Adivarpupetta, a hamlet approximately 25 km from the railhead of the coastal town of Kakinada, on the Bay of Bengal, in Andhra Pradesh(now called Seemandhra), is hardly likely to merit a mention on any map. There is nothing that sets it apart from scores of villages in this area of the East Godavari district, which is well known as the rice bowl of the state (paddy is harvested three times in a year), thanks to its extensive irrigation network that takes off from the dam across the nearby Godavari River. There are a number of well to do farmers in the district but the vast majority of its people are landless, poor and illiterate. Although there has been some development lately, yet the lot of an average person has improved only marginally in the last half a century. The rigid caste structure does not allow its impoverished people to break loose from their traditional occupations. Of the time (1935) that this little piece is concerned with, Adivarpupetta’s inhabitants were mostly weavers, just as they still are, with a sprinkling of a few land owners. Sri Sivabala Yogi’s advent in Adivarpupetta (in 1935) has some curious features or rather their lack that might seem a bit odd to those who usually associate some supernatural events with the coming of divine incarnations. But, the divine will is inscrutable and it is not bound by any logical connection that one may form with lives of great sages of the past. Consider the following. Neither Sri Sivabala Yogi’s family nor any of the other villagers had any marked spiritual leanings nor were they overtly religious. Adivarpupetta had no temple, the nearest being a hoary historical shrine, devoted to Shiva and Parvati, in Darkshram, a small town connected to it by a two kilometres or so of a dirt track (in 1935), which has now been made into a tarmac road. It is an ancient tradition that the yogis normally prefer to practise tapas yoga in cooler climates (such as Himalayas) but Adivarpupetta’s oppressive heat and sultry climate, practically throughout the year, except for a short winter, is hardly suited for the practice of such a severe discipline. The tiny village had, in 1935, no more than 200 inhabitants of the Devanga community. For shelter, they had thatched huts arranged on either side of a kaccha (earthen) street. There were very few brick built houses. The village was (and still is) set amidst paddy fields (rice is the staple diet of the people) with high bunds separating them to facilitate watering around the year. It made the humidity worse than what it would have been otherwise. The area is interspersed with coconut and palmyra groves. There was no electricity then, which led to life in the village coming to a standstill after sunset. Bed time was early for children and so was it for tales to be told by the elders. It was common for peasants and weavers to begin work by sunrise before it got really hot. Like every where else in rural India of that time, people were simple and had no great expectations from life. They shared each others joys, sorrows and tears and faced adversity with stoicism that is so characteristic of people inured to hardship and strong belief in fate.
Sri Sivabala Yogi took birth, in a family of weavers, on 24 January 1935. His parents, Sri Alakka Bheemanna and Srimati Parvathamma, named him Sathyaraju. He was the youngest of four children, an eldest brother and two sisters. Sri Bheemanna had married Sri Parvathamma, from the same village, with the consent of his first wife, Srimati Shravanamma, who was childless. The latter made a request, when Sathyaraju was about two years old, that she be allowed to bring him up as her son and his parents accepted it readily. Sri Bheemanna passed away in 1937 and that left the family in dire straits, which forced both the widows to move to their parental homes; Srimati Parvathamma to her father’s house in Adivarpupetta and Srimati Shravanamma to her village about 20 kilometres away. Sathyaraju, being too young, lived with his mother but went to stay with his step mother when he was five years old. He missed his mother and was back with her after six months. Later, Sathyaraju returned to the step mother’s village twice; once, when he was eight years and second in 1947 but on both occasions his stay was cut short to a few months because he found the atmosphere in her house uncongenial. Thus, he spent his entire childhood in Adivarpupetta, in his maternal grandfather’s small brick built house that had a well of its own in the backyard.
Sathyaraju had a happy childhood despite the family’s impoverished state and the imperative need for him to work strenuously for the family’s livelihood. Though no more than eight years old, he would be at the looms from early morning to 10 a.m. when he would go to the village primary school. He was good at weaving cloth with his nimble fingers. It was only in the evenings that he had some time to spend with his friends. He was physically strong for his age and was fond of games the boys of the village played. He was a natural leader of his playmates because of his ability to outplay them in all sports. He was a good student and keen to study but unfortunately the family’s poverty prevented him from going beyond class two. Sathyaraju thus had practically no formal education; apart from Telegu, his mother tongue, he did not acquire knowledge of any other subject. Sathyaraju was particularly close to his mother and maternal grandfather and, later, always spoke about them with deep love to his devotees. His maternal grandfather, Sri Goli Sathyam, was a remarkable person, who despite the poverty, never swerved from the straight path. He was Sathyaraju’s earliest mentor and taught him the virtues of self respect, honesty, uprightness and fearlessness. He learnt from him that one need not compromise one’s moral values, just because one is poor. It was under the influence of his grandfather and loving care of his mother that Sathyaraju developed a strong will, a habit of independent thinking and a firm resolve to always adhere to the truth, no matter what the consequences.
