As the annual aradhana of Sri Sadasiva Brahmendra comes up in April-May, it is time to recall his spiritual journey. Two events changed the very contours and course of Sadasiva Brahmendra’s life completely: the first transformed him from a brahmachari on the threshold of grihastha-ashram dharma into a Sanyasi and the second from a sannyasi into a mauna-muni (silent sage), an epitome of the Dakshinamoorthy-Swaroopa.
In his celebrated Atma Vidya Vilasa (Living in the Knowledge of the Atma/Self), which Sri Ramana Maharshi considered a masterpiece on Advaita, Sadasiva Brahmendra describes in the space of 62 verses what and how it “feels” to live soaked in the bliss of atmanananda (The joy of self-realisation). Anyone who reads it along with Sadasiva’s life story would be able to conclude that it is actually an autobiographical account of Sadasiva’s life, particularly after he “crossed over to the other side”.
Consider verses five and six below where he talks about that momentous occasion when the crossover happened.
स्वाविद्यैकनिबद्धः कुर्वन्कर्माणिमुह्यमानः सन्।
He who was earlier bound by his own ignorance (despite possessing all knowledge of the Vedas), and who was engaged in and tied to (worldly) activities and felt bewildered (as a consequence of that), now shines as a victorious sage, having by God’s grace, shaken-off his shackles, with the knowledge of and the realization of the Atman (his own Self).
मायावशेन सुप्तोमध्ये पश्यन्सहस्रशः स्वप्नान्।
देशिकवचः प्रबुद्धो दीव्यत्यानन्दवारिधौकोऽपि॥6॥
He who was sleeping (in ignorance), completely under the influence of maya and seeing a thousand dreams (in the waking state too), is now awakened by the words of his guru and (forever) delights in the ocean of bliss.
Sivaramakrishna to Sadasiva
No one is clear about the exact date of birth of Sadasiva Brahmendra. However, there is a universal consensus that he was a contemporary of two other prominent Hindu saints of the time: Sridhara Venkatesa Ayyaval and Sri Bodhendra Saraswathi, the latter being the 60th Jagadguru of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. This would place him in and around the 18th century. The three were, in fact, Veda pathashala classmates.
Sadasiva was born to the couple Moksha Somasundara Avadhaani and Parvati and was named Sivaramakrishna. It was later that he came to be known as Sadasiva, for he was forever in an exalted state, merged and completely soaked as it were in Shiva-tattva.
Sivan Sir (Sri Sadasiva Sastrigal), a great saint in his own right and the purva-ashram brother of the Kanchi Mahaperiayava Shri Chandrashekarendra Saraswathi, has dedicated an entire chapter to Sadasiva Brahmendra in his Tamil book Yeni Padigalil Mandargal (Human Beings on the Ladder of Evolution).
In that book, he never refers to Sadasiva as Brahmendra. He calls him Brahmam, meaning “pure essence”, as he believed that Sadasiva had transcended the human form and was a living example of Brahma-tattva in its purest form. At several places in the book, he also chooses to use the pronoun “It” to refer to Sadasiva.
As was the custom those days, Sivaramakrishna was invested with the poonal (sacred thread) when he was five and enrolled into a Veda pathashala where he was the brightest star — precocious and gifted but with an argumentative streak bordering on stubbornness and a strong determination to win every argument. As soon as he finished his study of the Vedas, his parents got him married. As was the custom those days, Sivaramakrishna continued to live with his parents as a brahmachari and his wife stayed with her parents till she attained puberty.
Soon after she attained puberty, a grand function and feast were arranged by Sivaramakrishna’s parents to welcome her to their house. As his mother was busy with the arrangements, Sadashiva’s food was delayed. He was hungry. When he asked his mother to serve him food, she jokingly retorted that his wife was coming home, hence the delay and he probably should also tone down his expectations post-marriage. This stray remark had a strange effect on the 17-year old Sivaramakrishna. He wondered if this was going to be his state before his wife came home, what it would be after she came home. He fell into a state of deep contemplation. That night, he walked out, never to return.
One might ask how this was fair to his wife, but that is a question relevant only to those in the human plane of existence. For those like Sadasiva, Ramana, or the Buddha, for example, when the ‘call’ comes, there is no room for such thoughts. The individual is led as it were by a force that takes a complete control over him/her who has submitted to its will — complete sharanagati.
For a few years, Sadasiva was a parivrajaka, a wandering monk before he met Sri Paramasivendra Saraswathi Yati and became his disciple. It was during his time here that he composed three of his great works on Advaita: Bramhasutra Vritti, Yogasuthra Vritti, Siddhantha Kalpavalli.
It was here that the second big change happened. Many other saints, philosophers and scholars would visit Sri Paramasivendra Saraswathi’s ashram; they used to engage one another in debates on topics of Vedanta, philosophy and so on. Sivaramakrishna, with a strong argumentative streak, used to participate in all these debates and always won each and every argument. He was fierce and stubborn. He never gave away a quarter, arguing aggressively with the sole intention of winning. Many senior scholars felt humiliated and some of these vanquished scholars went to Sri Paramasivendra Saraswati and complained to him about how they felt humiliated by Sivaramakrishna.
