Lahiri Mahasaya had a very famous friend, Swami Trailanga, who was reputed to be over three hundred years old. The two yogis often sat together in meditation. Trailanga’s fame is so widespread that few Hindus would deny the possibility of truth in any story of his astounding miracles. If Christ returned to earth and walked the streets of New York, displaying his divine powers, it would cause the same excitement that was created by Trailanga decades ago as he passed through the crowded lanes of Benares.
On many occasions the swami was seen to drink, with no ill effect, the most deadly poisons. Thousands of people, including a few who are still living, have seen Trailanga floating on the Ganges. For days together he would sit on top of the water, or remain hidden for very long periods under the waves. A common sight at the Benares bathing ghats was the swami’s motionless body on the blistering stone slabs, wholly exposed to the merciless Indian sun. By these feats Trailanga sought to teach men that a yogi’s life does not depend upon oxygen or ordinary conditions and precautions. Whether he were above water or under it, and whether or not his body lay exposed to the fierce solar rays, the master proved that he lived by divine consciousness: death could not touch him.
The yogi was great not only spiritually, but physically. His weight exceeded three hundred pounds: a pound for each year of his life! As he ate very seldom, the mystery is increased. A master, however, easily ignores all usual rules of health, when he desires to do so for some special reason, often a subtle one known only to himself. Great saints who have awakened from the cosmic mayic dream and realized this world as an idea in the Divine Mind, can do as they wish with the body, knowing it to be only a manipulatable form of condensed or frozen energy.
Trailanga always remained completely nude. The police of Benares came to regard him as a baffling problem child. The natural swami, like the early Adam in the garden of Eden, was utterly unconscious of his nakedness. The police were quite conscious of it, however, and unceremoniously committed him to jail. General embarrassment ensued; the enormous body of Trailanga was soon seen, in its usual entirety, on the prison roof. His cell, still securely locked, offered no clue to his mode of escape.
The discouraged officers of the law once more performed their duty. This time a guard was posted before the swami’s cell. Might again retired before right. Trailanga was soon observed in his nonchalant stroll over the roof. Justice is blind; the outwitted police decided to follow her example.
The great yogi preserved a habitual silence. In spite of his round face and huge, barrel-like stomach, Trailanga ate only occasionally. After weeks without food, he would break his fast with potfuls of clabbered milk offered to him by devotees. A skeptic once determined to expose Trailanga as a charlatan. A large bucket of calcium-lime mixture, used in whitewashing walls, was placed before the swami.
“Master,” the materialist said, in mock reverence, “I have brought you some clabbered milk. Please drink it.”
Trailanga unhesitatingly drained, to the last drop, the containerful of burning lime. In a few minutes the evildoer fell to the ground in agony.
“Help, swami, help!” he cried. “I am on fire! Forgive my wicked test!”
The great yogi broke his habitual silence. “Scoffer,” he said, “you did not realize when you offered me poison that my life is one with your own. Except for my knowledge that God is present in my stomach, as in every atom of creation, the lime would have killed me. Now that you know the divine meaning of [karma], never again play tricks on anyone.”
The well-purged sinner, healed by Trailanga’s words, slunk feebly away.1
The grace of Trailanga was once bestowed on my maternal uncle. One morning Uncle saw the master surrounded by a crowd of devotees at a Benares ghat. He managed to edge his way close to Trailanga, whose feet he touched humbly. Uncle was astonished to find himself instantly freed from a painful chronic disease.
The only known living disciple of the great yogi is a woman, Shankari Mai Jiew. Daughter of one of Trailanga’s disciples, she received the swami’s training from her early childhood. She lived for forty years in a series of lonely Himalayan caves near Badrinath, Kedarnath, Amarnath, and Pasupatinath. The woman ascetic, born in 1826, is now well over the century mark. Not aged in appearance, however, she has retained her black hair, sparkling teeth, and amazing energy. She comes out of her seclusion every few years to attend the periodical melas or religious fairs.
This woman saint often visited Lahiri Mahasaya. She has related that one day, in the Barackpur section near Calcutta, while she was sitting by Lahiri Mahasaya’s side, his great guru Babaji quietly entered the room and held converse with them both.
On one occasion her master Trailanga, forsaking his usual silence, honored Lahiri Mahasaya very pointedly in public. A Benares disciple objected.
“Sir,” he said, “why do you, a swami and a renunciate, show such respect to a householder?”
“My son,” Trailanga replied, “Lahiri Mahasaya is like a divine kitten, remaining wherever the Cosmic Mother has placed him. While dutifully playing the part of a worldly man, he has received that perfect self-realization for which I have renounced even my loincloth!”
1 Yogananda writes, “The transfer of pain was not due to any volition of the master, but came about through unerring application of [karma].” This is an error. The man’s pain was actually his own doing: he expected to be punished for his trick, and this expectation caused his stomach to burn. Likewise, it was not Trailanga’s words which healed him, but his belief in the swami.
Paramhansa Yogananda (1946). Autobiography of a Yogi. New York: The Philosophical Library.