S0rupananda was a powerful Tamil Guru who lived several centuries ago. His ability to silence the minds of his visitors was praised on several occasions by Ramana Maharshi. Though his chief disciple, Tattuvaraya, wrote prolifically, Sorupananda himself only wrote one small work: Sorupa Saram. Sri Ramana thought so highly of this work, he included it on a list of six must-read books that he gave to Annamalai Swami in the 1930s. The text itself comprises 102 Tamil verses in which Sorupananda uncompromisingly declares his own enlightenment and then attempts to answer questions on the implications of being in this state. The original Tamil text has been out of print for decades, and it is unlikely to be reprinted again. We have therefore included both the original Tamil verses and an English translation of them in this new edition of the work. There is also a twenty-page introduction by David Godman that details all the known biographical information about both Sorupananda and Tattuvaraya, and the Guru-disciple relationship that existed between them.
This is the first part of the introduction that appears in Sorupa Saram. It chronicles the traditional accounts of the relationship between Sorupananda and his disciple Tattuvaraya.
Sorupananda (also known as Swarupananda when his name is spelt in the Sanskrit way) was a Tamil saint and Guru who lived in Virama Nagar, a Tamil holy site, in the fifteenth or sixteenth century. He lived with Tattuvarayar, the son of his brother. The two of them had studied the sastras, and both were fluent in Sanskrit and Tamil. However, an understanding dawned upon them that the profit to be gained from this limited academic knowledge, however praiseworthy, did not have the power to grant them the fruit of freedom from birth. After coming to the conclusion that only jnana, true knowledge, would give them that result, they decided that it would be a lack of judgement on their part if they continued to devote their time and energy to acquiring more scriptural knowledge. Not wanting to waste a human birth, which they believed was hard to attain, on goals that could only give benefits during their current lives, they decided to search for a realised Sadguru who would free them both from the cycle of birth and death.
In one of the traditional accounts of their lives it is stated that both Sorupananda and Tattuvaraya had done tapas in their previous lives, without realising the Self. In this version of the events of the lives it was the momentum of this past activity that manifested in their subsequent births as a desire to perform self-enquiry and to find a living Guru who could reveal the Self to them.
Acting on this impulse, they searched for a Guru together in many different places, but their quest was unsuccessful. Initially, they were both disheartened by their failure, but then it occurred to them that their chances of success might increase if they split up and searched independently in different directions.
Before they went their separate ways to continue their quest, they came to the following agreement: ‘Whichever of us is first to obtain the fortune of a true Guru's darshan, that one shall assume the position of Guru to the other.’
Sorupananda travelled to the south and Tattuvaraya to the north.
When Sorupananda reached the outskirts of the town of Govattam, located on the banks of the Kaveri River, he was overcome by bliss. His hands spontaneously formed a gesture of salutation above his head and tears flowed down his cheeks.
He thought to himself, ‘There must be a jnana Guru staying in this place’.
Sorupananda did a pradakshina of the whole town as a gesture of respect before entering the main streets to make enquiries about the powerful Guru he felt must be residing there.
Inside the town he was told that there was a reclusive holy man, Sivaprakasa Swami, who lived near the river in a grove of bushes and rarely ventured out. He had made himself a simple hut out of river rushes and avoided contact with people.
Sorupananda assumed that this must be the Guru whose power he had felt as he approached the town.
Not wanting to intrude on Sivaprakasa Swami’s privacy by approaching him directly, he stood some distance away from the hut and called out in a loud voice, ‘Save me from the ocean of birth and death by giving me jnana upadesa [teachings and initiation into jnana]!’
Sivaprakasa Swami realised immediately that an extremely mature person was calling on him for help.
He emerged from his hiding place and addressed Sorupananda: ‘Appa [a term of endearment and respect]! I have been staying in this place for a long time, waiting for you to come to me.’
Sivaprakasa Swami then gave the jnana upadesa that had been requested and shortly afterwards Sorupananda fell into a deep samadhi.
Since there is no record of Sorupananda doing any sadhana, it is generally presumed that he realised the Self shortly after his first meeting with Sivaprakasa Swami.
There are several different versions of Sorupananda’s and Tattuvaraya’s lives. Ramana Maharshi summarised the events that occur in one of the variant accounts in the following way:
Both Tattuvarayar and Sorupananda decided to go in search of a Sadguru in two different directions. Before they started they came to an understanding. Whoever finds a Sadguru first should show him to the other. However much Tattuvarayar searched, he could not find a Sadguru. Swarupananda, who was the uncle of Tattuvarayar, was naturally an older man. He went about for some time, got tired, and rested in one place. Feeling he could no longer go about in search, he prayed to the Lord, ‘O Iswara, I can no longer move about. So you yourself should send me a Sadguru.’ Having placed the burden on the Lord, he sat down in silence. By God’s grace a Sadguru came there by himself and gave him tattva upadesa [instruction for Self-realisation]. (Letters from and Recollections of Sri Ramanasramam, Suri Nagamma, 8th April 1948, pp. 21-2)
Sorupananda's name is spelt 'Swarupananda' in Ramanasramam publications while Tattuvaraya's name appears in Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi as 'Tatvaroyar' and 'Tatva Rayar'.
Meanwhile, Tattuvaraya had given up his own search for a Guru. He decided instead to hunt for Sorupananda to see if he had had any better luck. There is no record of where the two of them eventually met, but when they did, Sorupananda became Tattuvaraya’s Guru in accordance with the agreement they had earlier made.
Tattuvaraya realised the Self quickly and effortlessly in the presence of Sorupananda. The opening lines of Paduturai, one of his major works, reveal just how speedily the event took place:
The feet [of Sorupananda], they are the ones that, through grace, and assuming a divine form, arose and came into this fertile world to enlighten me in the time it takes for a black gram seed to roll over. (Tiruvadai Malai, lines 1-3)
Black gram is the dhal that is one of the two principal ingredients of iddlies and dosa. It is 2-3 mm across and slightly asymmetrical, rather than spherical. This property led Tattuvaraya to write, in another verse, that Sorupananda granted him liberation in the time it took for ‘a [black] gram seed to wobble and turn over onto its side’. (Nanmanimalai verse 10)
David Godman Books
Books by David Godman on Ramana Maharshi, his devotees and his teachings