Yogi Ramaiah:

 

On May 9, 1923, in the ancestral mansion of S.A. Annamalai Chettiar, a young woman, Thaivani Achi, gave birth to her second son, Ramaiah, which means "Ram worshipping Shiva." S.A. Annamalai Chettiar, two years before, had flown the first private airplane from England to India. He had his own private airport near his home.

 

His family was the wealthiest in all of south India, having amassed a forune as merchant bankers and traders throughout southeast Asia over the previous several hundred years. Their home, "Ananda Vilas." ("the place of bliss") was the second largest in the village of mansions, Kanadukathan, in an area known as "Chettinad" 60 kilometers north of Madurai, the ancient capital of Tamil Nadu.

 

Chettinad was inhabited primarily by the Nattukottai Chettiar clan of several hundred families. The Chettiars were south east Asia's first bankers, and their commercial empire encompassed south India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Viet Nam, Burma and Indonesia. They had also financed the construction of most of the large temples in south India, with their colossal gopuram towers, over the past several hundred years.

 

The present finance minister of the Government of India, P. Chidambaram is Yogi Ramaiah's cousin, and he has built his career on a solid reputation for honesty and acumen with regards to financial affairs. S. Annamalai, the young father's own father, was a great philanthropist and businessman; his brother, Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiar, had made his fortune importing teak from India to south India, and his palatial home, measuring hundreds of meters in size, and situated next to Ananda Vilas included a thirteen car garage. He had since become a leading industrialist. But his brother, the young father of Ramaiah was more interested in airplanes, fast cars, race horses, gambling and spending his father's money.

Ramaiah's mother was a devout young woman, also a Chettiar, with a strong interest in spirituality and mysticism. She was a disciple of "Chela Swami," an enigmatic "childlike saint," and sadhu, or holyman, who would wander into their home every now and then. Completely naked, village boys would sometimes treat him like a madman, throwing stones at him.

 

But no one could ever determine why he was always smiling; the village boys would give to him some bananas, or massage his feet in reverence, and he would smile; then some of them might make fun of him or try to tease him, and he would only smile in response. No one knew where he lived or where he would go when he disappeared for weeks or months; he would come and go like the wind.

 

But Thaivani Achi was devoted to him.Young Ramaiah was educated by tutors and enjoyed the life of a member of the most elite circle in colonial India. He played golf, wore English clothes, and traveled frequently by motor car 300 kilometers north to Madras, where his father owned most of the seaside property for nearly a mile south of San Thome Cathedral.

 

Ramaiah was interested in science and Tamil literature. While his father gambled away the family's fortune, Ramaiah prepared himself for a university education. His father wanted him to go into business, like all good Chettiars, but Ramaiah was adamant. When he was admitted to the University of Madras, Presidency College, the most prestigious institution in south India in 1940, he appealed to his father for permission to major in the subject of geology, with a minor in Tamil studies.

 

After some heated discussion, and after the intercession of Ramaiah's mother, S.A. Annamalai relented and gave his consent.Ramaiah excelled in his studies and in 1944 he graduated at the very top of his class. He applied for post graduate studies in geology at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA, and was accepted. His father opposed this proposal, insisting that Ramaiah begin a career in the family's business empire.

 

Finally, Ramaiah succeeded in convincing his father that he should be allowed to go to America, but before doing so, but on condition that he get married first. Betrothed since several years to Solachi, a young woman whose wealthy family lived in the mansion across the street from Ananda Vilas, the marriage was celebrated and Ramaiah and his young bride began to make preparations for a long sea journey to America. However, fate intervened and Ramaiah contracted bone tuberculosis.

 

The best English physicians were brought in to treat him, but as bone tuberculosis was and still is an incurable disease, the most they could accomplish was to arrest its further spread beyond his legs. They did so by imprisoning him in a plaster body cast, extending from his feet to his neck.

 

By immobilizing his body in this way, the further development of the disease was expected to be arrested. He remained in this situation, hanging from the bed posts and suspended in air, for six years. His family left him alone with his young bride and a few servants, at their seaside cottage, at number 2, Arulananda Mudali Street, (now Arulandam Street), San Thome, Mylapore, Madras.While most persons would probably have succumbed in despair to such an unimaginable condition, Ramaiah had a source of strength which enabled him to survive this difficult period.

 

His mother had given to him an innate love for spirituality, and so rather than seeing his situation as a curse, he realized that he could use it to explore the inner realms of his soul. Being an avid reader, Ramaiah studied the classics of Indian spiritual literature.

