On the Path of the Divine - Swami Devabahu
Initiated into Brahmacharya in 1998, Swami Devabahu shares a few deeply touching and precious moments spent with Sadhguru over the last 20+ years, starting with how after seeing Sadhguru driving a car, he could not believe that this was a Guru.
Swami Devabahu: There were two things that were unusual about me when I was growing up.
One – ever since I was nine, the word “guru” stirred something within me. No matter in what context I heard the word, I paid attention to it. The gurus that I saw in television serials like Mahabharata and Ramayana, influenced me a lot, and I grew up believing that gurus of such caliber don’t exist in our generation.
Second – I would often go and sit alone on top of a rock behind Malaikovil temple in Trichy for up to 4 hours. I used to simply sit there, without much thinking, and I would look at the road down below.
Otherwise, I had been leading a normal life of an easygoing, rough, playful, and energetic teenager. After clearing the Marine Radio Officer’s course, in the interim, I found a job in a rice mill as an accountant. It was a family business run by the second generation of three sons. The father and three sons, and perhaps also a few others in the family, were Isha meditators. I would often hear “ka ka ka” sounds in the morning, and wonder what kind of Yoga that could be. One day, they asked me to join a small function at their house to welcome their Guru who was coming to bless them. “There were many who wanted him to bless their houses, but he agreed to come to our house,” one of the sons added excitedly. That was the first time that I saw Sadhguru.
Dressed in an angavastram, I saw Sadhguru park his Tata Sierra car which was loaded with suitcases. Vijji Maa and Radhe were also with him. “How can he be a guru?” I thought, “He seems like an ordinary man with a wife and daughter, and drives a car.” I had imagined a guru to be dressed in orange – ascetic and saint-like. So I stood there disinterested, away from the crowd that had gathered to receive his blessings. After a Pada Pooja by the family, others took turns to bow down at Sadhguru’s feet. Upon insistence from the family, I too went and bowed down to Sadhguru. Since I was the last to go, there was not much space around him, and I had no choice but to touch my forehead to his feet. When I got up, I felt my forehead smeared with the chandanam (Sandalwood paste) that was offered to his feet during the Pada Pooja. Looking back, I felt that was Sadhguru’s first prasadam for me, though this meeting seemed inconsequential at the time.
The Fire of Brahmacharya
Whenever I had time, I used to enjoy sliding down piles of dried paddy. One day when I was joyfully sliding down, one of the sons came around and asked me if they could send me to the Isha Yoga class. “It will settle your restlessness,” he said. Since they took care of the class donation, paid for my time off, and lent me their motorbike to use during those 13 days, I happily agreed to sit for the class. And my life changed forever.
As the class went on, I felt more and more exuberant, and to express my utter joyfulness and energetic state, every day, I went to the microphone and shared my experience enthusiastically. On the last day, something phenomenal happened, and after the Guru Pooja, uncontrollable tears were just rolling down my cheeks. Our teacher, who was also a brahmachari, gave us each a flower before concluding the class. When I went to receive the flower, I did full shashtanga namaskaram to him, and he lifted me up and embraced me. My tears overflowed and soaked his white kurta. The participants, who had regarded me as a spirited and vivacious youth so far, were surprised to see me in that state.
The brahmachari’s energy, his way of being, had made a deep impression on me, and I asked the co-teacher, “What qualifications do I need to be like him?” “You mean brahmacharya?” the co-teacher asked. “Yes,” I said without knowing what he meant by brahmacharya. “Willingness,” he said smilingly, “that’s all.” Since then the purpose of my life was to take up brahmacharya.
I gave myself totally to the practices. The kriya used to take me one and a quarter hours. But I became even more efficient at my work than before, and therefore had even more time to slide down the paddy – to the disappointment of my owner! Though this simple playfulness didn’t subside, nobody could miss the profound change in me after the class.
