Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The early life of Sri Atmananda

A very inspiring story of Sri Atmananda's early life, especially his finding of a satguru, and his spiritual practice.

Life sketch of Shri Krishna Menon (Shri Atmananda)

Birth and parentage
Shri Atmananda came of an illustrious matriarchal Nair family by name Cherukulam
in the village of Peringara in Tiruvalla Taluk in Central Travancore. He was born in
the closing hours of Friday the 23 rd of Karttika in the year 1059 M.E. (corresponding to
Saturday the 8th December 1883 – the day is counted from sunrise in India, not from
midnight as abroad), his natal star being Pururuttati.

His father was Brahmashri Govindan Nambudiri, a vedic Brahmin of the influential
Muvidattu Matham and a descendant of the late ‘Pattillam’ Brahmin oligarchy of
Tiruvalla. The father was engaged in teaching the Vedas to the Brahmin children of
the locality. Shri Krishna Menon had several uncles, a brother and two sisters who
were all poets and scholars. His infancy and childhood were quiet and happy.
He evinced however, even from his childhood, instinctive symptoms of deep relig-
iousness and indrawingness. He had a peculiar aversion for food, till he was about ten
years of age. At the age of ten, a great and reputed sannyasin who visited Tiruvalla
happened to meet him in his house, and gave him a mantropadesha by way of pre-
liminary initiation.
He was put to school at a very early age, and by the time he was twelve he reached
the high school. His parents, elders, neighbours and teachers all noted the boy’s
capacity for studies, his exemplary honesty and fearlessness. He started writing poetry
at the age of fourteen and soon outshone his uncles and brother. He grew up to be an
athlete of unusual prowess and some of his physical feats have surprised even the
professional circus troupes of his time. Swimming was a favourite recreation for him.
Once when he was in his teens, he was the only survivor in a country boat disaster
in a thunderstorm at midnight in the dangerous backwaters of Quilon, just above their
junction with the sea. The other eleven passengers were drowned. Providence seems
to have been very particular in sparing him for the mission he was to fulfil later in life.
His educational career was exemplary. He stood first in his class in all subjects and
was loved both by his teachers and by his companions. Very often he served as a tutor
to many of his classmates, particularly in Malayalam in which he was already a poet
and a litterateur. Clarity, precision and conciseness were the qualities in which he
excelled, even from his boyhood . He finished answering his examination papers long
before the time set and still did very well.
The reader will be surprised to learn that such a brilliant student was declared to
have failed at the matriculation examination for which he appeared at the age of 14.
He was granted special permission to appear for the examination, even though he was
underaged, at the instance of his teachers who loved him no less than his own parents.
Strangely enough, he had failed in Malayalam, in which he usually excelled. He
accepted his fate calmly.
But a month later, he received a telegram from the Registrar of Madras University,
informing him that he had really passed and that he was placed in the first class.
Simultaneous orders were also issued to the college authorities to grant him all con-
cessions in attendance and the like, with retrospective effect from the date of reopen-
ing of the college. The humour of the incident is in the fact that a simple zero was
unfortunately omitted in the university mark list, so instead of 90 percent his marks
were entered as 9 percent in the Malayalam paper and no wonder he failed. The
mistake was detected only a month later. He made frequent references to this simple
incident in his spiritual talks, to prove the unreasonableness of causality.
Marriage and graduation
After passing the matriculation examination, he was anxious to continue higher
studies at the university. It was the bane of the matriarchal system that the maternal
uncles, who were the legitimate guardians of the family, were not sufficiently inter-
ested in the education of their nephews. So Shri Atmananda did not get from them the
financial help he needed to prosecute further studies. Therefore he worked as a school
teacher in a private school, and saved some money from his meagre income. With that
money, he joined a college and passed his first examination in Arts. Again he took up
his work as a teacher in schools; and with the money he could save, he appeared for
the B.A. as a private candidate and secured a creditable pass.
