We held a special meal for sadhus on Sunday, 15 September, 2013. A few weeks before, I received Internet messages from three different people, asking if we could arrange a “Sadhu Feast.” I responded to all three, asking if they were related, since the term “Sadhu Feast” is not usually used. It turned out that they were all the same request, forwarded by three different people from Canada. We agreed to help, they sent us funds by Paypal, and I spent the next days arranging things.
We have done a number of morning sadhu feedings in the last few years. This time I wanted to offer a midday meal, since there are others now who regularly bring breakfast to the sadhus of Arunachala’s Pradakshina Road (Girivalam Road, or Hill Round Road are its other names). We arranged the meal with a Tamil friend, Dhakshinamoorthy, who runs a small cafe, Sathya’s Café, on Perumbakkam Road, in a village adjacent to Tiruvannamalai. I also talked to a sadhu friend who lives on Pradakshina Road about the details, and he agreed to help. We scheduled the feast for 15 September, since this was an auspicious day for Siva. We also arranged with the trustees of Sri Raghavendra Swamy Brindavanam, on the West side of Arunachala, to use their nice spacious and shaded facility for the meal.
I stopped by Sathya’s Cafe in the morning of the 15th. They were busy cutting vegetables for the meal.
About noon we went to Sri Raghavendra Swamy Brindavanam, to meet our sadhu helper, Swami Boomzavanam. I have known him for a few years. I had learned previously that he had been a constable before he took Sannyasa and became a sadhu, so he is a renounced policeman. He recommended the time and place for the feeding, and said that we should feed 108 sadhus. I had thought to give Rs 10 to each sadhu along with the meal, but he suggested Rs 20, so that is what we will do.
He also created invitations to the feast, and wrote out 108 ‘chits’ (by hand) and passed them out to sadhus nearby. Here is a chit that he took from someone who has come already.
Here is Sri Raghavendra Swamy Brindavanam. It is just past the Hanuman temple.
It is well shaded. This nice roof was installed a couple of years ago (at a considerable cost to the temple trustees of about 4 lakh rupees). They wanted to spend this money to make the place cooler and more pleasant for those who visit it.
There are a number of big posters inside.
Sri Raghavendra (1595–1671 CE) was a Vaishnavite saint and scholar who advocated the Dvaita (dualist) teachings proposed by Sri Madhvacharya. His samadhi, in Mantralayam in Andhra Pradesh, is an important place of pilgrimage. The numerous miracles he performed have led to him being worshipped even today as a Guru and he is believed to be the savior for those who place faith in him.
As a Vaishnavite dualist he seems a bit out of place in Tiruvannamalai, famed as an important Saivite holy place, where saints like Sri Ramana Maharshi espoused a deep Advaita (nondualist) teaching.
In the picture below Sri Raghavendra is seen lovingly holding Krishna.
To the rear of the compound there is a big covered area that has been cleaned for the event today. It is big enough for the 100+ people that we expect.
On the grounds are several moorthys, wonderfully decorated. Below are two Nagas (snakes) coiled around each other. The snakes each have a Vishnu tilak (a white cup holding a vertical yellow line).
I am not sure what god this is, but he wears three Siva stripes.
Swamis are starting to enter the grounds for the meal.
These three sit and look intently at a book, showing each other pages from it.
The book is in English, “Living with Himalayan Masters” by Swami Rama, filled with inspirational stories of his experiences in Himalayan caves and monasteries with the great teachers who guided his life.
Here are members of the local Sri Raghavendra Trust. They all showed up today so they could help in the feeding if needed. Second from the left is my contact, Sri N Ramachandran, Secretary of the Trust.
This swami pictured below associates himself with this place. The nicely grown trees here owe their health to his care. He has watered them every day for the last two years, after they were planted. He also cleaned the area for today’s meal.
Swamis sit and wait, inside the shrine …
…and outside on the street.
While we waited for Dhakshinamoorthy and his lorry filled with food, another one stopped nearby. It is Sunday and other organizations are providing a midday meal. I didn’t want our swamis to go to the truck and get filled up before our meal.
More swamis enter.
This swami stopped and talked with us. He said that he was university educated and spoke pretty good English. He told me that of all the animals, it is only humans that can love.
We have heard that the truck with food will be here soon, so swamis have started to sit where they will eat.
Here comes the truck. Dhakshinamoorthy’s son Bapuji is riding in back.
It is filled with containers of food.
I am glad the guys from the Trust were here. Right away they pitched in and started to unload the truck.
There are many pots full of food. Since we were to serve a “Feast,” we wanted a variety of different foods.
Now four rows of swamis sit and wait to be served.
First we hand out banana leaf plates.
Then water cups.
Then the serving of food begins. Papadams are given out.
Biryani is served.
This sadhu has a vada, some potatoes, some beans, and a cabbage dish on his leaf plate.
More biryani is served.
They all sit patiently for the food.
Rice and sambar are also served. Later there will be rasam and curd over rice.
His plate is pretty full; he just needs his biryani.
This sadhu has everything. He is just waiting for the signal to eat.
Meanwhile more rice is gotten from the pan. It is a big job serving all these people.
More biryani, too.
Many of the sadhus are adorned with rudraksha beads, beloved by Siva.
Almost ready to eat.
Before they eat, our new sadhu friend walks around the area, leading chants. All the sadhus follow along. This was not planned, but he just knew that this should be done, and stepped up and lead the chants.
You can see me with my camera.
The sadhu leads a chant.
Here is a short video of the chanting, so you can get an impression of the day.
Then everybody was ready to eat.
The sadhu told me that to start the meal I should walk around the area with my hands held in a high pranam.
So here I go.
Then eating begins.
The sadhu also told us that we should give out the money now. He also told me where to place it on the plate.
Now it is quiet as everybody eats.
We had planned for, and given chits for, 108 sadhus. About 140 showed up today, including several women.
After the meal, people here do not sit around and talk. They get up and leave right away.
A happy face after the meal. This sadhu is thanking Dhakshinamoorthy.
Then we have to clean up the mess, starting with the leaf plates.
Some give me pranams as they leave.
Leaving the shrine.
Here is another swami with great rudraksha beads.
After a big meal, what should you do? Maybe lie down and have a nap.
After all the sadhus have left it is time for the crew to eat. We had maybe 15 people helping today.
Even Carol and I got to eat. It was good, but most of the dishes served to the swamis were finished. We just got biryani, and rice and sambar.
This is the boy who insisted that our photo be taken. He was intent on getting us in action, eating the food.
Then all the pots and pans are gathered together.
They are going to take them back to Sathya’s café on this motor scooter. I don’t see how they will do it. I guess there will be two people sitting behind the driver, to hold onto all the pans.
Just after our feast has ended, yet another lorry pulls up to offer food to whoever wants it. It seems that this is a big activity on Sundays.
Sitting the the shade is this swami, dressed in white. We are told he will not take offerings of food or money. So he did not join us for the meal.
The Sadhu Feast is over. It seemed like a most successful day. So many people helped. We had the kind Canadians giving the money for today’s Feast. There were five women in the kitchen preparing the food, and about 15 more people serving it. I appreciated so much that the members of the local Sri Raghavendra Trust were here, and stepped right in to help.
The giving of food is an ancient practice in India, and is thought to bring much spiritual merit. Today the merit goes to our Canadian friends, and all those who helped.
The trust does a feeding every Thursday at 6 PM (when they have the funds. They did not have the money this week, so had to miss their food service). If you want to help, call the secretary N. Ramachandran at 9894232286.