Avadhoota Mahadeva Sastri

Dharmaprakasha Sajjan Rao's [i] home named, “Lakshmi Nivasa” is located opposite the North East side of the Venkataramana Swamy Temple at the Bangalore Fort. The verandah of that house sported the photographs of some Sadhus and Sants. Among these photographs was that of an Avadhoota[ii] named Mahadeva Sastri.

Although I have seen Mahadeva Sastri, I don’t know much about his life. I have enquired at numerous places to learn more about him but didn’t find anyone who could tell me. It appears that he kept the details of his private life to himself. He wasn’t the one to fall in the hands of press reporters or election agents. Remaining obscure, he chose and lived a life of obscurity.

Periyavar (Noble One)

Around 1908-09, two or three filthy people used to stand before the large gate at the east of the Victoria Hospital from morning till evening. Mahadeva Sastri was one of these filthy people. Unkempt hair, overgrown beard, and rags that they wore that had never seen water. This was their defining feature. They spoke to none. Neither did anyone speak to them. They never met anyone’s eyes.

When I first saw them, I thought they were beggars. The guard of the Victoria Hospital used to stay in the shed near the gate. Even he never spoke to them. If someone asked him who they were, he used to simply shoo them off with, “go away, just go away.” When insisted, he used to say, “Periyavar” (Great people, Sadhus). “Don’t try to approach them. Mind your own business,” he would chide. Given this, I was unable to learn much about Mahadeva Sastri back then.

There’s another thing here. About twenty or twenty-five feet from where these folks were standing lay a large Municipality garbage bin perpetually overflowing with filth, plantain leaves with leftover food and other rotten refuse about a feet or two high. I was surprised at how Sri Sastri could stand amidst this squalor for hours on end.

I’ve heard that Narayana Sastri, one of Mahadeva Sastri’s sons was a great scholar and that he had served in the Dharwad Karnataka College for some years as a Kannada and Sanskrit Pandit.

During the period in which my narration is set, Mahadeva Sastri had become a renunciate but hadn’t become a Sanyasin; he was akin to a Sanyasin, staying in his son’s house. That house was located in a street West of Aralepet somewhere near the Goods Shed Road. I haven’t seen the house. I will now narrate what I have seen.

I used to frequent the vicinity of Chickpet in those days. Every morning was spent at Appanna’s Coffee Club or at K.S Krishna Iyer’s home reading newspaper and discussing politics and the general news in the city. This had become a routine, a habit. Glued to this routine was the Darshana of Mahadeva Sastri, which came about circumstantially.

Village Tour

Every morning at around six, Mahadeva Sastri would appear the square where Aralepet and Chickpet met. As I noted earlier, torn rags on his upper body, dhoti just above his knees, and the selfsame matted hair. At times, a smiling countenance, at times, a frown on his face. There was a throng of street urchins at all times around him. Hindus, Muslims…everyone was part of this throng. Never once did this extended family of urchins leave him.

People of that locality referred to Mahadeva Sastri as “Swami” and “Sadhu.” Henceforth, I shall refer to him as “Swami.”

As Swami walked around the streets, all kinds of people would approach him from all directions and tie around his hand the Ananta thread, the Kashi thread or some other thread as part of a Vrata (vow) they had undertaken. And so, his hand always sported an assortment of red, white, and black threads from wrist to elbow. He wouldn’t ever remove the threads on his own. They would drop off on their own. Instead, new threads would get added on a daily basis. Whenever someone came forward to tie a thread, it appeared that Swami would emit a slight grin.

By the time Swami reached the Aralepete Square or arrived at the Mastan Saabi Temple, which was a little ahead, the traders and shopkeepers who had businesses there would have opened the locks on their shops. But the doors would still be shut expectantly awaiting the Swami’s arrival. It needn’t be explicitly said that the Swami’s procession was entirely on foot. The Swami and his entourage would sometimes have to stop before each shop and home.


When the procession arrived at their respective shops, the businessmen opened the door, fished out some offering from their cashbox, placed it in the Swami’s hands, uttering “Krishnarpanam,” “Shivarpanam.” Given this, the progress of the procession was extremely slow. The amount of the offering ranged from a quarter of an Anna to five or ten Rupee notes. The traders used to give according to their ability. The unanimous belief was that their business that day would be good if their first offering of the day was made to the Swami.

On his part, the moment the offering touched the Swami’s hands, he would instantly transfer it to the hands of some random urchin belonging to his extended family uttering, “Prarabdham[iii], Prarabdham.” It’s still a surprise to me how easily he would say this. All our gains and losses are the consequences of the interplay of Prarabdham, right?

Only the hands that distributed that money belonged to the Swami; the money itself came from Prarabdham.

It was eleven or twelve in the afternoon by the time the Swami’s procession covered the entire length of Chickpet and reached beyond the Dharmaraya Temple. As the procession drew to a close, the extended family thinned down proportionally. There were no shops beyond the Dharmaraya Temple. The Swami’s hands would be empty.