Before graduation, he was married in the year 1910 to Saubhagyavati Parukkutti
Amma, who belonged to the distinguished and aristocratic Nair family of Kollaka
Bungalow at Karunagappalli. Since the age of sixteen, his former religious enthusi-
asm had subsided and a spirit of atheism had taken possession of him. At this stage,
he was responsible for shaking the blind religious faith of many of his well-meaning
neighbours and friends. But in spite of all this, he continued to observe, at least nomi-
nally but regularly, the simple instructions given him by the sannyasin.
Government appointment and spiritual thirst
After graduation, he accepted an appointment in the High Court at Trivandrum. At the
same time, he joined the Law College. In the meanwhile, in spite of the fact that he
was physically smaller than the police standard, something in him so favourably
impressed the Commissioner of Police that he was recruited to the department as a
Senior Inspector. He left the Law course and served as Inspector of Police, in various
places. Riding horses was a pleasant hobby for him during this period. While thus in
service, he took some months’ study leave to complete the law course and took his
degree in Law (B.L.) with distinction. He was immediately appointed prosecuting
The atheistic tendencies which began to appear at the age of sixteen continued their
sway over him till about the time he came as prosecuting Inspector to Padmanabhapu-
ram, the former capital of Travancore. Then, spiritual questions began to engage his
serious attention once again. He sought answers through books. This was the only
avenue open to him, but nothing satisfied him. As a result of his efforts, however, he
was deeply convinced that a Karana-guru (a Sage who is prepared to lead an aspirant
to the goal ) could alone take him to the Truth.
He also knew that he was incompetent to choose the right Guru. Therefore he took
the safe course of praying to the personal God to bless him with the right Guru. This
prayer went deeper and deeper day by day, and he spent several sleepless nights all
drenched in tears. His mental agony was intolerable. His official duties, however,
were carried on as before.

In that state, one day at Padmanabhapuram, he met a naked avadhuta sannyasin by
the road side. The sannyasin was bruised all over with stones pelted by mischievous
urchins on the street; yet he only smiled. Immediately, Shri Krishna Menon recog-
nized in the avadhuta the old sannyasin whom he had met at the age of ten. The svami
embraced him and consoled him and told him that a great and real Mahatma would
shortly meet him, to guide him to his spiritual goal. This consoled him, but only for a
little while. The old mental agony reappeared after some days, and he began to pray
again with redoubled earnestness for a real Guru.
Attainment of Sat-guru
Shri Krishna Menon had developed a natural aversion towards sannyasins as a class,
as he had found from his frequent discussions with them that their grasp of the Truth
was feeble. At last, one evening in the year 1919, he happened to meet, by the road-
side not far from the Police Station at Takkalai, a sannyasin – visibly great – wearing
flowing ochre robes and a big Bengali turban. The sannyasin looked at him with an
enchanting smile. The svamiji, seated on a culvert, beckoned him to his side and
spoke to him in clear and exquisite English, as though he had long known him. Indeed
he had, and the sannyasin alone knew it. He was attracted by the sannyasin from the
first sight of him, and was fascinated by his charming manners, gait and talk. Being
invited by him for a short walk, Shri Krishna Menon could no longer resist the temp-
tation to accompany him. So they walked together silently, for about a mile, till they
reached an old, unoccupied house at the western gate of Padmanabhapuram Fort.
Vehement opposition and ultimate surrender
The sun had set, but darkness did not shroud the earth as usual, since the bright moon
had already risen. In that cool and gentle moonlight, they entered the house and sat in
the front room. A frank and lively conversation on spiritual topics was started. Shri
Krishna Menon, as every sincere aspirant is expected to do, asked many shrewd and
taxing questions, which under any other circumstances would have seemed to offend
against ordinary politeness. But the svamiji – overflowing with love and inwardly
enjoying the earnestness, sincerity and shrewdness of the aspirant – answered the
questions most satisfactorily, gently and unostentatiously – covering even those in the
mind of the aspirant to which he had not yet given expression.
Much more than the unassailable logic and applicability of the answers, it was the
extreme humility of the great svamiji that captivated the heart of the aspirant and
enslaved him at last. The ego being thus paralysed, Shri Krishna Menon immediately
prostrated at the feet of the svamiji, literally washing his feet with his tears. After
some moments when he could barely speak, he got up and prayed for instructions to
enable him to reach the Ultimate, if he was considered worthy. The svamiji, who was
only waiting for that moment of genuine surrender, replied with a smile of love and
joy: ‘It is for that and that alone that I have come all the way from Calcutta. I have no
other interest in Travancore. I knew of your yearnings even from that distance.’

