Sri Seshadri Swamigal, also known as the “Saint with a golden hand”, was an Indian saint who lived in Thiruvannaamalai.
Sri Seshadri Swamigal
Seshadri Kamakoti Sastri
22 January 1870
4 January 1929
It was Seshadri who found Ramana in the Pathala Linga at Arunachala Temple, protecting him from urchins and bringing him to the notice of the world.
Once a devotee aked Sri Ramana: “Why everyone called Seshadri a mad man?”.
Ramana smilingly replied: “There are three mad men in Arunachala.
One is Seshadri, the second is Arunachaleswarar and the third is himself”.
Locals used to call Sri Seshadri, Mother Parvathi and Sri Ramana, Skanda (Lord Subramanya). Sometimes Sri Seshadri Swamigal, the older by ten years would be called ‘elder Seshadri’ (anna) and Sri Ramana ‘younger Seshadri’ (thambi).
There is a part in South India called Thondai Mandalam with its capital of Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu.
In ancient times at Kanchipuram Sri Adi Sankara Acharya established the faith of Sri Vidya, for the welfare of the world.
In this connection he went to Central India and brought about thirty families of Devi bakthas to Kanchipuram.
These families were called Kamakoti Vamsa and spread the Sri Vidya cult throughout India.
Everyone of the Kamakoti family was like a rishi
In 1790, Kamakoti Sastri was born into one of these families. Even though he had a daughter he also adopted one of his brother’s (Chidambaram) daughters, a girl named Maragatham.
At the appropriate time Kamakoti Sastri selected Varadarajar, one of his own students as the husband for Maragatham.
Although the couple had good health and abundant wealth they were sad as they were childless.
Finally, one day, heeding the prayers of this pious family, the Goddess Sri Kamakshi gave a dream to the daughter’s adoptive father, Kamakoti Sastrigal.
In due course, on January 22, 1870 a child was born. People round about said the radiant child was a favourite child of the Goddess and born because of the parent’s tapas.
Even from his earliest years the child Seshadri would perform pujas, sing prayers with concentrated devotion, sit in meditation and go off into spontaneous trances.
He was neither interested in games nor displayed negative characteristics.
Everyone regarded the boy as a Divine child. It was about this time an incident occurred that thereafter gave Seshadri his nickname,’Golden Hand’. One day four year old Seshadri and his mother stopped at a shop full of bronze castings of the Gods.
While at the shop the young lad picked up a statue of Krishna and asked his mother to buy it so he could perform Krishna puja.
The trader, thinking that the radiant child himself resembled the Lord Krishna, gave the idol and refused to accept payment for it. The next day the trader proclaimed the boy to be most lucky as the whole consignment of 1,000 statues (because of the young boy’s touch, had been sold in one day.
News of the incident spread quickly through the town and from that moment on the young boy was known as, ‘The one with the golden hand’.
In his fifth year young Seshadri was initiated at an auspicious ceremony attended by many scholars and on the same day started to attend Patasalas in Kanchi.
Quickly he showed an almost superhuman intellect and memory and exhibited extraordinary debating skills. In his 14th year father Sri Varadarajar died unexpectedly. Kamakoti Sastrigal arrived to pacify the bereaved family and took them to live at Vazhur.
It was there that Swamiji completed his education and mastered various texts in Sanskrit and Tamil – the whole Vedanta with three primary texts – Gita, Upanishads and Brahma Sutras, besides Vedas, Nyaya and Vyakarana. He had also mastered music and astrology.
With his education now complete, Seshadri’s mother, the pious widow Maragatham tried to arrange a marriage between her 17 year old son and the daughter of a relative, but when it was discovered (by examining Seshadri’s horoscope) that he was destined to become a sannyasi and yogi, the marriage plans were swiftly cancelled.
His mother, becoming more self-absorbed started to lose interest in worldly affairs and became increasingly weak – ignoring food and medical treatment.
One day she called her son to her and predicted her death for the next day, and arranged for him to attend.
The following day at her bed, she called her child to her and repeated a sloka from Adi Sankara’s Baja Govindam then together they sang the song ‘Ambasive’ after which keeping her hand on his chest she called out, ‘Arunachala! Arunachala! Arunachala!’ and laid herself on his lap and died.
After both his parents had passed away, Seshadri’s uncle (who was childless) took charge of Seshadri and the younger brother Narasimha Josiar.
In his room Seshadri did numerous pujas and continuous japa to pictures of Sri Kamakshi, Lord Ram and to one of his own drawings of Arunachala Hill.
He would lock himself up in his room at five in the morning and refuse to come out before noon.
