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The Walking Shiva Of Varanasi

Updated: Nov 26, 2021

Shri Tailanga Swami


The ghats of Ganga, in Varanasi is always crowded with people. Sometimes, the curiousity of the English people also brings them here. Once some English ladies while taking a walk saw a large built man, stark naked, roaming in the streets, oblivious of his surroundings. His presence didn’t seem to matter the people around, who were busy carrying on their daily chores. The English ladies, known for their acute sense of dressing, were very uncomfortable with the sight of this man. They complained to the magistrate. The police came to arrest him. The naked man, remained undeterred, lost in deep meditation. He was carried to the magistrate. When the magistrate reprimanded and asked him why he roamed around naked, he didn’t respond. In a rage, the magistrate ordered to bind him and take him to jail. As soon as he said that, the man disappeared. The police searched for him everywhere but couldn’t find him. The very next moment, everyone saw him standing, where he stood before. The magistrate was taken aback and realized that he is a superhuman, no mere mortal. Meanwhile, one of his disciples, came with a lawyer and tried to explain to the magistrate that he is an enlightened sadhu, beyond the materialistic world. For him, everything is the same, sandalwood not different from excreta. The magistrate, bemused, replied, “Well then, if everything is the same then let him eat our nonvegetarian food.” The sadhu, who was silent till then, suddenly started to speak. He said, he has no problem but before he does that, the magistrate has to consume his food. As soon as the magistrate said yes, he took some of his excreta, which had aroma like perfume, in his hand and said that’s his food for the day and ate it. Unfathomable is the yogic power of this saint. The magistrate was dumb found and took out an order to allow the sadhu to do as his will. After this the magistrate was transferred and another English came in his place. He once saw this sadhu, in Dasaswamedha ghat and flew into a rage. He arrested the Sadhu and put him behind iron bars, securely locked. The next morning, he saw the sadhu roaming outside. He went in to isspect the locked room and saw it overflowing with water. On enquiring, the sadhu replied that he had an urge to urinate in the night and so he did. The magistrate in a fit of rage again locked him inside. But the next moment, they saw him standing in a corner of the court room, smiling like a child enjoying the moment. The sadhu slowly came over and said, you only know about the inert and its power without awareness. But this world, is entwined with consciousness. Those who have got this awareness, cannot be bound. Everything can be accomplished with the power of the yogis of India. The magistrate became conscious and ordered to see that no one disturbs this sadhu.

In 1607, Sibaram was born to the zamindar of a village called Holiya in Vizianagaram district of Andhra Pradesh. Later, Sibaram came to be known as Tailanga Swami, who shone with the brilliance of the sun in India’s spiritual horizon. Once, his mother, who was devoted to Shiva, saw a stream of light from the Shiva, illuminated the entire room and merged in him. The boy grew up into a young man, disinterested in everyday worldly matter. He stayed detached and his father wanted to marry him off. But his mother, poured on him all her and spiritual achievements and devotion to Shiva. She understood that her son was born to pursue spiritual goals and so she made her husband allow their son to stay celibate. Sibaram’s father passed away when he was around forty years old and twelve years after that, his mother also departed. Sibaram tore away all his attachments and left home. He built a small cottage on one corner of the village cemetery and started his spiritual journey. On one side flowed a full flowing river, and on the other side was the cemetery filled with dry ashes and dead bodies. In between these symbols of life and death, he carried on his stringent and rigorous meditation. One day, Swami Bhagirathananda Saraswati arrived at his place and as his Guru initiated Sibaram into yoga sadhana. On his Guru’s instruction, he left his village and travelled through the southern and northern parts of the country. At the age of seventyeight, he took Sanyas and was renamed Ganapati Saraswati. Since he was from a Telugu speaking region, he was popularly known as Tailanga Swami. Under his Guru’s guidance, he climbed up the stages of Hathayoga and Rajayoga. After ten years of severe penance, with the mercy of his Guru, he transformed into a very powerful and enlightened Yogi. After his Guru’s demise, at the age of eightyeight, he went on a pilgrimage around the country. Everyone was astounded looking at him since his body didn’t show any sign of age.