 

He was particularly impressed with the poems of Ramalinga Swamigal and the writings of Sri Aurobindo. His family had served Ramana Maharshi for three generations, and he could appreciate his method of Vichara Atman. Unable to move or engage in any normal activity, he also began to practice meditation seriously, and whenever possible, he would send his chauffeur with an invitation to famous sadhus or gurus who were visiting the area.

 

Intrigued by the sincerity of this young man, encased as he was in a plaster body cast, they would come and train him in the art of meditation and breathing. Unable to explore the external world, he turned his attention to the inner world. Without other distractions, he made rapid progress. One of the sadhus, who had the most influence upon him was a middle aged man named "Prasanananda Guru."

He was a famous "tapaswi" an ascetic who could remain motionless for many weeks, locked in meditation or trance. He was sometimes summoned by the chieftains of drought stricken areas because of his ability to make it rain. In 1948, he ended a three year drought in Chettinad, after sitting for 48 days at the Brahmanoor Kali temple, one kilometer outside of the village, performing yogic tapas, or intensive meditation. At the end of one "mandala" of 48 days, the rain came in torrents.

 

Since that time drought has never returned to this area.Another of Ramaiah's early gurus was Omkara Swami, a former postal worker, who had become a famous "tapaswi," who would sit without moving for 48 or 96 days without a break, locked in samadhi trance. They shared with Ramaiah their intimate knowledge of yogic sadhana. In 1952, Ramaiah wrote and published a biography of Omkara Swami, entitled "A Blissful Saint."

 

They maintained a friendship until the latter's passing in the 1960's.On March 10, 1952, the day that Yogananda attained mahasamadhi in the USA, Mauna Swami, a colorful sadhu and disciple of Shirdi Sai Baba came to the San Thome home of Ramaiah, and after demonstrating his clairvoyant powers, predicted with great assurance that Ramaiah would soon be healed.

 

But before this could occur, Ramaiah succumbed to despair, and one night decided to end his life by holding his breath. Then, as he was doing so, he suddenly heard a voice say: "Do not take your life! Give it to me!" Startled, he took a deep breath, wondering who could this be. Then he realized that it must be the mysterious figure whom he had begun to see in meditation after the visit of Mouna Swami. The first time this occurred, he had a vision of Shirdi Sai Baba, wearing his characteristic orange head cloth.

 

He eagerly asked Shirdi Sai Baba: "Are you my guru?" The reply came: "No, but I will reveal to you who is your guru." Just then, he saw for the first time his guru "Babaji."The next morning, Ramaiah awoke with the realization that he had been healed. The English doctor was summoned and the body cast was removed. To the astonishment of everyone, the doctor's examination revealed that the dreaded disease had disappeared. During the following days Ramaiah regained the use of his legs.

 

He also began chanting softly the name "Babaji" and then "Om Babaji" and "Om Kriya Babaji" and finally the five syllableed "panchakra" mantra "Om Kriya Babaji Nama Aum," with utter gratitude and delight.One day shortly thereafter, he came across a newspaper advertisement for a new book about the renowned saint "Satuguru Rama Devi," entitled "9 Boag Road," which was the address of her residence in Madras.

 

The author was V.T. Neelakantan, a noted journalist. Ramaiah penned a postcard to the latter, requesting a copy of the book and addressing him with "Dear Atman." Upon receipt, the journalist thought that the sender of the postcard must be a "money bag," that is, some idle wealthy person, but out of curiosity, he decided to pay him a visit in San Thome.Thus began a friendship and collaboration which lasted nearly fifteen years. V.T. Neelakantan had been receiving frequest late night visitations by the same mysterious figure, Babaji, in his puja room in Egmore, Madras. Babaji soon revealed to Neelakantan that he was to work closely with Ramaiah to establish a yoga society in his name, "Kriya Babaji Sangah," and to write and publish his teachings in a series of books.

 

Over the next two years, during late night visitations to V.T. Neelakantan's home, Babaji dictated several books to V.T. N., "my child," as Babaji called him: "The Voice of Babaji and Myticism Unlocked," "Masterkey to Alls Ills," and "Death of Death." V.T.N., then 52 years old, had been the foreign correspondent for several years before and during the second world war, both in Japan and London, for one of India's leading newspapers's, the Indian Express. Because of this, he had also become a confidante to Pandit Nehru, President of the Congress Party, and subsequently India's first Prime Minister when India became independent from Great Britain in 1947.

 

Before the war, for more than fifteen years he had also worked side by side with Annie Besant, the longtime President of the Theosophical Society, and the successor to Madame Blavatsky, who trained him in the occult. He was also married and the father of four sons and a daughter.

