The Daily Routine of Sadguru Sri Sridhara Swami Maharaj as a Student

A highly inspiring and evocative account of the early student life of Sadguru Sri Sridhara Swami of Varadapura near Shivamogga.
The Daily Routine of Sadguru Sri Sridhara Swami Maharaj as a Student

A VICIOUS TREND that has made devastating inroads in Indian cinema over the last decade and half is justifying every crime, vice and depravity committed by its practitioner. Examples abound but here is a random one. In the eminently trashy 2021 Tamil film, Master, the heartless villainy of the character played by Vijay Sethupathi is justified by blaming it on his dark experiences as an orphaned adoloscent. By doing so, the movie takes recourse to the easiest and the most low-level device: of blaming others for your misfortune. By this sordid logic, everyone who has had a troubled adoloscence will or should become a criminal. 

Barring all else, such movies reflect either of the two things. First, the artistic barrenness plaguing Indian cinema. Second, the new breed of storywriters and directors addicted to violence and degeneracy. 

The foregoing might appear to be an outlandish preface to the profound real-life story that follows. But as you read, it will become evident that the outlandishness serves as a good contrast. 

SRI SRIDHARA SWAMI MAHARAJ was one of the most illustrious Sadhus of the twentieth century. His hilltop ashrama at Varadapura, 72 kilometres from Shivamogga, is a renowned Punya Kshetra, drawing lakhs of devotees throughout Dakshinapatha and beyond. Hailing from the glorious tradition of Samartha Ramadasa — the architect of Chhatrapati Sivaji, the sublime and exalted life of Sridhara Swami is deeply inspirational and profoundly humbling to put it mildly. 

This is the story of a boy born in poverty in a remote, decrepit village in northern Karnataka; a boy who lost his father as an infant, a boy who also lost his elder brother, elder sister and his mother and became an orphan when he was just twelve. A boy on the threshold of adoloscence who had no family or an elderly voice of sound counsel to guide him. A boy who had nobody to ask him even the most basic question we all take for granted: have you eaten? 

This boy could have become anything — a cleaner in a restaurant, a gatekeeper, a coolie…or even worse, a juvenile delinquent. But to our limitless fortune, he became Sridhara Swami. 

The seeds of that journey from an orphaned boy to an enlightened Sanyasi can be located in his childhood. When he was just five years old, he used to constantly recite this well-known Marathi verse of Samartha Ramadasa:

ghaṭakā gelī paḻe gelī tāsa vāje jhaṇāṇā

āyuṣyācā nāśa hoto rāma kāṃ re mhaṇānā

The hours and minutes have passed by. The bell of the clock has made the Jhan-Jhan sound. Our age is wasting away. Why don’t we chant the name of Rama even now?   

This early spiritual seasoning stood in good stead and invisibly guided the orphaned Sridhara. Among other things, it imbibed in him a deep hunger for education. Sridhara did his schooling in different places — primarily in Hyderabad and Gulbarga. His torrid circumstances did not deter Sridhara from his pursuit of learning. 

Sridhara enrolled in the sixth standard in Gulbarga, staying in his aunt’s (mother’s younger sister) home and quickly distinguished himself as a brilliant student. Outside school, he enthusiastically took part in various festivals like the Sankara and Madhva Jayanti as a volunteer, selflessly serving the devotees and general public alike. 

On one Sankara Jayanti, he listened to a discourse by a learned Pandit on Sankara-Bhashyas (Adi Sankaracharya’s commentaries). It opened an ocean of insight. Sridhara had found his life’s calling. He would dedicate the rest of his life to spreading the message of Vedanta.    

Sridhara was just fifteen.

 As a first step of sorts, he decided to embark on Tapas side by side with his studies. However, this required complete detachment, isolation and an atmosphere of absolute serenity, away from all bonds of family attachment. A well-wisher in Gulbarga who heard this, told Sridhara that he knew of one such place. It was a students’ hostel for orphaned boys in Pune. Sridhara happily agreed. Accordingly, the well-wisher wrote a letter to Sri Ketkar, the head of the hostel and gave it to Sridhara. The boy bid an emotional farewell to his aunt and headed to Pune. 

Sridhara completed the journey from Gulbarga to Pune largely on foot wearing just the traditional attire of a Vatu — just a dhoti — and carried a humble cloth bag.   In 1923-24, he got admission in the hostel and resumed his education in the high school attached to it. 

