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

Vallimalai Sri Sachidananda Swamigal:
A Life Dedicated to Thiruppugazh

Part 3 of 3

Vallimalai Satchidananda Swamigal
Vallimalai Satchidananda Swamigal

New Year Step Festival
The country was under British dominion and freedom was still many years away.Whenever a New Year dawned, it became the practice of some officials to see the chief executives of the East India Company to convey New Year Greetings with some compliments, apparently with the expectation of getting some favours.

The resentment Swamigal felt over this practice gave rise to a new idea. From the dawn of 1917, Swamigal introduced a new form of worship called ‘Padi Vizha’ (Step Festival) at Tiruttani. During this function, devotees climb the hill step by step, singing songs and carrying various offerings for the real Chief of all, Lord Muruga.

Padi Vizha by Kalpakkam Thiruppugazh Anbargal at Tiruttani
Arunagiri Jayanthi at Vallimalai Tiruppugazh Asramam, 1940
Arunagiri Jayanthi at Vallimalai Tiruppugazh Asramam, 1940

This form of worship received overwhelming participation. Devotees from all over Tamil Nadu continue to congregate here on the eve of New Year to participate in the event. They believe that by climbing up the 365 steps of the hills, singing Thiruppugazh on the day of the New Year, it will herald the beginning of 365 days of happiness and prosperity in their life.
Vallimalai Swamigal relaxing at Tiruppugazh Asramam, Vallimalai in the 1930's.
Vallimalai Valli Amman a.k.a. Pongi Amman
Vallimalai Valli Amman a.k.a. Pongi Amman

The ‘Padi Vizha’ (Step Festival) gained widespread popularity and other hilly temples like Maruda Malai,Virali Malai, etc. have also adopted this practice. Over the years, this has become the most effective, collective and regular form of Muruga worship, thanks to the mercy-seekers of East India Company period. Similarly, Sri Sachidananda Swamigal also introduced the festival of ‘Arunagirinathar Jayanthi’ on the day of Moolam star in the month of Karttikai.

Many people came to Swamigal with their tales of woes. He listened to them patiently and his few words gave them hope and confidence. Some came to him seeking guidance. Some came and stayed there till all their doubts were cleared, fears dispelled and confidence restored. He laid stress on the importance of doing one’s duties. He always recalled Swami Sivananda’s words:“Do sacrifice. Discard your ego and not your duties.”

Swamigal always remembered the word of advice given by his guru, Sri Seshadri Swamigal to go to Vallimalai and propound the glory of Thiruppugazh from there. Swamigal felt satisfied that he was carrying out the orders of his master in letter and spirit. Then the message came from Tiruvannamalai that the time had come for his most venerable guru, Sri Seshadri Swamigal to shed his mortal remains. Swamigal immediately rushed to Tiruvannamalai and attended to his mentor and Guru. Swamigal remained there till the time Sri Seshadri Swamigal passed away on 4th January 1929.

Swamigal attended to all the work connected with last rites and returned to Vallimalai. Most of the time, Swamigal remained inside the cave observing silence and abstaining from food. The place he stayed became an ashram. There were number of disciples doing various services to Swamigal. Devotees started visiting the ashram in large numbers. On most occasions, Thiruppugazh songs could be heard from there. Even in his advanced age he used to arrange Thiruppugazh Festival and Valli Kalyanam. He also founded a temple for Valli who was known in local parlance as Pongi.

Vallimalai Swamigal with devotees, 1934
Vallimalai Swamigal with devotees, 1934

There is an interesting incident which led to Swamigal founding the temple for Pongi. While he was at Chennai, a minor girl came to him and said whether he would listen to her song. When Swamigal said, “Go ahead”, she sung the beautiful Thiruppugazh number “Virakara Nokkiyum” in MohanaRaagam. Swamigal was so impressed that he offered to give her whatever she wished. Swamigal was amused when she said that she wanted the mini-box held by Swamigal containing betel leaves and nuts. Swamigal readily obliged. After many days when Swamigal returned to Vallimalai, he found the same mini-box placed on a mounted rock structure. Opening it, he saw the contents remaining exactly as they were. While wondering how it came there, Swamigal heard the resounding words from above: “I only brought it. I am Pongi and I reside here”. Swamigal then arranged to construct a temple for Pongi there.

