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My Life

Autobiography of Swami Krishnananda

My father and others nearby wanted me to become an earner of money, which was the only thing that people valued, though my personal desire was to study Vedas, a large part of which my father taught me. Actually, I committed to memory, learned by heart, the whole of the Pavamana Sukta of the Rig Veda. Incidentally, I learned by heart the whole of Brihajjataka of the famous astronomer Varaha Mihara. At the age of about 16 or 17 I learned the whole of the Bhagavadgita by heart, and also the holy Vishnu Sahasranama that caught my attention and my affection. I loved my mother, who was an illiterate lady, so much that I told her it would be good to recite every day Sri Visnu Sahasranama Stotram. It is a surprise to me again that she, by sheer oral hearing, mastered the Sri Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram. Wherever I went I used to propagate the Sri Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram, and even those who had scant respect for religious life were caught by the fire of my insistence that it is good to recite the Sri Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram. People around me, wherever I went, were turned by my insistence on the study and recitation of this Stotra by everyone.

My father later changed his mind and refused to teach me Vedas, saying that I must find some job and earn some money for the house. This attitude of my father suddenly brought my spirits down, and everybody wanted me to earn money, which I could not, as I had no job. Meanwhile my uncle contacted a local Sub-Registrar, an amiable young man, to give me some place in his Office. The Sub-Registrar said "Yes, very good, let him come; I will give him some work," and he tested the handwriting, with which he was deeply satisfied. The next day I was supposed to have gone to the Sub-Registrar for work, but it so happened that the next day itself I received an appointment order from the District Educational Officer of Bellary saying that I should join work immediately in the Hospet Government Training School. Considering the distance of the place from our own house, my father changed his mind and said, "It is better not to have this job." But those who did not value any human being unless he earns some money, including my uncle, wanted me to go to Hospet, about which I knew nothing. By the goodwill of my uncle I got a temporary job as a writer in the local District Munsif Court for a while, but it was difficult to continue there.

There was a man in the District Munsif Court in Puttur who happened to be a resident of Hospet itself, a fact which he never revealed for his own reasons, but directed me through a rugged, zigzag, difficult way by bus route and train, to Hospet. All the while I was conscious that I had to catch a train to a place called Harihar. Though the driver of the bus was conscious that he should reach the railway station in time, yet when the bus reached the station, the train had already started moving. I dropped my trunk into the train and then clamoured for a seat, by which time the train began to move fast. One thing I noticed was that in the area of the movement of trains in Mysore State, there was no Travelling Trains Inspector. Actually, no one came to see my ticket. The train reached Harihar. I immediately got down, and I saw a hotel man. It was evening by that time and I enquired from the hotel people whether I could stay for the night somewhere, if I could get a room. The hotel master told me that in the whole of Harihar I could not find a room to stay. However, he allowed me to lie down on a bench in his own office, which he vacated in the night. In the morning the bus taking people to Hospet arrived. At that time I saw a gentleman in white clothes who asked me where I was going. I told him that I wanted to go to Hospet. The gentleman told me that he too was from Hospet and he was going there. So we both boarded the bus. The bus ride was a long move in the hot sun, and we reached Hospet late in the evening. The good gentleman who was accompanying me was kind enough to note that I had not taken food, because throughout the day we were in the bus. So when the bus reached Hospet town, this gentleman took me to his house and served me some food. I hurriedly ate it and told him to guide the way to the Government Training School. He took me there on his own scooter, and he took me back to his own house so that I could pick up my luggage. I took up the same and walked to the Government Training School's office. The office was closed because it was too late in the evening. Here again I met another good Samaritan, an old man who knew only two languages, English and Telugu. His name was Periah Vasti. He invited me and told me that I should meet the Headmaster of the school who could be seen now in the Library building. I went up there and I saw the Headmaster reading newspaper. But his arrogance and nonchalant nature was obvious when he did not even look at me and only said, "Talk to them," without even having the courtesy to tell me what he meant by "Talk to them." I turned back to the office and the old Telugu gentleman invited me to sleep there and join the office the next morning. This old gentleman was a great help to me. He was a graduate teacher wrongly posted in the Government Training School in Hospet, though he himself belonged to Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh. Due to this anomaly of posting he was expecting a transfer from that place to a Government Training School where Telugu was the medium, and not Kannada, of which he knew nothing. The next morning I went to the office. Here, I must say, that I never attended any office in my life; I just knew nothing about it. There was a colleague called Subramaniam who was doing this work and was acquainted with all the details of the work, which were all very insipid, dry and meaningless to me except that I would receive Rs. 30/- every month. What would I do with Rs. 30/-? The Headmaster's arrogance used to crop up now and then. "Hey, are you not eating salary?" he would tell me. So was the case with the other teachers in the school with whom he was dealing. I was not happy, to tell the least. I could not eat the food of the hotel in Hospet - the people there were a curious type who did not eat breakfast and ate only twice a day, and in my case it was in the hotel only. I felt disgusted for having joined this duty.

