A Long Life with the Maharshi

By Sri K. Natesan

On February 23, 2009, devotees in India and around the world celebrated Sivarathri, the Night of Siva. On that same day, in Sri Ramanasramam, the 11th volume of the Collected Works of Ganapati Muni, edited by Sri K. Natesan was released. To compile and publish all his written works became the final mission that Sri K. Natesan took up six years earlier, while in his 89th year, and now, at last, on the Night of Siva the final volume was released and his mission was accomplished.

When just a youngster, studying in the Arunachala Temple Veda Patasala school, Natesan came under the influence of Bhagavan Ramana, and not too long after that, Ganapati Muni. The Muni encouraged him to write and study his compositions, which he did throughout his long life, collecting and copying everything Ganapati Muni composed. The Maharshi took genuine interest is this. Then, in the evening of his life, Sri Natesan clearly felt the inspiration and guidance of both the Maharshi and the Muni to take up this enormous task.

After the release of the the 11th volume (the 12th volume, an index, is yet to be printed), Natesan’s friends expected he would soon be released from his physical vestige, an event which he eagerly awaited.

And it happened just one month later, on March 21 in Tiruvannamalai. For the past year Sri K. Natesan stayed at his brother’s home in the town, at the foot of the Holy Hill. Knowing his end was near, he wished to leave his body residing there. On his final day, when his family saw his life force ebbing, they called an ambulance to take him to the Sri Ramana Maharshi Rangammal Hospital. In route to the hospital, just as the vehicle was passing in front of Sri Ramanasramam, Sri K. Natesan breathed his last, his soul released from the body, merged in the feet of his Master, Sri Ramana. In 1993, he gave us the following article about his life. Reading it again after all these years we realize what a fortunate soul he was, and also how fortunate we all were to have moved closely with him for more than 35 years.

I WAS BORN into a very orthodox Brahmin family on November 26, 1913, in the village of Mondakurathur, near Polur, North Arcot District. That was also the birthplace of the Maharshi’s renowned devotee, Echammal, who was related to me on my mother’s side of the family. My father, Brahmasri Krishna Ganapati, was a great Vedic scholar who taught Krishna Yajur Veda for thirty years in the local Vedapatasala.

I had my first darshan of Bhagavan Maharshi at Skandashram in 1921 when I was eight years old. Sri Vasudeva Sastry, one of the earliest devotees of Bhagavan, took me to see him. Vasudeva Sastry was at that time teaching me Sanskrit in the Patasala of the Arunachaleshwara Temple.

Later in 1923, when Bhagavan came down to the present ashram, I used to visit the ashram often and sit in front of the Maharshi. At that time I was studying in the Municipal High School where Sri T. K. Sundaresa Iyer was a teacher. After completing high school in 1930, I waited two years before joining an engineering college in Madras. During those two intervening years I was at the ashram almost daily, along with T. K. S. I used to spend time there even at odd hours of the day or night. In 1936, after earning a diploma in civil engineering in Madras, I worked for six months under Sri K. K. Nambiar. K. K. Nambiar, already a staunch devotee of Bhagavan, had at that time the good fortune of being posted as the District Board Engineer right in Tiruvannamalai itself. By Bhagavan’s grace, I was almost constantly at the ashram between 1935 and 1945, though I was employed off and on in various places. I often quit jobs to come to Sri Ramanasramam and be near Sri Maharshi. My attachment to Bhagavan was such that I could not remain employed continuously until, by Bhagavan’s grace, Sri K. K. Nambiar, who was then the Chief Engineer of the Madras Corporation in 1945, got me employed by that Corporation. That ended the rolling-stone phase of my life, as I retained this job until my retirement in January of 1969. Throughout all these years I would never miss an opportunity to come to Bhagavan’s ashram. After Ganapati Muni became the recipient of the Maharshi’s grace, all his doubts were dispelled at one stroke by the vision of the Reality. The Muni surrendered to the Maharshi on Monday, November 18, 1907. This event has been described in detail by various writers. What is not very well known is that on the afternoon of that November day in 1907 at the Virupaksha Cave, Nayana wrote five verses in Sanskrit lauding the Maharshi, proclaiming him as Bhagavan Sri Ramana. He gave the paper containing the verses to the Malayalee attendant Palaniswami. It is our bad luck that these verses were lost due to the negligence of the attendant.

In the beginning, the Maharshi used to address Kavyakantha Ganapati Muni as Ganapati Sastrigam, which the Muni did not like because it was a respectful form used to address elders. The Maharshi was his chosen guru and he felt uncomfortable being addressed by his guru in this manner. Understanding the Muni’s objection, the Maharshi compromised and thereafter called him ‘Nayana’, the same name by which his disciples endearingly addressed him. In Telugu, the word ‘Nayana’ means both child and father.

