We all called him Guruji and in fact, if one should think of it in worldly terms, what Haridhos was showing his devotees was his immense bhakti, his love of his own guru Gnanananda, thereby setting an example of how to love your guru as a way to eternal bliss thru bhakti yoga. And since he in turn is the devotees’ guru, their own devotion can be practiced there and then.
To his numerous followers he is a strong influence in their daily life, somebody who gives advice not only in religious matters but also about marriage, education and other everyday affairs. He is a father figure to lean against in the community, but also somebody to take care of, protect and even pamper with.
In the summer of 1968 we went on a yatra, that is, a pilgrim’s tour to Brindavan, Mathura and other holy places in northern India. We had our own railway car that would be attached to a regular train and left off at each new destination. There we stayed in the station, sleeping, cooking and singing in the wagon, doing excursions to various holy places. We took bath in the holy Jumna river, thereby washing away all sins. Unfortunately one is likely to pick up new ones as soon as one is out of the water again.
In Brindavan we stayed at an ashram belonging to a collegue of Guruji’s, Goswamy. You can see pictures on the following pages from the Radha Kalyan ceremony (the marriage between Radha and Krishna) that we performed there.
Swamy Haridhos’ own guru, Sri Gnanananda, who left this earth in 1974 was a holy man in South India with an ashram near Thirukoilur in the South. Haridhos first became his “ambassador” and later on his successor practising bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion to the guru.
Thru his powerful singing of bhajans, religious songs, and charismatic and often humorous preaching he acquired a large following and later created his own ashram in Thennangur south of Chennai with huge temple structures and everything needed for housing and feeding thousands of people at the various religious functions held there. Here are some photos from a religious festival in Puddokottai.
In 1994 Swamy Haridhos disappeared in the Ganges during a pilgrimage to the Himalayas. He had already chosen his successor, Swamy Namananda, affectionately known as Namaji. Namaji died in 2009, the present leader is Swami Namanandagiri.
Not only was Swamy Haridhos an extremely charismatic leader, preacher and a singer, head and shoulders taller than ordinary bhajan singers, but as such he attracted the participation of top class accompanists. The reason for this is the word classical. Much as he loves the Namasankirtanam, the purely devotional simpler songs, he uses the classical ragas for his own improvising, composing and rendering of texts as you can hear especially in the slokams, the long introductions to some of the songs in his performances
THE JOKING GURU
On one occasion we were traveling to a function in Poona for a few days, and since violin Shivakumar couldn’t go with us because of his school he was told by Guruji to practise diligently during our absence. Upon our return he asked Shiva if he had practised well and Shiva said he had.
– Did you notice something peculiar while practising?
– Well, one day there was a colourful fly in the room buzzing around.
Swamy Haridhos nodded with a smile:
– Yes, that was me.
Haridhos often cracked jokes in his lectures, like this one:
Two backward indians in the countryside. One was reading a paper, saying:
–I see the americans have landed on the moon.
–That’s nothing, said the other one, we indians can y to the sun!
– Do you know how hot it is on the sun, we will burn to death.
–Don’t worry, we will fly in the night.
HOW I MET HARIDHOS AND DEVARAJAN
In 1967 I went to Bombay to study tabla with Pandit Taranth Rama Rao. I was staying with the three Krishnamurthy brothers, students of Pandit Taranth and Ustad Z.M. Dagar, (who was living across the street) in Chembur, a suburb of Bombay. Shortly before Christmas my teacher was called to Los Angeles by Ravi Shankar to teach at his school.
On New Year’s Day 1968 the family took me to Gita Govinda Hall to meet and listen to a great singer and saint from South India, Swamy Haridas (later on he changed his name to Haridhos for “numerological reasons”). I was taken to greet him in the green room and was then seated on the floor in the front row among more than a thousand people where I was allowed to make a recording with my Nagra tape recorder. This recording is released on the Country & Eastern label as Classical Bhajans (CE14).
During the concert I had very good contact with Haridhos’ mridangam player Devarajan. After the concert he showed me how to produce the various strokes on the instrument. Encouraged by Swamiji I decided to learn the mridangam from him so I moved to his house in Tirunelveli and stayed for more than a year practising there or on tour with Haridhos. While travelling with him I was lucky enough to see many things that are usually denied the non followers and Haridhos gave me the name Sopan Dev.
Here is something about my mridangam guru P.S. Devarajan. He was a fabulous drummer with an enlightened appearance on stage that always inspired the musicians he was playing with. He was also a simple, bighearted somewhat childish man that never had much luck in terms of prosperity and fame in this world. Apart from his magnificent presence on the Haridhos album you can hear his teaching on Mridangam Teachings in Adi Talam (cex03) and on Karnatic Harmonium (cex13) together with two other musicians from this album, harmonium great Muthunathesa Bhagvatar and a young Bombay K. Shivakumar on violin.