Mastan Swami Tiruvannamalai
Mastan Swami was born 1878 in Desur, about forty miles from Tiruvannamalai. He came from a Muslim family of weavers. Even in his childhood he experienced samadhi states. While plying the family loom, his hands and feet would suddenly stop and become absolutely still.
Later he told Kunju Swami about his first meetings with Bhagavan:
“When I came to Bhagavan, he was seated like a rock outside Virupaksha Cave. (His unwavering gaze) was filled with grace, compassion and steady wisdom. I stood by his side. After giving me a look, he opened the gate of my Heart and I was also established in his state. I stood like that for eight hours, absolutely without fatigue, but filled with total absorption and peace. Bhagavan in those days used to open our heart with a simple gracious look, and it transformed us. There was no need for any questions since he made us, by his look, like himself.”
Bhagavan remarked about Mastan Swami to Viswanatha Swami:
“ All sorts of beings gravitate towards the presence of a jnani, devas (from heavenly realms), rishis, Brahmanishtas (established in Brahman), siddhas (perfected beings with supernatural powers) and yogis. Some come in a normal human form, but others turn up in their subtle, astral bodies. Some of these great beings show up in the guise of beggars or madmen, and some of them even appear in the forms of birds and animals.
“Among those who show up in a normal human body, and who subsequently stay on and become devotees, there is a huge range of spiritual attainment: complete beginners mix with highly advanced souls. The most advanced are ripe fruits, just waiting to fall. They only have to come into the presence of a jnani in order to plunge into a deep experience of the Self. One such devotee was Mastan.
“He was such a ripe soul, when he came to Virupaksha Cave to see me he would sometimes go into a deep samadhi before he had even entered the cave. As soon as he touched the railings of the gate, he would have a paralyzing experience of the Self. He would stand, rooted to the spot, unable to move, for six or seven hours. This happened several times. Usually, these experiences would happen before he had even seen me since I would be inside the cave, unaware what was going on at the gate.
“Mastan was in an entirely different category to most of the people who came. He was highly spiritual, although outwardly he looked like an ordinary man. He was kind and generous, always looking for an opportunity to help other people. He never showed any self-importance. On the contrary he liked to stay in the background, unnoticed and unappreciated by ordinary people.”
These samadhi states did not give him a full and permanent experience of the Self. When his mind reasserted itself, he went to Bhagavan for advice:
“Once, while I was on my way to see Bhagavan, I prayed for his grace.
On my arrival at Virupaksha Cave he asked, ‘Do you like saguna upasana [meditation or worship of form], or do you like nirguna upasana meditation or worship of the formless]?
I replied, ‘I only want nirguna upasana’.
Bhagavan then told me, ‘Fix the mind in the Heart. If you keep your attention at the source from where all thoughts arise, the mind will subside at the source and reality will shine forth.’
I had already come across similar teachings in Maharaja Turavu, Mastan’s verses and Sukar Kaivalyam. I had also seen these instructions in several other books. I took a firm decision that this was the way for me. After this meeting with Bhagavan I had no further doubts about this. No doubts at all.” (From B. V. Narasimha Swami’s interview)
“For some time, while I was meditating at night for about an hour, I used to hear the sound of a big bell ringing. Sometimes a limitless effulgence would appear. In 1922 when I visited Bhagavan at his new ashram at the foot of the hill, I asked him about this.
He advised me, ‘There is no need to concern ourselves about sounds such as these. If you see from where it rises, it will be known that it arises on account of a desire [sankalpa] of the mind. Everything appears in oneself and subsides within oneself. The light, too, only appears from the same place. If you see to whom it appears, mind will subside at the source and only reality will remain.’” (From Narasimha Swami’s interview.)
Mastan continued to visit Bhagavan throughout the 1920s, although his visits were less frequent than in earlier years.
The math that Mastan and Akhilandamma ran in Desur had been established to serve travelling sadhus, particularly those who were devotees of Bhagavan. The following story, narrated by Viswanatha Swami, indicates that Mastan took this responsibility very seriously:
In those days [the 1920s] some of Bhagavan’s devotees used to travel on foot to nearby towns such as Polur and Desur. We used to undertake these trips to visit devotees who lived in those areas. Bhagavan always gave us his permission before we undertook any of these trips. The members of the group would vary from trip to trip but we could usually count on devotees such as Kunju Swami, Ramaswami Pillai, ‘Nondi’ Srinivasa Iyer, Ramanatha Brahmachari and Ranga Rao to be enthusiastic about these adventures. I also went on many of these trips. Some of our expeditions would be to Cuddalore or Vellore, but most of them would be to locations in the Polur and Chengam areas.
When we travelled we would never stay in houses. When night came we would shelter in mantapams or caves. Sometimes we would just sleep under trees. We would beg for our food on the way. Sometimes people would give us provisions for a meal. If that happened we would stop and cook. If we received cooked food in our bowls, we would share it out equally among all the members of our group. Although we had a lot of fun, we were also aware that we were sadhus on a pilgrimage. As we walked we would chant scriptural works or meditate in silence.
On some of these trips Mastan would somehow find out in advance where we were going. We would arrive at a town, Polur for example, and find him waiting for us. Once he had discovered our whereabouts, he would make us sit while he went out begging for us. We didn’t want to be served in this way, but Mastan was very insistent. He told us on these occasions that he was the ‘devotee of devotees’, a role and a title that he took on himself.
He would say, ‘I want to serve the devotees of Bhagavan. You must stay here while I find food for you.’
Mastan would generally return with a huge amount of food, far more than we could possibly eat. After we had eaten as much as we could, we would share the leftovers with any local people who lived nearby. If we were living in caves or other out-of-the-way places, we would give the leftovers to monkeys.
As he fed us Mastan would make one persistent request: ‘Please tell me some stories about the glory of our Master. Tell me everything he has said during the time I was not with him. To me, every word Bhagavan speaks is holy. The words that come out of his holy mouth are so powerful, merely listening to them can give liberation to ripe souls.’ (Unpublished story narrated to V. Ganesan by Viswanatha Swami)
Mastan passed away on 8th November 1931. When Bhagavan learned of Mastan’s passing away, he sent Kunju Swami to his village with full instructions on how to make a samadhi for Mastan. There is a Tamil book [Tirumular’s Tirumandiram] that faithfully gives the details of how saints who have followed Lord Siva have to be buried. In accordance with these details Bhagavan drew up a plan of the dimensions of the samadhi and sent it along with Kunju Swami. It seemed very strange to us that a Muslim should be given a Saiva saint’s burial and stranger still that Bhagavan, who did not generally encourage ceremonial rites, actually laid down in the minutest detail the rites to be followed in the samadhi of Mastan.
Thank to:Mr. Reinhard.e.jung