(By Sivakumaran and Lakshmi, Sri Lanka)
Sivakumaran: It was during my college days that I first came to know about certain spiritual leaders, such as Sai Baba, Swami Sivananda, etc. I then read a book that gave me a very basic knowledge about spirituality and the purpose of human life on this Earth. In that book it said that meditation is the most important means for us to attain the highest goal in life. It also advised that meditation should be practised under the guidance of a guru. So, naturally, my interest in having a guru who would be able to guide me on the spiritual path was aroused.
At the beginning of the 1970’s I had the great fortune to meet Sathya Sai Baba in Bangalore at Whitefield and receive his blessings, although he was not to be my guru. However, it was here that I learned from some of his devotees about a sage in Sri Lanka who resembled Sai Baba and who, through his mouth, gave birth to lingams that had formed in his body. I wondered, was I perhaps destined to once meet this extraordinary sage?
One evening in 1977, around 5 p.m., I was standing at the gate of my house when I noticed a young man dressed in strikingly beautiful orange robes, a swami, walking down the lane. Somewhat surprised, I just stood there gazing at him and for some reason could not take my eyes off him. He seemed to be in deep thought and was heading towards the beach. As he walked by and then slowly disappeared out of my sight, the thought crossed my mind that perhaps this might be the saint from Matale about whom I had heard a few years before.
By 1984, I had learnt and had been practising meditation for several years and, on the evening of Mahashivaratri that year, I attended a group meditation in Colombo. It was there I learned that that same evening a Swami was holding a programme in the Vivekananda Memorial Hall of the Ramakrishna Mission just next door. I decided to attend this all-night celebration and as soon as I saw the Swami on the stage I immediately recognized him as the same swami who had given me his darshan in 1977! And, of course, it was none other than Swami Premananda!
Although I had a great desire to meet Swamiji after the lingodbhava, I did not have the opportunity because I was obliged to work that morning. So I quickly went home, took a bath, did my morning meditation and left for the office. Since I had not slept the whole night, I went to work with the thought of returning home after lunch to have a rest but, amazingly, after lunch I felt remarkably fresh and wide-awake and decided to stay at the office. That evening at home I had an early dinner and went to bed around 6:30 p.m. The next morning I found myself waking from the best and deepest sleep I had ever had in my whole life! I never forgot this experience and it made me determined to spend every Shivaratri with this saint, for he had given me a very good experience through which I had learned the value of staying awake during Mahashivaratri night.
In December 1984 I married Lakshmi and, from then on, we shared our lives, also from a spiritual point of view. When Swamiji came to Sri Lanka from India in 1986, he held daily programmes in devotees’ houses. He performed abhishekams and gave lingam blessings and interviews. We attended as many of these programmes as possible. On one of these occasions, Lakshmi received materialized kumkum from Swamiji’s hands. We were also blessed to join him on the Kataragama trip, which was an elevating experience for us both. One day, during this trip, Swamiji gave us all a lingam blessing in the Manika Gangai river. He first wanted us to completely immerse ourselves three times under water before receiving the blessing. It was a very special experience and we had a lot of fun, too.
At the end of 1987 we came to India for the first time, together with a couple we had met during the Kataragama tour. We landed in Trichy, where we stayed in a hotel, and the very first thing we did was to go see Swamiji, who at that time was staying in Pudur. When Swamiji saw us he asked if we had already done our shopping and assured us that if we needed any money we should just ask him. He explained that there were daily abhishekams at 6 p.m. and asked us to come to the abhishekam the next evening, which of course we did. After the abhishekam, Swamiji suggested we come back the next day and that he could show us the land where he was in the process of building an ashram.
The following day Swami arranged for a car to drive us to the ashram land. The only building there at the time was the Puja Hall and it was not yet completed, as the floor still had to be cemented. And except for a hut, standing close to where the cowshed is now, the rest of the whole area was simply a vast expanse of what seemed to be largely brushland. We entered the puja hall and saw all the children seated on mats that had been placed on the earthen floor. They were singing bhajans and we were told there was a funeral ceremony going on, undertaken by the village head and some of his assistants. In the evening, after the burial, we received the blessings of both Swamiji and his mother and then leisurely walked to Fatima Nagar to catch the bus back to the hotel. After that visit, we left to go on a tour with Swamiji’s blessings.
Since that first visit to the Ashram in 1987, we have come and stayed here many times over the years and have witnessed this once seemingly barren land with only one unfinished building, change into a true green oasis, filled with many trees, flowering plants, birds and animals, and more buildings built in a simple style, in harmony with the ambience of a traditional ashram. We have seen saints, sadhus and devotees from all over the world visiting this beautiful spiritual place and hundreds of impoverished children receiving free shelter, education, medical care, clothes and other daily needs, in short – a basis for a better future. And we saw how Swamiji was always ready to give advice and guidance to anyone who turned to him and shower blessings on everyone. We too received and continue to experience his continuous guidance, blessings and love in our lives.
This year, on the occasion of the 31st anniversary of the official opening of the Ashram, we felt very honoured to have been given the task of hoisting the flag in front of the Puja Hall, the only building that stood here, still unfinished, when we first came, now more than thirty years ago. It brought back many good memories. We hoisted the flag in the presence of some other people who had also been there at that time, some as small children, as well as many people who have joined since then, faithfully supporting the spiritual mission of our guru and great saint, Swami Premananda. It was a very nice experience indeed!