[First published in The Mountain Path]
same ability manifested sometime later when Guhai Namasivaya noticed
that his disciple had just rubbed the cloth he wore around his shoulders
in a strange way. 'For what reason did you rub it?' he asked.
answered, 'The Golden Dancing Hall at Chidambaram was screened with a
black screen. The wick of a ghee lamp was burning nearby. A mouse took
the burning wick, dragged it along, causing a curtain to catch fire.
Those who were present vigorously smothered the burning curtain. Swami, I
too rubbed my cloth so that the curtain would not burn any more.'
knew from these incidents and from his own direct knowledge that his
disciple had reached an advanced stage of his sadhana
, but he also knew that siddhis
such as those just described are no real indication of spiritual
progress. He therefore decided to test his disciple's level of devotion.
He vomited, caught the vomit in his begging bowl, and then ordered his
disciple to dispose of it in a place where it would not come into
contact with human feet. This disciple's love for his Guru was so great,
he took the vomit to be prasad
and secretly ate it.
affected not to know what his disciple had done. Later, he asked him
ingenuously, 'Appa Namasivaya, did you leave it in a place where feet
could not touch it?'
The disciple bowed his head and confirmed that he had taken it to be prasad
. 'I have kept it in a place where it ought to be kept,' he answered.
Seeing the powers
his disciple was developing, and noting the extent of his devotion,
Guhai Namasivaya thought to himself, 'Day by day my disciple's knowledge
is increasing. He should not be kept here any more. Let me test him one
more time, and then I can send him to a place that will be appropriate
an accomplished extempore poet, then composed the first two lines of a venba
verse and chanted them to his disciple:
The fruiting banyan provides fruit for the birds,
The bamboo when it matures is not without its use…
Then, addressing his disciple, he said, 'Appa Namasivaya', you can complete the remainder of this venba
immediately realised that he was being tested. He examined the words of
his Guru and decided that the banyan tree signified Guhai Namasivaya and
that the bamboo was a reference to himself. The fruit of the banyan was
therefore the grace of the Guru that was made available to all devotees
who came to him. Extending the analogy, the disciple found that the
second line contained what were, for him, ominous words. It seemed to be
saying, 'Since you have attained spiritual maturity, you too can be
useful to devotees who seek the grace of the Guru'. Namasivaya was very
much attached to the physical form of his Guru and wanted only to stay
with him and serve him. The idea of abandoning this simple and
satisfying relationship did not appeal to him. However, being a fully
surrendered devotee, he felt no inclination to dispute the words and
decision of his Guru. So, when Guhai Namasivaya asked him to
complete the verse, he merely replied, 'Swami, the disciple should not
bandy words with the Guru. This is not proper conduct for the disciple.'
then gave him the freedom to express his own views by saying, 'Son,
since you are knowledge itself, you may speak'.
The disciple then
expressed this fear of being sent away by completing the verse in the
My Lord Namasivaya, would you consent to keep company
with one who refrains from performing great and wondrous deeds?
The disciple realised that his display of siddhis
and his extreme
devotion in swallowing the vomit had triggered Guhai Namasivaya's test.
His answer therefore took the form of a simple plea: 'If I stop
and refrain from exaggerated acts of devotion, will you permit me to continue staying with you?'
was delighted with the way that his disciple handled the test. He
climbed down from his hammock and exclaimed, 'Appa! Pupil of my two
eyes! Only today did you attain true knowledge! What a wonder! Who will
ever get a disciple like you? From today you may use the title ''Guru
though, did not cause him to change his decision to send his disciple
away. Embracing his disciple he continued, 'Two elephants should not be
tied to the same post. This is a bhoga kshetra
. There is a divine kshetra
[holy place] called Chidambaram where Ambalanavar, [the God] who
removes ignorance and grants true knowledge, has graciously manifested.
