Yogi S.A.A. Ramaiah
Apostle of Tamil Kriya Yoga Siddhantham
by M. Govindan Satchidananda
On May 9, 1923, in the ancestral mansion
of S.A. Annamalai Chettiar, a young woman, Thaivani Achi,
gave birth to her second son, Ramaiah, which means "Ram worshipping
Shiva." S.A. Annamalai Chettiar, two years before, had flown
the first private airplane from England to India. He had his
own private airport near his home. His family was the wealthiest
in all of south India, having amassed a forune as merchant
bankers and traders throughout southeast Asia over the previous
several hundred years. Their home, "Ananda Vilas." ("the place
of bliss") was the second largest in the village of mansions,
Kanadukathan, in an area known as "Chettinad" 60 kilometers
north of Madurai, the ancient capital of Tamil Nadu. Chettinad
was inhabited primarily by the Nattukottai Chettiar clan of
several hundred families. The Chettiars were south east Asia's
first bankers, and their commercial empire encompassed south
India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Viet Nam, Burma and Indonesia.
They had also financed the construction of most of the large
temples in south India, with their colossal gopuram towers,
over the past several hundred years. The present finance minister
of the Government of India, P. Chidambaram is Yogi Ramaiah's
cousin, and he has built his career on a solid reputation
for honesty and acumen with regards to financial affairs.
S. Annamalai, the young father's own father, was a great philanthropist
and businessman; his brother, Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiar,
had made his fortune importing teak from India to south India,
and his palatial home, measuring hundreds of meters in size,
and situated next to Ananda Vilas included a thirteen car
garage. He had since become a leading industrialist. But his
brother, the young father of Ramaiah was more interested in
airplanes, fast cars, race horses, gambling and spending his
father's money. Ramaiah's mother was a devout young woman,
also a Chettiar, with a strong interest in spirituality and
mysticism. She was a disciple of "Chela Swami," an enigmatic
"childlike saint," and sadhu, or holyman, who would wander
into their home every now and then. Completely naked, village
boys would sometimes treat him like a madman, throwing stones
at him. But no one could ever determine why he was always
smiling; the village boys would give to him some bananas,
or massage his feet in reverence, and he would smile; then
some of them might make fun of him or try to tease him, and
he would only smile in response. No one knew where he lived
or where he would go when he disappeared for weeks or months;
he would come and go like the wind. But Thaivani Achi was
devoted to him.
Young Ramaiah was educated by tutors and enjoyed
the life of a member of the most elite circle in colonial
India. He played golf, wore English clothes, and traveled
frequently by motor car 300 kilometers north to Madras, where
his father owned most of the seaside property for nearly a
mile south of San Thome Cathedral. Ramaiah was interested
in science and Tamil literature. While his father gambled
away the family's fortune, Ramaiah prepared himself for a
university education. His father wanted him to go into business,
like all good Chettiars, but Ramaiah was adamant. When he
was admitted to the University of Madras, Presidency College,
the most prestigious institution in south India in 1940, he
appealed to his father for permission to major in the subject
of geology, with a minor in Tamil studies. After some heated
discussion, and after the intercession of Ramaiah's mother,
S.A. Annamalai relented and gave his consent.
Ramaiah excelled in his studies and in 1944
he graduated at the very top of his class. He applied for
post graduate studies in geology at John Hopkins University
in Baltimore, USA, and was accepted. His father opposed this
proposal, insisting that Ramaiah begin a career in the family's
business empire. Finally, Ramaiah succeeded in convincing
his father that he should be allowed to go to America, but
before doing so, but on condition that he get married first.
Betrothed since several years to Solachi, a young woman whose
wealthy family lived in the mansion across the street from
Ananda Vilas, the marriage was celebrated and Ramaiah and
his young bride began to make preparations for a long sea
journey to America. However, fate intervened and Ramaiah contracted
bone tuberculosis. The best English physicians were brought
in to treat him, but as bone tuberculosis was and still is
an incurable disease, the most they could accomplish was to
arrest its further spread beyond his legs. They did so by
imprisoning him in a plaster body cast, extending from his
feet to his neck.By immobilizing his body in this way, the
further development of the disease was expected to be arrested.
He remained in this situation, hanging from the bed posts
and suspended in air, for six years. His family left him alone
with his young bride and a few servants, at their seaside
cottage, at number 2, Arulananda Mudali Street, (now Arulandam
Street), San Thome, Mylapore, Madras.
While most persons would probably have succumbed
in despair to such an unimaginable condition, Ramaiah had
a source of strength which enabled him to survive this difficult
period. His mother had given to him an innate love for spirituality,
and so rather than seeing his situation as a curse, he realized
that he could use it to explore the inner realms of his soul.
Being an avid reader, Ramaiah studied the classics of Indian
spiritual literature. He was particularly impressed with the
poems of Ramalinga Swamigal and the writings of Sri Aurobindo.
His family had served Ramana Maharshi for three generations,
and he could appreciate his method of Vichara Atman. Unable
to move or engage in any normal activity, he also began to
practice meditation seriously, and whenever possible, he would
send his chauffeur with an invitation to famous sadhus or
gurus who were visiting the area. Intrigued by the sincerity
of this young man, encased as he was in a plaster body cast,
they would come and train him in the art of meditation and
breathing. Unable to explore the external world, he turned
his attention to the inner world. Without other distractions,
he made rapid progress. One of the sadhus, who had the most
influence upon him was a middle aged man named "Prasanananda
Guru." He was a famous "tapaswi" an ascetic
who could remain motionless for many weeks, locked in meditation
or trance. He was sometimes summoned by the chieftains of
drought stricken areas because of his ability to make it rain.
In 1948, he ended a three year drought in Chettinad, after
sitting for 48 days at the Brahmanoor Kali temple, one kilometer
outside of the village, performing yogic tapas, or intensive
meditation. At the end of one "mandala" of 48 days,
the rain came in torrents. Since that time drought has never
returned to this area.
Another of Ramaiah's early gurus was Omkara
Swami, a former postal worker, who had become a famous "tapaswi,"
who would sit without moving for 48 or 96 days without a break,
locked in samadhi trance. They shared with Ramaiah their intimate
knowledge of yogic sadhana. In 1952, Ramaiah wrote and published
a biography of Omkara Swami, entitled "A Blissful Saint."
