Sri Sacchidananda Shivabhinava Narasimha Bharati Swamigal is the unfamiliar name of that most familiar, magnificent and divine Personality that gracefully adorned the throne of the world-famous Sringeri Sharada Mutt on the banks of the pure Tunga. His Holiness Jagadguru Sri Sacchidananda Shivabhinava Narasimha Bharati Mahaswamigal who adorned the Dakshinamnaya Sringeri Sharada Peetham as its 33rd pontiff is regarded as the very incarnation of Sri Adi Shankaracharya. He was the famous Acharya who rediscovered Kaladi, the birthplace of Adi Shankaracharya. He was such a divine personage who infused universal love in the minds of all. His activities were many sided. His knowledge was omniscient. His devotion was intense. His sympathy was universal and purely contagious. No man was ushered into His holy presence who did not go back full of noble resolve to lead thenceforward a purer and a more exalted life. To hear of Him was a pleasure. To see Him was a privilege. To speak to Him was a real blessing and to be granted a special interview - Ah! That was the acme of happiness, which people coveted most in all earnestness. The magnetic force of His wonderful personality was such that one word, nay one smile or even one look was quite enough to convert even the most indifferent of persons into his most ardent and obedient of disciples. He was well known among his disciples as the simple "Sringeri Jagadguru".
Born of highly learned and pious parents, he inherited at his very birth all the learning and piety and the religious fervor of his father, Sri Kunigal Rama Shastrigal, the famous Vidvan at the court of the Maharaja Krishna Raja Wodayar III of Mysore and the favored disciple of the renowned Tryambaka Shastrigal of the Court of the Peshwas of Poona. Even as an infant of two years, he lisped out the stotras repeated by his father and danced with him in his Agnihotra house. Even then he used to smear himself with holy ashes and play with the children at worshipping the Gods. The child was the father of the man and even at a very early age he exhibited traces of all the characteristics that went in later years to make him the greatest of all mortals. At the age of eight he was invested with the sacred thread by his elder brother the well known Sri Lakshmi Nrsimha Shastrigal and soon after he was initiated into the Sanyasa asrama by the then Jagadguru of the Sringeri Mutt Sri Ugra Nrsimha Bharati Swamigal, and this was the signal for the exhibition of his greatness.
Sri Sri Ugra Nrsimha Bharati Swamigal, the 32end Shankaracharya of Sri Sringeri Sharada Peetham was the very incarnation of Sri Nrisimha. He lived for decades, drinking only the juice of the bitter gourd. The divinely inspired miracles performed by this great sage are famous to the present day. To teach a lesson to the proud priests of Madurai Sri Minakshi Temple, he did the Kalakarshana of Sridevi from the main idol into a coconut and placed it in front of the flag-post of the temple. It was only after several years that he reinstalled Prana into the Minakshi idol, after fervent apologies from the priests of the temple. It is also said that Sri Venkatesha of Tirupati gave him Darshan as Nrsimha and warned the Srivaishnava priests of Tirumala who looked down upon the Smarta saint. His lovely composition, Sri Venkatesha Karavalambana Stotra bears a testimony to this incident. It is said that due to intense Upasana of Bhagavan Narasimha, the very form of Swamigal seemed like that of Sri Nrisimha. He initiated Sri Sacchidananda Shivabhinava Narasimha Bharati Swamigal into Sanyasa, reiterating the Truth Shiva-Vishnu Abheda. On the very day he became a Sannyasi it was rather late in the evening when all the necessary rites were finished and when the Sringeri Jagadguru found this young boy of only eight years of age naturally tired, he asked him to retire and when our marvelous young Swami went to sleep he uttered in his sleep the following grand truth for the realization of which the most learned people yearn in vain viz.,`Sarvoham` thus giving out for the first time a glimpse of his universality. Since then, day by day, he became the cynosure of all eyes. His winning personality, his smiling countenance, his many-sided learning, his broad sympathy, his child-like simplicity, his charming innocence, his eager thirst for knowledge, his intense solicitude for the welfare of all, his devout piety, his religious zeal, his earnest belief in the Shastras, his rigorous penance, his innate purity, his easy accessibility, the nobility of his mind, the breadth of his views, the magnanimity of his temper, his universal kindness, his engaging conversation, his retentive memory, and last though not least his munificent generosity - all these attracted towards him every living soul that came in contact with him. None approached him in vain. None went back disappointed.
