Translated by Robert Butler, T. V. Venkatasubramanian and David Godman
Prabhulinga Leelai is a 15th century Virasaiva work, written in Kannada and comprising 1,111 verses. It was originally composed when a Virasaiva scholar, Camarasa, was challenged to produce a work that was greater than either the Mahabharata or the Ramayana. Shortly afterwards Camarasa had a dream in which Virabhadra, the son of Siva, asked him to write a long poem. Camarasa subsequently composed Prabhulinga Leelai in eleven days, after which he presented it at the court of his king, where it was approved by both the monarch and the scholars who had challenged him.
This Kannada work was translated into Tamil verse by Sivaprakasa Swamigal, an accomplished Virasaiva poet and scholar, in the seventeenth century. The Tamil version was read by Ramana Maharshi, who referred to it in his conversations with visitors on a number of occasions. Two of its verses are the source of one of Bhagavan’s compositions (Ulladu Narpadu Anubandham verse 20), and the chapter entitled ‘Gorakkar Gati’, part of which is translated here, was narrated by Bhagavan in Crumbs from his Table (pp. 36-39). A synopsis of the main story of this chapter – the meeting between Allama Prabhu and Gorakkar – also appears in Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 334.
The author of the Tamil version, Sivaprakasa Swamigal, had a strong connection with Tiruvannamalai. His father, Kumaraswami Desikar, used to come to Arunachala from Kanchipuram every year for the Deepam festival. It is said that his three sons, of whom Sivaprakasa Swamigal was the eldest, were all born by the grace of Arunachala. When Sivaprakasa Swamigal grew up, he had a Guru in Tiruvannamalai – also called Sivaprakasa – whom he visited regularly. On his first pradakshina of Arunachala, Sivaprakasa Swamigal composed Sonasaila Malai, a hundred-verse poem in praise of Arunachala.
On one of his journeys around Tamil Nadu Sivaprakasa Swamigal went to Tirunelveli to meet and be taught by a pandit who was an expert on grammar. This teacher accepted him as his student after Sivaprakasa Swamigal had demonstrated his exceptional proficiency in this subject. The pandit taught him everything he knew, but when Sivaprakasa Swamigal tried to pay for this tuition, he refused, saying that he would like payment of a different sort.
This pandit had been having a bitter feud with another scholar. Sivaprakasa Swamigal’s teacher said, ‘Go to this man, defeat him in a contest of Tamil prosody, and as a condition of his defeat, make him prostrate to me’.
Sivaprakasa Swamigal accepted the assignment, located the rival scholar, and challenged him to compose spontaneous verses, on a specified topic that they would both pick, that had no labial sounds in them. That is to say, the verses had to be composed without any letters such as ‘m’ and ‘p’, which are sounded by putting the lips together. The scholar was unable to compose a single verse with this restriction, whereas Sivaprakasa Swamigal managed to produce thirty-one on the prescribed theme. The rival scholar accepted defeat and went to prostrate before Sivaprakasa Swamigal’s grammar teacher.
Sivaprakasa Swamigal died when he was only thirty-two, but in his short lifespan he composed many Tamil works. Prabhulinga Leelai, the work that the following translation comes from, chronicles the life and deeds of Allama Prabhu, a 12th century Virasaiva saint and teacher. There are two traditions regarding Allama Prabhu’s life. One sees him as a manifestation of Siva Himself who came to the world to teach the path of freedom. Sivaprakasa Swamigal follows this tradition in Prabhulinga Leelai. The other version of his life, which is found in a fifteenth-century biography by Harihara, describes a more normal upbringing in the family of a temple drummer. Whatever the truth of the matter, there is general agreement that he was one of the most eminent saints, poets and Gurus of the Virasaiva school. More details of his life will be given in the notes to the verses.
The ‘Gorakkar Gati’ (‘The Chapter on Gorakkar’) begins with Allama Prabhu journeying towards Srisailam (called here ‘Mount Paruppatam’), a major Saiva pilgrimage centre in Andhra Pradesh.
Just as the gentle southern breeze
caressing a grove of young trees
causes their flame-like buds to blaze forth,
He [Allama Prabhu] who is liberal in his compassion,
was wandering around,
having assumed a divine form that brought delight
to the hearts and minds of His devotees.
Beholding the broad-based Mount Paruppatam,
over which clouds laden with rain hover,
He advanced towards it.
Note: The next nineteen verses, which describe the scenery and the greatness of Mount Paruppatam, are omitted. The phrase ‘such riches as these’ in the next verse refers to these descriptions of Srisailam.
Allama, our King, He who is sweeter to us than a mother,
drew near to our holy mountain
where such riches as these abound in plenty.
He reached the place where Gorakkar dwelt,
he who, full of arrogance, rejoiced greatly in his heart
over his attainment of kaya siddhi.
Note: Gorakkar was a yogi who had striven hard to extend his lifespan and to make his body impervious to harm. Though the ideas espoused by Gorakkar seem to be very similar to those propounded by Goraknath, a famous north Indian yogi who lived between the sixth and ninth centuries, this Gorakkar is probably a different man.
Kaya siddhi is the attainment of being able to extend the lifespan of the body indefinitely, and to make it indestructible through magic potions and spiritual exercises.
Seeing the Supreme One approach, Gorakkar,
deeming Him [Allama] to be a great siddha like himself,
was filled with pride [in his own achievements].
Instead of falling at the feet of the Eternal One,
whose feet are full-blown lotus flowers,
he stood there, with his hands joined together.
After offering Him a seat, he began to speak:
‘You who are a jnana siddha, come!’
‘Since it has been granted to me this day
to greet your glorious arrival,
on this day, for me, the sun has risen in heaven.
What is more, on this day
my eyes have attained true sight.
