Local legend has it that there are six sages, Self-realized saints, living around Arunachala at any given time. Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi is the famous one from the last century. Arunachala draws sadhus like a magnet attracts iron. There are maybe 400 or so sadhus living near Arunachala today. I think some of the six saints naturally come from among these sadhus.
Today we attended a special puja for one of these sadhus, called “Coconut Swami,” or “The Dancing Baba,” or “The Dancing Swami,” by those around the Holy Hill. As with most of these sadhus, his birth-given name is not known.
He was called The Dancing Babu because frequently, filled with the bliss of Being, he would dance his way around Arunachala, doing a most joyous giri pradakshina. Some days he would do this three times. (That would be a bit over 40 km, or 24 miles.) Those who observed him say that his dance was as full of energy and joy on the third time as the first go-round. People would come to him and ask for a blessing. He would not give blessings. Rather, he pointed, always with his right hand, to Arunachala. He took no personal credit.
About one and a half years ago, he was killed in a motorcycle accident. He was again dancing his way round Arunachala and danced a step to the side. A young man on a new motorcycles was speeding by, and hit the Swami. His head broke open, and an Indian friend of ours happened to be there and tried to staunch the blood flow while they waited for an ambulance. He died a few minutes before the ambulance arrived. His last words were, “I must go now.” Another Indian friend had heard the Swami say, that very morning at a chai stand, “Today is the day I die.”
The police arrived on the scene, and wanted to investigate and have an autopsy performed. The people on the scene talked the police out of this, saying this man was a saint, and must be handled and treated properly. The body was buried, not cremated. The body of a saint is considered to be a holy temple, and is to be preserved and worshiped, not burnt and the ashes scattered. He was buried seated in a lotus position, and a nice samadhi built over the gravesite. It was at this samadhi that the puja was held today.
Here is a photo of the Dancing Swami, taken by Marsha, the lady who held the puja today. He is holding a coconut (probably why he was called ‘the Coconut Swami). He is also dressed in white, not saffron, like most other swamis. This photo was taken about three years ago.
The samadhi is near several temples along Girivalam Road, including a shrine to the nine planets, and a Hanuman Temple. The road is just to the east of these temples. Here is a map:
We are heading east on Girivalam Road, about 1 km from Nithyananda’s Dhyanapeetam.
We turn away from the mountain onto a dirt road.
After a few hundred feet, we see the samadhi, up the path.
Arunachala is seen in the background.
Here is the samadhi. It faces Arunachala, which is very appropriate for the Dancing Swami, who loved the Holy Hill.
Inside are a lingam and Nandi. The shrine is well taken care of, with fresh flowers and clean clothes on the idols.
This picture of the swami is in the samadhi. Again he holds a coconut.
Looking towards the tank that is between the samadhi and the temples, we see a sadhu bathing and washing his clothes.
Many water lilies are growing in the tank.
The samadhi is now open, and is being swept and cleaned for today’s puja.
A string of mango leaves is being put up for the puja.
I do not know this swami’s name. I see him often as I drive along Girivalam Road. He is NOT one of the swamis who sit by the road waiting for passersby, so they can ask for money.
Much water is needed for today’s puja. The swami makes many trips to a nearby house, where he can draw the water.
He is cleaning the pots to be used today. All the puja items must be clean.
These bags contain most of the materials that will be used today. This is a lot of stuff. Marsha had asked for a simple puja. From the looks of all the bags, this will be more than a simple puja.
This swami looks on. He is another one that does not spend his day waiting for alms by the side of the road.
Here is another swami who has come to watch the puja. He is followed by a dog. During the day, he will sit and play with the dog. This is somewhat unusual, since most Indians see dogs as unclean.
A swami with a yellow dhoti comes, bringing more bags of flowers. His name is Ramana, and he is an attendant at one of the nearby roadside shrines. He will be the primary pujari today.
This swami is cleaning out clay pots. One of these will be used today. Several swamis are helping today.
Ramana is slicing lemons in half. They will be used for the puja.
Before the puja starts, Ramana is splattering a turmeric paste on the ground in front of the samadhi to purify it.
A flame is lit in a plate. This will be used again and again during the puja.
Before the puja, one of the Indian men, a rickshaw driver name Jai, pulls me to the side and tells me about this view of Arunachala.
This, he tells me, is Siva lying on the hill, with his hair splayed out to the right. You can make out the silhouette of a face, neck, body and feet to the left.
Camphor is added to the plate and lit.
Before the puja starts, the camphor flame is offered to Nandi,
then to the Balipeeta in front of the samadhi. (The Balipeeta is a lotus shaped pedestal for offerings. The best offering to give is your ego.)
