembering Yogi RamSuratKumar

It was a small old house. With corrugated clay-tiled roof. That was where Yogi Ramsuratkumar was living in those days. Located around the corner of a street near the colossal Gopura of the Temple of Thiruvannamalai. There were lots of drooped garlands with wilted flowers hanging on the iron grills of the verandah facing the road. They formed a translucent curtain obscuring the visibility of the passers-by. But it did not render the visual communication, between the Yogi who sat inside and any ardent seeker passing by the doorstep, completely opaque. One can still attempt an eyeball to eyeball game if one peeps through the right apertures. For the probing eyes of the Yogi was always on the look out.

The fag end of 1992 was a time zone in my life which was full of turbulence and turmoil. Uncertainties and anxieties. Lethal post-adolescent pangs. At around noon, myself and my classmate Rajagopal had reached the house of Yogi Ramsuratkumar at Thiruvannamalai. Travelling by bus all the way from Paiyyanur, where we were put up for a village stay program. Those were the final days of my under-graduation in the discipline of Agriculture. I had read about this man called Ramsuratkumar from the writings of Balakumaran and V.Rangarajan. And from what GeethaRavindran had narrated about her experience of meeting him. When we reached, the door of the house was locked from inside. We then enquired with a boy who was around. He said that he was the one who does part-time gate-keeping in the house of the Yogi in the mornings and evenings, which were the visiting hours earmarked for the devotees. Besides this, the boy was also preparing for his next attempt to give his tenth standard board exams in which he had failed. I felt an immediate incongruence in this. Why should the Yogi not bless his own poor gate-keeper boy to pass the Board Exam? Or possibly get rid of him from this monstrous schooling system and liberate the boy into a true seeker? Why should he be caught in between? While I was thus pontificating within my mind, that boy interrupted and said the Yogi will open the front gate by around 4.30pm or sometimes later as well. I was wondering what would the Yogi be doing inside the house at that time of the afternoon. I had always been very curious to know whether these Yogi guys would be using the loo!

Me and my friend went to have a stroll around the Temple. When we returned sharp at 4.30pm, there was already some bhajan going on inside the verandah. The Yogi was sitting on the floor with his famous palm leaf fan. A few of his devotees were singing some bhajans sitting in front of him. The gate-keeper boy, whom we had met a little earlier in the day, had resumed his duty, standing and holding the gate from inside the house. My friend said he was not interested to meet any Yogis at that stage of his life and said that he would visit the Temple and get back. The gate-keeper boy then told me that on that particular day, the Yogi had come out unusually at around 4pm itself to open the gate and he himself had reached there a little late. I said that was all fine and I asked him to open so that I can meet the old man. The boy simply refused stating that he had the permission to open the gate only after Ramsuratkumar gives him the nod to do so. That seemed to be the prevalent practice in that household. I told that boy to go and tell that old man sitting there that I had come in the morning itself and was waiting the whole day to meet him. My fury increased as it was getting late. I had to return to the camp the same night, which was at a four to five hour distance from there, depending upon the availability of the bus. The gatekeeper said he was sorry as he was not supposed to talk to his boss like that. This was going on in a hushed-up tone between me and the dwarapalaka in Tamil, as the Yogi was conversant in English and Hindi only. I then suddenly turned towards the side where Ramsuratkumar was sitting. He was looking into my eyes with a smile.

When his eyes met mine, I did not turn away. I looked straight into him. In a short while, Ramsuratkumar suddenly got up, opened the door from inside, came out and sat down on the front steps at the entrance of the house. I was standing just in front of him. Though this knee-jerk reaction of the old man had unsettled me, I upped the ante by staring straight into his eyes again. And he was sitting in front of me at a more intimate, hugging distance! He was continuously looking into me. I also took note of the fact that he was smiling at me all the time. And probing me all the while. I think I would have looked like a funny boy with an affected sternness on my face that evening. Which might have induced him to smile more. Whatever. There was silence. Neither him nor I spoke. After a while, without removing his glance, he broke the silence and asked, "So my young friend, tell me...!"