The guru called his disciple and asked him, “Siva, of what use are these debates? When are you going to conquer your tongue?” This question triggered something in Siva and he answered, “Guru! Today, I believe that I have truly received your grace…” That was it. The great scholar, the fierce debater, the argumentative young man descended into an absolute silence and never opened his mouth again.
This happened when Siva was probably in his early twenties. Records show that he was well over a 100 years old when he attained sajeeva-samadhi. So, he never uttered a word for well over eighty years of his life. Siva that day became Sadasiva, the mauna muni. He also walked out of the ashram much like he had walked out of his home. He became an Avadhuta, the sky-clad sage with not a care for the body or social etiquette or the vicissitudes of individual ego.
He used to sit under a tree or simply lie down on the ground completely unaware of his surroundings or his own body lost in meditation. Some of his ashram mates who saw him in this state reported back to his guru, saying that Siva had become insane. The guru, who was aware of what had happened, replied, “It is that ‘madness’ that I myself have been searching for. I am sad that the very same ‘madness’ that has overwhelmed Sadasiva has not yet come to me. I would gladly give up anything to be overcome by such madness…”
Sadasiva, the Kalpataru
Sadasiva had completely consumed Sivaramakrishna; he wandered oblivious of himself but conscious of only his self. He slept in the open fields and was sometimes found lying in the cowshed in an animated conversation with the cows. People who took him for a madman soon realised that there was a strange peace that pervaded his presence and he seemed to emit an other-worldly shakti. They also noticed that any place he visited was soon transformed. If he slept in the courtyard of a house during the night and walked away without a word early next morning, it meant that the people of the house could expect a long unfulfilled wish to finally come true: it could be the desire for a child, relief from a chronic disease or escape from poverty and so on.
There are several miracles attributed to Sadasiva Brahmendra, some bordering on the unbelievable and incredible. It would be beyond the scope of this article to chronicle all of them. We will, however, look at one of them that has been immortalised in stone at the Isha Yoga Centre in Coimbatore.
Once Sadasiva walked right through the harem of a Muslim navvab who had pitched his tent on a field. Sadasiva, stark naked, walked in from one end and out through the other. The Brahma-jnani that he was, he walked in a trance, oblivious of the women and their screams of horror on seeing a naked man.
On witnessing this, the navvab, overwhelmed by uncontrollable rage, ran after the naked saint and, with his sword drawn, severed one hand of Sadasiva from behind with one stroke of his sword. The severed hand fell down. But Sadasiva, unaware of the fallen arm, the bloody stump, or the flowing blood, kept walking.
The shocked navvab picked up the severed arm and ran after Sadasiva, caught up with him and fell at his feet apologising profusely. Sadasiva noticed him and gesticulated asking him what the matter was. The navvab showed the severed hand to Brahmendra and apologised once again. Sadasiva once again gesticulated to him to place the severed hand in its appropriate spot. To the amazement of the navvab, the severed hand fixed itself without any problem whatsoever, and Sadasiva walked on.
Sadasiva’s fame spread far and wide after this incident and people tried to meet him or make him sit in one place or establish an ashram. However, for Sadashiva, none of this mattered. He remained until the end a wandering Avadhuta.
He is said to have met Raja Thondaiman of Pudukottai and initiated him into the Dakshinamurthy Mantra by writing the mantra on the sand. The king picked up the sand and this sand is preserved till today in a casket and worshipped at the Dakshinamoorthy temple inside the Pudukottai palace in Pudukottai.
The Dhana Akarshana Yantra in the Kalyana Venkataramana Temple in Thanthoni Malai (who is the kula deivam of this author) was also placed there by Sri Brahmendra.
Sadasiva Brahmendra attained jeeva samadhi in Nerur (Karur district of Tamil Nadu). There are reports of people having seen him enter into jeeva samadhi simultaneously at 5 places, symbolising the dissipation of the physical body into the panchabhutas — the other four being Manamadurai, Puri, Kashi and Karachi. Of these, it is only the Nerur Adhishtanam that remains popular and also there is a small Shiva temple at Manamadurai. The others have disappeared due to lack of knowledge or sheer negligence.
It is ironical that Sadasiva Brahmendra’s kritis (works) like Manasa Sancharare, Bruhi Mukundethi, Pibare Rama Rasam, Gayathri Vanamali or Bhajare Gopalam are more famous than the great saint who composed them. Perhaps their popularity is due to the fact that they have been sung by Carnatic greats like MS Subbulakshmi and Balamurali Krishna.
It is believed that Sadasiva Brahmendra still resides in a bilva (bael or Aegle marmelos L) tree near his samadhi. Anyone who meditates there can experience his presence and grace. It might not matter to the Brahmam (Sadasiva Brahmendra) that so few people know of him because, as he notes in the 53rd verse of his autobiographical Atma Vidya Vilasa,
The king of saNnyasis rests alone, established in the Self within and enjoying inner bliss; he rejects nothing that comes to him and never desires what does not come to him
However, it should matter to those who are on the path, for there is much to gain from not just reading about Sadasiva Brahmendra but by also visiting his Samadhi at Nerur.