I went to Sithananda Swamigal’s Jeeva Samadhi, in Pondicherry on November 22nd and again on November 27th, 2020. This is an interesting place for spiritual seekers where Sithananda Swamigal, a Siddhar and a self-realized soul predicted his own death and was buried (Jeeva Samadhi) on May 28th,1837.
The temple is a wonderful place for meditation. There is a meditation hall inside the temple. People have reported good effects and experiences after meditating in this hall.
The most attractive thing you would notice in the temple is the presence of more than a hundred and eight statues of various Siddhars, Nayanmars (63 saints who were devoted to Lord Shiva), Mystics and Poets (scroll down to see the pictures from the temple). There are a few for Ramakrishna Paramahamsa too, who is my favorite.
This temple and the surroundings is the place where Tamil poet Bharathiyar composed his famous ‘Kuyil Pattu (the song of the Cuckoo)” poem.
I have been praying to the Almighty for the past two weeks since my first visit, to give me the clarity, energy and guidance to write about him and the temple. I want to give as much information as possible about the life of Sithananda Swamigal, what he was known for and the details about the temple, to my readers. I offer my prayers to Lord Vinayaga on this day of SankataHara Chaturthi as I begin my work about him.
To my knowledge, Sithananda Swamigal’s spiritual teachings are not available in print form but his life and his presence was a teaching in itself to seekers. He was also known to the public as a healer, as many found their illness to disappear after getting his blessings.
Birth and Early life of Sithananda Swamigal
Sithananda Swamigal was born in Vandipalayam near Cuddalore of present Tamil Nadu. As he grew up as a young boy, he regularly worshipped Lord Shiva at the famous Padaleeswarar Temple in Thirupathiripuliyur. He used to pluck flowers and make garlands for Periya Nayagi amman, the Goddess in the temple. He was also taking care of certain chores in the temple.
One day there was a heavy rain and a huge flood around the temple. People who were in charge of temple work and activities were wondering how to go inside; they were worried about not being able to perform everyday worship and chores in the temple.
Sithananda swamigal, who was a little boy then, also came there holding a garland for the Goddess. He jumped in the water without a second thought, swam and reached the sanctum of the temple. His love and devotion for the Almighty was too strong to worry about anything else.
As he finished worship, the flood and the rain increased and the boy couldn’t come out. He completely surrendered himself at the feet of the Lord. According to the legend, he had a vision of the Lord who granted him the liberation from the cycle of birth and death. He must have gone through a tremendous spiritual experience that day which changed his life forever.
(There is another variant of the legend, according to which Sithananda swamigal couldn’t go inside the temple with his garland because the temple door was locked by the priest. So, Sithananda swamigal left a note near the door to the Lord to come out and take the garland. When the priest opened the door the next day, the Linga inside was wearing the garland brought by the young Sithananda Swamigal.)
Meeting with Muthukumaraswamy Pillai from Pondicherry
As the years went by, Sithananda Swamigal was known to more people as a healer. Many came to him to get their illnesses cured; many invited him to their place. He was getting known in the towns nearby.
At the same time, a rich man called Muthukumaraswamy Pillai lived in Muthialpet near Pondicherry. His wife Annammal was suffering from an illness in her stomach which was getting worse with no cure available. This made Muthukumaraswamy very depressed; he and his brother went to meet Sithananda Swamigal. It is said that Sithananda Swamigal immediately asked him, “How was the journey from Pondicherry?”. Muthukumaraswamy was taken aback, as Swami was able to know where he was coming from, without anyone telling him. Seeing the misery that he was going through, Sithananda Swamigal agreed to come with him to Muthialpet to heal his wife.
Pondicherry is known for its presence of various saints, sadhus, mystics and siddhars during different times in the past. Because of the city’s association with wisdom and spiritual enlightenment, it is known as Jnanabumi (the land of enlightenment or wisdom). Sithananda Swamigal’s arrival to Pondicherry increased its spiritual importance.
Immediately after the arrival of Sithananda Swamigal, Annammal, the wife of Muthukumaraswamy, was completely cured. She had no traces of the previous illness and she no longer went through the pain she was going through. This surprised people as the whole area was familiar with the health issue she was facing.
On the request of Muthukumaraswamy and Annammal, Sithananda Swamigal agreed to stay in their house. From that day, people began to visit Sithananda Swamigal to get rid of their health issues and to get his blessings. Sometimes Sithananda Swamigal visited families on request. He became known as a healer.