They maintained a friendship until the latter's passing in
On March 10, 1952, the day that Yogananda
attained mahasamadhi in the USA, Mauna Swami, a colorful sadhu
and disciple of Shirdi Sai Baba came to the San Thome home
of Ramaiah, and after demonstrating his clairvoyant powers,
predicted with great assurance that Ramaiah would soon be
healed. But before this could occur, Ramaiah succumbed to
despair, and one night decided to end his life by holding
his breath. Then, as he was doing so, he suddenly heard a
voice say: "Do not take your life! Give it to me!"
Startled, he took a deep breath, wondering who could this
be. Then he realized that it must be the mysterious figure
whom he had begun to see in meditation after the visit of
Mouna Swami. The first time this occurred, he had a vision
of Shirdi Sai Baba, wearing his characteristic orange head
cloth. He eagerly asked Shirdi Sai Baba: "Are you my
guru?" The reply came: "No, but I will reveal to
you who is your guru." Just then, he saw for the first
time his guru "Babaji."
The next morning, Ramaiah awoke with the realization
that he had been healed. The English doctor was summoned and
the body cast was removed. To the astonishment of everyone,
the doctor's examination revealed that the dreaded disease
had disappeared. During the following days Ramaiah regained
the use of his legs. He also began chanting softly the name
"Babaji" and then "Om Babaji" and "Om
Kriya Babaji" and finally the five syllableed "panchakra"
mantra "Om Kriya Babaji Nama Aum," with utter gratitude
One day shortly thereafter, he came across
a newspaper advertisement for a new book about the renowned
saint "Satuguru Rama Devi," entitled "9 Boag
Road," which was the address of her residence in Madras.
The author was V.T. Neelakantan, a noted journalist. Ramaiah
penned a postcard to the latter, requesting a copy of the
book and addressing him with "Dear Atman." Upon
receipt, the journalist thought that the sender of the postcard
must be a "money bag," that is, some idle wealthy
person, but out of curiosity, he decided to pay him a visit
in San Thome.
Thus began a friendship and collaboration
which lasted nearly fifteen years. V.T. Neelakantan had been
receiving frequest late night visitations by the same mysterious
figure, Babaji, in his puja room in Egmore, Madras. Babaji
soon revealed to Neelakantan that he was to work closely with
Ramaiah to establish a yoga society in his name, "Kriya
Babaji Sangah," and to write and publish his teachings
in a series of books. Over the next two years, during late
night visitations to V.T. Neelakantan's home, Babaji dictated
several books to V.T. N., "my child," as Babaji
called him: "The Voice of Babaji and Myticism Unlocked,"
"Masterkey to Alls Ills," and "Death of Death."
V.T.N., then 52 years old, had been the foreign correspondent
for several years before and during the second world war,
both in Japan and London, for one of India's leading newspapers's,
the Indian Express. Because of this, he had also become a
confidante to Pandit Nehru, President of the Congress Party,
and subsequently India's first Prime Minister when India became
independent from Great Britain in 1947. Before the war, for
more than fifteen years he had also worked side by side with
Annie Besant, the longtime President of the Theosophical Society,
and the successor to Madame Blavatsky, who trained him in
the occult. He was also married and the father of four sons
and a daughter. At the end of the 1940's he left his family
for two years, and went to the Himalayas as a renunciant,
where he studied with Swami Sivananda and other saints.
On October 10, 1952, "Kriya Babaji Sangah"
was officially founded, and regular lectures, meditation classes
and other public activities were organized at the San Thome
home of Ramaiah. Ramaiah was the President, and V.T. N. was
the "Acharya." Press equipment was acquired and
a Kriya Yoga Magazine was published several times a year.
More books were also written, despite V.T.N. 's fragile health.
Ramaiah wrote the introductions, and V.T.N. wrote down the
dictations from Babaji. Babaji began directing the sadhana
of V.T.N., Ramaiah and Solachi, with specific instructions
regarding meditation and mantras in particular.
Babaji also began appearing to Ramaiah and
in 1954 Babaji summoned him to Badrinath in the Himalayas.
He was asked by Babaji to go outside the temple village, situated
at a height of 3,500 meters or 10,500 feet, taking nothing,
and wearing only a loincloth. Ramaiah, then 31 years old,
wandered north up the valley through which the Alakanantha
River, a principle source of the Ganges, flowed from its glacier
One day, he came across two sadhus, sitting on a flat rock.
One smiled at him, the other frowned and began hurling verbal
insults at him. "How could a dark skinned south India
dare to wander here, dressed only in a loin cloth," he
mocked. Ramaiah went up a little higher beyond the catcalls
of the sadhu, and sat down on a rock and began to meditate.
Several hours passed. Suddenly, he heard someone approaching
and urging him to come down to the village for food. Ramaiah
indicated to him that he would not, and that he should be
left alone. Several more hours past; it was dark, when suddenly,
the same sahu, who had smiled at him, returned, and began
forcing food into his mouth. "Jai Babaji" he thought.
"Even here, in this cold, desolate and treeless place,
Babaji takes care to feed me."
After three days of wandering, Babaji revealed
himself physically to Ramaiah and began to train him in the
sacred science of Kriya Yoga. Over the next several months,
in his cave beside the glacial lake known as Santopanth Tal,
thirty kilometers north of Badrinath, Ramaiah learned a complete
system of 144 Kriyas, or techniques, involving breathing,
yoga postures, meditation and mantras. He also enjoyed the
fellowship of Babaji's principle disciples, Annai Nagalakshimi
Deviyar, also known as Mataji, and Dadaji, who was known as
Swami Pranavanandar, in his previous incarnation, as well
as other close disciples of the great Satguru. Among other
things, Babaji also taught him how to withstand the cold temperature
with a breathing exercise.
After several months in the Himalayas, upon
his return to Madras in 1955, Ramaiah committed himself to
a very rigorous "tapas" or intensive period of practice,
during which time he worshipped the Divine Mother in the form
of Kali, in her most fearsome form. In order to purify oneself
of desires and to overcome such limitations as fear and anger,
the worship of Kali is considered to be especially effective.
