Reminiscences of Ramana Maharshi – Chalam (Gudipati Venkatachalam)

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Chalam (Gudipati Venkatachalam) (1894-1979) was a famous Telugu author. When he first met Sri Ramana in 1936, he was a radical and militant social campaigner. He worked as an Inspector of Schools. He moved to Arunachala in 1950 and spent the remaining years of his life there. He compiled reminiscences of nineteen Sri Ramana devotees, including his own and of his daughter, in Bhagavan Smritulu (Telugu).

I was a very orthodox Hindu when studying in high school, even more so than my elders. Later, when I began my career I found my personal life in a mess. I could not see any connection between the idea of an allmerciful God and a world filled with grief, flaws and difficulties. I lost my faith and began to doubt the very existence of God. I had come to a deadend after having experimented with various things in my life.

At this stage a friend of mine, Dikshitulu [No.31] took me to Sri Ramanasramam in 1936, on a casual visit. On the way, he asked me to buy some fruits for Bhagavan, but since I had no faith in swamis, I refused. I also refused to prostrate before Bhagavan until Dikshitulu forced me to do so.

On this first visit I found it insufferable to sit silently among the people who had come to see Bhagavan. From the moment of our arrival I was pestering Dikshitulu to take me away from the Ashram. The more I watched the devotees, the more was my dislike for the people in the Ashram.

I asked Dikshitulu, “You say that this Maharshi is a great man who can transform people. But why is it that people who have attached themselves to him for years still look like this?

On the afternoon of the second day, I saw Bhagavan coming down the hill. Devotees were standing around in groups, talking to each other. As Bhagavan came near, everyone except for me stepped aside to give him more room. I stayed where I was because I thought there was more than enough space for him.

As Bhagavan came nearer, Dikshitulu pulled me to one side. Bhagavan walked past me and then suddenly stopped. He turned back, looked at me, gave me a great smile and went on his way. At the time I did not have any particular feeling for him, but when I recollected the incident later, I felt that Bhagavan won my heart in that one brief moment.

When the time came for us to return, Dikshitulu asked me to go along with him to take leave of Bhagavan. I refused saying, “What relationship is between him and me? Why should I ask for his permission to leave? I do not follow these old traditions.” He said, “You were a guest of the Ashram for three days. Won’t you at least show the minimum courtesy and say goodbye to him?” I reluctantly accepted the suggestion and went with him. After Dikshitulu had asked Bhagavan for permission to go, I murmured feebly, “I am also going.” Bhagavan looked Backat me and smiled. That smile caused an unexpected change in me. I don’t know what happened to me except that I suddenly felt Bhagavan was saying to me, ‘If you go away, how can I carry on living here? How lonely I will feel!’ My feet refused to move as I considered the idea of staying a little longer. But when I remembered the people, the hall and the silence that had offended me so much, I felt I could not stay on.

I left the Ashram, reached the station and there ordered hot toast, poached eggs, tea and cigarettes. I did so in a mood of vengeance, as I had been kept away from these things for all the days I had been at the Ashram.

When I reached Vijayawada, my children asked me about the Maharshi. I told them what I had seen and tried to explain Bhagavan’s philosophy to them. My words made a strong impression on my elder daughter Souris [next entry].

Out of curiosity, I began to practise the enquiry, ‘W^o am I?’ Souris also took up the practice after I had explained to her how to do it. I continued to sit for meditation and soon started getting very good results. Often, without any effort on my part, the meditation caught hold of me, made me sit and took over for a while. At such times my mind used to stop completely. When it became clear to me that it was Bhagavan who was causing this improvement, my faith in him increased and spiritual hopes were kindled.

In those days I did not know that Bhagavan was just giving me a taste of the experience of the Self in order to increase my faith in him. I did not have much faith in Bhagavan’s philosophy, but I still felt that he was leading me somewhere. My attitude was to let him lead me.

My path to Bhagavan was a long and arduous one. Having a strong atheist background, I had to undergo many years of doubts and sufferings before I could generate enough faith to accept implicitly that Bhagavan was guiding me and protecting me all the time. Other luckier devotees had faith right from the beginning of their association with Bhagavan.

I remember in particular one devotee who had both faith and the intellectual simplicity that I lacked. He was an old Telugu man living in the Draupadi Temple about 300 meters from Sri Ramanasramam. His only possessions were an iron pot and an axe that he used to cut firewood for cooking. He would beg food in the town and cook it in his pot. Each day, for hours together, he could be seen standing and looking at Bhagavan. He would spend the night in the Temple, which was then dilapidated, abandoned and surrounded by jungle.

I once found him standing alone in front of the Temple. When I asked him what he was doing in such a remote spot, he told me that he slept there. I exclaimed, “You sleep here all alone. Are you not afraid?“Afraid of what?” retorted the old man: “Bhagavan throws his light on me. All night I am surrounded by a blue radiance. So long as his light is with me, how can I be afraid?”

This encounter made me deeply humble. Bhagavan’s love and light are given in full measure to a poor old beggar, but there are many in the Ashram like myself, who called themselves his devotees but who had failed to receive such grace because we were too busy attending to the contents of our mind.

I used to spend a lot of time watching Bhagavan in the hall, taking note of different ways in which he responded to the events that were going on around him. He was always something of an enigma to me. This is not really surprising since mere devotees cannot comprehend the state of realised souls. There is no set standard for a jnani, no yardstick to judge him by. Jnanis cannot be understood because their minds have been destroyed. Sometimes we may feel that their actions have no rational explanation. But it is sheer ignorance to search for an explanation in apparent contradictions in the behaviour of a jnani. Bhagavan used to speak and behave according to the need, the state and situation of each person. Not being aware of these factors, we are in no position to pass judgement on him.