People flocked to him in crowds and waited at his doors for hours together just to get a glimpse of that divine countenance shedding lustre all around. The moment they got a sight of it they considered themselves the happiest of all human beings. What was it that made them so? It was nothing but the divine luster that shone in his face. It was nothing but the universal sympathy that beamed on his countenance. It was nothing but the marvelous superhuman milk of kindness that flowed from his heart - the heart that always melted in divine ecstasy ever desirous of universal happiness. It was this characteristic that was the most peculiar in him and that asserted his divinity to a great extent. He was always perfectly impartial. Every one was equal in his eyes. He cared not for the riches. He cared not for position. Nothing but Bhakti could attract people to him. Rich or poor, high or low, everybody had to go through the portal of Bhakti to approach his august presence. Every one that came to him, he loved as himself thus exhibiting his divinity. Every one who had even two minutes conversation with him went out of his presence with the full conviction that he was the object of some special love for his Holiness. Who but a divine person could be thus universally beloved? And who but a divine incarnation could thus infuse universal love into the minds of all? Of such a divine personage, it is impossible to draw a sketch. His activities were many-sided. His knowledge was omniscient. His devotion was intense.
His sympathy was universal and his purity contagious. No man was ushered into his holy presence who did not go back full of noble resolve to lead thenceforward a purer and a more exalted life. To hear of him was a pleasure. To see him was a privilege. To speak to him was a real blessing and to be granted a special interview - Ah! That was the acme of happiness that people coveted most in all earnestness. The magnetic force of his wonderful personality was such that one word, nay one smile or even one look was quite enough to convert even the most indifferent of persons into his most ardent and obedient of disciples. His sympathies were thoroughly cosmopolitan. He never confined himself to any particular sect or caste. He was all-tolerant. He belonged to all, irrespective of caste or creed. Was he not the Jagadguru, the guru of the whole world? True to his appellation, he embraced within the sweep of his love, people of all nationalities and of all climes. Brahmins and non-Brahmins, Hindus and Mohammedans, Parsis and Christians, Europeans and Australians all these claimed - they even received equal treatment at the hands of his Holiness. All of them vied with each other in doing homage to him. He knew of no narrow-minded sectarianism in his love. He saw the same Atman i.e., himself in all beings, whatever is their nationality.
Once, at Chennapatna in Mysore Province, when he sat in the midst of a large concourse of Mohammedans who were eager to do him all kinds of service and freely conversed with them to their great enjoyment. He did not know the passing of the time and when at last he was reminded of it and the audience dispersed, he expressed to one who asked him about it that he did not at all feel that he was sitting so close to the Mohammedans, conversing with them but that all along he enjoyed supreme bliss arising from communion with his own Atman. Such was the great Mahatma who always forgot his surroundings and considered every one as his own Self. That was the secret of his immense popularity. Letters came from different parts of the world, from England, from Holland, from Germany, from Australia, from utter strangers, begging for some token, some watch or locket, touched by his Holiness which they may preserve for ever as a talisman to protect them from all evils. Such was the belief in his sanctity even among the modern scientifically advanced nations. He was grand in his simplicity. He was actually rolling in wealth. People would give anything and everything to get his blessings. All comforts that love or money could secure were at his beck and call. Still he was perfectly indifferent to them. He never cared for them. Not only did he not care for them, but he actually did not know the value of them, as we understand it. He did not know the difference between one Rupee and one lakh of Rupees. He considered both as valuable as the mud he was treading on. He would very often lie down on the bare ground and as often wander in lonely forests and derive there from immense pleasure. He would scorn all riches. He would scorn all paraphernalia. But he was tied down by the command of his Guru to a Mutt which, ever since his assuming the reins, had immense riches and large paraphernalia. He felt himself bound thereby. He yearned to be free. He would use golden vessels for the Mutt Puja but for his own use he would have simple wooden vessels. He could not understand why people led evil ways. He would shudder to hear of the world's wickedness. He would talk words of wisdom as freely to the prince as to the peasant. He was never reserved. He would listen patiently and advice freely without fear or favor. He was the most easily accessible of all. Thousands of people visited him daily and prayed for the relief of their wants. He had a kind word to say to each after attentively listening to his or her tale of woe and then give them some prasada which would cure their malady either physical or mental. He would actually shed tears when he found people suffering and would pray to God to relieve their suffering. Such was his simplicity that every disciple of his felt that he possessed a tower of strength in his Guru who could be approached at all times on even the slightest pretext of distress. He was mighty in his learning. He was voracious in his reading. A sharp intellect, a retentive memory and a keen zest went to mark him as the most distinguished scholar of his day. His leisure moments, he would never spend in vain. He would always either read something or repeat something.
