shrI chidAnandanAtha, founder of guhAnanda maNDali, hails from a family of Agnihotris from sapta godAvarI region of Andhra desha belonging to kauNDinyasa gotra. His family name was Nediminti. This family migrated to Tamil Nadu and settled in a village named Seppittaankulam located sixteen kilometers west of Venkunram (now Dhavalagiri), about thirty-nine kilometers south of Kanchipuram. His father shrI Narasayya was the son of shrI Venkatarayalayya and Smt. Kanakammal. He was greatly devoted to shrI subrahmaNya stationed at Thiruttani. His bhakti was severely tested by shaDAnana in the form of a severe stomach ache. Unable to bear the pain, shrI narasayya decided to end his life and proceeded towards Nedungunrum. There, he was blessed with the grand vision of his beloved deity Lord shaNmukha who blessed him with herbs to cure the ailments of the stomach and shaDakSharI mahAmantra to cure the disease of samsAra. After this point, shrI narasayya dedicated his life to the upAsanA of brahmaNya. He was married to Smt. Ammayi Ammal who was short-lived. After the demise of his wife, shrI narasayya married Smt. Kamakshi Ammal, the third daughter of shrI Kuppayya.
The couple was blessed with a boy on Nov 14, 1882 on a Tuesday. The child subrahmaNya was born in vR^iShabha lagna, mUlA nakShatra, on Kartika Shukla Chaturthi of the year chitrabhAnu. subrahmaNya was the eldest son and the second child of his parents. shrI subrahmaNya underwent vedAdhyayana as well as English education. The boy attained mastery over English and Sanskrit languages within a very short duration. He married Smt. Vishalakshi Ammal, daughter of Sri Seshayya of Pazhavantangal at the age of sixteen. He started his married life in Kanchipuram. His brothers shrI Venkatraman and shrI Kuppuswamy also began to live with him in Kanchipuram.
Father shrI Narasayya attained videha mukti in 1901. subrahmaNya took over the responsibility of his family and joined the Teacher’s Training School. He soon began to teach at the Chennai corporation school. He also learnt to paint from Rev. Fr. Matthew, headmaster of the Teacher’s Training school. His painting skills were put to wonderful use later when he painted a portrait of his guru, paramahamsa guhAnandanAtha. In 1913, he became the headmaster of Vallabha Agraharam Corporation School (Model School), located at Triplicane, Madras. He retired in 1937 after 35 years of service as the headmaster of the school. sAngatya of Venbapuli T S Velusami Pillai helped him acquire mastery over Tamil language.
In 1911, Sir undertook a pilgrimage to prayAga along with his mother. His wife, Smt. Vishalakshi Ammal, could not accompany him due to her pregnancy. He reached Allahabad on puShya bahuLa ekAdashI in the year sAdhAraNa. He had the darshan of numerous great Sadhus and yogis at the Kumbha Mela Sadhu Sangama. He stayed in Allahabad with shrI bhairava shAstrigal (known for his legendary dIpa navAvaraNa), a great upAsaka of shrIvidyA and kAlikA, at Tarakanj Shiv Mutt. While taking a bath at triveNI sangama, he spotted a great yogi who appeared like shiva in human form. Divinely inspired, Sir fell at the feet of the great avadhUta and requested to be rescued from the great ocean of samsAra. The great master, whose vision could pierce past, present and future effortlessly, remained silent for a few moments and instructed Sir to come back to him after two days, during the auspicious mahodaya puNyakAla. Paramahamsa ativarNAshramI sarvatantra svatantra avdhUta vareNya shrI guru guhAnandanAtha initiated Sir on Amavasya during the mahodaya puNyakAla at sunrise, when the star was shravaNa. He bestowed on Sir pAdukAnta shrIvidyA dIkShA, hamsa, mahAvAkya and mahA mahA pAdukA mantras. He also blessed Sir with the dIkShA paTTa, shrI chidAnandanAtha. Sir returned to the residence of shrI bhairava shAstrigal and recounted the divine events of the day to his mother. The same evening, the pUjA at the residence of bhairava shAstrigal was graced by the presence of shrI guhAnandanAtha. Sir stayed at his guru’s feet for