Prof. G.V. Subbaramayya who taught English at a College in Nellore, Andhra Pradesh, was also a scholar of Telugu. He was one of the privileged few who moved with Sri Ramana with childlike familiarity. His writings include rendering of Kalidasa’s Megha-Doota into Telugu verse and collection of his English poems in two volumes. His Sri Ramana Reminiscences was originally written in Telugu. He translated Sri Ramana Gita into Telugu.
My first visit to Sri Ramanasramam was in June 1933. In the previous December I had suffered bereavement when my two-year-old son died suddenly. I had been reading the works of Sri Ramana and was struck with wonder at the style of Telugu Upadesa Saaram, which in its simplicity, felicity and classic finish could equal that ofthe greatest Telugu poet Tikkana. I had felt convinced that a Tamilian who could compose such Telugu verse must be divinely inspired, and I wanted to see Him.
But my immediate quest at the time was for peace and solace. I had darshan of Sri Bhagavan in the Hall. As our eyes met, there was a miraculous effect on my mind. I felt as if I had plunged into a pool of peace, and with eyes shut, sat in a state of ecstasy for nearly an hour. When I came to normal consciousness, I made bold to ask Him a question: “The Gita says that mortals cast off their worn-out bodies and acquire new bodies, just as one casts away the worn-out clothes and wears new garments. How does this apply to the death of infants whose bodies are new and fresh?” Bhagavan promptly replied, “How do you know that the body of the dead child was not worn-out? It may not be apparent; but unless it is worn-out it will not die.”
After a gap of three years, I went again to the Ashram with a note of introduction. Bhagavan gave me a knowing nod and gracious smile and said, “Why the introduction? You have come before. You are not new.” To add to my wonderment, I now felt as though my dead father had come Backalive; the resemblance was so striking. That settled my relationship to Sri Ramana for all time. My approach to Him has ever since been that of a child to its parents, quite fearless, free and familiar.
After returning home, I wrote to the Ashram offering my literary services. In reply I was asked to attempt a Telugu verse-translation of Sri Ramana Gita. In Dasarah vacation, I offered the completed translation at the feet of Bhagavan, who at my request scrutinized the manuscript and made the necessary corrections. On the eve of my departure, I told Bhagavan the suffering of my wife who was grief-striken by the bereavement.”Has she no male child afterwards?” enquired He. I replied “No”. Bhagavan sighed and said, “Alas! What a pity!” This took place on October 18, 1936. My wife delivered a male child on August 1, 1937.
Later, seeing me busy with Sri Ramana Gita, Bhagavan jokingly observed, “For your college work you draw a salary. What is your payment for this labour?” I replied that I sought a much higher reward than monetary remuneration. Curiously, I received a surprise offer next month of Chief Examinership. It was so unexpected that in the circumstances I regarded it as a miracle of His grace.
V.Ananthachari took immense pains in the printing of the Telugu Sri Ramana Gita.When his services were appreciatively referred to in the preface, he pleaded hard with Bhagavan that his name should not be mentioned. Bhagavan told him, “Why do you worry? To ask for the omission of name is as much egotism as to desire its inclusion. After all, who knows who is Ananthachari?“
One morning, M.V.Ramaswami Iyer [No.94], who was sitting beside me in the Hall, happened to go through my notebook which contained my free verse compositions in English. He was so pleased that he at once showed them to Bhagavan, who read aloud the piece “I and Thou”, and as He reached the last words: “I without me am Thou. Thou without Thee art I. Indeed I and Thou are one.” He burst into laughter. I casually quoted Tagore’s song: “I run like the musk-deer, mad with my own perfume. I seek what I cannot get, I get what I do not seek.” Bhagavan liked it so much that He explained its meaning to His devotees in Tamil.
I enquired whether Poetry and other Fine Arts could be used as a sadhana (means) for Self-realisation. Bhagavan said, “Anything that makes for concentration of mind is a help. But in the cultivation of every Art, there comes a stage when you feel that you have had enough of it, and you would then transcend it.” When I pointed out that some learned persons consider rasa (aesthetic pleasure) as Brahmananda sahodaram (akin to the Bliss of the Absolute), Bhagavan said, “Why sahodaram (akin)? It is Brahmananda itself. For have not the scriptures proclaimed raso wai sah (He is rasa)? Indeed Brahmananda is the real rasa.All other rasas are only its shadows.“
The morning before I left, Dr. Syed, Professor of Philosophy, Allahabad University [No.23], asked Bhagavan, “What is the purpose of creation?” Usually Bhagavan gave replies in Tamil, Telugu or Malayalam. This time He spoke directly in English, and asked, “Can the eye see itself?” Dr. Syed replied, “Of course not. It can see everything else, but not itself.” To Bhagavan’s question that “if it wants to see itself’, he said, “It can see itself only in a mirror.” Bhagavan then commented, “That is it. Creation is the mirror for the ‘I’ to see itself.”