 

At the end of the 1940's he left his family for two years, and went to the Himalayas as a renunciant, where he studied with Swami Sivananda and other saints.On October 10, 1952, "Kriya Babaji Sangah" was officially founded, and regular lectures, meditation classes and other public activities were organized at the San Thome home of Ramaiah. Ramaiah was the President, and V.T. N. was the "Acharya."

 

Press equipment was acquired and a Kriya Yoga Magazine was published several times a year. More books were also written, despite V.T.N. 's fragile health. Ramaiah wrote the introductions, and V.T.N. wrote down the dictations from Babaji. Babaji began directing the sadhana of V.T.N., Ramaiah and Solachi, with specific instructions regarding meditation and mantras in particular.Babaji also began appearing to Ramaiah and in 1954 Babaji summoned him to Badrinath in the Himalayas.

 

He was asked by Babaji to go outside the temple village, situated at a height of 3,500 meters or 10,500 feet, taking nothing, and wearing only a loincloth. Ramaiah, then 31 years old, wandered north up the valley through which the Alakanantha River, a principle source of the Ganges, flowed from its glacier One day, he came across two sadhus, sitting on a flat rock. One smiled at him, the other frowned and began hurling verbal insults at him. "How could a dark skinned south India dare to wander here, dressed only in a loin cloth," he mocked.

 

Ramaiah went up a little higher beyond the catcalls of the sadhu, and sat down on a rock and began to meditate. Several hours passed. Suddenly, he heard someone approaching and urging him to come down to the village for food. Ramaiah indicated to him that he would not, and that he should be left alone. Several more hours past; it was dark, when suddenly, the same sahu, who had smiled at him, returned, and began forcing food into his mouth. "Jai Babaji" he thought.

 

"Even here, in this cold, desolate and treeless place, Babaji takes care to feed me."After three days of wandering, Babaji revealed himself physically to Ramaiah and began to train him in the sacred science of Kriya Yoga. Over the next several months, in his cave beside the glacial lake known as Santopanth Tal, thirty kilometers north of Badrinath, Ramaiah learned a complete system of 144 Kriyas, or techniques, involving breathing, yoga postures, meditation and mantras.

 

He also enjoyed the fellowship of Babaji's principle disciples, Annai Nagalakshimi Deviyar, also known as Mataji, and Dadaji, who was known as Swami Pranavanandar, in his previous incarnation, as well as other close disciples of the great Satguru. Among other things, Babaji also taught him how to withstand the cold temperature with a breathing exercise.After several months in the Himalayas, upon his return to Madras in 1955, Ramaiah committed himself to a very rigorous "tapas" or intensive period of practice, during which time he worshipped the Divine Mother in the form of Kali, in her most fearsome form.

 

In order to purify oneself of desires and to overcome such limitations as fear and anger, the worship of Kali is considered to be especially effective. She personifies "detachment" from the ego's attachments, symbolized by the heads she lops off. While Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutras, dryly recommends vairagya or detachment as the principle method of classical Raja Yoga, such a practice assumes a personal form when one engages oneself seriously in ascetic tapas. Sitting still in a room for many days on end, human nature rebels, and only complete surrender to the Divine, in the form of Mother Nature, Kali, it seemed, would enable him to overcome his ego's resistance.

 

Tap means "to heat" and tapas means "straightening by fire," or "voluntary self-challenge." It is the original term for "Yoga." It begins with an expression of a vow, for example, not to leave a place, or not to eat, or not to speak, etc. for a set period, for example, one "mandala" of 48 days.

 

Jesus Christ's 40 days in the wilderness was a form of tapas. Having completed his tapas, Ramaiah was born anew; he had experienced deep states of stillness, known as samadhi, and would hereafter be known as "Yogi Ramaiah." He was also given several important assignments by Babaji: to begin the study of physiotherapy and yoga therapy in order to help those who like himself, were handicapped; to begin teaching Kriya Yoga both in India and abroad; and to begin to research and gather the writings of the Babaji's gurus, Boganathar and Agastyar.

 

Yogi Ramaiah, along with Solachi moved to Bombay where he enrolled in the program to become a physiotherapist at G.S. Medical College and Hospital, the largest in that city. He also studied and applied yogasanas successfully to the treatment of his patients. About 1961, towards the end of his studies there, he asked his professors for permission to conduct clinical experiments. He told them that he believed that he could cure over 20 different types of functional disorders through the use of yoga alone, including diabetes, hypertension, appendicitis and infertility, all within three months time. Permission was granted and the patients were selected by the attending physicians.

