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An Introduction to the Life and Works of

Vāsiṣṭha Kavyakantha Ganapati Muni

Vāsiṣṭha Kavyakantha Ganapati Muni (1878-1936) belongs to the rare race of intellectual and spiritual giants who crowded into the narrow corridors of the last quarter of 19th and first four decades of the 20th century to endow life, letters and all endeavours with meaning, purpose and altitude. He was a valiant soldier in the cause of Truth and Divinity. For communing with the Divine, certainly he was well-endowed, gifted as he was with marvellous powers of mind, intellect and soul. Even highly learned people of our time wonder at his indubitable versatile genius, keenness of perception and understanding of our modern problems, though he had never been to school all his life. His powers of intellect and intuition had solved and untied many mystic knots. His wide scholarship and studies in religious lore harmonized in him all religions and schools of philosophy. He was a master of metaphysics and his gift transported him into regions whence he could see the entire manifestation. In fact, he belonged to the order of the Rig Vedic seers who were gods among men.

The Muni’s life story is sweet and all-absorbing and has been beautifully rendered in the famous biography Vāsiṣṭha Vaibhavam by his foremost disciple, Sri Kapali Sastriar. Ganapati Muni was born in Kalavarayi near Bobbilithis town now appears to be called Kalavarai, about 5 Km northeast of Bobbili,
(click to see on a map)
in Andhra Pradesh on 17th November1878. He belonged to a family of Śri Vidya initiates (in vāsiṣṭha gotram), which had actually migrated from a village near Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu in the late 16th or early 17th century (later the family was well-known as the “Ayyalasomayajulu” family). His parents, Narasimha Sastry and Narasamamba, had three sons, Ganapati being the middle one. Nearly a year before his birth, on the holy day of rathasaptamī, his mother had been to the famous Sūrya (Sun) temple at Arasavalli (near Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh) to offer her prayers and worship. She stayed overnight in the temple after the traditional worship to the Lord. In the next early morning she had a dream in which a beautiful woman with golden divine radiance emerged from the corridors of the temple, approached her with a shining pot of fire and giving it in her hands vanished. To her utter astonishment, the moment the fire pitcher came into contact with her, it entered her womb and assumed the form of a child. Soon after her return to home from Arasavalli, she showed signs of pregnancy. She believed that her child was a divine gift of God Agni (fire). While she was waiting to deliver the child, her husband, Narasimha Sastry, had gone to the holy city of Kashi (Benares in Uttar Pradesh) in November 1878, where he also had a unique experience. When he was performing tapas in the ḍhuṇḍigaṇapati temple (near Visweswara Ghat) he had the vision of a little child emanating from the Deity and coming near him. After these wonderful experiences by both parents, Ganapati was born in the parental home of his mother on 17th November 1878. The father appropriately named his second son Ganapati, rooted in his conviction that the child was an emanation of God Ganapati himself. It may be noted that the Vedic deity Agni (Fire) is none other than gaṇapati described in the purāṇas and worshipped in the tantras. Ganapati himself was conscious of his divinity. He has expressed this in his most famous poem Umāsahasram and has said that he was born as an aṁsa (portion) of God Ganapati. He has also expressed his conviction about the identity between him and God Ganapati, the guiding spirit of his corporeal existence, in his work Herambopasthānam (Glory of Ganapati).

Ganapati was educated entirely at home. His father, Narasimha Sastry, like his ancestors, was an expert and well-versed in mantra śāstra, astrology and āyurveda. With this traditional family background, proficiency in these subjects came naturally to Ganapati. When he was only 10 years old, he was able to prepare the pañcāṅgam (almanac). He finished studying the classical Sanskrit poems and then devoted himself to the study of grammar and poetics. At the same time he delved deep into the writings of Vyasa and Valmiki. Again and again he read the Mahabharata. His horizon widened and his intellect mellowed with an ever-deepening perception. Like the ancient Rishis, Ganapati wanted to experience immense strength and power by the practice of tapasyā through mantra japa and meditation. Although married at an early age to Srimati Vishalakshi, he started visiting one sacred place after another for his tapas when he was 18 years old. He used to stay in one place for a few days or even months. In one such visit to Bhubaneswar (in Orissa, where the famous “Lingaraj” temple of Lord Siva is located), during his tapas, Ganapati had a vision, in which Goddess lalitāmbikā (bhuvaneśvarī) appeared before him, offering divine nectar. As Ganapati tasted this heavenly nectar, the Goddess watched him with a sweet smile, full of grace. From then onwards, the sweetness of the nectar became an integral part of him. After this incident, Ganapati’s intellect developed a rare sharpness and he attained complete mastery over poetry. Indeed, the literary work composed after this incident is endowed with a distinct sweetness and grace.

