(He who dwelt near the Boughs of the Neem tree at Shirdi)
Parma Pujya Sree Sivanesan Swamiji was born as the third and last child of Smt. Alamelu and Shri. Muthaiah on 12th April 1927. It was the holy day of Sree Ramnavami. His birthplace was Nayakkan Palayam in Coimbatore District of Tamilnadu, the then Madras State. It was the sound of the ringing temple bells, celebrating the day of Lord Ram’s birth that greeted him.
It is said that the babe already had two front teeth and a ‘jata’ (small tuft of hair at the back of the head) when he was born. Astrologers foretold that he would not lead the life of householder but would become an ascetic or sanyasi.
During his childhood, he showed early signs of withdrawing from mundane world. He was aloof, quiet, calm and meditative, retreating into solitary places – often forgetting about his food, which he ate alone, as he often not present at mealtimes, to join the family. He had very fond memories of his maternal grandmother at whose home he spent some happy times; and also of his paternal uncle who had a good collection of books, which greatly interested young Sivanesan.
His formal education was only up to the eighth standard. This was not due to any paucity of family funds; but because he was not interested in the pursuit of bookish knowledge. His family was of good standing, cultured and of comfortable means. Later in life, his brother held a position of status in a textile mill in south India.
Sivanesan Swamiji worked in his youth as a Record Room Assistant at the High Court of Madras, on a temporary basis, for a short time. This seemed to leave a strong mark on him because he could marshal his facts more ably than a brilliant lawyer could. He also had a phenomenal memory.
In Coimbatore, he worked as a helper in the Electricity Department, on daily wages, for some time. Actually, he was too young to hold any such position and had to hide in the fields, when there was a visit from the Inspector of the Department.
Out of all the short-term occupations, he loved his position as a sales assistant in a bookshop, which he undertook because of his love for books. But as he showed a keener interest in reading the books, rather than in selling them, he lost that job.
After the death of his mother, he left his home never to return, due to his spiritual leaning. He reached Bombay, after his wanderings, during the Navy Bandh month of 1944, at a tender age of seventeen. He did many jobs for his livelihood; such as, at an art silk weaving unit, selling bananas etc., He always lost his job or made losses in his small business ventures. He even worked as a railway porter at Sion railway station. He sometimes became roadside scribe, outside Matunga Post Office, earning the odd four annas (present day twenty five paise) for his daily needs.
The friendships he struck up in Bombay were only with those who showed interest in the pursuit of the Self. Some of those persons disappointed him by leaving the Path and opting for worldly lives. Also, he befriended those who were in need, providing them with cheer and food of which he had very little himself. Matunga, Mahim, Sion were his haunts; and the seashore was a place for his meditation.
But in Sree Muthaiah Swami, who hailed from Vallanadu Village of Coimbatore District, he met his MENTOR. Though Sree Muthaiah was a householder, he really considered him as his GURU, par excellence; and made spiritual progress under him, learning much about the Self, Meditation, Vedanta etc.,
Bombay was not to be Sivanesan Swamiji’s home for a long time. Again he wandered, spending some time in the ‘math’ of Sree Nityanand Swamiji at Vajreshwari. He deeply venerated Nityanand Swamiji and had the good fortune of being in His Divine Presence, drinking deeply of the Knowledge he imparted.
The desire to find and meet the Divinity he saw in his meditation again uprooted him. There was a Divine Call, which he could not deny. So, he moved on Tryambakeshwar, in Nasik District, became his next halting place. He grew very close to Mauni Baba there, who was not observing ‘moun’ or silence, then. After a very congenial stay, he left for Shirdi, with a great wrench for both of them. He put his feet on the sacred soil of Shirdi in 1953, around Sree Ramnavami time, to be with the Jagathguru Sainath Maharaj, the Divinity since his early years and his Master.
Shirdi was home. After reaching Shirdi, he never crossed the borders of Shirdi, except on some special occasions. In fact, in his latter years, he did not even leave the temple complex. He was hospitalized once a private clinic; and on one occasion he crossed the main road to go to the Sainath Hospital to meet a patient. There was a panic among those who beheld that scene, as they feared that he was leaving Shirdi. In the early years, his Guru came to Shirdi to tend him through a severe illness. And in his last days, he refused to be treated at Bombay for cancer, as he could not think of leaving Shirdi.
In Shirdi, at the outset, there was no place for him to lay his head, not any sustenance for him. He learnt to live with nature, eating a variety of ‘Jaswanti flowers and living on the rare cup of tea that was offered to him. His Guru had impose a rule on him, never to beg. So, he starved, rather than breaks the rule.