There are always certain defining moments in your life. Many a times, you don't get to know of it instantaneously. Sometimes you realise it much later. And sometimes you die without knowing a wee bit of it. With the benefit of hindsight, I can now say it with humility and conviction that, it was one such defining moment of my petty life. But I didn't think so at that point of time. And the amusing part of it is that, I was damn serious and too sincere in what I truly believed in then. Without taking my eyes from him, I asked what I thought was the most profound question haunting my life, "What solution do you have for the problems facing humanity?". He laughed and said, "My dear friend, I am not a philosopher. I am just a beggar!" At that juncture, something in me told me that I should stop yapping and ask him what I actually felt deep inside. "So, what do you think that I should do then?", I asked him. Pat came the reply, "Say RAM, my friend, say RAM RAM!". I could not believe that one can dare to offer me such a simplistic solution for a complex problematique posed by me. It prompted me to almost yell at him, "What??". He laughed again and said, "Just chant what I told you!". That, I thought, was my turn to laugh. I smiled condescendingly at him and asked, "That's all you have to say?". He simply replied, "Yes, my friend. That's all!". By then, some passer-by fell at his feet. He patted his devotee's head muttering, "Ram, Ram!". I felt ridiculous at the gimmicks of the old man. I told him that I would take leave. But he raised his hands and blessed me, "Ram, Ram! My Father blesses you, my friend!". I was flabbergasted. He remained smiling without getting irked at my irreverential demeanour. My arrogance did not permit me to fold my hands and salute him. Touching his feet was beyond question. My dignity and self-respect would not allow me to deign to such levels. I slightly bowed my head, rather tilted it a little in the front. That would be more appropriate to describe the gesticulation I had made then. As if to offer my feeble recognition to an old man, more for his age than for his wisdom. I still remember that he was smiling when I left the place without turning back. I did not visit the Temple and departed from Thiruvannamalai with utmost disappointment. I was a 21 year old rebel then. A rebel without a cause and without a pause, as my mentor Palanivel Rajan had aptly remarked long ago.

After this visit, I was convinced that my first trip to Thiruvannamalai was a sheer waste. An exercise in futility. What was the point of travelleing that far and meeting an old simpleton who was having nothing new to offer as a solution to the problems of humanity! And when I ask him what should I do, he simply smiles and asks me to chant Raama Naama. Is any kind of chanting not a self-hypnotic auto-suggestion, to delude myself from the harsh reality? Moreover, to keep humming Ram Ram during 1992, when Babri Masjid was demolished at Ayodhya by the Hindutva zealots, reeked of a sinister gameplan. My puerile fascination, during the early 90s, towards the Marxist-Leninist ideological spectrum simply rejected such a spiritual enterprise as a hogwash in the stream of false consciousness. Nothing but an Ideological State Apparatus to create the hegemony of super-structure. These were the predominant reasons which coerced me to abscond from the domain of spirituality and religion during those years. More crucial than all this was the fact that I was anxious to settle down into a financially and materially better standard of living. The domain of spirituality was a luxury I could not afford to indulge in during those testing times. That is the other side of the bitter truth.
Once you reasonably and logically settle down in life, your passionate heart can be cleverly liberated from your intelligent mind. A working dynamic can be established between the heart and the mind, with what Friedrich Hegel calls as the cunning of the reason. It is time to grow wings and attempt to fly in the sky, before the rot sets in. Else life becomes too boring and mundane. It gets cynical and nauseating. To hold the bleeding soul intact within your tight embrace, there is not much choice left other than to try and indulge in passions which are dear to your heart. And when you start experiencing your intimate passions, you inevitably land up facing the twin eternal dilemmas of living : love and death. A sense of wonder towards life and the Universe would increasingly engulf your being. Questions without answers would become more intense. It is imperative to revisit the epistemology of Immanuel Kant and his distinction between noumena and phenomena so that a more comprehensive understanding of religion is possible in this post-modern world we inhabit. Apart from his seminal work, Critique of Pure Reason (1781), yet another less talked about but very significant earlier work of Kant, namely, Observations On The Feeling Of The Beautiful And Sublime (1764) dwells on the concepts of Beauty and Truth. It attempts to conceptualise the themes of the heart. Of emotions and feelings. How will you conceptualise the finer aesthetics of your soul? How are you going to grapple with the abundance of life which keeps happening beyond the purview of logic and reason? Though one cannot fully decipher them, it becomes essential to create a subtle dialectic between mind and heart, between launguage and silence, between the temporal and the spiritual. All this and much more, seduces one to endeavour into the luxurious domain of spirituality and religion. Such noumena and phenomena would happen as you grow sober. Or, to put it more critically, as you become more and more senile!

