Life Sketch of Mahan Sri Seshadri Swamigal of Thiruvannamalai

The Bhagavan Sri Krishna, in the Srimad Bhagavadgita promises to manifest Himself again and again whenever there is a decline in Dharma and there is oppression of the righteous. The Lord manifests as the numerous saints time and again to uphold Dharma and to wean away the people from the influence of the Adharmic forces. One such avataram of the Lord is Mahan Sri Seshadri Swamigal of Thiruvannamalai

In the holy town of Thiruvannamalai presided over by Lord Siva Himself in the form of the holiest of holy hills, Arunachala, there is no dearth of saints who add to the glory of the temple town from time immemorial. However, very few of the distinguished saints have left a mark in the history of the holy city like Sri Seshadri Swamigal. There is hardly any shop or establishment or house which does not have a picture of the saint adorning the wall or the altar of worship, even to this day, well after nine decades of the Swami attaining Mahasamadhi in 1929. Swamigal along with Sri Ramana Maharshi were considered to be the two most eminent saints of the last century whose feet tread the holy mountain and city of Thiruvannamalai. Sri Seshadri Swamigal came to Thiruvannamalai as a lad of nineteen seeking the refuge of Arunachala Siva, at the behest of his beloved mother in her death bed. Maragatham Ammal called her elder son Seshadri to come closer to her and whispered in his ear the name of the Lord of Arunachala thrice before merging herself with Siva.

Birth & Early Life

Maragatham Ammal was the adopted daughter of a great and renowned scholar Kamakoti Sastriyar of Kancheepuram. Maragatham was a gifted girl was well versed in the Sastras, an accomplished singer and a natural beauty so much so that the people around regarded her to be a manifestation of Devi Kamakshi. Kamakoti Sastriyar was a great Devi Upasaka and was a gifted astrologer and came in the lineage of the Kamakotis who were well versed in the Vedas and Sastras and great Srividhya Upakasas. One of his most promising student was Sri Varadarajar, to whom he married his adopted daughter Maragatham. The couple led a happy life and were considered to be an ideal couple made for each other.

Sri Sastriyar gave to the couple butter consecrated with Devi’s Mantra, which in due course blessed them with an illustrious son. Sri Seshadri Mahan was born on the 22nd of January 1870 in the star Hastham. The planetary position at the time of the birth of the child indicated that he would attain to great heights in spiritualism.

The divine child grew under the tutelage of his accomplished parents and was a quick learner. He would sit on the lap of his father when he took classes on various Sastras and watch with keen interest the lessons that were taught. Though Swamigal never in his life revealed his mystic powers, there were several occasions when such powers manifested themselves on their own. One such was an instance when our Swami was barely four years of age.

2.1 The child with the golden touch – Thangakkai Seshadri:

On one of his daily visits to the Kanchi Varadarajar temple with his mother, he espied a hawker selling beautiful images of Lord Balakrishna and requested his mother to buy him one image for worship at home. The hawker willingly permitted the child to select an image of his choice from the heaps of images and Seshadri took one and placed it in the pooja altar for worship along with the other deities. The next day when the mother and child came to the temple, the hawker came running and falling at the feet of the startled mother and child, sobbed uncontrollably holding the hand of the child to his eyes. When he could overcome his emotions, the hawker explained that never in his life had he been able to sell the full consignment of idols in a single day. He said that the child was divine and his golden touch had worked this miracle. This was experienced by the traders and shop keepers in Thiruvannamalai in later years, when the Mahan would saunter into their shop and sitting in the proprietor’s chair would play with the coins and currency kept in the cash box. That day would be a windfall day for the shop and the sales would sky rocket.

2.2 Studies and Dispassion:

Sri Seshadri Swamigal started his formal education in Vedas and other scriptures soon after his upanayanam. Swami soon mastered the Vedas, Vedangas and other scriptures including the Tamil scriptures under the tutelage of eminent scholars. He learnt the nuances of Vedanta and other Sastras from Sri Kamakoti Sastriyar. The boy was spurred into dispassion when his father passed away a few years later.