He regularly fasted and could often be heard shouting Arunachala Shonadrinatha or reciting Vedic hymns late at night.
His uncle and aunt were frightened by his strange worship and begged him to stop. But Seshadri would not listen.
At the age of 19, he met Sri Balaji Swamigal, a wandering saint from North India, who gave Seshadri sannyas and instructed him in the Mahavakyas. This was the only guru and formal diksha Seshadri is known to have had.
Shortly after Seshadri started to travel to various spots in Tamil Nadu eventually ending up at Tiruvannamalai.
He arrived at Arunachala at the age of 19 years old and did not leave for the next 40 years till 1929, the year he attained mahasamadhi.
When he first arrived at Arunachala his uncle and brother Narasimha Josiar came to see him. Both were overwhelmed with grief on seeing him in rags with matted hair and a thin dirty body. They entreated him to return home immediately, but Swamiji refused to leave.
Seshadri Swamigal would meditate at Drupadi Amman Koil and Easanyan Mutt and in the corridor surrounding the Inner Sanctorum at the Durgai Amman Temple and he would also do tapas at Kambathu Ilayanar, Pathala Lingam and Arunachala Yogiswarar Mandapam. He did not do tapas on the top of the Mountain and instead would go onto the slopes of Arunachala to pray.
He often talked about the unique aspects of the Arunachala kshetra. He would say: ‘
This is the place where Swamy and Ambal invite all and confer liberation’, and
‘Lord Krishna leaving aside his sudarshana chakra (wheel) is playing on his flute. On hearing it Lord Siva who is inside the mountain comes out and dances’
He had no fixed habit or system. He would often conduct himself like a mad man and roam around in the heat of the day and stare up at the hot midday sun and, at night, rest in some nook or deserted hall.
He would be delighted when it rained and play in the streams on the street, sit in the water and only go indoors when the rain had stopped.
His acts were dramatic and deeply impressive. He would avoid rich food from wealthy persons but beg for cold gruel at a poor man’s house or share food with beggars or left overs on a banana leaf with a dog.
Sometimes he would take no food at all and on other occasions consume enough for ten people. He would eat and drink like one swallowing medicine or one being forcibly fed.
Although he did not accept money he would sometimes receive expensive clothes but immediately transfer them to a poor person or tear the clothes into pieces and garland the tail and horns of a calf.
If he was given plain new clothes, within a couple of hours, they would reach the state of his original clothes. He wore only a dhoti which would cover his toes and another piece of cloth swathed over his back and shoulders.
He would squat anywhere regardless whether it was slush, dirt or refuse. When sitting, it was always in his favourite swastika asana.
Swamiji was handsome of medium height and fair countenance. His hair hung in short ringlets to the nape of his neck.
His voice was soft and his smile was as sweet and sunny as a child. His body would not be at rest for a moment.
Even, when sitting he would catch something, put it down, lift it and then repeat it all over again a hundred times.
He walked fast and those following had to run to keep up with him. No sound emanated from his walking or running, it was as if his body was light like a ball.
He would seldom bathe, but occasionally pour a pint of oil on himself and roam in the streets with oil still glistening on his head.
If he allowed himself to be shaved he would often stop it abruptly, with half of his face or head unshaved and appear in public with equanimity and total disregard for public opinion.
He discarded rules and observances of caste, sanctity, prudence and decency but always avoided animal food and intoxicants.
He loved music, delighting his devotees with songs. If one asked, he would break forth into melodious song often drumming rhythms on nearby surfaces. Sometimes he would place his hands on his hips and dance.
He was often taken to be a lunatic and at times purposely simulated madness. It was difficult to explain his general behaviour and impossible to account for the course of his conduct.
He was always original and free, an ascetic who maintained a thorough control of his mind and senses up to the end of his life. He was always playing pranks.
Suddenly he would laugh without stopping and those who witnessed his fun would be reduced to hilarity.
Swamiji utilised a strange manner of speech to ward off crowds building up around him. He would go on speaking very fast, without any respite and with no end or meaning.
Sometimes if someone spoke to him, he would reply in Sanskrit, not caring if he was understood or not.
He was a tapaswi of a very high order. One result of the mantras and sadhanas he practiced from his earliest years was the development of various siddhis and psychic powers.
He could tell about the past and the future and read minds with ease. With this power, he fulfilled the desires of people by showing visions they wanted to see, both in dreams and while being awake.
His miraculous touch is said to have cured many of those who came to him with devotion. Often when people saw him in the streets they would prostrate before him and he would get near to enable them to touch his feet. But, he would never allow bad people to touch his feet. He would run away and if they forced themselves on him, he would abuse them or even pelt them with stones. Seeing this, many people did not go near him. But when he knew about the good qualities of a person, he would himself catch their hands and play. He would joke and run with young children.
