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Simple living and high thinking – a nonagenarian inspires

He has no time to stand and stare’ was the headline of an article on Ayyasamy Hariharan which appeared in a leading daily in September 2008.  He was 77 then. The description fits the nonagenarian even today, says R.V. Rajan, as he traces Hari Om Mama’s life and times

He was popularly known as Thiruppugazh Mama (Thiruppugazh refers to Tamil devotional songs dedicated to Lord Muruga written by Saint Arunagirinathar) when he was in Delhi. Now, in Coimbatore, he is more popular as Hari Om Mama. This 93-year-old ever-generous and helpful man can be seen not only helping those in need but also actively organising cultural events to encourage talented young musicians and dancers in Coimbatore where he has settled since 1991. He is a popular figure in Nana Nani, Phase 4, where he has been living for the last seven years. The nine-day Festival of Music and Dance that he organised during the Ram Navami celebrations this year at  Phase 4  kept the audience spellbound by the variety and quality of the programmes, and he was constantly on the move, trying to ensure that the programmes were conducted without any hitch. Seeing him drive with his wife in Coimbatore in his newly acquired Tata EV proves that age exists only in the mind.

Mama and wife Sundari.

Born in Tiruvarur, Mama (Ayyasamy Hariharan referred to in the blurb above) was the eldest of four siblings. His father was working in the Pay and Accounts Department of the Government of India when during World War II he was posted in Visakhapatnam and later in Calcutta and Delhi. Mama says, “I have had the experience of staying in refugee colonies in Calcutta during the pre-Partition days and in Delhi during post-Partition. I know what it means to live without the necessities of life that we take for granted today.” The seeds of his nature to help others in need were probably sown at the time. Hari Om Mama had his early education in Trichy, where he completed his SSC at the prestigious ER High School. He did his intermediate in a college in Karaikudi and got an Economics Honours degree from Punjab University as his father was by then transferred to Delhi. After college, Mama joined the Ministry of Finance in Delhi and rose to become assistant development commissioner by the time he retired in 1990. His long stay in Delhi saw him get deeply involved in many cultural and spiritual activities.

Right from his college days, Mama was known to be a good organiser of cultural programmes, though his knowledge of music is limited. He is proud of the fact that his wife of 65 years, Sundari, more than makes up for this. Overall, she is his pillar of strength. Mama became one of the founder members of the Delhi Bhajana Samaj, organising bhajans and spiritual classes. He also started promoting Tiruppugazh with the help of scholars who could conduct classes on the subject under the auspices of Thiruppugazh Nanbargal (Friends of Thiruppugazh). His abiding interest in the subject earned him the title Thiruppugazh Mama. He was also active in the Delhi Tamil Sangam, which apart from organising lectures by visiting dignitaries was also running a library. Mama’s tryst with the Chinmaya Mission began during his Delhi days when Chinmayananda had not yet become the famous personality he became.

Say Mama: “When Chinmayananda was visiting Delhi to start a branch of the mission, he wanted to organise a meeting to get people to attend his lecture. Someone had told him about how I could help him because of my involvement with many institutions. The meeting was a success and, later, I was also involved in organising the first yagna (ritual done in front of a sacred fire, with mantras) of Chinmaya Mission in Delhi. Since then, I have been actively associated with the mission which continues even in Coimbatore. As I always greet people invoking the words Hari Om, people started calling me Hari Om Mama.

Entrance to Sadhna Sadhan.

A life-threatening accident to his wife and the consequent trauma that the family faced in Delhi made Mama move to Coimbatore in 1991, with the blessings of Swami Chinmayananda. An irrepressible man that he is, Mama got involved in several cultural activities in the southern city. He also started the Coimbatore branch of the Tamil Nadu Brahmins Association. Mama continued his interest in Thiruppugazh by organising classes conducted by Lalitha Nagarajan, a well-known scholar in the subject. While he was conducting classes on Thiruppugazh and other subjects at different venues, he decided to acquire a property in Vadavalli close to his home where the classes could be conducted in one place. And so, he established Sadhna Sadhan in 2003 to conduct classes on yoga, meditation and other spiritual pursuits. Classes were conducted by experts on Thiruppugazh, Bhagawad Gita, Narayaneeyam, Devaram, Sundara Kandam and Divya Prabhandam on different days of the week. Sunday was the Chinmaya Balavihar Day reserved for children when they were told moral stories and taught to communicate.

Sadhna Sadhan, which has a beautiful garden of flowers in front, has an acupressure walkway laid with different-sized pebbles picked from river beds in Mettupalayam. “This fitness walk is an enjoyable exercise for those who cannot run or jog and are looking for an alternative to normal walking. A walk on the acupressure walkway activates all nerve centres – all the cells from the foot to the brain are activated. You not only feel rejuvenated but you also get relief from neck and calf muscle pain besides other hidden benefits,” says Mama. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the classes went online. Unfortunately, after the pandemic, students did not patronsze the physical classes as they found it convenient to attend the classes online, saving them considerable commute time. Mama is planning to donate the property to Chinmaya Mission.

The acupressure pathway laden with different-sized pebbles.

Hari Om Mama won an award in 2011 from the Tamil Nadu Brahmins Sangam for his selfless service to the spiritual and cultural aspects of society. He continues to attend important cultural events in Coimbatore besides taking an interest in the cultural activities at Nana Nani.  It is interesting to note that while the management of Nana Nani provides the air-conditioned meditation hall with all facilities free, Mama bears the entire cost of the events including the honorariums to be paid to the artists.

Sethuraman, a resident of Nana Nani Phase 4 who has known Mama for the past seven years, says, “Hari Om Mama is a role model for me. He is a true karma yogi, a nonagenarian with an active mind and body. Yadh bhaavam, thath bhavathi (As you think, so you become) says our scriptures. Hari Om Mama is a living example of this dictum.”

(The writer, former chairman, Anugrah Madison Advertising, has authored a few books post-retirement.
He now resides in Nana Nani, Coimbatore.)