Sadguru Omkar (1889—1978)—formerly known as Nilkantha Brahmnachari—was involved in national revolutionary activities from his school days. The group of which he was a part was closely connected with the Jugantar group of Bengal. Because of his revolutionary activities he had to take refuge in the French territory of Pondicherry. When Sri Aurobindo arrived at Pondicherry on 4 April 1910 Sadguru Omkar was among those who went to receive him. He was connected with the Mopla agrarian revolution in Kerala and imprisoned for more than eleven years for his involvement in the Ash murder case. In prison the transformation from a revolutionary to a spiritual Sadhaka took place as vividly described in his notes which he later collected as ‘Confessions on the way towards Peace’. After his release from prison he took the ‘Confessions’ to Sri Aurobindo who wrote a small foreword the next day. He settled down at the lower Nandi Hills in 1930 and built a small Ashram near a Shiva Temple.
A brief biography of this revolutionary-turned-saint written by Shri Gautam Dharmapal has been published in the online forum of Overman Foundation .
Readers who are interested to know more about Sadguru Omkar are requested to refer to his book “Confessions, Upadesh and Talks” (which contains a brief foreword by Sri Aurobindo as well as the text of his conversation with Mahatma Gandhi) distributed by Overman Foundation.
With warm regards,
A Revolutionary Becomes a Saint: The Story of Sadguru Omkar
Nilkantha Brahmachari (Sadguru Omkar’s family name) was born on the 4th December 1889 in Tanjore, South India, in an orthodox Brahmin family. From a very young age, during his high school period, he was involved in the revolutionary activities and could not continue his studies after Matriculation. He came in personal contact with the editor of a revolutionary journal, left his home and mostly stayed at the journal’s office or at the editor’s house. He was deeply involved in the terrorist revolutionary activities, then going on in South India. Once he told me, “we were the first Communists long before the Communist revolution took place in Russia to publish the Communist Manifesto of 1848 in India in English and Tamil. They were the first people to organise the Agrarian Revolution in Kerala amongst the Mopla Muslim farmers—which was immediately turned into Hindu-Muslim riots—the infamous Mopla Riots by the wily British.”
Their revolutionary group had contacts with the Yugantar group of Sri Aurobindo in Calcutta. In fact he (Nilkantha Brahmachari) was arrested from Calcutta in 1911 by the notorious Police Chief Charles Teggart himself—he being the first accused in the famous Ash Murder Case (1912)… He was sentenced to seven years rigorous imprisonment. He broke the jail and escaped on the 17th September 1914—but was rearrested only after a few days and was sentenced for extra six months. He was released from jail in August 1919. He was again arrested in August 1922 and sentenced for ten years of rigorous imprisonment again for his revolutionary activities.
During his jail life he was so much depressed and frustrated sometimes that once he decided to commit suicide. One night most probably during Deepawali festivals—he had made all preparations for the suicide, when suddenly uncalled for came the kind jailor with sweets in his hand, which changed his mood!
During his revolutionary period Nilkantha Brahmachari took shelter in Pondicherry with other revolutionary leaders. He… was present at the dock when Sri Aurobindo landed at Pondicherry on the 4th April 1910, along with Subrahmanya Bharati—the noted revolutionary poet of South India, Shankar Chetty and others. He was also present when Sri Aurobindo uttered the famous lines, “We belong not to the past dawns but to the future noons.”
During his jail life Nilkantha had written his diary—which he later called “Confessions”. When he was released from jail, he took the manuscript to Sri Aurobindo who came down to meet him, kept the manuscript for a couple of days, and even wrote a few lines as foreword. But later after his transformation Swamiji decided not to publish it, it being full of negative and pessimistic ideas. But even in the confessions there were the intimations of the future flowering of the spiritual life. Sri Aurobindo had noticed it and said so in his short foreword…
Swamiji humorously described how he was portrayed in the Government notice for the fugitives!
“Nilkantha Brahmachari, the First Accused in the Ash Murder Case is a most dangerous person, strongly built, short statured, with dark complexion, wearing black goggles, a chain smoker keeping a cigar all the time in his mouth.”