She personifies "detachment" from the ego's attachments,
symbolized by the heads she lops off. While Patanjali, in
his Yoga Sutras, dryly recommends vairagya or detachment as
the principle method of classical Raja Yoga, such a practice
assumes a personal form when one engages oneself seriously
in ascetic tapas. Sitting still in a room for many days on
end, human nature rebels, and only complete surrender to the
Divine, in the form of Mother Nature, Kali, it seemed, would
enable him to overcome his ego's resistance. Tap means "to
heat" and tapas means "straightening by fire,"
or "voluntary self-challenge." It is the original
term for "Yoga." It begins with an expression of
a vow, for example, not to leave a place, or not to eat, or
not to speak, etc. for a set period, for example, one "mandala"
of 48 days. Jesus Christ's 40 days in the wilderness was a
form of tapas. Having completed his tapas, Ramaiah was born
anew; he had experienced deep states of stillness, known as
samadhi, and would hereafter be known as "Yogi Ramaiah."
He was also given several important assignments by Babaji:
to begin the study of physiotherapy and yoga therapy in order
to help those who like himself, were handicapped; to begin
teaching Kriya Yoga both in India and abroad; and to begin
to research and gather the writings of the Babaji's gurus,
Boganathar and Agastyar.
Yogi Ramaiah, along with Solachi moved to
Bombay where he enrolled in the program to become a physiotherapist
at G.S. Medical College and Hospital, the largest in that
city. He also studied and applied yogasanas successfully to
the treatment of his patients. About 1961, towards the end
of his studies there, he asked his professors for permission
to conduct clinical experiments. He told them that he believed
that he could cure over 20 different types of functional disorders
through the use of yoga alone, including diabetes, hypertension,
appendicitis and infertility, all within three months time.
Permission was granted and the patients were selected by the
attending physicians. For three months he worked with these
patients every day, guiding and encouraging them in their
practice of yoga, and allied regimens of diet and sun treatment.
After three months, to the amazement of the physicians, all
of the patients had become well. In recognition, he was awared
an honorary diploma. Preferring not to wait any longer to
complete the academic requirements, he returned to Madras,
where he founded a free clinic for the poor in San Thome,
specializing in the handicapped, as well as a department of
orthopedic rehabilitation in Adyar, Madras. He operated the
free clinic for nearly ten years. The orthopedic rehabilitation
department continues its operations to this day on Mount Road,
just north of the Adyar bridge. In 1985, the author visited
with Yogi Ramaiah the G.S. Medical College, and demonstrated
the 18 yoganasanas while Yogi Ramaiah lectured to over 500
professional staff members in the auditorium. His successful
use of Yoga was still remembered by the senior staff.
From 1956 Yogi Ramaiah and Solachi began traveling
to Sri Lanka, Malyasia and Viet Nam, where he would conduct
lectures, yogasana classes, and initiations into Kriya Yoga,
as well as free medical camps for the handicapped. One devotee,
an engineer, living at no. 51 Arasady Road, in Jaffna, Sri
Lanka, recounted to the author, in 1980, how he had seen Yogi
Ramaiah many times in his dreams prior to their first meeting.
In 1958, Sri Lanka was rocked by its first communal riots
between the Tamils and Sinhalese.
These occurred while Yogi Ramaiah was conducting
his third annual "Parliament of World Religions and Yoga."
An ecumenical conference attended by local leaders of various
religious groups. One participant was Swami Satchidananda,
representing the Divine Life Society, founded by Swami Sivananda.
A Tamil from Coimbatore, he was deeply impressed by Yogi Ramaiah
and his efforts for ecumenism. Thus began a lifelong friendship.
When, in 1967, Swami Satchidananda left for America, he stopped
at Yogi Ramaiah's seaside ashram in San Thome to receive his
blessings. Yogi Ramaiah took him to the airport and gave him
a royal sendoff. After Yogi Ramaiah himself moved to New York
City, in 1968, they often attended one another's functions.
For example, the graduation ceremony for students of the Tamil
language course conducted at Yogi Ramaiah's ashram at 112
East 7th Street, N.Y.C. and the Parliament of World Religions
and Yoga at Rutgers University in 1969. In Sri Lanka, in 1958,
the Prime Minister came to the last day of the Parliament
to personally thank Yogi Ramaiah and the other speakers for
helping to quell the riots with the speeches promoting inter
In Malaysia in the early 1960's, Yogi Ramaiah
and Solachi found many persons interested in Kriya Yoga. Solachi
had received as part of her marriage dowry, a large rubber
plantation from her family. Yogi Ramaiah's great grandfather
had his life miraculously saved at the end of the 19th century
by a mysterious yogi, subsequently identified as Babaji. Yogi
Ramaiah's father-in-law, Dr. Alagappa Chettiar, had founded
a college in Pallatur, 8 kilometers from Kanadukathan, where
Yogi Ramaiah used to teach Yoga. He loved Yogi Ramaiah very
much. But after his death, the families of the young couple
began condemning their itinerant lifestyle and interest in
Yoga, and the absence of any children. It was unheard of for
young persons to become so seriously engaged in Yoga, unless
they renounced everything as sannyasins. Fearing this, quarrels
heated up and Solachi fell seriously ill. During her convalescence,
she moved back into her mother's home in Kanadukathan. Relations
with her son-in-law deteriorated, and during the final days
of her life, in 1962, the greedy mother tricked her daughter
Solachi into signing over all of her properties to herself,
stole her jewelry, and refused Yogi Ramaiah access to his
wife. After her death, Yogi Ramaiah's mother-in-law compounded
the tragedy by bribing a judge in Malaysia to give her title
to all of her daughter's property there.
About this time, Yogi Ramaiah decided to break
with his own family. His mother had passed away, and his father
was a materialist and actively opposed to Yogi Ramaiah's activities
involving Yoga. Disparaging remarks were made, and finally
Yogi Ramaiah decided that he must break away from his family
once and for all. Rather than wait for his share of the joint
family property, normally distributed after the demise of
one's parents, he negotiated a settlement which gave him enough
money to purchase a large house in Kanadukathan, at 13 AR
Street. For several years, it had been used as a hotel for
local college students. During the 1970's Yogi Ramaiah renovated
it, and built within its walls several sacred edifices: a
shrine to Babaji, a shrine to the lady Siddha Avvai, containing
over a thousand palm leaf manuscripts written by the Yoga
Siddhas, which he had collected over many years from private
collectors and museums while wandering all over Tamil Nadu;
and shrines to Mataji and Dadaji. A beautiful gopuram tower
with images of the 18 Yoga Siddhas was constructed over the
front gate. Despite his practice of Yoga, however, Yogi Ramaiah
remained scarred by his family, and as we shall see subsequently,
he later concentrated considerable efforts into rehabilitating
his reputation with his family.
