Swami Ramanananda Saraswati

Swami Ramanananda Saraswati (Sri T. N. Venkataraman)

T.N.Venkataraman, standing 2nd from the right

Venkatoo with Sri Bhagavan


Ganapati Muni, Venkatoo and Bhagavan, 1928

Wife Nagalakshmi, was absorbed in Bhagavan in 1994

At 8:30 p.m. on December 26th, Swami Ramanananda Saraswati, former president of Sri Ramanasramam (Sri T. N. Venkataraman), was quietly absorbed in Sri Bhagavan. The previous day he had fully participated in Sri Ramana's 128th Jayanti celebration in the Ashram and showed no signs of failing health until shortly before his passing on the following day.

Swami Ramanananda was an enthusiastic Assistant Manager of the Ashram from 1938 to 1950, while Bhagavan occupied his majestic form, and afterwards became Manager and President of the Ashram until 1994 when he took sannyasa and gave over the managing of the Ashram to his eldest son, Sri V. S. Ramanan. He knew full well that Bhagavan was with him throughout, guiding and protecting him in all ways. Swamiji occupied a special place not only in the Ashram but also in the hearts of all devotees whom he befriended and rendered service. His life story, recounted below, clearly demonstrates how he was the essential link to the perpetuation and dissemination of the grace and teachings of the Master, now revered the world over.

The birth of Sri T. N. Venkataraman, on May 26, 1914, carried more than ordinary significance to the family of Sri Bhagavan, since this event saved it from extinction. Sri Bhagavan's elder brother (Sri Nagaswami Iyer) was dead by then and the sister (Alamelu), though married, had no children. The younger brother, Sri Nagasundaram Iyer (whose sannyasa name was Sri Niranjanananda Swami) had lost two children. The sole hope of continuing the line lay in the birth of a child to him again. The mother, Alagammal, was greatly distressed and came to her Swami son at Arunachala, accompanied by Mangalam, Nagasundaram Iyer's wife, and sought Sri Bhagavan's blessing for a son. That Mangalam was thus blessed is evident from the following entry in the diary of Sri K. Natesan (then Supervisor, Corporation of Madras) under the date 30-11-1947 .Child Mangalam (Venkatoo's third daughter, a year old) prostrated herself before Sri Bhagavan after loudly addressing Him as Thatha (grandfather). Sri Bhagavan remarked: "Her grandmother was named Mangalam too". I asked Sri Bhagavan whether she had ever come to see Him. Sri Bhagavan replied: .O yes! She came to the Virupaksha Cave along with Mother. They stayed for the night there, which was unusual. This was the first occasion when women were permitted to do so. She returned home, became pregnant and Venkatoo was born. When he was two, Mangalam died. Seeing his (Venkatoo's) child Mangalam.

The family of Nelliappa Iyer, Sri Bhagavan's uncle (in whose house at Manamadurai Sri T. N. Venkataraman was born) supported the young child. The father, Nagasundaram Iyer, went to Arunachala where he took sannyasa under the name of Sri Niranjanananda Swami. The motherless child used to address Nelliappa Iyer's wife as Amma. After three years Sri Bhagavan's sister, Alamelu Ammal, known to Ashram devotees as Athai (aunt) and her husband, Sri Pitchu Iyer, took over the care of the child and brought him up with great affection. He, like Sri Bhagavan, was given the name of Venkataraman after Lord Venkateswara of Tirupati, the family deity. The shortened name Venkatoo, by which devotees addressed him, had come into vogue in childhood.

He was brought to Tiruvannamalai twice or thrice a year to see Sri Bhagavan, then living in Skandashram Women were not allowed to stay in the Ashram but Sri Bhagavan assured Athai that she could safely leave the child in His care. On such occasions He would Himself put him to sleep, wash him and clean his teeth in the morning!

