(1898 March 11- 1985 November 16)
Chinnu Maharaj hailed from a fabulously rich agrarian family. But he out-smarted wealth which could not lure him into the materialistic pit. Saffron robes fascinated him since his childhood. A budding Buddha! The devotion and simplicity of his parents- Sri.Periannan and Smt.Nanjamma descended on him. Chengutaipalayam of Coimbatore District, found an indelible dot in the world map as he was born there on March 11th,1898.
The twin ideals of Mother Bharath-. Renunciation and Service- became his breath and life-blood. He identified himself with those life-giving principles throughout his life.
The spiritual spark, he had inherited from his pious father, was further fanned into a spiritual glow by Srimath Sathguru Swami of Palani who initiated him into Sri Ramakrishna and Thayumanavar.
This spiritual glow was subsequently sublimated into a spiritual fire when he stumbled upon the little volume “Swami Vivekananda’s lectures in Madras”, on a road side shop at Madras. A few minutes of immense absorption in the booklet made him instantly give up his plan to go abroad to pursue his higher studies.
Presidency College, Madras must be proud to have him as its student. His room at Victoria Hostel was baptized as “The philosopher’s Corner “since it was always reverberating with his spiritual and philosophical discussions in the company of Sri.Krishnan Namboodri who later became Swami Agamananda of Sri Ramakrishna Math and Sri.T.S.Avinasalingam an educationalist with a spiritual touch.
He did not jump into the fray of Freedom struggle, though it was reaching its highest boiling point during the peak of his youth. He had deep devotion for Gandhiji as he had for Swami Vivekananda, but he did not prefer politics, because Swamiji was cut out for a higher and nobler purpose. Spiritual awakening which is the real and eternal freedom was in his agenda. Apropos this he was a photocopy of Swami Vivekananda who refused to join the “Indian National Congress” in 1885 by making a dissenting note ” Without the necessary preparation, what is the use of just shouting in Congress?…God and Truth are the only politics in the world, everything else is trash.” Both, of course, inspired the freedom fighters. They were for the freedom of the soul and that would really better the humanity, they firmly believed.
He lived the words of Swami Vivekananda” I care only for the spirit-if that is right everything will be righted by itself…Man Making is my mission in life.”
He merged himself with the Ramakrishna Movement and Sannyasa Diksha was bestowed upon him by Mahapurush Swami Sivanandaji of the Sri Ramakrishna Order on 25th July 1926. Since then, he had been performing ‘Athmagnanam’ to humanity.
Marvelous that Swamiji’s father making arrangements at Ooty Ashram for his son’s Sanyasa. Must be our country Bharath’s precious quality of Spiritual heritage. His Sanyasa Diksha and his father Sri.Periannan’s demise occurring simultaneously must have been the Divine design.
Thus Chinnu became Swami Chidbhavanandaji Maharaj.
His Guru Mahapurush ordained him to have Tamilnadu as his spiritual jurisdiction. Hence Thirupparaithurai was buzzing with his Man Making activities from 1940 with Sri Ramakrishna Tapovanam springing up on the bank of Cauvery in 1942.Since then a string of Ashramas and institutions in Tamilnadu busy in bringing out the Perfection already in man. Chidbhavanandaji became a renowned name to be reckoned with.
When Swami Vivekananda reached India after his Vedantic Mission in the West ,he met many students intoxicated with European customs and culture. They took pride in casting a derisive look at the Hindu way of life. While addressing them Swamiji made a distinction between the essential and non-essential things in Hinduism. The essential things are the Eternal Truths enunciated in the Vedas. The non-essential things, which vary from place to place, can be discarded if they turn us away from the Eternal Truths of the Vedas. The ignorance of the students was dispelled. Thereafter, the enlightened students’ regard for Vivekananda and Vivekananda’s immense faith in them are known to anyone in the spiritual world.
Similar situation prevailed when Swami Chidbhavananda entered the spiritual arena in Tamilnadu. A vicious circle, quite unaware of the Eternal Truths of our Scriptures, was denigrating our sacred Vedas and especially their custodians, the Brahmin-priests, for its own cheap political gain. The emotional and sensitive side of a common man in this part of the world was triggered off in the name of Dravidian Culture and a large section of people began to move towards atheism, little knowing that a man who is righteous is a Brahmin and it is not a caste. In fact Swami Vivekananda on one occasion emphatically said” I want to Brahminize the whole world “by which he meant that everybody should become righteous. Like Swami Vivekananda, he too, was against the priest craft and not against priests and Vedas. He reiterated one particular point that the Brahmin priests were the sure custodians of Vedas which were preserved in the oral-tradition, otherwise these precious treasures would have disappeared in the thin air.
