The mystic saint that we want to talk about is Sadasiva-brahmendra. Regarding his time there is not enough evidence. It has to be some period of time between the middle of the sixteenth century and the middle of the eighteenth century. The reasons are as follows. The 57th pontiff of the Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt, namely Sri Paramasivendra Saraswathi (1538 –1586) had a pupil by name Ramanatha who later had a pupil by name Nallai Adhvari. This Adhvari acknowledges Sadasiva-brahmendra as his guru. A junior contemporary of Sri Paramasivendra saraswathi was Nilakanta-Dikshidar, grandson of the brother of the famous Advaita scholar-devotee Appayya Dikshidar (1520 – 1593). Appayya Dikshidar was a great scholar-teacher of advaita vedanta, hailing from Tamilnadu. He was the guiding spirit of a movement in which he organized the services of a large band of volunteers who could disseminate among the masses the philosophy of advaita and the worship of Lord Siva. Having mastered, at a very early age, all the knowledge available at the time in philosophy, rhetoric and literature, he wrote about a hundred works, of which only 60 are now extant, in philosophy, devotional poetry and literary and philsophical criticism. His poetical talent is transparent in all these works. He is said to have travelled widely, entering into philsophical disputations and controversies in many centres of learning, including Varanasi. He was so firm in his belief in advaita that he had no qualms in using his talent to the elucidation of other schools of thought like those of Vedanta-desikacharya of whom he was an admirer. His was a mighty intellect and he led a life of karma, bhakti and jnana, setting a model for posterity to follow.
This Nilakanta, the grandson of Appayya Dikshidar, was the chief minister of King Tirumalai-Nayak of Madurai. Nilakantha had a pupil Ramabhadra who had a pupil by name Venkatesa Dikshidar who later came to be known by the name Ayyaval of Tiruvisanallur. This Ayyaval and Sadasiva Brahmendra had been schoolmates. This much is known. On the other side we know that Sadasiva Brahmendra met the Tamil scholar-poet-devotee-philosopher Tayumanavar (1705 – 1742?) in 1738 A.D. Raghunatha Raya Tondaiman (Rajah of Pudukkottai) (1730-1769) subscribes to this meeting. These are the major factors for scholars coming to the almost unbelievable conclusion that Sadasiva perhaps lived for nearly 200 years. But if we know what kind of mystic and knower of brahman he was, we tend to feel that the improbable could have been possible. The Upanishadic maxim: brahmavid brahmaiva bhavati ( meaning, the knower of brahman is brahman), really applies to Sadasiva Brahmendra. It is only in mythology we come across such a brahma-vit - examples are: boy-sage Suka, and Sage jaDa-bharata - but in our own historical world, such examples are rarest of the rare. Sadasiva Brahmendra is one such.
Growing up in a village on the banks of the Cauvery in Tamilnadu, Sadasiva was a most gifted student, much given to arguing and debating. After an early marriage and a spark of revelation on the day of his wife’s reaching puberty he renounced the world and performed a strenuous sAdhanA for eighteen years. One day he was taunted by his guru for his talkativeness. On that day he took a vow of silence and he kept it up for the rest of his life which he spent as a wandering naked (avadhUta) sannyasi. The songs he composed during the period of his discipleship are still very popular. In his wanderings, of which we have no complete record, he is said to have performed many miracles which were just an overflowing of the compassion he had for all humanity. He was one of the greatest of siddhas. His mind was always immersed in the Absolute brahman. His name is part of the folk-lore in all of South India. His major work is brahma-sUtra-vRtti, which is a scholarly but lucid commentary on the brahma-sUtras. He has thirteen other works to his credit - such as, yoga-sUtra-vRtti, also called yoga-sudhAkaram; jagad-guru-ratna-mAlotsava, a history of Kanchi Kamakoti mutt in 87 verses; advaita rasa-manjari in 45 verses; and others. His Atma-vidyA-vilAsam is a composition in 62 verses together forming a spiritual autobiography. The verses describe how a knower of brahman would behave and as far as the folklore and all the stories about Sadasiva-brahmendra go, the description fits him most suitably. He may be rightly called the Saintly Perfection of the Impersonal absolute.
