K.K. Nambiar was Chief Engineer, Highways, Madras Presidency. The Guiding Presence of Sri Ramana contains his reminiscences.
In 1932, when I was an engineer at Salem, a friend of mine left with me the booklet ‘ Who am I?“ in Malayalam. There was a mention of a ‘living Maharshi’ in the book. I had heard of the Maharshis in puranas and doubted there could be one in flesh and blood living these days. A few days later, when I mentioned about the booklet to Chettiar, President ofthe Salem District Board, he confirmed the existence of the Maharshi, and a trip was arranged to Tiruvannamalai.
We went to Sri Ramanasramam. On entering the hall I prostrated before the Maharshi. Though no words passed between us, I felt an indescribable influence and a sense of calmness settling over me. I sat transfixed to the spot. Chettiar got up after about an hour and signalled that it was time to go. We took leave of Bhagavan who nodded assent.
While leaving the Ashram, I felt that my heart was being irresistibly attracted, as though by a mighty spiritual magnet towards that Divinity in human form seated on the couch. My feeling at that time can be best expressed in the words of poet Kalidasa: “The body goes forward, but the restless heart runs backward like the cloth of a banner which is being carried against the wind.” I prayed fervently that I might be granted more opportunities to be with him. My prayer was answered. I was posted as District Board Engineer of North Arcot with headquarters at Tiruvannamalai.
During one of my trips to the Ashram, I made a contribution toward a bhiksha.This meant feeding all Ashramites and visitors sumptuously. Bhagavan also partook ofthe meal along with others. People started queuing into the dining hall and I chanced to sit right in front of Bhagavan, who gave me a gracious smile. I can still recall the ecstasy I felt while taking meal right in front of Bhagavan, less than a yard separating our leaf-plates. That was the happiest meal in my life.
By now my scepticism about a living Maharshi had vanished like mist before the rising sun. My attitude towards work and play was undergoing a beneficial change. I gave up shikar, vowing that I would not kill any animal. The sudden change came when I shot a spotted deer and brought it to the travellers’ bungalow of Hoganekal forest. In the adjacent suite a swami was staying. Seeing the carcass, he spoke to me in a voice choked with emotion, “Look at the eyes of the deer. How pathetic! Do not kill such innocent creatures.” I took this intervention as an instruction from Bhagavan himself.
By 1936, I had picked up courage to talk to Bhagavan now and then. One of the first things I did was to place on record my complete surrender to him, looking up to him as my sole protector and refuge. I wrote a Sanskrit sloka on a piece of paper and after prostrating as usual, placed the slip near his feet. The sloka meant: “I have no other refuge; you are my only support Oh Ramaneshwara! Therefore have mercy on me and protect me.” Bhagavan read it and gave it Backcommenting upon the parody I had made of the well-known sloka. When I resumed my seat, Bhagavan was steadily looking at me. The gracious look directed at me set my mind completely at rest.
Not a day passed at the Ashram without some incident or other depicting the mysterious ways in which Bhagavan was consoling and comforting his devotees, clearing their doubts, imparting knowledge and generally aiding them towards the goal of Self-realisation. Needless to say, my faith in Bhagavan got intensified day by day. I looked up to him as God in human form and surrendered all my cares to him. Gradually I lost interest in visits to temples and allied rituals. More time was spent in meditation while at the Ashram and also at home, when not preoccupied with other pressing domestic or official matters.
One day, while sitting with eyes closed in meditation in the Hall I had a sensation of numbness creeping all over my body and I saw my own skeleton as in an x-ray picture. I spoke to Bhagavan about this. He said that I should not give any attention to such things, but should intensely continue the meditation without getting distracted.
During one of my visits, the Ashram authorities asked me to keep company with Grant Duff[No. 7], nephew of a former Governor of Madras, a philosopher and diplomat of high rank. He was sitting alone on a chair outside Matrubhuteswara Samadhi shed. When I introduced myself as an engineer in Government service, he congratulated me on having an opportunity to be in Bhagavan’s presence frequently. He said that people in this part of India and those born in this century were indeed lucky to be able to meet Bhagavan – Divinity in human form. He said that he had made a thorough comparative study of religions and had come to the conclusion that the philosophy of Bhagavan alone could stand scrutiny in the modern scientific age. In fact this was the thesis of his paper for the International Philosophical Congress.