In 1908, from January to March, Nayana lived with the Maharshi at the Pachaiamman Temple. One early morning Nayana and other disciples were all sitting in front of the Maharshi who was, as usual, indrawn. The Muni saw a sparkling light come down from the sky and touch the forehead of the Maharshi six times. The Maharshi also was aware of what was happening. Immediately the Muni had the intuitive realization that the Maharshi was none other than an incarnation of Lord Skanda. The seer-poet, Nayana, gave expression to this revelation through his famous eight verses, “Ramana Asthakam,” beginning with “Yanayatra. . . .” This was later included in the “Forty Verses in Praise of Ramana” that was compiled by Bhagavan himself after Nayana’s passing in 1936.

When Nayana had known Bhagavan for some years he questioned him one evening as to whether he was correct in recognising him as Skanda and extolling him in the Ramana Gita as Lord Subramanya. Though the Maharshi heard the question he remained silent. Nayana then mentally prayed to Bhagavan to answer his question at least by the next day. Consequently, when Nayana went to him the following day, the Maharshi looked at him and said, “Ishwara Swami (a devotee of the Maharshi) wrote a verse in praise of this Vinayaka (Ganesha) image sitting in a niche in the Virupaksha Cave. At his request I also wrote a venba verse on that Pillayar (Ganesha).” Then Bhagavan explained the meaning of that venba to Nayana. In the verse, Bhagavan entreats Lord Ganesha to look after him, because he is a younger brother who has come after him. Nayana was much gratified to hear this as he felt it was a confirmation that the Maharshi was an avatar of Skanda.

On April 16, 1922, when the Maharshi was still living in Skandashram, Nayana composed the following verse in praise of Bhagavan: May the ascetic, wearing only a white loin-cloth, who once used to ride on the celestial peacock and has now come down as a man on earth, reign over the world as its unique Master! This shows that Nayana had foreseen as early as 1922 that the Maharshi would shine forth as the world teacher of the age. Many of Nayana’s declarations were prophetic.

In 1923, on January 3, when the first Jayanti of Bhagavan was celebrated in Ramanasramam, Nayana composed this verse:

There is the light of Uma in your eyes for dispelling your devotees’ dark ignorance. Your face gleams lotuslike with the grace and brilliance of Lakshmi. Your words contain the secret lore of Saraswati. Preceptor of the worlds! Ramana the great!

How can a mortal sing your glory? Again, in this verse, Nayana hailed Bhagavan as vishvacharya, world teacher. Once Bhagavan was engaging himself in collecting the Sanskrit verses written by devotees in praise of him. I happened to be present there at the time and mentioned to Bhagavan that Ganapati Muni had composed the following verse: vande sri ramanarser-acaryasya padabjam, yo me’darsayadisam bhantam dhvantam atitya. Then Bhagavan asked me where I got the verse and where and when it was written by Nayana. In 1936, after Nayana’s death, Bhagavan collected all the verses Nayana wrote on him and entitled it “Forty Verses in Praise of Sri Ramana.” This was published by the ashram in the same year. Bhagavan had no knowledge of the above verse at that time. I explained to him that Kapali Sastry and S. Doraiswamy Iyer requested Nayana to translate into Sanskrit verse Sri Aurobindo’s English poem titled Mother. After hearing the gist of the poem, Nayana started the translation on May 18, 1928, under the heading Matrvyuhacatuskam. However, it was never completed. In this translation Nayana wrote the above verse as an invocation to Bhagavan. Bhagavan requested to see the manuscript with the verse. The next day the notebook containing the verse in Nayana’s own handwriting was shown to him. He copied it and said that it should be added as the invocation to the next edition of “Forty Verses in Praise of Sri Ramana.” In all the subsequent editions the verse can be seen.

Between 1935 and 1945, though employed off and on in various places, I often quit jobs and left for holy places without informing anyone. Eventually I would end up back at Ramanasramam. Once on my return Bhagavan asked me which places I had visited. I replied that I had been to Tiruttani, Tirupati, and Padaiveedu (Renukamba Kshetram). Then the Maharshi pointedly asked me what was in my mind at that time. Straight away I gave a spontaneous answer in the form of the following verse from Ramana Gita:

not on Swamimalai,
nor on Tiruttani Hill,
nor on top of Venkatachal (Tirupati) do you now dwell.
In reality you are in Arunachala!

The Maharshi smiled.

On the occasion of my wedding on July 5, 1942, T. N. Venkataraman, now the [late] President of Sri Ramanasramam, came straight to Vellore from Karaikudi to attend the ceremony. The train passed through and stopped at the Tiruvannamalai station, but T. N. V., along with his eight-year-old son, stayed on the train and came straight to my marriage. When T. N. V.’s father, Chinnaswami, heard about it he began to scold his son and criticised him for going to Vellore to attend the wedding. Bhagavan overheard this from the Old Hall and said, “Why is he shouting? Ambi (T. N. V.) has gone to attend his friend’s marriage. There is nothing wrong in this.” After I got married I came to the ashram with my new wife and did pranams to Bhagavan in the Old Hall.