His learning was not only deep but also many sided. He could break a lance with any adversary in any of the Shastras. There was no branch of knowledge which he did not know. He was Mantra Shastra personified. Mantras were at his finger's ends. He knew Nadi Shastra, a Shastra quite unknown now-a-days perfectly well. He was equally learned in Vaidya Shastra. He knew very well the medicinal value of all kinds of herbs. In Tarka and Vedanta nobody could even understand the arguments put forth by him without much labor and thought. With all his learning he was perfectly simple in his expositions. The highest truths he would expound to the tyro in language easily understandable by him. The most knotty points he would unravel in a marvelously easy way to the intense admiration of his audience. The Shastras were his playground. He would revel in them as often and as much as he could. Besides the Shastras he was an adept in kavyas and dramas also. It may be fairly said without fear of contradiction that he had gone through every branch of Sanskrit Literature and retained most of it in his memory. It was a very favorite pastime with him to repeat what are known as Antadi Shlokas. More than half-a-dozen pandits may range together against him and still he would be a match to them all. He would repeat from memory shlokas by thousands. All his opponents would exhaust all their stores but he would be inexhaustible. Ramayana was his favorite poem. He would oftentimes read it and while reading it merge himself in its scenes and laugh or weep as occasion demanded. It was an exceedingly rare privilege and pleasure to hear him read those excellent scenes so excellently portrayed in the Ramayana. Most of the book he knew by heart and when he read them the hearer would feel as though transported to the actual scenes and would be carried away by emotions suited to the occasion. He was a very good poet as will be clear from the pages of the Bhakti Sudha Tarangini. But all his powers of composition were directed towards praising the gods and invoking their blessings on mankind. When he entered a shrine he would involuntarily begin to repeat slokas. He cared not for ornate flourishes in his poems. They were the outpourings of an exuberant soul. Genuine flow of Bhakti could be traced in each of his poems. He wrote not for name or fame. He would muse on the deity and would quite unexpectedly fall into the poetic vein and repeat Shlokas after Shlokas the force and pathos of which pierced through the hardest heart and brought tears even to eyes that never before wept under the influence of religion. Similarly while teaching his disciples any work of Shastra, he would all of a sudden begin to lecture lucidly and eloquently on the most abstruse points and on several of these occasions no notes were taken and thus `full any a gem of purest ray serene' has been lost to the world.
