03 April 2009

Yegdagella Aite: Mukundoor Swamiji

Noted Kannada writer Belagere Krishna Shastri (uncle of Ravi Belagere, the editor of "Hai Bangalore") worked as a school teacher for many years in several towns and villages across Karnataka. In 1950, while working in a village in Chikmagalur district, he heard about a wandering ascetic who could perform miracles and was 140 years old. People called him Mukundoor Swamiji. Krishna Shastri soon met the Swamiji, and became his close friend and admirer. He spent a lot of time with the Swamiji, travelling with him across Hassan, Chikmagalur and Chitradurga districts. The friendship came to an end in 1968, when the Swamiji passed away.

In 1995 Krishna Shastri wrote down his memories of Mukundoor Swamiji in a book called "yEgdAgellA aite" ("yogAdalli ellA ide" or "There is everything in Yoga"). It is a remarkable book about a remarkable man. Mukundoor Swamiji comes across as a Yogi, whose child-like simplicity and jovial nature masked his philosophical and spiritual depth. He used to travel from village to village and town to town, teaching people how to live and imparting to them the timeless wisdom of our civilisation. He had a unique gift of explaining abstract philosophical concepts to the simple village folk in their own language, using examples from their everyday life. The analogies and metaphors that he used to reveal the meaning of the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavad Gita and Vedanta are simply wonderful. Swamiji used to speak in a rough rustic Kannada that is rendered verbatim (with no attempt at "correction"), enhancing the charm of the book. Krishna Shastri also describes the beauty of the Malnad region eloquently. The Swamiji's love of nature is evident in every page.

Another thing that stays with the reader is the charm, beauty, simplicity and innocence of rural and small-town Karnataka of half a century ago. Today Karnataka boasts of being home to India's IT capital. But one can't help feeling that something precious has been lost in the pursuit of this progress.

This book reminded me of two books I have heard of, but not read: Paramahamsa Yogananda's "Autobiography of a Yogi" and Swami Rama's "Living with the Himalayan Masters".