Hinduism was at stake on many an occasion in Tamilnadu. Atheists in the garb of Dravidian movement tried to demolish it, but never could they. Swami Chidbhavanandaji Maharaj counteracted this cancerous influence. He exerted a silent and stiff resistance by highlighting the Eternal Truths of the Sanadana Dharma in all his discourses and publications. He had the guts and nerve to raise his voice first in Tamilnadu against the atheistic leaders when they degraded Sri Rama in their procession. Before it could fade from the public memory, in his counter procession Swamiji highlighted the noble ideals symbolized by the Hindu deity Sri Rama. This was at a time when nobody dared to oppose them. The irony was that Swamiji and such leaders had mutual respect though they were in two diametrically opposite domains and in fact,it is said, these leaders used to persuade boys to join the Tapovanam School for Life-training. Nobody could miss the merits of Swamiji.
A glance at the spiritual history of saints of our sacred land shows that they always tried to reach God through their individual efforts and achieving God Realization was their spiritual mission. All the Nayanmars and Alwars have the feel of God at their spiritual peak and once it is accomplished, their mission is over. Of course, they share their overwhelming spiritual experiences in their devotional songs. Some like Sankara make intellectual pursuit to reach God. Both the intellectual and devotional ecstasies enjoyed by saints, though spread over their devotional songs, were never taken to the ordinary masses. Only a few like Sri.Ramanuja endeavoured to carry the spiritual message to the multitudes.
Sri Ramanuja and Swami Vivekananda’s concern for the common man is discerned in Swami Chidbhavananda. ‘Antharyogam’ and ‘Gurukulam’ were the special forte of Swamiji,the former to spiritualize the worldly and the later to mould the students in Character-building.
Antharyogam,his special device
Antharyogam was the special device invented by Swamiji to take the Practical Vedanta to his devotees who constituted mostly those who were not well-acquainted with Vedas and Samskrit. They were the ordinary farmers, business men and Govt. employees. They had spiritual yearning that was fulfilled by Swamiji. This was the dream of Swami Vivekananda dearly made real by his ardent follower Swami Chidbhavananda.
In all his Antharyogams, his spiritual discourses taught the common man to lead a disciplined life as a ‘Grihastha’. That the thought of God, amidst all the mundane and materialistic life, would solve a number of life’s riddles, was his primary teaching. His uniqueness was that he made his devotees practice his preaching in the Antharyogam itself.
He is a remarkable Sannyasin in the whole of Ramakrishna Movement, in that, along with the ideal of Sri.Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, he highlighted the teachings of Tamil saints like Manickavasagar,Thayumanavar,Thirumular,Pattinathar and so on. Reference to such Tamil saints was a reinforcement to the ideals of Sri.Ramakrishna and Vivekananda. This makes his Tamil devotees feel at home with Swami Chidbhavananda .
Vedanta, the sheet anchor of Hinduism must be practical, Swamiji always echoed the view of Swami Vivekananda. Once restricted to the Samskrit-knowing pundits, this serious philosophy made simple and understandable in Tamil was placed before the common man who had a genuine thirst for it. Here the words of Swami Vivekananda surge up in our mind “The dry, abstract Advaita must become living –poetic–in everyday life…must be put in a form so that a child may grasp it. That is my life’s work.” And this work was fulfilled by Swami Chidbhavananda.
No more an arm-chair philosophy enjoyed over a cup of coffee by the traditional elite, It was offered with a practical perspective. Under his very nose, the devotees, so far baffled by the scholarly tone of this philosophy practiced it and he meticulously monitored. The delighted devotees had such practical sessions from dawn till dusk. He brought to light the profundity of Hinduism which was often mistaken as a religion of rituals.
‘Anushtana Vedanta’ in Tamil (Practical Vedanta of Swami Vivekananda) was the focal point supplemented by anecdotes from our epics and puranas in all his ‘Antharyogams’ His doctrine of spiritual enlightenment of his devotees through such sessions was based on the fact that spiritual life and worldly career are not two different entities. This dichotomy is born out of ignorance. Life is one. No two divisions. That is the base of Vedanta. The intricacies of this noble philosophy could pervade the nook and corner of a man’s life. We become what we think. When the principles of this eternal truth become our day today thoughts, our actions are dyed in that shade of nobility and ultimately our life is enriched and ennobled in a spiritual perspective. It makes a man fit to lead an impeccably pure and pristine life. His practical sessions in all his Antharyogams had made his devotees realize this. This is how the listeners of Swami Vivekananda had experienced after each of his lecture in the West and here from Colombo to Almoro too. Swami Chidbhavanandaji on the sure foot-prints of Swami Vivekananda.