a period of twenty-seven days and learnt the secrets of shrIvidyA upAsanA, vedAnta and subrahmaNya tattva. He also performed bhikShA sevA to his Guru and served him with limitless devotion is every possible way. shrI guhAnandanAtha also initiated Smt. Kamakshi Ammal into shakti panchAkSharI and subrahmaNya mahAmantras. After twenty-seven days, the great avadhUta decided to depart to badarikAshrama on the day of mahAshivarAtri. He instructed Sir to return to Southern India and continue upAsanA with absolute secrecy for a period of twelve years. He further instructed Sir to perform the pArAyaNa of sUta samhitA and mahAvAkya ratnAvaLI and bestowed his paripUrNa anugraham to the shiShya ratna. He blessed Sir thus: All will go well! You shall attain AtmasAkshAtkAram. When Sir was overcome with immense grief at the thought of separating from his Guru, shrI guhAnandanAtha indicated that his sthUla rUpa would be visible in the shrIvigraha of subrahmaNya at Thiruttani on a specific day during vibhUti abhiSheka. To allow all disciples to have darshan of his guru, Sir started the Thiruttani Vaibhava Mahotsavam in 1946 at the shrine of Subrahmanya. To this day, this holy practice continues and hundreds of sincere shrIvidyA upAsakas witness the appearance of the Physical Form of the great Guru in the idol of subrahmaNya. My own mother, initially a non-believer, can bear testimony to this fact!
Sir practiced his upAsanA for a period of twelve years till he received an instruction from H H sacchidAnanda shivAbhinava nR^isiMha bhAratI mahAsvAmigal to teach shrIvidyA to eligible disciples. Once when Sri Chidanandanatha visited Sringeri, he was blessed with the fortune of discussing the secrets of Sri Ucchishtha Ganapati Upasana with Mahaswamigal. A scholar who was present there recited a certain Sahasranama of this form of Ganapati. Having heard this Sahasranama, which neither conveyed the greatness of Sri Ucchishtha Ganapati even partly nor the associated secrets of Srividya Upasana, Sri Chidanandanatha immediately expressed his disapproval. Before he could speak further about the actual Sahasranama, Mahaswamigal raised his right hand, commanding Sri Chidanandanatha to remain silent. After the scholar left, Mahaswamigal had the following conversation with Sri Chidanandanatha. It was at this moment that the period of 12 years approached completion.
Mahaswamigal: Do you know about the Sahasranama of Sri Ucchishtha Ganapati? Can you recite the same?
Chidanandanatha [hesitantly]: Unable to control my enthusiasm, I blurted out about the Sahasranama earlier. However, I cannot speak untruth before your Holiness. My Guru ordered me to protect this Sahasranama and the related mantras with utmost secrecy. I am unsure if this Sahasranama can be recited under the present circumstance. By reciting the Sahasranama now, I will incur the sin of disobeying my Guru. I have never been in such a fix in my entire life. There can be no one better than your Holiness who can advice me about the right course of action.
Mahaswamigal: If your own Guru appeared right here and asked you to recite the Sahasranama, would you still hesitate?
Chidanandanatha: When Guru himself orders, how can there be any room for hesitation?
Mahaswamigal: Is your Guru Sri Guhanandanatha restricted to a physical form and present only in Badarikashrama? Is he not present here now and everywhere?
[Sri Chidanandanatha was immensely surprised to hear his Guru's name and place of residence from Mahaswamigal as he had not revealed these details before anyone till then. He was filled with tears of joy; his body trembled and he immediately fell at the lotus feet of Mahaswamigal].
Chidanandanatha: I will act according your orders. Please forgive my earlier ignorance.
Mahaswamigal: Your Guru Guhanandanatha, I or Kodaganallur Sundara Swamigal may appear different physically but are same in essence. Understand this truth well. Have you read Acharya’s work – Manisha Panchakam?
Chidanandanatha: I have read the work but have not realized its inner purport yet.
