Annamalai Swami

Annamalai Swami (1906-1995)


Annamalai Swami (1906-1995) since his childhood had a natural inclination towards spirituality. He came to Sri Ramana in 1928 and got a job with the Ashram. After being closely involved in many construction projectsw for ten yeras under direct supervision of Sri Ramana, he shifted to Palakottu near the Ashram to live alone and mediate.

In 1928, a wandering sadhu gave me a copy a Upadesa Undiyar by Sri Ramana. It contained a photo of the Maharshi. As soon as I saw the photo I had the feeling that this was my Guru. Simultaneously, an intense desire arose within me to go and see him. That night I had a dream in which I saw the Maharshi walking from the lower slopes of the hill towards the Ashram. Next morning I decided to go and have his darshan.

Having arrived at about 1 p.m., when I approached the hall, a part of the dream I had repeated itself in real life. I saw Bhagavan walk down at me in silence for about 10-15 minutes, I had a great feeling of physical relief and relaxation. It was like immersing myself in a cool pool after being in the hot sun. I asked for permission to stay, which was granted and I a got as Bhagavan's attendant. At that time Madhava Swami was doing the job by himself.

About ten days after my arrival I asked Bhagavan how I could attain Self-realisation? He replied, "If you give up identifying with the body and meditate on the Self, you can attain Self-realisation." As I was pondering over these remarks, Bhagavan supervised me by saying, "I was waiting for you. I was wondering when you would come." As a new come I was too afraid to ask him how he knew, or how long he had been waiting. But I was delighted to hear hem speak like this because it seemed to indicate that it was my destiny to stay with him.

A few days later asked, "Scientists hve invented and produced the aircraft which can travel at great speed in the sky. Why do you not give us a spiritual aircraft in which we can quickly and easily cross over the sea of samsara?" Bhagavan replied, "The path of self-enquiry is the aircraft you need. It is direct, fast, and easy to use. You are already travelling very quickly towards realisation. It is only because of your mind that it seems that there is no movement." In the years that followed, I had many spiritual talks with Bhagavan but his basic message never changed. It was always: "Do self-enquiry, stop identifying with the body and try to be aware of the Self, which is your real nature."

When I first came to the Ashram there were still some leopards in the area. They rarely came into the Ashram but at night they frequented the place where Bhagavan used to uninate. Once when a leopard appeared he was not in the least afraid. He just looked at the leopard and said, 'Poda|'[Go away|] and leopard walked away.

Soon after I came I was given a new name by Bhagavan. My original name was Sellaperumal. One day Bhagavan mentioned that I reminded him of Annamalai Swami. Who had been his attendant at the Skandasram. And within a few days my new identity got established.

When I had been at attendant for about two weeks, the Collector of Vellore, who came for Bhagavan's darshan, brought a large plate of sweets, which I was to distribute to everyone in the Ashram. While I was distributing the sweets outside the hall I went to place where no one could see me and secrelly helped my self of about double the quantity that I was serving to others. When I went back to the hall and kept the empty plate under Bhagavan's sofa,he looked at me and said, "Did you take twice as much as everyone else?" I was shocked because I was sure that no one had seen me do it. This incident made me realise that it was impossible to hide anything from Bhagavan.

After serving as an attendant for a month,Bhagavan asked me to supervise construction work within the Ashram. My big assignment was supervising the construction of the cowshed on a scale much bigger than envisaged by the sarvadhikari, as Bhagavan wanted it that way. The problem was of funds, Which came almost under mioraculous circumstances.

The editor of the Sunday Times, Madras, published a long complimentary article came to the attention of a prince in North India, Who was much impressed by a wave of fear. Suddenly he remembred about Bhagavan and prayed saying. "If syccessful, I will not only send you Rs.1000,but also donate the head and skin of the tiger." The paralsys left him and he killed the tiger and saved his own life in the process, as the tiger was within attacking distance.

Two days after all the quarrels about the size of the cowshed, the postman appeared with Rs.1000. I look the money to Bhagavan who remarked in a most casual way," Yes, I have been expecting the moneyorder. Take it to the sarvadhikari."