Like Herman Hesse's Siddhartha, we have to discover our own inner truths. Not a single but multiple truths. Am a novice in this dazzling journey. Some of those questions which haunted me during the yester-years, appear to me as superficial and pedantic at this juncture of my life. They have almost vanished. New questions have arisen. And certain old questions have got more deeper. But questions continue. They have actually intensified. Now, I feel that you can chant Jehovah, Jesus, Allah, Krishna, Rama or the name of any God or Goddess from the Little Traditions or Tribal religions of your own volition, whenever you feel like. All those names are divine and beautiful. It does not prevent you from registering your protest in any form you deem fit, whenever you think and feel you should react to any injustice in the society. They are all mutually complementary. As long as one tries to avoid chanting one's own name incessantly, one can fairly retain right proportions of sanity and insanity! And reasonable good health too.

Life has taught me the wonder and the beauty of Raama Naama, in its own unique ways. I cannot explain how. I do not want to. You have to discover it yourself, if you want to. Else do whatever you feel like doing. The perceptions about Yogi Ramsuratkumar has changed within me over time. Even now, I do not like the ways and means in which he has been idolized, which his latter-day followers have made him out to be. I keep far away from that. Such tragedies have always been happening to mankind. During the past few years of my life, I keep having occasional conversations with Yogi Ramsuratkumar. Where I just thank him and he merely smiles. Nothing mystical about it. Simple imagination. Just for the heck of it. It was He who first told me about Raama Naama and blessed me at a time and age when I was adamantly recalcitrant. Had I been Yogi Ramsuratkumar and had anyone come to meet me with such an immature question, believing it to be the most profound one on top of all that, what would I have done? How would I have responded? Would I have given him one tight slap? Or hugged him to dissolve his inner pain? I do not know. With me, neither of it would have worked. That is my personal predicament. What I admire in Yogi Ramsuratkumar is the sense of a higher, more evolved intelligence to discern the Other seeker and bless him according to his or her station in life. Or, is it the other way round? We get the Gurus according to what we deserve and what we are, at the core of our being. That is yet another Zen mystery. In any case, I am eternally grateful to Yogi Ramsuratkumar for he smiled and blessed me!

A few days ago, when visiting Thiruvannamalai, I visited that small old house. Where Yogi Ramsuratkumar blessed me in 1992. All of a sudden, before going to the Temple, Sundar said that we would go to that house. And so we went. The house remains almost the same. There was an man in his 50s who seemed to be maintaining it. It has been preserved as a small museum now. There are cupboards containing many letters which came to the Yogi, a simple mattress, few scribblings on the walls, an old photo of Lord Venkateshwara of Thirupathi, his unused cigarettes, and such other things of daily usage. There was also a sign board pointing towards the toilet located at the backyard of the house which was used by the Yogi! On seeing it, I got elated to get a vague answer to my almost 2-decade old puzzle. Actually, I just smiled.

