Raja Iyer


By Raja Iyer

IN 1911 when I was in the high school in Tiruvannamalai, Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi was living in Virupaksha Cave. At that time we boys would climb the Arunachala hill in small parties to visit Bhagavan. He was usually found sitting on the elevated place outside the cave. He would smile at us as a sign of recognition and would allow us to sit at his feet and sing devotional songs to our hearts’ content. When the singing was over, we would share with him the food we had brought and wash it down with the cool water from a spring just above the cave. We would then return home in high spirits.

After high school I used to stay with Bhagavan whenever I felt like it and eat and sleep there. By that time, he had left the cave which was too small for the crowd that came to see him and moved a little higher to Skandasramam where the devotees had built some terraces and huts. Echammal, Mudaliar granny and a few others made it their duty to bring cooked food up the hill regularly for Bhagavan. This enabled some of us to stay with him permanently. The food was meant for him, but there was enough for all. He would not allow any discrimination in matters of food. It was shared equally and what remained was consumed the next morning. Nor were there regular hours for food. We would sit down for food when there was food and when we felt the need. Bhagavan would not eat food from the previous day; but he was willing to cook for all and he made me his kitchen boy.

Then Bhagavan’s mother and his younger brother Chinnaswami came to live with him. The mother started a regular household. Devotees would bring rice and other provisions and all partook of the frugal meals, oftentimes consisting of some rice, buttermilk and pickles.

While in Skandasramam, Bhagavan used to build walls, embankments and stone and mud benches, the poor man’s furniture in India. Once he was plastering a wall with mud. Bespattered with mud, with a rag tied round his head, he looked like an ordinary labourer. Some visitors came up the hill in search of Bhagavan and one of them shouted, “Hey coolie, where is the swami who lives hereabouts”? Bhagavan looked round and said, “He has gone up the hill”. A visitor protested that they were told that he could be found there at that hour.

Bhagavan shrugged his shoulders and said, “He has gone up the hill. I can’t help it”. While the disappointed visitors were going down the hill Echammal met them. She told them that the swami would not go anywhere at that time. She offered to show them the swami. In the meantime Bhagavan had washed himself, smeared his body with sacred ash, and was sitting in the classic yogic padmasana posture. The visitors greeted him very reverently but were all the time looking for the coolie. After they left Echammal asked Bhagavan why he had played a joke on them. He said, “What else could I do? Do you want me to go around proclaiming, ‘I am the swami’, or to wear a board, ‘This is Sri Ramana Maharshi’”?

While Bhagavan was still at Skandasramam he often went round Arunachala. We used to take with us what was needed for cooking some food by the roadside. Food was usually cooked at Palakottu and what remained was taken along and eaten at Gautama Ashram, which we would reach at about nine in the evening. We would sleep there, get up early in the morning and walk to Pachaiamman Temple, which was, according to Bhagavan, the most spiritually charged of all the Pachaiamman temples. Bhagavan used to walk round the hill so slowly that a walk with him was like a festival procession. We would reach Skandasramam by ten or even later.

Though I was married I was not interested in family life. My wife also passed away sometime after marriage and I was free to roam about and live as I wished to.

I am not by nature a willing worker but for the sake of staying at the Ashram I was ready to work. Bhagavan had come down from the hill after his mother’s samadhi and an Ashram grew around him. I did odd jobs like collecting flowers for worship, drawing water from the well, grinding sandalwood paste etc. For sometime I was performing the puja at Bhagavan’s mother’s shrine.

One day Chinnaswami asked me to take up the preparation of the morning iddlies, the steamed rice and pulse cakes common to South India. This gave me a chance to become a permanent resident of the Ashram. In preparing iddlies I achieved such excellence that visitors commented that nowhere had they tasted iddlies comparable to those of the Ashram.

Once the workers in the kitchen asked me to grind some pulses to a paste. Try as I might I could not do it. I was told not to leave the kitchen without finishing the job but I just refused to continue.

Bhagavan heard the quarrel and advised me to add some salt. When I did so the grinding became easy, and eversince the dislike for grinding left me completely. Very often Bhagavan would work with us side by side cutting vegetables etc. He kept a watchful eye on me and taught me the right way of doing everything. He was very particular about avoiding waste. He showed me how to use a ladle so that not even a drop of food would fall on the ground, how to avoid spilling while pouring and how to start a fire with just a few drops of kerosene. If all this were not a part of my spiritual discipline, why should he have bothered? When we prepared iddlies we would send him two, steaming hot. He would eat one and give the other to the people present. At breakfast everybody would get two iddlies and a cup of coffee, But Bhagavan would take only one iddlie, counting as his first, the one he took earlier.

In 1937 a post office was opened in the Ashram and I was made the Postmaster. On the first two days Bhagavan came to the post office and did all the stamping. Prior to that I used to bring the mail from the town post office to the Ashram.

“Oh, the postman has been made the Postmaster”, remarked Bhagavan. I thus had the opportunity of serving Bhagavan and the Ashram for several years.

In whatever manner and at whatever level the devotee approached him, he responded in the same way, fulfilled his needs and made him happy. Bhagavan showed us tangibly to what extent all devotion will find its way to him, whatever its level, provided it is sincere.

The White Peacock

Bhagavan seems to have developed a fancy for the white peacock which devotees think to be the incarnation of the late Madhavasami, his old attendant who died about two years ago. Today (18-6-1948) the famous cow Lakshmi died. Some believe that she was a disciple of Bhagavan in her previous birth. They draw this conclusion from her birth, the events of her life, her great attachment to him, etc. After finishing the history of Lakshmi, Bhagavan takes up that of the white peacock, which had been brought from such a great distance as Baroda. It was born in October 1946, three months after the death of Madhavasami (July 1946) and brought to Madras in April 1947 by the Maharani of Baroda and to Ramanasramam by Mr David MacIver on the same day.

Bhagavan then watched the peacock’s movements. It used to go to the cupboard where books were kept and touched its glass door with its beak in a straight line from east to west, as if scanning the titles of the books. Secondly it used to appear in the hall and quit it at the very hours when Madhava used to come and go. Thirdly it used to sit in the very places where Madhavasami used to sit and, like him, used to visit the office, bookshop, library, etc., also at the hours he used to visit these places. Its habits used to be a copy of Madhava’s. Hence the conclusion of several devotees that he was Madhava reincarnated.

- From Residual Reminiscences by S.S. Cohen.