Our finances were always in a precarious position but we never experienced any real financial crisis. While the work was going on,enough donations would come to cover all costs. If no buildings works were in progress, no donations would come.

Bhagavan took a keen interest in the construction work,guiding me at all stages of the work.In the evening,when I went to him with my daily report, he would tell me the work to be done the following day. For any difficult jobs he would even explain how to go about. I had hired both men and women for the construction of the dining hall.Some of the women were quite attractive and I was occasionally troubled by sexual desires. I told Bhagavan,"I don't want moksha, I just want that the desire for women should not enter my mind." Bhagavan laughed and said, " All the mahatmas are striving only for this.: To avoid sexual thoughts, I decided to do away with women workers. Bhagavan did not approve of this. He saw no reason why the women should lose their jobs merely because I was unable to control my mind.

Bhagavan spent hours in our company on the construction work. He often used to say, "When I am outside I am more healthy - that six-feed long sofa is just like a jail for me." He would go back to the hall when informed that some devotees had come to the hall for his darshan. Once Bhagavan saw his attendant coming to tell him thaty some people had come, he turned to me and sid, "A new warrant is coming for my arrest. I have to go back to jail."

In the 1930s Bhagavan alone decided when and where the buildings should be build, on what scale and what material be used. He drew up the plans for Ashram buildings, and told me what to do. If instructions were complicated he would sometimes sketch a few lines on a piece of papaer to clarify or illustrate what he was saying. When he gave me plans he would always say that it was only a suggestion. He never presumed to give me orders.

Bhagavan himself wrote in Tamil pakasalai in big letters on a piece of paper. These along with the year 1938 and Sri Ramanasramam in devanagari script,appear today on the top of the estern wall of the dining hall.

Bhagavan would frequently come out to see what we were doing.He bombarded us with advice and instructions and would occasionally join in the work himeself. But he would say,"I am not connected with any of the activities here. I just withness all that happens.

Bhagavan would start projects when no money was available to pay,happily ignoring all predictions of imminent financial doom made by the sarvadhikari. He never asked anyone for money and he forbade the sarvadhikari from begging for donations yet somehow enough donations came to complete every building. Once when Bhagavan was very sick, Maurice Frydman gave Rs.1000 to the sarvadhikari for buying fruits for Bhagavan. Knowing that Bhagavan would not eat fruits unless everyone else was given an equal share, he avoided the use of money for the purpose. Some months later,Frydman complained to Bhagavan that his donation had not been properly spent.Bhagavan said rather angrily. "When you give something you should regard the matter as closed. How dare you use this gift to further you ego?"

Bhagavan taught us a lesson by doing the work himself. A room near the kitchen was dirty and dusty and was rerely cleaned. Many people walked through the room but never thought of making it tidy,until Bhagavan himeself took a broom and completely cleaned it. Several devotees tried to stop him saying. "Please,Bhagavan let me do this job. I will clean the room."

Refusisng to handover the broom he said," Now your eyes are on it. Did you not see the mess before?" From that day on, the room was cleaned regularly. Annamalai Swamy moved to Palakottu (a colony abutting on the Ashram) in 1938. Till the end of his life in 1995, he lived peacefully and silently in his little ashram. He also provided spiritual guidance to seekers who wanted his help and guidance.We can see Annamalai Swami narrating some of his reminscences in the video Guru Ramana.


The following is transcribed from a November 1989 videotaped interview with Annamalai Swami. J. Jayaraman was the interviewer and James Hartel the videographer. Some of this interview is featured in the Guru Ramana, His Living Presence video production.

Coming to Bhagavan

I came from Tondanguruchi where I had a stall to distribute water to the needy. One day somebody showed me the book Nan Yar (Who Am I?). I saw Bhagavan's picture and was instantly captivated.

I hastened to Tiruvannamalai the very same day, which happened to be a full moon day. When I arrived at Tiruvannamalai, I chanced to meet Seshadri Swami near the Rettai Pillaiyar Koil, close to the big temple, and received his blessings. I then went to Sri Bhagavan.

When I came to the Ashram there was just a shed over the Mother's shrine and Bhagavan was seated there. I also saw Gopal Rao, who was building the Old Hall.

