When he or she is born, God intended only two identifications; man and woman but he or she first gets the religious identification and then many such stamps of identity, bringing an unintended difference and division in mankind. Instead of uniting mankind, religion has only brought divisions and differences. Religions are just different versions of the same God. Despite its inherent sanctity and being an effective vehicle of life, religion only limits people to a particular faith or belief. That is why, Hinduism is regarded as a way of life and not necessarily a religion. There are different religions and even differences within religion. Perhaps, given an option in the initial stage, one would have opted to be a universal man. Adi Sankara craved pardon of the God for three mistakes made by man. One; man has given form to God who has no form. Second; he tried to define God who is indescribable and indefinable. Third; he tried to confine the Omnipresent and all-pervading God within the four walls of a temple.

A saint of universal vision, Ramalinga Adigalar sought to remove such differences and viewed God as a single, supreme and universal power. Enlightened by the universal doctrine of Shiva Sidhanta, He perceived God as all-pervading divine power. He declared that God is above all religions, beyond all regional or linguistic barriers and called for a universal approach and uniform way of worship. He conjured up a vision where everyone lived in peace and harmony, based on virtues like compassion and love. He called it ‘the divine union of all souls’ (Athma Neya Orumaippadu). It is a tall order but one could always make an attempt and one could always make a beginning.

Ramayya Pillai and Sinnammai belonged to an average family in Marudhur, near Chidambaram in South Arcot District. Pillai was a teacher in a local school and an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. They were blessed with two sons, Sabapathi, Parasuraman and two daughters, Sundarammal and Unnamali. A sage visited their house a fine morning and conveyed the message that a child of extra ordinary brilliance would be born to them. Days turned into months and on 5th October 1823 a baby boy was born to the delight of the couple. They named him Ramalingam. Ramalingam turned out to be a child prodigy and just as the saint predicted, showed signs of high wisdom. But Ramayya Pillai could not live to see the blooming of his son into a divine personality. Soon, the responsibility of the family fell on the shoulder of Sabapathi, the elder son of the family. The family then moved over to Madras. Being a teacher himself, Sabapathi, wanted to give the best education to Ramalingam but Ramalingam showed no inclination for studies. He preferred to spend his time in the precincts of Kanda Swamy temple, composing songs and worshipping Muruga. Sabapathi then sent him to a learned Pundit, Sabapathi Mudaliar of Kancheepuram. He thought that Ramalingam would be receptive to an erudite scholar like Sabapathi Mudaliar. Having come to know the brilliant qualities of the child, Sabapathi Mudaliar said that there was nothing that he could teach a person like Ramalingar who was capable of teaching the whole world. Wishing him well, Mudaliar sent him back.

Sabapathi did not like the way Ramalingar was moving about, discarding studies and spending time in temple precincts. Pappathi, Sabapathi’s wife, also advised Ramalingar to follow a disciplined life. Sensing the mental worries that he was causing to the members of his family, Ramalingar remained confined within the house, with his meditation tools, a lamp and a mirror.

Soon, Sabapathi too realized the greatness of Ramalingar. Sabapathi was scheduled to perform a religious discourse at Madras but for some reasons he was unable to do so. He deputed Ramalingar to convey the message of his inability to perform. As the authorities could not make alternative arrangements, they insisted Ramalingar himself to perform the role of his brother. A reluctant Ramalingar took the stage. Then his brilliance came to the light and his exposition of Shaiva Sidhanta kept the audience spell bound. ‘No ordinary person can perform a divine discourse as effortlessly and magnificently as Ramalingar’, one of the audience remarked. Sabapathi felt ashamed that he could not see the greatness of his own brother, residing under the same roof.

Ramalingar spent most of his time in his room. Sitting before a mirror, he used to mediate and compose poems. As he meditated, his individual self had disappeared and the Lord he had realized within had revealed himself in the reflection on the mirror. He sought to see the reflection of the Lord within his heart into the mirror in front. Generally devotees sought God outside, in the idol of a temple or a symbolic picture and then realize His presence within. Here, in sharp contrast, Vallalar was seeking the outside reflection of the God who was already being experienced within. Enlightened within, he composed songs invoking the Grace of Muruga, like Kandar Sarana Pathu, Shanmugar Kalaipattu and Deiva Mani Malai etc.

Visiting the Kanda Kottam Muruga temple became the daily routine of Ramalingar. Looking at the shrine of Muruga at Kanda Kottam, Ramalingar felt intensely emotional and poured out his devotion in the form of ‘Deiva Mani Malai’. “You are the embodiment of love, who has no equal, who is enlightened, who gives happiness to all. When would the rose petals of your Lotus Feet extend their gentle grace to my heart? When would you come, mounted on your beautiful transport of peacock to give me the treasure of your grace?” So went the lines of Deiva Mani Malai which he composed at the age of nine.