Mahaswamigal: Very soon, you will realize its inner purport. After that, you will reach the same state as the three of us. So, confidently recite the Sahasranama now.
[Sri Chidanandanatha now began to recite the Purva Pithika of the Sahasranama, which is a conversation between Sri Dakshinamurti and Sanaka. It is significant to note that the pAdukA of Ucchishta Mahaganapati is traditionally called mahA mahA pAdukA and is actually referred to as Dakshinamurti Mahapaduka.]
Mahaswamigal: There is no need to recite these verses now. Recite the Sahasranama starting with abc [the first actual name in the Sahasranama].
Chidanandanatha was surprised beyond measure once again. He now understood that Mahaswamigal knew the Sahasranama well and began to recite the names in the Sahasranama. At a certain place in the Sahasranama [called Matrika Mala traditionally], Sri Chidanandanatha forgot some of the names. Immediately Mahaswamigal prompted him with the right set of names. He then concluded the Sahasranama with the two final and glorious names of Ganapati. Mahaswamigal then discoursed on the inner significance of these two names to Chidanandanatha for more than 30 minutes.
Chidanandanatha: I would be blessed to hear the Sahasranama from thy holiness which will help me to get clarifications regarding some of the names.
Mahaswamigal: I will recite the Sahasranama at leisure on another occasion. The true Sahasranama of Ucchishtha Ganapati is indeed the one recited by you. Your pAtha is almost close to the correct one. But there are some mistakes in some of the names recited by you.
Having said so, Mahaswamigal corrected those names and explained the correct pAtha to Sri Chidanandanatha. Sri Chidanandanatha wrote down those corrections on a piece of paper and left Sringeri. Later, that piece of paper was lost. He then desired to meet Mahaswamigal again and get guidance from him in privacy. Before his plan could materialize, Mahaswamigal attained Mahasamadhi. However, all the doubts were clarified one day, as though Mahaswamigal himself appeared before Chidanandanatha and uttered the correct paTha. Correct pAtha of the Sahasranama was also obtained from Pitambaram Ayyadurai Iyer, whose family had worshipped the copy of Sahasranama for centuries and Sri Chidanandanatha attained Siddhi in his Upasana. The correct pAtha however was never shared with anyone except two of his direct disciples. The few available handwritten copies carry incorrect pAthas as the correct pAtha has never been publicized according to the instructions of Mahaswamigal.
Sir also studied vedAnta from Kallidaikuruchi Rajanga Svamigal. He also learnt to recite Thiruppugazh under the auspices of Vallimalai Swamigal’s Sri Kumara Thulumavar Thiruppugazh sangham. The sangham compiled Sir’s writings in Tamil and published them in the form of a book, Thiruttanigai Prabandha Tirattu. In 1925, the sangham published his book Skanda Purana Sangraham, which contains a gem named nirguNa aShTottarashatanAmAvaLi of brahmaNya, revealed by his Parama Guru shrI AtmAnandanAtha. It is a practice in our Mandali to worship the Lord without fail with this nAmAvaLi during the subrahmaNya chakra pUjA on pancha parvas, as instructed by bhagavatI lopAmudrA Smt. prakAshAmbA. In 1933, the sangham honored Sir with the title Arulkavi at Thirupattiswaram.
Sir proceeded to Thiruvannamalai to see Seshadri Swamigal at the Kambathi Nayanar temple on May 20, 1920. Sri Seshadri Svamigal instructed Sir to come back to him the next day at 3 am. Sir remained awake the entire night immersed in meditation, waiting for the darshan of Seshadri Swamigal. Sharp at 3 am, Swamigal appeared before Sir engulfed in aruNa varNa. Lost in the emanating AruNya, Sir lost himself in brahmAnanda, when the Swamigal said, “See well! Do you recognize what you see? What you see is the same as what you have and nothing different. Safeguard what you have”. Sir also met Chinna Seshadri swamigal (shrI ramaNa maharshi) and spent many days discussing vedAnta with him. It may be noted that shrI svAmI shastrigal (anantAnandanAtha), a senior disciple of Sir and the foremost of gaNapati upAsakas in recent times, was specifically chosen by bhagavAn ramaNa to perform the kumbhAbhishekam of mAtR^ibhUteshvara temple and the consecration of the shrIchakra on the adhiShThAnam of Smt. Azhagammal.