Sri T. N. Venkataraman went to school at Tiruppattur (Ramanathapuram) and Manamadurai. In 1929, he married Nagalakshmi, daughter of Sri Bhagavan's uncle, Sri Ramachandra Iyer. He was employed for a year in the Kunrakkudi Subramania Temple Devasthanam and then changed over to the Chettinad Bank where he continued till the end of January, 1938.

For his marriage the Ashram sent its blessings, together with new clothes and other gifts, through Sri Gopala Rao, the then Secretary of the Ashram. Sri Gopala Rao had much trouble in reaching Vetriyur, the venue of the wedding, since the village was inaccessible by rail or road!

The course of Venkatoo's life was changed in January, 1938 when he received a letter from the Ashram summoning him to Tiruvannamalai with his family and Athai and her husband. Before embarking on this change, Sri T. N. Venkataraman, now the father of two children, requested Sri Chellam lyer to go and find out whether the summons had the sanction of Sri Bhagavan. When approached by him, along with Sri Yogi Ramiah, Sri Bhagavan confirmed it. When someone said that Venkatoo had a family, He added: .What of that? Let him bring them too!. Thus it was with Sri Bhagavan's consent and blessings that Sri T. N. Venkataraman came to the Ashram for good.

And so, from February 1, 1938, Sri T. N. Venkataraman worked in the Ashram office, assisting Sri Niranjanananda Swami, the Sarvadhikari (Sole Manager), whom he succeeded as President on January 30, 1953. On several occasions when the Sarvadhikari had to go away on Ashram business he was put in charge. Sri Bhagavan would some times refer people to him, saying: "Ask Venkatoo. He is the kutti (little) Sarvadhikari". More than once he said: "He is the future Sarvadhikari; take his view also".

Sri Niranjanananda Swami was apt to be brusque in manner towards Venkatoo. Since he was a sannyasin he was careful that none of the old relationship of father and son should continue as between him and Venkatoo. He was very curt and would not allow Venkatoo even to join group photographs. Once it was Kavyakantha Ganapati Muni (group photo taken on 28.12.1928) and more than once it was Sri Bhagavan (group photo taken on 30.11.1947) who intervened and insisted on the inclusion of Venkatoo. Sri M. S. Kamath, a well.known devotee and the editor of Sunday Times, used to present on Jayanthi Day new khadi clothes to devotees and the Sarvadhikari would not permit any such gift being given to Venkatoo. A devotee (Sri Framji Dorabji's brother) had once presented a cycle to Venkatoo, but the Sarvadhikari claimed it for he Ashram! The Sarvadhikari did not permit him to move out of Tiruvannamalai and it was Sri Bhagavan who had to intervene and persuade Chinna Swami (Sarvadhikari) that Venkatoo was a householder and was free to move about as he pleased.

Sri Bhagavan had always shown love end kindness to Venkatoo. When Sri Seshadri Swami's body was interred, Sri Bhagavan asked Venkatoo to join Him and others in placing vibhuthi (sacred ash) on the samadhi.pit. When large'scale arrests were reported during the Quit India movement in 1942, Sri Bhagavan remarked that, if Venkatoo were not in the Ashram, he as a staunch Congressman would have gone to jail like his comrades! On August 15, 1947 . the day of Indian Independence . Sri . N. Venkataraman brought the Revenue Divisional Officer and the Deputy Superintendent of Police of Tiruvannamalai to the Ashram and requested Sri Bhagavan to hoist the Indian National Flag in the Ashram. In fact, the previous night Sri Bhagavan Himself, along with other inmates, got the flag ready and helped arrange decorations. In memory of Sri Bhagavan's participation in this, the National Flag is hoisted at the Ashram every year on Independence Day.

When Gandhiji visited Madras in 1946, Venkatoo wanted to go and meet the Mahatma. Despite opposition from Chinna Swami, Venkatoo approached Sri Bhagavan, who gave not only consent but such encouragement that Venkatoo spent five days with the Mahatma in Madras and even secured his signature on the photograph of Sri Bhagavan. On his return he showed the photograph with Mahatma's signature to Sri Bhagavan who smilingly held it in His hands and also listened with interest to Venkatoo's detailed and enthusiastic report on his delightful participation in the Mahatma's day.to.day activities.

