Nityananda: In Divine Presence
The Early Years, 1900-1915 – South Kanara, 1915-1936 – Discovery in Udipi: Part I, 1918 – Discovery in Udipi: Part 2 – The Mangalore Days of Rail Travel, 1923-1933 – Kanhangad’s Rock Ashram, 1925-1936 – Ganeshpuri–The Beginning, 1936 – The Old Ashram: Part I, 1936-1950 – The Old Ashram: Part II, 1936-1950
In Nityananda’s awe-inspiring presence was the heart of a compassionate mother.
Already a full-fledged master in his teens and twenties, he may have been speaking of himself when he compared sadhus, or seekers of truth, to the jackfruit, whose forbidding exterior yields a honeyed sweetness when opened. From his earliest known days to the final ones in Ganeshpuri, his presence provided a sense of security for the poor and those in distress. It also gave hope to spiritual aspirants. People from all walks of life came for his blessing–yogis and renunciates, scholars and artists, politicians and civil servants, other saints and spiritual teachers. They were rich and poor, strong and sick; they came from all over India and the rest of the world.
Much about Nityananda’s life remains unclear. Stories abound that put him in different places at the same time, resulting in considerable confusion about his true age or background. Not unexpectedly, his devotees listened carefully for clues or details because occasionally in casual conversation Nityananda would touch upon some incident from his past. However, he always cut short attempts to obtain details and admonished those who persisted. Some recall him making passing references to visiting Ceylon and Singapore while others say he displayed an intimate knowledge of the Himalayan region. It is said he spoke of being in Madras in 1902 when Swami Vivekananda attained samadhi.
Even his name holds a mystery. Stories of his childhood relate that his adoptive mother called him Ram. “Nityananda” means “eternal bliss” and was used to describe the state of mind he inspired. To a devotee who sat before him ecstatically repeating “nityanand, nityanand” as a mantra, he said, “It is not a name–it is a state!” In fact, early devotees called him swami, master, or sadhu while the name Nityananda was attached to him only in later years.
Clearly, a literary portrait of one such as Nityananda requires both an enormous canvas and an adept artist. Such a painting has yet to appear. Of the hundreds of thousands of people who came for his blessing, few recorded their experiences.
Furthermore, Nityananda had no gospel and promoted no particular readings or spiritual practice (sadhana). The advice he gave to one person was not necessarily what he gave to another. he simply urged all devotees to cultivate a pure mind and an intense desire for liberation (shuddha bhavana and shraddha).
Nityananda’s self-abnegation was complete. he wore nothing but a loincloth, and sometimes not even that. During his time in South Kanara, he only ate if food was brought to him. He had a total disregard for the physical elements including his nightly resting place. Unusual phenomena surrounded him naturally, including instances of actual healing. Yet he was never motivated by a desire for publicity and frowned on devotees who attrributed to him experiences that we might describe as miracles. When pressed, he would call it the greatness of the location or the faith of the devout.
“Everything that happens, happens automatically by the will of God,” he would say.
A spiritual powerhouse, he disired only that people develop their powers to receive what he was capable of transmitting. “While the ocean has plenty of water, it is the size of the container you bring to it that determines how much you collect.” Embodying what is ideal and pure, he would say, “One who sees this one once will not forget,” implying that the seed of spiritual consciousness sown by his darshan would sprout in due course when correctly cultivated. He denied having an earthly guru or a particular spiritual practice. He adopted no disciples and never intended to establish an organization–although his devotees, most of them common householders, were legion. his silent, unseen mission was to offer relief to suffering humanity, whether people came or not, and to transmit a greater consciousness to those who sought higher values. Grace emanated from his being and from his silent companionship. A lone glimpse of his personality could shatter the ego of the proud and evoke the hope and aspirations of the genuine seeker.
Those who sought him out for material success benefitted while the few who came out of pure devotion found their spiritual evolution accelerated with little or no effort on their parts. Nityananda accomplished this by becoming an obsession, if I can express it that way–a divine obsession. While living in the everyday world, devotees imbibed the spirit of the Bhagavad Gita and were gradually processed from within. They had to do very little. Seekers and other pilgrims benefited both through the arousal of their spiritual consciousness and by capably meeting life’s challenges with his help. he converted their very breath into consciousness, bringing a gradual inner ripening, which in turn led to a restless longing for the Divine and a dispassion for worldly things. All this occurred without affecting the day-to-day efficiency in their chosen fields of endeavor. This is how Nityananda’s grace silently worked.
His mighty spiritual force filled the South Kanara district for a few years and then moved on the Kanhangad, Gokarn, and Vajreshwari. Later he settled at Ganeshpuri, nestled at the foot of the majestic Mandakini Mountain amidst blue hills, green fields, hot springs, and the Bhimeshwar shrime. perhaps Nityananda chose this spot to revive the holiness of this ancient spiritual center.
Nityananda used to say that the true reward for genuine devotion (bhakti) was a still greater dose of pure desireless devotion–not material prosperity or social success. he played and still plays the role of the eternal Krishna as Gopala, tending his allegorical herd of devotees. he guides and watches them at pasture during their earthly sojourn, helps them onward, then brings them home safely as the evening closes on their lives, either to rest permanently in liberation (mukti) if they have advanced enough or to start afresh by leading them to another morning of birth in a continual process of evolution.
Nityananda was capable of granting all kinds of wishes but said only one thing was really worth the effort. “One must seek the shortest route and fastest means to get back home–to turn one’s inner spark into a blaze and then to merge and identify with that greater fire which ignited the spark.”
The Early Years
Nityananda said it didn’t matter how or where his human form came into being, that only idle curiousity prompted such useless enquiries. Nevertheless, stories gathered over the years by his devotees present a plausible picture about his birth and boyhood–even though facts often vie for veracity.
At the turn of the century, perhaps late November or early December, light from the setting sun slanted through an area of the dense jungle. On a cashew tree two crows cawed loudly to attract an elderly matriarch of the untouchable caste collecting firewood.
Curious, she followed the ruckus–and under a bush discovered a baby boy with skin the color of ripe wheat carefully wrapped in a white cloth. Now, the old woman already had a large family but remembered that Unniamma’a mother wanted to adopt a child for her barren daughter. So she dutifully picked up the infant and took him home.
The following morning she proceeded straight to the village of Uniamma’s mother, who accepted the baby with great joy. To seal the bargain, Unniama’s mother gave the old woman ten pounds of rice and then hurried to Pantalayini near Calicut, in an area known as Koilande. There her daughter worked in the neighboring temples as well as in the household of Ishwar Iyer, a respected lawyer. Unniamma gratefully adopted the baby and named him Ram.
At about eighteen months of age, Ram developed liver troubles. And even though Mr. Iyer hired for him the best ayurvedic practitioner, the baby’s condition worsened. He grew thin and his stomach became distended. Because he often cried through the night, Unniamma’s landlord finnaly demanded that she get rid of him. Too agitated to go to work the next day, she instead took her ailing son out for some fresh air. As she walked, she suddenly saw a tall dark-skinned stranger carrying a large satchel. The distraught mother, thinking he was a physician, approached and begged him to help her child. As if expecting her, he removed a packet from his bag and instructed her to mix its contents with the flesh of a freshly killed crow fried in clarified butter (ghee). She should then administer a small dose to Ram each morning before he had eaten. Also, she should rub Ram’s skin with the crow’s blood. At this very moment, a toddy tapper* walked by and handed her the crow he carried in his right hand. Astonished, she looked up to thank the two men–but they had vanished.
*Sap from the toddy palm is collected by toddy tappers for making a fermented beverage called arrack.
Unniamma started the prescribed treatment at once, and the child recovered in a short time. The crow’s blood, however, permanently turned his skin a dark blue hue. Years later when questioned about any aspect of his background, Nityananda often quipped that a crow came and a crow left. He also said that his skin was not black but blue-black (Krishnavarna).
A devout man, Mr. Iyer worshipped the Sun deity Bharga–and he loved Ram, for whom he felt a strong mystical attraction. When Unniamma died, the kindly man brought the six-year-old into his household and proceeded to take him everywhere. This included the famous Krishna temple at Guruvayur where, alone together, Ram revealed an esoteric understanding that both astounded the older man and satisfied his spiritual hunger. A famous astrologer told him the child was an incarnate personality and that he was blessed to have him as ward and companion. This caused talk among colleagues and friends who were shocked to see the respected Brahmin’s attachment to the lower caste boy.