At last, a certain Chandbhai gave him refuge in the Kanifnath Mandir near Post Office. Also, Sai Baba responded his prayer to somehow provide him with the wherewithal for one square meal daily. The few books that he had brought with him were his most precious belongings, and he keenly felt their loss if they were stolen or borrowed and not returned. He always treasured books and reading.
Once he was in Shirdi, the abode of the Divinity appearing in his meditation from an early age, he abided at His Feet. He spent his time in ‘seva’ or selfless service, wherever or whenever he could be it in the Kanifnath Mandir, or the Maruti Mandir, the Ganapati – Shani – Shankar temples, the Ashta Mahalaxmi Temple, or at the Dwarakamayi, Chavadi and Lendi Baugh. The rest of his time he spent in long and austere meditation, from which it was difficult to arouse him, even by mischievous children’s pranks. He had visions; but it was very difficult to make him speak about them. It is however known that he once saw Sai Baba and Nityanand Swamiji together at Lendi Baugh.
Shirdi Sai Baba Sansthan was under the control of the Court Receiver for some years. When the incumbent Court receiver observed the sincere and selfless services of Swamiji for some time, he entrusted some duties to him, such as lighting the evening lamps in various places. Swamiji recalled that there were thirteen in all. More particularly, Swamiji as asked to look after the Chavadi on Thursdays. (In those days the Chavadi was kept open for devotees, only on Thursdays) Of course, Dwarakamayee was also a scene of his activity and he tended the Dhuni with great love. His clothes became full of soot, but he did not care for his appearance.
Swamiji performed all his tasks to the utmost satisfaction of the Receiver. He undertook the cleaning of Dwarakamayi, Gurusthan and even the Nanda Deep and Dutta Mandir in the Lendi Baugh. The sandalwood ‘tilak’ was applied by him on Baba’s photos and many deities before the aratis and the evening lamps were lit in various places. In return for his dedicated services, he was allowed to sleep in a room adjoining the Dwarakamayi.
When it was learnt that he knew several languages, including English, Marathi and many South Indian languages, Swami was entrusted with the work of writing names and addresses on the envelopes used for sending UDI as ‘prasad’ to the devotees who sent money orders. Then, the Sansthan gave him Rs. 15/- per month as honorarium. The money was well utilized by him for the needs of others. At a later stage, the Sansthan also provided food for him. When his duties made him very weary, he began curtailing some of them and exclusively attended to the Chavadi after it was kept open on a daily basis. He decorated the Chavadi especially for the ‘Palki’ procession on Thursdays. Those who had the privilege to witness that can never forget the scene.
It was second nature to him to serve Baba, through His devotee. As the surge of devotees increased, Swamiji fulfilled their needs and guided them so that they could take full spiritual advantage of their visit to Shirdi. He bought books in different languages and presented them to the devotees. That is how he used a large proportion of the ‘Dakshina’ that was offered to him, if any. By setting an example himself, he taught the importance of ‘seva’ to all – especially to the sick, the lepers and the needy. He encouraged devotees to set up Sai Baba temples in their own towns and villages in India and abroad. A sine qua of Sai Baba Temples had to be ‘Akhand Deep’ and ‘Akhand Dhuni’ – perpetual light and fire.
He began to have a vast following because of his innate humanity, good nature, sense of humour, patience and deep knowledge of Shirdi lore. He read voraciously and made the fullest use of the Sansthan library, delving into the old issued of the Sai Leela Magazines, in Marathi, to learn more about Sainath. He encouraged devotees to write about Sai Baba, providing them with rich material, garnered by him from his readings and his talks with the old residents of Shirdi. Acharya Bharatwaja and others were helped by him in writing their books on Sainath. He also encouraged devotees to undertake translations from Marathi into English, Hindi, Kanada, Tamil, Malayalam, so that Sai Baba would be known in every corner of India and all parts of the world.
‘Satsang’ with various devotees in different languages was carried out on at all hours, even in the last hours of the night; and sometimes, till the early morning hours. Sitting in one ultra room, under a staircase of the Sansthan’s administrative building, opposite the Gurusthan, in the last few years, Swamiji spread Sainath’s message, throughout the world. He was Love Incarnate. Like orchids clinging to an oak tree, the devotees received their sustenance from him; draining him of his strength and energy. They basked in the sunshine of his love and in the ambrosial gentleness of his cool moonbeam mien and speech a few soft words from him, here and there, tell like gentle cool drops of water on their heads and hearts. They were bathed in that nectar. The hardest hearts were converted to gold by association with him. The alchemy worked invariably, even in the case of the most sinful ones. He was always distributing Udi and Tirth, to as many as he could. And he tailored his teaching to the different devotees, according to their aptitudes. He skillfully used Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Karma Yoga, as Sainath did.