Yogi Ramaiah wrote and published a book on
the 18 Yoga postures, profusely illustrated with photographs,
as well as a book entitled "Songs of the 18 Siddhas,"
in 1968, with selections from the palm leaf manuscripts he
had collected. Babaji, he related, had given him the assignment
to see that their works were published one day. His close
friend, the Tamil poet and renowned yogi disciple of Sri Aurobindo,
Yogi Shuddhananda Bharatiyar, wrote a beautiful introduction
to this work. In subsequent years, Yogi Ramaiah had the writings
of Boganthar transcribed from the palm leaf manuscripts, and
then published in Tamil, in a modern book form, in several
volumes, beginning in 1979. He had over the years also continued
to publish a Kriya Yoga magazine, with the assistance of V.T.
Neelakantan, However, their long collaboration came to an
end around 1967 when they had a personal falling out. The
reasons for the falling out are unknown to this author, as
Yogi Ramaiah avoided making any comments about V.T.N., even
when questioned by the author in 1972. (In 2003, however,
the author obtained information from V.T.N.'s sons about his
later years. V.T.N. continued to be devoted to Babaji and
to practice regularly mantra sadhana in particular until his
passing in 1983, in Madras; V.T.N.'s wife expired in 1992.
He lived a quiet, private life until the end; there was no
reconciliation with Yogi Ramaiah).
In 1967 Yogi Ramaiah went to Malaysia and
then to Australia where he conducted initations in Kriya Yoga.
One student, Filinea Andlinger owned a piece of property several
hours drive from Sydney, and on it there was a large cave.
Babaji did intensive tapas in this cave, according to an account
which Babaji related to Yogi Ramaiah.
In early 1968 Yogi Ramaiah moved to the United
States. When he arrived in New York City he had expected to
be able to work as a physiotherapist, but his academic credentials
were not recognized. So, he decided to acquire American professional
qualifications as soon as possible, by enrolling in courses
in prosthetics and orthotics. Until then, however, he lived
in primitive conditions in an abandoned building on East 5th
Street, in lower Manhattan, and worked part time in a bookstore.
He began giving talks and classes related to yoga, which attracted
local young people. It was the "summer of love"
in New York City, and the Haight Ashbury of San Francisco.
Young people were looking for new ways to "get high"
and psychedelics and Yoga were entering the consciousness
of the new generation. He encouraged his new bearded young
students to give up drugs, to practice Yoga and to get a job.
A small community of followers formed around him, and several
apartments were rented to house them and the activities of
his newly formed "American Babaji Yoga Sangam."
Its first President, Dolph Schiffren managed to obtain a permanent
residency "green card" for Yogi Ramaiah, as the
Founder-Minister of this new non-profit organization. They
also acquired their first property in America, a 30 acre partially
wooded lot, in Richville, N.Y., at an auction, sight unseen,
for $3,000. While it was a seven hour drive from N.Y.C. it
would serve them during summer retreats. The early followers
included Dolph Schiffren, his wife Barbara, Mary Chiarmante
and her partner Richard, as well as Lloyd and Teri Ruza. Subsequently,
Leslie Stella, Andrea Auden, Ronald and Anne Stevenson, Donna
Alu, Michael Bruce, Michael Weiss, Cher Manne, and the author,
as well as David Mann, brother of the famous Hollywood producer,
Michael Mann, and Mark Denner.
Before moving to California in the summer
of 1970, Yogi Ramaiah took Dolph and Barbara with him to Madras,
where they were to conduct classes and develop the center.
In September 1970, Yogi Ramaiah moved to Downey, California,
where he lived with the author and four other students in
a small apartment on Longworth Boulevard. He subsequently
moved into a small house with the same students on Chester
Street in Norwalk, and enrolled in the Prosthetics and Orthotics
("P & O" ) studies at nearby Cerritos College,
and began bringing home artificial legs and braces to work
on. He also began conducting lectures and yoga classes. Charles
Berner invited him, as well as several other well known yogis,
including Yogi Bhajan, Swami Satchidananda, and Swami Vishnudevanda
to a meeting to discuss the organization of the first "kumba
mehla" in North America. He envisaged six jumbo jets
bringing a couple of thousand Indian sadhus to a farmer's
field in Oregon. The author attended several meetings intended
to organize the logistics, but the proposal succumbed under
the weight of its grandiosity. However, Yogi Bhajan invited
Yogi Ramaiah to his home, just off Sunset Boulevard, in Hollywood,
for a private meeting. The author accompanied him. It was
s memorable occasion. Yogi Bhajan, the Sikh master, over six
feet tall, and weighing over 250 pounds at least, with his
regal attire, white turban, sitting next to the dimunitive
Yogi Ramaiah, who was dressed like his idol, Mahatma Gandhi,
with a khadi homespun dhoti draped from his waist, and a towel
draped over his shoulders. Their only resemblance was their
big beards and glowing eyes. For nearly half an hour no words
were exchanged. They sat in silence, while the author wondered
what was going on. Afterwards, a few pleasantries were exchanged
and we departed. A couple of weeks later, during a public
meeting of Sikh devotees, Yogi Bhajan told the crowd that
he had met a great saint, Yogi Ramaiah. The author then realized
that their communication had been at the deepest possible
level. When I once asked who to consult with regards to Kundalini,
if he was available, he recommended Yogi Bhajan. Thus began
a long term friendship. In December of 1970, Yogi Bhajan was
one of the principal speakers at the "Parliament of World
Religions and Yoga" held at UCLA. The author enjoyed
inviting most of the speakers who attended. When we moved
into our new ashram, Yogi Bhajan attended the dedication ceremony.