There was nothing remarkable about Sathyaraju’s childhood that would mark him out to be a great yogi in later years. Apart from an occasional visit to the Shiva temple at Draksharam, he did not exhibit any sign that he had spiritual leanings. Sathyaraju’s life was like any other ordinary boy’s in the village. The struggle to overcome endemic poverty was the enduring feature in the lives of the majority of the people in the village. Sathyaraju’s family was equally affected by it but he was determined to alleviate it by his hard work. Like all energetic boys of his age, he was fond of games and pranks. In later years, he would always admit, with a grin, that he was a naughty boy who was ever ready for a fight. Needless to add, he invariably emerged as a winner. No one dared to bully Sathyaraju, as he was certain to get a befitting reply because of his physical and mental strength. This was another characteristic of his, which remained with him throughout his life. Sri Sivabala Yogi always impressed on his devotees to remain firm and steadfast when faced with any adverse and unpleasant situation.
Sathyaraju was only fourteen and some months old when a divinely inspired event changed forever the course of his destiny. The transformation was as unexpected as it was sudden. It was 7th of August 1949, a Sunday, and it was like any other day in the humdrum routine of the village life. Being an off day for school, young boys were free to indulge in fun and frolic. Along with a few friends, Sathyaraju played, near the village school, a game of marbles, of which he was very fond, till about 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Rather than wait for lunch, which was not ready, he was persuaded by a friend to go for a swim in the Godavari Canal, a small water channel really, that runs on the outskirts of Adivarpupetta. On the way, Sathyaraju played another game of marbles, which he won, as he was doing since the morning. A few boys joined Sathyaraju and his friend for the planned swim. Enroute to the canal, the boys sauntered around the nearby fields. It was about 3 o’clock when they neared a palmyra grove, a couple of hundred metres away from the canal, and noticed three palmyra fruits falling from one of the trees. A few boys rushed to gather the fruit and brought them to Sathyaraju for distribution amongst the twelve of them. Laughing and joking, the group of friends then reached the canal bank. As Sathyaraju was preparing to eat his share, his body began shaking for no apparent reason. All of a sudden, Sathyaraju saw a brilliant flash of light emerging from the fruit in his hands and he heard the sound of Omkar emanating from it. As wave after wave of the blissful sound hit him, he was struck by wonder at its novelty, due to lack of previous knowledge of such matters. The trembling of the body ceased soon afterwards but he was perplexed further when he found that he had a black shivalingam (a stone symbol of Shiva), eighteen inches or so in height, in his hands instead of the fruit. This was not the end of his mystification because immediately after that emerged, from the Shivalingam, an exceedingly beautiful divine form of a yogi, made of luminous light. The yogi was over seven feet tall and had matted hair tied in a knot on his head. He had a commanding and awe inspiring presence. In his bewildered state, Sathyaraju thought that he was a member of the Jangam Devar, a sect of holy men devoted to Shiva, commonly found in the area. Later, towards the close of his tapas, he discovered the true identity of the yogi; it was Ishwara (God) in the form of Sri Shankar Bhagwan who had appeared that day as his divine guru and guided him during tapas and subsequent to its completion also. The Divine Being asked Sathyaraju (in Telugu) to sit in padamasana, a traditional yogic posture adopted for meditation for long periods. Sri Shankar Bhagwan taught Sathyaraju how to adopt it when the latter expressed his ignorance about it. Thereafter, the yogi touched the brikuti (space between the eyebrows) of Sathyaraju, who immediately went into samadhi, oblivious of the vision that he had just seen as also of his friends. The Divine Guru thus initiated Sathyaraju in tapas yoga in this unique manner. Prior to this moment, he had no inkling of what lay in store for him nor had he sought any spiritual goal. A young boy with no previous interest in yoga was suddenly asked, that day, to sit for an exceptionally difficult form of tapas, which would transform him into a yogi of iconic stature.
The strange drama took place in a flash and none of the other boys noticed anything extraordinary till Sathyaraju sat down in the yogic posture, a little away from them. Their reaction was that he was pretending to be a holy man. They tried to wake him up, at first by teasing and then through rough treatment, which included plastering of mud on his body and a dip in the canal. After a little while, Sathyaraju’s friends got alarmed because there was no response from him to the rather violent treatment. Some boys then informed Sathyaraju’s family. As it happened, his mother and grandfather were away to Kakinada but his uncle, accompanied by four or five persons, went to the canal bund to investigate the matter. Apprehensive that ghosts possessed Sathyaraju, one of them struck him, a few times, with a wooden staff. This brought Sathyaraju to semi-consciousness of his surroundings but even that was obscured by the vision of the lingam. He was, however, forcibly carried to his home but his uncle and others could not, despite many determined attempts, take him inside through the door. His legs would get stuck with the doorsill. He was then made to sit in the outer veranda of the house. By now the news had spread to the village and a large number of them gathered around the house. Many tried to talk to Sathyaraju; most thought it was play-acting or a spirit had entered his body. However, it was an old man named Peddakamaraju who divined Sathyaraju’s state and advised everyone to leave him in peace. Most people dispersed to their homes by about 8 p.m. leaving Sathyaraju alone with the family, who, concerned that he had not eaten since the morning, forced him to gulp a glass of milk. After everyone had retired for the night, Sathyaraju, still in divine inebriation, went back to the canal bank to continue his samadhi. He spent the