12.3.4: JOTHI RAMALINGA SWAMIGAL (1823 - 1874)
Jothi Ramalinga Swamigal was born in a village near Chidambaram as Ramalingam. It was his elder brother Sabapati who discovered the spiritual genius of the boy Ramalingam. As a boy he refused to be educated at school or at the feet of a master, even when the brother chose to punish him by expulsion from home for days and months. Instead he would be found sitting at the altar in a temple quietly in meditation. Finally this born jnAni agreed to study at home all by himself within the confines of a room – where he was soon discovered to be only meditating and not studying. But what pleasantly surprised the elder brother and his wife, who showered a mother’s affection on Ramalingam, was that he could sing beautifully in devotion to God. One day the brother sent him as a proxy for him in the task of giving an exposition of Peria Puranam - an epic poem by Sekkizhar narrating the episodes connected with the 63 Shaiva Nayanmars. Ramalingam did this so well that the audience thereafter preferred to have him for the discourses in future rather the learned elder brother. The latter tasted the boy’s delightful expositions by secretly listening to him during such discourses. The fame of the boy spread. People started offering him monetary gifts, which resulted in his disappearance and living as a Sannyasi. His expositions, his compassion for the downtrodden, his love to one and all of the human as well as the animal kingdom, and his spotless disciplined life even as a youth, brought forth thousands of disciples from far and wide. Miracle-cures were performed by him in plenty. He advocated a casteless society where every one would uniformly seek the Grace of the Holy Light through the all-pervading Light within their own selves. His was a voice which refused to heed any but the voice of one’s pious conscience. His prayers included not only the routine plea to God to show us the Light within, not only the universal prayer for the cleansing of our minds, but also the unusual and unique prayer, in compassion, of asking for the dead to be revived by the Lord. He composed thousands of verses breathing universal love and peace, which are all available today as a single book called ‘tiru-arut-pa’. He is considered as one of the greatest Tamil poets of the 19th century, inspite of his total lack of any formal education.
Though he obliged his brother by marrying, he never lived a married life. His wife was so moved by the obvious spiritual glow in him that she cooperated with him in his celibacy and in his service of spreading the message of eclecticism in the world. His worship of the flame in the lamp as the expression of Divinity, gave him the name of Jothi Ramalinga Swamigal – Jothi, meaning, lighted flame and its splendour. In 1872 he constructed a prayer hall at Vadalur for worship on an eminence from which the four temple towers of Chidambaram 20 miles away would be visible.
In 1874 after taking leave of the followers he entered his room and locked himself in. The popular belief is he disappeared from there into eternity. To remember him and receive the spiritual Light wich he showed to the countless thousands who congregated at his prayer hall while he was living, devotees gather at Vadalur every year on the Thai Poosam day. This is the day when the Sun will be in Capricorn and the Moon will be near the asterism Pushyam known as the beehive cluster in the constellation of Cancer. The mantra that will rent the air from the congregation on these days would be
Blessed Holy Light; Unique Holy Grace.