He took the cue from the ancient RajaRishis like Janaka and Pravahana that the apparently tough Vedantic doctrines could be put into practice in everyday life amid their busy administrative schedule. If a busy king could spare time to make such lofty principles a part of his life, why not an ordinary who could allot enough time for them. His focus was to make the common man a better being and lead a meaningful life. He very well remembered the words of Swami Vivekananda,”…to be an ideal householder is a much more difficult task than to be an ideal sannyasin.”Still instances from our ancient history affirm that householders could more successfully appreciate the subtleties of this philosophy than the Rishis dwelling in the dark caves of deep forests.On some occasions Rishis never hesitated to learn from RajaRishis.
Hence his firm faith on the spiritually starving householders and he targeted them in all his Antharyogams.This sacred philosophy which forms the core of our culture cannot be degraded as a mere vehicle of eloquent oration on the pulpits nor a scholarly subject of noisy discussion by pundits to display their depth of wisdom. More than that it is to be applied in our every day activities. Atmagnanam,if pursued prayerfully becomes the property of the pursuer. This was how Swamiji infused positive perspective in all his devotees irrespective of caste and creed.
The uniqueness of Swami Chidbhavananda was that he made his devotees appreciate this philosophy through the verses of Thayumanavar.
“Thedaatha thetinare senkai thulaakkol pola
vaadach chaman nilayil vaazvaar paraaparame”
A pure mind engrossed in divinity is in all equanimity and it becomes a perfect vehicle of dispassionate actions. Swamiji adored Thayumanavar since his was an exact and simple translation of Vedanta in Tamil through which his devotees comprehended the eternal doctrines. Mark! He has quoted Thayumanavar 183 times in his 368 spiritual-concept based “Dhinasari Dhiyanam” which presents one for each day of the year. Similar in spirit is his “Daily Divine Digest “in English. Both are the elucidation of Vedanta in miniature forms which are always in the favourite booklist of his devotees. These two valuable pocket booklets are always sold like hot cakes and find a sure place in the memento pack of all visiting dignitaries.
Revival of Gurukulam
If Antharyogam was for the householders,his Gurukulam is for the youth.He silently revolted against the British-enslaved academicians by introducing our ancient Gurukulam. The English had left, but not their clerk-generating education. It worried him a lot always. Though concurred with Swamiji on the stage and private discussions, the so called educationists never dared to officially approve the Character-building academic module. They conveniently allowed themselves to get lost in the money-making commercial scenario. The determined Swamiji commenced a Gurukulam with a Life-training curriculum in his seventies at Thiruvedagam west for higher education ,seeing the success of the decades-old Tapovanam school ,Thirupparaithurai,Trichy. How tenacious he was to run such model Gurukulams amid the mere careerism-oriented institutions! ”Bhavasumsuddhi”-purity of mind was his focus. His “The Indian National Education” is a treatise on Gurukulam which should find a place in the curriculum of all, particularly the tertiary level, institutions. Certainly it will save the youth from the cruel clutches of drugs, alcohol and vulgar media. In the present scenario when alcohol consuming has become a household activity the only panacea to redeem this generation is Gurukulam.
Each generation has the solemn responsibility to preserve the heritage treasure and pass it on to the next one many times enriched. Material prosperity alone is not an indication of a country’s growth. Intellectual superiority and moral perfection which have greater values must be safeguarded by the best minds of a society in order to maintain the rich tradition of a nation. This is possible if only a bold scheme is evolved for a national, imaginative and purposeful reorientation of the educational pattern at the university and college level wherein graduates steeped in the hoary culture of the motherland could be produced. Thus the betterment of a nation heavily depends upon the educational institutions which could offer culture and value oriented education.
Regarding this our Founder President Swamiji Chidbhavanandaji Maharaj says, “At the borderland between Mysore State and Tamil Nadu there is a deep ravine between two cliffs, which a goat can easily jump over. In between these two cliffs the whole of the river Cauvery has to flow through. Her gush is extremely violent, coming out from the ravine she rolls on many wild rocks producing foam in plenty. That is a sight to see the power of nature. The same river spreads out to a mile across near the Upper Anicut in Triuchirapalli District where she appears shallow and tame. These two sights have a lesson teach—where the force is converged, it is all-powerful; but when it is spread out it becomes powerless. The ancient education may be compared to the gushing Cauvery up above, and the modern education to the Akhanda (broad) Cauvery at the Upper Anicut.”