Fully engrossed in the enjoyment of his own bliss, he remains in another world as it were; and as strikes his fancy, here he is engaged in thought, there he is singing and there he is dancing. Verse No.21
The sage shines supreme, silent and placid, with the ground under the tree as his resting place and with his palm as the begging bowl, wearing no clothes but only the jewel of non-attachment Verse No.35
Having dissolved the entire world (by right knowledge) and being under the power of the all-embracing substratum that survives such dissolution, he puts into his mouth by force of prArabdha-karma, the handful of food which comes to him Verse No.40
The yogi sees nothing, speaks nothing and hears nothing that is spoken. He remains steadfast in the incomparable region of bliss, immovable like a log of wood. Verse No.44
The great renouncer who knows the Truth of all the vedas wanders like an ignorant fool un-noticed, devoid of all sense of difference and seeing only Perfection everywhere and in all creatures. Verse No. 45
Embracing the Lady Equanimity and having been overpowered by Bliss he sleeps with his head for a pillow, with nothing for cover and with the bare ground for a bedding. Verse No.46
The sage rejects nothing considering it bad; nor does he accept anything, considering it good. Knowing that everything is the result of Ignorance, he remains unattached. Verse No.50
He does not think at all of what is past, nor does he care in his mind about the future. He does not even care who is in front of him, for He is the One Perfect Bliss in everything. Verse No.51
The king of renouncers rests alone, rooted in Self and enjoying the Inner Bliss; he rejects nothing that comes to him and never desires what does not come to him. Verse No.53
The great ascetic transcends the rules of caste and status shaking off from him the injunctions and prohibitions of the scriptures and he remains merely the perfect Knowledge-Bliss. Verse No.57
This was exactly how he himself lived. So it is very difficult to get any historical help from stories about him. He was such a mystic that any story could have fitted him. To sift fact from fancy is utterly impossible. However a few miracle-stories that have been catalogued by no less a person than the famous Sankaracharya of Sringeri himself may be cited, because we may trust the yogic capabilities of the Swami who must have had his own reasons to list them in the only written biography, composed by him, that we have of Sadasiva Brahmendra. Believe them or not, here are the stories.
On the river banks of the Cauvery in Mahadanapuram in Tiruchy District he was seen by a few kids. They requested him to take them to the religious fairs in Madurai, that time being the solar month of Leo when the Madurai temple has usually an annual festival. The sage perhaps felt an overflow of compassion for them. He asked them to close their eyes and in no time they were in Madurai (more than 100 miles away); they had their darsan of the Lord and the Goddess there, they feasted at the festivities and in due time before it was night they were back in Mahadanapuram on the same banks of the Cauvery. The parents of the children would not believe the stories but their graphic description of the Madurai festivities right to the last detail baffled them. They ran to the Cauvery banks to look for the sage but he was not there.
On the river bed of Kodumudi river Sadasiva Brahmendra was sitting in trance on the sands. Suddenly water flowed down the river in a flood and the river was flooded for the next few months. Spectators saw water submerge him as he was still sitting in his trance. He was given up as drowned. But three months later when the floods subsided he was still there in the same trance posture; he just rose up and walked away.
It was harvest season. He was seen ‘carelessly’ crossing the haystacks which have been piled up on the paddyfield. The warnings given to him to avoid the haystacks went unheeded. One of the men around raised his hatchet to hit him. But lo! the raised hand stayed right there. The sage was walking along as if nothing had happened. The rest of the spectators ran to him and pleaded that he save the man who had raised his hand to hit him. The sage looked back and the hand came down. The sage walked away.