Once when Nan Yar? (The original Tamil of Sri Bhagavan's Who Am I ?) had run out of print and new copies could not be printed for want of money, Sri Rama Satagopan, editor of Tyagi, wanted just enough money to buy the requisite paper and promised to do the printing gratis. Venkatoo, was the acting Sarvadhikari then and he immediately paid Rs. 100/- to Sri Satagopan. Mouna Swami (Srinivasa Rao) strongly objected. Sri Bhagavan who was coming along and heard all this, remarked "What? He is the Sarvadhikari, is he not? What is wrong with it?"

The administration of the Ashram had never been without problems. There were a few who had acted as secretaries of the Ashram till 1933. But these persons lived in the town and also had their office there, so that money and provisions had to be carried all the way to the Ashram daily. This was a cumbersome process. So at the request of many close devotees, Sri Bhagavan gave the general power of attorney to Sri Niranjanananda Swami, who became the Agent and Sarvadhikari. This was challenged by one, Perumal Swami, who had once been an attendant of Sri Bhagavan and now wanted to be the Sarvadhikari. In the legal proceedings that followed, Bhagavan had to depose before the Court, which, of course, sent a Commissioner to take the evidence. On the basis of Sri Bhagavan's deposition, the Court declared that the Ashram was Private Property.

To avoid similar troubles in future, devotees drew up a Will, under which the Ashram was to be maintained as a spiritual center and its management was to vest in the Sarvadhikari and, after him, Venkatoo and his descendants. Sri Bhagavan listened carefully as it was read out, made comments on it and approved of it. Where a blank space had been left, He told them to write in the names of Sri Niranjanananda Swami and Sri T. N. Venkatarama Iyer. He did not sign it, having no name to sign with, but He drew a line at the foot of it and allowed Sri G. Sambasiva Rao to declare that He had done so in token of approval. The document was registered on March 6, 1938 and attested by Dewan Bahadur K. Sundaram Chettiar, (Retd. High Court Judge, Madras), Sri M. M. Bhargava (Manager, Reserve Bank of India, Madras), Sri Yogi Ramiah, Dr. T. N. Krishnaswami, Sri T. S. Rajagopala Iyer and Sri R. Narayana Iyer (Sub Registrar, Omalur).

For the installation of the Sri Chakra Meru and the Kumbhabhishekam of Mother's Shrine - Sri Mathrubhuteswara Temple - on behalf of Sri Bhagavan and the Ashram (Sri Niranjanananda Swami being a sannyasin could not do rituals), Sri Venkataraman officiated in all rituals.

The vaidiks together with Venkatoo approached Sri Bhagavan and secured formal permission to commence the Kumbhabhishekam ceremonies. Again, when Sri Bhagavan attained Brahma Nirvana on April 14, 1950, the ceremonial acts of bathing, puja and burial on the following day were all performed by Venkatoo with scrupulous care and reverence.

Sri T. N. Venkataraman played therefore an active role in both the ritual observances and practical administration of the Ashram. After the samadhi of Sri Niranjanananda Swami, he had to go to Court and obtain a certificate of succession to administer the Ashram (of course, with the aid of a Managing Committee). A case had been going on even from 1950, but finally in March 1954 the Court declared that Sri T. N. Venkataraman was entitled to manage the properties under the Will of the Maharshi. Again a case went up petitioning the Court to bring the Ashram under the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, which would have meant that the Ashram was exclusively for Hindus. The Court declared the Ashram as a Public Religious Trust and recognized the position of Sri T. N. Venkataraman as the Hereditary Trustee, who was to manage the Ashram.