Commenting on how many gray hairs were already in Yogi Ramaiah's
beard, I recall him lamenting about how he had just returned
from taking his first group of American Sikh disciples to
Amritsar, in the Punjab, and how they had given him so many
gray hairs. As disciples "You are millstones around our
necks" he told us, and exhorted us to remain faithful
to our path.
Over several months in early 1971, Yogi Ramaiah
initiated into the 144 Kriyas, twelve of his students, those
who were living in the centers he had established in California,
New York, Washington, D.C., Baltimore and New Jersey. Before
being accepted for this training they had to practice the
Kriya Yoga techniques they had already received during the
first and second initiations, for at least 56 hours per week,
and for 52 weeks. They also had to submit records of their
employment, weekly day of fasting and silence, and other disciplines.
Yogi Ramaiah knew how to inspire and motivate us to excel
in our yogic sadhanas. The author and most of his dedicated
students loved the practices. "Simple living and high
thinking" was one of his motto's and we felt sanctified
by all that he did for us. He also organized a pilgrimage
to Mount Shasta, in northern California, and several retreats
and many lectures, where he spoke with great inspiration on
"Tamil Yoga Siddhantham, the teachings of the 18 Yoga
Throughout his life, Yogiyar felt that he
had been often betrayed, both by family members and his students.
He had an unbending nature, and authoritative and controlling
ways. He knew best, and he did not appreciate anyone questioning
his wisdom or ways of doing things. He seemed to pride himself
on being able to "crush the ego" of his various
students, as if this was the most effective means to liberation.
We appreciated his ability to reveal our "shadow side."
Unlike some gurus, who treat their students in only the most
respectful and loving manner, Yogiyar, as we called him affectionately,
avoided the confusion which that approach entailed. He did
not love us as we were as persons,with all of our hang-ups,
but he did love who we truly are. By chipping away at the
outer personal attachments and idiosyncracies, he helped us
to realize our deeper, true Self. As students, we accepted
this approach, which involved many painful rebukes, long sessions
of karma yoga involving manual labor or routine activities
for hours on end. He seldom acknowledged our talents, at least
not personally, and refused to delegate more than the most
menial of tasks. Organizationally, he appeared to nearly always
do the opposite of what would be most effective, eschewing
recognition and becoming more than a small collection of students
devoted to the practice of Kriya Yoga and to the work, which
included working on ourselves. For example, during his retreats,
rather than collecting one fixed amount at the beginning of
the retreat, he would send various students around during
the first or second night, while the students were sleeping,
with requests to contribute $5 to "the dog fund,"
or $20 for "the building fund," or $15 for "the
car fund." So, each time one had to reach for one's wallet,
one got another lesson in "detachment." However,
if you did not realize that the game he played was "catch
the ego" you could easily get hurt and quickly leave.
Those who stayed did so by developing a good sense of humor.
Yogiyar also placed a premium on education,
and encouraged all of his students to go back to school, and
seek more qualifications. Many of his students were drop outs,
but he motivated them to make a contribution to society, particularly
in the field of health. Several of them became qualified orthotists
or prosthetists: Edmund Ayyappa has for many years been the
Director of Research, in Orthotics, at the Veterans Administration
in Long Beach, California, and has developed many innovative
electronically controlled artificial limbs. Ronald Stevenson
and John Adamski founded their own P& O Clinics in Virginia
and Chicago, respectively. Others became nurses. As the author
had already some qualifications from the School of Foreign
Service, Yogi Ramaiah asked him to go to Washington, D.C.
in 1973, after one year in India, and to take the civil service
exams; he subsequently advised him to accept a position as
a civilian economist in the Pentagon, in 1972, where he worked
for four years. Yogiyar himself obtained his diplomas in Orthotics
and Prosthetics, and worked for several years as a P &
O laboratory technician, making and fitting artificial limbs
and braces. In this capacity, he also began visiting migrant
worker camps in the Imperial Valley in 1973, with a portable
P & O workshop in a small house trailer. Consequently,
finding that the hot desert climate resembled that of his
ancestral home in India, he purchased a 10 acre plot in the
Imperial Valley, with an old farm house, and began spending
much of his time there. He obtained a position as an instructor
at the local Imperial Valley College, at a time when Yoga
was relatively unknown. He would conduct his classes in his
India dhoti, and a white lab coat, and would teach the college
students how to improve their health and well being through
Yoga postures and breathing. After about eight years there
however, opposition to him from fundamentalist Christians
at the college, combined with his frequent travel obligations
ended his tenure there, but he obtained a position at Arizona
State College, one and a half hours away in Yuma, Arizona.
The author signed mortgage papers to purchase a small farmhouse
on five acres of land, on the southern outskirts of town.
During this time, we began to make fun of Yogiyar's business
card, which mentioned more and more qualifications and academic
positions, as his educational experience developed. He later
earned a doctorate degree from Pacific Western University,
by correspondence, and had himself photographed in a studio
in "cap and gown." While he often seemed unable
to engage in social chatter with acquaintances, and did not
seem to care that his appearance was totally foreign to strangers,
his business card seemed to play an important means for him
to tell those he met for the first time that he was someone
who was not so strange after all.
During his three decades in the USA, where
he became a citizen in 1975, he gave thousands of lectures
and demonstrations related to Yoga Therapy, in hospitals and
before medical conferences. Some considered him to be a "gadfly"
or "social conscience" at such conferences because
of his efforts to raise their standards. At the P & O
conferences, in particular, he made a concerted effort to
raise the mentality and professionalism among its members.
Even in the 1970's the average P & O workshop displayed
"girly" calendars on the walls, and the conferences
were mostly about alcohol. So Yogiyar inspired several of
his women students, including Suzanne Fournier to become professional
prosthetists and orthotists. To the medical professionals
at all levels he emphasized that the most important element
in treating patients was "to love the person," not
the drugs or the technology. He himself treated the worse
cases, persons without any arms or legs, or severely deformed,
with so much of love, as if they were the Master himself,
with great care and confidence that he could do something
He loved animals, and maintained a menagerie
of dogs, cats, goats, and cows at the Yuma and Imperial Valley
Centers. Even at the Richville, New York center, he insisted
that we maintain a huge white Charolais bull for many years.
While it was burden for us to care for, it was we felt, important
to treat them with reverence, especially when our neighbors
saw them only as a source of food. "Sacred cows"
as in India, were more than a memory for us. They were one
element of his aspiration to bring Indian culture to the West.