The young Ram was mischievous and loved to pull pranks, and his foster father asked friends and servants to keep an eye on him. for instance, he would dive into a neighboring temple’s water tank, stay under water for a long time, and then run off dripping water everwhere. he would also get up by four in the morning and insist that other household members do likewise, taking their baths and applying sacred ash to their foreheads. he refused to attend school but agreed to learn subjects like Malayalam, English, Sanskrit, and arithmetic from Mr. Iyer.
One story tells of Ram tricking a local snake-charmer who ran a dishonest money-making operation. Under cover of darkness his cohorts would release several cobras into the compound of a selected household. The snake-charmer would then appear the following morning to offer his assistance. Calling the snakes, he would depart with both the reptiles and his fee. However, trying the scheme one day on Mr. Iyer–the snakes would not heed their call. The baffled snake-charmer soon noticed Ram in the background giggling. he had rendered the trickster’s mantra ineffective. The boy then let him collect his snakes with the warning never to bother the Iyer household again.
When Ram was around ten years old, Mr. Iyer decided to take him on a pilgrimage to the city of Benares and other holy places. As usual the two traveled alone together. On this trip the boy reportedly granted to his companion many divine visions.
Along the way Ram took leave of his tearful foster father, promising to see him again.
Exactly where the young Master went, nobody knows. However, it is thought that he traveled the northern regions, for some sources indicate his renown in the himalayas as a great kundalini yogi*. Six years later Ram returned. Having had the boy in thoughts for days and realizing that he had really come, Mr. Iyer ecstatically repeate nityananda, nityananda! Eternal bliss! And this, of course, became the Master’s popular name.
*Note that Nityananda was away from Ishwar Iyer from the ages of 10 to 16 years of age.
By the time he returned at 16, he was known in the entire Himilayan region as a kundalini Mahayogi.
Shortly thereafter Mr. Iyer performed his youngest daughter’s marriage ceremony at the temple in Guruvayur. There, the entire family felt the deity’s presence in Nityananda. The youth then took his foster father to receive the darshan of Ananteshwar and Lord Krishna in Udipi. (Later Nityananda would indicate to devotees his previous association with the ancient Ananteshwar temple by remarking that he had been present when it was built some 400 years earlier). Mr. Iyer soon fell gravely ill and, resting in Nityananda’s lap, asked to see Bharga, the divine object of his lifelong worship. The young Master granted his wish and Mr. Iyer died. To express his love and gratitude before he died, the man bequethed some assets to his adopted son. The young Nityananda refused the gift.
So ends the chapter entitled “The Early Years.”
After performing last rites for his foster father, the young Nityananda took off again, this time to wander South India and beyond. Over the years devotees heard him mention stowing away on a cargo ship, probably boarding in Madras, to work as a stoker boy and sailing to Ceylon, Rangoon, and Singapore. he spoke of being a laborer on a Burmese rubber plantation and some people think he visited Japan
He once laughingly recounted an incident during the First World War when, as an army conscript, he was declared medically unfit because the doctor could not find his heartbeat or pulse. He is said to have been in Madras when Swami Vivekananda left India in 1896 and again when he died in 1902. In the mid-1950s, when asked if he would travel abroad like certain other Indian swamis, he answered, “One only has to go if unable to see places or deal with people from here.”
The following is one of the few authenticated stories from this time period. The scene is Palani Temple where Lord Subramanya, a brother of Lord Ganesh in Hindu mythology, is the presiding deity. We must visualize Nityananda in those days looking like an eccentric wanderer, his wire-thin body healthy and glowing. Late one morning he was ascending the last few steps to the shrine when the attendant priest, having just locked the doors after morning worship, was descending. Nityananda asked him to re-open the doors and wave a ritual light and incense (arati) before the deity. Astonished that a vagrant would dare make such a request, the priest curtly told Nityananda that the time for morning worship was over.
Nityananda continued on. The priest, expecting him to walk around the shrine and worship at the Muslim altar in the back, was not concerned until he heard the temple bells ringing. Turning, he was astonished to see the doors open, Nityananda sitting in the deity’s place, and arati being waved before him by invisible hands. The vision vanished at once and Nityananda left the shrine to stand on one leg for some time, steadily gazing upward. Coins poured at his feet, offered, some say, by pilgrims, while others say by an unseen source. In any case, he was accorded all the honors of a Master. When the surrounding pilgrims begged him to stay, he refused and instructed them to use the money to provide a daily meal of rice porridge to visiting renunciates. It was later learned that local sanyasis had been praying for this very thing.
Leaving the Pantalayani area, the young master encountered an errant gang of youths in Cannanore. One of them wrapped a kerosene-soaked rag on the Master’s left hand and set it ablaze. Nityananda didn’t resist physically but instead transferred the burning sensation to the one who had attacked him. Crying out in pain, the unexpected victim begged for mercy. As Nityananda extinguished the fire on his own hand, the sensation in the other’s subsided. Years later, he explained to devotees:
Those with inner wisdom (jnanis) do not go in for miracles. However, this does not mean that a burning rag tied to their hands does not hurt. They suffer like anyone else but have the capacity to detach their minds completely from the nerve centers. In this way they might remember the pain only once or twice a day.
At some point the young Nityananda began appearing regularly around Mangalore and other parts of South kanara. Again, extant stories make a clear chronology impossible.
Now approaching his early twenties and wearing only a loincloth and often not even that, he lived a life of great simplicity in the region’s rocks, caves, and forests. It was a familiar sight to see him standing stiffly in a tree before the local Mahakali temple at Kaup. People would gather below his tree, mingling without regard for caste or creed, and the Master would shower them with leaves that recipients prized for their healing power. One day, after the crowd dispersed,a blind man stayed behind and begged for help, explaining the burden he was to his family. After a while, saying nothing, Nityananda climbed down and rubbed the man’s eyes with leaves from the tree. The man arose next morning to find his sight restored.
Another time, in Manjeshwar, there was a man whose mother suffered from a painful lump in her leg. When medicines brought no relief, he went to Nityananda, who was standing as usual in a tree. He said, “This one knows and is there.” The son, however, did not understand. He went home and returned with his mother in a carriage–but the Master had vanished. After searching in vain, they went home to find him descending from their attic. He silently massaged the astonished woman’s leg for several minutes and then departed. The mother recovered completely.
Yet another story tells of a widow who brought her six year old daughter. Nityananda said, “But the child has been blind from birth. Why do you insist I change this? Let the child say what she wants.” The child then said, “I would like to see my mother once.” The Master said nothing. After a while he asked them to leave. It was the mother’s custom to first bathe the child, put her in a safe spot, and them perform her own ablutions. That day, as she returned, her daughter jumped up and shouted that she saw her. Their joy lasted only minutes before the blindness returned. It seems Nityananda chose not to interfere with the child’s destiny.
One morning on a busy road near a village that some say was Panambur, the Master strode along at his usual rapid pace.
Coming upon a pregnant woman, he stopped suddenly and squeezed her breasts. The woman did not resist but when outraged people began rushing toward him, Nityananda continued walking. he quickly outdistanced them, shouting that this time the child would live. The woman hurriedly told onlookers that her three previous children had died after their first breast feeding. Shortly thereafter, her baby was born and survived. A village delegation was organized to thank him and the story spread.
This time Nityananda’s unconventional behavior became clarified after the fact, but it was not always the case. For example, prior to 1920 he was often seen in the early morning hours waiting for a cow to pass.
Following it, he would catch the droppings and swallow them before they touched the ground. Another story says he came to the flooded Pavanje River during the monsoon season. When the boatman refused to ferry him, the Master simply walked across. Wen in 1953 someone asked him to explan the river incident, he said:
True, the Pavanje River was in flood when this one walked across and the boatman would not venture out. But there was no motive– it was just the mood of the moment. The only meaning was that the boatman was deprived of his half anna.
One must live in the world like common men. Once established in infinite consciousness, one becomes silent and, knowing all, goes about as if knowing nothing. Although he may be doing many things in several places, he outwardly appears as if he is simply a witness of life–like a spectator at the cinema. He is unaffected by events, whether pleasant or unpleasant. The ability to forget everything and remain detached is the highest state possible.*
*Never forget this second paragraph: It is read here every day; it is not just a statement, it is the way to live life.
Nityananda was indifferent to social conventions, often going naked in the early days.
When some people objected and reported the matter, he was taken before a local magistrate. As always, a crowd followed. When ordered to wear a loincloth, the Master reportedly replied, “To cover which with what?” The magistrate then instructed a policeman to tie a loincloth around him–but it wouldn’t stay tied. Finally, in exasperation the magistrate ordered a tailor to secure it with needle and thread. The tailor was also a devotee and pleaded with Nityananda to let it stay in place. He complied, it remained, and thereafter a loincloth was his usual article of clothing.
