Valli Malai, Tamil Nadu, home of Pongi Amman, a.k.a Valli Amman

My experience of Pongi Amma's grace

Or how I escaped certain death in 1993

Pongi Amman
Vallimalai Pongi Devi

by V.S. Pradeep Kumar

I got to know of Vallimalai and about guru Swami Satchidananda through his staunchest devotee Sadhu Balananda Swamigal.

There are many who have had the fortune of seeing the Guruji in person and I am sure all such saintly souls who have had the divine blessings of the Guruji would be writing about their experiences, their cherished moments with the Guru Swami Satchidananda. I for one did not have an opportunity to get the darshan of the Guruji - in person - but I do not consider myself less fortunate - as I am now seeing the Guruji - in Sadhu Balananda Swamigal. All who will get to read this article will know Sadhu Balananda Swamigal - for sure. In this article I would like to share my experiences with Swami Balananda - my experiences in Valli Malai and how I was saved from death by goddess Pongi.

I first met Sri Balananda Swamigal at my home more than a decade back. He came to our home with late Sri Sadhu Ram Swamigal. The occasion was Aiyappa Puja and bhajans at home. I still distinctly remember that the very first visit of Swami Balananda to my home soon after the bhajans when it was time for refreshments. I went up to Sri Sadhu Ram Swamigal and mentioned that in Swami Balananda I was seeing a totally different sannyasi. I told Sri Sadhu Ram Swamigal that something in me tells that the role of a sannyasi in the present day context, will get redefined and that Swami Balananda would be the catalyst for such a change. Sri Sadhu Ram Swamigal merely smiled and said that when we are in Sabari Malai, he will tell me, more about what sannyasam is all about and on Sri Balananda opting to become a sannyasi.
Sadhu Ram Swamigal and Balananda Sadhu, 1998
Sadhu Ram Swamigal (center) and Balananda Sadhu (at left), 1998

We then left for Sabari Malai in a couple of days under the guidance and leadership Sri Sadhu Ram Swamigal, (Sri Balananda did not come with us then) and at Kanmalai (the peak in the 42 mile Sabari Malai Periya Padai) when we were resting for the night in a tavalam, I got to know the complete background of Sadhu Balananda up to his attaining sannyasam from Sri Sadhu Ram Swamigal. We started talking sometime around 10.30 pm and were still talking till about 3.00 am. I must have asked a hundred or more questions - there was a very healthy open debate on some of the gray areas. I was really touched and moved. These were my first real lessons on how to handle relationships and for the first time I got to know about spirituality in its true sense. This was an experience I can never forget. Even today I very vividly remember the entire conversation. It was then I realized that so much could be taught and learnt in just a matter of hours.

Sri Sadhu Ram Swamigal was an institution by himself. He too was a very great devotee of the guru Sri Satchidananda. He told me why Sadhu Balananda was given sannyasam and about Sadhu Balananda’s decision to stay in Valli Malai, and very briefly told me of Valli Malai and the great guru Swami Satchidananda. Sri Sadhu Ram Swamigal is no more with us - what a loss - the depth he had in a wide area of subjects made it possible for us to have long intellectual conversations. His rendition of Tiruppugazh and Valli (folk) songs was par excellence. Goddess Saraswati was literally in his tongue.

After the above unforgettable moments at Sabari Malai some months later (about ten years back) curiosity got the better of me and I said to myself that I should go and meet Sadhu Balananda about whom I got to know a lot of details and that was how I first visited Valli Malai. I had the fortune of getting to know about the divinity of Valli Malai and about guru Satchidananda from Sadhu Balananda Swamigal. I stayed overnight. I could feel the good vibes I was getting from the place.

The next morning I had the privilege of seeing Sadhu Balananda do his morning prayers as usual. I asked a very imper­tinent question. What is so special of that day - warranting abhisekams and Velmaral recitations? Pat came the reply: “Nothing special. This is the normal routine puja everyday.” Since then Valli Malai and Sadhu Balananda have become an integral part of my life - and I visited Vallimalai since then - I will always be reminded of doing a vendutal by Sri Balananda to goddess Pongi and all my vendutals to date have all invariably been divinely blessed.