entire night completely absorbed in it, despite the heavy monsoon rain. The faith that ordinary rural folk have in holy men was evident the next morning when a few kindly souls decided to physically lift him and placed him under a palmyra leaf umbrella constructed under a banyan tree, which is still standing at almost the end of the village street, to protect him from rain. However, the derision and taunting continued but Sathyaraju was totally indifferent to what was happening around him. On the night of 8th August, some villagers also heard the sound of Omkar emanating from the spot where Sathyaraju was sitting. Again, some people carried him to his house. Tired by the events of the last two days, he went to sleep, after a light repast of milk. It was the last sleep that he was to have for the next few years. The morning of third day again saw him on the canal bund to continue with his tapas. He was worshipped there, for the first time, with incense and flowers by a lady from the village. The offering that she made of a coconut was distributed to others as prasad (consecrated fruit or food). Later in the afternoon, on the request of a few villagers, Sathyaraju shifted to the protection of a canopy made by them of palmyra leaves under the banyan tree. That evening, his mother and grandfather returned from Kakinada. They were deeply disturbed by what they had heard about Sathyaraju’s state. His mother was particularly inconsolable; she cried and wailed loudly and beseeched him to return home. It had no effect on Sathyaraju. It was then that his wise grandfather, seeing the boy’s resolve, blessed him to continue with his quest. His mother was gradually reconciled to her son doing tapas and decided to serve him as best as she could. She would stay near him as much as her household chores permitted. Sathyaraju sat under the banyan tree for the next three months or so. But, it was by no means a comfortable and trouble free stay. Some quarrelsome boys who would earlier get a thrashing from Sathyaraju now took it on themselves to take their revenge. They had observed that Sathyaraju had not reacted to snide remarks nor to any physical assaults. Emboldened by it, some vicious youngsters would beat him with sticks till some passer-by or a neighbour would chase them away. Once, some nasty boys threw a piece of burning cloth on him. He was saved from serious burn by the ministration of a village elder. Although at times Sathyaraju had a vague awareness of the harassment yet it did not deter him from continuing with practice because he was so deeply and completely absorbed in the supreme Silence and detached from the body even at that very stage of the tapas. On 18 November 1949, he shifted to the small burial ground, adjoining the village, to escape from his tormenters who had continued to harass him relentlessly. Before that, he even tried to stay at an ashrama in the neighbouring village, Pasalapudi, but had to return after a day due to hostile reception from its incharge. The burial ground became his tapas sathana (place of tapas) for the next twelve years. A small two storey building (ashrama) has now come up there and Sri Balayogi used to stay in it whenever he visited Adivarpupetta. He was buried in the same ashrama when he shed his body on 29 March 1994.
The news of Sathyaraju’s tapas soon spread to neighbouring towns and villages. In January 1950, the district collector of the area, Sundram Pillai, accompanied by Narsimahamurthy, the tehsildar (revenue official), visited Sathyaraju during his midnight break and asked him if he could render any service. Sathyaraju asked for a tiger skin to sit on to continue with his tapas. This was provided and the tehsildar had a wooden platform constructed in a thatched hut for Sathyaraju to sit on. Later, in October 1950, a 12 feet by 12 feet room was built, on a piece of land next to the burial ground, due to the efforts of Pillai and Narsimahamurthy, for Sathyaraju to continue with his tapas. It was kept locked and the key to it was in the custody of his mother, who had taken it upon herself oversee to his welfare, specially feed him properly. She would open the room daily a little before midnight and offer him a glass of milk. The tehsildar also organised a village committee to look after Sathyaraju. He also started sending regular donations to Srimati Parvathamma to buy fruit and milk for her son. A well was also dug close to the room for Sathyaraju’s daily bath. The room now forms part of a small temple, dedicated to Sri Shankar Bhagwan, that was constructed in the area after the completion of the tapas. Apart from his mother, Narsimahamurthy was one of the earliest devotees who rendered lifelong service to Sathyaraju. In January 1951, Tapaswiji Maharaj, a holy man of the Udasi order, came to visit Sathyaraju. Tapaswiji was a prince (of Patiala State) but had renounced the world, at the age of fifty years, in search of God and when he died in October 1955, he was 187 years of age. He had an ashrama (hermitage) at Kakinada and when he heard of Sathyaraju’s tapas he went to visit him. During the meeting, Tapaswiji realised by the power of his yogic vision that the former was a great saint who had taken birth to perform a divine mission. He also came to know that Sathyaraju was, in a previous incarnation, Sri Chand, son of Guru Nanak, who had founded the Udasi sect and Tapaswiji was a disciple of his at that time. After talking to him for some time, he advised Sathyaraju to take milk regularly; otherwise, the body would not remain fit for the severe penance (of tapas) that he was practising. He bought a cow and left it with Sathyaraju’s mother for providing him with milk diet. Sri Tapaswiji visited Sathyaraju on a few occasions subsequently. Once in March 1951, Tapaswiji applied medicated oil that he had prepared on Sathyaraju’s body to relieve him of the agonising pain caused by a burning sensation all over the body. Tapaswiji had learnt many an ayurvedic (Indian system of medicine) cure from yogis when he had lived in the Himalayas. One of the unique formula that he knew was of kayakalpa that rejuvenates an aging body and makes it young. That was the secret of Tapaswiji’s longevity. Sri Sivabala Yogi was to try thrice the same technique of kayakalpa under the guidance of a disciple of Sri Tapaswiji, though with somewhat indifferent results, in later years.