Nityananda passed most of the time around 1915 on the beach at Kanhangad, lying on the hot sand and gazing at the sun. A devotee who as a boy often accompanied his father to the town said, years later, that it was impossible to approach Nityananda in the afternoons. The intense heat discouraged everybody from walking on the sand. Sometimes he sat from morning until evening on the blazing hot rock where his first temple would be built in 1963.*
*This was the first temple built in his honor after his mahasamadhi in 1961.
Discovery in Udipi: Part I
By 1918, the tiny village of Udipi was already a well-known center of pilgrimage. Here people could visit the Krishna temple, the birthplace of the third great teacher Madhvacharya, athe ancient Ananteshwar temple, and the area called Ajjara Kadu (or “Grandfather’s Wood”).
Two friends strolled together here every evening, always ending their walk by circling the two temples. Once, passing the Krishna temple, they were drawn to a thin young man who stood among the sanyasis in the outer corridor. At that moment the youth turned to face the wall and refused to be acknowledged. The friends both agreed that this was an uncommon holy man.
Several days later they came upon him, this time at an entrance to the temple. Seeing them, Nityananda began to laugh uncontrollably. He did so for a prolonged period, and in a way that mr. Bhat later said seemed to come from the depths of his being.
Weeks passed before they saw him again, this time sitting by himself outside the ancient Ananteshwar temple. Dr.
Kombarbail caught hold of both his hands and asked him who he was and where he came from. He addressed him in Hindi, Kanarese, and English in quick succession. Nityananda had apparently been observing silence for some time because it took great effort for him to speak–but he did so in fluent English, Hindi, and Konkani, which was the local language. He ended by repeating, “Nityananda, nityananda!” The two men realized he referred to his blissful state and this is why devotess from those early days called him “Sadhu” (holy man) or “Swami.”
Mr. Bhat, having performed his father’s anniversary ceremony that morning, invited the sadhu to his house for a special meal.
To his delight, the Master readily accepted and ate his food from a plantain leaf and discarded the leaf himself. This was the last time he was observed to eat with his own hands. Subsequently, he ate only when fed by devotees. Even water he allowed devotees to pour into his mouth, indicating after a few swallows that he was satisfied.*
*Mr. Bhat and Dr. Kombarbail became life-long devotees.
Nityananda stayed in Udipi for a time, often visiting Mangalore and Kaup, but he stayed nowhere for long. Mrs. T. Sitabai, Captain Hatengdi’s primary source concerning these days, felt the yojng Master was pulled mystically by devotees thinking of him or experiencing some stress. She said Nityananda would often leave Udipi abruptly without indicating his destination and then reappear some time later. For instance, one afternoon at half past three, he suddenly stood up and said he would return soon. And in fact, by five o’clock he was back. No one inquired nor did he indicate where he had been. Two days later a devotee arrived from Mangalore to say how in the early afternoon of that particular day his fellow devotees were longing to see him. Within minutes, he appeared. As on other occasions, no one asked how he covered the fifty-odd miles to the seaport town. They were content knowing that, when needed, Nityananda often came.
Mrs. Krishnabai, an early devotee, describes a similar incident. It was to be Nityananda’s first visit to her house in Mangalore–but when he arrived, he immediately turned and walked away with his usual speed. a crowd watched as Mrs.
Krishnabai’s husband and a friend tried to stop him physically. However, the sadhu easily swept both men along with him for a quarter mile before suddenly saying “She stopped me,” and agreeing to return. it seemed that Mrs. Krishnabai’s anquish was too great for him to ignore.
In the beginning, to keep him from the Krishna temple, street urchins in Udipi pelted the young Nityananda with stones.
Oddly, those finding their mark were transformed into jewels (or sweets, according to similar stories from Kanhangad). But those who scrambled to retrieve such treasures found only stones. When, after several days of this phenomenon, a pile of stones appeared at the feet of Krishna’s temple statue, the matter was reported to the elderly swami in charge. Recognizing that Nityananda was no ordinary sadhu, he at once ordered everyone to treat him with respect.
Throughout his life, Nityananda was a friend of beggars, the lowest castes, and the poor. He would let the money left at his feet by devotees accumulate and then order a feast for the poor, insisting on the best ingredients. Even when resorces were scarce, food was still miraculously abundant. This became a regular event wherever he wandered, and in later years he only accepted invitations from hosts willing to feed the needy. The Master himself liked to dish up regional specialties for his guests with his two huge hands–like Mangalore’s iddlies cooked in jackfruit leaves. To this day in Ganeshpuri, feeding the local poor children (known as Bal Bhojan in India) still occurs in Nityananda’s name.
Among those who sought his company in Udipi was a wealthy landlord’s only son. The father, however, considered the Master to be a dangerous eccentric and became alarmed when the schoolboy began giving money to help feed the poor. He decided to hire two assassins to kill Nityananda, a practice not uncommon for people of means in those days. In this instance, because of his inteded victim’s frequent disappearances, the father thought the abduction would go unnoticed.
One afternoon, while sitting on a veranda, the Master suddenly smiled, stood up, and disappeared down the lane. His devotees quickly followed–and found him held by one man and about to be stabbed by another. They overpowered the assassins, attracted the police, and only then noticed that the man who had wielded the knife was in excruciating pain, his arm frozen in its attack position. At Nityananda’s touch, the man’s arm dropped painlessly to his side.
As the assailants were taken to jail, the protesting Nityananda followed and requested their release. The police refused. He then sat down and remained there for three days without food or water while his devotees negotiated with officials. Eventually, the prisoners were released. It is said that they became devotees of the Master and that even the local officials developed a high regard for the eccentric sadhu.
Discovery in Udipi: Part 2
Late one night, a devotee was told by alarmed women of his household that Nityananda was running a high temperature.
However, the sadhu refused to leave his refuge, the filthy cattle shed, repeating, “The medicine is here.” Thinking him delirious, the host pleaded with his guest until he finally agreed to move to the veranda.
Hurrying to the only chemist in Udipi, the devotee returned with a bottle of reddish-brown mixture for his fever. Nityananda shook the bottle, handed it back, and said, “What is this? Look at it.” Removing the cork, the devotee found to his consternation that the liquid had changed color and now smelled like urine. The Master laughed and said it was no better than what was in the cattle shed.
This was the monsoon season when people customarily collected rainwater in drums placed below the eaves of their houses. The night of his fever, Nityananda suddenly began to gulp down the rainwater in his host’s drum. Witnesses could not believe the amount of water he drank. When he finished, he turned and said, “The fever is gone.” And it was.
Indian families used to perform a special ceremony six days after a birth to honor the goddes of destiny, who was thought to write the newborn’s future that night. On one occasion, and six days after a devotee’s wife had given birth, Nityananda entered her room, swallowed the dried umbilical cord, and left. When questioned about his behavior, he replied that this particular family had lost many children in infancy but that the new baby would survive.
Sometimes Nityananda humorously acted out a charade to describe an upcoming visitor. One morning he slung an empty shopping bag over his left shoulder, bending slightly from the weight; in his right hand he pretended to carry something light. He then walked up and down the room before suddenly taking off for a neighbor’s house.
Following, perplexed devotees saw a man pacing the street looking for someone. he carried a heavy bag on his left shoulder and a water container in his right hand.
By now the Master was sitting on his neighbor’s veranda. Approaching the steps, the stranger stopped and they gazed silently at one another for a long time. Finally the Master stood up and the man walked away.
The man remained in the area for a while. When devotees asked about the encounter, he described himself as a Krishna devotee from Uttar Pradesh. Having had a vision that Krisna was present in living form in Udipi, he traveled to the village, where he felt drawn vibrationally to that particular neighborhood. Unsure of the exact house, he had wandered around for some time before Nityananda appeared. He added, “I said nothing to him because with one look I knew why I was there. Tomorrow I will leave blissfully happy having received darshan of Krishna.”
Wistfully, Mrs. Sitabai related an event that happened when she was both a new devotee and newly married. One day Nityananda picked up a coconut and offered it to her. Now, it is rare and auspicious to receive a coconut from a holy person.
Moreover, it is thought to keep widowhood at bay, and a married woman would traditionally extend the skirt of her sari with both hands to receive it. But the young Mrs. Sitabai hesitated. She considered her high-caste birth and whether it was acceptable for her to receive such a thing from a casteless sadhu. He waited patiently for several minutes and when she did not accept the offering, the threw it away–perhaps deciding that her fate held too strong a pull on her. Three months later, her husband died. And she would always wonder whether she might have been spared widowhood had her faith been stronger.