(Note: A word of caution may not be out of place here, about this and other such
incidents. Please do not stoop to examine, from a purely mental plane, the possibility
or reasonableness of this and other instances that might follow in the course of this
sketch. Suffice it to say that they are quite possible, perfectly reasonable and defi-
nitely more real than the mental experiences of the waking state. They appear in a
state or plane which virtually governs the waking state of one who had the good
fortune to reach such a state.)
Initiation, and departure of the Guru
They talked in that room the whole night through. Before daybreak, all instruction
needed for the whole of the disciple’s spiritual career had been imparted by the sva-
miji and imbibed by the disciple. The instructions covered the path of devotion to the
personal God Krishna (as Atma-murti and not as Bhagavata Krishna), and also differ-
ent paths of yoga like raja-yoga, Shiva-raja-yoga, pranava-yoga, etc. They ended with
the path of jnyana (following the direct perception method – strict vicara-marga –
adopting the separation process, as distinguished from the method of meditation
adopting the absorption process).
The svamiji shrewdly discovered a lack of enthusiasm on the part of his disciple to
take to the paths of devotion and yoga as directed. So the svamiji said gently: ‘I
appreciate your reluctance to take to the preliminary courses of devotion and yoga,
and I admit you are quite right. For mere realization of the ultimate Truth, the last
course – namely the jnyana path – is alone necessary. But I want you to be something
more, which you will understand only later on. Therefore, please undertake them first.
It won’t take you long to finish them both. Evidently, the svamiji had already decided
to crown him as an Acarya; and to be an ideal Acarya, one has to be familiar with all
the intricate experiences along all the different paths.
Before sunrise, the svamiji got up, satisfied with the fulfilment of his mission. It
was only then that Shri Krishna Menon thought of the impending departure of his
Guru. The day had not dawned, and his home was somewhat far away. It was not
possible for him to offer his Guru the hospitality of his household or even a conven-
tional ‘dakshina’. The svamiji at once discerned his thoughts and feelings and said
with a smile: ‘There is no obligation in spirituality, there being no personality in-
volved. Follow my instructions faithfully and you shall attain perfection soon. That
alone, and nothing else, is the real dakshina to the Guru. Therefore don’t worry.’ So
saying, the svamiji took his leave and returned straight to Calcutta via Nagercoil.
This was the first and the last meeting, in flesh and blood, between the Guru and the
A note about Guru-svami
The svamiji was no ordinary sannyasin. He was a great yogin and a jnyanin, by name
Yogananda, the like of whom the world has rarely seen. He was a great scholar and
had mastery over many languages including English. He came of a princely family in
Rajaputana. He became a sannyasin at the age of twelve, and became a jnyanin well
established in the Absolute in his early teens. From Rajasthan he came to Calcutta,
where he lived in a small ashram with four sannyasin disciples – all of whom lived
with him.
It was in the year 1919 that Shri Krishna Menon was pining in Travancore for a real
Guru. When his agony was deep, it touched a tender chord in the svamiji, then resting
in Calcutta. The Guru-disciple relationship is believed to be predestined and not
accidental. No amount of intellectual reasoning can explain it. The Guru-disciple
relationship is outside the ken of human understanding. Otherwise, how could we
explain the experience of Shri Atmananda himself? The spiritual pangs of an earnest
aspirant in Travancore were transmitted over a thousand miles straight to Calcutta.
They were received there by that great sannyasin alone, while they missed the notice
of all other sages and yogins then living all over India, both far and near.
As soon as the svamiji heard the call, he said to his chief sannyasin disciple: ‘My
child is crying for help in Travancore. I am going there to console him.’ So saying, he
started by the next train, at his own expense, to Trivandrum and thence to Padmanab-
hapuram, where he sat on the culvert. He knew full well that Shri Krishna Menon
would come that way, and so he did.