Within a month, I came to the ashram for Vijji Maa’s Aradhana Satsang that happened 11 days after her Mahasamadhi. I had only seen her twice in my life – once in the rice mill owner’s house, and another time on the Isha Yoga initiation day. Many people got up to share about Vijji Maa, and before the Satsang concluded, Sadhguru said, “We may not be related by blood, but there is another kind of bond between us. Please eat before you go.” Those words penetrated me so deeply, and it strengthened my determination to walk the path even more.
In March, I did the BSP with Sadhguru. As soon as any process started, I would burst into dancing or crying – it happened on each day, for most processes. The first day the volunteers tried to make me sit in my place, but after that they left me alone. I heard later that Sadhguru had told them to leave me to dance or do whatever I wished to.
After the BSP, I took an appointment with Sadhguru, and asked him if I could come for the teachers’ training. “You leave teachers’ training – I have some other work for you,” he said. Till now, I am wondering what that work is! Anyway, in that meeting I also asked him for brahmacharya. Initially he tried to discourage me, but finally nodded “yes”, to my joy. Within a month I moved to the ashram, and was initiated into brahmacharya the next year, in 1998.
The Initiation day was one of the happiest days of my life – I had been waiting so much for it to happen. After the initiation, we were seated (at the place where we now have Chandrakund) for a meal served on banana leaves. It was Mahashivratri, and we were served the customary Mahashivratri food – tomato rice and chakkara pongal. I was sitting on the left of Sadhguru. When Ponnuswamy anna, a volunteer from Tirupur, was serving chakkara pongal to Sadhguru, a thought arose within me: “If Vijji Maa was alive she would have served the sweets to us with her own hand.” Sadhguru took two servings of chakkara pongal, and Ponnuswamy anna then moved to serve me. “Don’t give him any chakkara pongal,” said Sadhguru as soon as anna lifted the scoop of the pongal to serve me. Both anna and I were puzzled hearing this and looked at Sadhguru quizzically. Sadhguru simply lifted a ball of chakkara pongal from his leaf with his hand, and he kept it on my leaf. Tears rolled down my cheeks.
On the same day, Shiva anna (an ashram resident) had been assigned to take our group photos with Sadhguru at various places in the ashram. I really wanted to stand next to Him in any one of the photos, but I had not been able to get close. For the last shoot we were at Vijji Maa’s Samadhi, and I had made up my mind this time to somehow snuggle in next to Sadhguru. But I got distracted with something, and all places around him were quickly taken. Heartbroken, I stood at the end. Anna positioned his camera – about to take the shot, when suddenly, Sadhguru asked him to stop! He called me to come and sit in front of him. What more can I say about My Master and his love!
Some Unforgettable Moments
Within a few months of moving into the ashram, I was given the responsibility of purchasing items for Dhyanalinga construction and other ashram materials. I was given the Tata Mobile jeep to drive, and there were times when I drove up and down to Coimbatore four times in a day. To save money, we would load and unload the truck full of heavy items ourselves. None among us can forget the intensity and the struggle with which the Dhyanalinga dome was built.
Once I remember when the construction of the Dhyanalinga entrance vault was almost completed, we realized that the last stone that joined the two arms of the vault arch needed to be of a different shape and size than the rest of the stones used in the arch – and we didn’t have it. We called the quarry manager immediately to start cutting the stone, and Swami Devasatwa and I decided to go to the quarry personally to ensure it happened in time. We left at 10 PM to Kunnathur (near Gobichettipalayam) and stayed there until we brought the stone back at 4 AM.
Dhyanalinga Consecration is one event that is so vivid in my mind, it’s as if it happened yesterday. Before the final part of the consecration could be completed, for some fifteen days we were in a state of limbo. Each day, Sadhguru was looking at whether the situation was suitable. Since we were not sure when it would happen, we continued with our usual activities.
On June 24th 1999, I was out in Coimbatore to pick up the purchase items. As I usually did, at around 5:15 PM I called the ashram to ask if anything was needed. Maa Gambhiri picked up the phone and said, “It is very likely that the consecration is going to happen tonight, and Sadhguru is meeting the brahmacharis at 6 PM. Come if you can.” I was at DB Road, R. S. Puram, at the time. Since I could not miss attending this meeting, I drove really fast, and within 35 minutes I was back in the ashram. I parked the vehicle near Kaivalya Kutir and rushed to join the other brahmacharis under the Shivalaya tree.
