Story of a Great Yogi, TAILANG SWAMI of Varanasi

  • Contemporary reflections on an oral story about one of the greatest yogis of Kashi, Tailang, Telang or Trilanga Swami, called the 'Walking Shiva of Varanasi' by Sri Ramakrishna. See short film on this, link at end of article. 

The thing is, we don't know what Patanjali looked like. But given Yoga's modern projection, brand ambassador Yogis and Yoginis, let us try to imagine. As a starting point, statues of Lord Buddha come to my mind. Broad chest. Straight back. 90 degrees. Stomach flat. Perhaps a few neat lean packs of abs. Quads just the right bit. Glutes firm, tight. Yes, I think that's a fair sketch.

Now, I invite you to put aside the imagination. Whoosh. Focus in on two of the great yogis of recent times: Tailang Swami, called the Walking Shiva of Kashi by Sri Ramakrishna; and Totapuri Maharaj, Sri Ramakrishna’s own guru. We do know what they looked like. Not so much Buddhas, more 'Laughing Buddhas'! 

Big, big, big relaxed bellies. Weighing over 140 kgs. And about Tailang Swami it is said he lived close to 300 years! From the time of Mughals, to East India Company, to the British Raj, 1607 - 1887. Now, this may be true. This may be not so true. But the truth is this great yogi lived long, he lived deep. The mystery. And, yes, he lived wild and free. 

Given the buzz around Yoga these days, I remembered an incident about Tailang Swami which has passed on as one of the many mystic parables through generations in Varanasi. The story goes back to the time when the Europeans first encountered the wild mysterious freedom of Yoga manifest through Tailang Swami. 

Kashi: Panchganga Ghat 

This was around 1790 to 1810. On one side of Ganga ruled the Kashi Naresh. On the other was the East India Company. 

Tailang Swami lived in Kashi’s Panchganga ghat those days. He had come to Kashi from Andhra Pradesh.  His legends span around 300 years of India’s historical time, that is how long he is supposed to have lived. About his life, many say many things, but one thing is known for sure. After years of intense sadhana, his body had become childlike, mind had dropped all perceptions of differences, including shame. He lived his life honest and naked, in body, mind, feelings and action. 

One day some English ladies were walking along the ghats, they spotted this huge stark naked man walking around, diving in the river, laying on the banks. They were AGHAST! Shameless, uncouth, uncivilised! This could not possibly be permitted, could it? 

The district magistrate of Kashi was an Englishman. A complaint was filed. Police was sent. Kashi's great yogi - known as an incarnation of Baba Vishwanath - was put behind bars. 

It was now time for the entire city to be aghast. Was nakedness the only thing the angrezlog could see in Tailang Swami?! Aree, he was a sant, a saint. He was Baba. He was freedom itself. Beyond, way beyond, the confines of the mortal body. 

Tailang Swami was brought to the courtroom. The magistrate was telling him about how horrible it was to be naked. There are saints in India who do this kind of thing, but it is not right, that was the moral of the story. 

As the magistrate lectured on, Tailang Swami looked around elsewhere, yawning every now and then, totally bored. 

There was a huge crowd in the courtroom. So this was izaat-khilaafi for the Englishman. Badly mannered chap. Hmm. "Throw this man in prison!" Just as soon as these words were uttered....

... POOF! Suddenly, there was NO Tailang Swami! 

He, yes, Vanished! ग़ायब, gone! 

There was shock, there was awe, there were sounds of ecstatic, "Har Har Mahadev!" The magistrate did not believe was he was seeing. I mean, not seeing. I mean. Well. It was all very … confuzzling!

Just then, a Bengali magistrate spoke up. He explained to the dazed English magistrate that Tailang Swami was no ordinary man. He is a yogi of the highest order. Beyond discrimination, beyond dualities. For him good bad, beauty ugly, right wrong as experienced by the senses is meaningless. He is dissolved, in the Oneness of it all. 

As he was saying this, Tailang Swami reappeared. 

Now, the English magistrate hated praises being heaped on that uncivilised Indian. He was at best a trickster. Now let me trap him, he thought. "I will free him if he can eat my food,” said he. Knowing well that most Indian saints didn't have meat and definitely not cow or pig flesh. 

Tailang Swami, grinned. He said, something like this: Surely I will eat your food, but only on the condition that you first eat what I have eaten. 

The English magistrate could not sense the play of words or even fathom what was to follow. He could eat all these vegetarian stuffs, of course. He nodded a yes, of course. 

That moment - now brace yourselves and your civilised sensibilities - that wondrous moment, Tailang Swami cupped a hand behind himself. And ... yes, defecated. You read it right. He defecated. He took out what he had 'eaten' and offered it - lovingly - to the English magistrate! 

The magistrate, needless to say, nearly collapsed out of 'culture' shock. No way in hell had he anticipated such a thing could happen! No way did he want this mad man to be around even one inch of him. 

"Take him away. Let him be. I don't want to see him. Ever,” screamed the Magistrate.

"Har Har Mahadev! Har Har Mahadev! Har Har Mahadev!” shouted the Kashivaasis. 

From that time, they say, no Englishman or woman interfered with any Yogi in Kashi. 

The mystery-key behind the actions of one of India's greatest Yogi's lie in that very word 'Yoga'. Defining Yog for one of his beloved disciples, Umacharan, Tailang Swami quoted Yama from the Kathopnishad, 

यदा पंचावतिष्ठन्ते ज्ञानानि मनसा सह।

बुद्धिश्च न विचेष्टति तामाहु: परमां गतिम्।।

Meaning, something like this. 

When the five senses become still. When nothing moves them. Not beauty, not ugliness. Not attraction, not repulsion. When there is no desire left in the mind. Not even for freedom or liberation. That state is for the Yogi, the state of Ultimate Awakening, of Yoga, of Oneness. 

Har Har Mahadev!

The author has also made a short film on this, it can be seen  HERE (7 minutes)

Akanksha Damini Joshi is an award winning documentary filmmaker, cinematographer, writer, speaker and a meditation facilitator. Digital Image Art by the author. More on her at  

Also read / see

1. Why Kashi is a pilgrimage destination  

2. Why does everyone love Kashi 

3. Pics People of Kashi during Dev Deepavali

4. Ghats of Kashi 

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