Very regularly I am receiving the prasadams (vibhuti and kunkumam) from Sadhu Balananda. Invariably it comes very neatly packed in small plastic packet with Sadhu Balananda’s own handwriting saying it is with the blessings of goddess Pongi.

Once in 1993 as I was just rushing to catch a flight to Bombay. I had just got one of Swami’s prasadams packets and I simply put it in my pocket and wemt. I reached Bombay, checked into the Sea Rock Hotel and then opened this cover. I retained the prasadams with me. Next day I went to interview a few persons and I felt it would be easier to do it in my hotel room and a few were lined up. In the morning I opened the little plastic packets and applied them.

At that moment something prompted me to think on the interviews. Something in me said why not conduct the interviews at our Andheri office instead of at the hotel room and I then decided to change the venue. I asked my office to inform the candidates of this change. The original plan was to stay in the hotel room, complete a lot of drafting work (I was in Bombay then for a court matter) and then go through with the interviews which were scheduled from 2.00 to 4.30 pm - four persons were to be interviewed. As I was doing the drafting work, I needed some clarifications so I rang up my solicitors. I was asked to meet them so I left the room to meet the solicitors at Fort. I still had the prasadams with me.

While I was with the solicitors I narrowly escaped from one of the serial blasts. The solicitor’s office was near the Bombay Stock Exchange - the first of the serial blasts. I was to return the next day, but wanted to postpone and return immediately as I just could not come to terms with the loss of life - I was too close to losing mine myself. I had seen bodies without heads, blood and panic all over. And while I was approaching the Indian Airlines city office near the Oberoi, that place was blasted as well. Here again had our car reached the place two minutes earlier I would have been history by now.

With great difficulty when I reached Sea Park Hotel (en route blasts had happened in two more places) I was shocked to learn that there had been another bomb blast on the 8th floor of the Sea Park Hotel as well. The bomb went off in the very next room to the one I was staying, exactly at the time when I was supposed to be conducting interviews. Since I was a regular customer of Sea Rock Hotel, I was taken to the room, saying my office papers and important documents are in the room (I had placed the documents in my suitcase and locked it). I was taken to the room by a big contingent of police and hotel staff lead by an assistant commissioner of police via the fire escape staircase. This was at 7.30 am when there was still no electricity.

With great difficulty we reached the eighth floor. There was no trace of any rooms remaining. All the partitions had been blown away. Since I usually ask for and get that particular corner room with a good sea view from two sides, I was able to tell them where my room and the one next to it should be. We then got there to see a big hole in the room next to mine. The whole place was littered with glass furniture and water. We tried to look for my suitcase using big torches. Nothing was visible.

As I was flashing one of the torch lights, I saw a blue colored piece of my suitcase in between the two iron girders for fire protection. I asked whether that could be retrieved so that I could have it for a keepsake. Reluctantly they agreed. With great effort we tried to take it out. To our surprise the entire suitcase was there, totally wet and very much com­pressed, but nothing was missing, including all my personal belongings and all the documents that were critical to our company’s case. The entire hotel staff were very surprised and so were the police officials. Instead of the usual questioning, I was being quoted as one of the luckiest persons. It is then I again searched for and found the prasadams in my pocket -- they were still there. What a close encounter with death - and what a providential escape! I realised it was not luck but indeed goddess Pongi’s own blessings through Sadhu Balananda.

Enormous efforts are undertaken by Sadhu Balananda to bring in as many more new devotees to Valli Malai and get benefited and blessed like me. I can not find the words to describe correctly the yeoman service being so painstakingly provided with such a caring heart by Sadhu Balananda to humanity at large. May goddess Pongi give Sadhu Balananda a long life to continue inculcating the goodness of spirituality in one and all and let all of us in our own small way also give a helping hand to help the needy among us. Sadhu Balananda is not only a person for us to look up to. He is indeed the role model for all sannyasis and if only all sannyasis were like Sadhu Balananda, the world will be infinitely spiritually better. Generations to come will continue to get the spiritual benefit. Sadhu Balananda is accessible to one and all. But for him many today would not be visiting Vallimalai as frequently as they are doing now. The traditions are well preserved. I call upon more and more of us to keep visiting Valli Malai and get to know the sanctity of the place and above all get Pongi Amman’s blessings.