One day, some devotees were discussing the lure of siddhis (supernatural powers) to a sadhaka. I asked Bhagavan, “Nowadays people are so materialistically minded that they do not believe in any phenomenon that cannot be explained in the light of scientific knowledge. The nonbelievers could be easily converted and turned towards the spiritual path if those possessing psychic powers exhibit some supernatural phenomenon before their eyes. The miracles performed by Christ form the backbone of the Christian faith. Why not modern saints do miracles likewise for the salvation of mankind?” Bhagavan replied by putting a counter question, “Did those saints of yore, referred to as having performed miracles, know and act as though they were performing those miracles?”
Although Bhagavan was averse to the use and exhibition of any mystical powers and had several times warned the devotees that craving for or indulging in them will sidetrack them from their goal ofSelf-realisation, miracles of some kind or other did happen at the Ashram or elsewhere. When such things were pointed out to Bhagavan, his reply in general was that such things happen due to Automatic Divine Action. I myself have been a part of one such incident, which is as follows:
In 1944, I with my family went to Tiruvannamalai for Bhagavan’s darshan and stayed with my friend, who was a Sub-divisional Magistrate. When I was talking about my faith in Bhagavan and how he looks after his devotees, my friend said, “Let us see about your journey Backto Madras. Getting accommodation in the connecting train at Villupuram is always a gamble.” I said I had no worry, as Bhagavan would take good care of us. At this he interjected, “Let us have a bet on this.” We alighted at Villupuram and waited for the connecting train. When the train arrived, I went past all the upper class compartments, but could find only two berths for my family of five. I was all the while praying to Bhagavan. Musing to myself, I felt like walking up to the front end of the train and found a first class bogie, completely shuttered, being towed to Madras. I ran Backalong the platform and spoke to the Ticket Examiner. When the railway official opened the bogie, we found a compartment with all the six seats at our disposal. I repeated ‘Om Namo Bhagavate Sri Ramanaya’. Later, my friend did acknowledge that he lost the bet.
I helped the Ashram for procuring materials for construction purposes, and also paper etc. for the bookshop. Bhagavan was aware of and was watching the details of the construction work at the Ashram. For example, once he asked me why I had arranged for a barrel of asphalt for expansion joints. He also kept a watch on my official career and the nature of the work I had to do. When I was recalled to the P.W.D. Highway Department as Superintending Engineer, on the retirement of the then European incumbent, Bhagavan asked whether I would be a loser in terms of my emoluments. I replied that there could not be any reduction as per rules. But despite all rules, I suffered reduction in my salary till I was promoted as Chief Engineer.
On April 2, 1950, I dreamt Bhagavan lying on the bed in the nirvana room talking to two persons. He could see me standing outside and told those persons, “Nambiar is waiting outside, call him in.” On my entering the room, Bhagavan got down from the bed and leaning on a walking stick, walked outside followed by three of us. He took us to a spot parallel to the Matrubhuteswara Shrine and drew a rectangle on the ground with his walking stick, as though to indicate the place of his samadhi.
After Bhagavan’s mahanirvana on the night of April 14, a large number of persons led by the sarvadhikari protested vehemently against the idea of locating Bhagavan’s samadhi as a subsidiary to the Mother’s shrine. They wanted a bigger shrine for Bhagavan. The sarvadhikari told me, “You please keep these dreams and visions to yourself.” Only after much argument and under heavy pressure he had to give up.1
People who visited Bhagavan during his lifetime could not have failed to observe the characteristic pose in which he reclined on the sofa with eyes closed and his head supported with his left arm, particularly at the time of Veda parayana. Some of us devotees sitting around used to watch him intently during such periods.
On several occasions I used to pray mentally to him that on opening his eyes, he should bestow a look at me and I must say I was never disappointed. So, it was crystal clear to me that prayers to Bhagavan need not be vocal, and he felt, knew and answered the inner prayer of all his devotees.
There were also occasions when I sat at the feet of Bhagavan and intently meditated on his form with closed eyes, and most often when I opened my eyes, Bhagavan appeared to be watching me. It is a great comfort even now to recall the experience of those exquisite moments that stand out so vividly in my memory.
Bhagavan’s physical absence has been no handicap, for he continues to guide me in dream visions, and in so many other ways.
1. Eventually, Bhagavan’s samadhi came up at the place he himself had indicated. (See photograph no.15 of Sri Ramana’s shrine.)