The founder and peetadhipati of the Sri Rajarajeswari Temple is Srilasri Chaitanyananda Natha Saraswati, who is affectionately known as “Haran Aiya.” Aiya and his dharmapatni, Srimati Gnanamba, have dedicated their lives to the noble mission of preserving and spreading the knowledge of Devi worship and the rich Tamil Saiva tradition.
For more than forty years, Aiya and Amma have opened their hearts, their home, and the Temple to all the devotees who wish to share in the worship of Divine Mother and take up the sacred path of Devi upasana. Inspired by the boundless motherly love of Sri Rajarajeswari and his guru, Aiya has opened the gates of Sri Vidya by giving mantra diksha to hundreds of sincere seekers, and has established more than two hundred “satellite” peetams throughout the world by bestowing empowered Sri Yantras on his students.
Devi Inspires an Innocent Wish in Young Haran Aiya’s Heart
Haran Aiya was born the ninth and last child of Sri Chinnayya Pillai Navaratnam and Srimati Kamalambal. Though Devi worship had been performed in his father’s family for more than six generations, this tradition was abruptly halted after the sudden and tragic demise of Haran Aiya’s paternal aunt in 1918. After hearing this story from his father at the tender age of 10, Haran Aiya formed the auspicious wish to revive this noble tradition of Devi worship in his family. Though he was just a small boy, Devi’s blessings were with him the moment the desire to worship the Mother took form in his innocent heart.
After having graduated from the famous Jaffna College, Haran Aiya’s intense longing for mantra diksha took him to the ashram of Srilasri Sivasatchidananda Mataji, a paramahamsa sannyasini who was the disciple of Srilasri Sivananda Saraswati. From Mataji he received the long-desired initiation into Shadakshara Mantra. Under the guidance of Mataji and her senior disciple Srimati Selvanayaki Kalyanasundaram, Haran Aiya learned how to perform puja at the Sivananda Tapovanam in Tirukoneswaram.
Aiya Receives the Priceless Sri Vidya Mantra Diksha
Together with his new wife, Sakuntala Amma, Aiya emigrated to Lusaka, Zambia in 1971, to serve in the Ministry of Power Transport and Works as a government architect. In this small town, Aiya began performing public pujas every Friday, for the benefit of the Hindu families living there. During these pujas, chanting of Sri Lalita Sahasranama was a regular offering, and Sakuntala Amma would cook huge quantities of food to feed the guests as well as numerous children from the neighboring apartments.
It was during this time that Aiya met his present guru, Srilasri Amritananda Natha Saraswati (Dr. N. P. Sastry), who was originally from Andhra Pradesh. When first introduced, Aiya felt overwhelmed by the compassion he saw overflowing from Sri Amritananda’s eyes, and he immediately felt drawn to him. After observing Sri Amritananda performing some special mudras, or hand gestures, Aiya came to know that he was a Sri Vidya upasaka, and he decided to ask him for initiation into Sri Vidya.
On Friday, Oct 5, 1979, a full moon day, Haran Aiya and his wife were showered with the priceless grace of Sri Vidya mantra diksha. Sri Amritananda came to Aiya’s house, and for the next eight hours, he performed an elaborate Sri Chakra Navavarana Puja and initiated Aiya and Sakuntala Amma with sixteen Sri Vidya mantras, including Maha Shodasakshari Mantra. Sri Amritananda then taught Aiya the intricacies of performing Sri Chakra Navavarana Puja according to the Dattatreya tradition.
After the initiation, Aiya was in a bit of a bind, because he felt he was not familiar with Sri Amritananda’s particular customs regarding guru dakshina. So he asked, “Guruji, I am not from your place, I am from Sri Lanka. Can you kindly tell me what is the proper guru dakshina to give to you?” Guruji replied, “Whatever I have given to you, you must now give to others, without any thought of caste, creed, gender or ethnicity. This is the only dakshina I want from you.” Ever the faithful disciple, Aiya has worked tirelessly without concern for his own personal comfort or convenience, all for the sake of fulfilling this sacred command from his guru.
In 1980, just a few short months after being initiated by his guru, Aiya moved to the United States, where he established his personal peetam, the Sri Rajarajeswari Peetam, and began regular worship in his home. One morning in 1981, during his daily Navavarana Puja, Devi appeared and performed “purnabhishekam” to Aiya, giving him the spiritual name “Chaitanyananda Natha Saraswati.” Devi also indicated that Sakuntala Amma was to be called “Gnanamba.” As Aiya continued to perform the powerful Navavarana Puja, waves of devotees began flocking to his home, drawn by the magnetic devotion of his personal worship.
A Lifelong Dream is Realized
In 1992, Aiya was asked to take over the regular worship of a beautiful granite vigraha of Sri Rajarajeswari. As the years passed, the nectarean grace and compassionate love emanating from Sri Rajarajeswari began drawing larger and larger crowds, until Aiya’s home was no longer adequate to house all of them. In 1998, after a lengthy search for a suitable location, Aiya established the Sri Rajarajeswari Temple in Rush, NY as the permanent home for Rajarajeswari Devi.
Today, Aiya splits his time between carrying out his duties as Peetadhipati of the Temple and traveling around the world to perform pujas and homas as well as give workshops and classes on various aspects of Sri Vidya and Sanatana Dharma.
He has now set his sights on establishing the Sri Rajarajeswari Peetam as a Temple that will last ten thousand years, by initiating the Granite Temple Project. A new granite Temple is to be built on the property, which will become the new home for Sri Rajarajeswari and all the Sannidhi deities.
Those who have sought the blessings and grace of Sri Chaitanyananda have found in him an indefatigable teacher with encyclopedic knowledge, a compassionate guru who understands the trials of modern life, and a tireless champion of everyone’s right to worship our Divine Mother, Sri Rajarajeswari Devi.