One young man who was a teacher himself in the Training School attached to the Centre was a very good person, and he offered the old Telugu teacher and myself the service of taking us to the site of the ancient Vijayanagara empire that was supposed to be initiated by Swami Vidyaranya in the 14th century under the care of two brothers known as Hukka and Bukka. The efficiency of Swami Vidyaranya in administration can be seen by the extent of the empire that the two boys developed, which grew up into an astounding attraction even to those pilgrims who had come from the West, such as Fahian who described the glory of the Vijayanagara empire as more beautiful than the Roman empire. They wrote in their pilgrim diary, "People do not lock the doors in that empire, shopkeepers sell their jewels on the roadside without fear from thiefs and the like." Wonder! A British Collector of the District of Bellary wrote a book called A Forgotten Empire. Those days British Collectors used to write Gazetteers of the district in which they were ruling, of which they were Collectors. Robert Sewell was evidently a District Collector in Bellary who wrote the book A Forgotten Empire. I have never seen that book; it was not available to me anywhere though I was in Bellary itself for some time. I imagine it must have been as interesting as the great six volume work of Edward Gibbon known as The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. These kings of the Vijayanagara empire came in conflict with the Muslim kings nearby, egoism clashed with egoism, and the five Muslim empires who were always at war with each other joined together to root out the Vijayanagara empire in a concerted move. The great glory into which the empire grew and the great destruction that followed many years afterwards are both part of the history of the world. This young man took us round the old rampage of the Vijayanagara city; actually there was nothing to see. There was sometimes only a plinth of some house. We tried to walk a long distance to try to find if anything worthwhile was coming forth, but nothing came; all rampage and desecration faced us throughout our trip. Tired and exhausted, by twelve o'clock in the afternoon, we returned to the Hampi's famous Virupaksha Temple, an old structure that we may attribute its existence to Swami Vidyaranya only. We were hungry and thirsty and the sun was shining at midday. We saw some people eating food in some corner, looking as if it was a choultry. Here we three people went in, sat with others and ate rice and pudding to our hearts' content. I hear from people that nowadays this choultry is closed.

The building structure of the Training School was acquired on rent by the Government from a local insurance agent. It was a large building indeed, very spacious. This gentleman who was the owner came one day to the office of the Headmaster of the Training School and told him that he should persuade me to sign a bond of life insurance. The Headmaster told me, "Yes, you can go for it." though I was reluctant since my salary was a pittance and most of it went in payment of hotel bills. I never wore a shoe or a chappal because I had no money to spare. Everywhere I went, I went barefoot.

Having known that I knew the whole of the Bhagavadgita by heart, one day this curious Headmaster of the Training School asked me whether I could give a lecture on the Bhagavadgita, where he would be present with other teachers of the school. I readily agreed, and one evening they closed all their offices and came to hear me. Since at that time I had not developed the art of public speaking, it was difficult for me to narrate at length the content of the Bhagavadgita, but however something went well and the lecture closed.

Another interesting thing this Telugu-knowing graduate teacher did for me was introducing me to the local dignitaries, such as the people in the Commissionary and some business guys, always introducing me as a good man. This he did effectively. At the same time he did not forget to egg the Headmaster daily to see that he is transferred from this Kannada area to his own Rajahmundry Telugu area.

