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Swami Ganapati Saraswati
Born Shivarama
Died 26 December 1887 (aged 280)
Titles/honours The walking Shiva of Varanasi
Guru Bhagirathananda Saraswati
Philosophy Dashanami, Hatha yoga, Rāja yoga

Trailanga Swami (also Tailang Swami, Telang Swami) (Telugu: త్రిలింగ స్వామి) (reportedly[nb 1] 1607[1] – 1887[1][2]) was a Hindu yogi famed for his spiritual powers who lived in Varanasi, India.[1] He is regarded as a legendary figure in Bengal, with many stories told about his yogic powers and longevity. According to some accounts, Trailanga Swami lived to be 280 years old,[1][3] residing at Varanasi between 1737-1887.[2] He is regarded by devotees as an incarnation of Shiva. Ramakrishna referred to him as the "The walking Shiva of Varanasi".[4]


A member of the Dashanami order, he became known as Trailanga Swami after he settled in Varanasi. His biographers and his disciples differ on his birth date and the period of his longevity. According to one disciple biographer, he was born in 1529, while according to another biographer it was 1607.[5] His pre-monastic name was Shivarama and was born in Logisa at Vizianagaram in Andhra Pradesh. His parents were Narashingha Rao and Vidyavati Devi, who were devotees of the god Shiva. After the death of his father in 1647, at the age of 40, he gave up wealth and family responsiblities to his half brother Sridhar. His mother, Vidya Devi, then shared with him the fact that her father at the time of death expressed desire to be born to her and continue his Kali sadhana for the benefit of mankind. She told Sivarama that she believed that he was her father reincarnated and that he should take up Kali sadhana. Upon the initiation of a Kali mantra from his mother, Sivarama carried Kali sadhana in nearby Kali temple and Punya Kshetras, but was never far away from his mother. In 1969 his mother, Viya Devi, passed away. After his mother's death, he saved his mothers sacred ashes (chita bhasma). He would wear chita bhasma and continue his Kali sadhana day and night (teevra sadhana). During that time, Sivarama lived the life of a recluse in a cottage, built by his half-brother, near a cremation ground. After 20 years of spiritual practice (sadhana), he met his preceptor swami, Bhagirathananda Saraswati, in 1679 from Punjab. Bhagirathananda initiated Shivaram into monastic vows (sannyasa) and named him Swami Ganapati Saraswati in 1685. Ganapati reportedly led a life of severe austerities and went on a pilgrimage, reaching Prayag in 1733, before finally settling in Varanasi in 1737.[5]

Varanasi in 1922, where the Swami spent considerable part of his life

In Varanasi, till his death in 1887, he lived at different places including Asi Ghat, the Vedavyas Asharama at Hanuman Ghat, Dashashwamedh Ghat. He was often found roaming the streets or the ghats, naked and "carefree as a child".[6] He was reportedly seen swimming or floating on the river Ganges for hours. He talked very little and at times not at all. A large number of people became attracted to him upon hearing of his yogic powers to ameliorate their sufferings.[6] During his stay in Varanasi, several prominent contemporary Bengalis known as saints met and described him, including Loknath Brahmachari, Benimadhava Brahmachari, Bhagaban Ganguly, Ramakrishna,[7] Vivekananda,[8] Mahendranath Gupta,[9] Lahiri Mahasaya,[3] and Swami Abhedananda.,[10] Bhaskarananda, Vishuddhananda, and Vijaykrishna.[11]

After seeing Trailanga, Ramakrishna said, "I saw that the universal Lord Himself was using his body as a vehicle for manifestation. He was in an exalted state of knowledge. There was no body-consciousness in him. Sand there became so hot in the sun that no one could set foot on it. But he lay comfortably on it."[1][12] Ramakrishna also stated that Trailanga was a real paramahansa[9] (lit:"Supreme swan", used as an honorific for a spiritual teacher) and that "all Benares was illuminated by his stay there."[1]

Trailanga had taken the vow of non seeking (ayachaka) — remaining satisfied with whatever he received.[6] In the later stage of his life, as his fame spread, pilgrims visited him in multitudes. During his last days, he took up living like a python (ajagaravritti) in which he sat still without any movement, and devotees poured water (abhisheka) on him from early morning till noon, looking upon him as a living incarnation of Shiva.[6]


He died on Monday evening, December 26, 1887. His body was given salilasamadhi in the Ganges, according to the funeral customs of the monks of the Dashanami sect, in the presence of a multitude of mourning devotees standing on the ghats.[6]

