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Recently I visited the samadhi temple of Sadhu Chidambaram Swami, who is also known as “Valla Naattaar”. A samadhi is the location where the physical body of a saint or siddha is burried. Such locations are spiritually very powerful, as the saint continues to interact with devotees through his samadhi. I would like to narrate a few stories of this little known saint of South India, who entered samadhi in recent times.
The samadhi of Sadhu Chidambaram Swami is situated within the region of his ancestral house. This is in a village called Paarai Kaadu (rock forest) that comes under the township of Valla Naadu. Valla Naattaar means a respectable person from Valla Naadu.
Two of the great gopurams in the third enclosure of Tiruvannamalai temple were built by kings of the Valla Nadu dynasty. Valla Nadu used to be the capital of a great kingdom during the late 17th century. It is still believed that there are forts and palaces buried under present Valla Nadu. The township comes under Tuticorin district but it is closer to Tirunelveli city, just 28 kms on the way to Tuticorin.
Not having facility to go for education, Chidambaram was entrusted with the village herd of sheep. His father was a simple village doctor who could cure diseases with herbs and leaves collected from nearby forests. His parents were very saintly and the village people respected Chidambaram’s father as a sadhu.
As a child, people have seen unearthly cobras around Chidambaram as he slept under trees, while the herd was grazing. When his friends came back from school they always gathered around Chidambaram who would give them sheep’s milk in coconut shells and would talk to them about godly principles of life, using a level of language the children could understand. There were times when he fed the cobra and gave remnants to his friends, who became scared and wouldn’t accept them. Chidambaram would smilingly drink the milk and would tell them, “By taking these remnants, you will become free from danger of any poison.”
As he reached teenage, Chidambaram left the village on a long pilgrimage to different holy places. He wore kaupinam and a white cloth which came down to his knees, sometimes he was clean shaven, both head and face and other times with long hair and beards.
He took Vallalar, Ramalinga Adigalar, the author of Tiruvarutpa (“song of holy blessing”), as his Guru, even though they were not contemporaries. He used to chant Vinayakar Agaval (a composition of the lady Tamil poet Avvayar), and a small prayer composed by Chakizhaar known as ‘Siva Puranam’, which is the shortest summary of the Tamil Siva Puranam done by the same author, and different verses of Tiruvarutpa. Seeing the effulgent pilgrim, people gathered around him in different temples. If anyone would fall at his feet, he would also fall at their feet. Embarrassed, people would just fold their hands and respect him. The sadhu responded the same way. Apart from conversing with loving and affectionate words, he never gave any sermons.
On his sojourn he came to a village near Udumalaipet in Palani district. Seeing a high hill in the area, he was mysteriously attracted and wanted to build steps to the top and arrange there a monthly Jyothi as done in Tiruvannamalai. The invocation in Tiruvarutpa, which is always chanted like a mantra by the followers of Vallalaar, is:
arut perum jyothi, arut perum jyothi
thanipperum karunai arut perum jyothi
This couplet means, “Supreme grace light, supreme grace light, shower your compassion on us, supreme grace light.”
He approached a farmer Naachiappa Gounder and asked his help for building the steps. Gounder was sceptical about the sadhu. Chidambaram allured him by saying that he would cure the skin disease which Gounder had been suffering from for a long time, even after trying English and native medicines.
A committee was formed and construction began. Sadhu worked hand in hand with the laborers and accepted frugal food. The construction was finished within a very short time. The day before amavasya, as guided by the sadhu, they filled up a huge barrel wok with 50lt of oil(a mixture of gingely, coconut, mustard, castor oils, and ghee). Ten long dhothis were tied together to make a long wick, which was then lit on fire.
Seeing the jyothi in the dark night, lots of people from nearby villages assembled. Prasadam was cooked to feed everyone who came. The sadhu requested that this ceremony be done every month. Next morning, seeing that all this time the sadhu never did anything for curing his ailment, Gounder used very harsh words, calling the sadhu a cheat. While climbing down the hill, smilingly Chidambaram took out from above his right ear some Durba grass and told Gounder to boil it over night in 3 liters of water till it reduced to 2 cups. Even though the grass mystically appeared on his ear, he also pulled out a plant from a nearby bush, and told that the root of that plant should be boiled together in that water. Gounder was supposed to drink the water in the morning and to make a paste from the root to apply on his palms.
Having done his service for the people of the area Chidambaram went on his way that afternoon. On the third day, not only did Gounder’s ailment disappear totally, but also the root disappeared. This and a few more experiences were narrated to me in person by Gounder who is now 92 years old, but hale and healthy.
After establishing a similar jyothi service on 6 main mountains, and six subsidiary hills, Chidambaram returned home. On the insistence of his parents he married. Before the marriage he requested the girl to be a vanaprastha and she agreed.
One day a single tusked elephant showed up in front of the house and sadhu kept him as a friend for over 11 years. The head of the dead elephant is kept in the meditation room cured with some technique suggested by Sadhu Chidambaram.
Another time a large baby elephant came from the forest and was kept as pet by sadhu. He grew up into a huge elephant, attracting all the pilgrims who came to feed him. After the samadhi of Sadhu, the elephant fasted till death, and was buried close to the Samadhi.
The Samadhi day of Swami Chidambaram is celebrated on the full moon day of the Tamil month Maasi, (around the end of February). Almost 100,000 devotees gather each year. Everyone is fed sumptuously for three days.
At all of the Jyothi hills established by Swami, 500 to 1000 people are fed on the Deepam day (once a month). In the Samadhi temple every day the senior men and women of the village are fed along with all the guests who visit (around fifty each day).
The repeated words to devotees by sadhu are : “Do the paaraayana of Vinayagar Agaval, Sivapurana and Arut Perum Jothi. Do annadaanam. Light the jyothi on these hills and also at your home. Live a simple and pure life”.
Another experience was narrated to me by Mr. Goundar, which I would like to share. One time he was traveling along with Swami Chidambaram in a jeep to attend a religious program. On the way the jeep ran out of petrol and stopped. The driver didnt know what to do, as they were some distance from a city. Sadhu Chidambaram asked the driver if he had a bottle of water. The driver replied that they had a two liter bottle of water.
Swami told him to pour the water into the petrol tank, and then drive till they came to a petrol bunk. At the petrol bunk he should pay the owner for two liters of petrol. The driver did as Swami told and poured the water into the petrol tank. Amazingly, the jeep started and they were able to drive. After some time they came to a petrol bunk, and the driver informed the owner of what had happened and asked to pay for two liters of petrol. The owner took inventory of their petrol supply and found there was a shortage of two liters of petrol.