Coming to the life of the present form of the eternal soul of the Swamiji. He was born long ago at Mangalapuri in the North Kanara district to a pious couple, Sri Venkoba Ganapatigal and Smt. Sakkubai who were childless for a long time. He was named as Subramanya in his Poorvasrama. He was duly initiated into Gayatri while he was seven. He was not much interested in his school education. What should the Loka Guru, the He was to be, learn at school? He was always indifferent to external things and was deeply absorbed in contemplation of His self. This went on till His twelfth year when suddenly one night, the boy Subramanaya saw a divine light (Jyothi) before Him. Desirous of touching it, He went towards it and it was receding as He was following it. At daybreak it disappeared only to appear again in the nights that followed. Thus following the Jyothi, Subramanya reached at last Pandharpur. Leading the boy to the Sanctum Sanctorum of Vittal inside the Serene, the Jyothi vanished. The boy had a hearty darshan of Lord Panduranga and Rukmayi. When the night came, the boy was hungry fell asleep and in the middle of the night; Lord Vittal woke up the boy Subramanya, fed Him and blessed Him. As usual in the night, the Jyothi appeared again and led Him to a place nearby where a Great Saint was camping then. He was H.H. Sree Sivarathna Giri Swamiji, Jagadguru Sankaracharya of Jyothir Math in Kashmir. This Peetha of Jyothir Math in Kashmir is one of the Peethas established by Sree Adi Shankara Bhagavad Pada, and comes under the lineage of Sree Thotakacharya one of the four chief disciples of Sree Adi Shankara.
Jagadguru Sree Sivaratna Giri Swamiji could gauge the spiritual depth of the boy Subramanya before him and immediately accepted him as His Priya-
Much moved by the separation of his revered Guru, Sree Gnanananda Giri Swamiji did not desire to continue long in the Peetha and so he nominated another Sishya as His successor and started out to the high Himalayas. For over sixty years he did severe penance at Mansorvar and other places and then moved out on 'Pada Yatra' from the Himalayas to Kanyakumari and to places outside like Ceylon, where he met a number of great men of spirituality.
The Swamiji has mentioned that he knew personally of the initiation given by Totapuri to Sree Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836 -
Swami Haridhos has been highly blessed by the Great Guru Sree Gnanananda Giri after severe tests. Swami appointed Swami Haridhos Giri (Guruji) in Thapovanam. This is evidence in the picture in Swami's room in Thapovanam. Guruji has been commanded to take up this service of spreading Bhakti among the people all over the country. His devotion to the Guru is unique and he swears that whatever he says is because of the Grace of the Guru who inspires him then and there to say and sing. The message he got from the Guru is: "When people praise you many do not become egoistic but ignore them in all humility. And do not be worried about the insults thrown at you likewise. Then you will settle down well". This is equally a message to us all to see such a Great Guru is to know Him: "To know Him is to know God, for God and Guru are one and the same".
Thapovanam, its Inspiration and Role today
Sathguru Sree Gnanananda Giri Swamigal established his ashram, Sree Gnanananda Thapovanam on the northern bank of the river South Pennar in the South Arcot district in Tamil Nadu about 47 years ago. The sage himself gives an idea of the role he intended for it in his own explanation of the name of the ashram.
"Tapas" is intense heat with its derivations, zeal, fervor, austerity, and asceticism. "Vana" (in Tamil "Vanam") is a wood or a forest. The Sanskrit word "Tapas" is derived from "Tap" meaning 'to consume by heat' or 'to mortify the body' or to 'undergo severe penance'. Tapas implies a concentration of the senses and the mind, a mastery of will and thought, by the habitual practice of exercising restraints over the bodily desires and affections which are linked to lower objects so that the aspirant may advance in their life of holiness.
Sree Gnanananda was a monument of a man, a legend in his own lifetime. His glorious spiritual ministry is believed to have been phenomenally long, lasting at least well over a century -
At the turn of the last century, Sree Gnanananda was staying in Sampathgiri hills of Polur near Thriuvanamalai. Wherever he went, all people were drawn irresistibly of caste, creed or nationality, by the dignity and strength of his personality, no less than by his charm and childlike simplicity. In the course of his travels in the later years, he settles sometimes for some years at spots, which attracted him. Inevitably wherever he settled in any place in this manner, a small band of devotees congregated around him and as facilities had to be provided for them, an ashram would come into being. He would then remain for sometime teaching anyone who wished to learn. But his love of solitude however would impel him to disappear one fine day and retreat to a remote spot. Up to his final settling down a Thapovanam, the Swami was first and foremost a Paramahamsa Parivrajaka par excellence, and he would not allow himself to become the prisoner of any institution, even one of his own making. Such ashram or places for his stay grew up around him at Kallakudi, Sreemushnam, Sulur, Atiyampatti and Siddhalingamadam. We have reliable accounts of his stay in the last two ashrams, both of which he left, walking out of them in the same spirit of freedom in which he had originally come to these places, a true monk without any belongings or obligations. He exemplified in himself that love of insecurity and anonymity which is the hallmark of a genuine Sannyasin, and it was only as a concession to the devotees and aspirants who came to him, that he allowed ashrams to grow up in the places where he stayed.