People are generally uncharitable in their comments. In the first two hotels in which I was eating, the food was bad, so I shifted to a third hotel in which the food was more tolerable. Some people started saying that the third hotel in which I was eating was simple. The owner had a daughter who was young and beautiful, about whom I knew nothing, and everybody started saying that that may be the reason why I shifted from the earlier two hotels to the third. This was false accusation, because I didn't go for the sake of the lady as I didn't even know about her until I heard the gossip that people were fabricating about me. The hotel food became a nightmare; I could not eat it. I fell sick with asthma for the first time, and the old Telugu man again intervened and told a local doctor to treat me without payment because I had nothing to pay. The doctor did something for the first time, and when I fell sick for the second time he refused to do anything unless payment was given. I do not know what happened later. I survived death practically. Everything was an ugly, meaningless, torture for me in which condition I wrote to my uncle at home that "I'm quitting this place, I do not want it, I'm travelling to Tirupati or some such place". On receiving this letter the uncle took no time in taking a train to Hospet and arrived in the Training School at about evening time. He told me, "There is no use staying here, let us go now". I had already obtained a medical certificate from a doctor that I should be given leave. We departed in a horse cab, boarded the train that went to Bangalore, went through a very long distance of movement, and then at Bangalore changed the train to one meant for Mysore, where we reached very late, and went to a hotel where, for the first time, though it was so late in the evening, I ate the best food even though it was a remnant, when all were fed and had left. My uncle pointed out to me, "Have you eaten such a sambar at any time?" I said, "No, I have not eaten such a thing." Then we came to Mysore and then after a breakfast took a bus to Puttur via Mercara and I landed in my house. I was grieved to the deepest of my heart and never wanted again to do this job under pressures of any kind. I took leave of my house again and boarded a bus to Mercara, then to Mysore. A train was standing there and a guard was also there whom I accosted and asked whether this train can go to Pune. "Yes, yes," he said, "You go," and I entered the train. Actually this train was not going to Pune. I had to change the train at Arsikere Junction where I had to transport myself to another train coming from Bangalore that was going to Pune. My money was scanty. I purchased a ticket at Pune station for Jubbalpur without knowing what is my destination. As my ticket was exhausted, I could not go further. I remained on the platform with my small trunk and some eatables like achar (pickle) that was lovingly prepared by my mother, not knowing that I would not go back to the house. A railway officer queried me, "Hey, why are you sitting here when all people have gone?" I told him honestly, "I am a student of learning. I have starved for days together, my tongue is parched." He heard what I told and gave me a little tea in a saucer - this is the first time that I tasted tea. Then he let me go and I went out of the station. Then a train arrived that was supposed to be intending for Allahabad. I told the Controller of the Train sitting in the office that he should allow me to entrain without ticket as I am a poor man and I cannot purchase a ticket. He hinted to the guard to take me inside the train, and the train moved on to Allahabad. I got down from the train but the Train Inspector would not allow me to get down; he wanted me to show the railway ticket. I told him, "I have no ticket, I have come with the compassionate gesture of the Railway Controller in Jubbalpur," but the gentleman would not allow me to go. When I persisted that I am a student and I cannot pay him anything, he let me off in a mood of disgust. It was about four o'clock in the morning; it was all pitch dark. I did not know where I was resting. I felt something was moving towards me and later I realised it was a dog who wanted some warmth. I pitied the dog and allowed it to come near me as a cushion, as it were, and when it was dawn I took my bundle of belongings and walked up to the Ganga, asking people where Ganga is. I went starving, half dead, and nobody would give me anything to eat. On the way I saw a guava fruit-seller with a heap of these fruits, and when I asked him to give me one, he refused. I did not know what my fate was. I went to the Ganga. There was a wooden cot. I, shiveringly covering myself with one cloth, tried to sleep. Then in the morning time a Pundit came and threatened me because it happened to be his property. "Who is there? Get up, go out!" he shouted. I got up from the cot and slept on the sand near the Ganga. That it was cold is indeed very little to say. I again went up to the railway station and told the Controller to please let me into the train to go to Benares. He obliged, knowing well that I was a hopeless case, and I sat in the train. The train arrived in Benares; at what time it was, I cannot remember now. Many years back my grandfather, uncle, mother and others had stayed in this very place, in a house of a Pundit called Chikka Bhau Acharya. I asked the nearby shopkeeper which was the house of Chikka Bhau Acharya, but it so happened that this agent was of another Acharya called Dodda Bahu Acharya, to whom he led me immediately. He knocked at the door and a lady opened, thinking that a customer had come. I told them, "I am a starved man; I am not a customer of Pundits". However they allowed me to stay there for a few days. At that time a person from Udupi called Narayana Tantri from a few miles distance came to the very same place where I was living, and offered me a charity of coming with him. I did agree and went away from the Bhau Acharya'a house to Narayana Tantri. But there was another problem. Where would I eat food? There were 2-3 choultries; I was told to go there with a pot until the chief of the choultry would select the people who he considered as all right, and whoever had the pot or vessel in his hand was sure to receive his food the next day. There were two or three such choultries. I used to get up early in the morning and visit these charity houses with my vessel, praying to God that my vessel would be accepted and I would eat some food there. But this vessel would not be accepted all the seven days in a week, so many days I used to be just sitting in Narayana Tantri's house helplessly like a beggar, noting which this good man used to invite me to his own house for food. Poverty was my name. I cannot describe me better than that. At that time a very rich Marwari Seth known as Narayandas Bajoria in Sarnath made an announcement that whoever recited the Bhagavadgita whole, without mistake, would receive a gift of ten Rupees from him. This Narayana Tantri told me, "Let us go. We shall get ten Rupees." We walked for eight miles to Sarnath from Benares to the residence of this Seth where I recited the whole Gita nonstop and I was given ten Rupees. Even in giving a gift the Seth was not wanting to be more charitable. Then I walked back with my colleague from Sarnath to Benares city. Every day I used to take bath in the Ganga. It was almost the month of December and yet the water was not as cold as it is in Rishikesh. I had only one pair of clothing, which I could not wash for fear of there being no other set of clothes. I used to keep the clothes somewhere near a stone and take bath and come, put on the same clothes once again. Misery was my name. I came back to Narayana Tantri's house with a beggar's bowl. At that time one Sridhar Bhatt, having completed his tapasya in a place called Sirmur in the Himalayas, came to the place where I was staying with another tapaswi whom I recognized as a Kerala expert, a good man in his demeanour and the manner of speaking. Here it is before this Kerala Tantric Yogi I recited my mantra of Lakshmi,

