Experiences with Maha Periyava: Sabarimala Yatra

We lived in Mylapore then. Every morning and evening, twice a day, I would go to the Kapāleeśwara temple for Śiva darśan.

Periyava would have bouts of pain in his chest. Ramakrishnaiyer, the homeopath–he was not a doctor - would consult his Homeopathy dictionary and give some small white pills that looked like lizard's eggs. Periyava would take the pills for two days or so and then would find some relief. That was the time when Ayyappa and Sabarimala were becoming popular. Crowds dressed in black dhoti would come to the temple. We associate black clothes with Di Ka (Dravida Kazhagam, a political party), so I was puzzled. I made enquiries and one of them said, "Oh, don't you know! We are going to Sabarimala. Such a powerful diety! Those without children are blessed with children. The sick are healed! Verily a living god!"

I was then a youngster and had great faith. That was thirty-five years ago. So I vowed to make a pilgrimage to Sabarimala so that Periyava may be cured of his bouts of pain in the chest. I went to Periyava and said, "I am going to Sabarimala. I have taken a vow. Periyava must bless me and give me his blessings."

"What Sabarimala? What this sudden desire? Why go to places when you are with me? Why ask me?"
"I have already made a vow and must fulfil it. Periyava must be gracious."

Periyava took a piece of cloth and flung it on me. "Earlier those that went to Sabarimala wore white dhotis. Brahmins did not drink or eat meat. Going to Sabarimala therefore did not demand any special rigour. Wearing black is a recent habit. It was started because those that eat meat and drink throughout the year, wore it as a sign of repentance. You need not. When you go into the temple you may drape this towel around you. There is one more thing. You must do as I say. You must buy one hundred lemons and carry it in a sling bag. You must not eat anything except this fresh lemon. You must not make juice from it, but eat it raw."

I lived on these fresh lemon fruits for forty days. It was all by Periyava's grace that I could eat it and subsist on it. I was ready to go and got into Nagaraja Iyer's car and we left for Sabarimala.

I smashed eighteen coconuts on the eighteen steps when I reached the shrine on the mountain. Then devotees went up to the Melsānthi for prasadam. I wanted prasadam for Periyava for it was for his sake that I had come. So I went up to him.

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"Where are you from?"

I said I was serving as Periyava‟s attendant."

"Ah, tirumaeni!" (lit. auspicious form/body; a way of addressing royalty and saints)

"Yes, tirumaeni."

"It is because of tirumaeni that we are doing so well. We get a crore of rupees regularly and everything goes on well."

"I want some prasāda."

At once the priest took a large container of ghee, and emptying it on the idol, collected it in a bottle that would hold at least one to one and a half kilos, to the brim. Then he took vibhūti with both his hands, twice over, and showered it over the deity. This too, he collected and gave me. I packed the prasāda carefully. I prostrated and offered him five hundred rupees. I bought two bottles of aravaṇa pāyasam for myself. I could eat after I had completed the worship and ended the pilgrimage. I then began my return journey.

On the way back, I took the route via Ernakulam. It does not matter what route you take on your return. There are two routes, one via Vandiperiyar, the other via Salakkayam. I reached Ernakulam via Salakkayam. A lawyer, who came for darśan and was well-known to me, a friend, took me to his house. I had a meal there and got ready to leave, when he said, "You must not refuse me this. My mother - she is ninety – lives in a village nearby. She will be delighted to see someone from Periyava. Let us go there before you leave."

So we left for the village called Kollengode. The gentleman‟s mother was so happy to see me. She originally hailed from the Nangavaram. Her name was Angacchi. She offered me coffee and when I refused it and opted for buttermilk instead, served me some. After a short while, I got ready to leave, when she said, "You cannot go away without seeing Mama, Krishnaiyer. Hey, you child! Come here and take this lad to Mama."

I knew neither Krishnaiyer nor Ramaiyer! Anyway we went out and in the house across the road, a very aged man sat reclining on a chair. He was ninety-five, I learnt.

"Hey, Raju, who is it?"

I was introduced. "I serve Periyava" I said.

The old man got up and fell down full length in prostration to me and held on to my feet. I was shocked and sprang back.

"You can‟t do this! You are so elderly and I am but a child. It is sinful!"

"I did not offer my prostrations to you, but to Periyava, Śarveśvaran! Don‟t you know that he is none other than Bhagavān, Īsvara! Don‟t you know that Periyava is none other than God himself!

People from Thanjavur are intelligent but you seem to be a dullard."

"What makes you say that? Are you saying it because everyone says so? Everyone sings praises of Periyava!"