The tapas yoga practiced by Sathyaraju is associated with the four cardinal directions. The essence of this yogic discipline has been explained in Chapter 32 of Guru Upanishad. He began his tapas with the eastern direction and attained its siddhi (successful completion) on 28 October 1953. Thereafter, he did tapas of the northern direction till August 1955. The siddhi of the western direction was attained on 25 June 1956 and southern direction in May 1957.
The last four years were spent doing tapas of the eastern direction again and during this period Sathyaraju was in samadhi for only twelve hours a day. The remainder of the time was used to give darshan (i.e. devotees could meet him), rest etc. Sri Shankar Bhagwan used to give instructions to Sathyaraju every time he sat for tapas facing a different cardinal direction. He would also manifest in-between when the need arose. At the end of Sathyaraju’s tapas, the divine Guru appeared before him on 01 August 1961 and complimented him on his unwavering devotion and firm resolution to accomplish his goal. He gave him certain instructions for his divine mission. He also named Sathyaraju as Sivabala Yogeshwara. Sathyaraju later changed this to Sivabala Yogi since the word, Yogeshwara, means Lord of the yogis and it is an appellation for God. He did not want to create any misapprehensions in the minds of his devotees by laying any claim to divinity. The name, Sivabala Yogi, signifies a boy yogi devoted to Siva and His consort, Bala. But, his devotees always referred to him as Swamiji. He began to initiate devotees in meditation (dhyana) during the last four years of tapas.
The completion of Sri Swamiji’s tapas was celebrated by thousands of his devotees on 07 August 1961. Thereafter, he started regular initiation of devotees into meditation that was always followed by kirtan (devotional singing). It was done near the dhyana mandir (i.e. the room in which Sri Sivabala yogi had done tapas). Sri Swamiji left Adivarpupetta for the first time on 21 Mar 1963 to propagate his mission. He visited the ashramas of Sri Tapaswiji Maharaj at Kakinada and Mysore. He also paid short visits to Madras and Doddallapuram. A large number of people were initiated into meditation at these places. On the request of Sri Kasetti Srinivasalu, Sri Swamiji visited Bangalore for the first time in the summer of 1963. The former donated an acre of land for establishment of an ashrama on Bannerghatta Road, Bangalore, which was opened by Sri Swamiji on 07 August 1963. It became his headquarters till it was shifted to another ashrama on a four-acre plot in JP Nagar, a couple of kilometres away from the old ashrama, on 07 August 1977. Sri Swamiji spent most of his time in this ashrama except when he was touring other parts of the country. He visited north India for the first time when he came to Dehradun, in May 1965, on the invitation of Bhag Singh Lamba. The Maharaja and Maharani of Patna were his devotees and they donated their house on Rajpur Road in Dehradun for conversion into an ashrama. After suitable modifications it was opened on 13 February 1972. It became the chief centre of his activities in the north. After 1965, Sri Swamiji toured various parts of the country, mostly by road, on a regular annual basis. He usually spent his birthday at Bangalore, Mahashivratri (a festival devoted to the worship of Sri Shankar Bhagwan, the divine guru of Sri Swamiji), in February/March, at Adivarpupetta and the early part of the summer at Dehradun. 07 August, the day he sat for tapas and also the day of its completion, was invariably celebrated at Bangalore. Sri Swamiji had, during his lifetime, visited practically every part of the country. Some of the other ashrams are located at Sambhar Lake, Farrukabad, Hydrabad and Ananthpur. He also visited Sri Lanka a number of times. Sri Swamiji embarked upon a tour of the western world for the first time in the summer of 1987 with a visit to London. He went to the USA in 1988 and also to the UK. His last visit to USA was in the autumn of 1990. He initiated a number of devotees into meditation in both countries.
Sri Swamiji had developed diabetes in the late seventies. He took medication off and on but did not bother to continue with regular treatment for any length of time. This led to an aggravation of his condition and it started to deteriorate sharply in the early part of 1991, on his return from USA. His kidneys were affected. Gradually, diabetes struck practically every organ in the body, reducing his activities to the minimum. Though he was gravely ill he did not give up the habit of being present for the daily kirtan. Devotees could approach him, as before, to solve their problems or seek guidance. During the last couple of years of his life Swamiji was confined to the ashrama at Bangalore, except for an occasional visit to nearby places. In the beginning of March 1994, he left for Adivarpupetta to celebrate Shivratri (a night given to the worship of Sri Shankar Bhagwan), as was his wont every year. His condition became very serious from the third week of March onwards and he shed his body on 28 March 1994 at Kakinada in a devotee’s house. He was interred, as per custom, in the ashrama at Adivarpupetta on 02 April 1994.