Lakshmi mantra

On hearing this recitation from me the Kerala specialist asked me, "Can you kindly write it down for me?" I wrote it down for him. Narayana Tantri, in whose house I was staying and before whom I recited this Lakshmi Mantra, was very much astounded at my Sanskrit expression. This Narayana Tantri was an astrologer, but he did not know English. Often he, as a poor man, earned his living by writing the horoscopes of well-to-do people who knew English better than any other language. This Tantri used to tell me, "Kindly write in English what I am telling you in Kannada." This recital was very much liked by the candidate concerned, and he used to have one or two such occasions that earned him money.

Now the time came that the Sridhar Bhatt of Srimur developed a desire for marriage. He consulted Sri Narayana Tantriji as to how it would be done. Everything had to be done in Rs. 200/-. Whom will he marry? There was a widow with a daughter living on the ground floor of Sri Dattatreya Mutt, where every one of us was living. A proposal was made to the widow to give her daughter to this Sridhar Bhatt. She, being an extremely poor person, readily agreed to everything. Narayana Tantri was himself the presiding priest of the ceremony to be performed. One or two local Pundits came to create disturbance in the middle, saying that the recitation was not correct. But Sridhar Bhatt, who was more eager to end the marriage early and not engage himself in wrangling, closed the issue giving them some dakshina, and here again the matter ended.

A few people were invited and a Kerala cook was readily available at whose charity house I used to eat occasionally, as I mentioned earlier. The next phase of Sridhar Bhatt was to pack off from the place and catch a train to Haridwar. He asked me whether I would like to accompany him to Haridwar. I said yes; I readily agreed to be free from the beggar's atmosphere in which I was living, and the train moved to Haridwar. When we got down at Haridwar, Sridhar Bhatt gave me an eight anna coin, that is half a rupee, to enable me to go by train to Rishikesh. There were two train stops in Haridwar. One was at the main station and another was a city stop that I missed, since I was a little late. When the Ticket Collector was standing there I gave him the eight annas, but he refused to give the ticket, saying that it's too late. But however I was determined to enter the train without the ticket. With the eight anna coin I got out of the Rishikesh train checkup by telling the man concerned that I missed the purchasing of the ticket and here was the equivalent eight annas with me. He took the same and asked me to go. My aim was to reach Sivananda Ashram. Two other people were also with me heading for the Sivananda Ashram. They were just pilgrims, and we walked in the heat of the sun. At 3:00 in the evening we met Swami Sivananda in his office. He used to see letters, take some with him for personal attention, and throw other letters on the floor for the Secretary to pick up and handle himself. We all sat there for an hour or so. The Swamiji got up. I hurriedly went near him and said, "I want to learn Yoga," but he cared not to hear what I said. He went away to his Kutir. There I was left with no other alternative than to sleep in the ramshackled Rama Ashram tin shed on the floor that was not cemented. The rest we have already talked about previously.