Legends and stories[edit]

There are many stories told about Telang and his spiritual powers, such that he has become a near mythical figure in India. Robert Arnett writes that his miracles are "well documented" and "he displayed miraculous powers that cannot be dismissed as myth" and that there were living witnesses to his "amazing feats".[13] He was reputed to have lived to be around 300 years, and was a larger-than-life figure, reportedly weighing over 300 pounds (140 kg), though he seldom ate.[13] One account said that he could "read people’s minds like books."[1]

On many occasions, he was seen to drink deadly poisons with no ill effect. In one instance, a skeptic wanted to expose him as a fraud. The monk was accustomed to breaking his long fasts with buckets of clabbered milk, so the skeptic brought him a bucket of calcium-lime mixture used for whitewashing walls instead. The monk drank the entire bucket with no ill effect — instead, the skeptic fell to the ground writhing in pain. The monk broke his usual silence to explain the law of karma, of cause and effect.[3][13]

According to another story, he often walked around without any clothes, much like the naga (or "sky-clad") sadhus. The Varanasi police were scandalized by his behaviour, and had him locked in a jail cell. He was soon seen on the prison roof, in all his "sky-clad" glory. The police put him back into his locked cell, only to see him appear again on the jail roof. They soon gave up, and let him again walk the streets of Varanasi.[1][3]

Thousands of people reportedly saw him levitating in a sitting position on the surface of the river Ganges for days at a time. He would also apparently disappear under the waves for long periods, and reappear unharmed.[3][13] Sivananda attributed some of his miracles to the siddhi or yogic power Bhutajaya — conquest over the five elements, "Fire will not burn such a Yogi. Water will not drown him."[14][self-published source?]

With respect to his reportedly yogic powers, miracles abound in his biographies and exceptionally long life, Medhasananda writes that according to the "science of yoga", attainment of these is not "impossible".[15]


His teachings are still extant and available in a biography by Umacharan Mukhopadhyay, one of his disciples. He described bondage as "attachment to the world" and liberation as "renunciation of the world and absorption in God."[16] He further said that after attaining the state of desirelessness, "this world is transformed into heaven" and one can be liberated from samsara (the Hindu belief that life is a cycle of birth and death) through "spiritual knowledge". He remarks that attachment to the "evanescent" world is "our chronic disease" and the medicine is "detachment".[16]

He described man's senses as his enemy and his controlled senses as his friend. His description of a poor person as one who is "very greedy" and regarded one who always remains content as rich.[16] He said that the greatest place of pilgrimage is "Our own pure mind" and instructs to follow the "Vedantic truth from the Guru." He described a sadhu as one who is free from attachment and delusion.[16] One who has transcended the egoself.


  1. ^ The Guinness Book of Records states that the longest confirmed lifespan in human history is 122 years 164 days (44,724 days in total)[17]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Varishthananda 2007
  2. ^ a b McDermott, Rachel Fell (2001). Mother of My Heart, Daughter of My Dreams. Oxford University Press. p. 145. ISBN 978-0-19-513435-3. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Yogananda, Paramhansa (1948). "Chapter 31". Autobiography of a Yogi. Philosophical Library. 
  4. ^ Rao 2004, p. xii
  5. ^ a b Medhasananda 2003, p. 218
  6. ^ a b c d e Medhasananda 2003, p. 219
  7. ^ Gupta, chapter 7.
  8. ^ Noble, Margaret E. (August 2005). The Master as I Saw Him. Kessinger Publishing. pp. 214–216. ISBN 978-1-4179-7407-8. 
  9. ^ a b Gupta, Mahendranath (1942). The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. Ramakrishna Mission. pp. Introduction. 
  10. ^ Page, Mary Le (1947). An Apostle of Monism. Ramakrishna Vedanta Math. p. 52. 
  11. ^ Medhasananda 2003, p. 220
  12. ^ Isherwood, Christopher (1980). Ramakrishna and His Disciples. Vedanta Press. ISBN 978-0-87481-037-0. 
  13. ^ a b c d Arnett 2006, p. 23
  14. ^ Sivananda. "Chapter 39 The Powers Of A Yogi". MInd--it's mysteries and control. Divine Life Society. 
  15. ^ Medhesananda 2003, p. 219
  16. ^ a b c d Medhasananda 2003, p. 221
  17. ^ The Guinness Book of Records, 1999 edition, p.102, ISBN 0-85112-070-9.


Further reading[edit]

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