Practice of tapas yoga in this age (kaliyuga) is extremely rare because of its uncongenial and often harsh conditions. It is fraught with dangers that may prove even fatal. Some of the extraordinary hurdles that Sathyaraju encountered during his twelve years long tapas are recounted below to give serious aspirants some idea of its uniqueness and severity. As a spiritual feat, it is unparalleled in modern times. Performance of tapas, in the gross body, is not an ordinary spiritual phenomenon. Its successful completion depends on an iron resolve and divine grace that ensures overcoming of almost insurmountable obstacles, which a yogi invariably encounters during practice of tapas yoga. To succeed, a yogi requires exceptional courage and unusual mental strength, especially in one’s determination to go ahead, no matter what the cost is. Besides that, one must have purest form of devotion and total detachment from sensual experience. Lastly, the body must be strong and have enough tanmatras (i.e. subtler than neutrinos) of ether in its constitution to bear the torturous hardships to which it is subjected during the tapas. All these factors are very well illustrated in the tapas that Sathyaraju did. His sadhana was beset with unusually perilous and daunting difficulties, hindrances and excruciating bodily suffering right from the beginning. Many misguided people tried to disturb his tapas through ridicule, physical beating and harassment of all kinds. It was specially so during the first three months and, although a few persons from the village began to serve him out of devotion, yet it did not prevent some miscreants to continue troubling him in whatever way they could. The move to the burial ground put a stop to the deliberate interference from mischief-makers because of the fear that such a place causes in the minds of the ignorant. Although it was no more than 40 x 25 metres or so and very close to the village on its south west, yet those who bore enmity with Sathyaraju were mortally afraid of venturing into it because it was known to be an abode of snakes and pests. It had overgrown grass and the eerie silence of dark nights struck fear even amongst the most stout hearted of them. But it did not end Sathyaraju’s pain and agony, which continued in a different form and, in fact, became much worse. A few of the inflictions that he suffered during the tapas period, especially during the first eight years, are as much a proof of the exacting nature of tapas yoga as of his strong will power to bear them. Snakes, including venomous king cobras, bit Sathyaraju on a number of occasions. Rodents nibbled at his flesh, hordes of mosquitoes bit him at will and colonies of ants and insects crawled over his body as he sat motionless in samadhi in an enclosed space of a few square meters in that humid and energy sapping climate. His constantly perspiring body was covered with dirt and bird droppings. At least for the first eight years he had practically no or little rest or sleep, as he was in constant tapas, except for a half hour break prior to midnight for a bath and normal bodily functions. Even that was discontinued for several months, at times, when he remained in uninterrupted tapas. During the last four years, he used to rest for a couple of hours, which included some sleep. Throughout the period of tapas he suffered agonising stomach aches many times. Sathyaraju lived on just a glass of cow’s milk (or Horlicks) for the first eight years and thereafter it was supplemented by small quantities of fruit. For many months, when he was in deep continuous samadhi, he did not eat or drink anything. Sathyaraju was totally oblivious of his body as he sat motionless, hands firmly clasped with each other, in padamasana, day in and day out, month after month and year after year (except for the daily half hour break at midnight). Time itself stood still, as he had transcended its very notion. There was a time, after a few years of tapas, when he could not separate his hands from each other, as their flesh had glued together, due to constant clasping, and his fingers became stiff and permanently bent at the middle. Once, Sathyaraju’s body suffered intense burning sensation when an evil person practised black magic on him. The agony was so great that it brought tears in his eyes. All such happenings had their toll on his body, which was reduced to an emaciated state. But, he did not give up his tapas. His filth covered hair grew long (upto the waist level) into matted locks (jatas) and he retained them (including a beard) like that even after the tapas was completed. For almost three years, he lost control over his limbs, due to constant sitting in one position and, also, by the wounds on his body caused by the venom of cobras and the nibbling of rats etc. He underwent immense pain when he had to attend to his basic bodily functions even after tapas because they had lost their mobility as he had sat in one place for so long. At times, during tapas, he used to drag himself to a bucket of water, placed outside his hut to take a bath. Sathyaraju was a very healthy child with a sturdy build, which, in normal course, would have developed into a robust and vigorous constitution. But, the growth of his body was affected by the continuous tapas and, more particularly, by the lack of a proper diet. Throughout his later life, his body lacked the vitality that he would have otherwise had but for the tapas. The saga of Sathyaraju’s tapas is too recent a phenomenon (there are many eye witnesses who are still alive) to be dismissed as a fraudulent myth even by the so called rationalists. As a spiritual accomplishment, it is of epochal importance, which is marked by rare courage and unmatched devotion that no ordinary yogi, leave alone an aspirant, could have displayed. It is an awe inspiring epic that is scripted by the Lord only for the greatest yogis as part of the wondrous divine drama. It is a shining example of a disciple’s (i.e. Sathyaraju’s) steadfastness to do his guru’s (i.e. Sri Shankar Bhagwan’s) bidding in a desireless and fearless manner, despite the great suffering. Although ordinary aspirants do not undergo hardships on the scale described above, yet there is a lesson for them to hold Sri Sivabala Yogi’s pure devotion, sincerity and determination as an example to succeed in their quests. It is difficult to find a rational way to explain how the body lived through such unsparing distress for such a long time. In later years, Sri Sivabala Yogi used to say that he would pass off into samadhi, after the break at midnight, with the greatest ease, inspite of his bodily afflictions. One can only marvel at such stupendous detachment, because, it must not be forgotten, the general feeling of bodily suffering does not cease even in state of Realisation. Sri Sivabala Yogi was once asked if he did not feel the bodily pain when he sat in meditation, as he used to during the evening kirtan (devotional singing). His answer was revealing and instructive. Yes, he replied, the pain is there but he accepts it as a challenge (to fight and overcome it). He had a similar resolve during his tapas. More than all that was the extraordinary divine grace that ensured that he would not falter. Sathyaraju had surrendered to his Guru from the moment of his initiation and it was His grace that made it possible for him to succeed.