In the early twenties, Nityananda frequently visited Mrs. Krishnabai’s Mangalore residence, which included several small rental houses. In those days residents used a row of simple lavatories situated at the edge of the compound. Each morning municipal workers would arrive with a cart to collect the night soil and take it away.
We know that Nityananda’s eating habits were as unpredictable as his movements.
Only partaking of food and water that was fed to him, he would appear unexpectedly at Mrs. Krishnabai’s door looking hopeful. Sometimes the family had already eaten and there might only be a few morsels of rice to put in his mouth. But this always seemed to satisfy him.
One morning, however, compound residents were horrified to see the Master by the lavatories sitting among piles of night soil. Always an early riser, he appeared to have collectied the matter with his own hands and formed the mounds, covering himself from head to toe in the process. He held a bamboo scale in his hand and when anyone passed, he said, “Bombay halwa*. Very tasty! Would you like some?” Then he would raise the scale as if to weigh out the desired quantity. He sat there all day, embarrasing everyone, even taking his afternoon nap there. When Mrs.
Krisnabai finally approached, he said, “You feed me, don’t you? But would you also feed me this?” Abashed, she turned away.
*Halwa is an Indian sweet confection.
That evening Mrs. Krishnabai was afraid he would drop by the hose without washing.
She asked two of the assembled devotees to wait at the door to prevent him from bringing the filth inside. And promptly at seven o’clock, he appeared at the back door. In those days he could be prevailed upon, at least in some matters, and the two devotees ended up taking him to the baths for a thorough scrubbinhg. Later, sitting with his devotees, Nityananda held out his palm and asked if they could smell the “fine Parisian perfume.” He never explained the meaning of the day’s events–and they never asked.
The next morning Mrs. Krishnabai found all the compound’s residents lined up before the Master asking his pardon.
Drawing one of them aside, she inquired what had happened. The man explained:
Earlier that week while discussing how Nityananda only at food fed to him, someone had joked about offering him night soil. He went on, “We now realize how wrong we were and that such a Master can find nourishment in anything–even filth. Therefore we seek his forgiveness.”
The Mangalore Days of Rail Travel
Nityananda loved trains. He traveled frequently by rail and even established his Kanhangad ashram beside the tracks in 1925.
When he was in Mangalore he would settle into one of the empty boxcars shunted aside at the station, and here devotees could find him.
One afternoon Mrs. Krishnabai, learning of his arrival, hurried off to receive darshan.
She quickly returned home to greet a relative who had come for a visit. A sanyasi, he asked her to take him to see Nityananda the next day. Later, as they stepped down from the boxcar, Mrs. Krishnabai turned to the Master and said, “I came yesterday in such a hurry, never dreaming that I would also be able to return today.” But Nityananda replied, “Who are you to decide?”
He often rode the trains between Mangalore and Kanhangad. Once a railroad official who was new to the route ordered him to disembark for not having a ticket. As he made no sign to obey, the official forcibly removed him at Manjeshwar.
Submitting to the rough handling, Nityananda proceeded to make himself comfortable on a station bench. But when its departure time came–the train didn’t move. Minutes ticked by and people waited expectantly. Finally, come passengers told the official that is was unwise to treat this particular sadhu so harshly. Devotees then took Nityananda on board and the train began moving. When it reached Kanhangad, however, it went past the station and stopped where his ashram currently stands.
The Master descended wearing around his neck a garland made of hundreds of tickets.
He handed the garland to the same official, asking him to take as many as he wanted. Shamefaced, the man said it would not happen again. Nityananda then jumped the small ditch and strode off toward the jungle. Again the train would not move, and devotees ran after him for help.
He retraced his steps, slapped the engine, and told it to get going. And the train did, going in reverse back to the station it had bypassed earlier.
Probably due to such incidents, Nityananda had free run of the trains. Engineers welcomed him into their engine cars and even blew a saluting whistel when passing his ashram, a custom still followed today. It is said that throughout the late 1920’s the Master always had a punced ticket attached to the string of his loincloth.
Swami Chidananda of Rishikesh recalled that, as a child traveling south by train from Mangalore, he once noticed a commotion at a wayside station. Peering out the window, he watched a reed-thin Nityananda toss biscuits and sweets from a vendor’s tray to a crowd of delighted children. Then, giving the pleased vendor a currency note from his loincloth, he climbed into the engine car as the departing whistle blew.
Udipi residents watched him catch cow droppings to put on his head. Then, whistling like a locomotive, he would chug away down the road like a child.
And he used a railroad analogy in his last public talk. This was on Guru Purnima, July
27, 1961, twelve days before his passing. He addressed the assembled devotees at some length, talking about the energy required to pull a train up a hil and of a spiritual seeker’s need to stay firmly on the proverbial tracks.
Nityananda traveled constantly between Mangalore, Kanhangad, Udipi, Akroli and other villages. His appearances, generally unexpected, seemed magical. One day, thinking him in Mangolore, six or seven Udipi devotees decided to pay a social call on a neighboring village. Approaching a wooded area along the way, they were astonished to see the Master sitting under a tree. The devotees immediately changed their plans and decided to spend the evening there with him. When Nityananda shouted at them to keep their distance, they sat down some twenty feet away. They could hear him talking and, as their eyes adjusted to the gloom, they saw a cobra coiled at his side. It was to the snake that the Master spoke in Konkani, and it seemed to nod in the affirmative. The only words the devotees could clearly distinguish were, “Are you three comfortable?”
and they inferred that there were two other snakes nearby. After a while, Nityananda patted the cobra on its hood and watched it disappear.
As witnessed, Nityananda’s behavior could be difficult to interpret. While a person might think that he or she had been forced to undergo a minor difficulty, later reflection would indicate that something more serious had been miraculously averted. Many devotees experienced this as we see in the following story.
The young Master often visited the home of a devoted Mangalore woman. Once he told her married daughter, “She is this one’s mother; yours is here,” indicating himself. One evening Nityananda walked into the kitchen as the devotee was cooking over the mud hearth. He pulled out a burning piece of firewood, hit her over the head with it, and quickly left. Her children were outraged but the mother advised patience, and an explanation was neither sought nor provided. Twelve months later, while casting the family’s horoscope, an astrologer from Kerala expressed his astonishment at finding the lady of the house alive. He said his calculations showed that she should have died the previous year. That was when her family realized that the Master’s blow had changed his devotee’s destiny.
Mrs. Lakshmibai was a young, widowed domestic in the employ of Tulsiamma, a well-known devotee. The young servant was devoted to Nityananda as well. One day she was asked to prepare the evening meal early because Tulsiamma hoped to bring Nityananda home to dinner. Now, Mrs. Lakshmibai had always nursed an intense desire to feed him with her own hands, having watched other devotees do so. Overcoming her shyness, she asked if she might accompany her mistress in case the Master refused their offer. But like Cinderella, she was told to stay home and make the house ready. so saying, Tulsiamma left.
Finishing her preparations, Mrs. Lakshmibai went outside to gather fresh plantain leaves for serving the food. Still musing over her disappointment, she slowly cut a leaf and heard an unexpected rustle in the tree above. Nityananda climbed down, asked if the meal was ready, and preceeded her to the house. The overjoyed servant ran to wash her hands and began to feed the Master. At that moment Tulsiamma returned. Her words “I couldn’t find him” were rapidly followed by her amazed laughter at finding the Master already enjoying dinner at her house.
Appayya Alva was a prosperous South Kanara landlord renowned and sometimes feared for his ability to materialize objects through the strength of mantra. This powerful mantravadi, with a wave of his hands, could produce foreign cigarettes, exotic fruits, or flowers by the armful. However, when they materialized in one place, they disappeard elsewhere–often from the Car Street flower market in Mangalore where attendants would suddenly wail, “my flowers are gone!” And so it was that many people suffered from his exhibitions. Alva was also a vain and arrogant man. One time, when his presence at a concert went unrecognized, he caused the singer to temporarily lose his voice.
Eventually Alva encountered Nityananda. One May day in 1923 Mr. M.A.K. Rao, an esteemed Manjeshwar citizen, was celebrating a niece’s wedding. At Mr. Rao’s insistence, Nityananda was invited and seated in a place of honor. It was while the soon-to-marry couple placed garlands around the Master’s neck that Alva made his entrance. He immedately belittled the host for honoring the young sadhu as if he were a divine being and boasted that he would prove his point. Reciting a mantra, he then rolled a tobacco leaf between his hands and forced it into the Master’s mouth.