He was intensely earnest in his Bhakti. He never considered himself as other than human. He would pray to God ardently that his human shortcomings might be rectified. His method of performing Puja was a sight to see. None could hurry him in his puja. He may have some one hundred idols before him. Each idol must be separately worshipped. Each must have its allotted sandal, akshata, kumkuma and flower. Each must be praised. Each must be meditated upon. Of course Sri Chandramoulishvara and Sridevi occupied the foremost place in his mind. They stood apart and he was never satisfied with doing puja to them, but inwardly they never left his mind. He used to converse with them freely and even quarrel with them at times as though they were his playmates. He would never think of them as images but would feel their living presence. He would not give them any naivedya (offering) either too hot or too cold. He would try his best to make them eat whatever he offered them. He would repeat stotras with all the enthusiasm of a devotee and at times dance for joy. Above all his Bhakti towards his Guru was something beyond description. He would talk for days together about the greatness of his Guru. All his talk, all his deeds, in short everything of his, he would dedicate to his Guru. His Guru was ever a living presence to him. He would consult him on each and every occasion. Without his express permission he would never do anything. He would be never tired of worshipping his Guru. His Guru also was equally attached to him. He called our Swami as the aurasaputra - own son of Sri Sharada Parameshwari. He told him that he would enjoy all the blessings of his lifelong penance. Even after his departure he appeared to his disciple and told him that he was always near him. This intense gurubhakti, this refusal to leave the Guru alone even after his departure from this world was a thing unknown in the annals of modern discipleship. Every day he would first worship his Guru's sandals. His Gurupadukastotra will clearly indicate the qualities he attributed even to the sandals of his Guru. There need not be any doubt about the sincerity of his utterances. They need not be attributed to poetic exaggeration. He not only fully believed in what he said but he knew full well that they were all true. His kindness knew no bounds. To one and all that approached him he was uniformly kind. Harshness was a thing unknown to him. Hatred was a word not to be found in his vocabulary. He was always kind. Even to his servants he was nothing but kind. Real anger was really foreign to him. Even feigned anger was but the passing mood of a moment. Kind words, kind deeds and kind thoughts he spread all around. Always with a smiling countenance full of benevolent intentions he would warmly welcome everyone that approached him, tenderly enquire after their welfare as though he were a member of their family and by words and deeds relieve their distress whatever that may be. He would never forget faces, but remember people once seen even after the expiry of thirty years. He would never rest content with having done a kindness to his bhakta. He would always be eager to do him more. He would shower blessings on him one after another in quick succession. He was ever ready not only to alleviate the physical and mental distress of his innumerable disciples but was equally prompt in teaching them the required mantras, in initiating them into the path of knowledge and dhyana and in showing them the means to liberation. He knew instinctively what a person wanted and would teach him just the thing required. In short every one who approached him returned not only perfectly satisfied but also overwhelmed with his kindness. He was an extremely pleasant conversationist. His conversations were always full of sparkling wit and wisdom. He would always have the right word to say at the right moment. His arguments would be not only quite convincing but also splendid homethrusts. For instance, a certain person who had not much of faith in our Shastras but who was still attracted by the tremendous magnetic force of his Holiness approached him and asked him as follows: "What is the use of the Shraaddha ceremony? Is it not mere superstition? Is it not absurd to say that by offering some things here in a prescribed way, the forefathers are satisfied? The rice we offer is still in our presence and yet how could we say that our forefathers have partaken of it and are hence content? Can absurdity go further?" His Holiness smiled and replied, "Listen My dear. You are perfectly right in your doubt. If I show you a parallel example where by observing certain prescribed rules and forms, a person who is not in your presence is satisfied, will you accede that it is not so very absurd as it at first seems to you? Take for example the system of Telegraphic Money Orders. If you conform to those rules and forms and take the money to the Post Office, the money you paid lies on the table in your presence, the person to whom you intended it to benefit is actually benefited. While human agencies can thus satisfy the cravings of people at a distance is it impossible for divine agencies? Only you should do it as it is prescribed. In the instance of the Telegraphic Money Order also it is so. Unless you strictly follow the prescribed rules and forms no effect will be produced. Similarly your forefathers who had eyes of wisdom foresaw the methods by which they could be pleased after their departure from this world and prescribed the rites and rules accordingly. If you follow them you would certainly please them. Why do you doubt it?" The hearer was quite struck with the force of the argument and went away thoroughly changed in his mind. Thus, words and arguments came to him of their own accord at the requisite moment. The poet Bhavabhuti's saying "Rshiinaam punaraaryaanam vaachamarthonudhaavathi" was quite true in his case. His words never went empty. As he was full of anugraha he scattered his blessings far and wide. He was a great Yogi and a Siddha of a very high order. Nothing was impossible to him.
The great Rajayogin Sri Sadashivendra Sarasvati (known popularly as Sadashiva Brahmendra, the great Avadhoota) was his ideal. But he more than realised his ideal. The
only difference was, the one roamed freely wherever he willed whereas the other was bound down to a mighty Seat by the command of his Guru and accordingly had to restrain himself within his limitations. But numerous were the occasions when his yogic powers were much in evidence. In the midst of a very large concourse of people, amidst the din and noise of a huge crowd, when different kinds of musical instruments were at their loudest, when brahmins loudly chanted the Upanishads, when the temple bells pealed with loud ringing noise, in the midst of so much hubbub and confusion he would restrain his breath, and go into a trance. Suddenly his form would become motionless, his eyes would be more than half closed and he would go into transcendent Samadhi for even hours together. None could rouse him up from that trance. Who could fathom the depth of that insensibility? Everything would have to wait until he returned of his own accord to the world.
