Recounted by Chalam

1. This happened about two years before Bhagavan’s Maha Nirvana. One morning Bhagavan was in the hall surrounded by devotees from many lands. It was time for lunch and everybody was hungry. Some were already in the dining hall, waiting for Bhagavan to come. At that time Bhagavan was suffering from severe rheumatism in his knees, which were swollen and gave him severe pain; to get up he had to rub them first to remove the stiffness and it would take some time. At last he got up slowly from the sofa, and leaning on his walking stick, was about to go through the doorway when he noticed a village milkman, wrapped in a cotton shawl, with a mudpot hanging on a strap from his shoulder. Bhagavan stopped, looked at him and exclaimed, “Look, is it not Chinnappaya”? “Yes, it is me, Swami,” the villager replied with devotion and respect. Bhagavan asked him, “How are you? Are you well? You have come to see me? Very well. But what is in your pot? Have you brought some koolu (gruel)”? “Yes Swami, I have brought some koolu”, replied the milkman shyly. “Then come on, let me have it”. Bhagavan put away his stick, cupped his two hands together and bent forward holding his hands near his lips. The milkman started pouring the porridge from his pot in a thin stream into Bhagavan’s hands, as he sipped it with his chin between his wrists. The poor man’s face was beaming with joy and Bhagavan was drinking steadily, as if the grey porridge was nectar to him. The dining hall was full of hungry and somewhat angry people. One of them came out to see what could be the cause of the delay in Bhagavan’s coming, and when he saw what kind of lunch Bhagavan was taking, he exclaimed, “How unfair, Bhagavan. We are all waiting for you and you are late for the sake of this peasant”! Bhagavan grew indignant. “What, do you all think that I am here for your sakes only? Do I belong to you? Did you care for me when I was on the hill? Nobody wanted me then, only the shepherds, who would share their koolu with me.” And he went into the dining hall followed by the milkman and his pot.

2. On a moonlit night some devotees were going round the holy Arunachala Hill, chanting the Vedas. Suddenly they saw a leopard standing right in the middle of the road and looking at them. The singers were paralysed with fear. They could neither sing nor walk ahead or run away. The leopard looked at them quietly for quite a long time and then slowly crossed the road and disappeared into the jungle. The devotees thanked their stars, completed their round of the hill and, after returning to the Ashram, related their adventure to Bhagavan, who listened carefully and said, “There was no reason for fear. The leopard is a jnani who came down from the hill to listen to your chanting the Vedas. He went away deeply disappointed because out of fright you broke off singing. Why were you afraid”?

3. In front of the temple dedicated to Bhagavan’s mother a magnificent hall was built and a gorgeous sofa carved from a single block of black granite was placed in the hall for Bhagavan to sit on. When all was ready he was requested to move from the old hall to the new one. Bhagavan refused. A stone statue of him was being carved and he said, “The stone swami will sit on the stone sofa”. And it came true. Bhagavan used the stone sofa very little and only for the sake of the large gatherings which were brought by the news of his fatal illness. When he was no more in the body, the statue was enthroned in the new hall and there it is now.

4. Once somebody brought Bhagavan a wounded dove. Bhagavan held it in his hands for some time and then asked the devotees gathered in the hall, “Who will take good care of this bird until it is quite well”? No offer came. Some time back the Maharani of Baroda had presented a white peacock to the Ashram and everybody was eager to take charge of it. Bhagavan looked around and started talking to the dove, “What a pity you are not a peacock. You are a mere dove, a useless little thing, not a costly bird presented by a Maharani. Who wants you? Who will care for you”? The dove was kept in the Ashram in a clumsy cage, became well and flew away. But the lesson of universal compassion remained.

5. An old Telugu man with a long beard, an iron pot and chopper for cutting wood made his abode in the Draupadi temple. He would beg some food in the town, boil something or other in his iron pot on a small fire of wood cut with his chopper and eat it during the day. For hours together he could be seen standing and looking at Bhagavan. He would spend the night in the temple, which was dilapidated and abandoned and surrounded by jungle. Once Chalam found him standing all alone in front of the temple and gazing at Arunachala. “I sleep here”, he said when Chalam asked him what he was doing in the forsaken temple. “What, sleeping here all alone? Are you not afraid”? exclaimed Chalam. The old man seemed indignant. “Afraid of what? Bhagavan throws his light upon me. All through the night I am surrounded by a blue radiance. As long as his light is with me, how can I be afraid”? The incident made Chalam deeply humble. Bhagavan’s love and light was given in full measure to a poor old beggar, while those who pride themselves on being his chosen disciples are left high and dry because they have themselves to attend to.