Nilkantha Brahmachari was released from the jail last time in June 1930, after which he totally left politics and wandered here and there for sometime. During this wandering period for a short time he officiated as personal priest and purohita of the queen of a small state—called Narasinhapuram—near Hoshangabad. But he was tired of the easy life of a priest and one night left the state without informing anybody. At last he established his small ashram at the Nandi Hills…
When Swamiji first came to Nandi Hills, he used to perform yagnas twice a year—once on Shiva Ratri day and the other on Durga Ashtami day. He used to distribute Vibhuti after Shiva Ratri yagna and Kumkum after Durga Ashtami Yagna. This Vibhuti and Kumkum did wonders—healing the sick etc., and slowly people used to throng at the ashram during these days. They came on foot and in carts from distant villages with their sick and disabled patients. Swamiji was embarrassed by the crowd and thought, “is this the work for which I have come here, or for Sadhana of Atmavidya and Brahmavidya?” So he went up in the dense forest where people would not come and harass him. He stayed in the jungle for a couple of years and then came down to the present place of the ashram.
The ashram is situated at a height of about 3000 ft at the lower Nandi Hills called Enannagurator Channa Raya Betta. There was a small dilapidated Shiva Temple, which he got repaired and called it Omkareswar… He kept no furniture in the ashram. He himself slept on the Verandah of the Temple… he took no electric connection in the Ashram. He kept a few hurricane lanterns and a big torch for the night watchman. There were no permanent disciples staying at the ashram. A few used to come to stay for a day or two. They too were accommodated in the same circular verandah of the Temple. For many years Swamiji himself cooked and served the guests but in his old age women from near-by village used to come to cook, whenever there were guests. Swamiji himself took only bananas and papad both the time and coffee three-four times in a day. Once in a week he used to have Khichdi with vegetables boiled together. So simple was his life…
His personal needs were very few. But from where he stayed, he tried to help the surrounding poor villagers with whatever little he can do. He used to distribute especially books, slates, pencils etc., to the young boys and girls and also distributed ready made clothes to children, saris to women and dhoties to men during Shivaratri and Durga Puja days…
Once he said, “the Vedic Age is gone. It won’t come back again. Don’t long for it and don’t work for it. It came, grew great and nourished, weakened and disappeared from the scene of life leaving as heir and substitute the post-Vedic age. The Brahmana Age, The Upanishadic Age, the Age of the Darshanas and Buddhism and the Age of the Puranas, all have come and gone. They won’t come back again. No past age will come again. But every past age left its fragrance behind, though it took its form away. A New Age is coming with the combined fragrance of the past evolving into a New Fragrance for it. If you are not going to work for it, be ready for it. The dead load of the past is always thrown away. But the living fragrance of the past can never be got rid of. Why worry?”
…[In 1977] Swamiji was then getting ready for the coming Shiva Ratri Yajna. Because of the exertion at this old age of 89 he had a mild heart attack, his left side was paralysed and he did not live till the next Shivaratri.
This Saint Extraordinary passed away on the 4th March 1978 in his ashram at Nandi at the ripe old age of 89.
4 Replies to “A Revolutionary Becomes a Saint: The Story of Sadguru Omkar.”
To read some thought-provoking excerpts from Sadguru Omkar’s book “Confessions, Upadesh and Talks” please click on the following link:
With warm regards,
Great Soul. thank you for information on Omkarji.Immersed as I am totally in Sri Aurobindo and The Mother
Thank you for publishing the essay on Neelakantha Brahmachari. He was a close friend of the famous Tamil poet Subramania Bharati. Having engaged my self in translating Bharati’s poems into English and writing about him, I revere Neelakantha deeply. In those far-off days politics-patriotism-spirituality was a trident indeed. Let us draw inspiration from this unrivalled past.
My kollu thaathaa = My great grandfather (as he was my mother’s grandfather) = According to my mother Sulochana, her grand mother name is Smt. Gowri, who was one of the sisters, to Mr. Neelakantha Brahmachari