Swami Karunyananda 1894 - 1997
By Chris Parnell
Birth and Childhood
There is a famous shrine town,
Trivellore, near Madras. Near there is a smaller village,
Kammavaripalayam. Here was living Sri Venkatappa Naidu. He married
one Subbalakshmi of Parlapalle Village in Gudur Taluk of Nellore
District. A male child was born (10.10.1894) named Venkatasubbiah,
taking both his parents names. When the child was three years old
his father transferred to Pennalurpet. His mother taught him a
valuable lesson arising from an argument that carried over from a
heated exchange in school. The other boy grew angry to the extent
of beating Venkatasubbiah. Venkatasubbiah went home as asked his
mother to tell the other boy's mother to beat him.
Subbalakshmi taught her son it was not right to take revengeful
action. She took him to the other boys house. On the road, a dog
was lying. She asked her son if he would bite the dog in
retaliation if the dog bit him. He thought for a while and replied
he will not bite the dog. He then understood the meaning of his
mothers words. When Venkatasubbiah was aged seven his mother
developed a chronic illness and her husband took every step to
allay her illness. After a time, all efforts made by him were
futile; the wife and mother shed her mortal coil.
The boy was handed over to the care of the village mayor (kannam)
Venkatarayadu. This couple saw to it the boy did all sundry works
but did not see to it he was educated properly. Later, he was sent
to other relatives where he gained a rudimentary primary education.
Then his father, Venkatappa Naidu, died prematurely, and his
relatives usurped all his property. Venkatasubbiah was orphaned.
During the time of his stay with
the relatives of the Kannam, Venkatasubbiah started studying Amara
Kosa, started visiting temples, singing devotional songs,
particularly those of Bhadrachala Ramdas. He used to prostrate at
the feet of sadhus and saints whenever they visited that temple
and used to serve them, attending to their comforts. The elders of
that temple were struck by this devotion and started calling him
Balasubba Ramadas. He spent time waiting in a hermitage for the
Mouna (silent) Swami to come out,dispense with silence and give
teachings. In those days Ramana Maharishi was doing pennance in
the sacred shrine of Tiruvannamali and was well known and
respected by all. Balasubbaramdas heard about this sage adn the
desire to meet this sage grew in him stronger and stronger. At age
20, Balasubbaramdas went to meet this holy personage.
In those days, Ramana Maharishi was staying in the Virupaksha cave
in the Arunachala Hills. His path was the path of Jnana. He used
to observe silence most of the time. Balasubbaramadas went
straight into the cave in the Arunachala hill and prostrated
himself at the feet of the sage Ramana Maharishi. He requested the
sage with humility to teach him the spiritual truth. The sage
urged him to know "Who am I", and if he could get his, then
atmabodha or spiritual wisdom was contained in this. The lad did
not understand this and was dissatisfied. He remained in
Tiruvannamalai because he considered it good to remain in a shrine
Becomes a Sanyasin
In 1918 Balasubbaramadas came to Tirumalai and worshipped Sri
Venkateswara who was hailed as god granting boons to all in Kali
Yuga. He then proceeded to Gogarbha to meet Sri Malayala Swami. On
arrival he was told the Swami was in mouna and he would have to
wait until he came out. At 12 noon, the Swami emerged from his
cave and broke tapas and took water from his
mudpot.Balasubbaramadas prostrated before the Swami, who cast an
approving smile of grace upon him. He spoke some words in Tamil,
which Balasubbaramadas did not know. Balasubbaramadas stayed for
several days and developed the desire to stay longer. When the
Swami left his abode to to establish another ashram,Vyasasrama,
Balasubbaramadas accompanied him, and along with others, began
to busy themselves in lokaseva.
Shortly after, Balasubbaramadas developed a desire to visit Swami
Sivananda in his ashram in Rishikesh on the Ganges River. He wrote
a letter to Swami Sivananda about his intention to come and visit
that ashram. Swami Sivananda gave permission to visit. With a
companion, he took leave of Swami Malayala and departed. His
companion inexplicably disappeared. He met with another youngster
and together went to Rishikesh. At Rishikesh, he developed the
desire to join the order of renunciants.
He returned to Malayala Swami and asked him to grant initation.