You have some renovation and endowment work at that place. So, go and
means enjoyment or pleasure and is generally associated with physical or sensory indulgence. A kshetra
is a holy place. So, a bhoga kshetra
can be literally translated as 'a holy place for the enjoyment of
physical pleasure'. Since this is a strange and inappropriate
designation for a sacred site such as Arunachala, one should look for
alternative translations and explanations.
One possibility is that Guhai Namasivaya is referring to one of three avattai
- modes of being of the deity:
1. ilayam, in which only the divine knowledge is manifest.
2. bhogam, in which knowledge and action are equally balanced.
3. adikaram, in which action predominates.
If one follows this explanation, one can interpret Guhai Namasivaya's
comments to mean that Arunachala is one of the places where Siva became
involved in the world, performing lilas
as well as bestowing grace and liberation, whereas Chidambaram is a kshetra
where Siva's energy is concentrated solely on the granting of divine
knowledge. This interpretation does not imply that one place is superior
to the other. It merely notes that Siva chooses to function in a
different way in Chidambaram. At first glance this explanation looks
plausible, particularly since Guhai Namasivaya contrasts the bhoga kshetra
of Arunachala with the 'divine kshetra
of Chidambaram. However, closer scrutiny reveals a major problem: Siva
has repeatedly manifested at Chidambaram for the benefit of his devotees
there, so that would make it, like Arunachala, a bhoga kshetra
An alternative explanation can be found in Day by Day with Bhagavan
(6th December, 1945). Devaraja Mudaliar asked Bhagavan about one of the verses from Arunachala Mahatmyam
that Bhagavan had translated into Tamil. At the end of the verse
Arunachala-Siva, speaking of Himself, says, 'Know that within me caves
shine, surging with many enjoyments [bhoga
]'. The following dialogue ensued:
I asked Bhagavan whether the cave mentioned in it is inside God or
inside the mountain (which of course is also said to be God). Bhagavan
replied, 'Of course, in the context, it means the cave is inside the
hill and that there in the cave are all enjoyments'. Bhagavan added,
'The stanza says you are to believe that inside this hill there is a
cave and that all enjoyments are to be found there'. I also asked
Bhagavan, 'I have read somewhere that this place is called bhoga
kshetra. I wonder what is meant thereby?' Bhagavan replied, 'Yes, it is
so. But what does it mean? If thinking of this kshetra can itself give
mukti, what wonder if this place can give all other enjoyments one may
Going back to the story, it will be remembered that Guhai Namasivaya had
instructed his disciple to go and live in Chidambaram. Guhai Namasivaya
still felt that, if he pleaded his case, he would be allowed to
stay. He told his Guru, 'This slave will remain here, having the
. He will not go to another place but will remain
with the feet of the Guru. Moreover, this slave cannot go on living
without having daily darshan
of the Guru.'
Guhai Namasivaya was unmoved. 'Go to Chidambaram,' he ordered, 'and have darshan
of the Golden Dancing Hall [the shrine in which Siva in the form of Lord Nataraja resides]. If the Lord there gives you darshan
even as I do myself, stay there. If not, come back here.'
Thillai Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram
The disciple finally accepted
defeat. After saying, 'This is good advice,' he said, 'I will follow
it', he composed the following song in praise of his Guru:
O Namasivaya! You destroy the subtle bonds of birth
through your words and through your meditations,
through your glance and through your touch,
and through your compassion which gladdens our hearts!
You attained liberation through [abiding in] the fourth leg
of the chair.
The cryptic last line is an allusion to turiya
, the fourth state
that underlies the other three states of waking, dreaming and sleeping.
Guhai Namasivaya, feeling that delay would solve no useful purpose,
responded to the song by saying, 'You can start right now'.
began to walk towards Chidambaram and by the time night fell he had
covered about ten miles. Desiring a place to rest, he sat down under a
tree and spent three hours absorbed in the Self. Then, becoming aware
that he was hungry, he composed a venba
verse that he addressed to Unnamulai, the consort of Siva in the Arunachaleswara Temple:
You who are the dearest to the heart of Lord Annamalai!