Shri Krishna Menon was the last disciple of Svami Yogananda. He was also the
only grihasta (householder) disciple of the svamiji.
Spiritual sadhana and realization
The very day the svamiji left him, Shri Krishna Menon started an intense practice of
his spiritual exercises, beginning with the path of devotion, in strict conformity with
the instructions given to him. He rose steadily in the line of devotion till he took up
Radha-hridaya-bhavana (meditation on the heart of Radha), the highest exercise of
personal devotion to the ishta-deva. Thus he went through all the thrilling and intoxi-
cating experiences of selfless love, culminating in its own samadhi. It did not take him
more than six months to cover all this. It was towards the end of this period that he
composed his classic work, Radha-madhavam, of 48 verses in Malayalam.
Next, he went through the hardest grind of yogic exercises, following the paths of
different yogas in order. In the course of his yogic exercises once, his body was
paralysed. This happens to all yogins when they transcend a particular adhara-cakra
(nerve centre). It is only a simple yogic reaction on the strained human constitution,
and it disappears in due course without leaving any adverse effects. But the family of
Shri Krishna Menon was terribly upset, and so they turned to all kinds of medical
treatments which were of no avail.
At last the news reached the ears of a great yogin and jnyanin called Shri Cattampi
Svamikal, who was then in his old age, living at Trivandrum. He said that it was no
disease, that it would have no adverse results, and that no doctor’s medicine would
have any effect on his body which was then in a hyper-sensitive state. It was then
about a fortnight since the malady had become acute. Anyhow, Shri Svamikal took
compassion upon the anxious condition of the family of Shri Krishna Menon and so
prescribed a simple herbal preparation to be applied to the soles of his feet. It was
applied at about 5 p.m. that day. In a few minutes, he fell into an unusually long and
deep sleep, till 8 a.m. next morning. When he awoke, he was normal. The herbal
application was continued for two more days, as directed by the svamiji.
Some months later, Shri Krishna Menon paid Shri Cattampi Svamikal a courtesy
visit. It was then that the svamiji revealed to him that it was not at his own instance
that he had administered the antidote for the yogic ailment, but because it was desired
by the great Yogananda himself, who had requested him through the subtle sphere to
do so. He declared that otherwise no spiritual man would ever interfere in the sadhana
of a Karana-guru’s disciple and nothing untoward would ever happen to the sadhaka.
A few more months of intense yogic practices took Shri Krishna Menon to the
highest experiences in the line of yoga. Long and deep nirvikalpa samadhi he enjoyed
often and at will. But it failed to satisfy him, because it was time limited and caused
as a result of intense effort. According to him, Truth is uncaused, permanent and self-
Therefore, he had to seek for the ultimate Truth by other means. Then he took to
regular jnyana-sadhana with great ease and fortitude, and visualized the ultimate
Truth in a very short time.
The period of his spiritual practices, covering all the three paths, did not last for
more than four years (till about 1923). All necessary instructions were clearly and
regularly imparted to him by his Guru, appearing before him in lively vision during
his sadhana. He was given the spiritual name Atmananda by his own Guru, and he has
been known by that name ever since.
Inclination towards sannyasa and confirmation in grihastashrama
Towards the end of his spiritual sadhana, he felt a strong urge to take to sannyasa and
live with his Guru for the rest of his life. With this idea, he made all arrangements to
go to Calcutta towards the end of May. A few months’ leave was also sanctioned by
Government, and he intended to resign his job towards the end of the leave. He chose
not to disclose his whole intention, even to his wife, but said only that he desired to be
with his Guru for some time. With all her characteristic love and devotion to him she
readily agreed to what he so earnestly longed for.
But Guru-svami saw through all this plan and found that the new move would
thwart his own purpose. He had marked out his only grihasta disciple for a great
mission. Therefore, towards the end of May, a day before Shri Atmananda was to
leave for Calcutta, Guru-svami appeared before him in a vision and told him that he
should not start as he had planned. He was to continue as a householder for life,
guarding the spiritual and phenomenal well-being of his own wife and children and
many others yet to come. Continuing, svamiji said: ‘If you start, you shall miss me. I
shall have entered into mahasamadhi on the 1st of June.’