Once while crossing the Tunga, his foot slipped from the sandal and he had a nasty cut right across his sole. The servant who accompanied him supporting his palm was likewise cut in his foot and when both reached the shore the servant could not walk even a single step and his Holiness observing this enquired of him the cause of it. But the servant noting the free flow of blood from the sole of his Holiness was much shocked and pointed it out to him. But he simply passed his hand over the sole and said that nothing was the matter with him and lo! The servant was surprised to find the sole quite hale without any sign of any cut. Then the servant was given some prasada and was advised to stay at home till his foot healed. His mastery of Yoga and Mantra Shastra deserves a special mention. Once when he was busy doing the Srichakra Puja, a snake appeared in the room and the gathered crowd began to feel frightened. But H H assured them that it was Sridevi who had come to bless them and lo! The snake vanished into the form of Srichakra. It was during his time that Srividya Upasana reached its zenith. A Siddha Purusha arrived from Andhra Desha as per the orders of H H and guided the eligible Brahmins of the Peetham in Srividya Upasana. Sri Swamigal also personally trained Sri Mahamahopadhyaya Viroopaksha Shastrigal in Srividya and Mantra Shastra. It is said that Swamigal would explain Saundaryalahari's first Shloka in more than a hundred ways! He could be present in several places simultaneously. Once while at Rameshvaram, he wanted a particular disciple who was away at Tiruchinapalli to go to him. On receipt of the wire the disciple ran in all haste to Ramesvaram which he reached at about 9 O' clock in the night, but found that his Holiness was at Dhanushkoti. The disciple wanted to go to Dhanushkoti at once but no sort of conveyance could be had then. Neither a single cart nor a palanquin was available. As for boats they were not to be thought of, since the winds were unfavourable. While in this plight the disciple prayed to his guru to take him to Dhanushkoti and wonder of wonders! At about one O'clock three boatmen came to the disciple of their own accord, took him to a boat and hoisted the mast. The wind was quite favourable, the disciple saw his guru also accompanying him and chatting pleasantly the journey to Dhanushkoti was accomplished within one hour. On alighting there the disciple lost sight of his guru who had accompanied him all along and when he was ushered into his presence at the Mutt the guru smiled and the disciple wept for joy. The boat that took the disciple in the dead of night could not return but had to drift for a month on account of unfavourable wind.
On another occasion he wanted a particular disciple who was 250 miles away to go to him. He sent a mental message and the disciple who was then fully engrossed in his business heard all of a sudden the clarion call of his guru and he immediately started to his holy presence. When he reached, the first greeting of his guru was "Did you receive this message (touching his heart) that I sent you". Instances like this could be multiplied but space forbids. Above all he was a true Sannyasin. Never for a moment did he swerve even one-thousandth of an inch from the rigorous path ordained for that most noble and most difficult of all Ashramas, the Sannyasa Asrama. None had mastered its rules so well and none followed them so closely as he. In spite of his manifold duties as the head of the most influential Mutt, in spite of his innumerable disciples who did not allow him even a single moment's leisure and in spite of the various calls on his attention he was most faithful to the duties of his asrama. His was true renunciation. In the midst of strife he knew the abiding Peace. He was right in the midst of the world but still quite beyond it. He was thoroughly unattached to anything worldly, though he appeared extremely attached to every one of his disciples. He was thoroughly selfless though he was always meditating on the Self. He was a triumphant example, a living realization of the complete conquest of all dvandvas or pairs of opposites. He did not care a straw for all the gold or all the fame that is in this Universe. He held the world but as a world, as a stage where every one had to play a part. He had thoroughly controlled his flesh. He was full of soul, full of the reality of religion, full of joy and full of blessed purity. In short, he was undoubtedly a very great Mahatma but without any mysteries or occultisms. Was he not God incarnate - a living and walking God on earth? Was he not then, in the language of the Sruti, beyond the reach of words? Then who at all can attempt a sketch of him? He was Infinity and infinite were his qualities. How can anyone adequately describe in words this vast storehouse of knowledge, this boundless ocean of bhakti, this original fountainhead of mercy, this undefiled source of purity, this personal embodiment of all virtues and this perfect type of rigorous renunciation. Even the mind refuses to fathom the depth of the all-round greatness of this mighty personage. What need be said about the poverty of words? He was unique with none to approach him even as second. His spotless holiness, his deep piety, his unspeakable blessedness, his endless wisdom, his childlike peacefulness and his universal affection beggar all description. His was a life of resolute good, unalterable will and quenchless desire of Universal happiness. While it came to performing His duties, he was as meticulous as a modern-day technocrat-cum-manager. He paid attention to the minutest detail of the job on hand, whether it was the performing of a shodasopachara puja (worship with 16 different services to a series of murtis of the Hindu pantheon, or the offerings of naivedya (eatables, including cooked items) to placate the gods, or any other religious or administrative matter that had to be seen through.