When devotees left Shirdi, Swamiji invariably presented them with some spiritual book, or book of bhajans or photos of Baba. There were no empty hands and no empty hearts. Just a sense of fulfillment and ecstasy!
The practice of doing Akand Nama Japa of Tarak Mantra "Om Sai Sri Sai Jaya Jaya Sai", by groups of devotees started with his benediction. The group from Hyderabad has made this into a fine art, carrying the message of Sai to ,many towns and cities in India. Even in UK and USA, this is a routine practice now. On one occasion, the Hyderabad group did the Japa continuously for 108 days! Japa and Anna-dana go hand in hand. This Sadhana is undertaken without financial arrangements, with the deep and abiding faith that Sainath would provide; and He has always lived up to their expectations.
‘Pradakshina’ was favourite activity of his – round the Gurusthan, and round the Nanda Deep and the Dutta Mandir in the Lendi Baugh. The speed with which he did the ‘Pradakshina’ (circumambulation) was phenomenal and dizzying. He urged many devotees to follow suit, with many beneficial efforts, especially vis-a-vis their health.
Swamiji was well versed in herbal medication and would promptly spell out to the afflicted devotees a course to follow, which would invariably cure them completely or at least give considerable relief. After all, afflictions come because of Karma; therefore, sometimes, the complete cure was not possible.
He believed in Dhuni Puja, participation in Satyanarayana Puja and skillfully advised devotees about them. His teaching method was simple, through allegoric stories and parables. He strongly advocated ‘Anna-dana’ (food distribution)as a good charitable deed. He jokingly said that he was only a kindergarten teacher. Even a question posed by him was, in fact, a lesson in discrimination.
However, Swamiji never discriminated between the devotees – the rich and the poor, the educated and the illiterate, men and women, young and old were part of his fold. Nor did he think about the caste, creed or religion of the devotees. He was very humane and guided the devotees in their worldly and spiritual matters. Though those who had the privilege of being taught by him considered him as their Guru, and he was fondly and reverentially addressed as ‘Gurudev’, ‘Swamiji’ or even ‘Baba’, he always said that he was a Sai Sevak and never thought of himself as Guru. He did not generally permit his devotees to worship him or do ‘puja’ to him. Even if he allowed it for sometime, so as not to hurt the sentiments of the devotees, he put a gentle stop and advised the devotee to do whatever he/she desired, in the privacy of the home. His birthday also was not allowed to be observed – there was one exception in the year 1993, due to exceptional circumstances, when forty years of his stay in Shirdi were commemorated.
The devotees were also told about the greatness of saints like Devi Mayi Amma of Salem, Videhi Annusaya Mata of Padasinga, ram Reddy Tatha of Kurnool, Nayampalli Baba of Hyderablad and others. Those who expressed desires to have '‘darshan'’ of such saints were encouraged to do so. Even visits to other Kshetra and Tirthas were made possible with his grace; particularly in areas close to Shirdi, such as Nevasa, Shanisingnapur, Tryambakeshwar. Stays in Ashrams such as Sivananda Swamiji's Ashram, near Rishikesh, were advocated as beneficial. Those devotees, who had the urge to write were invariably advised to go to Baser, for the darshan of Goddess Saraswati.
His life was simple. His clothes consisted of cotton towel wrapped round his waist (like mundu); a ‘kopri’ or Maharashrian vest, with a pocket and half sleeves; and an uparna or smaller towel wrapped round his head to cover his long hair, in an unique turban. In the cold weather, an old, grey, v-neck sweater was added, as he was always susceptible to chills and wracking coughs. All items of clothing presented to him, including expensive shawls and sweaters, dothis etc. Were distributed by him to the poor and needy. Even three days before he took Mahasamadhi, he ordered such distribution of extra blankets and bed clothes that had been brought during his short period of illness, which restricted him to his pallet. He always slept on the floor, spreading a blanket and thick bedspread on the floor; his ‘asan’ was a gunnysack, with a paper stuffed pillowcase as a bolster.
