My guru is Sri Venmani K.Kumar, lovingly called guruji and more often just Ji! His life so far has been an amazing journey which I would like to share with you.
He was born as a fifth child to his parents among their twelve children. His father was uneducated and through some chance found employment with the then Madras Telephones and brought up his kids with considerable difficulty. His mother for her part worked as a construction worker to supplement her husband’s income. His father was a strict disciplinarian and a God fearing man. He wanted his son to get good education since he did not have one. But my guruji was very averse to studying. He was an atheist as well. Being a very argumentative person as a teenager, quarrelled with his father and left home. He took up all kinds of odd jobs to survive. He had a flare for writing plays. Even as a young lad he had written and staged a play in school. So he took refuge in Kodambakkam. He was an errand boy, a courier, a copy writer, an assistant director, struggling to make a mark in life. He had an opportunity to go to Union Motors on some errand and applied for a job there. As luck would have it he did get a job with their sister concern Hydraulics Limited. This was a turning point in his life. His status immediately improved as he had a permanent posting. His father waiting for such an opportunity immediately found him a bride and got him married.
Finding just the right life partner is a great blessing. His wife Kalaivani was exactly who he needed to steer his life in the right direction. He lives in Nungambakkam in the same place where his father lived. He reconstructed his father’s humble abode into a concrete construction for which he had to take a big loan at that time. His wife ably managed the household expenses with the meagre amount he gave her after his repayment of the debt every month.
He successfully staged a single act comedy play during an office cultural event and earned the praise of his colleagues and superiors. This boosted his self confidence. He was fearless, frank and always spoke the truth without ever mincing words. He grew up in a poor neighbourhood where people did not realise the value of education, were addicted to bad habits and were petty and quarrelsome. But he owes his good character to the strict upbringing by his father. He is ever so grateful to his father for having raised him in such a fashion. To bring up some one with clean habits may not be a difficult task for a parent who belongs to a middle or upper class but it is a monumental feat for some one who lives in the poorer sections of the society.
In Hydraulics Limited he found a mentor by name Sri Mannu Perumal. He considers him to be his first guru. Sri Perumal used to arrange group trips to Tirupathi. Sri Perumal made sure that my guru did not fall into bad company and made him interested in spirituality. My guru has mentioned that in a fraction of a second he became a believer from a non believer. I do not know what exactly brought about this transformation but he transformed. One who was engaged in spreading the teachings of Periyaar by speeches on stage, found true solace in Lord Krishna. He started his spiritual search and this quest took him to established institutions like Chinmaya Mission, Ramakrishna Mission and Iskcon. When he did not find the right answers there he also went in search of individual gurus and sidhars in forests and hill tops to get their advice. His love for Kannan is akin to the love displayed by the Azhwars.
His motive was social service but it started as a religious service. He lives near the pottery sale section on Kodambakkam High Road. His first priority was the upliftment of the kids in his neighbourhood. Due to his great passion for the language Thamizh and his unadulterated love for Krishna he learnt Thiruppavai and then Naalaayira Divyaprabantham. He then taught this to the kids in a way that they would understand. He would offer snacks to the kids to entice them to attend his class. Yet it was difficult to retain them. But through hard work, perseverance and helping those around him he earned the goodwill of his community. His work started reaching those whom he intended should benefit.
Guruji with his guruji
Sri Easwaran, a devout Saivaite is another guru who taught him several scriptures and is till today instrumental in encouraging him to do the social work that he is doing. He is responsible for unearthing the hidden talents in my guru. I have met him. He is a personification of simplicity and compassion. Though my guru’s heart and soul was filled with Lord Krishna he learnt the Saivaite philosophy and various religious teachings under his tutelage. At that time he wanted to give his teacher guru dhakshana and was wondering how he was going to do that. He happened to mention to his guru that there was a Ganesha temple near his house which was totally dis-functional and in a state of disrepair. His guru immediately told him that he should take up the responsibility of running the temple as a form of guru dhakshana to him. My guru could not but obey his orders. So in addition to his regular work, he took on the responsibility of maintaining and running the temple as well.
