|Arutprakasa Ramalinga Vallalar|
Thai Poosam - the day when Poosam star falls on a full moon day in the Tamil month of Thai, is not only celebrated by the followers of Lord Muruga across the world, but it is also a day when several thousand people gather in the small town of Vadalur, near Chidambaram, to watch the Jothi Darisanam - the stripping of the seven veils to display the Arulperum Jothi - the Supreme Light of Compassion. This practice was started by Saint Ramalinga Vallalar in 1872 and continues to this day, attracting several thousand people from across the globe.
Saint Ramalinga Swamigal, also known as Arulprakasa Vallalar, lit this eternal lamp, to symbolise a religion beyond religions, a path where everyone who practised Jeeva Karunyam (compassion towards all living beings) was welcome into. This path he called the "Samarasa Sudha Sanmarga Sathya Sangam" and the Sathya Gnana Sabai where this event happens, is the demonstration of all that he practised and preached. The Jothi Darisanam on every Poosam day, culminating in the ultimate Darisanam when all seven veils are removed to show the vision of the Supreme Light is something every devotee and believer of Ramalinga Swamigal looks forward to.
Birth and early Life
Saint Ramalinga Swamigal was born as Chidambara Ramalingam, on 5 October 1823, the fifth child of Ramayya Pillai and his sixth wife Chinnammai, in Marudhur near Chidambaram. The house where he was born has been converted into a memorial. One has to climb down a few steps to reach the house though, as the level of the road has gone up considerably over time.
|The house where Ramalinga Vallalar was born|
First experience with Light
When he was five months old, Ramalingam was taken to the Chidambaram temple by his parents, and when the light of the Harathi was brought near him, the boy clapped his hands and laughed, a sign to show that he was indeed a realised soul even at that tender age. At the age of two, Ramalingam lost his father, and his mother took him to stay with his oldest brother Sabapathy in a house in Veerasamy Street, in Sevel Wells area of Madras.(Chennai).
|The house where Ramalinga Vallalar lived in Veerasamy Street, Seven Wells, Chennai|
Chennai Life and seeing Lord Muruga in a mirror
As a young boy, Ramalingam was hardly interested in studies. Instead, he would spend hours in the Kanda Kottam Murugan temple or the Siva temple in Tiruvottriyur. Sabapathy, wanting to discipline his brother, asked his wife Pappathi Ammal not to give him any food. However, the kind lady made sure she fed him, without her husband's knowledge. She also gave him a room on the first floor of the house where he could study without disturbance.
Young Ramalingam asked for a mirror and a lamp and would spend all his time, in meditating on the light reflecting in the mirror. It was in the mirror that he received the first vision of Lord Muruga. One night, when he came back late from the temple, he slept on the verandah without any food as he did not want to wake anyone. Goddess Vadivudai amman of Tiruvottriyur appeared before him in the form of his sister-in-law, and fed him. The first five Thirumurais of the Tiruvarutpa were sung while at this house. The Tamil Nadu Government has converted this house into a memorial.
|The room where Ramalinga Vallalar received a vision of Lord Muruga|
Ramalingam had to once substitute for his brother and delivered a discourse on the Periya Puranam. The audience and his brother were stunned at the depth of his knowledge and wisdom in delivering the same in a simple, understandable manner. Ramalingam stayed in this house from 1825-1858. It was here that he was forced to marry his sister's daughter, Dhanammal, even though he had no desire for a material life.
Lighting lamps with water
In 1858, he wanted to move away from Chennai, and travel to Chidambaram. He met a person called Venkata Reddiar, who invited him to stay in his house in Karunguzhi. He stayed here for a total period of nine year from 1858 - 1867. It was here that his poems were slowly turning from singing about deities to singing about the one Supreme Light that was religionless, formless, and all encompassing. He was compassionate about all living beings, and felt sad even when he saw dried crops. Which is why the songs he composed came to be known as Thiru Arutpa.