Vallalar gave beautiful expression of his devotion through songs. He composed many verses of poems and the foremost among them was ‘Thiruvarutpa’. A collection of 5818 poems and divided into 6 volumes, Thiruvarutpa is considered as an outstanding work of literature and devotion. In line with the concept of six broad divisions of prayer, the collection of songs composed by the disciples of Shiva are known as “Panniru Thirumurai” (Twelve Thirumurai) and the ‘Thiruvarutpa’ songs rendered by Adigalar have come to be known as “Aru Thirumurai” (Six Thirumurai). This sacred collection of songs portrays the eternal concept of truth, the general aspects of life and his own divine experience. Thiruvarutpa continues its appeal as the finest expression of prayer. Disciplines thronged to hear him and drew immense inspiration from him. He has now come to be known as Arul Prakasa Vallalar.

His Philosophy - Vallalar gradually started realizing God as the supreme power manifesting throughout the universe. Vallalar was immensely moved by the divine power of the Lord of Chidambaram. Here, Lord Shiva appeared both in form and without form. One can experience that which has a form by seeing it and feeling it. One can visualise that which has no form by imagining it or contemplating it. Vallalar experienced both the characteristics of form and formlessness in Jyothi, the divine light. It has a form because one can experience it and see it. It is also without form because one cannot feel it and it is likely to be extinguished.

Vallalar believed that the Eternal Truth remains unrevealed and it is the Jyothi, the Vast Grace of Light, that causes the revelation of truth. A subject is able to perceive an object only when the reflection of the light falls on the object. If a precious stone meant for public display is kept in a dark corner it never gets noticed. It needs the focus of a light to bring out its full value in sparkling brilliance.

The power of Jyothi is highlighted in all religions. It forms the foundation of all thoughts, all activities and systems. Jyothi is the eternal divine power that first originated in the universe. The cause of all actions, whether physical or chemical, is energy or heat. The source and origin of energy or heat is Jyothi. The Jyothi is invisible and merges with the energy. It is present everywhere; in sun, moon, light and fire. The universe operates on its own inherent energy. There is self-sustaining energy in every atom or human cell. It is this energy that causes all movements and all activities. Jyothi gives the sustaining-power to a life. Jyothi gives life to all and there is Jyothi in every soul (Athma Jyothi). Rig Veda says the significance of Jyothi is beyond human comprehension. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says:

Oh Lord, lead me from unreal to the real,
from darkness to the light of Jyothi
from death to immortality
May there be peace, peace and perfect peace.
( Asatho Ma Sath Gamaya……………)

As Jyothi is manifested in different forms throughout universe and as divine power within every human soul, Vallalar advocated the Jyothi form of worship. He said that the Supreme Lord had revealed to him the powerful Mantra of Divine Light. “Arut Perum Jyothi Thani Perum Karunai, Arut Perum Jyothi (Vast Grace of Light, the Vast Grace of Light – Supreme compassion, Vast grace of light).

Jeeva Karunya Ozhukkam - Another important aspect of Vallalar’s philosophy is Jeeva Karunya Ozhukkam, which means having a compassionate outlook towards all lives. It refers to one’s attitude towards fellow beings on the one hand and towards all other creatures like animals, birds etc. Vallalar could not bear to see the agony of people suffering from hunger. He stressed the quality of compassion for all. The privileged ones should help the less privileged and service to humanity is equal to service to God.

God created, apart from humans, other species also like animals, birds etc. as part of the nature. Man, endowed with intelligence, was supposed to preserve the nature and protect these poor creatures. Unfortunately, he turned out to be the biggest threat for their survival. Man has silenced the feeble voice of conscience that came from his heart, surrendered to the dictates of his mind and fulfilled the nefarious demands of his body. According to Vallalar, he or she only is entitled to receive God’s grace who lives in harmony with nature and shows compassion towards God’s creations. He who takes non vegetarian food forfeits his privilege to seek entry into the temple of God.

Vallalar wanted the whole humanity to integrate into one single objective, the divine unity of souls, based on ‘Jeeva Karunya Ozhukkam’ or compassion. The path of Sanmarga symbolizes truth, love and discipline which leads to the highest stage of divinity (Iswara Sakshathkaram) and immortality. Vallalar underlined certain principles which formed the foundation of Samarasa Sudha Sanmargam. These are:-

  1. God is one. He is Arul Perum Jyothi, the Vast Grace of Light.
  2. All are children of one God and there is no caste, religious or regional differences.
  3. One should recognize the divinity in every soul, respect it and live in peace and prosperity, in a spirit of love and unity.
  4. Compassion towards all fellow beings and compassion towards all lives such as animals, birds etc. should form the basis of all actions.
  5. To reach God, tread the path of simplicity and humility and not through rituals or extravagant way of worship.

Vallalar established Samarasa Sudha Sanmarga Sabhai as the medium to translate his ideals into practice. The term Samarasa means equanimity, the concept that encompasses all religious thoughts and respects all faiths and religions. The term ‘Sudham’ implies purity and sublimity. Sanmargam means the right and truthful way. In short, it is a philosophy that transcends all existing spiritual thoughts and shows the perfect way of truth. It emphasizes the importance of discipline which Vallalar classified as discipline of senses (Indriya Ozhukkam), Karana Ozhukkam, Jeeva Ozhukkam, and Athma Ozhukkam. Vallalar also stressed the importance of charity. He considered food offering (Annadhana) as the most sacred duty of all. Vallalar dreamt of the day when hunger and poverty would completely be eliminated. He established Dharma Salai as a humble effort towards this direction. The Salai continues to render its inestimable service to the society even now.