Truth to tell, can such a meeting be easy to attain
for those who have not performed
tapas beyond compare?
All the scriptures declare that those who do not unite
with the band of devotees,
who, with the virtuous qualities as their support,
never swerve from the pure truth, can never unite
with the One who bears an eye on His forehead.
What profit can accrue, so to speak, to one
who possesses no initial capital?
Note: This verse is saying that satsang with devotees is the initial capital that is necessary if one wants the ultimate profit – gaining union with Siva. The verse is derived from a similar idea that appears in Tirukkural, verse 449:
For those with no initial capital, there will be no gain; for the king who lacks the support of wise counsellors there will be no stability.
Having addressed the Supreme Guru
with pleasant remarks of this kind,
in accordance with the civilities to be offered to a guest,
he [Gorakkar] said: ‘Pray tell, Great One,
who are You who come here?’
He stood in a questioning attitude,
offering praise to that fair Ocean of Grace.
‘One who has eradicated as alien [to himself]
the dense, fundamental illusion of egoity
and has, in full clarity, realised the Self –
such a one will be able to know Me also.
What point is there in speaking to one
who remains attached to the perishable body?’
So proclaimed He who knows jnanis
who have realised the truth non-dually.
Note: The implication of the idea expressed in the final sentence seems to be that Allama Prabhu can see that Gorakkar is not enlightened. The last two lines can also be translated as, ‘he who knows all jnanis as not different [from his own Self]’.
Fully convinced that his body,
composed of the five elements, was his true self,
‘He who, by the grace of the primal Lord,
has acquired kaya siddhi
through the use of magic pills and other methods,
will never die. This being so, death will come
to him who has not acquired them.’
‘You have stated that life is the body’s life,
and that death is the death of this sack stuffed with flesh,
which is the body. It seems to me
that you think that your body is your very self.
Your perception of the body is like that of the Materialists
who do not know anything other than the body.’
Note: Allama is alluding to a group (‘Sarvaka’) which maintained that only information received by the senses can be regarded as valid knowledge. These people do not therefore accept the existence of God or the existence of any state after death. Allama continues:
‘Sir, if the body is “I”, then why do you refer to it as “my” body?
There are people who regard clothes and gold [ornaments],
which are worn and removed,
as their possessions,
but if one ponders on this,
are there any among them
who will call any of these items “I”?
Speak!’ said Allama.
Gorakkar stood [his ground], and asked:
‘Since we say “I thought, I ran [and so on],”
then please explain to me what this is that is called “I”.’
The virtuous and supreme Jnana Guru lovingly replied:
‘The statement “I thought” pertains to the mental faculties only.
In the same way, the “I” will have to be identified
with the body, the sense organs and the mental faculties.
If this is true, the “I” will become many [and not one].
So, know that what you say is erroneous superimposition.’
Note: Allama uses the word ‘attiyasam’, which is the Tamil equivalent of the Sanskrit ‘adhyasa’. It means the transference of an attribute from one thing to another which does not really possess it.
‘When we say, ‘My life will cease,
is there any other life apart from that life
that we can speak of?
Flawless Mountain of Pure Grace, please clarify!’
He who affords us the gracious protection
of His fair and tender lotus feet replied:
‘We use the term “life” to describe the activity of the prana,
but that term is really, in its true sense, a name for the Self,
which is, in fact, entirely distinct from this prana.
So say those who understand the grammar of language.’
This spoke our Lord, out of true understanding,
to abolish his delusion.
‘When the arcane Vedas proclaim that Self is being-consciousness-bliss,
why have you ruined yourself, thinking this body to be “I”,
when it is merely a deceiving hovel of misery,
stuffed with flesh, fat, bones and skin,
which endures no longer than a lightning flash, and is gone?’
‘Just as a man will feel disgust if he touches
some unclean filth that lies in the street,
one who has set his heart upon gaining true liberation,
which abolishes the birth that fills him with terror,
will feel revulsion for the impure bodily form
and free himself from it.’
‘Like those who take medicine to cure an illness,
the great ones embrace Sivam,
intent upon quitting this remnant of a body.
Why do you endeavour to remain united
with this body with which you have identified?
This is like a sick person who takes medicine
in order to remain united with his disease!’
Note: This verse may be the origin of Bhagavan’s statement that was recorded by Muruganar as verse 233 of Guru Vachaka Kovai:
People devoid of worth, who dwell in the poisonous ego, the ignorance that persists as the source of every deadly ailment, will tirelessly perform tapas to strengthen the physical body. They are like those who take a powerful medicine to intensify their disease.
Bhagavan expressed similar views in Day by Day with Bhagavan (18th January, 1946) when conversation in the hall turned to the various concoctions (kaya kalpas) that were used by those who wanted to prolong their lives:
The talk turned to various recipes suggested by various people about kaya kalpa. Bhagavan mentioned a few kalpas based on camphor, a hundred year old neem tree, etc., and said, ‘Who would care to take such trouble over this body? As explained in books, the greatest malady we have is the body, the ‘disease of birth’, and if one takes medicines to strengthen it and prolong its life, it is like a man taking medicine to strengthen and perpetuate his disease. As the body is a burden we bear, we should on the other hand feel like a cooly engaged to carry a load, anxiously looking forward to arrival at the destination when he can throw off his burden.
‘Was there ever a body born that was able to avoid death?
If you throw a stone into the sky,
is there any possibility that it will not fall back down?
Effects, however significant and enduring, will pass away.
But that which does not undergo death,
and is known as the Cause, that endures always.’
‘All your plans to render your body immortal
through the use of potions will accomplish nothing
other than prolonging the span of your bodily existence.
Your statement that the body is indestructible is untenable.
It is not proper that you should thus assert
that your body is indestructible.
You whose penances are great, at least, henceforth
seek only liberation,’ said the Lord.