While searching for a tyAgarAja kR^iti in the rare and mesmerizing rAga bhairavam, I came across a video of the Fire Yogin on youtube. A few years ago, after a highly unpleasant encounter with the now shaktibhraShTa AbhichArika - bAlagopAla joyis of koppa, while trying to replenish the spent energies, I heard of a lakSha modaka gaNapati homa being performed by a certain Rambhao svAmiji at the behest of the then prime ministerial candidate, H D Deve Gowda. While Deve Gowda’s name was enough to put me off, the kind of crowd that the homam was attracting even in the relatively devotionless city of Bangalore did cause some surprise. Though the homam was publicized as mahAgaNapati homam, when I actually reached the venue, it was clear that the devatA being invoked was our personal favorite, shrI ucChiShTa mahAgaNapati. After about a thousand Ahutis, the svAmiji performing the homam literally leaped into the fire, and was sleeping on the homa kuNDam. His hair, beard and hands were completely in fire. It was for the first time that such a glorious example of agni stambhana had become visible to me. And to clarify, this was nothing similar to a gimmick that a certain person at Mysore performs, which he denied when H Narasimhayya and his committee decided to investigate. In fact, HN who I am no great fan of, described interesting stories of this encounter as I sat every morning on a bench beside him, inside the compound of National College. Let’s skip that story for now so as to not let the level of our unpopularity increase any further. Recounting Shankara and narrating Mahaperiyaval has earned us enough unexplained ire and the tale of fire seems safer to stick to, now that we understand how seriously our writings are pursued. :)
Even if the agni stambhana part was to be neglected, the fact that the frail old man could perform a homam for more than twenty-four hours continuously spoke of his siddhi. He was undoubtedly in a trance and the presence of gajashakti around him was unmistakable. For some reason, he decided to speak to me after the homa and speak somewhat cordially, disproving rumors of his unpredictable temper. And the next thing that became evident was that upAsanA of ucChiShTa gaNesha granted one the power to look into the past, present and future. A few things which he predicted were true, and are continuing to come true (KP, the great astrologer was a disciple of Sundaresha Sharma and his system of astrology is said to be a product of the grace of ucChiShTa gaNapati). It was during this conversation that I learnt about his guru, who was none other than the great saint, Tanjore Sundaresha Sharma. It was only a few years later that I was able to visit the AdhiShThAnam of this mahAn and have the pleasure of conversing with his grandson, shrI vidyAgaNesha svAmigal. Rambhao Swamigal, a close disciple of Sundaresha Sharma, seems to be originally from Maharashtra. He currently oversees the administration of the UcchiShTa mahAgaNapati temple at Tanjore. Rambhao swAmiji instantaneously could guess my upAsya devatA, my rather disastrous encounter with bAlagopAla jois and my meddling with kuNDalinI yoga. He even offered some mantra to be recited, which I ignored confidently. He suggested performing a certain mode of tarpaNa, which I did and it seemed to benefit me rather well. In spite of his flamboyant siddhis, the showmanship which he exhibited and his excessive contacts with politicians made me uncomfortable and prevented me from pursuing his company further. He left Bangalore after instructing me to visit him in Chennai the next month. But the next time I saw him was several years later when our maNDali decided to perform some pUjas at the shrine of bangAru kAmAkShi. We caught the svAmi performing pUjA at the adhiShThAnam of his guru the venerable Sundaresha Sharma (I forget his monastic name at this point). The moment he saw us, there was a twinkle of recognition in his eye, and he raised his hand and said, “UcchiShTa gaNapati”, as if to remind me of our previous encounter. After blessing our group, he insisted on performing a homam at our place. To this day, some friends chide me for not pursuing this generous offer and have rAmbhao swamiji perform Homam at our place. However, for some unexplained reason, not inviting him does not seem to be a great loss. He offered to send us some manuscripts he had, which he obviously forgot. He sent a message through a common friend to see him urgently, but several commitments did not allow us to do that then. Now, all of a sudden, these two videos (video 1 and video 2) brought back memories of Rambhav Swamiji, his Guru, his Siddhi and his paradoxical character. I have always wanted to verify the story regarding his encounter with Mahaperiyaval and will hopefully get to hear his version someday. Though we hear the advice to shun siddhis, a few specimens such as Rambhao Swamiji are extremely necessary to inspire the next generation of upAsakas.