He never distinguished between males and females and sometimes would put his arms around the neck of a girl and walk along with her, and lie down in the street with his head in her lap
Swamiji’s interaction with the world was very strange. A person couldn’t take advantage of previous proximity – every moment was a new moment. People loved him, but some fearing they might be beaten, were frightened to come close.
Sri Seshadri Swami had deep devotion to God especially in the form of the Goddess Kamakshi, Lord Ram and Arunachala. In the practice of concentration (for days in his boyhood at Tindivanam and at Tiruvannamalai), he sat steeped in samadhi, oblivious of his body. He loved service and by his own example showed it as a noble ideal to live up to. He was regarded with great respect and he was thought to be a sage not a mad man.
People would say, ‘He is a talking God,’ ‘A divine incarnation, a great yogi, a great siddha’. Others would say there were three lingas in Tiruvannamalai: One, Lord Arunachala, another Ramana Maharshi and the third Seshadri Swamigal.
Seshadri Swamigal and Ramana Maharshi (Seshadri actually arrived at Arunachala six years earlier than Ramana) were contemporaries.
Throughout his life and teachings Sri Seshadri continuously emphasised the glory of Arunachala:
‘This is Siva Lingam. It is enough to worship this. One can become spiritually enlightened and attain liberation’.
He was ever emphasising the inestimable value of giripradakshina instructing:
‘One should pray to Lord Arunachaleswara all the time. In particular perambulation of the hills should be done on Tuesdays. Deep devotion will arise’.
Having lived at Arunachala continuously for forty years and helping all kinds of people Sri Seshadri decided to finally shed his body.
One day in 1928 during the month of Karthigai, he asked a devotee, ‘Shall I build a new house and go away?’
Swami hinted to Subbhalakshmi Ammal about His approaching end. “I have completed my task. I am departing from this existence. Are you alright with it?”
She did not grasp the seriousness of his question, and she laughed it off with a“yes”…
After the above incident, Swamigal stopped going to her house. Swami took ill with cold and fever. He had not eaten anything in 40 days. It was on Friday the 4th January 1929 at 3.30 p.m., when Swami bade farewell to his devotees. He attained the state of Sath-chith-Ananda Nirathisaya Para Brahma Swarajya.
On January 4, 1929, Tiruvannamalai was engulfed in sorrow. After preparation his body was brought out in procession which is said to have been so splendid that the entire stock of camphor in the shops of Tiruvannamalai was exhausted and all incoming buses were full and over crowded. The streets were jammed with devotees and the night seemed like bright day as it was so brilliantly illuminated by the burning camphor.
The air was filled with group-singing, devotional songs and the music of instrument players. It was at Agni Theertham that Sri Ramana Maharshi joined the procession. Further on a samadhi was constructed and Sri Swamigal’s body interred.
That samadhi tomb is now enshrined within the grounds of Sri Seshadri Ashram on Chengam Road, Tiruvannamalai.
“Karuna Sagaram Santham
Sri Seshadri Gurum Vande
Brimmi Bhootham Thaponidhim”
Sri Seshadri Swamigal beilieved in the paths of karma, jnana along with bhakthi. One can see the complicated net connecting all of them. The state of unawareness and illusion was destroyed by him and brought him into the self-realization.
“I declare that I am in everyone, in every being. So, do not hate anyone or cavil at anyone. Spread love always, everywhere. That is the way of revering Me. Do not seek to measure Me or evaluate Me. I am beyond your imagination or understanding. Pray or worship for your own satisfaction and contentment.”
“But to say that I will respond only if I am called, or that I will save only if I am thought of, is wrong. Have you not heard the declaration, “Sarvathah paani paadam?”
“You can hear my footsteps, for I walk with you, behind you, beside you”
“One turns away from the Guru who is near at hand and seeks to meditate on the Divine which is difficult of attainment, may be linked to one who throws away the treasure he already has and goes in search of a hidden treasure.”
“If My actions cause confusion, it is because of your lack of complete trust. Therefore, uproot all doubt and remember well that whatever I do is for the best. All My Actions are My Divine Response born of My Divine Love.”
“I am the ancient ONE (Adhi Moolam), the ONE residing in every heart. Therefore, love others, make others happy, and serve others even at discomfort to yourself.”
“When you help others, God knows instantly and is pleased. No amount of prayer or meditation can do what helping others can do.”
“The Self is not to be discovered in mountain caves or in holy rivers. It is there all along in your own consciousness. And you can assuredly reach it.”