At Bhagavan’s instance I translated into Telugu verse His selections from Yoga Vasistham. In the last verse which says, ‘whatever part you have taken in life, play it well,’ I added in Telugu rendering the phrase saisava lila (the sport of childhood). Bhagavan appreciated it by saying, “It was a happy phrase and correctly portrays the attitude of mind one should cultivate according to the slokas. Has not the Christ said, ‘Unless thou be as children, thou shalt not enter the Kingdom of God?’“
Having learnt that Dr.Rajendra Prasad [Later President of India] and Jamana Lal Bajaj [Treasurer, Indian National Congress] were coming for Bhagavan’s darshan, I wrote and sent two verses in Telugu saying that their visit to the Ashram was in keeping with the ancient Indian tradition of rulers being entertained in the rishi ashramas. The Ashram in their reply of August 16, 1938 wrote: “Sri Rajendra Babu was entering the Hall when Bhagavan was reading your letter. How happy it would have been if the whole country had but one language! Two stanzas were much appreciated and have gone into the record.”
One morning Bhagavan quoted from a journal the following sentence, “Where psychology ends, philosophy begins”, and added His own remark, “Where philosophy ends spirituality begins.” When someone asked how the sensuous, intellectual and spiritual joys are correlated, Bhagavan said, “All other joys are like the foam and bubbles to the ocean of Brahmananda (the joy of the Absolute).“
Bhagavan obeyed every Ashram rule scrupulously. When, for instance, the dinner bell rang in the middle of some singing or parayana, He would immediately get up saying jocularly, “The Ashram is giving bhiksha out of grace. If we delay, they will be justified in refusing to serve us food. So let us hasten!”
Bhagavan spoke commending the practice of going round the Hill. He said, “Other sacred hills are described as the abodes of some deity. But Arunachala is God Himself in the shape of a Hill. So special sanctity attaches to going round Arunachala.“
One Somasundaraswami approached Bhagavan with a new notebook and requested him to write one aksharam (letter) in it first. Aksharam also means the indestructible (Self). So Bhagavan wrote in Tamil, “One aksharam shines always of Itself in the Heart. How could it be written?”
Once Bhagavan narrated in a most dramatic and thrilling manner the story of King Janaka and Sage Ashtavakra to show how self-surrender automatically brings about Self-realisation. Having read in the scriptures that the Self could be realised in the interval between a rider putting one foot in the stirrup and raising the other foot for mounting the horse, the king summoned all pandits in his kingdom, who having failed to answer him satisfactorily brought Sage Ashtavakra to save themselves.
The Sage asked the king to follow him alone with a horse outside the city, where he asked Janaka to place one foot in the stirrup and raise the other foot, and then said, “Now comes the supreme condition, you must surrender yourself. Are you willing?” Janaka said, “Yes.” From that moment Janaka stood transfixed with one foot in the stirrup and the other dangling in the air, apparently like a statue. (Here Bhagavan imitated the posture of Janaka). King’s people seeing him in that state begged the Sage to show grace. Then, as the Sage said, “Janaka, why are you like this? Ride home on the horse,” he rode home and obeyed the Sage in everything like a bonded slave.
One day, while going up the Hill, Bhagavan referred to the misunderstanding between two prominent devotees and wanted me to convey to them the following message: “Whoever condemns us is our friend. For he condemns only our body, which is our enemy. The enemy’s enemy is the best friend. We should really beware of those who praise us.” The next morning I met the two devotees to convey Bhagavan’s message. Even before I opened my mouth, they both expressed their eagerness to make up their quarrel.