Once a certain Brahmin poet of a village in Kerala approached the Jagadguru with the prayer that his dumb boy should be cured. The Swamigal felt pity for the poor boy and asked the Brahmin to visit Him with the boy at the next camp. There He taught a certain mantra to the brahmin and ordered him to magnetize a vessel of water with the intense repetition of the mantra every day for three months and sprinkle it on the boy and make him drink a spoonful with faith. This the Brahmin did; the boy's dumbness gradually decreased; he began to speak a few words and in course of time got cured.
He had a truly simple living style. His needs were few and elementary, so he missed nothing. With such simple openness of manner He was easily the most accessible of all religious heads, even to the ordinary man on the street His unshakeable faith in the traditional values of Hinduism coexisted with a rather unusually forward-looking open-mindedness while dealing with people of different religious, geographic, linguistic or cultural persuasions. It was a tradition that during the Navaratri festivities a thousand sheep used to be offered to the Goddess attached to the palace of the Raja of Ramnad. The very idea of such a sacrificial offer was repugnant to Sri Narasimha Bharati Swamigal. Even as He was thinking over the matter, the Raja himself came to the Swamigal to consult Him about the propriety of such a reprehensible act. Instead of making an off-handed pronouncement on a matter established by tradition, the Swamigal said that His say in the matter would be made known the following day. The daylong prayer for divine guidance bore fruit in a dream that night. Herein He saw a woman attired in soiled clothing, holding a cup of drink in one hand and a broomstick in the other declaring, " I leave this place". Immediately after He saw a gracefully adorned Brahmin lady announcing "I have come to stay". Having discerned the message of the was dream. Under the advice and benign guidance of he Mahaswamigal a new shrine outside the palace precincts was built, the Srichakra, the most efficacious of all yantras consecrated and theidol of the Goddess was shifted to this new shrine. The Raja arranged for the daily puja at this shrine in vaidik style and for this purpose the Swamigal deputed two brahmins of the Sringeri Sharada Peetham. A village yielding an annual revenue of Rs.12,000 was set apart for the maintenance of the Shrine. Having accomplished deeds of no small magnitude, the Jagadguru resolved to nominate the devout celibate Sri Narasimha Sastry as successor-designate for the exalted peetham. Accordingly He arranged for the brahmachari to be brought to Sringeri from Bangalore. But even as this bidding of His was being fulfilled, the Jagadguru, while seated in meditation after His morning bath, appeared to have fallen into a trance. Though He declared this as a dip in the ocean of Atmic bliss, He had no relish for food the whole day and lay fasting. Next morning having had His bath as usual, He was seated in meditation till nine. Then came a violent fit of coughing; the Swamigal was still seated coughing, with His head bent down and at 11.30 AM His Soul merged into the Supreme Light, leaving behind the bright smile alone which, as ever before, was irradiating His face. It was Chaitra Shukla dwiteeya in the year Paritapi (March 1912). The divine light of Sri Swamigal is continuing to guide earnest seekers to this day. Many of my personal experiences bear testimony to this statement.