T.K.Sundaresa Iyer (1896-1965), a school teacher at Tiruvan-namalai, acted as an interpreter for English-speaking visitors at the Ashram. He also helped the Ashram in regard to its correspondence on spiritual matters, under the Maharshi’s guidance. At the Feet of Bhagavan records his reminiscences.
In 1908, when I was 12 years old, Bhagavan was in the Vimpaksha Cave. My cousin, Krishnamurthy, used to go to Bhagavan everyday and sing before him songs of devotion and worship. One day when I asked him about his daily visits, he told me, “The Lord of the Hill Himself sits there in human form. Why don’t you come with me?” I too climbed the hill and found Bhagavan sitting on a stone slab, with about ten devotees around him. Each one would sing a song. Bhagavan turned to me and asked, “Well, won’t you sing?” I agreed. The substance of my song was: “Oh Lord, grant that my tongue may repeat Thy Name even when my mind strays.” Bhagavan felt happy and said, “Yes, that is what must be done”, and I took it to be his teaching for me. From that time on I went to him regularly for several years, never missing a day.
One day I wondered why I was visiting him at all. What was the use? Going up the hill was a meaningless toil. I decided to end my visits. After three months when I could suffer no longer, I ran up the hill. When I fell at his feet, I could not restrain myself and burst out in tears. Bhagavan pulled me up and asked, “It is over three months since I saw you. Where were you?” I told him how I thought that seeing him was of no use. “All right,” he said, “may be it is of no use, so what? You felt the loss, did you not?” Then I understood that I did not go to him for profit, but because away from him there was no life for me.
Whenever I went up the hill, I used to take some eatables as an offering. One day I had no money. I stood before Bhagavan in a dejected mood and said, “This poor man has brought nothing.” Bhagavan looked at me enquiringly and remarked, “Why, you have brought the main thing. All else is unimportant.” I wondered, not knowing what I brought. Bhagavan said laughingly, “Don’t you understand? You brought yourself.”
In those days, Bhagavan’s figure was like a statue of burnished gold. He simply sat and sat, and rarely spoke. He was an enchanting personality, who shed a captivating lustre on all, and a life-giving current flowed from him, charging all those nearby, while his sparkling eyes irrigated all those around him with the nectar of his Being.
The mantra “Dm Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya’ had fascinated me greatly in my early days. After coming to Bhagavan, I thought when Ramana is himself Vasudeva, why should I worship Vasudeva separately? I found ‘Dm Namo Bhagavate Sri Ramanaya’ had the same number of syllables. I told this to Bhagavan who gave his approval to the new mantra.
On an amavasya, as I had to perform my late father’s ceremony, I refused to take breakfast at the Ashram along with others. Bhagavan said as my father was already in heaven, nothing more need be done for him and my taking breakfast would not hurt him in any way. Accustomed as I was to the age-old tradition, I hesitated to sit. Bhagavan got up, made me sit and eat some iddlies. From that time onwards, I gave up performing ceremonies for ancestors.1
Once someone placed the Periapuranam in Bhagavan’s hands. He began reading out of it. Now Bhagavan was a pastmaster at story telling. His solo acting was ever the admiration of his devotees. His modulation of voice of different characters, suiting gestures and postures of each incident, were wonderfully effective. His devotees never missed a chance of being in the hall on such occasions.
Bhagavan began with the life of the hunter-devotee Kannappan2 who worshipped Sivalinga with water carried in his mouth, flowers taken from his hair, and beef prepared for his own meal. The way in which the priest resented the intruding defiler of the sacred Sivalinga was embellished by Bhagavan with his own explanations of the rites and the meanings of the mantras used in the worship. Then came the scene of scenes. The Lord in the Sivalinga tested the devotee by making blood trickle from the eyes on that Linga. Kannappan ran to and fro for herbs to treat the Lord’s eye with them. Finding them useless, he plucked out one of his own eyes and fixed it to that in the Sivalinga. Seeing that the treatment was effective, he ran into ecstasy of joyful dance.