One morning at breakfast, Bhagavan asked me, “Do you know this chutney?” I replied, “No. It tastes excellent though.” He smiled and said, “It is bitter-gourd.” It could hardly be believed but for Bhagavan saying it, because it had no trace of bitterness. On the other hand, it was very palatable. Then I composed a Telugu verse expressing wonder how
Bhagavan could remove bitterness so completely from raw bitter-gourd, and praying that He might likewise wipe out the bitterness of ego from within us. As soon as he returned from his usual walk on the Hill, I showed him the piece. He explained that sour mango and coconut were mixed to counteract and suppress the bitter taste in the chutney, and added, “Bitter-gourd is good for digestion and it also acts as a laxative.“
In the evening Bhagavan referred to the description of the Self as “the smallest of atoms, the biggest of big things.” He said, “The hailstone falls in the ocean. At once it melts and becomes the ocean itself. Likewise, the source of the Self is a pinpoint. When it is searched for, it disappears, and only the fullness remains.“
The next day Bhagavan casually narrated the story of Mira Bai’s visit to a well-known swami in Mathura, whose disciples refused her permission for darshan on the ground that their guru did not meet women. Mira Bai observed: “I thought that there is only one Purusha [her Girdhar Gopal] and all the rest of us are women.” When these words were communicated by the disciples to the guru, he at once realised that Mira Bai was a jnani, and he came out and saluted her.
At the time of Bhagavan’s shashtipurti in December 1939, when I reached the Ashram, I was sul^sring from severe partial headache, which was the aftereffect of a fever. A devotee friend noticing signs of suffering on my face, enquired about my ailment in a loud tone. I came out of the Hall and told him about my trouble. As soon as I returned to my seat, Sri Bhagavan enquired what the matter was and got details of my disease and treatment. Unable to sit on account of pain, I went and lay behind a shelf in the bookstall. At about 10 a.m. an Ashram worker brought cof^3e for someone and missing him, pressed me to take it. The moment I drank it, the pain suddenly subsided and never recurred afterwards.
One day in December 1939, Devaraja Mudaliar [No.35], an intimate devotee, asked how Bhagavan could observe distinction among His devotees. “For instance”, he added, “Shall we be wrong if we say that Subbaramayya is shown a little more favour than others?”Bhagavan smilingly replied, “To me there is no distinction. Grace is flowing like the ocean ever full. Every one draws from it according to capacity. How can one who brings only a tumbler complain that he is not able to take as much as another who brought a jar?” Once Bhagavan quoted two Tamil verses of poet Muruganar [No.53], and explained them as follows: (i) That which is said to be beyond the beyond and which is at the same time inside of the inside and shines within the Heart itself, the Real Self is verily Sri Ramana,
do adore Him. (ii) Like the cock that throws aside the diamond taking it to be a pebble, you may also belittle this Arunachala Ramana mistaking Him for a common fellow man, while He is really the Supreme Self. So beware!
In June 1940, I was blessed with the rare good fortune of working with Bhagavan in the kitchen, where He would come punctually at 2.30 a.m. and spend some time in cutting vegetables with the workers and devotees. Then He would prepare sambhar or chutney for breakfast, and occasionally some extra dishes also. As I saw Bhagavan perspiring profusely near the oven, I tried to fan Him, but He objected. He would not allow any special attention to be shown to Him. I stopped, but as He got engrossed in work, I gently repeated fanning. He turned to me, laughed and said, “You want to do it on the sly. But do not even know how to do it effectively; let me teach you.” So saying He held me by the hand and taught me the proper way of waving the fan. Oh! How I was thrilled at His touch and thanked my ignorance! From the kitchen He would adjourn to another room for grinding the mixture. I did not know at first how to hold the pestle and grind. Bhagavan placed His hand upon mine and turned the pestle in the proper way. Again, what a thrill! How blessed was my ignorance! After the work was finished, He would take out a bit from the dish, taste a little and give us the remainder to taste, and sometimes when our hands were unwashed, He would Himself throw it into our mouths. That would be the climax of our happiness.
One day, at about 3 a.m. when we were with Bhagavan, I was called and told that a party of women and children from my area wanted Bhagavan’s darshan and blessings, before starting to go round the Hill. When I went inside after curtly telling them that it was impossible to see Him at that time, Bhagavan asked me what the matter was, and said, “Poor people! Why should they go away disappointed? Tell them to come to the Backdoor and I shall meet them there.” When informed, they ran there. The whole party fell at His feet, touched them, kissed them and bathed them with tears. I envied the good luck of the party and realised the full force of calling Him karunapurna sudhabdhi (the nectareous ocean of grace).
It was June 10, 1940. Bhagavan, Narayana Iyer [No.100] and myself were at work in the grinding room. When the radio announced the fall of Paris to Germany, Narayana Iyer observed, “France, a first-rate power has fallen in three days. Then do you think our Britain could hold out longer than three weeks at the most?” Upon this, Bhagavan observed, “Um! But Russia. ” Abruptly, He cut short His speech and resumed silence.