Till the jaggery remains in the hands
Will remain relatives and friends like crows
As the jaggery in the hand melts
None will follow behind

After this, it was the routine of the Swami to visit a certain house that lay in the Southern direction. Apparently, that house belonged to a family of oil-pressers. They would offer a pot of milk to the Swami as soon as he arrived. This was the everyday routine. The Swami would depart after drinking this milk. Nobody knew where we went after that. He wouldn’t be seen until the next day when he arrived with his procession on the streets of Chickpet.


I’ve heard another story narrated to me by the former Principal of the Bangalore Law College, Sri M Narayana Rao. Here is the summary of that story.

Mahadeva Sastri was accomplished in Yoga. Some Muslim fakir apparently used to practice Yoga with him. The fakir and Mahadeva Sastri used to frequent some cave in the hills of Ramanagara and carry out their Yoga Sadhana there.

On one occasion, both of them left their mortal bodies in the cave and emerged out in the form of Jiva, the subtle, unseen inner body. On another, they emerged out of their physical body, cut their body into pieces and using Yogic powers, rejoined these pieces like before and reentered their body.

Narayana Rao told me that he had heard this from someone. Neither he nor I have actually witnessed this.

Sajjan Rao’s Service

Be that as it may, the Swami’s renown as a person endowed with spiritual powers had spread far and wide. Sajjan Rao had somehow learned of this fame. Indeed, Sajjan Rao had immense faith in and devotion towards Sadhus, Sants, Yogis, Bairagis, Yatis, and spiritual people. He would never fail to show his reverence towards any Sadhu he met. His house was dotted with pictures of such truly spiritual people.

Sajjan Rao had memorized the dates of the death anniversaries of Mahadeva Sastri’s parents. Accordingly, on those two dates, he would send the necessary provisions of rice, pulses etc required for the Vaidika rites to Sastri’s house together with the gifts of Dhoti, Dakshina, and saris to given to Brahmanas and Sumangalis.

Each year, Mahadeva Sastri unfailingly turned up at his home on those two days at the appointed hour. He drew water from the well and chanting mantras from the Rudra Prashna, performed Abhishekam to himself with this water. After this, he carried out the death rituals in detail missing no nuance, and after the Pitrs[iv] were fed, he left home.

This is the overall picture of the accounts that I have heard about Mahadeva Sastri. There might be minor differences in terms of details. They don’t impact this overall picture in any way. This is the picture of an inward-looking worldly renunciate endowed with friendship and compassion with firm devotion to the Paramatma.

The Path of an Avadhoota

I feel an emptiness within me because I’ve been unable to narrate any facet of Mahadeva Sastri’s Yogic accomplishment and his scholarship in the Sastras. I never got an opportunity to talk to him in person. But the full import and realization of the characteristics of an Avadhoota which I had read in books struck me when I saw him. When I was in high school, I somehow chanced upon a book titled AtmavidyAvilAsa, which contained this verse:

avadhUta karmajAlah
jaDabaDhirAndhOpamah kOpi |…
saMtyajya sAstrajAlam
jaMtushu sarvartra pUrNatAm pashyan |
gUDHascarati yatIndrah

Can a person even live like this? This question has repeatedly gripped my mind. The Vedanta lore holds, “jaDavallokamAcaret.” But is it possible to live like that? Every second, at every step, the world pokes us, prods us, and provokes our passions in numerous ways. Amid all this fervency, is it possible to remain still, in tranquility, our mind unwavering?

Whenever I face this question, I recall the picture of Mahadeva Sastri.

This episode is part of the iconic D.V. Gundappa’s series of pen portraits in the volume titled Hrudaya Sampannaru (People Endowed with a Magnanimous Heart) forming part of his acclaimed Jnapaka Chitrashaale (The Art Gallery of Memories).



[i] A renowned merchant, businessman, and philanthropist, Rao Bahadur Sajjan Rao (1868-1942) is an inseparable facet of Bangalore’s heritage. He built the Subrahmanya Temple near Basavanagudi, a choultry, donated to the Vani Vilas Hospital, and constructed a roundabout, today known as the Sajjan Rao Circle.

[ii] A saint or a mystic who is beyond the usual ego-consciousness and common worldly concerns and one who acts without consideration for accepted social norms and etiquette.

[iii] A Karma from the past lives which one experiences in the present life.

[iv] Lineage of ancestors who become Deities after leaving their mortal bodies.



Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.



Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.

Prekshaa Publications

The Mahābhārata is the greatest epic in the world both in magnitude and profundity. A veritable cultural compendium of Bhārata-varṣa, it is a product of the creative genius of Maharṣi Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa. The epic captures the experiential wisdom of our civilization and all subsequent literary, artistic, and philosophical creations are indebted to it. To read the Mahābhārata is to...

Shiva Rama Krishna

சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
சிவன் தனிமனித அடையாளமாக அமைகிறான்....

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective...


इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...