Holy Mother Unnamulai!
Bring forth rice, from every household to feed your servant
whose every thought is in praise of you!
At the moment when
Guhai Namasivaya was composing this verse, there was some sweet rice (sarkarai pongal
) resting on a golden plate. It had been offered to Lord Annamalai as naivedyam
or food offering, and the priest who had officiated had inadvertently
forgotten to take the plate home with him when he had locked up the
temple for the night. When Unnamulai heard Guru Namasivaya's prayer, she
took the plate of rice to him and then returned to the temple.
At daybreak the
priests opened the temple and looked for the golden plate. After
searching fruitlessly for some time, the priests and the people of the
town became convinced that the plate must have been stolen by a thief,
although they could not understand how he had got into and out of the
temple. No pujas were performed for eight hours, for everyone was
engaged in a search for the missing plate. At the end of that period a
brahmin boy went into a trance, became possessed by a spirit and
announced, 'Guru Namasivaya is under a banyan tree on his way to
Chidambaram. Mother took food for him. The plate is lying there. Go and
fetch it.' The plate was duly found there and returned to its
rightful place in the temple.
walk to Chidambaram was filled with many other adventures. When he
finally had his first sight of the Chidambaram temple, at Bhuvanagiri,
he was so deeply moved he spontaneously composed and sang the following
At the mere sight of these four gopurams
all my sins have vanished
like cotton drifting into a flame.
What then will be the desert,
O Lord of Tillai's Hall, 
of those who cast their eyes
upon the divine redness of your feet,
girt with tinkling anklets?
On reaching Chidambaram he took a bath in the Siva Ganga Tank in the
main temple, and then walked into the main shrine to have Lord
. As he gazed at the deity, instead of seeing
the usual dancing image, he saw in the inner shrine the form of his
beloved Guru, Guhai Namasivaya. This manifestation of grace gave him the
understanding that Siva Himself had manifested at Arunachala in the
form of his Guru in order to teach him and grant him liberation. These
sentiments welled up within him and burst out in the form of a song of
praise and gratitude:
Lord of the Golden Hall! King of Heaven!
You who grant to those who praise and worship you
whatever it is they most desire,
be they spiritual adepts or mere children!
How was it that you came to dwell on holy Annamalai
in the from of my Guru, [Guhai] Namasivaya,
to place your twin feet upon the head
of such a wretched devotee as I,
is something that my understanding cannot compass.
One account of his life written in verse, describes this manifestation of his Guru, Guhai Namasivaya, in the following way:
The Lord whose golden image resides in that place
Appeared to him in the form of a loving Sadguru.
Awakening from a swoon, he pondered deeply to himself,
'What ill can befall me if I remain here in this place?'
His realisation deepened until it encompassed all of creation. 
It will be remembered that Guhai Namasivaya had told Guru Namasivaya that if the latter did not have darshan
of his, Guhai's, form at Chidambaram, he could return to Arunachala.
The manifestation therefore meant that Guru Namasivaya had to stay in
Chidambaram and attend to the renovation work that Guhai Namasivaya had
given him. This he did with great success for Siva Himself manifested to
him and enabled him to repair the temple and create endowment funds for
the maintenance of the buildings and the worship of the deity.
his stay in Chidambaram he composed hundreds of verses, many of which
have survived. One of his biographers, writing about this period, noted:
'No poem did he write but it sang the praises of his Guru, and no
lesser deity filled his thoughts, only Lord Siva.' 
This is certainly true of his most famous poem, Annamalai Venba
which extols Siva in the form of Arunachala and repeatedly praises the
greatness of his Guru, whom he considered to be Arunachala-Siva in human
form. Going through the verses, one can easily visualise him sitting in
Chidambaram, dutifully carrying out his Guru's orders, but secretly
dreaming of Arunachala-Siva, Guhai Namasivaya, his Guru, and the blessed
period of his life when he had the constant company of both.