A few days ago when posting a picture of Arunachala hill in Tiruvannamalai (shown above) I had mentioned a saint who used to live on top of the mountain, who had stayed there for 18 years without taking food.

One of his disciples who was a sheepherder used to carry some water and a cup of milk up to him every day. The sadhu would make a cup of “tea” using some vibhuti and some leaves, and that was all that he ate for 18 years, one cup of tea a day. It would not have been scientifically possible to live off of that for 18 years were it not for his yogic powers.

His name was Narayana Swami, but his devotees called him Ayya, as he was a follower of a saint named Ayya Vaikundar, who lived in the early 1800’s.

I first met him in 1997, after meeting his sheepherder disciple somewhere near Virupaksha cave. The disciple asked me to come with him up the mountain to see his guru, whom he was carrying a jug of water for. I had climbed up the hill from the back entrance of Ramana Ashram, so I was still bare foot, as my shoes were at the front of the ashram, but I said I would try to come along with him.

As we went up the mountain together it was becoming quite long and laborious. It was scorching hot and the skin on my feet was starting to burn off. This disciple saw me suffering, took off his flip flops and told me to wear them up the mountain. That provided a bit of relief and allowed me to make it up the mountain. It was much harder and further than it looked from the base of the mountain.

When I saw Narayana Swamy he was sitting inside a bush, which concealed most of his body. The disciple told me to keep some distance from him, maybe it was 15 feet or so. Swami prepared a tea using water, vibhuti and some leaves and told me to drink it. I drank it, and then Narayana Swamy from within the bush extended his two feet out towards me, showing the bottom of his two feet to me. The disciple said, “You are very fortunate, he hardly ever shows his feet to people.”

I was told to chant a mantra, which I recall to be “ayya shiva shiva shiva shiva arakara arakara”, but my memory may not be perfect.

I offered obeisances to him one more time, and then headed back down the mountain with the sheepherder disciple.

At that time no one used to stay with Narayana Swami, he was always alone on top of the mountain. In later years some people had formed around him and were staying on the mountain, but unfortunately they were not very good people.

After 18 years of tapasya he finally left Arunachala and went to a village near Kanyakumari named Palakulam, where he entered samadhi a couple of years ago. I think the people who had assembled around him caused him to leave Tiruvannamalai, because they were not keeping pure habits and were misusing his presence for extorting money from people.

Years later I came to know that the sheepherder disciple had also passed away, while very young.