"Listen! Many decades ago, Periyava came to Kerala and stayed for forty-five days in our town. Every morning Periyava would be up by three o‟clock and would sit for an hour of japa. Then after his snāna and daily regimen, would perform the ritualistic Candramoulīśvara worship. After this, he would rush in for five minutes and have a sparse name-sake meal. Then he would be back again with the devotees to discourse on a spiritual topic. It would go on like this, pūja, prasādam, meeting devotees, endlessly, and then again the same thing all over again in the afternoon, evening and night. He hardly ate and slept for barely three hours every day. One day I prayed to Periyava, Periyava must do something for me! ‟

"What is it? ‟

"Periyava is none other than Guruvayurappan, Ernakulattuappan. This endless round of work and lack of sleep has caused heat in Periyava‟s body. The eyes are flaming red with heat. Periyava must permit me to give him an oil-bath. Kerala is well-known for its medicinal oils. Periyava must be gracious and let me do this.

"Alright. Come on Saturday‟ said Periyava."

So I cured oil with herbs and roots and on Saturday morning took it to Periyava. Periyava allowed me to apply the oil on his head and limbs. I saw then that he had the Chakravarti rekhā on his head. He had the conch and disc on his hands. On the soles of his feet I saw Padmarekhā. You say that you are from Thanjavur, people from there are smart, but you seem to lack intelligence. You say that you serve Periyava but you have not seen these lines on his body! Don't be deceived because he urinates and defecates like everyone else. He is fooling you. He is none other than Īswara himself!"
He was talking to me along these lines. After a while, I prepared to leave when he said, "Wait for a minute" and went in. He came back holding eighteen rudrākṣas, starting from a single-faced one up to an eighteen-faced one. He put all of them into my hands and said," Take it, my boy. I have kept these with care for a long time now.

You must have these!"

I accepted the beads and again the old man caught my hands and said, "You must promise me one thing." "What promise?"

"You must promise to serve Periyava till the last breath. Others will trouble you, try to get rid of you. A rogue may come along and throw you out. Never mind that. Sit on the pyol outside the Maṭha and watch over Periyava, but don't leave him. Be a loyal servant to him, never leave him!" Then he served me some buttermilk.

"There is one more thing. Tell him that I prayed to him not to walk. He walks a lot. If the lines on his feet are wiped out then it will spell calamity to the world. So he must not walk. One more thing. You must offer twenty-four prostrations to him on my behalf" requested the old man.I gave him my assurance and left.
I returned by taxi. Periyava was in the middle of some forest, some little hamlet called Kattukodipuram, I think, near Nagalapuram. The journey was awful, the road full of craters and bumps. It was with a lot of difficulty that I reached his presence. Periyava was resting on a piece of gunny-sack. I placed the ghee and sacred ash in front of Periyava and prostrated to him. At once Periyava opened the bottle of ghee and ate it all up, more than a kilo and a half, all at one go! Then picking up the sacred ash that was wrapped in a leaf, emptied the whole of it upon his head. Before I could speak, Periyava said, "So you went to Sabarimala? What did that Krishnaiyer tell you?"

"He told me that Periyava was none other than Parameśvara himself!"
In a flash Periyava got up and stood holding his danda. He seemed about six feet tall in height and his eyes became fiery and red. He was verily
Śulapāṇī (Lord Shiva) with his trident, the Lord Parameśvara himself!

"Did he say that? Did he?"

"Yes and he wished to say to Periyava that if the lines on Periyava‟s feet are wiped out then it will spell calamity to the world. So he prays that Periyava must not walk."

"Tell him that the lines will not fade. Tell him that I wear pādukas. Phone him and tell him."

Later on I did telephone Krishnaiyer and convey Periyava‟s message.

Then I placed all the rudrākṣa beads in front of Periyava as an offering.

"They were gifted to you!"

"I am unworthy of such a rare gift and am an ignoramus. It is befitting only of Periyava to wear them."

"How shall I wear these, like this?"

"I'll have them strung" I said and I had them neatly strung together. Periyava wore them too. Periyava always wore rudrākṣa on pradoṣa days. Later he gave them to Bāla Periyava, though I have never seen him wear these or any other, not even during pūja. Pudu Periyava wears rudrākṣa on Pradoṣa days without fail.

Then I said, "I wish to ask Periyava something . . ."

"Ask me what you wish to."

"Ramaiyers and Krishnaiyers have applied oil on Periyava‟s head and have seen the rekhās on his limbs and we who are with Periyava all the time and serve him have never seen anything."

Periyava stretched out his legs and bent forward.

"Look at the lines on my head, on my feet, go on . . . come closer and feel the lines, if you like. Am I a policeman or TTR? What will I do to you? Must I wear a board around my neck announcing this, "Śankaracārya has these lines on his head‟ and so on?"

I touched the lines on his feet and felt them on his head.
Karuṇāmūrti is a word that applies only to him, no one else in the world. None can be as gracious as Periyava.
Narrated by Sri Balu Mama
Source: E-book In the Presence of the Divine Vol II
Hara Hara Shankara
Jaya Jaya Shankara🏼