Nityananda chewed and swallowed the leaf as if it had been offered by a devotee. As people watched, he perspired slightly–but Alva suddenly sank to the ground mortally ill.
He died three days later in the Government Wenlock Hospital.
Twenty years later Nityananda was asked about this incident. he played down the connection between the tobacco leaf and Alva’s death, saying that the man had misused his considerable mantric powers to bring suffering to the poor and misery to the weak. He said that divine forces had stopped the abuse and he called the tobacco leaf insignifigant. He then revealed that, before dying, Alva asked to see Nityananda but his family refused to send for him.
In 1923, at the hight of the monsoon season, Nityananda walked through the marketplace in Bantwal. By this time he was a known figure in the district, recognized by devotees and skeptics alike. As it was raining heavily, he entered a shop and stood in the corner with the servants and porters. The shopkeepers ordered him to leave, taunting him about his great powers. When Nityananda asked to stay, they laughed and splashed him with water. Only then did he walk away, sadly saying, “It seems God has decided that only Mother Ganga* can wash away the sins here.” The shopkeepers retorted, “Let her come. That way we can perform our abultions without going to her banks!”
*Nityananda’s reference to Mother Ganga was the Ganges river.
Even as they spoke, the swollen Netravati River rumbled and began to swallow the village. It was one of the worst floods in South Kanara, and Bantwal was destroyed. A span of the Ullal railroad bridge was damaged so badly that train service was disrupted for months. People still talk about Nityananda pulling many poor victims from the swirling waters.
Perhaps the most extraordinary incident of this period occurred in a devotee’s house in Falnir just before sunset. While they sat before him in meditation, those present were suddenly disturbed by a blinding flash of light on the wall behind Nityananda. They opened their eyes to find him motionless on his knees in a yoga posture (veera-padmasana) with his eyes closed. Afraid to touch him, they lit lamps and tried to see if he still breathed. Finding no signs of life, they decided that he had taken mahasamadhi and invited people to come for their last darshan. Most devotees soon returned to their homes, some sad and disappointed that the young sadhu left them, some hopeful that he would return, and some thinking that he had overdone his breathing exercise.
Mrs. Krisnabai was one of the few who stayed behind, maintaining a vigil throughout the night and following day. That afternoon Nityananda suddenly moved. he stretched his limbs and was immediately helped to a bed. He wore a strange look and recognized no one for quite some time. After questioning, he admitted that he had gone for good–but five divine beings persuaded him to return, saying that it was too soon. During his remaining years, the Master never spoke of it again.
Kanhangad’s Rock Ashram
Before leaving South Kanara, around 1925 Nityananda began spending long periods in Kanhangad. Initially he chose the jungle area called Guruvana for his rock ashram.* Evidence indicates that he inhabited a certain jungle cave where he had discovered a skeleton seated in a lotus position, surrounded by pots and other personal effects.
Nityananda is said to have disposed of it in an unknown manner. This story came from an elderly woman in Kerala who fed Nityananda during this time. She also said that at the rear of the cave was once an entrance, now blocked off, to a hall that could seat several hundred people. Nityananda often said that beyond the hill in Guruvana were many saints in samadhi. Some people believe he was associated with this particular spot in a previous incarnation and the skeleton was either his own or of someone he knew.
*Devotees believe Nityananda was found abandoned here as an infant. Guruvana lies several miles from a second temple that was dedicated to Nityananda in 1966.
Regardless, it was here that Nityananda struck a rock from which spring water has flowed ever since. Nearby he placed eight stone balls thought to represent the occult powers achieved through yogic discipline (siddhis) and a tank to collect the spring water. When B.H. Mehta built the temple in 1966 he added a spout, called Papanashini Ganga, for the water to pass through. For many years Swami Janananda tended the area, converting the jungle into a spiritual paradise. He rebuilt the tank as a well, constructed a road to the temple, and replaced the stone balls with eight stone linga-like structures. he also made a small shrime for Malbir, the area’s protecting spirit.
Nityananda’s work on the Kanhangad fort started around 1927. First he built a road, still used, from the traveler’s bungalow up to the rock temple and ashram. he then began clearing the jungle growth that overran the dilapidated compound. Historically the site belonged to a long lineage of chieftains. At one time it was in the hands of the Tulu dynasty who ruled from Mangalore to Kanhangad. Nityananda began the project to the consternation of local authorities who pestered him with questions about his activities and whether he had permission. The Master always responded that he was clearing the jungle for their future offices, a prediction that eventually came to pass.
Once the fort was cleared of overgrowth, Nityananda turned his attention to the rock itself, which is where the temple erected to him in 1963 now stands. he wanted caves hewn from the rock and, without engineers or blueprints, directed everything down to the most minute detail. The task was formidable. Using no equipment, workers carved out the caves by hand. Within three years some forty caves stood ready, properly cemented and plastered inside and out. Most were large enough for a person to sit and rest. There were six entrances; three faced east and three faced west, resulting in continuous light in the passages from sunrise to sunset.
With work proceeding on the interior of the compound, Nityananda often worked on the exterior. He made the steps and lingas with his own hands. Following a visit to the caves in 1945, Captain Hatengdi asked him about their symbolism. He replied that they represented the brain and its six passages. At one point a well was dug within the cave complex, but Nityananda later ordered it closed. Today an outside well is the current asram’s main water source.
Local laborers received their pay at the end of each day. Swami Janananda recalled that the foreman usually collected the money from beneath a tree. But sometimes the workers filed past Nityananda. Opening and then closing his empty fist, he would drop the exact wages into each recipient’s hand.
One day a delegation of local authorities arrived and asked him about the source of these wages. Without a word, Nityananda led them to the waterlogged field beside the rock, dived in, and emerged with a bagful of currency. He told the astonished men that a crocodile in the depths always supplied the amount he needed.
He then added that they were free to find it themselves; otherwise he offered to bring up the beast for them to see.
Feeling that they had been ridiculed by this yogi in a loincloth, the angry delegates immediately reported the unauthorized construction. They told Mr. Gawne, the British tax official in South Kanara, that a crazy sanyasi was paying workers with money from unknown and mysterious sources. It seemed that Mr. Gawne had heard of Nityananda’s remarkable activites in Mangalore and decided to see for himself. Arriving at the Kanhangad railway station, he proceeded on horseback accompanied by his dog along the road built by the Master. Reaching the rock compound, he stopped and looked around.
Nityananda was in a cave below the ruins on the fort’s south side. here, the dog soon discovered him and started to bark.
He emerged from the cave and Mr. Gawne, still on horseback, asked him why he was doing all this work and for whom.
Nityananda replied in English, “Not for this one (meaning himself). If you want it, you may have it.” As the words were uttered, a change came over the British official. Turning, he ordered the local authorities to leave Nityananda alone and allow him free rein of the site. He added that the source of funds was of no concern as long as no one complained of being swindled or robbed. Imagine his surprise when, riding his horse back to the station, he saw the words “Gawne Road” on the newly erected road sign.
One cloudy day in the monsoon season, Nityananda was stretched out on the rock. Suddenly, a man approached and demanded to have God revealed to him. The Master told him to go away. When the man became more bombastic, Nityananda grabbed his umbrella and pointed it at the man’s toe. Devotees said that the man’s dormant kundalini energy, rendered active, must have suddenly risen up his spine to the brahmarandra chakra at the top of his head. Anyway, the man screamed and fainted. Reviving, he stumbled to the government hospital for treatment. The doctor in charge reported Nityananda to the police as crazy and possibly dangerous. The police promptly took him before the local magistrate. When Nityananda declared that “This one did nothing,” the magistrate asked whether there were witnesses. The Master pointed at the four pillars in the hall and was ordered to jail for insolence.
Soon the prisoner announced his need to urinate. Given a receptacle, he rapidly filled it. Another was supplied, which he again filled to the brim. A water jug was offered next. When it overflowed, the constable hurried off the find the magistrate, who agreed to release this mysterious person.
Meanwhile, the interfering doctor from the hospital went home to discover his wife dancing naked around the house in an apparent state of insanity. The alarmed man rushed first to the police station where, hearing of Nityananda’s release, he proceeded to the rock ashram. Begging forgiveness, he was waved away by the Master and returned home to find his wife in her normal state.
In these early days Swami Janananda noted other unusual occurrences around Nityananda,. Often, for instance, he would emerge from the water tank following his morning bath with his body and loincloth completely dry. He was also seen waking in the rain without getting wet.