[Before coming to Tiruvannamalai] I had had a dream in which Bhagavan was coming down the Hill. I went up to him and washed his feet with water. On drinking that water, I felt speechless and senseless. When I came here, Bhagavan was coming from the Hill, but nothing else happened like in the dream.

I had read a little before coming here. However, it is true that Bhagavan literally taught me how to read and write. When I asked Bhagavan what bondage and liberation meant, Muruganar was astonished that I did not even know the fundamentals of Advaitic teachings. Bhagavan only laughed in reply. In the course of my work, I once overheard Muruganar sing a line from a Tamil verse, which means, "Even fools have become extremely wise by coming to Bhagavan." I am sure that Muruganar was referring to me when he sang this song.

Major Chadwick

When Chadwick arrived in Tiruvannamalai he mistook me for Bhagavan and prostrated before me. I then took him to Bhagavan. Also, I was asked to vacate the room I had been occupying at that time, in favor of Chadwick. Chadwick did not like this and said that if I vacated he would not stay at the Ashram. It was then agreed that the two of us would share the room.

This is how I became very friendly with Chadwick. He appreciated my hard work and sincerity. I even used to learn a little bit of English from Chadwick.

Chadwick gave me an umbrella, shaded eyeglasses and sandals to use when I was supervising or working in the hot sun. Once, when Bhagavan came by, I tried to remove all three. Then Bhagavan came near me and chided me, saying, "If you behave like this on seeing me, I will never come near you." The irony is that some others in the Ashram used to scoff at me for wearing these in Bhagavan's presence. I was in a dilemma because it was Bhagavan who insisted that I behave normally, or He would not come near me.

If you got up from your seat when Bhagavan passed by, He wouldn't be happy and would say, "So you are showing off your bhakti. Why not behave normally even when I come."

Construction Work

I knew nothing about masonry work before coming here. Although my father was proficient in masonry, sculpture, astrology and other fine arts, I knew none of these when I came to Bhagavan. Bhagavan taught me everything.

One day, Thenamma Paati asked Bhagavan how I could apply my mind to supervise all the construction work that was going on and still be devoted to Bhagavan. Bhagavan laughed and remarked that I should have been an engineer in my previous birth.

It was in very subtle ways that Bhagavan extracted work from the devotees. During my early days with Bhagavan, he once told me, "Go and see what the mason is doing." So I went there, asked him what he was doing and conveyed the reply to Bhagavan. After sometime, Bhagavan again asked me to go and see what the mason was doing. I complied. The mason was a little annoyed, but made the same reply. When Bhagavan asked me to go and see what the mason was doing for the third time, the mason thought that Bhagavan was mad as he was just asking him the same question again and again. I now asked Bhagavan why he kept repeating the same question. That is when he came out with his intentions and said, .Someone can attend to the work here. You go and supervise that work." I reflected that Bhagavan could have told me this in the first instance itself, or just ordered me to go and do it. But that wasn't Bhagavan's way. He was very subtle, shy, and very gentle. Bhagavan would indicate with only a few words or signs.

Bhagavan used to say, "This whole place is going to be very active with many buildings." Some of His comments were hard to believe because no indication of such things was found then.

When the storeroom was being built, Bhagavan wanted me to make an image of Arunachala in cement. I honestly felt that I was overworked, not getting enough rest. Also, I was feeling a little dejected. A little later, Bhagavan came back and said, "I thought I could make that request, but if that's difficult for you, don't bother with it." I felt badly about the thoughts I had entertained and resolved that in the future I would definitely undertake and fulfill any of Bhagavan's requests, even if that should mean sacrificing my body. It was a solemn pledge I made to myself.

Bhagavan was very particular about doing things meticulously and perfectly. On all cupboards and other furniture, the name "Sri Ramanasramam, Tiruvannamalai" had to be written very neatly, just like printed letters.