Our dress, our eating habits, the ways in which we slept on
the floor, went to the toilet, bathed, and even avoided most
furniture, and especially television, was all part of a social
experiment, if not a social mini-invasion of a materialistic
culture. He was not about to become like his neighbors, and
if you were his student, and wanted to live in one of the
centers he established, you had to conform to his cultural
ways. There was also a very practical reason for this requirement:
when we were sent to live and practice and work in India,
we were well adapted, and could live there for years without
difficulty. This was of course at a time when India had little
in the way of modern Western conveniences, and consequently,
it was ordinarily very difficult for Westerners to live there.
He focused his attention on training a few persons who could
blend with his energies, do the sadhana and help him fulfill
the assignments which he received from Babaji. He also indicated
that he was planting "seeds" which might take hundreds
of years to produce fruit. These "seeds" would sprout
in the collective consciousness and culture of western society
for decades to follow. When asked by the author once how America
would be in the middle of the 21st century he cooly replied
that it would "level up with India spiritually."
His actions were often not motivated by near term gains, but
long term effects on the planet as a whole. While his motivations
appeared at times enigmatic, they were usually grounded in
the ancient principles of Yogic culture.
Unlike most teachers, Yogiyar financed his
activities in a non-commercial manner. For nearly three decades,
the initiation seminars for example, which last several days,
involved a donation of only $16. All of the regular and extraordinary
expenses, however, were paid for by the one or two dozen students
living in the half dozen centers he had established in North
America. He made it very difficult for anyone to become a
resident, but once they had proven their capacity to live
a disciplined and dedicated life, he demanded much from them.
They were required to pay from their modest salaries, working
often two jobs to make ends meet, the amounts required to
support his extensive travel, automobile, telephone and utility
bills, and extraordinary projects book printing. Rather than
asking the public or new students to pay for his trainings,
the residents of his centers basically subsidized his mission,
and the public. It was karma yoga, selfless service, and taught
the residents the blessing of giving from the heart, and detachment
from material possessions. He also refused to do what he called
establish a "trading post" offering books, pictures
and paraphanelia to students. The entire emphasis of his residential
centers was to provide an environment wherein its residents
could practice Kriya Yoga eight hours per day, after working
in gainful employment eight hours a day, and take care of
their physical needs and do karma yoga the remaining eight
hours per day. This schedule enabled the residents to become
extremely dynamic and to concentrate on Yogic practice without
distraction. Only once per week, was the public allowed to
visit the centers for the purpose of attending free public
yoga asana classes. This was the antithesis of the Yoga studio
phenomena which gradually became the norm elsewhere. He wanted
his students to integrate the practice of Yoga in their daily
life, and not to commercialize it or to make it a means of
earning one's living.
One of Yogi Ramaiah's avowed means of "helping"
his students was what he referred to "ego-crushing."
He was a master of orchestrating situations in such a way
that students would come face to face with their ego's reactions:
anger, resentment, jealousy, doubt, insecurity, pride and
just about every other conceivable human limitation. For example,
he would oblige two residents to live together in one of his
centers. One of them had the I.Q. of 85 and the other an I.Q.
of 150. He would put the dumb one in charge of the center,
but then when things would get fouled up, he would blame the
smart one. He also avoid praising any of his students. Sometimes,
one would hear him say things, like why can't you be as good
as so and so," but this was always for its effect on
the one being scolded. He would boost the ones who lacked
confidence for example, to return to formal studies at the
university, and he would deflate the pretensions of those
who were over confident or prideful. He could be merciless
in skewering the ego. This approach, while very controversial,
requires the absolute integrity of the teacher. If it is self-serving,
then it is abusive. Ultimately, it is purifying, but one has
to be committed to the process of "letting go" of
whatever comes up in the way of reactions. Ultimately, this
leads to freedome from the the samaskaras, or habitual tendencies,
and to Self-realization. But interestingly enough, it is not
a method which is mentioned in any of the Yoga Siddha's texts,
such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali or the Tirumandiram.
It is part of the Tantric tradition of honoring the guru,
as a means of realizing the guru within. If however, it involves
only one ego submitting to the will of another ego, it is
merely an exercise in power. It finds its true value as a
part of the "game of consciousness" wherein one
uses the relationship to realize the Self, the Seer, as opposed
to the the Seen, and everything with form. The "guru"
is a principle of nature which leads one from the darkness
of ignorance to the light of consciousness; it can manifest
through events, situations, and people, but when it manifests
consistently through an individual, we can say that this person
is a "guru." One should not make the mistake of
confusing the person, with the 'guru principle," however.
The person is a vehicle, and sometimes the vehicle has flaws.
The student must not give away his power to anyone, but must
honor the "guru principle" working through whomever
or whatever brings wisdom to him. This is also why Yogiyar
could often say "I am not a guru," but also accept
being honored as such.
Despite his eccentricities, Yogiyar was charming,
and we loved him dearly. He would spend hours on the telephone
listening to some of his students on the other side of the
country pouring our their problems. He regularly slept only
three hours a night, refusing to even eat his dinner until
"Master's work was done," which was usually around
3 a.m. We would rotate as his personal assistant every two
weeks, arriving fortified and prepared for non-stop karma
yoga sessions, and leave exhausted. His level of energy was
nothing short of incredible. When the pressure of work, sadhana,
karma yoga, and ego crushing became too much, occasionally,
someone would drop out. Perhaps they just wanted an easier
way. Our number became fewer, and Yogiyar, as we called him
affectionately, made it even more difficult for newcomers
to join the dozen or so centers he had established around
the USA. As our numbers decreased, the burden increased on
the remaining students, in terms of maintaining the centers.
He was a remarkable person. Once, during a
cross country pilgrimage, we stopped for the night on Pike's
Peak, Colorado. Yogiyar announced that he was going off into
the forest to meditate alone, and that no one should follow
him. Overcome by curiosity, the author did follow him, and
hiding behind a tree, witnessed him sit down in meditation
posture, cross his arms, roll up his eyes, and disappear into
a ball of light which resembled the sun! The author pinched
himself several times, and rubbed his own eyes, to make sure
that he was not dreaming. After a half an hour, the ball of
light slowly faded, and the familiar form of Yogiyar returned.
