Friday, April 30, 2010

Poondi Swamy

Poondi Swamy

Where is Poondi?”
Poondi, Tamil Nadu District, India.
How to get there :
1. There are buses available from Thiruvannamalai
2. Take a bus to Thiruvannamalai from Tirupati and get down at Kalasapakkam. Poondi is 2 kms away from Kalasapakkam. Take either a bus or walk down to Poondi.
3-About seven miles from Polur, on the main road to Tiruvannamalai. You will have to take a diversion to reach Poondi village.
Along the River Cheyyar :
This area has been Poondi Swami’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.

It 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 Vitthoba’s life.

Before I took leave of him, I asked him if he had known any living siddha.

“Oh, 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 explained.

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?”

“He 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.

As 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 blazing sun.

As we neared Poondi, I asked, “Is the house occupied by the Swamiyar in the interior of the village?”

“No, 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.

We got down from the car and walked up to the house.

It 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.

On 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.

A 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.

Two admirers fell prostrate on the ground, stood up, touched his feet with veneration, and asked for sacred ash as prasad.

“You 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 sparkling eyes.

A 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 well-behaved child.

Before the boy left, the Swamiyar took a pinch of sacred ash, smeared it on the boy’s forehead and bade him go.

I 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.

I, 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.

A 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’.

<span class=Poondi Swamiyar" src="" border="1" width="300" height="419">

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 Murugan.

A 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.

He 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.

He 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.

I 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.

I 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.

Only 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 posture.

“Does he talk to people?” I asked Subramani.

“Oh, 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 place?”

“Oh, 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.”

I took leave of the Swamiyar and left for Vellore.

A 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.

But 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...”

I was reassured and emboldened.

“What is Swami’s name? From where does the Swami hail?” I asked hurriedly.

“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 snubbed.

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.

The 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 become.

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 age...”

Another devotee announces his plans to start a business, taking a friend as his partner. He seeks the Swamiyar’s blessings for the project.

“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.

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