Bhagavan insisted that I should draw the image of Arunachala on the wall of the Ashram Store. When it did not come out properly, Bhagavan came and instructed me. However, it did not come out the second time as well. Bhagavan once again gave me a few hints and I managed to get it right the third time, and it can be seen at the store entrance even today. The three dimensional aspect is also visible on account of the cement being plastered accordingly. The same thing happened with the arch of the Ashram entrance. Bhagavan would encourage me to take up such work, and whenever I had difficulty, Bhagavan would come, give hints, and encourage me to do it perfectly.

One day I was feeling tired and was reclining against a wall. Bhagavan came up to me and said, "I'm afraid to even look at you." I asked Him why that should be so. He said, "If I would just look in one direction, you would construct a structure there." This was of course in jest but it also meant that I could understand Bhagavan's subtle instructions and follow them meticulously. This was great appreciation showered upon me by Sri Bhagavan.

Once I was about to construct some steps when Bhagavan came and hit me three times. I had been asked to repair some dilapidated steps behind the Dining Hall. In those days money and materials were scarce. I asked Ramaswami Pillai to get three or four measures of cement. Now, in Tamil, the word 'padi' stands for both 'measure' as well as for 'steps'. Bhagavan asked me, "How many padis?" meaning how many steps I was constructing. I thought he wanted to know how many measures of cement I was ordering. Bhagavan gave me a playful slap and said, "I'm asking about one padi, and you are answering about another."

On another occasion, I was building some steps near the water tap. Bhagavan was standing there and giving me instructions. As I got up, I banged my head hard against the tap. Bhagavan asked Madhavaswami to bring zambak (medicinal ointment), and personally massaged my head for a long time. Though I had pain in my head, I kept reminding myself of Bhagavan's teaching, which was to give up the 'I am-the-body' idea. I also thanked the tap for giving me this opportunity to receive a massage from the golden this opportunity to receive a massage from the golden hands of Sri Bhagavan.

In the earlier days, Madhavaswami, Rangaswami and I used to massage the soles of Bhagavan's feet with oil, and put our heads against His feet to receive His grace after completing the massage. Bhagavan used to pretend to be asleep when we did this. However, when large crowds started coming to the Ashram regularly, we had to stop this practice of ours.

When the Dining Hall was being built, Bhagavan used to dig the earth with a huge gaddapare (crowbar) and Santhamma used to mix mortar with water. I was entrusted with the mason's work. While we worked on the construction Thenamma and Subbu-lakshmiamma used to do the cooking nearby. As I was not a brahmin, the women used a large white cloth as a partition between them and us. Bhagavan told them, "Why are you doing this? It's only our Annamalai. Why should you segregate him like this?" Chinnaswami, on hearing this said, "Bhagavan says 'our Annamalai', so he has become an ichcha brahmin", i.e., a brahmin by the wish of Sri Bhagavan.

Disturbing Ants

One day after lunch we noticed lots of ants in the Old Hall disturbing the devotees. Bhagavan asked me to inspect the area and do the needful. When I went and lifted a stone, millions of ants rushed out. I was jumping all over in order to avoid crushing them. When Bhagavan asked me what I was doing, I explained that it would be jivahimsa to kill hundreds and thousands of ants by stepping upon them or by closing the opening through which they came out. He said, "You are not doing it for yourself, it is for the sake of others." He then quoted from Chapter thirteen of Bhagavad Gita where Krishna says that even killing is permitted if it is for the benefit of the world. Upon hearing this, I cleared the area of ants, sealed the entrance and cemented it.

In the days when I still used to live in the Ashram, I once told Bhagavan that I didn't even desire moksha, but just wanted to be saved from the attractions of women. I was wondering what reply Bhagavan would give. He said that it was freedom from this desire that all great people had sought and suffered for.

Fleeing to Polur

Bhagavan always taught jnanamarga, yet when we went out, no one ever talked about jnanamarga or even bhaktimarga. And since at that time I felt that whatever bhakti I had, had evaporated, I was feeling that Bhagavan did not want me to stay there.

I walked without any food for two days, and was weak and exhausted by the time I reached Polur. I begged at Nair Mangalam's place and many other places with no luck. None wished to give me alms. In fact one person wondered why I had to leave a holy place like Tiruvannamalai and wander elsewhere. All these events discouraged me. I had heard that if one stood chest deep in water, it would aid in withstanding hunger. I did that in a tank just outside Polur for a while before leaving for the samadhi of Vithoba in Polur. In the afternoon on the third day, a lady took pity at my plight and offered me two glasses full of thin gruel. This helped me regain some of my strength.