There was only one instance when Sathyaraju’s firm resolve to practise tapas yoga wavered a little. A deadly cobra bit Sathyaraju in December 1949, as he was going from the burial ground to the canal, for his daily midnightly bath. So deep was his detachment from the body that he ignored the bite and went back into samadhi after the bath. However, the venom had its effect on the body in the form of discoloration of the skin and gangrene set in after a few days. The bodily pain was intense and excruciating. This coupled with the mental and physical agony of the past few months almost made Sathyaraju give up tapas. Fed up with the increasing suffering, he decided to return home but met his Guru on the way. He told him not to give up tapas and assured him of divine grace and protection. He gave him a mantra, which cured him of his bodily afflictions. This apparent show of weakness spurred Sathyaraju to vow that he would not ever succumb to any doubt nor would he accept defeat at the hands of evil forces ranged against him. He thus converted a momentary loss of faith into an abiding source of impregnable strength. He was to be bitten by cobras again but the mantra given by his guru ensured that the venom was ineffective on his body. All through his tapas, he went through unimaginable physical torture in a body impoverished by lack of proper diet but he never ever thought of giving it up again.
Sri Sivabala Yogi’s story would be incomplete without a mention of his mother, Srimati Parvathamma. There was an unbreakable bond of love between them, which transcended their relationship of the current life. She was a simple and unassuming motherly figure who served Sri Swamiji during the entire period of tapas and later at the ashrama at Bangalore. She was very tender hearted, pious and full of all-pervasive love, especially for the poor and the needy and would serve cheerfully all those who came to see Sri Swamiji. Although she displayed no outward spiritual tendencies, yet she was not an ordinary lady. It is borne out by Sri Swamiji’s revelation, made many times, that his mother protected him from many dangers after her death. She passed away on 15 Jun 1976 at Bangalore and a small shrine was constructed in her memory, in the premises of the Bannerghatta ashrama. Knowing her divine stature, the Guru would invariably seek her blessings there before embarking on any important venture. Before her death, she had requested him to look after the family, which he did till his end.
Of a stout built with medium height and a dusky complexion, Sri Swamiji wore only a loin cloth in the summer months but covered himself with a shawl in winters. He had a lovable and child like nature with a great sense of humour. There was hardly any time, except during meditation and kirtan, when he was not in a jovial and frolicsome mood. He would always be cracking jokes and enjoyed a hearty laugh. He had a bewitching smile, which came to him readily. For a person of no formal schooling, he had an astonishingly good knowledge of politics, economic problems, technical details about cars and electrical appliances, construction of buildings, income tax laws and host of other similar subjects. Being firmly established in absolute Silence, he would often mix up the past with the future while talking. Sri Swamiji had picked up a number of languages, mainly from hearing from others. Besides all South Indian languages he could speak Hindi and had a working understanding of English. He had a quaint manner of speaking, which was altogether charming and endearing in its effect. For example, he would speak in Hindi with a liberal mix of words from other languages and a new comer would often find it difficult to understand him initially. But, once one got used to it one found that it was a very expressive way of talking. He had an excellent memory; he would not forget a person if he had met him or her even once casually. Possessed of an incisive intelligence and a keen sense of observation, he would always have the last word on any subject that was being talked about in general. Sri Sivabala Yogi did exhibit some marked personal qualities. Chief amongst them was his all pervasive love that permitted everyone to approach him easily. He could not say no to any request nor turn anyone away. When told once that he was very compassionate, he corrected the person concerned that his sole motivation for acting was love. He did not ever forget those who rendered him some personal service and they were recipients of his abundant grace. Although very soft hearted yet he could be very firm with devotees if it was for their benefit. He had a never die spirit and was invariably in an upbeat mood. Be that it may, Sri Sivabala Yogi’s most distinctive trait was fearlessness. He could not have gone through the very demanding nature of tapas without it. He had this attribute even as a small boy; once, he stood his ground facing a furious cobra when all his playmates had run away and it was the snake that beat a hasty retreat. This was one characteristic that no one failed to notice in his conduct in his life after completion of tapas.