The temple was in a really bad shape. The idol of Ganesha was covered with bugs and insects. The temple’s ceiling and walls were also covered with crawling creatures. With great difficulty he cleaned the temple premises and also got rid of those who were using the place as a gambling den. But it was putting a financial pressure on him as the upkeep of the temple was eating into his income. But good work never goes unrewarded. Mr.MGR’s brother-in-law (Mrs Janaki Ammal’s brother) who used to pass by that temple everyday saw the transformation done to the temple by my guruji and made a monthly contribution of Rs.200 towards temple expenses. This was very helpful to my guru. As devotees started patronising the temple and a small collection started trickling into the Hundi, it also attracted the bad elements in that place. They wanted to take away the contributions received by the temple. But my guru is a very strong personality and will never bow down to unjust pressures. He made them leave the money alone and used it for temple expenses. Sri MGR being the chief minister at that time also helped my guru to keep them at bay.
He started learning Bhagavad Gita from Parameshwara Prabhu of Iskcon. He then went on to his next guru Sri Ramakrishnan. Sri Ramakrishnan was professionally in a very good position when he tragically lost his only son. He and his wife were so heart broken that they locked themselves inside their home in grief. A Swamiji from Sri Ramakrishna Mission took the initiative to give them counselling and made them come out of their shell and start doing service to the society. My guru along with a few others started learning Gita from him. Initially it was quite difficult for him to follow Sanskrit and many times Sri Ramakrishnan would offer explanations in English which was also hard for him to follow. But my guru is endowed with amazing perseverance and through the grace of the Lord and his guru mastered the essence of Bhagavd Gita. This is not very surprising as it was the wish of the Lord that my guru become the teacher for many others.
Looking at him singing Bhajans on Krishna and chanting stanzas from Prabandham in front of Ganesha, a devotee one day took him to Mahabalipuram to one of the sculpting places. He made him choose a Krishna statue among the many there and bought it and brought it back to the temple. All this happened in a matter of few hours. My guru then found another sponsor to construct a small sanctum sanctorium inside the temple. Within a matter of ten days Lord Krishna was duly installed and consecrated. The priests from The Parthasarathy Temple in Triplicane volunteered to do the idol installation in the manner that is to be done as per the Hindu temple tradition. My guru did not have enough financial resources to do any of this and yet everything happened with perfect precision. This is not only a miracle but a show of love and acknowledgement on the part of Lord Krishna towards his ardent devotee, my guru.
Even as a child he could never see others suffer and go his way. He always helped others in whatever way he could. He would share his food with the neighbouring kids who did not have any. While working as an assistant director he would share his food with two others like himself. But some how tragedy strikes people who are already going through a difficult life. There was a lock out in his company and the management retrenched hundreds of employees. He was one of those who lost their job. He was only forty two years old then. At the same time his wife was diagnosed as having a severe heart ailment. Her valves were not functioning properly. It was a big blow to the family. He has two daughters and one son. Understanding the gravity of the situation he quickly conducted the marriage of his eldest daughter to his wife’s brother’s son. His second daughter is the one who is taking care of his wife round the clock till today.His wife has been admitted in the ICU several times in the past ten years in very critical conditions, yet came back home recovered. This is nothing short of miracle through the grace of Lord Krishna. But she has to be on oxygen 24/7. So other complications ensue. She has been bedridden for the past ten years. This has not deterred mu guruji from his service to the society. In fact it has only increased during this period.
He has been conducting sloka classes, bhajan classes and moral value educational classes for children for the past ten years. He goes to various places and conducts classes to groups of children. He has created a trust called Sri Gokula Bhatha Bhajana Sabha. He conducts yearly competitions in Thirupavai, Prabantham, story telling and fancy dress among children. This competition attracts more than hundred and fifty participants every year. He has also instituted a rolling shield to be given to a child who is an all rounder. He conducts BalaVihar classes in Bala Mandir on Sundays, a home started by Sri Kamarajar for children who have lost their parents. He will provide them with new clothes and good lunches when ever possible. He is a strict disciplinarian but while teaching to kids he will play with them, bring himself to their level, and make them learn with ease. The children there just love him. He has truly dedicated his life to the upliftment of children.
At the fancy dress competition
He has gone by foot to Tiruppathi fourteen times. Every month he visits Ahobilam in Andhra Pradesh on Lord Lakshmi Narasimha’s star Swathi. He does not go alone but takes with him a group of people who are interested in going to such temples. Of the 108 Vaishnavaite Divya Desams he is yet to visit only three more temples. I pray to the almighty to bless him to complete it. He has done all this, while taking care of his invalid wife. He is not affluent. After he lost his job in Hydraulics Ltd he has immersed himself in service to God and children and not taken up any other job. His son now works for a multinational bank in a very good capacity. He is to be married soon. His other daughter is yet to be married.
