Thiruvarutprakasa Vallalār Chidambaram Ramalingam, born in 1823 in Chidambaram, India, was one of the most influential and artisticly creative Tamil poets of the 19th century. He was known by many names, most popularly as the poet Vallalār, or Ramalinga Swamigal.
Ramalinga, through his enlightened way of living, for the surpassing beauty of his poetry and for his role as a teacher was considered one of the “gnana siddhars” or perfect individuals, possessed of higher knowledge. Through his life he taught an alternative to India’s caste system, feeding the poor and love for one’s fellow man.
Despite a leaning towards secularism, his childhood was filled with brushes with the divine. From an early age to experienced visions of Lord Muruga, the Hindu god of war. However, as he grew up he came to espouse a different viewpoint.
Ramalinga taught that death should be resisted as much as possible, and that religion itself was a darkness. Around 1872 he established the “Sathya Gnana Sabai”, a secular hall of wisdom which welcomed everyone, so long as they didn’t eat meat.
Ramalinga seemed determined to defeat death. And, only year or so after he founded the hall, perhaps he did.
An Empty Room
On 22nd October, 1973, Ramalinga gave his last lecture. He talked of the growth of the soul and the need to develop it and find wisdom in meditation, and of the importance of spiritual growth to meet the challenge of the invisible powers that surrounded him.
He emphasized meditation as a means to overcome these invisible powers, which seek to influence everyone but which themselves are unseen. Recommending that his followers use his lamp as a focus for their meditation, he placed this light outside his room.
Three months later, on 30th January 1874, Ramamlinga entered his one-room home in Mettukuppam in Chennai for the last time. Locking the door, he told his followers not to open it again, an instruction they dutifully followed.
Ramalinga had explained to his followers why the door should not be opened, but his instruction was somewhat cryptic. He only told them that, were they to open to door and seek him, he would not be found there.
Instead he told them he would have been united with the natural world and that his meditation would have given him authority over the invisible powers that surrounded him. He called these the “all of the alls” in an echo of his earlier poem Gnana Sariyai.
As the months passed, the door remained closed and the room sealed. This presented a problem to the authorities, who in a burst of secular practicalism believed they were dealing with a dead body who should be properly buried. Finally, the police forced the door to his residence in May 1874.
The room was empty. Ramalinga was nowhere to be seen, and there was no evidence of anything which had changed or happened within the room during the months it had been sealed. Nothing was disturbed, and only Ramalinga had vanished.
To this day nobody knows where he went. Did this gnana siddhar achieve transcendence through his meditation? Did he cheat death, and become one with the “all of the alls”?
The mystery remains to this day.
Top Image: Did Ramalinga defeat the invisible forces that surrounded him? Source: Edwin & Litsa / CC BY-SA 4.0.
By Joseph Green