25 March 2007

Swami Abhishiktananda

In an earlier posting I mentioned the ban on non-Indians wishing to take darshan of the Lord at Jagannath Temple, Puri, Orissa. I would mention that there are Temples currently in South India that also maintain such a policy. And yes, in olden days, even here at Tiruvannamalai, there were restrictions against non-Indians visiting the Arunachaleswarar Temple. At the moment I don't have details of the history of the ban, but once I have that information I will post it.

Now the once 'trickle' of non-Indians visiting Arunachala and Tiruvannamalai, has become a veritable 'flood'. But it wasn't always like that. Due to lack of information and difficulty of travel, it has only been since the 20th Century that Westerners have visited and/or stayed at Arunachala in any great number. Such notables
include; Paul Brunton, Somerset Maugham, Maurice Frydman, Arthur Osborne, S. Cohen and Swami Abhishiktananda.

Swami Abhishiktananda was born Henri Le Saux 30th August, 1910, at St. Briac in Brittany in France. At an early age he felt a vocation to the priesthood and in 1929 he decided to become a monk and entered a Benedictine Monastery. Eventually his attraction to India, which started as early as 1934, came to fruition in 1948 when he joined Fr. Monchanin in Tamil Nadu where they both started up a small ashram at Tannirpalli, Tiruchirappalli District. It was there that Swami Abhishiktananda started to learn Tamil and Sanskrit and immerse himself in the Indian life-style.

Swami at an Arunachala cave

However it was in 1949 when he visited Tiruvannamalai and Sri Ramana Maharshi, that his life was to take a decisive turn. He later refers to that time:

"I regard this stay at Tiruvannamalai as being at one a real retreat and an initiation into Indian monastic life."

The periods which he spent at the foot of Arunachala and in its various caves were all between 1949 and 1955. However, during those years his permanent residence was at the ashram of Shantivanam which he had co-founded in: "an attempt to integrate into Christianity the monastic tradition of India."

But of Arunachala, he was to say: ' . . . the South (Arunachala) is my "birth-place".' And of his own spiritual experience at the sacred Hill, he was to later write:

"Anyone who is the recipient of this overwhelming Light is at once petrified and shattered; he can say nothing, he cannot think anymore; he just remains there, outside space and time, alone in the very aloneness of the Alone; it is an unbelievable experience, this sudden revelation of Arunachala’s infinite pillar of light and fire."

Swami's later years at his Ashram

At the end of his last visit to Tiruvannamalai in March, 1956, Abhishiktananda gave his assessment of the significance of Arunachala for himself:

"I think the best description of my real condition since Arunachala would be to compare it with the dawn;"arunodaya", when even before the sun has risen, the sky is already aglow. Light, peace and bliss. The birds are already singing, my heart too is singing. Joyful expectation of the appearance of the glorious orb."

1 comment:

Divyakka said...

Beautiful write-up, thanks. :-)