 

For three months he worked with these patients every day, guiding and encouraging them in their practice of yoga, and allied regimens of diet and sun treatment. After three months, to the amazement of the physicians, all of the patients had become well. In recognition, he was awared an honorary diploma. Preferring not to wait any longer to complete the academic requirements, he returned to Madras, where he founded a free clinic for the poor in San Thome, specializing in the handicapped, as well as a department of orthopedic rehabilitation in Adyar, Madras. He operated the free clinic for nearly ten years.

 

The orthopedic rehabilitation department continues its operations to this day on Mount Road, just north of the Adyar bridge. In 1985, the author visited with Yogi Ramaiah the G.S. Medical College, and demonstrated the 18 yoganasanas while Yogi Ramaiah lectured to over 500 professional staff members in the auditorium. His successful use of Yoga was still remembered by the senior staff.From 1956 Yogi Ramaiah and Solachi began traveling to Sri Lanka, Malyasia and Viet Nam, where he would conduct lectures, yogasana classes, and initiations into Kriya Yoga, as well as free medical camps for the handicapped.

 

One devotee, an engineer, living at no. 51 Arasady Road, in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, recounted to the author, in 1980, how he had seen Yogi Ramaiah many times in his dreams prior to their first meeting. In 1958, Sri Lanka was rocked by its first communal riots between the Tamils and Sinhalese.These occurred while Yogi Ramaiah was conducting his third annual "Parliament of World Religions and Yoga." An ecumenical conference attended by local leaders of various religious groups. One participant was Swami Satchidananda, representing the Divine Life Society, founded by Swami Sivananda.

 

A Tamil from Coimbatore, he was deeply impressed by Yogi Ramaiah and his efforts for ecumenism. Thus began a lifelong friendship. When, in 1967, Swami Satchidananda left for America, he stopped at Yogi Ramaiah's seaside ashram in San Thome to receive his blessings. Yogi Ramaiah took him to the airport and gave him a royal sendoff. After Yogi Ramaiah himself moved to New York City, in 1968, they often attended one another's functions.

 

For example, the graduation ceremony for students of the Tamil language course conducted at Yogi Ramaiah's ashram at 112 East 7th Street, N.Y.C. and the Parliament of World Religions and Yoga at Rutgers University in 1969. In Sri Lanka, in 1958, the Prime Minister came to the last day of the Parliament to personally thank Yogi Ramaiah and the other speakers for helping to quell the riots with the speeches promoting inter religious understanding.In Malaysia in the early 1960's, Yogi Ramaiah and Solachi found many persons interested in Kriya Yoga. Solachi had received as part of her marriage dowry, a large rubber plantation from her family.

Yogi Ramaiah's great grandfather had his life miraculously saved at the end of the 19th century by a mysterious yogi, subsequently identified as Babaji. Yogi Ramaiah's father-in-law, Dr. Alagappa Chettiar, had founded a college in Pallatur, 8 kilometers from Kanadukathan, where Yogi Ramaiah used to teach Yoga.

 

He loved Yogi Ramaiah very much. But after his death, the families of the young couple began condemning their itinerant lifestyle and interest in Yoga, and the absence of any children. It was unheard of for young persons to become so seriously engaged in Yoga, unless they renounced everything as sannyasins. Fearing this, quarrels heated up and Solachi fell seriously ill. During her convalescence, she moved back into her mother's home in Kanadukathan.

 

Relations with her son-in-law deteriorated, and during the final days of her life, in 1962, the greedy mother tricked her daughter Solachi into signing over all of her properties to herself, stole her jewelry, and refused Yogi Ramaiah access to his wife. After her death, Yogi Ramaiah's mother-in-law compounded the tragedy by bribing a judge in Malaysia to give her title to all of her daughter's property there.About this time, Yogi Ramaiah decided to break with his own family.

 

His mother had passed away, and his father was a materialist and actively opposed to Yogi Ramaiah's activities involving Yoga. Disparaging remarks were made, and finally Yogi Ramaiah decided that he must break away from his family once and for all. Rather than wait for his share of the joint family property, normally distributed after the demise of one's parents, he negotiated a settlement which gave him enough money to purchase a large house in Kanadukathan, at 13 AR Street.

 

For several years, it had been used as a hotel for local college students. During the 1970's Yogi Ramaiah renovated it, and built within its walls several sacred edifices: a shrine to Babaji, a shrine to the lady Siddha Avvai, containing over a thousand palm leaf manuscripts written by the Yoga Siddhas, which he had collected over many years from private collectors and museums while wandering all over Tamil Nadu; and shrines to Mataji and Dadaji.