He braved the sun and the rain, and gave away the umbrellas also. Of course, he never wore any footwear from his early years. He wandered also with bare feet. He was strongly averse to doing ‘hatya’, or killing even of cockroaches, bugs and rats. All these creatures thrived in his room. He died not seem to notice them. But, it he saw the repugnance of the devotees for them, he would skillfully and swiftly scoop them up in his bare hands and release them a few yards away, in the open.
Whereas he had starved in his early days at Shirdi, there was an abundance of ‘naivedya’ food offered to him latterly. But he rarely ate a morsel or two, mostly from the food provided by the Sansthan. He distributed the food to all the visitors who savoured it as ‘prasad’, or gave it to his devotees who were residing in Shirdi and were dependent on him, or to the poor. He was very abstemious and knew no pleasure of the palate. But, when a devotee innocently made an offering of a food item, which he had savoured in his childhood, especially at his grandmother’s home, he grew nostalgic and set it aside. A bread stick was one such item, which he set aside, not to savour it, but as a souvenir! Fruits, dry-fruits, sweetmeats came in abundance, but he quickly distributed everything, walking in the footsteps of the Master, Sai Baba.
Lots of fruits and sweetmeats were distributed after the bhajans he conducted in the Chavadi every day, after the evening arati, for about one hour. He sang in an incredibly sweet voice; and knew hundreds of bhajans by heart, some of which he may have composed himself. The devotees got some of these bhajans printed in little booklets. At one time, there were a number of resident devotees who participated in the singing with different instruments; and a variety of bhajans were sung. There was joy and devotion in all hearts as they sat before Swamiji, who gave the ‘tal’ (beats) with his rod of guarus (bells) that he beat on a coiled mound of cloth, set upon a small tripod. He led the bhajan, with correct words from memory. This practice was carried on for more than twenty years till his last and terrible illness, which took its toll in less than three weeks after it was diagnosed. When many of the skilled singers left Shirdi, the repertoire of the bhajans became limited, and Swamiji carried on his public ‘Satsang’ with a fixed sequence and a daily repetition of the same bhajans. The ‘Sai-Bhavani’ written by Vasant Ranpise, was a great favourite and was invariably sung to a simple tune. Today, the Chavadi is silent in the evenings, and his absence from the scene is poignantly felt.
During the four and a half decades, approximately, that Swamiji spent in Shirdi, he became the best apostle of Sai Baba. His ‘seva’ to Baba and Baba’s devotees was sincere, whole-hearted and selfless. He served ‘Baba Malik’ and his life was an example to all.
He breathed his last at 0.10 hrs on Monday, 12th February 1996, at Shirdi and merged in to the Divine Light of Sai Baba. Sivanesan, the Jnanadeepam of Shirdi, was no more in body. Many believe that the swinging of the ‘kandil’ in Dwarakamayi portended this event. Swamiji’s Mahasamadhi has been built in Shirdi, off Pimpalwadi Road, two and a half kilometers away from the Sansthan’s Prasadalaya, by his devotees on the land of Meher Dhun Endowment. This land had been purchased by a couple of years before Swamiji’s Mahasamadhi, to establish an Ashram for Sainath’s and Swamiji’s devotees; and a Gurukulam. But, destiny had snatched away Swamiji’s bodily presence. Nevertheless, the devotees will be raising a suitable memorial there, after the requisite permissions are received from the Government of Maharashtra and various local authorities. They are eagerly awaited.
Sivanesan Swamiji believed in the well-known lines of a bhajan, he often sang: -
Haridwar, Mathura, Kashi
Shirdi mein saba thirtha samaye hai
Sai Baba ke charano mein
Charo dhama hamare hai
Shirdi is a pilgrimage place in which Haridwar, Madhura and Kashi are all embraced and encompassed. All our four great places of worship are found at Sai Baba’s Holy Feet.
Pujya Swamiji’s bodily presence is acutely missed by all those who come in close touch with him. Many have not been able to visit Shirdi after his Mahasamadhi. A light has gone from Shirdi; and those whose lives were illumined by it, feel they are in deep darkness. May Sainath’s and Swamiji’s blessings be showered on them, so that they may unitedly, co-operatively, harmoniously, joyously and lovingly serve the ideals which were assiduously inculcated in them by Swamiji.
Offered with many reverential bows at Pujya Gurudev’s Feet.
Source: Shri Sai Leela, July-August 1998)
Author: Zarine (Uma), Shirdi and Mumbai
Our thanks to: Sairam MSR Jagadesan, West Mambalam, Chennai 600 033