Saturday, May 2, 2009


AFTER HIS RETURN from Varnappalli, Nanu Chattambi recovered from his illness. He then started a school at Kadakkavur and later at Anchuthengu, teaching young boys to read, write and study. It was then that Nanu Chattambi became Nanu Ashan(teacher).

While he was a teacher at Anchuthengu he used to live in the precincts of the Jnaneswaram temple close by. Spending his leisure hours in prayer and meditation, people saw him then as a strictly celibate and religious-minded youth. He conducted Gita classes in the temple for the benefit of those who hungered and thirsted after righteousness.

The verses he composed at that time show him as searching for the true meaning of life, accepting some ideas and rejecting others, as if saying in his own youthful way, ‘Not this, not this’ and then coming to new concepts only to cast them too aside again. His continual aspirations took the form of prayers to Ishta devata (tutelary deity) where he adorned the deity with abstract attributes which carried metaphysical undertones, changing the terms from verse to verse as his spirit rose upwards. Siva was hisIshta-Devata, whom he worshipped:

Oh! God I am not eager to attain that beatitude
Where Thou and I merge into one.
All paths, even those other than that of Siva
Are all in the ultimate sense paths of Siva.

He had left worldly yearnings behind. And yet worldly bonds of flesh continued to vex him. Pulled as he was between this world and the other, we see him taking refuge in Siva as the saviour from the trammels of the flesh:

Siva, Siva, there is none equal to thee.
Knowing all this,
Still am I straying
Among puzzling thoughts that
Lead me, to what?
Siva is the refuge to protect us from yearnings that lead us astray.
Our favourite god, Ishta-Devata, (tutelary deity) guides us thus along the
spiritual path which leads us on and on, up and up.

Indian mythology has always been part of a living culture, even forthe greatest
Adwaitic sages, like Sankara, Sri Ramakrishna Paramaharasa, Ramana Maharshi and Sree Narayana Guru. They used ancient beliefs as a chemist uses raw materials, moulding them in the white-hot crucible of their tapas (penance) to fit them into the metaphysical concept of God, one God and the only God. True, these implications were understood only by the chosen few but they affected all. These tapaswis (those who undertake penance) treated the great body of accumulated myths as a source of symbols also with which to express philosophical ideas in their hymns. Inevitably, the myths around those symbols themselves were metamorphosed poetically to conform to the ideas that they were now made to symbolize.
Marriage The ecstasies into which bhakti led him were once again conceived by people at large as the cranks of youths when physical changes and the sexual urge confuse them altogether. Marriage had proved a cure to several youths whose waywardness seemed very much like the outwards signs of spiritual yearnings. Nanu should get married, thought his relatives. This time their persuasions proved fruitful. He submitted himself to undergo the ceremonies. His innate reluctance not blankly to oppose other people’s views led him to go through the ceremonies. The
wedding ceremonies, however, shook him up. He returned to his own celibate ways. The marriage was not consummated. He did not go to the bride’s house. Nor did he return home. Nevertheless, the Vatthi (barber) who had officiated as a marriage-broker wore down Nanu Bhakta’s resistance and persuaded him at least to visit his wife.

He went and sat on the “half wall” in the verandah of the lady’shouse. She brought him sweets and plantains. Nanu Ashan took someplantains and giving some of them to the barber, ate one or two himself.After that, he got up and said to all the inmates in general and to no one in particular.

“People are born in this world with diverse objectives. You and I have different paths to tread. You would do well to follows yours. Let me follow mine.”

So saying, he got up and walked away.

Avadhoota (Strange and Frightful in Form)

Nanu Swami went out into the world at large, as did all saints, who were eager to understand the secrets of life, cutting himself away from the bonds of flesh. People saw him wandering from place to place, at all time of the night and day. They saw him on hilltops, they saw him in the dales, they saw him on the seashore and they saw him in jungles. Always thinking, thinking. They saw him saying his prayers or lost in deep meditation in the temples also. Pandits (scholars) were reminded of the description of yogin (ascetic) in the Gita “ Aniketa Sthiramathi ”, a person whose abode is ever-changing but whose mind is always steady. During that period in his life, Nanu Swami used to be a frequentvisitor to Perunelly, the house of V.K. Krishnan Vaidiar. The large collection of religious books in Sanskrit and Tamil which Vaidiar had in his possession was his sole attraction there.

The Swami’s determination to remain celibate called for greatstrength of will. Even so, it was not an easy task to conquer the urges ofsex. We see him praying to Siva:

“Your third eye that commands
The worship of Narahari Moorthy
Did consume to ashes
The god Cupid, long long ago.
Why is he then bothering me now?
Consume him to ashes once again, Oh Lord.”

Here, prayers serve him as means for attaining mental strength. Another frequent visitor at Krishnan Vaidiar’s house was Kunjan Pillai (a Savarna) known as Shanmukha Das and affectionately called Chattambi Swamigal. He was a great scholar, a sage, a sanyasi and a yogin (ascetic), all rolled into one. Nanu Ashan and Chattambi Swamigal met. As they were proceeding on the same path to spirituality, they fell in step and were together for days on end. Chattambi Swami introduced Sree Narayana Guru to Thaikkat Ayyavu, a Tamilian who had practices
yoga to a very high stage, but had, for some reason or other, become a householder and an official. Under Ayyavu, Nanu Ashan learned the practice of yoga.


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