One evening the Master asked for a bottle of arrack, the local fermented beverage. Drinking it, he ased for seven more bottles and finished them in quick succession. Mr. Veera from Kumbla, a heavy drinker himself, could not believe his eyes and asked Nityananda why he did this. He relied that is was for the spirit haunting the rock who, now satisfied, would harm no one in the future.
Visitors to the temple today can still see a small stone in front. During worship, the arathi is waved before this stone as well as before Nityananda’s statue, It is said that a powerful spirit once inhabited the site. Older Kanhangad residents remember being told as children that those passing the stone without pouring arrack on it would suffer some illness.
About a kilometer north of the rock ashram is an area called Kushalnagar. Here in 1931 the Master built a round table out of stone and called it the ”Round Table Conference.” He would sit at his table and speak of various world issues, relating first the views of other world leaders and then those of Gandhi. Now, at this very time there happened to be an international conference taking place in London. Skeptics amoung the Master’s listeners who checked the newspaper accounts of the ”real” Round Table Conference were amazed to find that they coincided exactly with Nityananda’s words.
As work on the Kanhangad caves neared completion in 1933, Nityananda once again embarked on a period of frequent and often unpredictable travel. Sallying forth from Kanhangad and Ganeshpuri, he might appear in Vajreshwari, Gokarn, Kanheri, Bombay, or anywhere.
One day as he sat under a tree near the rock caves, three local Muslims arrived to stand reverently before him. As he had many Muslim devotees, this was not surprising. Having just returned from their Haj pilgrimage to Mecca, they were asked by the Master what they had seen there. They replied, “We saw you there, Swamiji, and have come to pay homage.” Nityananda turned his face with a faint smile on his lips.
Similarly, he was seen in many places around Bombay. Achutamama, a devotee from udipi, tells how the Master asked him to dig a small grave-like pit in the sands of Chowpati and bury him in it. Alarmed, the man then watched as people unwittingly walked over the spot. After about thirty minutes, Nityananda sprang from the sand and asked his companion to take him home. This happened several times until one day he requested a much deeper pit. When he did not crawl out at the usual time, Achutamama grew anxious but continued to wait. Finally, three hours later Nityananda emerged and casually explained that he had had business in Delhi.
He was a regular visitor to Mrs. Muktabai’s Bombay home at this time. Once she and her mother went to the town of Nasik along the Godavari River for a change of climate. While they were away, Nityananda insisted on managing the house for his devotee’s husband and attending to the household chores himself.
In 1934 or 1935 he reportedly moved to Akroli near Vajreshwari. Here he repaired the hot spring tanks and the nearby Nath temple. He also built a charity hostel across from the Vajreshwari temple and supervised the construction of a well that is still the site’s primary water source. As usual, his followers discovered his wherabouts. One of these faithful was Sitarama Shenoy whom Nityananda asked to open a restaurant across from the Vajreshwari temple.
Others found the Master without even looking. A story goes that Mrs. Muktabai and several Bombay devotees had gathered for a picnic near Vajreshwari. As they ate they spoke of Nityananda, lamenting the fact that three years had passed since they had seen him. At that moment a dark figure emerged from the jungle at the base of Mandakini Mountain and approached the ecstatic group.
In 1957, Mr. Krishnamurthy, a journalist and biographer, wrote the following:
”Two decades ago Nityananda lived for years in a tree in the heart of the Vajreshwari jungle. Once a young man asked him, “Man cannot do the impossible but a yogi can. Won’t you awaken the kundalini in me?”
Moved by his earnestness, Nityananda touched his spinal cord and, in a split second, the seeker experienced the dynamic charge of the kundalini. The confines of mortal hope blended with the divine light. He felt as if a magnesium wire burned in his head and unfolded a mystery and a wordless music.”
”When kundalini returns to its spiritual cave, the light is extinguished and the flute broken. Only when one puts the eyes of logic and reason to sleep, can one grasp reality’s mysterious flash. For an intellectual understanding of kundalini, we can read books. But in our very own day we have Nityananda as a living emblem of the kundalini process. To him, it is not a mental trap. It is action.”
“From the moment Nityananda opens the first window of our consciousness, we no longer feel bound by time. Indeed, his greatness lies in time’s annihilation. The past becomes a memory. We cease to reach toward future passions. We live in the intuition of the moment. This transforms us from invalid to knower!
Nityananda arrived in Ganeshpuri one morning in 1936. Some people think he came at the goddess Vajreshwari’s bidding. We know he did tell Kanhangad devotees of his intention to visit the Bhimeshwar temple, but he said nothing of moving there. In those days Ganeshpuri was surrounded by a dense jungle inhabited by tigers and other wild animals. Access to the temple was via a footpath over a hill known as Mandakini. The area’s only other inhabitants lived on the west side of the hill at a sanatorium. There, a doctor had diverted sulfur water from the natural hot springs into specially constructed therapeutic baths for his patients.
When Nityananda reached the Bhimeshwar temple that morning, he was wrapped in a checkered blanket. Thinking him a Muslim, the attending priest’s young wife Gangubai refused to let him enter the Hindu shrime. The Master said nothing and retraced his steps to sit by an old well overgrown with vegetation and full of stones.*
Late that afternoon a Vajreshwari devotee arrived and found him still seated by the well. hearing the tale, the devotee hastened to rectify the mistake. Apologies were immediately offered and soon a temporary structure was built for Nityananda on the temple’s west side. It was small, with barely enough room for him to crawl inside and rest.
*When the well was later cleared, these stones were touted for their healing power and eagerly collected by ayurvedic physicians.
Before the door stood an ancient pipal tree that was home to many snakes. As he had done with the cobras in Kanhangad, Nityananda issued vibrational orders and they disappeared into the jungle–except for one. The oldest cobra would not leave, preferring death at the Master’s hands. The story goes that one day he instructed devotees to stay away and some time later announced that the old snake’s wish had been granted. He then ordered villagers to cut down the enormous tree that was now festooned with sacred thread and sprinkled with the red kumkum powder used in Indian rituals.
As word spread of Nityananda’s arrival, villagers from surrounding areas began gathering around his hut in the evenings. A large pot of rice porridge, of which the Master would partake, always stood ready for them. Devotees were soon flocking to Ganeshpuri as well. To accommodate them, a building was constructed east of the hot spring water tanks.
At first, due to a lack of potable water, visitors only stayed the day. However, once the old well was refurbished, sulfur water was used for everything. One particularly hot afternoon the Master offered a plate of rice with spicy pickle sauce to a visiting devotee. It so happened that the woman found sulfur water distasteful and declined the food, knowing she would crave something to drink afterward. Nityananda again held out the plate to her, saying, “Don’t be concerned. You will drink rain water.” Venturing a look at the blue sky, she still ate nothing. Within minutes, however, a solitary cloud appeared overhead and rain poured down. The Master said, “Go and get your water,” and she jumped up and collected rainwater for both of them.
Within a short period of time, three rooms were added to the temple’s south side to form a compound. Today this is called the “old ashram.” Nityananda’s room with its small cement porch stood in the middle. There were two adjoining rooms that were fully enclosed, one on each side. But the walls of his room only rose seven feet and had a knee-high sliding panel for a door. The dirt yard in front was paved in 1943. Until then he saw devotees in either the building near the bathing tanks or the temple quadrangle.
The only route to the ashram was a winding footpath through the jungle. To reach this path, visitors had to use the neighboring sanatorium’s private road. Soon the caretakers there, disgruntled at devotees getting off the bus at the sanatorium gate, began charging them a fee to use the path. This practice continued until, one day, words and blows were exchanged.
Hearing of the incident, Nityananda asked nearby villagers to recruit fifty laborers. The next morning, with the Master working alongside them, they began to clear trees and build a proper road from the ashram to the bus route, which incidentally still conveys regional buses to Ganeshpuri. At the time, however, the district’s British magistrate and forest officer received complaints about the unauthorized project. They asked the local forest ranger, who happened to be a devotee, for a complete report. Fearing the worst, and at Nityananda’s insistence, the man complied. He described the new road as a public service and stressed the growing influx of devotees needing access to both the ashram and the Bhimeshwar temple. Finally, he concluded that the district benefited considerably from the Master’s efforts and that he really should have undertaken the project himself.
The curious British officials drove to Ganeshpuri after reading the report. Parking well beyond where the Bhadrakali temple now stands, they approached the ashram as Nityananda sat watching them. Suddenly he turned his back to them and they returned to their car. The magistrate later admitted to subordinates that, while rarely moved by charitable thoughts, upon witnessing how this simple yogi worked to help the local poor, he dicided to take no further action.