After a few minutes Sadhguru walked in casually, wearing his white kurta and jeans. “Today seems to be a conducive day for the consecration,” he said. He then gave some instructions on how we needed to be inside the dome, and gave us each a jasmine flower. After about 30 minutes, Sadhguru got up from the Shivalaya stone, and walked away very slowly to Shoonya Cottage. We all stood there watching him disappear behind the leaning tree garden. It looked as if he had merged into the twilight.
Sadhguru had said he might have to merge himself into the linga as a last resort to complete the consecration. Thinking about that possibility, some of us were finding it hard to control our emotions. But there was work to do, so we all dispersed to assume the responsibilities that were assigned to us for the consecration process.
A few of us knew that Sadhguru could collapse at during the process and would need to be carried to his house. I was assigned this responsibility. So I was to keep my vehicle ready outside the dome, and sit near Bharathi Akka to keep a close watch on Sadhguru.
Around 6 PM, I saw Sadhguru coming out of Shoonya Cottage in his langot and a white shawl. He was walking with two brahmacharis who were holding fire torches on each side. Sadhguru first went to Vijji Maa’s Samadhi stone and did some process. As soon as I saw him coming towards the dome, I went in to be seated. It was fairly dark inside, only the Avudaiyar and Linga were dimly lit.
Sadhguru entered and jumped up onto the Avudaiyar without any support. He then asked for water. I didn’t see any vessel there and wondered what to do. In the meantime, another brahmachari took water in his hands from the Jalaseema and gave it to Sadhguru. Sadhguru applied the water on his chakras and started the process. He started from the top chakra, and after locking each chakra he pronounced the name audibly. He almost toppled over when he said “Anahata,” but got back to his feet quickly. As he was locking the final three chakras, he seemed to be in a lot of pain. Finally, after locking the last chakra he just dropped down.
Though I was supposed to reach out to him immediately, I felt empty and frozen in my place. There he was lying on the Avudaiyar with eyes closed, and I was simply staring at him for a few moments. At that moment we saw his hand making some gesture. Bharathi Akka understood and indicated for me to carry him back home. That’s when I got jolted back to my senses and rushed to lift him. While we were carrying him, his eyes remained closed, and he was making some sounds. It felt like he was in tremendous pain.
We helped him sit next to the driver’s seat, and I took the wheel. He rested his head on my shoulder as I drove him to the Shoonya Cottage. While we were lifting him to carry him inside, my shirt got stuck around the gear rod. I had his shoulders in both my hands, so there was no way I could free a hand to release the shirt. I simply tore it off by force. When we were inside, we headed towards his room, but Sadhguru indicated for us to take him to the Shrine (that was used for various preparation processes), and there we put him on the floor. As soon as we left him, he started to roll around in pain. I just couldn’t bear to see him in that state, and with tears in my eyes I left.
On the third day after the consecration, I was asked to bring Sadhguru to the Shivalaya stone. When I entered his room, I was just so relieved to see him sitting in his chair. There was no one else in the room. When I went near him, he lifted his hand and put it on my shoulder. His touch felt stronger than an electric current, and I started to shake violently. He understood and lowered his hand. Then I lifted him by the waist, and brought him to his Sierra. As I took the driver’s seat and started the car, I was overjoyed to see that Sadhguru was curiously observing every movement that I made while handling his car. This was perhaps the first time that Sadhguru sat in the passenger seat of his own car.
After that day, I went into silence. I saw him again only after seven days, as he was leaving for a meeting in Salem. He was walking slowly, looking tired, and unbelievably older – his beard had turned almost grey in just ten days. But he was ALIVE!
On one of the first few days after I moved to the ashram full-time, a brahmacharini gave me a broom and asked to me sweep the dining hall. Puzzled, I looked at her – “What? She is asking me to sweep? Women do such things, not men!” But having no choice I swept the room. But soon this gender business simply dropped off, and we all lived like a family supporting and squabbling with each other. I still enjoy remembering a few pranks I played on some of them, and the times when I was on the receiving end.