The events, activities and dialogues in the hall sometimes seemed, to uninformed observers, to have a bizarre or irrational character because they were not aware that the power of Bhagavan orchestrated the scene in such a way that everything that needed to happen happened automatically. One inexplicable incident might be a message only for one devotee in the hall. That devotee might understand the import of the message. The rest of us, not knowing the full circumstances, would merely be bewildered. Or, in another case, Bhagavan might notice that the ego of a devotee sitting before him was rising, and he may rebuke him in some way. The others in the hall might interpret this as an unprovoked attack.

I relate an incident that produced a reaction in Bhagavan, which I alone could understand. A friend of mine, who had no faith in swamis, came to the Ashram. Having decided in advance not to prostrate to Bhagavan, he spent the time ofhis brief visit wandering around the Ashram. In the evening, as it was summer, Bhagavan’s chair was placed outside near the well. Bhagavan sat on it, surrounded by the devotees. My friend, wandering in the area at that time, felt an irrepressible desire to prostrate and he fell full length at Bhagavan’s feet. Bhagavan laughed loudly. None ofthe devotees, except for me, knew why Bhagavan had suddenly laughed. Everyone else was looking around, trying to ascertain the cause of Bhagavan’s laughter.

Bhagavan was never impressed by the achievements, reputation or pedigree of the people who visited him. They might have done a lot of sadhana, but it made no difference when they appeared before him. When many such people came, he would not even raise his eyes to look at them. Sometimes he would laugh and show great love towards particular devotees, but at other times he would be totally indifferent to the same persons. For some visitors, he would come down to their level and answer each of their questions with great patience, but he would not even open his mouth if the same questions were put by someone else.

Though Bhagavan would make no adverse remarks about traditional practices, he did not support his devotees ifthey did so. Echammal [No. 60], one of his greatest devotees, told him with great pride about her puja with one lakh leaves. Bhagavan remarked, “Instead of pinching the plant, could you not pinch your own skin one lakh times and perform puja that way?

Sometimes Bhagavan would be indifferent to all the events that were going on around him, but at other times he would show a keen interest in the trivia of everyday life. Once he took great care of an sparrow’s egg, which had fallen down from the nest, until the baby sparrow emerged. Afterwards he showed the baby sparrow to everyone. But the next moment, he might reply uninterestedly, “Oh, is that so?” if it was reported to him that someone who was considered to be a known devotee had passed away.

Bhagavan was a great champion of the oppressed, and he had a natural tendency to side with the social underdog in any dispute. He insisted that he would not eat in the dining room until all the poor at the Ashram gate that were awaiting food, had been fed. If the Ashram prepared diluted sambhar for the poor, Bhagavan would get angry and insist that he be fed with the same. Even when he was ill, he would insist that the fruit and milk that were given to him for medicinal reasons should be distributed among all those present in the hall.

Bhagavan frequently made it clear that he did not want devotees to be prevented from seeing him. In view ofhis declining health, Bhagavan needed rest. Guards were placed outside his room with strict instructions to avoid any disturbance from the visitors. A sadhu who happened to arrive at the Ashram, wanted to see Bhagavan. But the guards and the office stal^turned down his request firmly. The disappointed sadhu started walking sadly towards the gate. Bhagavan might have overheard his request, for when the sadhu passed Bhagavan’s room, he was astonished to find Bhagavan standing outside, waiting for him. They gazed at each other for sometime. The sadhu went on his way and Bhagavan returned to his room.

A significant number of Bhagavan’s devotees were orthodox Brahmins. They ate in a separate enclosure in the dining room. Bhagavan never objected to this arrangement. But he did show his disapproval if any of the Brahmins looked down on members of the lower castes. A Brahmin woman in the Ashram avoided all non-Brahmins because she felt that any contact with them would pollute her. If she were ever touched by a nonBrahmin, she would go up to Bhagavan and touch him to purify her. Once, on a jayanti day, someone touched her accidentally. She went to Bhagavan and said, Bhagavan, a Sudra has just touched me; please touch me to remove the impurity. “Go away, I will not oblige you!” said Bhagavan angrily.

Bhagavan’s mother was a very orthodox lady, full of caste prejudices and superstitions. Bhagavan did not tolerate any of her ideas. He criticised her many times and was quite ruthless in destroying all that stood in the way of her emancipation from ignorance and fear. When she refused to cook onions, which are taboo to a Brahmin widow, Bhagavan would show her one and say, “How mighty is this little bulb! It can stop my mother from going to heaven.

Although Bhagavan was half-naked and lived in a very unostentatious way, most people were afraid to approach him to speak with him. Important men such as senior army officials, or highly placed persons who held important positions in various fields trembled and were afraid to go up to that decrepit old form that had neither temporal power nor even a significant following.

Bhagavan’s appearance changed periodically. When he sat looking out beyond horizon, he would remind us of Lord Dakshinamurthi in dhyana posture. When he sat in his majestic unmoving posture, which he often did, there was unspeakable beauty and grace in his figure.Wearing only a loincloth he would bring to our minds an emperor wearing magnificant robes, sitting on a diamond-studded throne, with all the paraphernalia ofhis estate. But then, when somebody called ‘Bhagavan’, he would come down from some unknown region to this earth to attend to the call.

Gurus like Bhagavan are manifestations of God in human form. To relieve and redeem the suffering of mankind, the Lord occasionally comes down to earth and manifests in a physical form.

[The Mountain Path records: When Chalam complained to Sri Ramana that he felt sleepy during the sadhana, the sharp answer was, ‘Then go to sleep’.]

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