6. A devotee wanted to take a photo of Bhagavan together with Ganapati Muni. Bhagavan consented, and a carpet was spread near the well, on which a sofa was put for Bhagavan to sit on. Ganapati Muni sat down at his feet, but Bhagavan asked him to sit by his side. Ganapati Muni was reluctant, but Bhagavan lifted him up and made him sit on the sofa. The photo was taken, and some prints were made and distributed among the devotees. The Ashram authorities came to know about it when it was all over and, quite naturally, were indignant, for sitting on the same level with one’s Guru was a serious breach of custom, implying a claim for spiritual equality. The negative and the prints had to be given up. But the man who had taken the photo refused to surrender his copy. It did not bring him any luck; shortly after he committed suicide. The question why Bhagavan forced Ganapati Muni to sit on the sofa was never answered. Maybe it was his way of bringing the deeply hidden weaknesses of everybody to the surface.

7. We were sitting one morning in the hall in deep meditation. Suddenly there was the sound of the tap-tap of a stick. A tall blind Muslim was trying to find the entry to the hall with his stick. I helped him to come inside. He asked me in Urdu where Bhagavan was sitting. I made him sit right in front of Bhagavan and told him, “You are now sitting just in front of Bhagavan. You can salute him”. The Muslim told his story. He lived near Peshawar and he was a moulvi (teacher) of repute. Once he happened to hear somebody reading in Urdu about Bhagavan and at once he felt that Bhagavan was his spiritual father and that he must go to him. Blind as he was, he took the next train and travelled thousands of miles all alone, changing trains many times, till at last he reached Ramanasramam. When asked what he was going to do next, he said. “Whatever Bhagavan tells me, I shall do”. His immense faith made me ashamed of myself. How little did the man hesitate to place his life in the hands of a South Indian swami. And what a mountain of doubts and hesitations I had to wade through before I came to Bhagavan’s feet in earnest!

8. Echammal was one of Bhagavan’s earliest devotees. She regularly brought food to him when he was living on the hill. Her property went to help his devotees. She practised yoga assiduously and died when in a yogic trance. When Bhagavan heard the news, he said, “Oh, is it so”? After Echammal’s body was burnt, Shantamma came into the hall and told Bhagavan that the cremation was over. He said, “Yes, it is all right”. And he added after a while, “I warned her not to practice yoga. She would not listen. Therefore she had to die unconscious and not in full awareness”.

9. During Bhagavan’s last days, just after an operation, he was kept in a room under doctor’s strict orders that he should not be disturbed. A guard was placed to enforce the orders. A sadhu arrived asking for an audience. The guard explained the situation and assured him that his request could not possibly be granted. The sadhu went to the office and pressed for an audience, saying that he must leave the same day and that he could not wait for Bhagavan’s recovery. The staff also could do nothing against doctor’s orders. The sadhu sadly started walking from the office towards the gate, when to his amazement and great joy he saw Bhagavan standing on the narrow veranda in front of his room. The sadhu came nearer and they gazed at each other silently for about ten minutes. The sadhu went his way and Bhagavan returned to the room.

10. People who expected the Supreme to be uniformly monotonous, acting in an invariable and stereotyped way, could not find their bearings when they had to deal with Bhagavan. He never reacted twice in the same way. The unexpected with him was inevitable. He would deny every expectation, go against every probability. He seemed to be completely indifferent to whatever was going on in the Ashram and would give an immense amount of care to some apparently insignificant detail. He would be highly critical of the Ashram manager’s passion for improvement and expansion and yet take personal interest in the work of the carpenters and masons. He would scold his younger brother soundly, but would rebuke anybody who came to him with some complaint against him. He did not even want to hear about the money coming to the Ashram, but would read carefully the incoming and outgoing letters. He would refuse his consent to a certain work, but if it were done against his wishes, he would earnestly cooperate. When asked to agree to the building of the temple, he said, “Do as you please, but do not use my name for collecting money”. Yet he would closely watch the progress of the work and wander in the night among the scaffolding, with his torch in one hand and his stick in the other. When the Sri Chakra was placed in the sanctum of the temple, he went there at midnight and laid his hands on it. He would deny all responsibility for starting and developing the Ashram, would refuse to claim it as his property, but signed a will creating a hereditary managership for the Ashram. He would refuse all treatment when asked, but would swallow any medicine that was given to him without asking. If each well-wisher offered his own remedy, he would take them all at the same time. He would relish some rustic dish and would turn away from costly delicacies. He would invite people for food, but when asked for a meal he would plead his helplessness in the matter.