My wife, Jnanambal, was already deeply devoted to Bhagavan and had had his darshan even as a girl of eight. That day, after leaving the Old Hall, my wife and I went and visited Major Chadwick in his cottage. I had known Chadwick since his arrival in the ashram in 1935. He congratulated us on our marriage and remarked about the appropriateness of the bride’s name, saying, “Jnana you wanted and Jnana you have gained.”

Major Chadwick was one of the very few souls who moved closely with Bhagavan. One day he called me and requested me to show Sri Bhagavan a piece of paper in which he had given a definition for Self-realization. Sri Bhagavan read it and appreciated it very much. Chadwick wrote: Self-realization: It is the death while yet alive of that which lives after death.

In the earlier days some people used to sleep in the Old Hall. Once I slept there near the southern door at the west side of the hall. I did not get up even after 5 a.m. Bhagavan came near me and touched me with his right toe saying, “Get up. Day has already broken.” I immediately got up and had the darshan of Bhagavan. This is called Visva-rupadarshanam, the first darshan of the chosen deity in the morning. There was Veda Parayana every evening at the hall in the presence of Bhagavan. He would be mostly indrawn at that time. Following the Veda Parayana, from 7 to 7:30 p.m., recitations of the Maharshi’s works in Tamil, Telugu, Sanskrit, and Malayalam would take place.

Devotees like Ramaswami Pillai, Kunjuswami, T. K. Sudaresa Iyer and some others used to take part in it. In the earlier days I was also participating. During Tamil Parayanam I noticed Bhagavan appeared quite unconcerned with things around him, though he remained fully attentive to the recitation. He wouldn’t hesitate to correct our pronunciation of the verses, as he was particular to obey all the rules of prosody. Once I recited incorrectly the last verse in “Arunachala Pancharatnam” and Bhagavan pointed it out to me, demonstrating how it should be pronounced. He was satisfied only when I repeated it to him correctly.

Once when I was in Madras, T. P. Ramachandra Iyer’s father was writing a letter to the ashram. In it he was including a certain Sanskrit verse. Because he was not familiar with the Sanskrit alphabet he asked me to write it for him. I did so, and when the letter reached the ashram and Bhagavan saw the verse he looked up and told the devotees in the hall, “Oh, now K. Natesan has gone to Madras.”

Bhagavan was so keen and alert that he could recognise even my Sanskrit handwriting. I felt blessed to be remembered by him, even though I was away from the ashram. Another time I was sitting before Bhagavan and Vaidyanathan Stapati was showing Bhagavan the sculpture he was making of him. The Stapati asked Bhagavan for his opinion as to whether it was a good likeness of him.

Bhagavan said, “I can’t say. Only Natesan knows.” Vaidyanathan Stapati looked at me and Bhagavan said, “Not that Natesan, the barber Natesan.” He considered the barber to be the best authority on artistic representations of his body.

After retirement from service I have come back to the ashram to serve the devotees. The ashram President, Sri T. N. Venkataraman, being a close friend of mine since 1934, found me very useful to the new devotees since I could function as both a receptionist and an instructor. The president had entrusted me with the accounts of the Mountain Path magazine, etc. I served in the office until 1987. I ceased to work in the office due to glaucoma and cataract. Again, by the grace of Sri Bhagavan, I was completely cured of my eye trouble and normal sight has been restored. Since I am getting aged, the ashram president was kind enough to accommodate me as an old resident devotee in the ashram.

I realize that I do not have the power to relate in writing what the Maharshi is, or what he has done by living in our midst, or what he will be to future generations. Let all those who aspire for liberation and eternal happiness turn to him for guidance and grace, and then, I am sure, his unique mission to mankind will be known in the hearts of the seekers. To try to introduce Sri Ramana Maharshi to the world at large is just like trying to introduce the sun to the solar system. Sri Maharshi is Self-effulgent like the sun. The Masters who appeared on earth before the advent of Sri Maharshi have shown several paths to get a vision of God or gods. But the Maharshi, by his unique, direct method of Self-enquiry ‘Who am I?’, has shown that realization of the Self alone is God-realization. And it is he that shines forth as the Self. Today the whole world has come to realize the greatness of the Maharshi on account of his direct path to realize the Self.

At one time the world was attracted like a magnet by the Atmic force of Gautama Buddha, and at another time the world was drawn by the pure, selfless life of Jesus Christ. At present the life and teachings of the Maharshi have spread widely to all the corners of the world as the Supreme Light of Advaita Brahman. It is my belief that the Maharshi has now become the Universal Master.

This topic was taken from The Maharshi New Letter of May/June 2009