A few years after the consecration, I moved to our Singanallur office to take care of the accounts. One Swami who was also staying there was very particular that no mosquitoes should enter the house. At a certain time each day, like a ritual, he would switch on many electric repellents all over the house. Those repellents didn’t really work, and we were still being bitten. One day, I replaced all the repellent solutions with water and plugged them back into the sockets. For the next 3 months, Swami was turning on those repellent systems filled with water with the same zeal. And the day he came to know… I won’t tell you what happened to me!
Another time I was on the receiving end: During the days when I was taking care of the purchases, sometimes I would stay back in Singanallur office if I was delayed. Swami Devasatwa, who was taking care of the cooking at the time, fed me at least upma, no matter how late I arrived there. After one such night, Swami asked me in the morning, “Is there something special you would like to have for brunch?” “No, no, you cook whatever you want to,” I said. He kept insisting and insisting, and finally I told him something. After a few hours I entered the dining room, excited with the prospect of enjoying my favorite dish. I removed the lid of the serving bowl and was disappointed to see it was again upma, this time mixed with boiled potatoes. “Okay, maybe he was too busy,” I supposed and quietly served myself, did the invocation, and took the first bite… To my disbelief the potatoes were raw and barely cooked! I spent the next half hour picking out the potato pieces and scraping the upma off them so I could somehow eat it. And later, I fell for the same trick once again! There were innumerous incidents when we played with each other like this.
From Pancha Bhuta Aradhana to Kailash
In 2006, Sadhguru put me in working silence for the next four years. The day I came out of silence, I was asked to join a meeting with Sadhguru to discuss the logistics of the first ever Pancha Bhuta Aradhana. At one point Sadhguru asked Swami Nandikesha, “Who will take care of this?” Swami pointed at me. “Will you be able to take care of it, Swami?” he asked me as if he was not sure I could. I nodded and gave my best to see that up to his last word, the instructions were followed. After about three years of temple activity, I moved to Akshaya (our kitchen) in 2013, then to the Carpentry department in 2015.
In 2015, Maa Gambhiri asked me take care of the cooking for Sadhguru’s group during the Kailash Yatra. While in Braga, somebody told me that Sadhguru had liked the cooking so far but wasn’t sure if the quality would remain as good when we trekked up the mountain over the next few days. “If I am alive for the next fifteen days, I will keep the quality the same, if not better,” I promised within myself to Sadhguru. And the entire cooking team worked very hard to make it happen.
On the last day of the yatra I was overjoyed to hear that Sadhguru had praised the quality of the food in the closing session. Since the Akshaya team was not able to join that session, Sadhguru even sent me a message, “Many things have happened during this yatra, sometimes not in the best way – but the cooking part always went well. My Blessings to Swami and his team.” Once again, I felt tears rolling down my cheeks.
Last year, I heard that Sadhguru had referred to me as “our blessed Swami” in his live blog. Hearing this, my eyes became moist remembering the day when Sadhguru was unsure if I could take care of the Pancha Bhuta Aradhana. From that day, to the day when he called me “Blessed Swami” – for me this is my spiritual journey.
Sadhguru is a mother, father, friend – everything. I can’t express in words how grateful I am to Him for creating such a powerful consecrated space for us to grow together. Each person here whom I interact with in different situations – the sevadhars, volunteers, residents, and brahmacharis – contributes to my growth.
The Last Breath
Two years ago, I went to Kayanta Sthanam and spent a day there as a part of the brahmacharis’ sadhana. I always had a subtle fear of death, “How will I watch the dead bodies burning?” I wondered on the way there. I don’t how it happened, but my fear of death just disappeared after that day. I realized that the only difference between a living person and a dead person is the last breath – the last breath is over for the dead person. That’s all! Since that day, I consciously breathe joyfully waiting for my last breath.
Editor's Note: Watch this space every second Monday of the month as we share with you the journeys of Isha Brahmacharis in the series, "On the Path of the Divine."