Swami Ramanananda Saraswati, formerly T.N. Venkataraman (1914-2007), was President of Sri Ramanasramam for over forty years till 1994. After resigning his bank job he had moved to Tiruvannamalai in 1938 to help his father Swami Niranjanananda, the sarvadhikari, in managing the Ashram affairs.
My birth had the blessings of Bhagavan. When Bhagavan’s mother (my grandmother) Alagammal came to the hill in 1913 along with my mother, she told Bhagavan that Nagaswami (Maharshi’s elder brother) had died issueless, Alamelu (Maharshi’s younger sister) also had no children and his younger brother Nagasundaram’s wife, that is my mother, had lost two issues in their childhood. She prayed that my mother be blessed with a male child so that the family line might continue. Bhagavan smiled graciously and she took this as his blessing. I was born a year later.
My mother passed away when I was not yet three and my father Nagasundaram, who was sarvadhikari of the Ashram, left me at the house of my aunt Alamelu (Maharshi’s sister) and her husband Pichu Iyer.
I was blessed with my first upadesam of Bhagavan when I was six: In 1920, at Skandashram a plate of fruit and sweets had been put aside for a lame monkey called ‘Nondy’. When nobody was around I went near the plate, took a sweet and put it in my mouth. All of a sudden the monkey appeared, limped towards me, slapped me and grabbed the plate. Then Bhagavan appeared on the scene and said, “This is a lesson for you; now understand that we should not desire things which belong to others.” I fully understood the profound meaning of this upadesam long afterwards when I was president of the Ashram.
With the exception of the saffron-robed grandma Alagammal, no other woman could stay at night at Skandashram. So my aunt and uncle would return to the town in the evening, taking me along with them. As they had to carry me in their arms, on some days, they would leave me at Skandashram. On those days Bhagavan would put me to bed by his side and see that I slept comfortably. In the morning he would brush my teeth and bathe me. He would sit outside on the stone couch and ask me to sit beside him. He would say, “What are the pranks that you play Backhome?” When aunt and uncle would come up the hill from the town, he would look in their direction and tell me, “See there, your aunt is coming” and would get up with a laugh.
In May 1922, when my grandmother (Maharshi’s mother) was on her death bed, she wanted to see me, her only grandchild. A telegram was sent to our place. We arrived only the day after the grandmother had left the body which, by then, had been carried down the hill for burial. It fell to my lucky lot to lay to rest the blessed mother who gave birth to such a great jnani.
Soon after our marriage, aunt Alamelu and uncle Pichu Iyer took my wife Nagu (Nagalakshmi) to Bhagavan for his blessings. When she came out of the hall after Bhagavan’s darshan, she was impressed by the saree worn by a young lady, who had come from Madras, and told her, “How beautiful is your saree!” The lady’s father who had heard this, on returning to Madras, purchased two similar sarees and sent them to the Ashram with a request that the packet be given to Nagu. All letters addressed to the Ashram were invariably placed before Bhagavan, and so was this packet and the covering letter.
Next day, when Bhagavan saw Nagu at the Ashram kitchen, he said, “Nagu, when you see someone wearing nice ornaments or a nice saree, you should think that you are wearing them.” Nagu, with her eyes moist and voice tremulous, said, “Bhagavan, I did not ask for the saree, I only said that the saree was beautiful.” But Bhagavan repeated his upadesa and moved on. From that day onward till her last moment 55 years later, Nagu never asked for anything from anybody. She found contentment to be the best of riches, thanks to Bhagavan’s gracious upadesa.
It was Bhagavan who named everyone of my three sons and four daughters. He would choose an apt name and explain the reason for the choice.
A week before the mahanirvana, the cancerous growth near Bhagavan’s left elbow had swollen to a big size with a bandage around it. A number of doctors and many important people were in the Nirvana Room. Aunt Alamelu took my last child, barely 11 months old, near Bhagavan. The child started prattling ‘inga, inga’ unusually loudly. Alamelu took the child far from Bhagavan but her prattle was audible to Bhagavan. Those were the days when the smallest movement of any part of the body would entail excruciating pain for Bhagavan. But he turned his face in all directions and said, “I hear the voice of ‘inga’ baby. Is she here? Poor child! if she raises her voice, she is carried far away!” Someone ran to Aunt Alamelu who brought the child to Bhagavan, who looked at her with compassion saying ‘inga’. The child shouted ‘inga’ and Bhagavan’s face was wreathed in smiles.
Perumalswami had served Bhagavan when he was on the hill. He would also play with me when I was a boy. He later turned against the Ashram and gave us much trouble, to the extent of involving the Ashram in litigation. When he fell sick in 1945 and was evicted from his place, he moved to a hut in Seshadri Swami’s place, adjacent to the Ashram. I took pity on him and with Bhagavan’s blessings would take food and medicines for him. One day Bhagavan told me, “Poor Perumalswami! He did all sorts of mischief, but we should remember the good that he did in the past. Once when I had suffered from serious stomach upset and diarrhoea, he used to clean up and attend upon me with devotion.“
I met Mahatma Gandhi at Madras in January 1946, and presented him a photo of Bhagavan and some Ashram publications. Gandhiji kept looking at the photo and said in Hindi, “What a great Sage!“