He got up, and as he began to walk back towards our camp,
spotted the author and rebuked him for having disobeyed him.
When the author subsequently asked him what he had been doing,
Yogiyar told him that he was "planting seeds" in
various places, which he expected would grow into important
centers of spiritual life some day in the future.
On many occasions Yogiyar also revealed his
"siddhis" or yogic miraculous powers. This occurred
in the course of our interactions with him. He had an ability
to know exactly what we were thinking, to visit us during
our dreams, and to tell us what we had been doing in private
during the previous days, when we were off on our own. But
he never made a show of his powers. And he would not allow
us to stay with him for more than a few weeks, in most cases.
He would send us off to various parts of the country or abroad,
to practice and to work, and to become strong. In this way,
the author worked in a variety of jobs, and started or developed
several centers in countries as far flung and England, Australia,
Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka and various cities in the USA and
At the Parliament, in Sri Lanka in 1958, he
demonstrated his ability to stop his pulse in one arm, while
doubling the pulse in the other arm, while delivering a lecture
to the assembly. Two physicians held his arms and reported
on this following the demonstration. In 1967, in Australia,
he demonstrated the breathless state of samadhi, in a medical
laborartory. Before going into this deep trance state, he
requested that the attending physician avoid any efforts to
revive him. But, this request was ignored when the doctor
found that Yogo Ramaiah's heartbeat, breathing a pulse had
all gone to zero. The doctor injected him with a syrninge
a substance to stimulate his heart, and he nearly died in
the process of coming back to life so suddenly. After this,
Babaji told him to avoid such demonstrations in the future.
His greatest "siddhi" however, was
perhaps his remarkable devotion and love for Babaji. This
was palpable, and when he would lecture it was as if the great
Master himself spoke through Yogiyar. He would chant with
heartfelt devotion "Om Kriya Babaji Nama Aum," throughout
the day. He frequently referred things to Babaji, or mentioned
in passing how Babaji had revealed certain things to him.
Babaji was the center of his life, and he made Babaji the
center of our lives. He worked tirelessly to serve Babaji
in everyone who came to him. Whether it was through classes,
individual counseling, group activities, lectures or the organization
of centers and ashrams where we could practice Kriya Yoga
undisturbed, his heart and mind were focused on service. Through
his example, we also learned how Babaji taught him. He often
mentioned that Babaji would not "spoon feed to him"
the personal lessons he needed to learn, but tell him "to
find out" himself, when faced with certain questions.
In this way we came to understand that Yogiyar had his own
limitations, but as an elder student of Babaji, there was
much to emulate in him. A good sense of humor went a long
way in accepting his ways, or admonishments. Even if we could
not understand why he dealt with us in certain ways, we knew
that he loved us. Sometimes, he could not pretend to be stern,
and would crack a smile, in the midst of some admonishment;
and we would know that he was doing it for effect. His dramatic
scenes left their impression on us. When giving personal instructions
over the phone, he would usually repeat the same thing over
again several times, in order to impress upon our subconscious
the lesson he sought to convey.
From 1954 to the present, every year, with
Babaj's guidance and inspiration, Yogi Ramaiah organized an
annual Parliament of World Religions and Yoga, alternating
usually between a new site in India and the West. At these
two to three day conferences, which were open to the public
free of charge, fifteen to twenty speakers from various faiths
shared in turn their beliefs and practices, and educated the
public as to their religious or spiritual path. They included
Christian fundamentalists, Buddhist monks, Jewish rabbis,
American Indians, Yogis and Swamis, Catholic priests and even
new age spiritual teachers. Their theme was "unity in
diversity" and they served as a powerful antidote to
that most common of spiritual diseases: religious fanaticism.
It is a remarkable achievement to have continued this service
for so long and so well.
Yogi Ramaiah also exhibited a strong characteristic
of his Chettiar ancestry: a need to build shrines. Aside from
the one mentioned above in Kanadukathan, he also built a small
shrine to Babaji in the San Thome ashram, in the early 1960's,
a small yantra shrine on Bear Mountain, in New York in 1968,
an underground yantra shrine on Mount Shasta in 1970, a shrine
to Ayyappa Swami in Imperial Valley, California in 1972, a
relatively large shrine, out of granite in 1974 on the birthplace
of Babaji in Porto Novo, Tamil Nadu, a large shrine to Muruga,
at Richville, in upstate New York in 1975, another shrine
to Babaji in 1977 in Washington, D.C. and a shrine to the
Divine Mother Kali in Long Island, N.Y. in 1983, and subsequently
moved to Grahamsville, N.Y. in the Catskills. In 1987 he also
built a large beautiful shrine to Palaniandavar (Muruga) on
top of a hill at the campus of his college in Athanoor, Tamil
Nadu. In 1983 he built his most important shrine ever, at
his ashram in Yuma, Arizona. It housed the granite murthis
or statues of the 18 Yoga Siddhas which he had been requisitioning
for more than a dozen years from Mahabalipuram, just south
of Madras. It was his most ambitious construction project
to date. Knowing fully well that it would lie on a major earthquake
fault, he had it built upon a concrete pile foundation, sunk
deep into the earth, using cement with the hardness of dams.
For nearly forty days he went practically without sleep, during
its construction, so concerned was he that it be free of any
defect. When it was completed, a grand celebration was organized,
and newspapers throughout Arizona carried feature length news
reports and many photographs of the exotic looking temple.
Then, a couple of weeks later, he had a major heart attack.
The strain of the work had finally caught up with him. He
underwent quintuple bypass surgery at the Sinai Hospital in
West Los Angeles. The surgeon, later told us that his arteries
were not blocked, but that they were remarkably delicate.
During his convalescence, Yogiyar began
to make some changes not only in his lifestyle but also in
his organization. He announced the formation of a Board of
Directors who would take over responsibility for the administration
of the various centers and ashrams, upon his death; he also
took the author aside one night, and under a lamp post dictated
to him a list of conditions to fulfill in order to assume
responsibility for initiating others into the 144 Kriyas.
He has never asked anyone else, before or since, to fulfill
this responsibility. It took the author three years to fulfill
these conditions, which involved strenuous sadhanas and other
disciplines. When Yogiyar had confirmed their fulfillment,
he asked author to simply "wait."