The desire of Swami Vivekananda and that of Swami Chidbhavananda that the merits of this system should percolate to the downtrodden is fulfilled in Gurukulams. An action oriented and totally different curriculum creates modified and refined individuals who face life struggles with a smile and get over them. The alumni, the end product of this rare system stand a testimony to it. Spread over in all walks of life – police, defence, teaching, banking, business, politics, revenue, software, research and so on – the alumni display the values that they have imbibed at their spiritual retreat in the Gurukulam and their refined behaviour and its productive output contribute a lot to nation’s development.
Amidst the rampant commercialization of educational institutions, the resultant moral degradation and the downfall of values in the society, Swami Chidbhavananda made a bold step to found unique Gurukulams as the right step towards quality initiative. Tiding over the initial practical difficulties from the stakeholders who did not realize the benign impact of the system, Acharyas under his guidance modify the functioning of Gurukulam without damaging the essential tenets and enhance the quality in the campus, thus emerging as model institutions in the academic arena. Visitors, renowned educationists and foreigners have paid encomiums to Gurukulams apropos the efforts taken to enrich the personality of students in all facets.
Mere book learning will not make one a complete student. Bookish knowledge alone is like a house built with a loose piling of brick on brick with no cohesive or cementing matter in between. The binding force is the Value education that is the life blood of the Gurukulams. They being the residential ones where students and Acharyas live together, there are ample opportunities for the students to emulate their dedicated teachers who bestow parental affection on the students. Quite close to Gurukulams are situated Sri Ramakrishna Ashrams where Sanyasins reside leading a life of simplicity and selflessness. Students imbibe several values both from Acharyas and Sanyasins. The Gurukulam is a home and family. Parental affection and filial reverence envelop the atmosphere. Students emulate the teachers endowed with a spirit of dedication and the Sanyasins who symbolize India’s twin ideals of Renunciation and Service – the modern ascetic models to students.`
The prayer hall where the teachers and students assemble symbolizes the ancient India spiritual history. The paintings of great sages and saints of Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity teach the students the values of all religions and of course the Value of Universalism. What Swami Vivekananda dreamt about the practice of Universal Religion is translated into reality in the solemn prayer hall–“If there is ever to be a Universal Religion it must be one which will have no location in place or time; which will be infinite, like the God it will preach and whose Sun will shine upon the followers of Krishna and of Christ, on saints and sinners alike; which will not be Brahmin or Buddhist, Christian or Mohammedan, but the sum total of all these, and still have infinite space for development”. Though Gurukulams focus on the noble mission of propagating the principles of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, no disparity exists among the Hindu, Muslim and Christian students who study here. In fact, a few Muslim and Christian students take active role in conducting and chanting Bhajan in the prayer hall
The Gurukulams are heading towards the excellence of the overall personality of students by focusing all the attention to inculcate our ancient heritage and rich tradition which is full of time-tested values, our society is badly in need of at present. They are the unique and role model institutions which care a lot for values – an excellent trend setter which has left a trail blaze to be emulated by other institutions so that society as a whole will emerge culturally and morally significant.
His lighter side
Though a severe ascetic every inch, he was endowed with lot of sense of humour. He permitted students to play with him in the swimming pool of Tapovanam. He literally became a child on those hilarious moments.
”Is it a Mysore bagh or Mysore rock?“was his usual question before the rocky sweet–creating peals of laughter among the audience and in the next moment the hilarious mood of the scene would change to be followed by a contemplative discussion.
He admired the good eaters of the unlimitedly supplied fruit salad and curd among students. At the same time he enforced strict discipline among the staff and students.
He had immense faith in the fact that a strong physique can comprehend life better. In all the Sports day functions his usual audience could predict his first sentence, ‘Strength is life, muscles of iron and nerves of steel…you can reach heaven through football rather than Bhagavad Gita”. In the morning Physical Jerks he always insisted upon perfect bending posture in Suryanamaskar and used to quip, “If this is alright, then everything will be righted by itself.”