The Old Ashram: Part I
One afternoon a visitor took leave of Nityananda, planning to take the footpath through the woods to the Vajreshwari temple.
As he walked off, the Master told him not to look back until he reached the temple. Along the way he encountered a cobra in his path but, following the directive, did not turn around. Instead, he waited for the snake to leave. Continuing, he soon heard someone whispering behind him. Once more, controlling his curiosity, he did not look back until he was within sight of the temple. Then, unable to stand the mystery, he turned and saw a gigantic figure with folded arms standing in the river repeating a mantra–which was what he had heard. Quite shaken, he managed to reach the temple where he remained in a dazed state and had to be hospitalized. It took two months for him to fully recover his senses.
There are many such examples of Nityananda’s watchfulness. For instance, he always advised devotees not to venture out alone at night. One time, however, Mrs. Muktabai rose after midnight and went to the hot spring tanks to bathe. As she entered, she saw two uncommonly handsome youths run away and disappear inside the temple. She hurriedly returned to the ashram to tell Nityananda, who admonished her for disobeying his instructions. She apologized and then asked about the young men. He replied that they were sanakumars, two of Lord Brahma’s four sons born of his mind alone.
In 1965 some of the older devotees told Captain Hatengdi that the young Master often used the phrase “tortoise drishti” (or sight) when speaking of his constant mindfulness of their welfare and development. He told them to consider how a mother bird’s physical warmth hatches her eggs. In contrast, a mother tortoise climbs onto the beach, lays her eggs, covers them, and returns to the sea, all the while mindful of her eggs. It is her constancy of thought that makes them hatch.
On another occasion, a devotee performing an act of service (seva) around the ashram was told to stop at midnight. He did so and then went off to bathe before retiring. En route, he saw an enormous muddy footprint near the statue of Shiva’s bull.
Though a man of courage, the devotee was shaken by the sight and rushed inside.
There the Master waited and immediately asked, “Did you bow before the footprint?” And he quickly returned to do so.
Nityananda said that through time, sages had often frequented the grounds of the old ashram and he considered the hot springs water there to be holy (koti teertha). This phrase indicates the waters that saints have bathed in or meditated near. In Ganeshpuri the Master always asked even his oldest devotees to, upon arrival, first bathe in the kunds.
Throughout the uncertain light of early morning Nityananda would maintain a vigil until all the devotees returned from bathing.
Once, coming from an early bath, Madhumama, a long-time devotee who sometimes cooked for the Master, encountered him at the ashram entrance. he asked the devotee, “Did you see it?” and pointed to a tiger sitting under a mango tree only twenty yards away. Clearly, the Master was standing guard.
Rajgopal Bhat, a regular visitor for two decades, spoke of a similar incident. In 1949 he brought his family to Bombay for the first time and, on finding no accommodations, was told by Nityananda to stay with a certain Mr. Gandhi in Ganeshpuri.
Rising the next morning for a three o’clock visit to the hot springs, he felt himself followed and noticed a faint light behind him.
Remembering the Master’s perennial advice, he did not look back but continued walking.
When he reached the present site of the Bhadrakali temple, the uncertain feeling disappeared. He took his bath and forgot the incident. In the evening Mr. Gandhi visited the ashram. Nityananda told him a tiger had followed Mr. Bhat that morning but his faith in the Master had protected him.
According to another story, Bhagawan Mistry, who handled the ashram’s construction work, ran in one evening in obvious agony, shouting that a cobra had bitten him. Nityananda calmly told him to sit down. He asked someone to bring him the snake balm, instructed the bewildered Mistry to rub it on the Master’s leg at the spot corresponding to his own wound, and told him to go to sleep. The devotee awoke the next morning fully recovered.
An even more dramatic intervention is related in this story from Dr. Deodhar about Sitarama Shenoy, a Mangalore devotee mentioned earlier in the book. After suffering a severe heart attack, he was taken by his family directly from the hospital to Ganeshpuri. His doctors vehemently protested this action. Arriving in the village, Sitarama was helped from the car and placed on the ground before Nityananda, who proceeded to take his hand and drag him to the river. There Nityananda splashed water on the ailing man’s face, telling him that he was fine and could walk back on his own.
And so he did, completely recovered. Shortly thereafter, to his doctor’s astonishment and at Nityananda’s bidding, he opened the restaurant across from the Vajreshwari temple and worked there until his death in 1954. The restaurant is still maintained by his family.
One afternoon Nityananda announced that Narayan Maharaj of Khedgaon was coming.
Seeing Achutamama’s skepticism, he insisted that the celebrated teacher was in Vajreshwari en route to the ashram. Five minutes later, they heard a car stop to deposit the maharaj, who went directly to the hot springs. Following his ablutions, he approached Nityananda and asked him to cure his skin disorder. But the Master replied, “Inside you are pure. Why bother with the outside?” And the maharaj went away. That evening Nityananda spoke: “Everything was ready for him–the bed made and his head about to touch the pillow. But instead he got up and left.” Referring to the spritual stage previously reached by the maharaj, the Master told devotees that datta devata siddhi only lasted fourteen years and required a renewed effort at that point. In contrast, the attainment of divine wisdom carried no such limitation. Jnana, he said, was infinite.
A man destined to be a longtime devotee made his first visit to Ganeshpuri in 1938.
Most people came by bus but, after winning the Goa lottery, Golikeri Lakshman Rao was a rich man. he hired a taxi for the trip and arrived bearing a fruit basket. Nityananda accepted him as well as the fruit. After several visits, he asked Rao to come on a particular date and accompany him on a pilgrimage (teerthayatra). As Rao arrived that day, again in a taxi, the villagers fell at Nityananda’s feet, pleading with him not to leave. He told them to fall at Rao’s feet instead–and they did, much to the devotee’s embarrassment. Nityananda motioned for Rao to acknowledge them, and they set off on their journey.
At the train station, over his companion’s protests, Nityananda insisted on third-class tickets. And in Poona, their first stop, Nityananda took a hotel room with a bed for Rao–and a space on the floor for himself and a cloth (chadder) for a blanket.
The next day they went to Alandi. Here Nityananda encouraged the devotee to follow his usual manner of worship, and so Rao proceeded to the river Jnaneshwar. Meanwhile, the Master stood for several seconds with his hands at his sides in each corner of the shrine, and then left.
The next stop was to be Pandarpur. But Rao suffered a malaria attack in the night and asked Nityananda’s permission to return to Bombay. He made no objection but asked Rao to leave his chaddar for him. Protesting, Rao said he would gladly buy the Master a new one but, again overruled, he sadly departed.
Nityananda traveled on to Pandarpur and other places before returning to Bombay. For several months in early 1939 he lived in the Kanheri caves at Borivli. Adjoining his cave was another where a guru lectured daily on Vedantic philosophy.
Focusing on the inconsequential and transitory aspect of the human body, he loudly exhorted his disciples to ignore its many attractions and afflictions. As fate had it, one day the guru was bitten by a snake. The resulting agony was expressed visibly and, as usual, quite vocally on his part. His distressed disciples asked Nityananada to help. While we know his mercy was boundless, the master nevertheless chuckled and asked if they had already forgotten their guru’s words to ignore the body’s physical aspects. Then he directed them to splash water from the nearby pond onto the wound. This done, their guru recovered–and immediately came to bow at Nityananda’s feet.
Another of the Kanheri caves was occupied by a sanyasi who was a Mahakala worshipper. Following his daily worship he would bring the ritual light and incense (arathi) he had waved before his personal shrine and wave it before Nityananda. Taking no notice, the Master told devotees that it was just a sign of the sanyasi’s deep devotion.
As always, devotees found Nityananda, and this time they flocked to Kanheri. One was the deeply attached Mrs.
Muktabai. She related that one time, in her haste to arrive, she lost her way. Her anxiety grew until an asthmatic old man suddenly appeared and offered to show her the way. As they neared the ashram, he began to lag behind her and at the entrance was nowhere to be seen. Nityananda refused to discuss the incident and reprimanded her soundly for traveling at that hour in such a dangerous region.
Prior to his return to Ganeshpuri, Nityananda told devotees not to come to Kanheri only to see him. he urged them to visit the rock caves built by yogis and sanyasis centuries earlier and marvel at their arrangements for collecting and storing water.
