Today (Dec.1) is the birth anniversary of Yogi Ramsurat Kumar, who made Tiruvannamalai his home and interacted with a wide section of people while guiding them in their daily lives.
I met him first in Gnanananda Tapovanam, an ashram on the southern banks of the Pennai river near Tirukovilur. Tapovanam was founded by Sri Gnananda Swamigal, a ripe old sage at whose feet it was my fortune to gather a few specks of holy dust.
My mother was greatly devoted to Swamigal – ‘He is none other than Krishna himself’, she told me once – and it was her destiny to die at his feet.
Saints of the Advaitic order, I have heard it said, don’t participate in the formalities having to do with the passing of the laity. But Swami came along and gave a send off to my mother’s final procession.
My father clasped my hands tightly as I looked back at the the pyre burning away in the night that was enveloping the banks of the flowing Pennai.
In the weeks that followed, even as we performed the rituals connected with my mother’s passing, Swami treated me with great love and consideration. He used to call me ‘Yogi’ and give me a whole lot of fruits.
But Providence would have it that very soon the Swami himself shed his most benign mortal frame. One day I was up before the break of dawn and hearing some voices rushed towards the Swami’s quarters. I found him slumped on the ground.
At my mother’s funeral procession, Swami had said, ‘You go ahead, I will follow you’.
I remembered seeing Swami looking at the flowering mango trees in Tapovanam. He perhaps thought, ‘Here comes the season when I shall merge in the Atman’. He had given many indications that his earthly life was coming to an end.
In the months that passed after the Mahasamadhi of Swamigal, Yogi Ramsurat Kumar of Tiruvannamalai made it a point to guide many of the inmates of the Tapovan Ashram. For some reason, the Yogi spent hours and hours with me. We used to spend warm summer afternoons in the wide terraces of the Tapovan ashram. Sometimes we would wander into the green paddy fields surrounding the ashram and then sit down near one of the wells there. I imagined this was how it would be when one leaves home and town for the search of the Great Truth following in the footsteps of a liberated soul.
I have a strong mystical streak, and the Yogi emphasized the path that I should take in life. He indicated that like the mythical Bauls, wandering minstrels of Bengal who went about singing the song of the Infinite, mine too should be a song of ecstacy.
I surely have felt greatly attracted to the rapturous Samadhi of Sri Ramakrishna…I have always thought that not reason and rationality but rousing rapture would bring down a new consciousness. Reason might be the rain that helps man order his life…but it would have to be the crashing avalanche of a waterfall of grace that would sunder man from his self-centred concerns and set him on a new dimension.
In the years that went, I got to meet the Yogi quite a few times, on visits with my family. I remember visiting him all by myself once, when the great Tamil savant T. P.Meenakshisundaram and his student Professor A. S. Gnanasambandam were with the Yogi in a house on Sannadhi street near the Tiruvannamalai temple. TPM was dictating a poem about the Yogi and Gnanasambandam was writing it down. It turned out to be a great poem and to this day I cherish a copy of it.
I recall that the Yogi asked me to give a speech. A few more devotees had come in by then. Even as I dwelt on the transitory nature of all experience while highlighting the meaning of the Gita verse, ‘Maatraa Sparshaasthu Kaunteya’, one of the devotees, a woman who was seat next to the Yogi broke out into tears. The idea had been cathartic to her and rid her of a great burden of sorrow. The Yogi frequently asked people to read passages from religious books to a concourse. That was his way of giving them his advice.
The Yogi has guided me at various points of my life. I recall a few curious incidents when he played a part in my professional life too.
I had left my job in a prestigious journal to shoot some episodes for a serial for National Doordarshan (satellite TV had not opened up in the mid-nineties). The efforts drained my energies and my finance. When the Yogi asked me about what was bugging me, I told him about the project.
Faced with all the befuddling details, he gave me a puzzled look and said, ‘‘This beggar doesn’t understand anything’’. I told him that the details weren’t important. All that I needed were his blessings to tide over the difficulty.
I heard from the ashram manager later that the Yogi had mentioned my name and said that I was a spiritual person. In the event, the serial that I shot was telecast on National network and also made a marginal profit . I remember that at Delhi Doordarshan, the staffer who checks the ads told me, ‘Aap ache programme banaaye hain’.
I had gotten into writing independently and when my first book was released I presented the Yogi with a copy. Leafing through the over 600-page book, he remarked with gladness, ‘‘He must have worked very hard for this’’. I am a very hardworking person, and was rather surprised that the Yogi hadn’t known this characteristic of mine, but, Come on, I thought, He meets hundreds and hundreds of people all the time. The Yogi blessed the copy with his signature Om and gave it back to me.
I recall a curious incident before my marriage. The Yogi blessed the marriage invitation but added a proviso. He said that I must always listen to my wife. When he was in a happy mood I could take some liberties with him. ‘‘Is this the advice that you give all men who are going to get married?’’ I asked him. ‘‘No, this applies only to you’’, he said, and laughed his signature laugh that reverberated across the room.
People call him a godman, which indeed he was. He made statements like, ‘Father (as he referred to god) alone is true, nothing else, no one else’. But he didn’t behave like that, at least to our superficial eyes. He moved with businessmen, housewives, social dropouts, villagers, celebrities, intellectuals..listening to their problems, giving them strength. There was a mysterious political angle to his ministry too. In the years upon years that he lived on the street, he had three or four attendants carry newspaper bundles for him.
He was a temperamental man who could sometimes be provoked to rage. My friend, the respected poet and painter Perumal Raju recalls an incident. Once some persons gatecrashed into the Sannidhi street house and one character stuffed a fruit into the Yogi’s mouth. The Yogi flew into a rage. Perumal Raju says that the sky suddenly darkened and the clouds thundered when the Yogi berated the philistine.
I have seen no such miraculous phenomenon connected with the Yogi. But to me the greatest miracle was that of a man from Kashi coming to Tiruvannamalai in search of a character called god and apparently finding him! Another miracle is that the man who gave up his own family in his search for the divine found a family many thousand friends amidst us. Yet another miracle is that the man who slept outside shops in the street grew into a mighty Banyan that would provide shade to myriad souls. Strange are the ways of god.