In spite of such preoccupations and administrative worries, Sri T. N. Venkataraman has always managed to keep cheerful. His dealings with devotees and Ashram inmates are characterized by warm affection and thoughtful concern. Hence he is sensitive to their requirements and difficulties and offers them the utmost help. The devotees, in their turn, hold him in loving esteem and regard him like a brother.

When he took over the management the Ashram was heavily in debt. Sri T. N. Venkataraman has retrieved it from this position and built up some capital and property, by the abundant grace of Sri Bhagavan and with the unstinted cooperation and earnest efforts of fellow devotees. Even a casual visitor to the Ashram can notice the substantial improvements effected, the number of new residential buildings, the facilities now available and the smoothness and efficiency of the whole administration. In fact, an experienced financier saw the accounts recently and remarked that it was a tremendous achievement to have built up the present reserve position! This is a tribute to the integrity, industry and managerial skill of Sri T N. Venkataraman.

At home he was very simple. His children call him .ANNA. (elder brother). The family could not have a comfortable life till after the eldest son had got a job; but, in spite of the hardships, he had given all his children higher education. Likewise he has discharged in full his duty towards elders in the family. In the case of Manni (wife of Sri Nagaswami Iyer, Sri Bhagavan's elder brother, who passed away even before his wife reached her teens), Sri Bhagavan's wish, conveyed through Athai, was that she should stay. Manni consented and stayed. Athai and her husband, Sri S. Pitchu Iyer, also stayed with Venkatoo. He always cherished feelings of the greatest affection and respect for these elders and looked after their daily needs and comfort. He took the leading part in the 60th birthday celebration of Sri Pitchu Iyer, which went off in a grand manner in the presence of Sri Bhagavan. In their last moments, all these elders gratefully acknowledged that they had indeed been very well looked after by him. All his children married except Sri Ganesan, the second son, who was the Managing Editor of the Mountain Path and also assisted his father in running the Ashram.

With the blessings and presiding guidance of Sri Bhagavan, the gracious good wishes of elder devotees and willing cooperation from fellow workers, Venkatoo cheerfully carried on the management to the satisfaction of all concerned.

Understanding his limitations throughout his life, helped him to be submissive without being timid and flexible without being infirm. This remarkable quality enabled him to move on the best of terms with devotees and scholars, such as Major Chadwick, Sri Ramanananda Saraswati, Sri Devaraja Mudaliar, Mr. Arthur Osborne, Sri Muruganar, Sri Viswanatha Swami, Sri Kunju Swami, Sri T. P. Ramachandra Aiyer and Sri Ramaswami Pillai. His achievements in completing Sri Bhagavan's Samadhi, its Kumbhabhishekam in 1967 and the opening of the vast Auditorium/Meditation Hall in front of it in 1970, and the renovation of Sri Mathrubhuteswara Temple (in 1967), will be cherished by posterity with gratitude. His untiring zeal in bringing out books on and by Sri Bhagavan is well known. Anxious to keep the Ashram as it was in the days of Sri Bhagavan, he has, despite odds, maintained the kitchen and the kind and quality of food that used to be served to the devotees. When once there was a suggestion that in view of rising costs the kitchen might be closed and a canteen opened outside the Ashram, he got furious and said: .I will never allow it to happen. For, I remember vividly how Sri Bhagavan was reading a newspaper article on Him and read aloud appreciatively the passage, "There are two fires in Ramanasramam: one is Sri Bhagavan Himself and the other is the kitchen fire. They both will never cease to kindle the heart of any devotee visiting the Ashram!. And so, I know how much Sri Bhagavan wanted the kitchen to be kept up and the devotees served good food".

Devotees thus have now good shelter, good food, good halls for meditation, good books to read and a good journal to spread the teaching of Sri Bhagavan. Is this not proof enough that Swami Ramanananda was indeed chosen by our Master for His service?

Ome Namo Bhagavate Sri Ramanaya

This is from THE MAHARSHI News Letter - January / February 2008 Vol. 18 – No.