He has not passed SSLC. But he has widened his knowledge by reading the books of great writers in Tamil. He is a great admirer of Kalaingar Karunanidhi for his prowess in Tamil literature.He will quote from memory excerpts from various writings. Such is his passion for the language. He learnt all the songs in Nalayira Divya Prabantham by his own effort. His love for the language and Lord Krishna made him master the Azhwar’s pasurams sung in chaste Tamil. When he starts explaining he can speak about a single word or a single line from the poems for more than an hour uninterrupted. Such is his knowledge and talent. He is a little different from the other spiritual speakers in that he does not give word meanings to spiritual verses but relates the present day life style to what is stated in Gita which Krishna spoke in Dwapara Yuga and azhwar pasurams which was created several hundred years ago. He lives among the poor and down trodden and works for them. So he expresses himself in simple ways so that people around him feel free to seek his help and benefit from his knowledge. He can assess one’s spiritual level just by seeing or speaking to them. He avoids unnecessary confrontations with other factions which shows his spiritual maturity. He has a captivating voice which will awaken any soul which is drowning in a quagmire of worldly desires. It is always interesting to listen to him as he will narrate events of our every day life as a part of his lecture. This capacity to lecture is a boon given to him by Krishna. Rain or shine he will be present to conduct classes. This brings pleasure to him as he sees Lord Krishna in this service.
When he talks about Saradha Devi and Andal his eyes will well up with tears. He has such compassion. So many spiritual leaders, knowledgeable teachers have graced our land. How many have taken it upon themselves to walk through the poorer sections to help the down trodden and enlighten them? My mother and myself belong to the Brahmin community. We first learnt Prabantham from him and now we are learning Gita. We are his devoted students. He does not belong to the so called upper class but the knowledge and integrity he possesses makes him a cut above all. I am mentioning this just to make a point that caste does not make a man superior or inferior. It is only the character which makes a man gain respect in a society. He would mention about how Sri Ramanujar stood on top of the temple wall and announced the Thirumanthiram Aum Namo Narayana to the world, regardless of the fact that he could go to hell for doing so. He would add that if Sri Ramanujar had not done that for the benefit of people like him, how would he have known the value of the divine mantra and the benefits of following Vaishnavism. Sometimes such candid remarks by him drives a point deep into your heart to really understand the caste system. I join my guru in singing Pallaandu to Sri Ramanujar.
He always says that Veda is nothing but our life’s experience. According to him Dharma is doing one’s stipulated duty. This simply leads to salvation. He will answer with absolute ease any difficult question posed to him. Most importantly he will make us think. His advice to his students is to be always independent. As per his guru’s instruction, if a student does not attend his class he takes the iniative to go and find out the reason for his absence and also find a solution to the problem which prevents the child from attending. Teaching is not just a job for him but his life’s mission.
His temple is in Kakkan Colony in Kodambakkam High Road, Nungambakkam. Though a small temple it will always be spotless. Krishna and Ganesha will always be beautifully decorated and Puja done regularly. All festivals pertaining to Krishna and Ganesha will be celebrated with love and sincerity. He always gives importance to Annadhanam in all festivals. Food is the only God to a hungry person. Purattasi Saturdays, everyday in the month of Margazhi, during Navaraththiri and even during the hot summer afternoons he provides food and buttermilk to people in his neighbourhood as Prasadham. He is around fifty six years old now. Many of his students are in good position now and help him during festivals. You see young girls and boys surrounding him during such times calling him anna and doing all the work for him. It is nothing but the return of pure love.
He is very adept in bringing out the talents in his students. He follows the path of truth. He loves his wife very dearly. She is the source of strength for him. Even though he has studied the Gita and is teaching the same, he is saddened to see his wife go through so much suffering. Those who know him will agree with me one hundred percent regarding what I have written about him.
I want every one to know about him. Even in this Kali Yuga we are lucky to have people like him around us. My mother and I are so blessed to have him as our guru. I only pray to Lord Krishna to bless him, his family, his community where he does service, his students and all those with whom he comes into contact with. In fact it is Lord Krishna’s duty to do so.
Aum Sri Gurubyo Namaha!