Long after all these happened when almost people had forgotten the memories of his wandering in their lands, once the naked sannyasi was seen walking right through a muslim harem of a Nawab. As a brahma-jnani who sees nothing but brahman everywhere, he would not distinguish between the different human figures which cross his path nor would he be distracted by the sights or noises that his environment may present to him. It was in this state of trance that he was walking along. He, the naked sannyasi, walked straight into the harem, entering it at one end and walking out at the other all the while walking through a maze of inmates of the Nawab’s harem. The news reached the nawab, he had his men chase him, they cut off both his hands as he was walking along, the hands fell off and … still he was walking along silently as if nothing had happened. The nawab got scared, picked up the hands that had been severed, ran to the Sage and offered them in total remorse. The sage stopped his walking, the severed hands were restored to their place, the hands became normal and the sage walked away! There was no conversation.
It was Venkatesa AyyavaL, his classmate of old times, that broke his silence, maybe once or twice. During his discipleship days Sadasiva used to sing bhajans in a sweet voice. AyyavaL reminded him of those good old days and implored him to sing again for the benefit of the people who would certainly enjoy listening to his songs. Then came some wonderful songs, all of them having the theme of ‘The Experience of the Bliss of remaining in the Absolute brahman’ – brahmA-nubhavaM, brahma-saMsparzaM, brAhmI-sthiti as it is variously called in the Gita and elsewhere. Sadasiva-brahmendra’s songs are so delightfully full of this blissful divine experience that they are even now constantly rendered by musicians in concerts and public gatherings for a spiritual purpose; and when they are so rendered, no one will miss the elevating moods that they generate - even in those who do not understand the language, Sanskrit, in which it has been composed by the saint.
His musical background is not known clearly. However, he was a great scholar who initially studied under Ramabhadra Dikshitar and later under the Sankaracharya of Kanchipuram. Region: He was born in Tiruvisainallur, near Kumbakonam, Tamilnadu.
Contribution: He wrote several devotional songs, which have a simple beauty that makes them appealing. His other works include Brahma Sutra Vruddhi, Atma Vidya Vilasam and Siva Manasika Puja keertanas.
Theme: His compositions contain high philosophical ideas, in addition to being devotional.
Language used: Sanskrit.
Signature: He used the mudras Paramahamsa or Hamsa.
Popular Compositions: Bhajare Gopalam (Hindolam), Pibare ramarasam (Yamankalyani), Bhajare Yadu Natham (Peelu) and so on.
manasa samchara re , brahmani manasa samchara re … (Hey mind, dwell on brahman … )
sarvam brahma-mayam, re re sarvam brahma-mayam … (Everything is brahman to the brim … )
khelati mama hrudaye rama … (Rama is sporting in my mind … )
piba re rama-rasam … (Drink the nectar of rAma, hey …. )
bruhi mukundeti … (Recite mukunda, speak of Him … )
cintha nasti kila … (they have no worries, …. )
are all very famous and each one of them is a capsule of the bliss of brahman that Sadasiva had enough to spare for others.
Appayya Dikshidar wrote siddhAnta-leSa-sangraha, which is the first reading for all students of advaita from his time It contains all the different dialectic thinking under one presentation in prose. But it is however a very elaborate book. Sadasiva Brahmendra epitomised this book in verse form in 212 verses and called it siddhAnta-kalpa-valli. This again became a little too much for readers. In the 20th century, Vasudeva brahmendra (who attained siddhi in 1931 A.D. and who was also a direct disciplic descendent of the famous Upanishad-brahma-yogin of the 18th century who wrote the commentaries for all the 108 upanishads) wrote a concise summary of the whole thing in prose, entitled SAstra-siddhanta-leSa-tAtparya-sangrahaH. Incidentally it is this Vasudeva-Brahmendra who was the guru of R. Visvanatha Sastri (1882-1956), the father and guru of this author. Humble prostrations to the Guru-paramparA.