Then to the lingam,
and finally to the picture of the Dancing Swami.
The puja begins with rose oil poured over the Balipeeta.
Now the oil is offered to Nandi.
Finally the lingam gets oiled. This process – anointing the Balipeeta, then Nandi, and the lingam – will be done again and again throughout the puja.
Then the flame is offered to the lingam.
The flame is then offered to Nandi and the Balipeeta.
The water is splashed on each idol to clean it and prepare for the next step. Nandi gets bathed in the photo below.
Water is poured over the lingam.
The next step is drenching the idols with vibhuti (sacred ash) mixed in water. First is the Balipeeta.
It is nicely covered in white.
Next, Nandi gets the vibhuti water.
The lingam gets its offering of vibhuti water.
Time for the next bath.
After this, prasad (food to be offered to those who attend the puja. Food that is purified by the contact with the god. Today this is a fruit salad.) is put on the Balipeeta.
The prasad is spread on Nandi. Each handful is first offered to Nandi, so that he can eat.
Now the prasad is put on the lingam.
There is a lot of it. They think that many people will attend today’s ceremony.
Fire is again offered to each of the idols.
Then the prasad is collected for later use. (We had some and it was GOOD.)
Time for another bath.
Nandi gets cleaned again.
And the Balipeeta.
Now we have the milk offering.
And the fire offered afterward,
and the bath, cleaning each idol, and getting it ready for what comes next. This cleanliness is very important in Hindu temples and shrines. Not only are the gods carefully cleaned (usually more than once each day), but those who come to the temple should have bathed, and should wear fresh, clean clothes.
Next is a curd offering. This might be either buttermilk or yogurt. This seems thick, so I think it is the latter.
Curd for Nandi. Yum!
And curd for the lingam …
Another blessing with fire.
And time again for a bath!
Standing at the door, officiating in a kind of way, chanting during much of the puja, is a sadhu dressed all in white. He was a devotee of the Coconut Swami, and is now his successor, dressed all in white. We noticed that his clothes today were brand new. My wife saw a label still on his top. I was later told that they do this to show that they ARE new.
Fire being offered. Notice the flower on top of the lingam. One has been added after each step, before the flame offering and subsequent washing. It happens so quickly that it took me a while to get it photographed.
Now a paste of sandalwood, very holy (and expensive) is offered.
Then the fire.
After the washing, honey is poured on the lingam.
And the fire is offered. Notice the flower atop the lingam.
One other thing that happened that I have not yet photographed, is a moment where, after the offering of the Abhisheka (also called Abhishekam), by pouring libations on the idol, a vibhuti dot was made of the face of the lingam. The dot is quickly washed away during the puja.
The ritual bathing.
Now a paste of turmeric is poured.
The flame is offered.
And the bath. The rich yellow color of the turmeric covers the floor.
Now the lemons are squeezed and the juice is for the idols.
I finally got him placing the dot.
The fire offering.
Now it looks like they offer the turmeric paste as Abhishekam again. Maybe this is something else, but I don’t know of any other offering with the rich yellow color.
The flame is offered.
Sadhus sit and watch.
The water is splashed on the lingam to clean it.
People watching from the front of the samadhi. The lingam is getting clean.
Ramana beings a plate out and goes around the group.
He is collecting jewelry, chains, holy beads, etc. Carol took off her wedding ring and offered it.
He carefully washes each item.
Then places it upon the lingam.
He adds a small flower mala as the last item.
Then all are blessed by the pouring of rosewater. Don’t worry – The items will be all returned to their owners.
People watching. Carol is in the pretty blue saree, with the nicely done pleats.
A camphor flame is offered to the lingam.
Then brought out so that each person can bless him or herself with it.
Marsha is given bananas and flowers that have graced the lingam.
The white-dressed sadhu sings ‘Arunachala Siva’ verses. We all sing along for the chorus:
The samadhi is now thoroughly cleaned again.
Ramana adds vibhuti stripes to the lingam. There is an old woman who has been with us all day, and is very reverential.
Now the lingam gets a new dhoti to wear. So did Nandi.
And finally flowers are added.
And more flowers
Here is a close up.
The lingam is offered the rest of the meal that has been prepared. After this offering has been made, all can share the food.
I was surprisingly moved by this puja. I did not know this sadhu, even though I came here before his motorcycle accident. I was not blessed to meet him, or if I did see him, I did not have the eyes yet to really see. The Dancing Swami was one of those revered holy men that are found in India. There are few of these ‘saints’ around, but they are around. One needs real grace to meet them. And more grace to see who they are. And even more grace to know that finally there is NO difference between one’s self and the Self of the highest holy man.