The philosophy of Sudha Sanmarga (Pure Gathering), built on the concept of love and compassion, aims at purifying the body, enlivening the mind, enriching the intellect and enlightening the soul, the different steps that lead to immortality. It follows the path of simplicity and discipline; the path of Sanmarga where there is no human distinctions.

Normally, a seeker, bound by various attachments in the world, finds many obstacles in his spiritual journey. The family ties, the properties, passions, prejudices, attachments and affiliations all bind him, incapacitating him or her for any meaningful action. The 52 iron links that symbolically form a chain and surround the Gjnana Sabhai signal the message that one who is determined and dedicated can remove these chains one by one, liberate himself and realize the Vast Grace of Light.

Vallalar as a Reformer Vallalar saw many ills plaguing the society. Steeped in ignorance, people were following certain outmoded customs, dogmas, beliefs and practices. There were differences within Hindu religion. The need of the hour was transformation in socio-religious practices, change in concepts or mis-concepts and change in way of life. Vallalar felt this need. He wished everyone living in the spirit of universal brother-hood, showing compassion towards all lives.

Vallalar perceived God not as an identifiable image, not necessarily in the form of an idol and not restricted to a class or region. He perceived God as all-pervading divine power. He pointed out the lacuna in the prevailing practices and sought to dispel many ill-conceived notions. He sought to dispense with various practices like rituals. He sought to remove the artificial barriers and unite all aspirants under one common platform. He then took the role of a reformer, introduced the universal and uniform concept of Jyothi worship and Sudha Sanmarga.

Some expressed doubt whether these concepts tantamount to deviation from our established practices. Vallalar only wanted to rid the society of certain aberrations while retaining the basic values. He wanted Sanathana Dharma to flourish, took the role of a gentle reformer and brought about a renaissance. God himself manifested as Adi Sankara and Ramanuja to give the direction and guidance to humanity. Great many saints and reformers appeared in this land from time to time like Sri Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Dayananda Saraswathhi, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Sri Vivekananda to give the correction as the changing conditions demanded. Vallalar has rightly come in that lineage.

Hinduism is never a set of codes or dogmas. It is a way of life, ever vibrant, ever seeking the truth. It is all-tolerant, all-comprehensive, all-absorbing and always reforming itself in the process. The strength of Hinduism lies in its infinite capacity to adapt. “Let noble thoughts come to us from all sides” said Swami Vivekananda. In a changing world, every order has to change in accordance with the necessities of time. Hinduism has come a long way from how it was practiced some 500 years before. It has evolved, over a period of time, correcting itself and reforming itself according to the demands of the time.

His Profile: Vallalar believed in the dignity of man and emphasized that religions should respect this dignity. He was the embodiment of compassion. When he saw people suffering for want of food, it reminded him of falling young plants drying up for want of nourishment. He expressed this feeling in one of his songs thus: “I felt sad seeing the falling ear of tender plants, withering for want of nourishment. I felt sad seeing frail people crestfallen for want of food.” (“Vaadiya Payirinai Kanda Pothellam Vaadinen”). He led a life of virtue, abstinence and discipline, though he prayed for all people, accepting their vices as his own. He always wore spotless clean white cloth around his body that symbolized gentleness and peace. He looked serene and majestic, his sparkling eyes conveying the message of love. He spoke in a low gentle tone. Even while singing, he maintained a low pitch. Perhaps, one could hear his voice raised while speaking for vegetarianism. He performed many acts of miracles but never agreed that he consciously exercised such powers or even possessed them. He not only fulfilled the aspiration of the soul but also healed the body. He was a good physician who prescribed clean diet habits, exercise, Pranayamam and Yoga for good health.

Dematerialization: Vallalar believed that just as the soul, body also undergoes a spiritual transformation by the grace of Jyothi. When the body functions independently of sense organs, it becomes pure. When the soul within is sublime and sacred, it implies that the body in which the soul lives is also pure. Just as the contents are pure, the container also gets purity and sanctity. As a result of spiritual transformation, the body assumes a stage of divine Golden Deathless Body. It continues to remain in this divine stage deriving its own inherent energy and then attains immortality. In line with his belief, Vallalar is believed to have attained immortality. On 30th January 1874, Vallalar drew some of his close disciples near and said: “I wish to confine myself in the room here. Do not search for me and if you do, you would not find. I believe, God has willed it that way and I hope it would happen that way”. He then walked away, entered into a room and closed the door. It is believed that he sacrificed his deathless body and dematerialized so that he could continue his divine presence among his disciples, grace them and guide them.

That marked the end of a great sage or the beginning of a new age. That marked the end of a glorious chapter of Vallalar that opened up a new chapter for man’s eternal quest to know the truth. That marked the end of a period of darkness that heralded the advent of a new era of awakening, the era of light and Jyothi.

May the light of love, the light of grace he kindled radiate its brilliance all over. May the beacon light he lit brighten up the world. May the flame of grace he brought bring a sense of unity and peace all over the earth.