When Ganapati was staying in Kashi, he came to know that an assembly of scholars (harisabhā) would be held in the famous city of Navadwipa in Bengal. On the advice of his friends he got a letter of introduction and went to Navadwipa. There he excelled in all the difficult tests that he was put to with an effortless ease that stunned his examiners, who unanimously conferred the title kāvyakaṇṇṭha (one who has poetry in his throat – voice of poetry) on him forthwith. He was only 22 years old then (details are in Volume 11).

Ganapati repaired to the south of the country in his 25th year. From Kanchipuram he came to Arunachala (Thiruvannamalai) in 1903 to perform tapas. He visited twice Sri Brahmana Swamy (who was later named as Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi by Kavyakantha himself) before he accepted a teacher’s job at Vellore in 1904. Later in 1907, he resigned his job at Vellore and returned to Arunachala. It was at this stage that he sought and gained the grace of Sri Brahmana Swamy (Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi). An intellectual and spiritual giant who had high achievements to his credit and a host of followers as well, Kavyakantha still felt that his life’s purpose was not fulfilled. He remembered Brahmana Swamy whom he had met earlier and approached him for his grace and gain inner realization, peace and true import of tapas that he still lacked. On 18.11.1907 Kavyakantha approached Brahmana Swamy, who was staying in the Virupaksha cave, and prostrating himself at his feet said in a trembling voice: “All that has to be read I have read, even Vedanta Sastra I have fully understood. I have performed japa and puja to my heart’s content. Yet I have not up to this time understood what tapas is. Hence have I sought refuge at thy feet, pray enlighten me about the nature of tapas.” For quite sometime Brahmana Swamy gazed silently at Kavyakantha. He broke his 11 years of long silence and spoke gently, “If one watches where his notion of ‘I’ springs, the mind will be absorbed into that. That is tapas. If a mantra is repeated and attention is directed to the source where the mantra sound is produced, the mind will be absorbed in that. That is tapas.” The scholar-poet was filled with joy to have found his guru, and announced that the upadeśa (teaching) was original, and that Brahmana Swamy was indeed a maharshi and should be called so thereafter. He gave the full name Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi to Brahmana Swamy, whose original name was Venkataraman. Thus, the meeting was of profound significance not only for Kavyakantha but also for the world at large, which could learn from such a high authority about the real stature of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, the Silent Sage of Arunachala. Following this momentous meeting, Ganapati composed his great devotional poem, Umāsahasram, a thousand verses in praise of Umā, the Divine Mother, as a part of his tapas in gratitude to the great Goddess for having given him the Maharshi as his Guru (Master). This work is the magnum opus of Śri Vāsiṣṭha Ganapati Muni.

The Muni had the unique experience of kapālabheda. In the summer of 1922 at the Mango cave of the Arunachala hills, the Muni had several yogic experiences, arising from deeper parts of his being and invading his physical consciousness (resulting in great physical pain). During this, he visited his Master and told him of his inner and physical experience. His most compassionate Master, Sri Maharshi, comforted him by placing his lotus hands on his head. On the very night, he had the experience of the culmination of kuṇKoalinī sādhanā, resulting in the most unique experience of kapālabheda. His cranium was broken into two parts; a distinct sound caused by the breaking arose from the passage, which joins the two holes of the ears. A line of smoke going out of the head was perceived there. The Muni later spoke to his disciples about this yogic experience and that this has been mentioned in the sixth chapter of the taittīriyopaniṣad, quoting vyapohya śirṣakapāle bhūrityagnau prati tiṣṭhati (“having separated the two parts of the cranium, he stands established in Fire as Bhūḥ, the earth element”) and mentioned several great effects of the power of yoga experienced at this time with their secrets. It is usually believed that the physical effects of this great experience are such that the body cannot sustain long following this event. However, in his case, with the strength of his own tapasyā and the Grace of his most compassionate Master, he lived for fourteen long years (although he had to observe certain physical restrictions, such as that he could not shave his head nor could put his bare feet on the ground) after this experience. This event speaks volumes on the extraordinary nature of his tapasyā and the fact that he was perhaps the greatest Master of tantra born on this earth. In fact, the final revision of his magnum opus Umāsahasram after this experience, remains, testimony not only to his supreme mastery over the tantras but also his ability to find the reconciliation and concordance between the Vedic, Upanishadic and the Tantric schools of thoughts. The kapālabheda experience also reconfirms the conviction that he was the direct aṁśa (portion) of the Vedic deity Agni (who resides as the power of kuṇdalinī in the mulādhāra of human beings).