During his travel, he reached Rameswaram, where a huge fair was held with great pomp. Suddenly, a poor, sick brahmin fell down dead. His relatives crowded around the body, making preparation to cremate it. People started weeping and crying. The painful cries reached the ears of this calm, huge ascetic who was passing by. He was touched and out of compassion took some water from his kamandalu and sprinkled on the lifeless body. The body got back life but the sadhu was nowhere to be found. The sadhus and saints present in the fair became aware of this great yogi, Ganapati Saraswati.

Many years have passed since, Ganapati Saraswati, after covering many holy places, arrived in Nepal and went into a deep panance in the forests. Once the king of Nepal, while out hunting, tried to shoot a tiger. The bullet missed its target and the king followed the tiger on his horse. He was stunned to see the tiger run to a huge yogi under a tree. The tiger fell at his feet and the yogi started caressing it as if it as a cat. The yogi called the king and his followers and told them in a kind voice, “You don’t have to be afraid. Give up violence from your mind, then the tiger won’t be able to harm you. Every living being is a creation of God. If you love them, you will get love in return. As the news of this yogi spread, people started crowding and he had to leave the forest. He was compassionate and couldn’t bear to see people in pain. If anyone’s prayer touched him, he granted mercy. It became difficult for him to hide from people’s eyes. After travelling through Mansarovar and Uttarakhand, he arrived in the Narmada basin. A saint, Khakibaba, used to live by the Narmada. Once while meditating, he saw the water of narmada turn into milk and Tailanga Swami, standing in the middle was busy drinking this milk. Khakibaba understood that this is the work of the newly arrived yogi. But when he started cupping the milk, it turned into plain water. All the saints of Markandeya ashram, revered Tailanga Swami. He lived there for eight years and then came to Prayag.

Once, during summer, Swamiji was on the ghats of Triveni, when a storm broke. One of his devotee, Ramatarana, asked him to get into a nearby shelter. But Swamiji won’t move and said that he is needed by the people in the boat that has been caught in the storm. Ramtarana saw a boat struggling in the ferocious waves of Narmada, went down. Ramtarana couldn’t control his tears but when he looked back, Swamiji had dissappered. In a few moments, he saw the boat rise up in the water as if someone was lifting it up. When the boat reached the banks, he was taken aback to see Swamiji alighting from the boat alongwith other passengers. On seeing this, Ramtarana asked how does one get these miraculous powers. Swamiji replied, “There is nothing to be surprised. Every human being has been bestowed with spiritual power, which is dormant. We have to evoke them to make everything possible. Actually that’s our true nature. But humans have deviated from their path so much that whats natural seems like a miracle.”

In 1844, in the bone chilling winter, Varanasi saw the arrival of this skyclad, massive saint in Asighat. This merciful saint, oblivious of his power, kept on saving people through the years. He was loved, adored,revered by the people and was known as ‘The Walking Vishwanath’. He, immersed within, was walking on the ghats slowly and arrived in front of a deaf leper wrenching in pain. He came close to this man, who was discarded by everyone. On seeing this yogi, the leper, Brahmasingh, forgot all his pain and started singing Shiva Stotra. The yogi smiled and handed a Bilwa leaf to the leper. The leper took a bath in Lokarka kunda and placed the leaf on his head. Soon he got rid of all his ailments and became Swamiji’s disciple.

