By Suma Varughese
Swami Chidambaranandji has miles to go before he sleeps
Thin, with a smiling enthusiastic face, forehead smeared with turmeric and a tilak at the centre, dressed in a banyan and a chrome-coloured garment, Swami Chidambaranandji Maharaj exudes an air of satvic simplicity.
At 32, he is young, and relatively unknown. A friend of mine, Najoo Sohonie, mentioned that his presence in her life had transformed her completely. Intrigued I ventured to meet him. Swamiji speaks in chaste Hindi and retains an air of belonging to an earlier, more austere order of renunciates. His story could well have been a chronicle from the Amar Chitra Katha.
Hear this: At age six, the boy already knew that his destiny lay in spirituality, and at age eight he had discovered his guru. There were also years of wandering the Himalayas and performing extreme austerities. All of which seems to have coalesced into his present mellow presence. Says he, “My father was a seeker and had early made up his mind that one of his sons would go into the army, another would be a householder and the third would devote himself to the service of God. I was six when I heard that. I jumped with joy and told him that I would do the work of dharma.”
At eight years, he pleaded with his father to be allowed to wear saffron. His sympathetic father agreed and proceeded to look around for a suitable ashram. Some time later, he happened to go to the ashram of Hariharanand Saraswatiji Maharaj, at Naimishernya, a pilgrimage place near Lucknow.
The guru was in the midst of a discourse about ‘daan’ (offerings). Noting that his disciples eagerly made offerings of food, money, material objects and even land, he observed that no one had as yet offered their son, and he was looking for a young protégé. Taking that as a divine message, Swamiji’s father promised the guru his son and returned home with the guru’s photo.
“I was enthralled when I saw his face and felt that my destiny was there.” After two years, at the age of 10, he joined up. “The happiest day of my life”, Swamiji calls it. Having spent five years at the ashram and acquired a firm foundation of Vedanta, through exposure to the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads and other classical texts, he left his guru’s ashram and embarked on his own at about 16 years of age. His maturity ripened through intense and rigorous sadhana and through his life experiences as an itinerant monk.
Summing up his understanding, he says, “The biggest truth of life is that what you see is an illusion. And what is truth is to be looked for. Truth exists but it is hard to find. And untruth is everywhere.”
Like a classic Vedantin he invites his listeners to inquire into the three fundamental questions of existence: Who am I? Where have I come from? Why have I come here?
In 1995, he came to Mumbai, with nothing but Rs 200 in his pocket. He smiles, “I like taking on a challenge. People told me that Mumbai would eat me up. I replied, ‘Then I will surely go, and that too, without money.’”
Typically, the Big City gave him a cold reception and he was hard put to it to find a place to stay. When he had been turned down by many temples he asked himself how he was going to stay on if he did not have a place to live? A newfound determination led him to vow that even if he had to stay on the streets, he would not leave Mumbai.
In time he found a place and his slow and painful climb to spiritual teacher proceeded. “I had gone to a temple when someone asked me if I could give a discourse. I was delighted and assented. My first audience consisted of three elderly women! Nothing daunted, I gave it my all. The next day, about 20 people came and the third day there was standing room only.”
He lives presently in an ashram in Mira Road and gives discourses at Prempuri Ashram in South Mumbai among others. Still young, still fresh, still relatively undiscovered, Swamiji stands poised. Will the fates bless him with the capacity to serve and inspire many souls? Or is his path the little way of one-on-one service?
Methinks the former. The reason? Swamiji has a vision; a noble one at that. He is deeply committed to eliminating beggary especially among children from the country. Eyes glinting with enthusiasm, he explains, “I will invite these children to come live with me and I will ensure they have their hearts’ desire. They can watch as much TV as possible, have the best clothes, eat the best food. I am confident that if their desires are fulfilled, within a year, they will be satiated and be ready for higher things.”
He adds, “I will then take them in hand and give them education, each according to his natural inclinations, helping one to become an artist, and another to become a lawyer. I am sure that these children’s parents will support me in this because which parent will not want the welfare of their children? They too will give up beggary and join me in taking care of the children. And finally, I will also teach the children spirituality so that they may lead happy, balanced lives.”
He says dauntlessly, “I am sure that I will not die without realizing this dream.” So be it!
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