Malayala Swami told his desire was good, but as he had not taken
initiation, he could not grant it. He had to return to Rishikesh
to recieve initaion from Swami Sivananda. Balasubbaramadas asked
for a name to give to Sivananda as he always asked for a name
taken when donning the saffron robe, and he would give that name.
Malayala Swami told, "You have a lot of compassion to living
beings, even from your childhood. So you can suggest the name "Karunyananda"
as your preference. So Venkatasubbiah-Balasubbaramadas came to his
Visit of Mahatama Gandhi
In 1933, Mahatama Gandhi came to
Rishikesh. His fame had spread far and wide. A public meeting was
held to honour the Mahatama. Swami Karunyananda was among the
crowd at the public meeting. Gandhi felicitated the sanyasins on
his arrival, and added that their presence gave him joy. He asked
what the sanyasins were doing. One stood and replied to the effect
that they were doing pennance (tapas). Gandhi asked, "What is
tapas?" No-one answered him.
He replied, "Embodiments of the Divine Atma, Tapas does not mean
leaving off all your duties and doing meditation. Thinking of
oneself and not caring about others cannot be called pennance. A
life filled with non violence is pennance for the world. So you
sadhus should work for the welfare of the world.
Gandhi was to conclude with these words: "Dear Sadhus! Are you not
the people who have dedicated your hearts to God? Manava seva is
Madhava seva, service to man is service to God. Use your physical
bodies which you have already dedicated to God to the service of
God through the service of your fellow beings. If there is any man
among you who would do such a seva, please raise your hand!"
At the conclusion of the Mahatama's talk, there was silence.
Gandhi told his followers that only one had raised his hand and to
get his name. It was Karunyananda. He had joined the Sanyas order
only in that year. Later, Karunyananda wrote to Gandhi seeking his
blessings, sure that his effort to do service would be rewarded
soon. Two months later, Gandhi wrote back and said, "Mahatamaji,
you have written a letter to me seeking my blessings. My blessing
is with me only; If you follow Truth without any lapse that itself
will bless you. That is always with you. It will protect you
throughout your life. Truth is the real form of God. If you have
this with you, it is as good as having everything. So you must
follow Truth. Worship it, put it into practice and offer it to the
world. I am praying to God to bless your good efforts and thoughts".
Karunyananda and Sathya Sai
In 1936, Swami Karunyananda had seen Sathyanarayana Raju being
taken in a procession with traditional accopaniments of Nadaswaram,
music, etc, as a Divine Child, at Bhadachalam. It would be 40
years later that Swami
Karunyananda would settle down in Puttaparthi.
Swami Karunyananda Speaks
I have the good fortune of being
the first person to greet Bhagavan in the morning. I go upstairs,
and open the door of Bhagavan's room and have darshan and
padnamaskar of Bhagavan. There is Sakthi in the feet of
Swami.There is power in the glances of Swami. His body is not like
ours, it is a Chinmaya Sareeram (divine energy form). Ours is a
body made up of dust, which dissolves finally, into the primordial
elements of Earth, Water, Fire,Air, and Ether. He is not limited
to one form. He is the form of all deities worshipped by religions.
He is the very embodiment of Chaitanya (energy, force). He is the
embodiment of all Gods. We cannot probe into Him. Have you not
seen Him during the mornings? He has a special effulgence in Him;
sometimes this effulgence is frightening. On the last day of Devi
Navaratri (Dasara) when Poorna Ahuti is performed, His body
temperature becomes hot. I have touched His feet at such times and
found that they were very hot.In 1958, Sai Baba visited
Rajahmundry. Malayala Swamy and Karunyananda had the darshan of
Bhagavan. Bhagavan called him by the name "Karunyananda," and
spoke to him as if he knew him very intimately. Karunyananda
turned and bowed down to Bhagavan. It was night time, about 8:00
p.m. Bhagavan said, "Will you come to Kakinada? We will go
He replied, "As you please, Swami."
Karunyananda went to Kakinada with Bhagavan and during the car
journey Bhagavan recounted his entire past history. He gave very
intimate details of his conduct when he was young. Bhagavan was
born in 1926. He was not even born yet when Kuranyananda was young,
but all the same, He gave all the biographical details correctly.
Karunyananda became very devoted to Bhagavan after hearing these
words during the trip. The eagerness to meet Bhagavan again was
very strongly rooted in Karunyananda's heart and he awaited the
opportunity. Baba visited Rajahmundry again after two years.