Sri Varadaraja Josier had a premonition about his death and counseled his wife to take care of the two children. After the demise of his father, Sri Seshadri along with his mother and younger brother Sri Narasimham moved to Vazhoor, the native place of his grandfather Sri Kamakoti Sastriyar. Swami continued his studies and was well guided by his grandfather who took Apath Sanyasa when he espied his end to be near. When he too passed away, the family moved over to live with his father’s younger brother, Sri Ramaswami Josier, who himself was a great astrologer and well respected in the city of Kanchipuram.

The dispassion in the boy Seshadri grew manifold after the demise of his grandfather and he took to performing Mantra Japam in a very focused manner. He devoted most of his time in this practice, much to the annoyance of his uncle, who expected the boy to take up the family vocation of practice of astrology. Seshadri was least interested in matters of mundane nature and intensified his spiritual practices. An attempt made to arrange for his marriage with his aunt’s daughter Kakini Devi was foiled by divine will, as Sri Ramaswami Josier himself hinted to the prospective bride’s mother (his own sister) that Sri Seshadri was destined to become a renunciate (Sanyasi) as per his horoscope. This shattered his mother maragatham and she soon fell ill. She overcame her grief when she realized that her son was an Avatara Purusha and therefore provided the clue to young Seshadri where his destiny awaited, the sacred hill of Arunachala, by thrice uttering the name of Arunachala, keeping the hand of the boy on her chest before she breathed her last.

After his mother’s death, Swami intensified his penance and in order to avoid disturbance from his family and others sought out the cremation ground for performing his Mantra japam. When it was discovered and objected to by his uncle and others, Swami resorted to stay back in the cremation ground itself. Swami performed with great intensity, the Kamokarsheet Japam which annihilates the karma arising out of desire and anger. Though Swami was a Avatara Purusha, a Brahmagnani and did not require such activities, he did so to show us the way to realise the Ultimate Truth.

2.3 The coming of the Guru and Swami’s sanyasam:

Our scriptures stress the importance of a Guru to lead one through the path of spiritualism. It is said that in the case of evolved souls, the Lord Himself comes as a Guru. So it was, in the case of our Swami, who one day on his way to the temple was delighted to find a mendicant shining with radiance sitting under a tree on the banks of the Sarvatheertha tank. He was scantily clad and was attended upon by four disciples. He looked like Lord Dakshinamoorti Himself come to earth to bless our Swami. Our Swami was attracted to this Gauda Sanyasi by name Sri Balaji Swami, like a magnet attracts iron.

With tears welling up in his eyes Swami prostrated again and again before the Saint, who showered his grace on him and gave him mantropadesam. Swami assumed Sanyasa Asramam then and there and this destroyed all shackles that bound him to mundane activities. He did not go home and roamed about the streets of Kanchipuram like a Jeevan muktha, with his consciousness merged with that of the Supreme consciousness. All efforts made by his relatives to bring him back to home failed miserably. He also did not respond to the plea of his uncle to return to the fold of a gruhastha. On the annual ceremony day of Swami’s father (Sraddham) his uncle brought him home with force and locked him up in a room. When the time came to receive the blessings of the Pitrus at the close of the ceremony, the door was opened but no trace of the Swami could be found. This room had only one entrance and no windows and was well secured. It remains a mystery to this day as to how Swami could just evaporate like camphor and it is a clear indication of his Siddhi.


A few days later Swami surfaced in a place called Kaveripakkam twenty miles away from Kanchipuram and was seen by one of his cousins. Swami was in the temple of Lord Mukteeswara when a huge serpent approached him. The frightened cousin shouted in fear which brought the people around to the scene. Swami quietly called out to the serpent and it climbed on to his body and spread its hood over the head of Swami and then slipped away into the bushes.

Swami moved on from the village and after covering many places reached the foothills of Arunachala. When Swami reached Thiruvannamalai, he was nineteen years of age and remained within the boundaries of the holy town for a full forty years till he cast away his body in his sixtieth year. Initially Swami was taken to be yet another sadhu who lived in the holy town, but soon people realized that he was quite different from the others and was ever in a state of bliss supreme, not caring for his body or worry about his food or shelter.