During the paurNami following sharannavarAtri of 1924, Sir performed the navAvaraNa pUjA at the shrIchakra in the shrine of kAmAkshI parAbhaTTArikA at Kanchipuram for the first time. Due to unknown reasons, this worship had been stopped at the shrine for several decades. Sir continued to perform the pUjA regularly for the next twenty years as per the instructions of H H paramAchArya of Kanchipuram. To this day, this worship is performed by the shiShya paramparA of Sir. Due to several baneful practices, shrIvidyA had acquired a bad reputation in Southern India during those times. Sir pointed out the immense importance and special greatness of shrIvidyA while providing evidence for its validity from shruti, smR^iti, Agama, purANa and tantra. The credit for restoring shrIvidyA upAsanA to its pristine purity and bringing it to the common man in the current century belongs undoubtedly to Sir. However, there was not an iota of dilution or svakalpita UhApoha in any of his teachings. He based his teachings solely on shAstra pramANa, gurUpadesha and svAnubhava.
Sir initiated thousands of shiShyas into mantras based on their adhikAra. He bestowed hundreds of shiShyas with pIThAdhikAra and ordered them to perform navAvaraNa pUja regularly. The list of his senior disciples includes, apart from several maThAdhipatis, Smt. prakAshAmbA (Smt. Lopamudra Rajalakshmi Suryanarayanan), Sri bAlAnandanAtha (Sri Kamakoti Shastrigal), Sri pUrNAnandanAtha (Sri. Venkata Narasayya), Sri Amritananda Yogin and others. Because of his position as the headmaster, people mostly addressed him as Sir. This was adopted by his disciples as well and the title Sir continues to be used to this day when addressing him. Sir was also a pioneer in initiating suvAsinis into shrIvidyA and granting them pIThAdhikAra. In those days, during tithi nityA pUja, only men participated as nityA devatAs. Sir changed this practice to allow only suvAsinis with mantropadesha to enter the nityA maNDala to accept pUjA, a practice that is followed to this day by most. Sir also provided clear instructions regarding sAmayika pUjA and bindu tarpaNa based on varNa and adhikAra. He devised the laghu pUjA paddhati for those unable to perform the elaborate navAvaraNa.
Sir started the Brahmavidya Vimarshini Sabha to facilitate research in Srividya. The Sabha met every week and discussed various topics and works related to Srividya and Vedanta. Many great scholars from all over the country participated in these discussions. Several books were published as a result of these discussions. When submitting his magnum opus subrahmaNya tattva to the lotus feet of his Guru, Sir renamed the sabha as Sri Guhananda Brahmavidya Vimarshini Mandali, which is known today as Guhananda Mandali. Fame or money was never his goal or of the Mandali, whose sole aim was to bring the knowledge of shrIvidyA to the deserving. It is unfortunate that people who engage in producing second rate commercial compilations point fingers at ParamashivasvarupI Sir and his Mandali and scorn at the idea of Mandali and such organizations, terming them as mere propaganda. It is quite another fact that some such people have happily copied works of Sir verbatim and sold their books in dozens, without giving any credit to the great master for his unconditional assistance in their udara bharaNa! After all, such is the greatness of mahAns like Sir, who are similar to chandana; both sarasa and virasa with them spreads fragrance.