One night, when he was writing, the lamps dimmed due to lack of oil. Ramalinga Vallalar filled the lamps with water, and they continued to burn through the night, enabling him to complete his writing.
|The room in which Ramalinga Vallalar light lamps with water in Karunguzhi|
Apart from this, he has also created a drinking water source in this village for both lifestock and people and till date, this water source remains perennial, feeding thousands of lives.
It was here that he started the Samarasa Vedha Sanmarga Sangam in 1865. In 1872 it was renamed as Samarasa Suddha Sanmarga Sathya Sangam - a society for pure truth in universal selfhood.
Establishment of Sathya Dharma Salai
Ramalinga Vallalar, as he came to be called, did not want any living being to suffer from hunger. He advised humans to refrain from taking non-vegetarian food, which involved killing of other living beings, and instead encouraged them to feed vegetarian food to those who were hungry and needy. On 23rd of May, 1867, he started the Sathya Dharma Salai, a facility to feed people throughout the day, in Vadalur. The stove that was lit by him in 1867, continues to burn till date, feeding hundreds of people on a daily basis.
|Anaiya Aduppu - the stove lit by Ramalinga Vallalar continuing to feed people to this day|
Construction of Sathya Gnana Sabhai
Sathya Gnana Sabhai or the Hall of Wisdom was constructed by Ramalinga Vallalar in 1871. It was inaugurated in January 1872. This octagonal shaped building has the Sathya Gnana Deepam, the Supreme Light, as lit by Vallalar, which is covered by seven veils that represent the various factors that prevent a human from realising the light within him. The whole building is bound by chains made of 21,600 links to depict the number of inhalations a human takes during the day. It is astonishing to see the chains do not have any joints in them, which shows they were put together by Ramalinga Vallalar using his yogic powers.
|My colleague Mr Ganapathi holding up the chains for us to see|
On Poosam day every month, the veils are lifted to show the light within. A total of seven veils are said to cover one's soul - namely, the very dark first veil of Maya Shakthi, the bright blue second veil of Kriya Sakthi, the all Green third veil of Parasakthi, the flamboyant red fourth veil of Iccha Sakthi, the golden yellow fifth veil of Gnana Sakthi, the milky white sixth veil of Aadhi Sakthi and the mixed colour seventh veil of Chit Sakthi. When these veils are shed one by one, the soul is able to experience the supreme Light within.
On Thai poosam day, all the veils are lifted, whereas on all other poosams, only the first six veils are lifted. The veil lifting happens three times starting from 7 pm in the evening and several thousands of people gather in the open air outside the main shrine, to witness this.
|Witnessing Jothi Darisanam at the Sathya Gnana Sabai Vadalur|
Siddhi Valagam and Disappearance
Ramalinga Vallalar moved from Karunguzhi to Mettukuppam, a village about 6 kms from Vadalur to a one room tenement which is now called the Siddhi Valagam. Here he lit the Sathya Gnana Deepam, and meditated upon it for four years. He then placed it outside his room, and asked all his devotees to consider it to be the most Supreme light, and meditate upon it.
|The Sathya Gnana Deepam at Siddhi Valagam|
He also launched the Sanmarga Flag which is yellow on top and white at the bottom on the 7th day of Aipasi (October 22, 1873), the practice of which is continued every year, at 8 am .
On January 30, 1874, Ramalinga Vallalar, entered his room and before locking it, told his followers not to open it and even if they did, they would not find anything. Hearing about Saint Ramalingam not coming out of his locked room for days, the British authorities forced open the doors in the month of May 1874, only to find that he had disappeared with his mortal body. This has been documented in the South Arcot District Gazette, by the British.
Saint Ramalingam wrote close to 6000 poems which have been compiled into the Thiruvarutpa with ten volumes. He practised and preached vegetarianism, feeding the poor and needy, a religion beyond religions where the true supreme power was light.
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank my colleague, Mr S Ganapathy, for facilitating a visit to the important sites associated with the life of Sri Ramalinga Vallalar.
Since most of the events happen in the evening, the quality of pictures is poor and I apologise for the same.