Sometimes he would take a man to the kitchen and cook and serve him with his own hands. He insisted that beggars should be fed first, but would say that the Ashram was for visitors, not for beggars. He would be tender with a sick squirrel and would not outwardly show any feeling when an old and faithful devotee was dying. A serious loss or damage would leave him unconcerned, while he may shout warnings lest a glass pane in a cupboard should break. Greatness, wealth, beauty, power, penance, fame, philanthropy — all these would make no impression on him, but a lame monkey would absorb him for days on end. He would ignore a man for a long time and then suddenly turn to him with a broad smile and start an animated discussion. To a question about life after death he would retort, ‘Who is asking’? but to another man he would explain in great detail what death was and what the state of mind was after death.

It was clear that all he did was rooted in some hidden centre to which none of us had any access. He was entirely self-directed, or rather, Self-directed.

11. Once Bhagavan fell down and was injured. The Ashram people wanted to call a doctor, but he would not allow it. A woman in the hall started weeping. “Why do you cry”? he asked. “I am sorry that you do not allow us to call for a doctor”, she said. Bhagavan sighed, “Oh well, call in the doctor. In this place I have no freedom”.

12. Bose and Yogi Ramaiah were accompanying Bhagavan up the hill. While they were waiting for him to return, Yogi Ramaiah told Bose that a cement platform would be useful for Bhagavan to rest on. On his return Bhagavan was told of the idea and he said, “Don’t. If you construct a platform, somebody will erect a temple”.

13. Once Suryanarayana’s wife asked Bhagavan whether he had ever seen God. He replied, “You see your Self just as you see me”. Suryanarayana complained bitterly, “I am spending every minute of my time in the repetition of your name and yet I am without peace”. Bhagavan gently rebuked him and said, “Come on, you do not expect me to hide your peace under my pillow”!

14. Once a devotee asked Bhagavan, “Have you seen Shiva, Nandi and Kailas?” Bhagavan replied, “No, never. But the Self I see every moment”.

15. Somerset Maugham, the famous English writer, came to the Ashram to meet Bhagavan. He fell ill, probably due to heat, and Chadwick arranged a comfortable bed for him in his room. Bhagavan heard about it and came to see Maugham. They just looked at each other silently for about an hour. When Bhagavan got up, Chadwick asked Maugham whether he would like to ask anything. “What is there to speak about”? he answered. “Yes, there is no need for words”, said Bhagavan, who then returned to the hall. Maugham too departed soon.

16. Bhagavan was very ill. Hundreds of people had come to see him, but he would not look at anybody. Nartaki was saying that Bhagavan looked at her each time she came. Chalam asked her how it happened. She said, “Each time, before coming to Bhagavan, I said within myself, ‘Bhagavan, do look at me’. And he would always look at me”. Chalam tried the same and it worked!

17. A man was telling Bhagavan that he learnt one type of yoga under one master, some other type under a different master and so on. The dinner bell started ringing. “Now learn the yoga of eating under this master”, said Bhagavan, and took the man to have his dinner.

18. A lady devotee prayed to Bhagavan, “My only desire is that you may always be with us”. Bhagavan exclaimed, “Look at her, she wants us all to turn into stones, so that we may sit here forever”.

19. Bhagavan’s mother had a hard life when she came to live by the side of her glorious son. She was a very orthodox lady, full of prejudices, superstitions and possessive pride. Bhagavan would be ruthless in destroying all that stood in the way of her emancipation from ignorance and fear. He succeeded wonderfully and gave his mother videha mukti (liberation at the moment of death), which is by far the most common form of realization with the majority of earnest aspirants. One of her pet aversions was onions, which are taboo to Brahmin widows. She would refuse to cook onions. Bhagavan would show her an onion and say, “How mighty is this little bulb, that it can stop my mother from going to heaven”! The mother would cry her heart out in some corner. But he would only say, “Cry, cry, the more you cry, the better”. It was supreme love, eager to bestow the supreme good, and merciless with every obstacle, however sacred or rooted in tradition.

