-Rama Devi, Chennai
The fire that was lit in the kitchen at Vadalur in Tamilnadu still continues to burn without break for over 150 years feeding every visitor thrice a day
Swami Ramalinga Arutprakasa Vallalar popularly known as ‘Vallalar’, a Saivite saint came into spiritual scene to create renaissance in Tamil Nadu during the testing period of foreign rulers playing their role in India to establish their Empire. It was the same period when Bharat gave birth to various spiritual leaders like Ramakrishna Paramhansa in Bengal and Dayananda Saraswati in Gujarat, Vallalar (1823-1874) gave new definition to spirituality with a noble and broad view.
Promoting Holistic Vegetarianism
Vallalar propagated the worship of inner light in each human being and living beings—the Universal integral right of oneness of all living being with soulful compassion. Vallalar’s path of Samarasa Suddha Sanmargam, the highest evolutionary spiritual path because of its science of deathlessness, attracted people from all walks of life. Given that every living being is a soul which can experience joy and pain in its manifold forms of hunger, fear, disease, torture etc.; innate intelligence (indwelling Supreme Divine) finds ways to avoid, overcome these forms and attain supreme bliss. Ramalinga emphasised on the mantra ‘Arutperunjyothi, Arutperunjyothi, thaniperum karunai, Arutperunjyothi’ (Blissful spark of light). His teachings prevented all forms of non-violence and cruelty to fellow living beings and promoted holistic vegetarianism as an effective tool of spiritual practice for growth of consciousness.
There is no better puja and ritual in all religions than feeding a hungry living being. Annadanam is Mahadanam or the greatest donation in all ways of worship and is an essential part of Sanatan Dharma tradition. There are numerous stories in Hindu scriptures that extol the glory of Annadanam—prominent being Goddess Parvati appearing as Goddess Annapoorneshwari and feeding Shiva.
Highest Form of Worship
Spirituality that secluded itself from the common people had no meaning for Swami Ramalinga Vallalar. He was never at peace when people went without food. What was the meaning of kindness and love if one did not satisfy the hunger of a fellow human being? Moreover, food was the basic need of the body and body was the seat of the soul. Without taking care of the body how could anyone take care of the soul that dwelt in the body? Thus the very basis of spirituality, according to the Swamiji, was the removal of hunger, since compassion seeking to remove hunger seeks to renovate the living temple of God, the body. Swami Ramalinga Adigal, to generate awareness and eliminate chronic hunger among fellow human beings with the principal of ‘Jeeva Karunya’ or symbolic CHAP (Chronic Hunger Alleviation Program) initiated Annadhana programme (House of Charity) on May 23, 1867—his first humanitarian work.
With the support of friends and well-wishers, the land was acquired at Vadalur and modest building was erected to house the kitchen. Donations of foodgrains and vegetables were accepted from worthy people and the kitchen started functioning. The inauguration was held in a fitting manner and people from all over the surrounding districts thronged to hear Swamiji and to see how the kitchen worked. From the first day onwards the Dharma Salai served food to the needy and the hungry. The people were served to their full satisfaction. All people were treated equally without any caste or religious discrimination.
This Annadhaana ritual fed the poor thrice a day. The oven is 21 feet long and 2.5 feet deep. The oven lighted by Vallalar in the Satya Dharma Sala functioning without break, never extinguishes and is burning till today. Though no cooking is done during nights, as a mark of respect to Vallalar, the fire started by Vallalar was not allowed to put off and still continues and keeps oven alive. More than one and a half century, this free-feeding of the poor continues to this day. He advocated feeding the poor as the highest form of worship.
He also created a Theenchuvai Canal on the Karunguzhi-Meetukuppam way to manage the water scarcity. This canal is still maintained and quenches thirst of the people. Satya Gnana Sabha, an octagonal Hall of Wisdom was constructed in the year 1871 to experience the Divine Jyoti and get rid of illusions. Vallalar advocated the study of Tamil, Sanskrit and English, says Shri Ooran Adigal, the current head of the Mutt. This three language formula was practised in the schools initiated by Vallalar. Vallalar also initiated Tirukural Classes and education for adults.
Vallalar pleaded to love all creatures including animals and plants. With his doctrine, the Tamil Nadu Government implemented his doctrine in August 2003 by enacting a law prohibiting animal sacrifices in all temples.
In the year 1972, Mannaneya Madhavrao Muley, the then Akhil Bharatiya Adhikari of the RSS visited this Ashram. The then District Pracharak of RSS Shri Shanmuganathan took him to the Satya Gnana Sabai (Hall of True knowledge), Dharma Sabai and Siddhi Valagam. He was impressed by the symbolic removal of seven screens or hurdles and finally worshipping the ‘eternal light’. He met the secretary of the Math and had a long discussion. He specially told them that the Ashram is having a good atmosphere to give sanskars like brotherhood. Later on, after some years, RSS conducted its annual training camp called OTC at the place. Former RSS Sarsanghachalak Shri Rajju Bhaiya had also visited the place and appreciated the role of the Ashram in spreading the message of Swamy ji.