Neither of us had the courage to ask Him what Russia was going to do, though it appeared strange that He should mention Russia who was at that time friendly to Germany. It will be remembered that war broke out between Germany and Russia only one year afterwards, and it was Germany’s attack on Russia that turned the tide of fortune in favour of the Allies. This incident affords a peep into the omniscience of Bhagavan.
As kitchen workers failed to carry out certain directions of Bhagavan to avoid wastage, He discontinued going to the kitchen. When no amount of apologies and entreaties made Him change His decision, I wrote a Telugu poem Pakasala Vilapam1 which He read out dramatically, enacting the scene in the poem, but did not change His decision. He laughed and told me, “Things happen as they must. It is all for good. These people must not always hang upon me. They must learn to do things by themselves. So don’t you worry about it.“
Once, after my wife’s death in 1942, I complained to Bhagavan saying, “Nowadays she does not even appear to me in dream. So even that comfort is denied to me.” At this Bhagavan said, “What! Do you find comfort in a dream vision?” “Yes! Bhagavan, I should be a hypocrite if I hid my real feeling.” On hearing this, He sighed and kept silent.
That night when I lay opposite where Bhagavan was sleeping, I dreamt a big choultry. The door was ajar. A group of elderly Brahmins blocked the entrance and were peeping in. I heard my old uncle of Benaras saying, “Look there. She is the eldest daughter-in-law of the house. She is not an ordinary woman. She is all gold.” On hearing this, I too was impelled by curiosity to stand tiptoe behind the Brahmins and beheld my dear, departed wife. She was seated on the floor, and I must confess that never when she was alive did I have such a clear and vivid vision of her as now. A flood of bliss engulfed me for how long I knew not, until there suddenly rushed upon me the consciousness that it was all dream.This thought let loose on me such overpowering sorrow that I started sobbing.
It was then 5 a.m. Bhagavan noticed me and asked “What, why are you like that? Did you have the dream?” Then He said, “Why do you grieve now? You wanted the dream vision and you had it. You thought it would bring comfort, instead it has proved a crushing grief.” As if to divert my mind, He enquired, “Did you observe anything beside the choultry?“
On hearing this query, I recollected that there was a big river flowing nearby and I told Him so. Then He remarked that the river might be the Ganges and the place Benaras. His words somehow had a soothing effect on my nerves, and lifted the load of sorrow from my heart. That morning I got a letter from the same uncle of Benaras reminding of the date for my wife’s monthly ceremony and asking me to return home in time. When I showed the letter to Bhagavan, He said, “This is really wonderful. This uncle of yours pointed out your wife early this morning, and again now he is pointing to her in this letter.“
The whole incident was a grand mystery and made me recollect the famous lines of Shakespeare in his play Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.“
On April 19, 1950, a devotee returning from the Ashram informed me that on account of the vast crowds that flocked for Bhagavan’s darshan during his last days, the Ashram provisions were utterly depleted and the Ashram was badly in need of rice. He urged that we both should approach some rich friends. As I was then connected with the University Examinations, I was unwilling to go to anyone for any obligation. He then suggested that I might approach at least N.Venkata Reddy, a philanthropist, who was my old student. But I was reluctant even for that.
Early the next morning what was my wonder to see Venkata Reddy himself drive to my house for the first time since he had been a student many years ago. He said that he came to consult me regarding the scheme for a poor students’ scholarship fund that he wanted to institute. He casually noticed the picture of Bhagavan hanging in front and referring to His recent mahasamadhi he enquired whether I would go to the Ashram to attend the ceremonies performed after death. I replied in the affirmative and asked whether he would be willing to contribute rice needed for the occasion. He at once replied, “Yes Sir. What greater good can I do than that? I shall carry out whatever you suggest.” And as suggested, he sent 1200 kgs of rice to the Ashram. A few days later, another friend volunteered to contribute 600 kgs.
This incident was a godsend to me. For, after the demise of Bhagavan I was passing through the worst depression of mind and spirits. I was feeling like the Pandavas after the passing away of Sri Krishna. I thought that I was now utterly helpless and that the usefulness of my life was at an end. This incident came as an eye opener: Bhagavan was still as powerful as when in flesh and blood and, moreover, was pleased to use me still as His instrument.
1. ‘The agony of the kitchen on being deserted by Sri Ramana.’