A typical day in Sri Swamiji’s life would begin in the early morning by a thorough and vigorous bodily massage with a generous dose of coconut oil (almost a small bottle) mixed with lemon juice. This was carried out by devotees, who often numbered four or five, and would last for an hour. Daily oil massage was essential as the internal yogic heat (brahman agni), generated as a result of tapas, was so intense that it caused dryness in the body. Apart from that, it exercised the muscles. More often than not, he found the massage so relaxing that despite the vigour with which it was done he would fall asleep. He would ask his masseurs to have breakfast in his presence before he went for a bath in lukewarm water. This was followed by breakfast. Sri Swamiji used to rest after that and then, prior to lunch, talk to some of his disciples who wanted guidance privately. This period was also spent in sorting out administrative problems in the ashrama where he was staying. The afternoon was spent in a similar fashion and it was also used by him to give instructions for replies to be sent to the letters from devotees, meet aspirants and tell them stories from the Puranas and other scriptures. Sometimes he would talk about the current situation in the country and how it affected the poor for whom he had a special concern. He gave initiation for meditation to everyone who sought it from 5.30 p.m. onwards. It lasted for an hour, which was always followed by kirtan (devotional singing) for an hour or so. Devotees could sing hymns composed by saints in any language. Thereafter, they could approach him to seek his blessings or seek his advice to solve personal problems. This would carry on till 8.30 p.m. or so. After that, Sri Swamiji would retire to his private quarters. Some of his close disciples were then permitted to sit in his company and could ask him questions. Sri Swamiji would always insist that they have dinner with him, though he himself would eat alone after everyone had done so. Every visitor to the ashrama was invited to have his or her food there. He was very particular about this and once a week, on Sundays, and on special occasions like his own birthday and that of other saints (of all creeds and religions), mass feeding of devotees was organised. He would be present throughout the occasion to insure that everyone was fed well. Similarly, visitors to the ashrama were looked after on his personal directions. Sri Swamiji was not a heavy eater and took simple food. Usually, breakfast and lunch consisted of rice based South Indian preparations (with plenty of chillies) and dinner was of chapattis (made of wheat flour), dal (cooked lentils) and vegetables. Sometimes, he would visit the homes of close devotees, on special requests, and then partake of whatever was offered. He was very fond of cooking and would often cook for his devotees. Sri Swamiji used to sleep around mid-night, though he seldom slept for more than two to three hours at a stretch. He would make up his sleep by short naps prior to or after lunch.
Sri Swamiji’s method of teaching was simple but very efficacious for those who practised it earnestly. He taught primarily in absolute Silence for which no formal instruction was required. His initiation was enough to set an aspirant on the right track to attain liberation, provided he or she put in the required effort. Physical contact with him was not at all essential. However, this path requires a certain degree of spiritual maturity and a willingness and ability to surrender one’s self to the guru. There are very few seekers of this calibre, specially in this age (kaliyuga) that is characterised by extreme selfishness. Sri Swamiji, therefore, modified the path of Silence to make It work through that of atman dhyana (meditation on the self), which has been briefly explained in Chapter 3. Even the latter discipline is not an easy one to pursue for most aspirants. He used to, therefore, give only preliminary initiation for meditation on the self and, depending on one’s spiritual progress, capability and temperament, would impart further instruction subsequently. This was also done in Silence, which often manifested by giving directions during meditation or through dreams. Some aspirants were given a divine name or a mantra for repetition in this manner; an odd one was initiated into self enquiry while the others carried on with meditation on the self. But, in all cases, guidance came from within, specially through the medium of bhava, which implies that the Guru’s tapas shakti manifested temporarily in a seeker’s mind to answer doubts, remove hurdles and keep his or her quest alive. Unfortunately, there were not many aspirants who cared to understand the Guru’s teaching and fewer still who practised it at all. Mesmerised as ordinary jivas are with material gains, all that they could request Sri Swamiji was for promotions in their jobs, good health, birth of male children and so on. Rarely did anyone ask an intelligent question on spiritual matters. It was like going to a limitless ocean of wealth and walking back with a pebble picked up from its shore. Such is the state of spirituality in kaliyuga. It must, however, be emphasised that the adorable Guru himself was not despondent with this attitude of devotees and was invariably most gracious to everyone who sought his blessings for whatever reason. He encouraged all of them to do as much service (sewa) as they could. Ritualism played no role in the practice of meditation as taught by Sri Sivabala Yogi and formal rites, when performed, were mainly to celebrate certain occasions (e.g. birthdays of saints) in a traditional manner. Sri Sivabala Yogi did not ever give sermons nor did he advise seekers to read any particular scripture. Everyone was free to do so according to his or her mental proclivity. There was no ceremony involved during initiation. It was a simple affair in which a devotee of Sri Sivabala Yogi would apply vibhuti (sacred ash), consecrated by the latter, on the brikuti (space between eye brows) of aspirants. They were then told, in a few sentences, how to meditate. His greatest stress was on practice and more practice. He did not ever enter into disputations on the doctrinal aspects of Reality nor did he criticise other saints’ teachings. He regarded all sages of the past with respect and celebrated their birthdays by distribution of food to the poor and singing of kirtan (devotional music), which was undoubtedly an essential element of his teaching. People came to him from all corners of the world; everyone was welcome, no matter to which denomination, caste, gender, race etc one subscribed to. He made it specially clear that women were as capable of attaining liberation as men. The earliest and well known example of teaching in absolute Silence is that of Sri Dakshnimurthy, who instructed some highly evolved souls in this method at the beginning of the present time cycle. Sri Sivabala Yogi’s unique contribution to spiritual heritage of mankind is to revive and keep alive this most effective of all disciplines in this dark age. To conform to its spirit, he generally discouraged questions from students who were not pursuing their quests seriously. He would advise everyone to meditate to know the answer to doubts because Silence alone can resolve them. It must not, however, be concluded that he did not ever entertain questions. He would readily reply to a query if it was raised by an earnest disciple or give some instruction on his own if he felt that it would help the latter. His replies were invariably one liners pregnant with profound meaning and the questioner had to be very discriminative to understand it. Many an answer would contain a reply to a doubt that was likely to arise in a devotee’s mind later. Although he had not studied any scripture, yet he could elaborate their teaching, for the benefit of devotees, on certain esoteric and obscure aspects.