Swami’s form was captivating, despite the fact that he was clad only in dirty rags with unkempt hair and beard. He never shaved or dressed up and wandered the streets around the holy mountain with sheer disdain of the opinion of people. He never stayed in one place, often exhibiting restlessness in his movement and speech. He never started any hermitage or gave lessons or upadesam to those who came to him. He displayed all the traits of a Jeevan Muktha, a self realized soul. He never walked, he just appeared to float in the air, being here, there and everywhere all at the same time. He never allowed people with bad traits to get near him, shooing them away with abuses. To those who had faith in God and led a satvic life, Swami melted like butter and revealed his blessings in some form or other. However, none could take him for granted as he would treat even those who were around him as if they were total strangers.

He would saunter into some of the shops in the town and that day would be a blessed day for the shopkeeper as he would make a great windfall in sales. It is a normal custom for the traders to long and pray for a visit by Swami, but Swami will be elusive. He never stayed in one place, though he frequented the Kambathu Ilayanar temple within the precincts of the temple of Lord Arunachaleswara so much so that his devotees spread out a bed for his use there. Blessed are those who could see Swami sit or recline on the same, which was filled with dirt and grime. Those affected by serious ailments took some of the dust as Swami’s prasadam and were cured of their afflictions.

Swami did not bother about his food either. He took without any aversion, food that had gone stale offered by his devotee Sri Manickaswami, who had a vow not to take food unless Swami took some. He joined a funeral procession as much as he took part in a marriage procession. Sometimes he would circumambulate women and prostrate before them again and again telling that they were manifestations of Devi Kamakshi. His behavior and speech were queer, yet people flocked to him to receive his blessings in some way or other.

Swami and other Mahans:

There seems to be interconnectivity between the saints who are contemporaries. Perhaps they work on a common platform. So no wonder Swami was connected to Sri Ramana who came to Thiruvannamalai as a boy of twelve and was performing tapas in the Pathala lingeswarar temple behind the Siva lingam. How long he was there is anybody’s guess. The boy seems to have lost sense of time and soon insects started eating into his flesh.

Swami was instrumental in revealing the young Sri Ramana to the world. One day Swami found some boys throwing stones inside the sanctum of the shrine and shooing them away brought some people and pointing to the frame of the boy behind the Sivalingam, said “look, my son is performing tapas there”. Sri Ramana was brought out and nourished by the people and Ramana took his abode in the Virupakshi caves on the southern fringes of the holy mountain.

People of Thiruvannamalai affectionately called Sri Ramana as little Seshadri and considered Swami to be a manifestation of Devi Kamakshi and Sri Ramana as Lord Subrahmanya. Sri Paul Brunton records in his book that one day Sri Seshadri Swami came to Ramana and sat before him for some time and exclaimed that this person’s mind is empty. Such was the relationship between the two that Sri Ramana Maharshi, himself a Jeevan Muktha, came down from his abode in the hill to be present for the Mahasamadhi function when Swami attained Mahasamadhi.

One day Swami started gazing at the sky intently. When the onlookers asked him what he was looking at, Swami said “there goes Vittobha, there goes Vittobha”. Vittobha was a saint who lived in a place called Polur near Thirvannamalai and it was found that at exactly at the same time saint Vittobha had attained mahasamadhi. Mahaperiyava of Kanchi is said to have wondered whether he would attain such a state like Sri Seshadri Mahan. The pontiff of Kanchi Mutt had the house where Swami lived as a young boy in Chinna Kanchipuram, bought and maintained by the Mutt. He had also on many occasions spoken about the attainments of Swami with his close associates like Sri Bharaneedharan.

Traits of a Jeevan Muktha:

The Upanishads and Srimad Bhagavadgita talk about the traits of a Jeevan Muktha or one who has attained freedom even while living in a body. Bhagavan Sri Adi Sankara, in his Vivekachoodamani has elaborated the state of a Jeevan Muktha in slokas 425 to 444. Sri Seshadri Swamigal of Thiruvannamalai exactly fits into the description of the lakshanam of a Jeevan Muktha as described in Vivekachoodamani.