The last part of the information upset Shri Atmananda completely. The slightest
hint or suggestion from the Guru was a peremptory order for him. Immediately, he
cancelled his leave and waited, hoping against Truth that the latter part of the revela-
tion would not be correct. This was how Shri Atmananda was confirmed in his gri-
hastashrama. Exactly as he had been told, the great svamiji left his mortal coil and
entered into mahasamadhi precisely at 9 a.m. on the 1st of June.
Services of his devoted wife
Shrimati Parukkutti Amma, the wife of Shri Menon, was extremely loving and de-
voted to him. She was the ideal of Indian womanhood in all respects. During the four
long years of his spiritual sadhana, she devoted herself to her own rigorous sadhana,
which was to serve her husband in every way and make it possible for him to devote
all his time and energy for his spiritual pursuit.
His sadhana was intense, one pointed and continuous. Hers was also intense, but
multifarious and disconnected. She had taken upon herself the responsibility of the
entire household. They were blessed already with three children, the youngest one
being only an infant. She looked after her husband’s physical needs with clock-like
regularity and devotion. That had the first priority over all her domestic duties. He had
rarely to ask her for anything he needed. She successfully anticipated all his needs.

Very often, she had to bathe him and feed him with her own hands, as if he were a
child, during those periods when he was in the transcendental plane and had very little
body consciousness left. Even during the four short hours of rest that Shri Atmananda
took in the middle of the night, she could not always sleep; because her domestic
labours were not always finished before his retirement at night. She had to start again
before he woke at 3 a.m. for the next day’s sadhana.
Her sleepless service and devotion to him for years remind us of the mythological
services of Shri Lakshmana to Shri Rama for fourteen years in the forest without sleep
or rest. It also reminds us that the age old ideal of Indian womanhood is not yet
extinct. The marriage mantra of the Hindus enjoins: ‘Thou shalt not part even after
death’. This is no exaggeration, but the simple truth. It suggests that both the husband
and wife stand as that principle which survives even death. It can never be the body,
senses or mind which we see disintegrating here in front of us. It can only be that
permanent, self-luminous, non-dual principle in man, transcending body, senses and
mind. That is Atma, the ultimate Truth which knows no death. The married couple is
asked to stand as that. What greater upadesha does one need?
The practical implementation of this noble ideal was worked out by the great
women of ancient India, by their unrivalled observance of the ideal of pati-vratya.
Mythology abounds in instances of the most wonderful powers resulting from the
sweet practice of this wonderful ‘devotional yoga’. The woman, though apparently
ignorant, considers her husband as her God incarnate and as such gives him all her
love and devotion. Phenomenal love is only an expression of the knowledge of one-
ness, and the goal of love is that oneness itself.
That oneness was gradually experienced by such women as a result of their simple
but sincere tapasya. This experience bestowed on them the mysterious powers of
Ishvara-bhava, in varying degrees, even without their knowing or desiring them. The
powers danced before them as their slaves. Even when the husbands had not reached
any high spiritual level, their wives by such sincere tapasya were able to acquire many
such powers. But when a woman gets the rare privilege of doing such tapasya towards
the husband who is well established in the ultimate Truth, she is indeed enviable. That
feeling of oneness or identification with the husband at all levels makes her a rightful
partner in all his attainments.
So it was with Shri Atmananda’s devoted wife Shrimati Parukkutti Amma –
Swarupananda being her spiritual name.
First disciples
Of the five disciples of Swami Yogananda, Shri Atmananda (the only householder
disciple) was alone permitted to take the role of a Karana-guru to accept disciples and
guide them. Accordingly, he accepted his first few disciples during the period 1923-
24. He was Prosecuting Inspector of Police at Padmanabhapuram throughout the
period of his spiritual sadhana and for some years more. Though he could not spare
much time for his official preparations at home, his official work never suffered in
any way on that account. Government proceedings gave him glowing tributes for his
masterly prosecution of cases even during the period of his sadhana. This has proved
to the reasonable observer that legitimate phenomenal duties are never a hindrance to
an earnest spiritual aspirant.
For more please see this