Before entering the front-gate of that tiled old house, I touched the front steps where the Yogi sat and blessed me some 18 years ago. My eyes welled up. I offered my salutations to one of my first Gurus who gave me a cue to the Ultimate Guru of my life. And I felt the overflowing love and warmth of Yogi Ramsuratkumar and the smile which he bestowed upon me as the Blessings of His Father..

RAM..! RAM..!!


  1. Ram Ram...give courage & passion to practice right things besides not only showing the right path to the problems facing humanity. ram...ram.

  2. You are very apt in saying that the beauty of Raam Nama can not be described. It can only be felt/experienced by the one who devotes himself to HIM even in part. What to talk of the beauty experienced by those who compeletely surrender unto HIM. After experiencing that beauty what other solution they can offer. Therefore, Swami Ramsukhdas could not have done any thing else other than instructing to chant HIS name.

    It is definitely not running away from the problems of existence, daily life or the problems faced by the world. Because he is infinite and omnipresent and the world exists in HIM only, therefore who are we solve the problems of the world. Let LORD RAMA, the one who has created the problems in the first place solve them. To us the only instruction is to take His name and merge ourselves in HIS love or Parmanand. After that, whatever divine instructions we shall receive we would honestly fulfill them. But not before!

    RAM! RAM!

  3. Your ability to craft an eminently watchable and lovely 3 hr. movie from a script fit for a 15 minute documentary film is exceptional. Not that such scripts are not handed over to us also. But we can only make a shoddy 2 minute film out of it. Such instances as the one narrated, comes in our lives also. But we do not have the wherewithal to see them the way you see them. Satya, Hats off to you.

    Oops! RAM! RAM!

  4. It is interesting to note the personal journey of yours. But you seem to be struck somewhere in the middle. While appreciating the power of a mantra like 'Rama Nama', you seem to be more tied up with your leftist orientations and western philosophical understanding of religion. I've seen all thinking individuals with a good heart continuously falling into this trap of the middle path because of their innate leanings towards Marxism. JNU spoils many of them in deeper ways than they would agree. And you seem to be no exception to that. Why don't you keep your leftist sympathy in tact, but a little aside for a while? Why are you so apprehensive of getting deeper into the experiences in oriental religiosity?

    A 'mantra' is supposed to be a thought-form crystallised into a syllable or a word or a group of words, capable of spiritual transformation. Though you may call it as a subconscious self-hypnosis, it produces certain effects and experiences which are elevating. Of course, narcotic and psychotropic substances may poduce similar effects. But they are accompanied by very deleterious side-effects. If you agree with that, then don't you think 'mantras' are a much better option? Don't you want long lasting highs instead of ephemeral ups? Certain thoughts are powerful and certain words expressing those thoughts are much more powerful. It is all scientific and nothing speculatory.

    The 16th century poet Tulsi Das, says in his epic poetry "Ramacharitamanasa" that the word 'Rama' is more powerful than Rama Himself. According to Tulsi Das, 'Rama' is a mantra, the chanting of which would elevate anyone to higher consciousness. Therefore it is not the person but the word Rama which is more important and more powerful. Rama is supposed to mean the divine one which is omnipresent in all the atoms of this universe. It is very much possible that all the energies and elements in the cosmos can be influenced by the chanting of the mantras. More than Hinduism, Budhism gives crucial significance to mantras. Immerse into it without any hang-ups.

    Oh Mani Padme Hum!

  5. Ohm Mani Padme Hum!

    (sorry for the error)

  6. Relinquishing all ideas of righteousness,surrender into ME exclusively;I will deliver you from all sinful reactions,do not despair..BHAGAVAD GITA

    Be still and know that iam god...PSLAM..

    (sorry i dont have any idea what bible says..)

    True spritual evolution cannot be experienced unless u outgrow the ME within you..
    I dont think its possible to( atleast for me )Surrender without being sensitive to our inner SELF and to the environment...u can experience anything in life finally what u become only speaks further...so just live life with a complete sense of freedom without being engulfed by halfbaked spritual ideas...