When Bhagavan came to the story of how the forest devotee was plucking out his second eye to heal the second eye of the Lord, and of how the Sivalinga extended a hand to stop him, saying, ‘Stop Kannappan’, Bhagavan’s voice got choked, his body perspired profusely, his hair stood on end, tears gushed out of his eyes, he could hardly utter a word, and there was pin-drop silence in the hall. All were dumbfounded that this great jnani could be so overpowered by emotion and ecstasy at the hunter’s devotion. After a while, Bhagavan quietly closed the book, dried the tears with the end of his towel and laid aside the book, saying, “No, I can’t go on any further.“
About 1920, Kavyakantha Ganapati Muni came to reside at Tiruvannamalai. He used to discuss sastras with Bhagavan and get his doubts cleared. He was a mighty scholar, while Bhagavan was just literate, yet the Muni would say, “Without Bhagavan’s grace, the intricacies of the scriptures are beyond one’s power of understanding. One word from him makes everything clear.” When Ganapati Muni would see someone sitting in front of Bhagavan, meditating with his eyes closed, he would scold the devotee, saying, “When the Sun is shining in front of you, why do you need to close your eyes?“
At the Skandasram a peacock would follow Bhagavan everywhere. One day a huge black cobra appeared in the Ashram and the peacock attacked it fiercely. The cobra spread its hood and the two natural enemies were poised for a fight to death. Bhagavan went near the cobra and said, “Why did you come here? The peacock will kill you. Better go away at once.” The cobra lowered its hood and slithered away.
In 1933, on my 36th birthday, I sat in Bhagavan’s presence in a pensive mood. I addressed a prayer in Tamil to him complaining: “O, Bhagavan, I have completed three and half decades, and yet have not had the experience of the real you. Pray, let me have this day the touch of Your Grace.” Handing over the slip of paper, I prostrated before him. He made me sit down and gazed steadily at me; I was still in a pensive and meditative mood. All of a sudden I lost body-consciousness, and was absorbed in the Maharshi. I got turned inward, and the voice of Bhagavan made me see whatever I desired.
I was very much devoted to Sri Rama; I wanted to have his darshan. Immediately I saw Sri Rama with Sita, Lakshmana, Bharata, Satrughana and Hanuman. The ecstasy of the vision defied description. I simply sat on, with the Maharshi gazing at me. Two hours may thus have passed in pin-drop silence, lost in the vision, until it vanished. I prostrated at the feet of the Maharshi, with tears of ecstasy in my eyes and my hair standing on end.
Bhagavan gave us a tangible demonstration of God’s omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence.
Though outwardly we seemed to remain very much the same persons, inwardly he was working to destroy the deep roots of separateness and self-concern in us.
A couple from Peru, who had heard of the Maharshi’s greatness, came to the Ashram. Being poor they had to save enough money for a few years to become deck passengers. To the couple, the Maharshi’s presence on the earth seemed the second coming of the Christ himself and they longed to see him.
One evening when they sat before Bhagavan, the talk turned to Peru. The couple was describing the seacoast and beach of their town. Just then Bhagavan remarked, “Is not the beach paved with marble slabs, with coconut palms planted in between? Are there not marble benches in rows facing the sea, and did you not often sit on the fifth of those with your wife?” This remark came as a great astonishment to the couple and as they were wondering and were at a loss to understand as to how the Maharshi could know such minute details, Bhagavan smiled and remarked, “It does not matter how I can tell. Enough if you know that the Self is not limited by space and time.”
Knowles, an Italian, well read in both Eastern and Western philosophies once came to the Ashram and had many interesting talks with Bhagavan. One morning, Bhagavan was describing the state of a jivanmukta: “He is the ever-aware Self, the witness-consciousness transcending space and time and causation, the fullness of Being. How he is the non-actor, non-enjoyer, and yet at the same time the greatest of actors, the greatest of enjoyers and so forth.” This was too much for Knowles to digest. In the heat of the discussion he put a straight question to Bhagavan, “Are you or are you not speaking to us?” Bhagavan gave Knowles a meaningful look and said in a most emphatic tone: “No, ‘I’ am not talking to you.” In an ecstatic mood, Knowles echoed: “No, Bhagavan is not talking to us. He only exists. That is all.”
In the late 1930s, when Bhagavan’s Nool Thirattu (published as Collected Works in English) was ready for the press, it was proposed that a preface be written to it. But no one came forward for the job, each one excusing himself that he was not qualified for the task. This drama, which went on for long, was watched by Bhagavan quietly. At about 10.30 p.m., as I was passing beside the hall, Bhagavan looked at me and said, “Why don’t you write the preface?” I was taken aback, but meekly said, “I would venture to write only if I had Bhagavan’s blessings for the task.” Bhagavan said, “Do write, it will come all right.” So I began writing at the dead of night, and to my great surprise within three quarters of an hour I made a draft as if impelled, driven by some Supreme Force. I altered not even a comma of it, and by three O’clock in the early morning I placed it at the feet of Bhagavan. He was happy and approved it as all right.
Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, entry dated July 20, 1936, records:
T.K.S.Iyer, a disciple, was agitated because someone in the town had spoken disparagingly of the Master and he had failed to retort. So he asked the Master what penalty should be paid for his failure to defend him. The Maharshi replied, “Patience, more patience; tolerance, more tolerance.“
1. Refer paras 2, 3 & 4, p. 158, for a similar incident.
2. Refer annexure – III, p. 412, for the story.