In 1980 and 1981, Yogiyar sent the author
to India and then to Sri Lanka. After completing some assignments
with regards to publications of the writings of Boganathar,
he encouraged him to live quietly at a secluded retreat, on
the beach in Dehiwala, just south of Colombo. There was little
to do, so the author vowed to dedicate all of his time to
intensive sadhana in silence there. The first three months
were difficult, because the mind was not able to distract
itself in reading or work, but then night and day became as
one, and an ineffable peace began to permeate his consciousness.
After eleven months, Yogi Ramaiah came. The author did not
want to end his tapas. Yogiyar insisted that he must return
to America, where he had a lot of work to do. But, to his
pleasant surprise, the peace which he had gained there remained
always easily accessible. For this, he remains ever grateful.
But before leaving he dedicated a small shrine to Babaji which
had been constructed at Katirgama, on the spot where Babaji
attained nirvikalpa samadhi, under the tutelage of Boganathar,
and he dedicated a new seaside ashram at 59 Peters Lane, Dehiwala,
built with the assistance of Murugesu Candaswamy, and the
former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Dr. H.W. Tambiah,
the honorary chairman of our Lanka Babaji Yoga Sangam.
In 1985, the author accompanied Yogiyar
on a two week tour of medical facilities in the People's Republic
of China. They were a strange sight to the Chinese, who were,
at that time, almost all, still attired in their drab "Maoist"
suits. We ate only rice and stringy broccoli three times a
day, so unprepared were our hosts for vegetarians! Later that
year, at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, he was
invited to present a talk on Yoga along with several other
distinguished speakers at a one day conference on meditation..
On the speakers platform he was flanked by the His Holiness,
the Dalai Lama, a yong spiritual teacher Sri Ravi Shankar,
a famous Jain monk, and the then Minister of Home Affairs
and future Prime Minister, Niramsinha Rao. When the Dalai
Lama spoke haltingly, after each sentence, he would pause,
and ask his assistant, a translator, whether what he had said
in English, was correct. It was very charming. After speaking
for only 15 of his allotted 45 minutes, the young Sri Ravi
Shankar, who was at that time, practically unknown to the
public, announced that he would respectfully give his remaining
time to Yogi Ramaiah. Yogiyar spoke long and eloquently about
Yoga Siddhantham and Babaji, and the need to integrate our
spiritual life, through meditation into all areas of our life.
Naramsinha Rao, greatly impressed the author when he said:
"The reason why I meditate every day is because it allows
me to accept more and more responsibility."
In late 1985, the author organized the arrangements
for 30 students from America to attend with Yogiyar, the Maha
Kumba Mehla in Hardwar, for 48 days, between February and
April 1986. We resided at the Tourist Bungalow by the Ganges,
and every day enjoyed the company of thousands of sadhus and
devotees who participated in record numbers at this extraordinary
event, the greatest in 60 years. Afterwards, we all went to
Badrinath, and enjoyed doing sadhana there in the sacred places
associated with Babaji.
IIn 1986, Yogi Ramaiah sold our centers in
New York City and New Orleans, and with the proceeds from
the sale purchased 145 acres of land five kilometers from
the village of Kanadukathan with the help of two students,
Meenakshisundaran of the USA, and Murugesu Candaswamy of Sri
Lanka. After the ground breaking ceremony for each of the
nine buildings he hoped to build there, as part of a proposed
Yoga Rehabilitation Hospital and College, he left the author
to administer the construction, assuring that the work done
by the contractors was according to our requirements. It was
a daunting assignment. During previous visits to India, rationing
of materials and bureaucracy always made construction projects
such as the reconstruction of the San Thome ashram or Kanadukathan
ashram very problematic. It was desert scrub land, remote
from any human habitations, with no water for more than a
kilometer. Fifty women coolies were engaged to transport water
in buckets on their heads, so that cement mortar could be
mixed. In nine months, nine building went up, to the amazement
of the author. The Minister of Industries for the State of
Tamil Nadu came and inaugurated the complex. When the author
returned to Canada a few months later, he made an application
to the Canadian Agency for International Development for a
grant to support the new Rehabilitation center in India. The
Canadian government sent an aid officer to the complex in
India, and made a report. While the facilities were beautiful
and well equipped, even with ambulances, he reported, there
was no administration. Sadly, our application for a grant
was declined. The author began to wonder whether Yogiyar's
unwillingness to delegate and his need to control everything
was again becoming his greatest obstacle. Even before the
complex was built, he and others had pleaded with Yogiyar
not to build it in such an out of the way place. It would
serve its purposes, we felt, only near a more populated area.
Yogiyar was adamant that it be built only near Kanadukathan,
and indicated that this was because he needed to prove something
to his family. The pattern of family karma had not yet been
exhausted, but a few years later, Yogiyar was accepted back
into his family. They invited him to their functions and he
was allowed to occupy one of the rooms in Ananda Vilas, the
room where he was born.
Some may wonder why Babaji would have showered
so much grace on his close disciples, V.T. Neelakantan and
Yogi Ramaiah, and then allowed their relationship to fall
apart after fifteen years, and for the latter to continue
as he did. They ignore the fact that even Babaji allows those
who are close to him to learn their own lessons, and to work
through their karmic tendencies. Babaji's disciples are not
robots, with samskaras erased, and enlightenment implanted
by their Satguru. While romantic autobiographies and polished
biographies written by devotees usually avoid mention of the
humanness if not failings of their cherished subjects, such
accounts do more damage than good. They give the false, and
romantic notion that the spiritual path is filled with miracles,
that the guru will give us enlightenment, and that human nature
does not resist vehemently our efforts to become divine. This
is why, in writing this piece, the author has attempted to
avoid varnishing the truth of things, and to recount the humanness,
the enigmatic, and the problematic, in the biography of Yogi
Ramaiah, while avoiding judgment as to why? In recent years,
some have criticized him, and doubted him, but they have done
so without even knowing the person, nor anything of his life,
and his struggles. I hope that this account will cause them
to pause, and to reflect more deeply upon their own human
nature, before "casting stones" towards others.
May his life, and his example, in its entireity, serve as
a lesson for us all.
Copyright January2005 M. Govindan. All