20. A friend from Bombay came to have a look at the Ashram and to find out what it was all about. He had little faith himself, but wanted to know what exactly drew people to Bhagavan. He would get hold of this man and that and keep on asking all sorts of questions. A Norwegian sadhu lived at that time near the Ashram and we went one evening in search of him. He lived in a small cubby hole, meant for a bathroom. He slept and cooked his food there. It was wonderful to think that an educated European had accepted this kind of life just to be near Bhagavan. With his beard, long hair and weather-beaten face he looked old, but in reality he was quite young. During his university years he had studied comparative religion and thus was attracted to India and to Indian philosophy. Even in Norway, whenever he would meet an Indian he would question him eagerly, only to discover that Indians on the whole knew very little of their glorious heritage. This had only strengthened his desire to go to India, meet the people who knew, and learn from them. He tried hard and got a job as a lecturer in religion in one of the North Indian colleges. He joined and in his spare time was searching for a Guru. He was told that he could find one only in the Himalayas. He roamed the mountains and at last he found somebody who agreed to guide and instruct him. The Norwegian was very reticent about his Guru and would tell neither name nor place. But he gave up his job, joined his Guru in the mountains, learnt sankhya yoga under him and was told to do sadhana for four years and then come back. How was he to live for these four years? Again he got a job, this time in Bangalore. A fellow traveller in the train advised him strongly to go and meet Bhagavan before he took up his duties. He broke his journey, saw Bhagavan and could not leave. In Bhagavan’s presence his sankhya sadhana became very vigorous and speedy. He had no money and just stretched every copper. He did not feel the need to return to the Himalayas. He said he would go on till the goal was reached. We returned wondering at Bhagavan’s mighty power which attracted all, however small or great. Our Bombay friend felt that there might be something in the Ashram beyond his ken and grew very humble.

21. When Bhagavan was living on the hill, a big monkey came one day when he was having his food, and sat near him. Bhagavan was about to put a morsel of food into his mouth, but when he saw the monkey he gave it the morsel. The monkey took it, put it on the plate and gave Bhagavan a square slap on the cheek. “What do you mean, you fellow? Why are you angry? I gave you the first morsel”! exclaimed Bhagavan. Then he understood his mistake. It was a king monkey and he had to be treated in the right royal manner. Bhagavan called for a separate leaf plate and a full meal was served to the king, who ate it all with dignity and proudly went away.


IN Tinnanur, an ancient town in Tondai district, there dwelt a Brahmin, Poosalar by name. His mind forever fixed on Siva’s feet, he grew in love and learning day by day and spent his all in service to His devotees.

Wishing to build a temple to the Lord, he tried to raise funds. But try as he might, he failed. In grief he pondered, “What shall I do?” He resolved at last to raise within his heart a temple to his Lord. From far and near he fetched in fancy, little by little, stone and metal and other building material.

Skilled masons and sculptors too he engaged and instructed in thought. And at an auspicious hour, he dug the ground and laid the foundation stone. Devoted, busy, sleepless even by night, he watched the temple grow, part by part and layer by layer, gateway, tower and central shrine, all planned according to the rules of Agama, and wrought in detail with the minutest care. On top of the domed turret over the holy of holies he installed a stone a cubit long. And so with hard, steady effort of the mind, he completed the structure, plastered chinks with lime, dug wells and tanks, put up the outer walls and fixed in his mind the auspicious day and hour for consecrating the shrine and installing the Presence.

The Pallava King had built in the city of Kanchi a mighty granite temple and appointed a day for the grand ceremony of its consecration. But, on the night preceding, the Lord appeared to the King in his dream and said, “Poosalar, my friend, has laboured lovingly for many months and raised a temple for me in his heart, and 1 must be there tomorrow at its consecration. So postpone your temple ceremony to some later day”.

The King awoke, eager to visit Tinnanur and greet this favoured servant of the Lord. He reached the place and enquired of the people, “Whereabouts is this temple built by Poosalar”? But they all said, “We know of no such temple”. Then he sent for the leading Brahmins of the town and asked them, “Who is this pure and perfect man, this Poosalar”? They answered, “A Brahmin of that name does dwell in this town. We shall go and bring him, Sire”. But the King would have none of it. Instead he went himself to the man’s house and falling at his feet, asked, “Where is your famed temple? Today, know, the Lord comes there to dwell. And at His bidding too have come, to meet you and greet you on this day”. Staggered by this speech, the Brahmin said, “If the Lord pleases, the world shall know,” and told the King the story of the building of the temple thought by thought. The King heard it all, fell again at the good man’s feet, and marched back to Kanchi, accompanied by his army with drums and trumpets. Poosalar regularly performed the daily pujas in his ideal temple in the prescribed manner and in the end attained the feet of the Lord.