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In honor of the new year, obeisance to a revered elder: Jatala Sadhu Sri Rama Vi

I met Jatala Sadhu in early 1982, introduced to him by his disciple Vimalananda
(Jatala Sadhu appears in the Aghora books as Junior Guru Maharaj ). Thereafter I vi
sited him at his ashram at Simhachalam (near Vishakhapatnam) once (occasionally
twice) each year until he left this earth eleven years later. Each visit lasted
for three days, which was his limit for guests from the outside world, and I fel
t extraordinarily fortunate to have been allowed that long. Guru Maharaj (which
is how I always addressed him) was intensely intolerant of almost everyone, and
at least once daily during my stay I would be treated to the spectacle of some p
ilgrim coming to his door hoping for permission to come into his presence only t
o be loudly told Po re! (Telegu for Go on! or Git! ). Should such would-be devotees att
empt to insist, importune or beg, Guru Maharaj would shout at them with greater
volume, and if they still refused to move on he would pick up whatever was handy
(a banana, a coconut, a rock) and throw it vigorously in the miscreant's direct
ion. That would do the trick.
Back in the '70s Vimalananda bitterly but unsuccessfully opposed the plan hatche
d by a rich Bombayite to build an ashram for him, an ashram which thereafter bec
ame (as Vimalananda had predicted) a millstone around Jatala Sadhu's neck. Yes,
Guru Maharaj lived there, and yes, selected visitors (including yours truly) wer
e permitted to stay a night or two there; but the end of construction brought th
e beginning of headaches: how to pay the bills and the taxes, who would clean an
d keep the place up, and all the rest of the nagging obligations that pester any
property owner, obligations that should not (in Vimalananda's opinion) have bee
n permitted to pester a sadhu.
Guru Maharaj's keen determination to remain obscure did not survive him. After h
is departure from life it did not take long for his followers to start to disagr
ee among themselves as to how best to maintain his memory. Though for some time
after the transition attention remained focused on his ashram and its caretakers
, the epicenter of activity eventually shifted to the capacious shrine built ato
p his samadhi, and the group from Hyderabad that built it. Mirabile dictu, there
is now even a website dedicated to Jatala Sadhu, a title which literally transl
ates, The Ascetic Sporting Dreadlocks :
Whatever may be the veracity behind the claims on that site for his longevity (a
nd I can personally testify to the fact that he was indeed very, VERY old), what
strikes me most about this site is its focus on the life-size stone image of Gu
ru Maharaj and the ritual worship performed upon it. Few were permitted even to
touch his feet while he lived (I was one of the lucky ones actually allowed to p
eriodically massage his legs); now his entire body has become (symbolically) ava
ilable to those who wish to venerate him ritually. O tempora! O mores!