I then plucked a little flower in order to toss it up to divine if I should go back to the Ashram or leave Bhagavan permanently and go out as a wandering mendicant. The flower toss-up indicated that I should go back to Bhagavan and I began walking back promptly. That's when the owner of a small roadside hotel invited me in and fed me sumptuously with great reverence. Besides, he also gave me two rupees for my travel expenses. I took this as a good omen and a vindication of my decision to return to Bhagavan.

I boarded the train to Tiruvannamalai without a ticket. However, while the ticket examiner checked all other passengers, he totally ignored me. Similarly, when I got down at Tiruvannamalai, the stationmaster, who usually checks all the tickets, let me through saying that he had already checked my ticket. I went straight to Bhagavan and narrated all that had happened. Bhagavan graciously said, "How could you go away? You have so much work to do here, and unless that is finished, how could you go?"

I was standing near Bhagavan and He gave me a steady look of Grace. I felt that Bhagavan was quoting the song from the supplement to the forty verses which means "When you have the association of great men, where is the need for following the usual injunctions expected of a seeker, like going on a yatra, remaining? in mouna, etc." This song came to my mind, though Bhagavan had not uttered a word. That gave me great confidence and I declared in the presence of Bhagavan that I would stay put and do whatever Bhagavan asked of me. Bhagavan smiled at me, and gave me another look of Grace.

There are many instances when Bhagavan showered grace by his look. On seeing this Sivalinga tied to my left arm, Bhagavan repeatedly said, "You have the Lord tied to your hand. What more do you want?"

It was my father who had this Linga tied to my arm. The Tamil religious calendar says that, upon rising every morning one should look at the sun in one's right hand, and at a Linga in the left. As I was interested in following this injunction, it was suggested that I could have a Linga tattooed on my hand. But my father preferred a Linga itself to be tied to my left hand. Bhagavan used to repeatedly tell me, "God is in your own hands. What shortcomings can you face in your life?"


Bhagavan was extraordinarily kind towards birds, squirrels, cows, dogs and peacocks. In fact, He showed visible partiality towards animals over humans.

Once a big dove fell down on being attacked by a vulture. Bhagavan personally attended to the bird and treated it with zambak and other oils. He massaged its head, and kept the dove for the whole day. The next day when He asked me to bring the dove to Him, the bird had by then recovered so much that it flew off.

I was present when the crow, towards which Bhagavan showed extraordinary kindness, died in His hands; so also Jacki the dog, and Valli the deer. When the samadhi was being built for Valli, I was very thin and could easily go inside the tiny dome to do the plastering work. Bhagavan used to stand outside and hand me chuna and other material, and helped me complete the samadhi.

The crow was very fortunate to die in His hands. Bhagavan was particularly interested in rituals for the samadhis of the birds and animals and wanted special pujas to be done for such samadhis with offerings of milk, etc. Many people used to witness this with awe and wonder.

Once, as Bhagavan was descending the steps near the Valli deer's samadhi, he saw a dog chasing a squirrel. Bhagavan tried to prevent the dog from harming the squirrel by interposing his stick in between them. In the process, He stumbled and fell down the steps, suffering bruises all over his body. Tincture was applied all over, which causes a burning sensation. Plaster was applied on all the wounds, and there are even photographs of Bhagavan with plaster all over His body. Bhagavan underwent such suffering even for animals. We all have witnessed these phases in Bhagavan's life.

Moving to Palakottu

I moved to Palakottu during the time when the Dining Hall was being built under my supervision. One day Yogi Ramaya was accompanying Bhagavan and told him that I had become very weak from so much hard work, and that I should be released from this strain. Bhagavan also said, "Yes, yes, he should be given freedom."

Resolving to put an end to the tension and mental suffering, I went up the hill to meet Bhagavan and requested permission to stay in Palakottu. Bhagavan said, "Yes, Yes, that's good for you," and he repeated it thrice.