He always trusted in the Divine Plan. When a group of foreign devotees asked him whether he had any proposal to prepare a successor to him, he quoted the words of Swami Vivekananda” I never make plans. Plans grow and work themselves”
Other noble traits
- Throughout his spiritual life he was engaged in ‘Annadanam, Arivudanam and Athmadanam’. The first two offer temporary relief to human beings and the last one-Athmadanam through his books,discourses,Antharyogams and Sathsangams –gives permanent relief to human sufferings.
- He was the first to write detailed biographies of Sri.Ramakrishna,Swami Vivekananda and Mother Sarada Devi in Tamil.
- He had great and immense reverence for Samskrit.In fact,he had a plan of starting a Samskrit college where the Vedas and Upanishads would be taught and discussed.He made all efforts to rejuvenate the Vedas, the spiritual treasure house of our ancient heritage.In his writings he enunciated the similarities between Vedanta and Siddhanta.
- ‘Inter Religious Dialogue’ conducted by him every year speaks of his universal outlook. Catholicity to absorb the acceptable ideas of other religions is a noteworthy trait of Swamiji.
- In his opinion Pujaroom, lavatory and kitchen must be always clean so that they are interchangeable at any time.He was a true Gandhian, because he cleaned the lavatories himself.He indirectly suggested that scavenging was not meant for a particular community.To the caste-ridden Tamilnadu,he was an eye-opener.He gave a new dimension to the class division by asserting that the four categories of caste—Brahmana,Kshtriya,Vaisya and Sudra—can be interchanged depending upon the profession one undertakes. Indeed it is a revolutionary exhortation from a spiritual giant based on the “Gita”.
- The admirable trait of Hinduism is that it is based on principles and not on personalities. Personalities may vanish. But principles are eternal. Personalities are nothing when they don’t represent principles. Our Swamiji had this as his spiritual goal throughout his career.
- Punctuality –a much neglected virtue-was a cardinal code of conduct to our Swamiji.Throughout his life,he observed this virtue meticulously. Instances of functions commencing sharp at the appointed time in the absence of the late-coming guests, whatever may be their social status, are plenty in the history of his institutions.
- Flattery is a powerful weapon to which many are tempted to succumb.It is rare to find a man who never falls a victim to flattery.but our Swamiji discouraged flattery and sycophants could not survive in his territory.Neither flattery nor derision was to his taste. Senility never dawned upon him till his last breath. Scarcely did he swerve from equanimity.
- He observed certain Dharmic norms in the collection of donations from his devotees for spiritual purposes. The means of collection always mattered to him greatly. Never did he permit his cine-field devotees to collect money through platform performances. When the target of collection was reached he stopped accepting donations from his devotees-a rare trait in this materialistic world, even among sannyasins.
- In order to fulfill his mission, he won Tamas and Rajas by immersing himself in the spiritual action with a sense of detachment. By controlling and sublimating his senses he developed Sattva. Self-denial and self-dedication were his basic traits.
- He penned the best commentary on “The Bhagavad Gita”,both in Tamil and English and Tamil saint Manickavasagar’s “Thiruvasagam”.Besides “The Ramayana” and The Mahabharata”as the philosophy of humanity, Swamiji has contributed nearly 80 books to the realm of spiritual literature.
- At the wee small hours of the day on the bank of Ganga he used to read aloud the “Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda” with a lantern during his spiritual sojourn at Belur Math,Calcutta and it was this ascetic practice that made him utter unconsciously the words of Swami Vivekananda on the appropriate occasions. His eloquence in English coupled with the philosophical bent of mind at the early stage of his life can be attributed to this practice.
- Innumerable dewdrops fall from heaven to blossom thousands of flowers. The silent action of the dewdrops escapes human notice. Similarly our Swamiji, without much fanfare,was engaged in propagating the ideals of Sri.Ramakrishna and swami Vivekananda.
- Swami Vivekananda had immense faith and regard for his Tamil devotees.Who knows,he might have desired that a deserving disciple would appear in Tamilnadu to spread the message of Sri.Ramakrishna.His disciple Mahaprush Sivanandaji spotted out the right person in our Swami Chidbhavanandaji and as per his spiritual command ,our Swamiji was performing his Spiritual Yagna in Tamilnadu
Pleasure is to physical body. Happiness is to mind. Bliss is to soul. Our Swamiji throughout his spiritual life had been offering this heavenly bliss to all devotees and ‘Atmasadhakas’.
Swamiji lived Vedanta. No doubt, his life was his message.
Shri. Dr.R.Ilango is the Former Vice-Principal, Vivekananda College, Thiruvedagam, Madurai.