He himself appears never to have planned or established any institution from his own deliberate choice or volition. This is entirely in consonance with his abdication of the pontificate of Jyothir Math and his philosophy of the Parivrajaka life he adopted and his life of uncompromising non-
Sree Gnanananda received devotees of all ages, of all stages in life, of all races -
In Attiampatti and Siddhalingamadam, uneducated common folk thronged to him and he introduced to them to the rendering of Tamil devotional lore, such as Thevaram and Thiruvachagam and taught them simple religious practices. Perhaps, Swamiji valued such simple religious and pure rustic love more than that of others.
Sree Gnanananda who renounced his title to a math, did not desire Thapovanam to be developed as a Math with himself as its head. Yet, here the glory of Adi Shankara is sung. Sankara's padukas are worshipped constantly and the homage is paid to the old traditions, particularly to that of Sannyasa, more than in any of the traditional maths.
Gurudev did not provide for a line of succession by choosing one of his disciples and declaring him to be his successor to head the ashram. But he was keen that the monastic lineage or parampara should continue and monks of the ashram pursuing Vedantic Sadhana and meditation should continue to be given all facilities in the same manner as was provided by Him.
During the final years at Thapovanam, Sree Gnanananda exhibited the entire spectrum of Hinduism in his person and teachings, just as the entire spectrum of the Indian public Hindu, Christian and Moslem came to him for guidance, consolation and inspiration. Always he aimed at elevating those who came to him. But he realised that they could be elevated only from where they already are.
It was only during his later years in Thapovanam that Swamiji have initiation into Sannyasin to a few of those who were ready. The enunciated disciples were encouraged in the study of Vedanta and the path of meditation on the formless. Sadgurudev established in 1969 his last ashram at Yercaud; called Sree Gnanananda Pranava Nilayam, specifically as a retreat center for contemplation on the Atman, the Turiya, the Ardhamatra of OM, and the pranava as the name itself indicates. He was anxious that his monastic disciples should not be disturbed by the increasing crowds of devotees who were coming to Thapovanam. This ashram in the hill station provides a fine environment in which they could pursue their specialised sadhana.
There is no ritual or communal worship at Yercaud. The pictures of Sree Gnanananda, the Buddha, Swami Vivekananada, the sacred heart of Jesus and the Kaaba of Mecca are hanging on the wall of the central hall. The monks and aspirants are to devote themselves completely to meditation and study. The older Sannyasins who could not stand the rigour of the climate of Yercaud continued to live in Thapovanam. Swamiji himself, some months before his Mahasamadhi recalled a senior Sannyasin and an advanced aspirant from Yercaud to Thapovanam.
Sree Gnanananda initiated Pada Pooja or the worship of the Padukas (sandals) of his Guru and of Sri Adi Shankara to emphasize the importance of devotion to tradition. Guru Padukas signifies the unbroken succession of the spiritual masters and their tradition. Paduka is a subtle symbol of the Guru himself in its gross form; it is, as it were, Guru's Grace in a congealed form. Through the Guru Padukas one is linking oneself not only to the particular Master but also to the whole tradition to which he belongs. Swamiji has so exemplified the spiritual tradition that He has indeed come to embody it. When we worship the Guru, we worship the whole tradition; we feel it is our Guru who speaks to us through it.
The ritualistic worship of the padukas is only symbolic of the disciple's total surrender to the Guru and his Sraddha or faith in his teachings and in the tradition. This tradition leads one beyond itself to transcendence. Devotees belonging to different traditions perform Pada Pooja. To each of them, the Padukas represent the tradition to which he belongs. Sathguru Sree Gnanananda in transcending all traditions has become the Guru of all.
Devotees of Thapovanam are well aware that their Masters is a Siddha Purusha. Even when he was physically amidst them, his presence was not limited to his body, the place or time. They have had various accounts of his operation in different planes at the same time. All this has helped the devotees to learn not to identify the presence of the Master with his physical body only. Moreover, Swamiji over the years had by his words and discourses taught the devotees the truth of the concept of Guru. Through the hymns and songs sung everyday, the Guru-
The site of Thapovanam is a spot already hallowed by contact with saints and sages of yore and is located within the spiritual aura of Arunachala. It was deliberate intention that Swamiji chose to shed his body at Thapovanam so that the future generations could benefit from his powerful spiritual presence in the Samadhi situated in already hallowed surroundings. Shirdi Sai Baba declared: "My tomb will speak; my clay will give you replies. My shrine will bless my devotees and fulfill their needs. Sree Gnanananda assured his devotees that his Samadhi would be a Jive Samadhi, i.e.; he would retain his subtle body without dissolving it and would continue to shower his grace on them.
The Jiva mukta has cast off the limitations of the physical body and now his presence in Videha Kaivalya has become all pervading. An abiding Peace encompasses and penetrates the ashram premises and the very air is redolent with his powerful Presence. Indeed it is not confined to Thapovanam. As before, even now wherever devotees may be, they find his unfailing Grace and immediate support in a more potent inner Presence. They now realise the significance of his often repeated assurance. "Swami will always be with you". For him which has become all and everything, even as there is no coming, there is no going away. Although the eternally youthful, lustrous, sweet and smiling face of the sage, lotus-
There is no Thapovanam apart from Sree Gnanananda and the inspiration of Sree Gnanananda is the inspiration of Thapovanam. We have had a few glimpses of Sathguru's inspiration. We would request those interested in a deeper study to refer to the book "Sathguru Gnanananda", -