THE BRIEF STORY of this school’s founding opens a sublime insight into the values and ideals which the society of that era abided by. It was established by Lokmanya Balgangadhar Tilak. A stone plaque erected prominently in its campus declared its motto in large font: IF EVEN ONE STUDENT LEAVES THIS SCHOOL ARMED WITH  ITS IDEALS AND PURPOSE, HE WILL BE ABLE TO TAKE THE LEADERSHIP OF THE WHOLE WORLD. When the teenager Sridhara read these words, he felt thrilled. 

As he joyously subjected himself to the discipline and rigour of the institution, his excitement multiplied. He was especially impressed with its teaching methods. Eventually he became the first person to attend to any student who fell ill. He would sit by the patient’s side till he had fully recovered. This was a Seva he had voluntarily undertaken. His spotless conduct and helping nature quickly endeared him to everybody. 

Overall, this was how his typical routine looked like: he awoke before the rest did; he led the morning physical exercises, attended classes, revised his lessons, nursed the sick students, helped in various errands, and found time for doing his Japa and intense Tapas. As time passed, his tapas only intensified. Unsurprisingly, he earned the nickname, “Sridhara Swami.” 

His Tapas constituted the recitation of the sacred name of Sri Rama or Sri Datta in solitude. As his Tapas deepened and consumed longer and longer durations, he found that the hostel’s regulations were detrimental to this Sadhana. And so, he respectfully took leave from there and took a small room on rent. Because he could not afford the rent, he ran errands for the owner and did other odd jobs to earn a rather meagre income. These activities consumed a few hours of his day. He earned his food through the time-honoured method of Madhukari — or Bhiksha. Just a century ago, ours was a society which still believed that giving Bhiksha to a student was an act of great Punya. By this time, Sridhara Swami had already earned respect as a saintly boy. And so, he received copious amounts of Bhiksha, and true to his temperament, gave away the excess Bhiksha to other poor students like him. If this was not enough, any money that remained from his paltry earnings went into buying books for students who couldn’t afford them. 

Two moving anecdotes from this period open an ennobling world of values. 

On one occasion, a poor student named Kulkarni poured out his woes to Sridhara: “I have no money to buy the textbooks prescribed for my class. If you help me, I will be able to sit for the exam. Else, only God can help me.” His plight deeply touched Sridhara Swami. Without a word, he gave all his books to Kulkarni and paid his exam fees. That year, Sridhara Swami did not sit for his own exam. However, his Tapas continued with the usual fervour. 

On another occasion, in class, a teacher asked the students to write down their ambition and goal in life. A majority of the answers were along expected lines: doctor, advocate, engineer, collector, etc. Sridhara Swami wrote the following in English: “To obtain complete grace of God and serve mankind is the goal of my life.” 

The teacher was taken aback slightly but was not surprised. It was entirely characteristic of this promising boy.

SRIDHARA SWAMI’s DAILY ROUTINE as a student resembled that of the ancient Rishis. He awoke at four in the morning, had a cold water bath and sat for the Gayatri Japam. At sunrise, he performed Suryanamaskarams and then immersed himself in Rama Puja. After this, he revised his school lessons and at about ten, headed out for Madhukari. By this time, Sridhara Swami had learned the entire Bhagavad Gita by heart. He continuously recited slokas from the Gita as he went from house to house. By the time he had completed the last house, the pārāyaa of all the eighteen chapters would have come to an end. He set aside one portion of his Bhiksha for cows. It is only after the Gou-Mata ate that he would eat. Any excess Bhiksha was given to other poor students, as we’ve mentioned. After this, he attended school. In the evening, he took another bath and sat for the Gayatri Japam again. Then, he would immerse himself in his Tapas. Late at night, he consumed a small amount of food, studied his school lessons again and went to sleep. 

As his Sadhana deepened, he gave up eating dinner. Now he visited the nearby Maruti Temple and sat there reciting numerous Stotrams. And then, he performed 108 Pradakshina Namaskarams. Everyone who observed this boy whose face radiated blazing Tejas, correctly concluded that he did not belong to this Kali Yuga. 

Eventually, an elder Sadhaka named Palanitakar invited him to his home. As their interactions became more frequent, Palanitakar narrated several elevating stories and anecdotes about our ancient Rishis and gave him books to read. All this produced the anticipated impact.

One fine day, Sridhara Swami told Palanitakar: “I have decided to perform Tapas like them. I too, wish to become a Rishi.”

As history shows us, Sridhara Swami did eventually become a Rishi. 


I am reverentially grateful to the late Vidwan, Mahamahopadhyaya Sri N. Ranganatha Sarma from whose ennobling Kannada biography of Sri Sridhara Swami I have adapted this essay. 

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