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A Man of Yet a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

Sri Numerami

I felt excitement and anticipation as I walked through the narrow lanes of Benares.

It was a few minutes before dawn, although jostling crowds in colourful clothing already filled the streets, their voices blending with the cacophony of tuk-tuks, ox carts and other vehicles.

I reached the Ganges and noted the pilgrims gathered on the Ganga Ghats. Some were preparing to immerse themselves in the Holy River, others to offer morning prayers to the rising sun. A few women were washing clothes, taking advantage of the cool of the early morning to undertake their labours.

My meetings with Hindu, Buddhist and Jain ascetics had provided much material for contemplation on my spiritual journey. These holy men had devised rigorous self-denying disciplines as a focus for their meditations and to provide an outward expression of mindful commitment for the inspiration of others.

Some had never cut their hair or nails; some had held a limb aloft for years until it had atrophied; some only moved from place to place by crawling, by walking on their knees or by rolling.

Today, overlooking the Ganges at the temple of Durga, I was to experience a long awaited encounter with another of their number, the very greatly honoured ascetic, Sri Numerami.

Sri Numerami was eighty-six years old. At the age of ten he had begun to count aloud from the number one. Since that day, he had pronounced each next ascending numeral at approximately fifteen second intervals during his every waking hour.

As I neared my destination, I could hear his clear, unmistakeable chant. ‘…eighty-four million one hundred and twenty three thousand six hundred and forty-one… eighty-four million one hundred and twenty three thousand six hundred and forty-two… eighty-four million one hundred and twenty three thousand six hundred and forty-three…’

Sri Numerami was seated in the lotus position upon a barge, moored before the temple. Surrounding him were his devotees and some of the ubiquitous monkeys that had made this holy place their home.

He beckoned to me to ascend the narrow wooden plank that connected the Ghat with his boat.

I was unsteadily nearing the top of the walkway when one of the younger monkeys leapt upon the spot on which I was about to tread. Stumbling over the creature, I lurched forward, forcefully colliding with Sri Numerami. We tumbled together from the deck and plummeted into the river.

Followers helped us from the water, and we stood dripping together onto the red sandstone terraces. Despite this interruption to his meditation, I observed that the expression of Sri Numerami continued to reflect his habitual calm.

He breathed deeply in and out three times and then spoke. ‘Eighty-four million one hundred and twenty three thousand… er…’ There was a pause as he desperately strove to recall the exact number he had last expressed.

A horrified gasp arose from his followers as half a minute passed with no further utterance.

Suddenly, a smile came to the Swami’s lips which progressed to a full minute of laughter.

Thereafter, his countenance once more reflected his customary peace and tranquillity, and he made his way up the narrow walkway to reassume his meditative position.

Sri Numerami again breathed deeply in and out three times, then turned towards me and smiled before resuming his devotional chant:

‘One… two… three…’


Photographs are taken in Benares (Varanasi), India

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