The poet seer Kavyakantha Ganapati Muni met Sri Aurobindo on 15th August 1928. He stayed at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram for about a fortnight. During this stay at the Ashram, the Muni meditated with The Mother a few times. After one such meditation, The Mother expressed that the Muni was a real yogi who could plunge into great depths the moment he started meditation and that she had not so far found any person abiding in Her spiritual consciousness as Ganapati Muni did. Further, at the instance of Sri Kapali and Sri S. Doriswamy Iyer, the Muni translated some portions of Sri Aurobindo’s "The Mother" (mātṛtattvaprakāśikā) in chaste Sanskrit verses with some notes. On reading the Muni’s translation, Sri Aurobindo seems to have very generously observed, “It far excels the original.” It is also worth mentioning that the Muni presented to Sri Aurobindo the last and final version of his Umāsahasram (written in his own handwriting after his experience of kapālabheda) with specific notes on each chapter before his meeting in 1928.

It is more than six decades since the great Kavyakantha Ganapati Muni passed away in 1936. He was a great tapasvī, whose one aim in life was the restoration of Bhārata Mātā (Mother India) to her ancient greatness. Unlike others who aim at liberation for themselves, this great soul believed that he must obtain the grace of God not for himself but for the nation and through it for the betterment of the world. Towards that consummation he had done penance since his early years and this, too, very rigorously during the last years of his life.

The Vedic seers were by no means recluses from the affairs of the world. In fact, these Vedic seers made themselves the superior vehicle through which the divine forces of heaven played for the welfare of humanity. To become one such perfect instrument in the hands of the Maha Shakti was the goal towards which Ganapati worked and dedicated his entire life. Although the Muni was a giant personality, he was very humble in his day-to-day life. This can be proved by two incidents in his divine life. The Muni and his beloved disciple, Daivarata, did tapas in Padaivedu near Vellore in the year 1917. As a result of the tapas, certain Mantras were revealed to his disciple Daivarata. Ganapati Muni, the guru, noted down the Mantras as they came down from the lips of Daivarata, his disciple. He even wrote a commentary on the Mantras, as Sankara did for his disciple, Hastamalaka. There is yet another incident to which I would like to draw the attention of the readers. The Muni was verily a fountain of love and affection for his pupils and followers far and near. This did not deter the guru and śiṣya from having a difference of opinion at times. The Muni blessed Sri Kapali Sastriar and permitted him to follow Sri Aurobindo.

A scholar poet, Śri Vāsiṣṭa Ganapati Muni has many spiritual and other writings in Sanskrit to his credit. Umāsahasram, gītamālā, ramaṇagītā, ramaṇacatvārimśat and saddarśanam are a few titles well-known among his disciples and others. But very little is known about his other numerous Sanskrit writings, covering a wide variety of topics: praises and prayers to various deities (stotras), poetic compositions (kāvyas), philosophy (darśana), logic (nyāyaśāstra), medical science (āyurveda), astrology and astronomy (jyotiṣaśāstra), commentaries (bhāṣya), novel (ākhyāyikā), letters (patrāṇi) and other research works. His versatility can also be judged from his writings sāmrajya-nibandhanam (a proposed constitution for India) and lālibhāṣopadeśa (a new language for the Indian people). He was spontaneous in composing all these either in verse form (ślokas) or in the form of aphorisms (sutras) or prose form (gadya). Nevertheless, all these were the result of his tapas, an outpouring of his soul in seeking or gratitude to the Divine.