A Jeevan Muktha is one who is ever absorbed in the Supreme Consciousness, never cares about the outside world, living on a morsel of food offered by others, remaining dispassionate to the happenings around, sleeping when the world is awake and awake when the world sleeps, totally uncaring for the body which he treats as a shadow following him, ever in equipoise, not bothered about the dvandvas of happiness and sorrow, pleasure and pain and so on. Sri Seshadri Swamigal’s mannerisms and traits exactly matches the above description. He was a living example of a Jeevan Muktha, perhaps to demonstrate the traits to the world. He saw the Pure Consciousness Brahman in every being and thing around him and made no distinction amongst people or other creatures or even inanimate things. He roamed the hills of Arunachala, considered to be an embodiment of Lord Siva Himself, not bothered or affected by the vagaries of weather, or the happenings around him.

Many were the miracles associated with Sri Swamigal. Once when there was plague in Thiruvannamalai, Swami disobeyed the restrictive orders of the District Collector and was seen roaming around. He was ordered to be put in a locked cell. The Collector was on his way to Thindivanam and as he neared Thindivanam he espied Swami reclining at the foot of a tree. He sent a telegram to Thiruvannamalai and the officials confirmed that Swami was very much there in the cell. Yet the Collector saw him at Thindivanam too. Sometimes Swami will be seen by some on the western fringes of the mountain, yet at the same time some will see him at the main temple, yet someone will say that he just saw Swamigal near the temple tank. He was truly a sarva vyapi or Omnipresent.

On another occasion Swamigal boarded a train at the Thiruvannamalai junction. When the train started to move Swamigal jumped out of the train and appeared to be hurt. The train stopped automatically and did not move an inch till the engine driver came down and appologised for not stopping the train when Swamigal wanted to get down. Obviously there were no injuries to Swamigal who suffered a fall.

Swamigal had provided miraculous cure to the ailments of many, but such treatment would be totally non conventional. Once he drank a full bottle containing Tincure Iodine kept in the house of the Taluk Board President Sri Venkatasubbaiyer without any ill effects. More than curing the bodily ailments, Swami had cured the disease of the Samsara by giving his Upadesam. There is a long list of eminent personalities who had received the blessings of Swami and had attained Spiritual advancement in their life.


Swamigal decided to shed his mortal coils after living for forty years in Thiruvannamalai and created an occasion to do so. Some of his devotees thought that it was time that Sri Swamigal had a tonsure and shave and made him agree to their suggestion. After tonsuring his head and beard, they were filled with enthusiasm to bring pots and pots of water from the well opposite to Chinna Gurukkal’s house and pour the same on the head of their beloved Swami. Soon after Swami developed high fever, but never bothered about it, exposing himself to the cold winter breeze. His body became very weak, yet he ran about in the Sun and rain. Finally on the 4th of January 1929, the Lord Arunachala and Devi Apitakuchamba came to receive our Sri Swamigal into their fold as Swami attained Vidheka Mukthi. His mortal remains were interred in the foothills of the Arunachala mountain and a small Ashram sprung up in that place. Sri Ramana himself supervised the building up of the Samadhi shrine of Sri Swamigal. Later Sri Ramana also chose to come down and live next to the Ashram of Sri Seshadri Swami thereby displaying that they were indeed the son Muruga and mother Kamakshi as was being talked about by the people of Arunachala.

There is a saying that one can build a hundred temples or visit thousands of shrines, but the Samadhi of a saint is indeed very rare and enshrines all the mystic powers of the saint for eternity. Sri Sai Baba of Shirdi spoke about this explicitly when he said that his bones will speak from his tomb. The Samadhi of Saint Sri Raghavendra at Mantralayam is another example of the Saint communicating to his devotees even after his attaining Vidheha mukthi. The Samadhi of Saint Bodhendral reverberates with Rama Nama to this day. So also is the Samadhi of Saint Sri Seshadri Swamigal at Thiruvannamalai. Those who meditate in the Samadhi shrine of Sri Swamigal are able to experience the energy of the Saint in many ways. The devotees of Arunachala who come in thousands for the Girivalam or circumambulation of the holy hill on Pournami (full moon) days include a visit to the Samadhi of Sri Seshadri Swami and Sri Ramana in their itinerary and stay blessed.

Om Sri Gurave Namah Om Tat Sat