A discerning reader of this work would have been struck by the liberal and catholic nature of its teaching. Its primary message is that all tenets in a spiritual discourse are valid and relevant for those who seek liberation and want to put an end to their ignorance and that religious dogma and bias have no place in it. Further, one need not necessarily be religious, as commonly understood by most people, to pursue a spiritual quest, which, in its essence, deals with control of mind. A rational person with a scientific nature is even more suited to conduct such an enquiry. The great yogi personified an approach like that as a guru. He did not accept pre-destination of actions and declared emphatically many times that jivas have the will power and intelligence to change fate provided they do sadhana (practice). He used to advise seekers to be mentally strong to progress in spiritual or worldly life. He clarified many times that he belonged no religion or sect or creed and the sole purpose of his coming was to show people the way to God and freedom. He was specially concerned about the poor and the deprived and said often that it gave him immense peace to feed them. His grace was, and still is, all pervasive and it was, and still is, available to anyone who sought it (or seeks it now). Most gurus are selective in accepting devotees but Sri Sivabala Yogi’s uniqueness was that his initiation was not denied to anyone. He was an ideal guru for those who were prepared to practice his teaching. He imposed no restrictions of any kind on aspirants, i.e., in matters of diet, posture, timings of meditation, conduct, celibacy and so on. They were free to develop spiritually by self effort made in the privacy of their homes, without any change in their life styles and in their own ways. He taught that any undesirable habit(e.g. drinking) would be given up on its own once one begins to practices meditation regularly. For instance the desire for eating meat that is not conducive to serious practise would disappear automatically. Similarly, silent guidance, an affect of his tapas power imparted at the time of initiation, would take care of matters such as diet, posture etc that has variations to each individual. He would often tell devotees to educate their children well so that they could adapt themselves to conditions of modern life and make an honest living. He could never, out of infinite love, say no to an aspirant’s request, even when it pertained to worldly matters. Many people gained materially through his grace. The great suffering that he went through in the last few years of his life was for the sake of devotees, many of whose karma he expiated through his body. Not only that, his incredibly severe tapas and, in fact, his entire life was devoted to save all those who took (or take) refuge in him. Most gracious of the yogis, the beloved Guru said once that he would carry a truly devoted disciple on the palm of his hand to the Lord. What greater assurance does a genuine devotee need? Can there be an easier way to attain the goal?
Sri Sivabala Yogi was one of the supreme teachers of the world. The highest class of teaching contained in this work is a testimony of the above assertion. No praise is too high for the venerable divine Guru who was none else but the Lord. It is Gurprasad’s firm conviction that the holy Sri Sivabala Yogi was an embodied form of Ishwara (God) and there is enough evidence of this in the preceding Chapters. More than that, who else but a divine incarnation could have gone through the mind boggling and awe inspiring tapas? Who else could have spent an entire life time in Turiyatitta (the State Beyond The Fourth)? It must, however, be stated that he did not ever affirm his divine status and usually kept silent when questioned on it. His past history, revealed in meditation, leaves no scope for doubt that he has been amongst the greatest gurus and avtaras (incarnations) since the beginning of time. He was the embodiment of pure love, divine knowledge and power of yoga, who was a real spiritual giant of our times. Blessed indeed are those who had his darshan (i.e. met him) but who can count the blessings of those who practise his teaching? When comes another like him?
For a serious sadhak (aspirant), Sri Sivabala Yogi’s saga is a fascinating account of how earnest practice is done. There is much to learn from the way he conducted his tapas, specially the role that divine qualities like fearlessness, devotion, faith, determination, perseverance and so on play to succeed in any spiritual quest. The more advanced one wants to be in a spiritual discipline, the more of the above attributes one should have. Sri Sivabala Yogi was very reluctant to talk about himself or his tapas. There are many aspects of his life, mission and the exceptionally sublime experiences that he had during tapas, which are generally not known. He has been gracious enough to reveal some of them in the answers to the questions asked in the pages that follow. They supplement the brief biographical sketch outlined in the earlier paragraphs. Some so called modern minded readers might perhaps be sceptical about a few of the extraordinary events that would be brought out later. They are not asked to suspend their disbelief but at the same time they ought to keep their minds open to accept that even scientific research is generally viewed incredulously by some people initially. Galileo was persecuted by ignorant persons who had closed their minds to any new discovery. There is still a large number of people in and around Adivarpupetta who were eyewitnesses to the story of Sri Sivabala Yogi’s tapas. A doubting Thomas is advised to investigate and enquire things rationally rather than jump to hasty conclusions arrived at with inadequate knowledge of spiritual matters. Let a reader be not like a blind man who doubts the existence of the sun because he cannot see it. Sri Sivabala Yogi was addressed as Swamiji by the devotees and he would also refer to himself in the third person (i.e. as Swamiji) while talking. This scheme has been adhered to in the questions and answers that follow. Many of Sri Swamiji’s replies have a general spiritual significance and they complement some of the points made in earlier chapters. Although Sri Sivabala Yogi is no more in the physical sense, yet he lives in the subtle body till the final dissolution of the universe. Some of the questions and their replies are reflective of this premise.