More Miracles of Sithananda Swamigal
Residents of Muthialpet like Muthaiah Mudaliyar and Sokkalinga Mudaliyar were ardent devotees of Sithananda Swamigal. Once, Muthaiah Mudaliyar’s pregnant wife was going through severe labor pain; helpless Muthaiah Mudaliyar ran to see the guruji. Sithananda Swamigal understood what was going on through his siddhis and told him, “Don’t worry, your son is born now. Go home and see him! Name him ‘Anandan’!’. Happy Muthaiah Mudaliyar ran home to see both the mom and the newborn son; he named the boy ‘Anandan’ as per the instructions of the Swamigal.
As per another interesting anecdote, once Sithananda Swamigal was returning after visiting a devotee in Kuyavarpalayam, Pondicherry. There was a liquor shop on the way. A drunkard having a drink there said to Sithananda Swamigal, “Why don’t you have a drink? You can talk a lot of spiritual stuff once this goes inside”. Swamiji ignored him and continued walking. But the drunkard kept insisting him to have a drink. Swamiji then agreed and started drinking the liquor, emptying a huge barrel. While Sithananda Swamigal looked normal, the drunkard actually got high because of the huge volume of liquor drunk by Sithananda Swamigal. His pulse rate began to go down.
The shopkeeper fell at swamiji’s feet, asking for forgiveness. Swamiji started to walk at this point. Seeing what happened to the drunkard, the shopkeeper sent information to his family. Before his family and relatives came there, the drunkard’s situation got worse. They carried the drunkard to Sithananda Swamigal and his wife fell at his feet, begging him to heal her husband; Swamiji healed him and restored his condition. Then he made the drunkard promise that he wouldn’t drink again, before sending the couple home..
One day, Muthukumaraswamy took Sithananda Swamigal to his farm in Muthialpet. While they were taking a walk inside, Sithananda Swamigal started looking at a place inside the farm for a long time. Then he revealed a secret. He said to Muthukumaraswamy, showing his own body, that it was going to stay there. He said it thrice. He was implying that he was going to be buried there.
Then he showed another place to Muthukumaraswamy and said that his wife Annammal was going to be buried there. Muthukumaraswamy was shocked to hear all this. As years went by everything indeed happened according to Sithananda Swamigal’s predictions.
Sithananda Swamigal was fond of little kids. He used to play with them a lot. There is a village called Mailam near Tindivanam which is famous for its Murugan temple and the festivals conducted there. According to the anecdotes, Sithananda Swamigal had the power to show the festival in Mailam to the children while being in Pondicherry; Once the children fell asleep, everyone would have a vision of what was happening in Mailam temple.
Sithananda Swamigal’s final years and Jeeva Samadhi
During his final years, Sithananda Swamigal lost much of his body consciousness; he wouldn’t eat or drink for months unless someone compelled him to eat something. Instead of using a plate, he used to use a flat stone from Muthaiah Mudaliyar’s house to eat. That stone was believed to have certain healing properties. Pregnant ladies who went and sat on that stone reported that they didn’t experience labour pain during delivery.
There was a potter who always used to visit Sithananda swamigal when guruji was teaching. He had been inviting Sithananda Swamigal to his home to have a meal. He also made a statue of Sithananda swamigal in clay. Once Swamiji agreed to come and visit him in the house and have a meal. He ate very well that day after a long time. Then the potter showed him the statue he had made. Sithananda swamigal looked at him for a long time and said, “This body is a shell made of skin; and this statue is a shell made of clay. The statue will son take the place of the body”.
Ten days before the Jeevasamadhi day of Sithananda Swamigal, he told Muthukumaraswamy that his Prarabdha Karma was going to be over on May 28th that year (1837). He asked him to let everyone know about this. He said that he would go deep into meditation and his life in the body would end; then he could be buried in a cross legged position, which is known as Jeeva samadhi.
According to another legend, it is said that Sithananda Swamigal came to the present temple where his tomb is built, on the day before he attained Jeeva Samadhi. Devotees expressed their concern about a muni, a disembodied being which was bothering people there, as it was a secluded spot by then. They were worried that they might not be able to visit his tomb regularly because of the fear. Sithananda Swamigal started staring at the sky in silence for a while; then a huge branch from a tree broke and fell down. Then Sithananda Swamigal told them, “the muni is gone now; so you don’t have to worry anymore!”.
On May 28th, 1837, Sithananda swamigal came to Muthukumaraswamy’s house. He closed his eyes for the last time and sat in a cross-legged position (Padmasana) in front of the devotees. They conducted Puja for his body before conducting the burial.
Siddhars are not cremated but buried; there is a detailed procedure for Jeeva Samadhi, which has been written by Siddhar Tirumular, the author of Thirumanthiram. According to him, the exact procedure should be followed so that it is beneficial to everyone.
