Shivabalayogi meditated twenty-three hours every day for eight years. An
unseen force brought him to ordinary consciousness at midnight when he got
up to take a bath in the canal. Within an hour, he resumed sitting on his
wooden platform which had been arranged for his meditation seat, his
asana. He concentrated his mind between the eyebrows and his
consciousness was again absorbed in samadhi.
In meditation, Swamiji was oblivious to the
pains in his body, the conditions around him, and the passage of time. On
the canal bank, he sat in full sun during the day, a fierce tropical glare
that can burn, dehydrate and kill a person from exposure. He moved under the
bodhi tree where he was in shade, suffering only the extreme heat that makes
a person sweat uncontrollably. Yet he drank no water except perhaps at
midnight. In the wet and winter months, the night air is cold and the early
morning fog chilly. Swamiji was unaffected because his physical body took
care of itself in samadhi. Only when he was in ordinary consciousness did he
experience the suffering of his body.
Not long after Swamiji began his tapas, a
cobra took up residence under the wooden platform on which he was sitting.
The snake would appear and hiss at anyone seeking to disturb him. The sound
of Om continued to be heard near Swamiji at noon and midnight. This cosmic
sound emanated around him throughout his twelve year tapas. Many villagers
were frightened by the sound and kept a safe distance. In these ways, the
cobra and the sound of Om helped protect him.
Protection was needed because Swamiji suffered
from much abuse throughout twelve years of tapas, especially in the first
two years. Many villagers mistreated him, whether with ridicule, scorn,
physical abuse, or indifference. He was sitting at the end of the street
where villagers came to use the canal waters to wash and bathe. At night he
was alone in the dark, exposed to any troublemaker who felt that the boy
yogi was a convenient object of torment.
Sathyaraju had not made himself popular among
many in the village, so when people realized that he would not respond to
those around him, they decided to test his resolve and take advantage of his
vulnerability. Some pinched him and hit him forcefully. They poured sugar
water over his body to attract ants that swarmed over him, biting into his
flesh so that his blood flowed. One particularly vicious individual soaked a
rag in kerosene, lit it, and threw it onto Swamiji’s lap, severely burning
his legs and hand. While Swamiji remained in samadhi he felt nothing, but
when he returned to ordinary consciousness, he felt the pain unabated. Still
he washed himself and within an hour, ignoring the torment of his body,
concentrated his mind and resumed his meditation. A kindly old man took
sympathy and prepared an ointment which he applied to the burn wounds each
day until they healed.
Throughout his tapas, Swamiji and his mother
were accused of being fakes. Some said the meditation was a hoax designed to
make Sathyaraju into a holy man and earn good money for the family.
Troublemakers bought prepared food from the kiosks at Draksharam, then threw
the leaf wrappers beside Swamiji as if he had eaten the food. They took the
fruit offered at Swamiji’s feet, ate it, then threw the skins at his feet.
They accused Parvatamma of secretly feeding her son at night. When she was
bringing him milk in a container, they mocked her by looking inside and
jeering that she was taking him upma, a spicy wheat porridge with
It was not only people who made Shivabalayogi
endure so much hardship. His oblivion in samadhi to physical abuse attracted
other unwanted attention. The rice paddy fields in the Godavari River delta
are a breeding ground for ants and other insects, spiders, snakes, rodents
and scavengers that bite and tear to collect or consume their food. To these
creatures, a body motionless day and night was food to be bitten and chewed.
Between the human and non-human abuse,
Swamiji’s body was covered with wounds and blood. It was difficult to look
at him. His hands, clasped together in meditation, were bitten by rats. As
the wounds healed, the flesh grew together. When the hands were forcibly
separated, they bled freely. The blood attracted the bites of fish in the
canal when he bathed. The pains must have been excruciating when he awoke at
midnight. Yet every night he gathered himself, sat down, ignored the
piercing pains throbbing in his body until his concentration immersed him in
the stillness of samadhi.
In spite of his suffering, no one ever heard
Swamiji utter a single word of complaint or let out a cry of pain, not even
when he was in ordinary consciousness. He never complained or expressed
anger at anyone.
Move to a Graveyard
People continued to trouble Swamiji, so he
decided to move to a place where he could be left alone. A few hundred yards
west of the village was field where the villagers used to bury children who
died while still very young. People thought the place was cursed and they
were afraid of ghosts and mischievous spirits. Villagers avoided it at night
and it was far enough away that Swamiji could expect not to be disturbed.
Sathyaraju had never been afraid of ghosts, so the location was well-suited
for Swamiji’s meditation.
During the night of November 18th, 1949,
Swamiji moved to the children’s graveyard in the open field. It was the
final place where he sat in tapas.
When the landowner was told that the Balayogi
has moved to the field, he gave instructions to build a shelter, an open hut
made with sticks and palmyra leaves. Later improved with a platform and
gunny sack material, it served as Swamiji’s meditation temple for many
months. The cobra that had protected him at the earlier site also took up
residence inside this hut. When people made the mistake of peering behind
the curtains, the snake hissed at them.
After one midnight in December of 1949, not
long after he moved to the field, he was on his way to the canal when a
cobra bit him on the leg. He ignored the pain and the bleeding, bathed
himself, returned to the hut, and resumed his meditation. The venom
continued to act on his body. His skin changed color and developed white
patches. Foul smelling gangrene set in. When he emerged from samadhi, the
pain was unbearable.
Not yet fifteen years of age, he was
discouraged and frustrated by all that he had to endure. He got up and
started towards the village. He was nearing a banyan tree when he
encountered his divine guru in the same form as the afternoon when he was
initiated into tapas. “Where are you going?” The boy replied that he was on
his way home. “Why?” He recounted all the misery and abuse he had suffered
over the previous four months. The divine guru listened in silence. After
some time, the guru asked him to return and resume his tapas. He initiated
him into the sacred mantra, namah shivaya (the pancha akshari
or five-syllable mantra of Lord Shiva), and said that the mantra would
protect and cure him from the effects of the cobra bite.
Swamiji obeyed his guru and returned to the
hut in the graveyard. He felt ashamed at having almost given up, and he
resolved to die rather than be called a yoga brastha, one who has
abandoned the path of spiritual practice. He resumed his meditation and over
the next few days, the mantra neutralized the effects of the cobra venom and
healed his body.