Sir’s Tamil commentary on puNyAnandanAtha’s kAmakalAvilAsa was released during the ShaShTapUrti celebration of Sir. During this auspicious occasion, H H paramAchArya of kAnchIpuram bestowed the title, abhinava bhAskara on Sir. shrI somadeva Sharma who wrote the foreword to this work wonders if shrI shankara bhagavatpAda and shrI bhAskararAya have jointly taken birth in the form of shrI chidAnandanAtha. He was also bestowed the title, navabhAskara by H H Jagadguru Shankaracharya Mahaswamigal of Dakshinamnaya Sringeri Sharada Peetham. Though a gR^ihastha, Sir led a life filled with vairAgya befitting a paramahamsa. The following words are used by those who know him well to describe him: AjAnubAhu, shAnta mUrti, karuNA mUrti, face and eyes shining with tremendous tejas, exemplary simplicity in every aspect, strict in guiding disciples in upAsanA, always interested in the welfare of shiShyas, desireless, straightforward, unflinching devotion to vaidika and shrIvidyA sambandhi karma and completely dedicated to shrIvidyA. During the sharannavarAtri of 1957, on shashthi tithi (mahAvajreshvarI nityA), Sir attained lalitA sAyujyam during the auspicious hours of evening. That day, Kanchi Paramacharya H H Sri Chandrashekharendra Saraswati Mahaswamigal took a brief pause during his daily Pooja at the Sanskrit College at Chennai. He later explained that he had seen a great soul being welcomed at the door of Chintamani Griha, the abode of Sri Rajarajeshwari. It was actually Sri Chidanandanatha that he was referring to, which he clarified explicitly to his disciples.
The following is the list of some important works authored by Sir:
1. shrIvidyA saparyA paddhati: This is being used almost universally by shrIvidyA upAsakas across the country. Great men including karapAtri svAmin, datiyA maharaj etc. adopted this saparyA paddhati. Chukambha publication has republished this monumental work last year. I have personally seen this paddhati being followed by upAsakas in Gujrat, Srinagar, Kolkata, Beneras etc. and this is hardly a measure of its immense popularity.
2. shrIvidyA saparyA vAsanA: AdhyAtmika tattva of navAvaraNa worship
3. Guru tattva vimarshanam: An exposition on the greatness and esoteric significance of guru pAdukA mahAmantra
4. shrInagara vimarshanam: Tamil commentary on lalitA stavaratna of bhagavAn durvasas
5. Shakti mahimna stotram: Tamil commentary
6. varivasyA rahasya: A Tamil commentary on this work by bhAskararAya, indispensible to shrIvidyA upAsakas
7. shrIvidyA nityAhnIkam
8. lalitopAkhyAna vimarshanam
9. ajapA kalpa
10. manIShA panchakam: Tamil commentary on the pentad of hymns by Adi Shankara Bhagavatpada
11. Lalita Trishati Bhashyam: Tamil translation of the commentary by Acharya Bhagavatpada
12. Sri Subrahmanya Tattvam: A journal of secret learning during the period of gurukulavAsa at the lotus feet of paramahamsa guhAnandanAtha
13. shrIvidyA gItA: Tamil translation of the jnAna khaNDa of tripurA rahasya
14. jnAna prakAsha: A Vedantic drama
15. kamalAmbikA mAhAtmyam: AdhyAtmika tattva in durgA saptashatI and krtis of the musical trinity
16. kamalAlaya kShetra tattvam: An exposition on the tattva of shrI tyAgarAja, the presiding deity of Thiruvarur, based on the secretive Muchukunda Sahasranama
17. Panchanada kShetra Tattvam
18. Chidambara Rahasyam and Nataraja Tattvam
19. AryA shatakam
20. saubhAgya bhAskara: A scholarly translation in Tamil
21. Forewords to numerous works such as those by Somadeva Sharma, Kumbhakonam Ganesh Iyer etc.
22. Several poems and shlokas in Tamil and Sanskrit
For some unknown reason, Sir has blessed us profusely and showered on us limitless love, directly and through his three advanced disciples. Words fail to describe his greatness or to thank him for the priceless blessings. Seeing no distinction between parAmbA, asmadAchArya and shrI chidAnandanAtha, we believe that offering sAShTAnga praNati at his lotus feet is the most we are able to do to express our heartfelt devotion. As we prepare once again to witness the holy appearance of the great avadhUta in the bimba of our kuladevatA, we prostrate again and again to the lotus feet of Sir and pray for his benevolent gaze. That the grandson of the late Gollapinni Mallikarjuna Shastry, a great upAsaka himself, has volunteered to accompany us on this sacred journey to Thiruttanigai, is verily a proof of the continued blessings of shrI chidAnandanAtha.