According to Swamigal, the best way to attain liberation from this world is to adopt the path of Valli, ‘Valli Sanmarga’ as it is commonly known. Valli was aspiring to marry Lord Muruga even from her previous birth. It was not a mere wish to marry; it was an aspiration to merge with Muruga, the symbol of Paramatma and it was her abounding devotion and humility that made her dream come true. Swamigal exhorted all devotees to follow the path of devotion, service and surrender as means for attaining the Lotus feet of Muruga.
Tiruchengottu Velavan

Arunagirinathar held a special fascination for Tiruchengottu Velavan. It is very much evident in Kandar Alankaram, where he says, “Even if one is destined to suffer due to his past karmas, he will be able to redeem himself by worshipping the Tiruchengottu Velavan.” In another hymn starting ‘Senthanai’ (72) he says that there will be no downfall for those who worship Tiruchengottu Velavan and the Lord would bestow them a life of happiness and prosperity. The poet mentions about the divine qualities of Tiruchengottu Velavan in Kandar Alankaram hymn no.23 and then continues portraying His various divine qualities in hymns nos. 36, 70, 72, 90, 91 and 97.

Tirumal Gireeswara
Vallimalai hill peak: Tirumal Girīswara
Panoramic view of Vallimalai Ashram
Panoramic view of Tiruppukal Asramam
as seen from Tirumal Girīswara

In his Thiruppugazh song ‘Bhaktargana Priya’, Arunagirinathar has said that he would never forget the blessing bestowed by Lord of Tiruchengottu which made it possible for him to compose such songs of Thiruppugazh which would reach all the directions of the world.It was exactly at this spot, 500 years later, the Chidambaram-Mahalakshmi couple had prayed the Ardhanareeswarar form of Lord Siva for being blessed with a son. The Lord answered their prayer and the son born to them, later known as Sachidananda Swamigal, fulfilled the wishes of Arunagirinathar and spread the glory of Thiruppugazh to all directions in the world.

Shrine to Arunagirinathar and Sachidananda Swamigal at Tiruppukazh Ashram, Vallimalai
Shrine to Arunagirinathar and Sachidananda Swamigal at Tiruppukazh Ashram, Vallimalai

Sri Ramana Maharshi is considered as one of the great spiritual leaders.He turned man’s attention from the world to the divinity within. According to him, if one finds his true identity, his natural state of sat, chit, and ananda (truth, consciousness and bliss) he is on the right path of Self-realisation.” Sachidananda Swamigal, whose name symbolizes truth, consciousness and bliss, held Maharshi in high reverence and veneration.

On 14th April 1950, word came that the ‘great impersonality’, as Maharshi was described, has left for his heavenly abode. Both Sri Seshadri Swamigal and Sri Ramana Maharshi who gave inspiration to Swamigal have departed. Now, Swamigal realised that he has performed the duties Lord Muruga had earmarked for him and it was time to depart.

On 10th November 1950, Swamigal had organized a six-day Kanda Sasti festival at Thambu Chetty Street, Madras in which many devotees including Sri P.S. Krishna Iyer participated. On the fifth day while performing his discourse on Valli Sanmarga, Swamigal went into deep introspection and silently walked away. He later recollected his experience of having had the vision of Lord Muruga.

Perhaps, Lord Muruga had set the stage ready for the merger of Jeevatma with Paramatma and the voice that proclaimed the glory of Thiruppugazh to all corners of the world became silent for ever on 22nd November 1950. The soul that was part of a glorious life has departed from its abode and reached its destination at the Lotus Feet of Muruga. Earlier, Swamigal had earmarked the spot, where he used to conduct Thiruppugazh bhajan, as his favourite resting place. Here, the internment of his body was done and a samadhi was built.

Swamiji’s close associates Swami Anvananda, Sri Mauna Guruswamy and Sri P.S. Krishna Iyer did all arrangements and supervision. A samadhi was constructed at Vallimalai and Sri Mauna Guru Swami maintained the samadhi for seventeen years. Sri Sengalvaraya Pillai said that Swamigal rose in this world like a brilliant sun to highlight the glory of Thiruppugazh and the light that radiated from it would continue to shine for all times.

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