Karunyananda spent the entire period of Baba's stay in Rajahmundry
in the Divine company only. His faith in Baba grew stronger. After
this, Baba returned to Puttaparthi. Karunyananda started visiting
Puttaparthi often, especially for the important celebrations.
Dassera is celebrated as a great event in Puttaparti. Baba
used to shower vibhuti from an empty pot on the idol of Shirdi Sai
Baba in front of thousands of devotees in Poornachandra
auditorium. The idol would be mounted on a pedestal. When Baba
came, Karunyananda would hold an empty pitcher upside down. As
soon as Baba put his hand into the pitcher, it would become heavy
and on withdrawing his hand, it would again become lighter. It was
the singular good fortune of Karunyananda to be with Baba and
Once Karunyananda went to Chittoor on Sangham work. Due to
exhaustion, he fell down in a swoon. The Government Hospital
Doctor, Ramakrishna Rao, a Sai Devotee, attended on him. He
informed Baba about this on the phone. Baba
told him to send Karunyananda to Parthi immediately. They could
not disturb Karunyananda at that stage as he was not in a fit
state to travel. But on account of Baba's advise, they took him to
Puttaparthi by car. When the car got to Puttaparthi, Karunyanada
got down, hurried to Baba's abode and fell at his feet. "Have you
come, karunyananda. I have arranged a room in the ground floor as
you cannot climb the stairs." So Karunyananda had a room on the
ground floor of the mandir during his illness.
Till 6th September Karunyananda used to visit Puttaparthi on and
off, but from that date he settled for good at Puttapathi. In the
beginning he used to stay in a room adjoining Baba's room. Later
on, he was allocated Room 24
in South Prashanthi.
Swami Karunyananda Speaks
We would be sitting with Bhagavan
at times, and He would be found as if He was somewhere else. He
would later say, "I have just returned from Madras. Papum (Alas)!
Vijayalakshmi is suffering very much. I went to the hospital. I
gave her prasad and there is no problem with her now. She will be
Thereafter confirmatory telegrams or letters would arrive adding
that, "Bhagavan was here but He went away without taking [food or
offering] anything." Take the incident at Tirupati, which happened
around 1989-90. It was 10:00 a.m. in the morning and Bhagavan was
very much in Brindavan at Bangalore. Yet, He was simultaneously
seen at Tirupati! He was given a chair; He was seated. All this
happened. Should Bhagavan put on dramas like others? No, it is all
the grace of Bhagavan.
Gold remains gold wherever it is thrown. One day Swami asked me,
"Karunyananda, from the beginning I have always been simple, have
Swami was then wearing a torn dhoti that day. I did not like this.
So, I asked Him, "Swami, why do you wear a torn dhoti when you
have so many good dhotis?" I tried to prevail on Swami for
removing the torn dhoti. Swami
smiled and then pleaded, "Oh? Will you tear it up? Was it not my
leela that day when I sought for a handful of atukulu (beaten
rise) from Kuchela? [A story from Krishna's life] Are you not
seeing me for the last thirty six years like this?"
Once when I was returning from Kakinada in 1956 Bhagavan said,"Karunyananda,
you are clapping in union seated before me now. A time will come
when you can see me only from a distance." He told me again in
1970, "You are able to sit and see Bhagavan now. A time will come
when you have to see Swami from a hill only." On His 60th
birthday in 1985, many devotees could only see Him from the
distance of a hill.
The passing of Karunyananda (Divine Discourse, Dassera, 08
"You may all know what happened today. Karunyananda had been with
Swami for forty years. He was a centenarian. Today his body merged
in the five elements. For the passing of any person the time, the
place and the circumstances have to come together. Here in this
hall the recitation of the Vedas is going on. The Jnana Yajna is
being performed. He was listening to all these sacred things. He
went to sleep at night and passed away in his sleep. He came to me
a week ago. Swami asked him. "Karunyananda! What is it you want?"
He replied: "I need nothing. I only want to merge in your Lotus
Feet. There is no purpose in my continuing." I asked him why he
was speaking in this manner: "What more is there for me to enjoy
in life? I have experienced everything. I have stayed and moved
with Swami for forty years."
He came with me to Kashmir and Shimla, Gaya and Prayag. He came
with me to all places, wherever I went. Staying with me, he passed
away with a sense of fulfillment."