Nityananda returned to Ganeshpuri in 1939, and Rao immediately came to see him. But again, he suffered an attack of malaria. In a fever-induced delirium, he admitted that as a youth he had once received sandwiches from the Muslim sage Baba Jan, which he had thoughtlessly discarded. Hearing the story, the Master shook the ailing man and asked him to repeat it. After listening to it again, he went to the pantry, opened several tins of food, and mixed the contents together on a piece of newspaper. he then carried the huge serving to Rao and ordered him to eat it. The sick devotee did so and immediately fell asleep. he awoke fully recovered, realizing that he had finally atoned for the insult of throwing away a saint’s prasad.
The Old Ashram: Part II
In 1941 Swami Janananda traveled to Ganeshpuri to seek Nityananda’s guidance on some financial and construction issues regarding the Kanhangad ashram. On his arrival, and prior to speaking to the Master, he was told to sit down. Within minutes a taxi drove up, a rare occurrence in the days, and Nityananda left, saying he would soon return. And he did–twenty-four hours later in the same taxi. Then, glancing at Swami Janananda, he said, “Go home.
Everything is taken care of.”
Without a word, Swami Janananda made the return trip, one that involved the usual number of trains and buses. Reaching the ashram, he heard that Nityananda had been there earlier with money and instructions. Let me add that even with today’s improved transportation conditions and utilizing the new Netravati Bridge, it is impossible to complete a round trip between Bombay and Kanhangad by taxi in twenty-four hours…
Nityananda was never interested in attracting disciples or organizing an ashram. He was egoless in both words and actions.
When pressed, he would say, “This one is not flattered when important people come or sad when devotees leave.”
Students of other spiritual teachers sometimes came to Ganeshpuri, but the Master always steered them back to their own ashrams. he would tell them that their gurus were quite capable of solving their problems and that it was inappropriate as well as disrespectful to change loyalty on a temporary basis. One morning, as devotees of Shirdi Sai Baba filed before him, Nityananda was heard to shout, “Go back to Shirdi! Does the old man there sit differently than this one does here?”
A similar situation involved the affluent Bhiwandiwalla brothers, then devotees of Narayan Maharaj. When they first learned that Nityananda was in Ganeshpui, they set off to see him. But when they arrived, Nityananda shouted, “Go back to your guru!” and refused to speak to them. The brothers nevertheless continued to come. It was only when Narayan Maharaj died that the Master finally addressed them and accepted their devotion.
There was once a devotee who had lost a flourishing business prior to the Second World War. On his first visit to Ganeshpuri, he kept hearing Nityananda repeat the word “junk” and, try as he might, could not stop thinking about it. When the man returned home, the word still rang in his ears and he went for a walk. Lo and behold, he came upon an auction selling discarded odds and ends to the highest bidder. Without hesitation he bought the entire lot and soon sold it at a profit. Within months he was on his way toward recouping his earlier losses. Within the ashram he was called Raddiwalla, or “the head of junk.”
Raddiwalla became a frequent visitor to Ganeshpuri, often bringing his entire family. Always anxious to have Nityananda touch him, he sometimes took the liberty of placing the Master’s hand on the head of a relative he wished to have blessed. This annoyed some of the older devotess who had been around since the days in Mangalore. Back them, Nityananda had told them not to prostrate themselves before him, that their inner prayers would reach him. One afternoon Raddiwalla took his leave after placing Nityananda’s hand on the head of every member of his family. Unable to contain themselves, the envious devotees asked the Master why he had never favored them in this manner after their many years of devotion. He rebuked them by saying, “A blessing is not given by placing the hand on the head. It is an inner transmission–not an outer demonstration.”
One day when the Master complained of fatigue, Mrs. Muktabai admitted her surprise, saying that he rarely left the ashram and spent most of his time resting on the floor of his room or on the bench outside. He quiped, “Yes, but the devotees remember, don’t they?” On another occasion he said: “one established in infinite consciousness becomes silent and, while knowing everything, goes about as if knowing nothing. While doing many things in several places, outwardy one appears to do nothing.”
One day a new devotee brought his wife to Ganeshpuri. After first greeting Nityananda, they sat down a little apart from the others. Some of the visitors were discussing the building of a small school in the area. Thinking this a good opportunity to contribute something, the husband rose and placed a thousand rupee note on the plate by Nityananda’s bench. After resuming his seat, the man was astonished to find his single note transformed into a pile of smaller denomination bills.
Nityananda basked in the spontaneity of life and delighted in saying that things rarely went according to plan–even the best laid ones. After all, he would tell devotees, “God’s will always prevails.”
In 1949, a devotee from Kerala was filled with dismay when a renowned astrologer announced that the devotee’s young wife would soon die due to an affliction of Saturn in her chart. Distraught, the man rushed to Ganeshpuri. As he arrived and sat down, Nityananda turned to him and said, “Saturn is there but so is God.” He then told the husband to stay on at the ashram and to perform certain rituals that were never explained. The devotee faithfully followed his instructions to the letter. When the day predicted for the calamity came, it passed without incident–and Nityananda told the happy man to go home.
One morning as Nityananda reclined on his bench with legs outstretched, three stalwart sanyasis appeared in the entrance behind him. One carried a large, brightly-polished trident.* Quietly they took a stance behind the Master and waited for him to acknowledge them, but he uttered no sound and made no gesture. Time passed. The visitors grew restless and the watching devotees uncomfortable. Suddenly, the trident bearer thrust it forcefully into midair where it remained of its own accord. Still Nityananda did not turn, but whenever he glanced from the right corner of his eye, the trident swayed slightly. After some moments, Nityananda shook his outstretched foot-and the trident fell with a clatter.
Bowing, the sanyasis asked to stay in the ashram for three days. During this time they said they were followers of a powerful guru in the Himalayas. The conceded, however, that Nityananda was himself a great leader of the nath order of monks (Matsyendranath), and demonstrating great respect and affection, they departed with his blessing.
*The trident (trishula) symbolizes the three powers of the Absolute: Will, Knowledge, and Action. It is often associated with Shiva.
It was around 1942 when Kamath and a friend spent Shivaratri, the annual festival of Shiva, in Ganeshpuri. Staying in rooms opposite the hot spring tanks, they rose at midnight to bathe and them entered the darkness of the Bhimeshwar temple. To their surprise, the beam of their flashlight revealed Nityananda standing with one foot on the linga and repeating, “Shiva is gone, Shiva is gone.” And the two men knew that for Shiva to have gone he must first have come.
Mrs. Muktabai once asked Nityananda whether he could see God. His reply was “More clearly than I see you.” He also said that physical contact with the teacher was unnecessary. “This one is here, there, and everywhere,” he assured. “There is no pinhole where this one will not be found.” And a certain incident in the life of G.A. Rao illustrates this.
Rao was the devotee mentioned earlier who had won the lottery. Always generous with his unexpected wealth, he unfortunately lost everything during the war. Nityananda asked a devotee living in the same town as Rao to let the impoverished man stay in his warehouse. One day Rao sadly considered that he did not even have a photo of his guru to wave incense in front of. That night he had a dream. In it, Nityananda had him search the wall above his pillow for a nail hole and instructed him to wave incence before it. The next morning when he awoke, Rao found such a hole and began waving incense before it daily for the duration of his stay.
Some time passed before he finally saw Nityananda in the flesh again. On that occasion the Master remarked that he was enjoying the fragrance of Rao’s incense.
One day as visitors from Saurashtra were bowing before Nityananda, one of them began to shiver uncontrollably. Afterward a devotee took him aside to ask why he had reacted so. The man said that before leaving his village he had seen the Master in a nearby cave and was shocked to find him here as well. Then evening when the devotee remarked on the unlikelihood of such an occurrrence, Nityananda replied, “Anything is possible.”
Anything is possible. To Nityananda this was abundantly clear. When, in the mid-1950’s, he asked Madhumama to go to Badrinath, the devotee stopped over in Rishikesh. There he was approached by a tall stranger who, in passing, warned him in Kanarese: “Don’t eat anything offered by a sanyasi on your way to Badrinath. Only eat temple food.” Madhumama was mystified by both the message and messenger. How would anyone know that he understood Kanarese and was en route to Badrinath? Turning to ask him, he found only empty space.
On his subsequent return to Ganeshpuri, he told fellow devotees that when he bowed at Kedarnath he felt as if his head touch the body of the Master. Some devotees laughed, but Nityananda remarked, “There is no need to doubt his experience.
The body without the head (Munda) is in Kedarnath while the head without the body (Runda) is in Pashupathinath. If Shiva’s body can lie in Kedarnath and his head in Pashupathinath, then a devotee whoud not be surprised to feel Nityananda’s body anywhere.”