The Ganges attractd Swamiji. He was often silent and found swimming and floating in the water like a child. He used to float upstream, without moving his limbs. The people of Varanasi were well versed with the playful passtimes of this skyclad yogi in the ganga waters. Once the King of Ujjayini, while coming back on a boat, saw this huge sadhu floating. The officers gave the King the sadhu’s identity. Everyone,curious, assembled around this silent sadhu. A sword hung on the king’s waist. Swamiji asked for the word, inspected it for sometime, and threw it into the Ganga. Everyone got scared but Swamiji started giggling like a child. The king fumed with anger since the sword was a gift from the English rulers and a mark of honour. The king roared and ordered to arrest this naked sadhu. Swamiji stood silently for sometime and then put his hand into the water and took out two identical swords. He asked the king to recognize his one. The king was perplexed. Both the swords looked exactly the same. Swamiji reprimanded, “You stupid! You cant even recognize the very object that you claim to be yours. I see that you are filled with hubris and arrogance. Remember, the only thing that will be with you in life and after death is only your own. So much attachment and pride for the object that’s not yours is not appropriate.”

Most of the time, Swamiji, to stay away from crowds, used to remain silent and speak only in sign language. People, arriving in Varanasi, after darshan of Viswanath, Maa Annapurna, Dasaswamedha ghat and Manikarnika Ghat, used to flock to have darshan of Swamiji. Though he was huge, weighing around 140kgs, with a barrel like stomach, he seldom ate. He used to sit in one of the ghats, in deep meditation, adapting python’s way of living (ajagaravritti), without a care for his food or clothes, oblivious of his surroundings. Devoted people used to pour water on him (abhisheka). Once, a group of evil people, gave him a bucket of calcium lime mixture. He drank with no effect. The skeptics realized their mistake and fell at his feet, seeking his mercy. There was a huge Shivalinga and an idol of Maa Kali in the abode of Swamiji. His spiritualpath was the union of Shiva and Shakti; Yoga and Tantra. In 1868, Ramakrishna Paramahansa visited Varanasi and met Swamiji. According to him, Shiva had revealed his power in Swamiji’s body. He was the walking Shiva of Varanasi. He was a Paramahansa, existed in supreme knowledge without any consciousness of his body. His body was affected neither the heated sand nor the cold water. When they met, they spoke in sign language and no one could understand what transpired between them. Swamiji said, in samadhi, the soul becomes one with God but at other times, when me and you, self and world, sets in, then God becomes numerous.

Once Sri Bijayakrushna Goswami came to meet Swamiji. He had left brahmasamaj and was in search of a Guru. Their meeting was a wonderful sight. Swamiji was floating in the Ganga and Bijayakrushna Goswami was running with him on the banks. Swamiji was fond of him. He used to ask his devotees to get sweetdishes and enjoyed feeding Goswamiji. Once Swamiji urinated and sprinkled it on Maa Kali’s idol. It smelt like a fragrant perfume. On Goswamiji’s query, Swamiji wrote that its ‘Water of Ganga’. When asked why he sprinkled it on Maa Kali, Swamiji again wrote that its worship. Goswami narrated this incident to the people around. They said, “He is Viswanath. His urine is Ganga water.” Goswami was astounded seeing the devition of people towards Swamiji. Swamiji’s blessings helped Bijayakrushna in his spiritual journey. Swamiji was also delighted to see Yogi Shyamacharan Lahiri and gave him a warm welcome. When asked about his liking for the yogi Swamiji replied that this yogi,remaing as a worldly man, has already attained self realization - the perfect state of yoga where one renounces everything, even his loin cloth.

One day, Swamiji called his disciples and said that he has take leave. He has decided to go into samadhi and leave his body. His devotees couldn’t bear to hear it. They asked for some time, so that they can at least get his statue made so that they can pour Ganga water on it as abhishek. The compassionate Guru listened. On 26th December, 1887, a Monday evening, Sri Tailanga Swami left his body of around 280 years and was given salilasamadhi, immersed in the Ganges.

The desire of the senses of the human body is the enemy.

The control over the senses is the friend.

Poor is one who is greedy.

Sadhu is one who has neither attachment nor desire.

Image Credit: Eila Sahu


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