There is an anecdote about another miracle which is said to have occured while Sithananda Swamigal’s body was carried for burial; he came to life for a moment just to tell people that the instructions for Jeeva Samadhi were not correctly followed; He gave proper instructions and went to samadhi again, never coming back to life. His body was then taken to Muthukumaraswamy’s garden in Karuvadikuppam, Pondicherry and he was buried in the same place that was mentioned by him earlier. A Linga was constructed over his tomb, which is the main shrine of the current Sithananda Swamigal Devasthanam (Temple) in Pondicherry.
Pondicherry was under French rule at that time. So, they had to get the permission of the French government to build a temple over it. Once the permission was granted, the temple was built.
Poet Bharathiyar’s Association with the temple
Bharathiyar, the famous Tamil poet, used to visit this temple often when he was staying in Pondicherry between 1908 – 1918. This place was full of trees and cuckoos. During his visits here, Bharathiyar wrote his famous “Kuyil Pattu” and many other poems including Kannan Pattu, Panchali sabatham, Kani Nilam vendum, Manakula Vinayagar thuthi and Desa Muthu Mariamma song.
In Kuyil Pattu, Bharathiyar describes the grove nearby as the place full of mango trees where hunters came to hunt birds. He called the well in this temple as ‘Jnanakeni, the well of wisdom.
Bharathiyar has also sung a song on the temple and mentioned the temple in one of his essays. So, there is a big statue of Bharathiyar near the Southern entrance; the song he wrote on Sithananda Swamy temple is carved near the main shrine which has the Linga.
Structure of the temple
The temple has two three-tiered Raja Gopurams, one facing the West and the other facing the South. Entry is possible both ways. There is a pond in the temple and a lot of trees and shrubs are present, making it an excellent spot for sitting in silence or meditation. The Western entrance is right on the East Coast Road between Chennai and Pondicherry. Southern Entrance is in the beginning of the Karuvadikuppam main road that goes towards Muthialpet.
Once you enter the temple through the southern entrance, you will find a Pipal tree on the left, along with the statues of nagar.
If you go straight, you will first reach the shrine of Sundara Vinayagar.
Right after the shrine, there is a shrine for Guru Dakshinamurthy. There is a lot of importance for Dakshinamurthy here and Thursdays are special days in the temple.
Then there is a separate shrine for Ayyappan on the left, which looks beautiful like a mini-temple on its own. The Ayyappa statue seated above 18 steps is very beautiful.
Then you reach the Western gopuram entrance and there is a Pipal tree and Neem tree on the left in the corner with the statues of nagar.
As you proceed further by taking right in the pradakshina path, there is a hall of annadhanam on the left. You see a huge bell on the top on the right. The temple was made in France and it has the precise sculpture of Sithananda swamigal; all the images of Sithananda swamigal are drawn by using the image on this bell as the model.
Right in front of you, there is the entrance to the shrine of Linga and the samadhi of Sithananda Swamigal. There is a beautiful sculpture of Nataraja on the top at the entrance.
There is a statue of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa in the shrine for the Linga, along with many other sculptures.
The tomb of Muthukumaraswamy has been placed near the Linga on its right side, where the present day temple of Sundara Vinayagar stands. His wife Annammal’s tomb is behind the tomb of Swamiji and his brother Somasundaram’s samadhi is to the left. This was all according to the instructions of Swamiji himself.
After you have the darshan, you can reach the open space besides the pond.
There is a meditation hall nearby. A statue of a Sithananda Swamigal is placed in the front and a picture of the guruji is at the back of the hall. The statue of Saraswathi at the entrance looks very beautiful.
There are stone benches near the pond. There is a statue of guruji at the centre of the pond. This is a great place if you want to spend time in silence.
Here are the pictures near the pond and more pictures from the temple:
You can reach this temple while travelling on the ECR road from Pondicherry to Chennai. It is 5 Kms from Pondicherry Bus stand. If you go by bus, get off at the ‘Shivaji Statue’ stop. The temple is right there in the corner in the side of the road, near this signal. Guru puja, Maha Shivaratri and 108 Sankabishekam during the Tamil month of Karthikai are celebrated in this temple in a grant manner. Pujas on Thursdays are very special and attract a lot of crowd.
Let me end with a Tamil Venpa poem I wrote about Sithananda Swamigal today (4th Dec, 2o20):
தத்துவமே தானாகித் தன்னை உணர்ந்தறிந்து
முத்தி அடைந்த முனிவராம் – சித்தராம்
சித்தானந் தர்பாதம் போற்றி வணங்கினேன்
தித்திக்கும் வாழ்க்கை இனி.
(Meaning: “I praised and bowed down to the feet of Sithananda Swamigal, who was the essence of wisdom himself, a sage and a siddhar who realized himself and attained Mukti; my life will be sweet from now on”.)