A little later I went into the bathroom when Bhagavan was being given an oil bath. Madhavaswami, His attendant, remarked that many sadhus are known to take ganja (hemp) and asked him how one would feel on consuming ganja. Bhagavan then suddenly got up and holding me by the shoulder, said, "It will only be like this." I felt such a great joy when he held me that I handed over the keys of my room to Bhagavan immediately and left for Palakottu.

When I left the Ashram, I had no thoughts about where I would stay, or what I would do for food. Munagala Venkatramaiah gave me shelter at Palakottu and I cooked my own food. Bhagavan used to occasionally inquire about my cooking and made encouraging comments. For instance, if I told him that I made just one sambhar, he would say, "Oho! one sambhar! That's very good." Once when I had more than one eatable to offer Bhagavan, he remarked, "Just like Annamalai, Annanamalayar has Mandavapadi." Bhagavan was comparing his receiving food at the Ashram, as well as at other places, to the idol of Annamalai in the Arunachaleswara Temple, which stops at each Mandap and is offered food. Bhagavan had come to this place and even had some food cooked by me.

Whenever I was engaged in construction work at the Ashram or at Palakottu, Bhagavan would inspect my work and instruct me. Once Bhagavan visited me when I was removing the scaffolding from my house, as I could not complete the construction for want of money. When I told Bhagavan the reason, he said, "Oho! So you have to remove this scaffolding for the sake of money?" and went away. That same evening, a lady came from Ramaswami, stayed here for a month, and donated Rs.100. This house was completed with that money, along with help from Vaikuntavasagar.

I shall tell you the story of how this house was designed. My friend Arumugham and I were planning to build a small thatched shed for me to live in. Bhagavan heard our discussions from afar and inquired about our plans from Arumugham. He then asked many leading questions related to the design of the house. "Will you use mortar, lime, bricks, etc.?" he asked. "Will the house have an upper floor? Will there be a mortared top?" etc. Thus, without saying so explicitly, Bhagavan conveyed to Arumugham the design he had in mind for my house. Arumugham settled for that very plan and bought 4000 bricks the next day, along with lime-making equipment for a small lime factory. This look of Bhagavan made Arumugham a big contractor years later.

Do Not Move Out

One day He told me very clearly and sternly. "Don't move out anywhere. Stay put here and don't move to the next house or even the next room."

After moving to Palakottu I used to come to Bhagavan every day at around eight at night, after dinner, which was served at 7:30, and stay till about 9:00 o'clock.

One night I saw Bhagavan completely enclosed in a piece of cloth, except for the nose. I used to converse freely with Bhagavan, like a son with his father. I asked him, "Does this mean that you do not like to meet me here, or is it that you don't want me to come to the Ashram at all?" Bhagavan remained silent. At about 9 o'clock I left the Hall. I was nearing the garden thinking about Bhagavan's directive to me to stay put at Palakottu when I heard Him call me. He beckoned me to him and said in a very strong and stern voice, "He who, despite the right spiritual maturity, thinks that he is different from the Lord will reach the same lower state as does a non-believer."

I felt that Bhagavan was telling me not to move out of Palakottu, not even to visit the Ashram. I have never left Palakottu since.

Shadow Bhagavan

Once, there were films being shown at the Ashram, including one on Bhagavan. I wanted to see the film. When I arrived and prostrated before Bhagavan, He said in a stern voice. "So you have come to see the shadow of Bhagavan. This means that you no longer have the real Bhagavan in you and have hence come to see this shadow-Bhagavan." This touched me very deeply.

One day, after this incident, I went up the hill wanting to meet Bhagavan when he returned from his walk. He again looked at me sternly and said, "Why have you come to see me? You have happiness, you have happiness." I couldn't understand his words then, but after a lot of reflection I realized that when one is away from society, one has peace, and that Bhagavan wanted me to avoid the entire society. This is how I interpreted His words.

Bhagavan also said, "Ananda is not what you get from somewhere else. If you follow somebody else's path, it will only lead you to destruction. You have to follow your own self. Go within. That alone will lead you to Ananda." So I interpreted it to mean that I should be alone

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