Of his stotrakāvyas, umāsahasram, indrāṇisaptaśati, pracṇoacaṇoitriśatī and gītamālā are meant for those longing for a great spiritual realisation. The indrasahasranāma is a composition of thousand names of indra culled from the Rigveda, which are strung into a garland of one hundred and eight verses. The ramaṇacatvāriṃśat (40 verses in praise of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi) is chanted daily both at the Sri Ramana Ashramam and in innumerable homes of the devotees of Sri Ramana Maharshi. The Muni had an unique ability of rendering philosophical thoughts in the form of poetry (ślokas), and his writings viśvamīmāṁsā, ramaṇagītā, saddarśanam and tattvaghaṇṇṭātakam remain in testimony to this. Ramaṇagītā is in the form of recordings of questions put forth by disciples and the answers given by the Maharshi and is one of the most cherished writings of the Muni. His saddarśanam is the Sanskrit rendering of Sri Maharshi’s Tamil writing, ulladu narpadu (Forty Verses on Reality) on which his beloved and learned disciple, Sri T.V.Kapali Sastriar, has written a faithful commentary in Sanskrit. This reflects the spirit of Sri Maharshi’s original teachings.

Of his vast and variety of sūtra writings, it would be difficult to single out any one as more meritorious than the others. Daśamahāvidyāsūtram (the ten cosmic powers of the Divine Mother as described in the tantras) is an outstanding composition, in which the Muni has described the ten cosmic aspects of the Divine Mother and their significance. Here he has also brought out the association of these ten cosmic aspects of the Mother described in the Tantra with the corresponding Vedic deities. Thereby, not only has he been able to bring forth a link between the Vedas, Upanishads and Tantras, but also has been successful in dispelling several wrong conceptions on the significance of these deities. These compositions reflect Muni’s great powers of Yogic perception. The way in which he has expounded the different deities such as kālī, tārā, sundarī, bhuvaneśvarī, pracaṇḍacaṇḍī, etc., and correlates them to the Vedantic concepts has once for all removed all antagonisms and has bridged the so-called gulf between the Vedantic and Tantric schools of philosophy. Rājayogasārasūtra is a short and concise exposition of the Upanishadic methods of the inner quest. Caturvyūhasūtra is a revelation of the cosmic divinities wherein he has expounded the four important emanations of the Vedic deity Indra (ākāiśa, kāla, vidyut and Surya). Jaiminīyatarkavārtikam is his own interpretation of the sūtras of Jaimini, where he has advocated that the Vedas are indeed paurūṣeyam (of human origin). Further, in this he has given his own interpretation of the mīmāṁsā philosophy, placing it on a higher pedestal in relation to Vedanta. His śabdapramāṇacarcā also discusses the origin of Vedas. Pañcajanacarcā and vivāhadharmasūtram are related to social aspects. In the former one the practice of “untouchability” is condemned with the authority of śā. In the latter he deals with marriage as a sacrament. His other sūtra writings also include cikitsānuśāsanam (āyurveda) and gaṇaka-kaṇṭhābharaṇam (astronomy) as well as sāmrājya-nibhandhanam (a proposed constitution for India).

The prose writings of Vāsiṣṭha Ganapati Muni too are extensive and these include: commentaries on several texts including Vedas and Upanishads; study on the different characters of the great epic poem Mahābhārata; letters to Sri Ramana Maharshi, The Mother of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, and others.

His commentaries on Rigvedic mantras and the īśopaniṣad, though brief, are revealing and illumining. The Muni has given his own original spiritual interpretation of the mantras, and he was highly critical of the ritualistic interpretation of Rigvedic mantras by Sayana. His commentary on the īśopaniṣad is original and is in the light of the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. His bhāratacaritramīmāṁsā is unique as it establishes a link between some of the important characters of the mahābhārata and those mentioned in the Vedic texts. ramaṇagītā, saddarśana and the commentary on the upadeśa-sāram (thirty verses written by Sri Ramana Maharshi in Sanskrit), are most popular writings of the Muni which reveal the greatness of the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi.

His novel, Purṇā, in Sanskrit, though unfinished, is unique in many ways. The style and diction that the Muni used here make it an unparalleled novel of his time. It not only depicts the ability of the Muni to write beautifully and spontaneously in Sanskrit prose, but it also records his power of expressing the feelings of the heart and not just the logic of the mind.

In the letters of the Muni to Sri Maharshi and The Mother of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, one can find the art of letter-writing in Sanskrit. Through these letters he was able to express lucidly his deepest aspirations, concepts and thoughts.

However, it is difficult to summarise the thoughts, perceptions and literary ability of the Muni. The Muni, indeed, was a versatile genius and can be compared with Kalidasa and Shankara in poetic renderings, with Vyasa in sūtra writings and with Patanjali, Shabara and Shankara in writing commentaries. The writings of the Muni are not just some products of literary activities but are the records of his unique Yogic experiences and subtle visions and will be a guiding spirit and lamp for centuries to come.