Reminiscences of Ramana Maharshi – Kunju Swami

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Reminiscences of Ramana Maharshi – Kunju SwamiBack


Kunju Swami served as one of the Maharshi’s attendants from 1920 till 1932. In 1977, he wrote his reminiscences.1 He says that his guru Kuppandi Swami told him about the greatness of the Maharshi, whom he had visited. Sometime in 1920, he left his home in Kerala with great eagerness to have Sri Ramana’s darshan.

As I sat in the railway station my mind was dwelling so intensely on my desire to see Bhagavan that hunger and thirst were forgotten. After waiting for more than 12 hours for the train to Tiruvannamalai, I was told that tickets were not being issued to that town; instead they issued a ticket to Katpadi, about 50 miles north of Tiruvannamalai. I reached Katpadi at 4 а.m. and waited for the train to Tiruvannamalai, which was to leave at 6.30 a.m. When I went to the counter at 6 a.m. for getting the ticket, I was told that the train came early and had left at 5.30 a.m. The next train was to leave at 6 p.m. This news disoriented me for sometime.

I waited patiently and went to the ticket office at 5.30 p.m. to be told that tickets were not being issued for Tiruvannamalai. I was bewildered because, yet again, no reason was given. While wondering what to do, an elderly gentleman called out to me and after learning about my destination told me, “Due to an outbreak ofplague, Tiruvannamalai has been quarantined. If you buy a ticket to Tirukoilur (a station further down the line) you can get down at Tiruvannamalai in the dark when the train stops there to deliver the mail.

As suggested, I asked for a ticket to Tirukoilur and handed over all the money I had. The ticket clerk counted it and told me that the ticket would cost a quarter rupee more than the amount I had. Extremely disappointed I wandered out of the booking office and stood on the edge of the platform. There I thought of Bhagavan and felt very sad that my sincere attempt to see him had apparently been frustrated.

A few minutes before the arrival of the train, I noticed at some distance from where I was standing, a glittering quarter rupee coin between the two rails. I ran, jumped down, took it and managed to purchase a ticket just as the train was entering the station.

When the train entered Tiruvannamalai station, I saw the person sitting opposite me disembarking in the dark. I too got down and followed him. It was Bhagavan’s will that I had missed the morning train at Katpadi station. Had I taken that train, it would have been impossible to get off at Tiruvannamalai.

I followed my fellow passenger without knowing where he was going. He walked for sometime, stopped at a mandapam, lay down and went to sleep. I joined him on the floor and immediately went to sleep, tired but very happy. Next morning, I could not find the man who had guided me to the mandapam, but I could see Arunachala before me. I reached Bhagavan’s abode, based on the instructions got before leaving home.

When I reached the Skandasram, I felt a thrill on seeing Bhagavan. I told him in Malayalam all about my boyhood, how I had been doing japa and giving spiritual discourses. Bhagavan listened to everything with a smile. In reply to my question as to what I should do to get over my confusion and gain clarity, Bhagavan said, “First know who you are. See from where thoughts arise. Turn your mind inwards and see in the Heart.”[ The point on the right side of the chest meant for focussing attention.]

As we sat silently, Bhagavan’s gracious look was fixed on me. At that very moment all my confusions ceased and I experienced a peace and bliss I had never experienced before.

While we were together Bhagavan would often look at me; and as he did so, I became aware that his eyes had a strange brilliance and fascination in them. Whenever I looked into his eyes for any length of time, I saw bright effulgence. I was also filled with a strange peace and bliss. After each experience I would come Backto my normal physical state with a shudder. This occurred on each of the eighteen days I stayed with Bhagavan. I was like someone intoxicated.

Backhome, the meditative state experienced in Bhagavan’s presence steadily declined. I slowly became my old restless self. While I was dwelling on my disappointment, my friend Ramakrishna Swami, who also had been to Bhagavan, came to my place and revealed that his experience had been the same as mine. Feeling that it would be pointless to stay at home, we both decided to take refuge in Bhagavan and reached Tiruvannamalai. To help us out of our problem that it was a sin to eat at Guru’s place without performing any service in return, both of us were assigned responsibility to serve Bhagavan and his ashram.

One day when I asked Bhagavan why the experiences I had felt in his presence did not continue after my return, he referred to verses 83 to 93 of the first section of Kaivalya Navaneeta. He then summarised the verses and said, “The experience of the Self can occur in the presence of the guru, but it may not last. The disciple has to continue to study, think and practise until the distinction between knower, known and knowing no longer exists.

In the early days of my stay at the Skandasram, I found that I could get all my doubts cleared merely by listening to the answers to questions put by other devotees. Moreover, by listening to the answers I was able to learn many new aspects of Bhagavan’s teachings.

On several occasions Bhagavan’s body would disappear in a flash and disperse into its component atoms. A little later a smoke-like form would appear and the atoms would come together in a form that resembled particles of dust. Finally, the body would reappear in its normal form.2

Bhagavan wrote the Upadesa Saaram in four different languages. The Telugu and Sanskrit versions are in couplets, the Tamil in three-line stanzas, and the Malayalam in four-line verses. When I took the Malayalam verses to a well-known Malayalam professor for his opinion, he marvelled at the purity of diction achieved by a writer whose mother tongue was not Malayalam.3

In his Arunachala Ashtakam (1913), Bhagavan gives the analogy of film projection by saying that a series of subtle thoughts that appear within us as shadowy spectacles of the world, appear without as the world perceived by the five senses like a film projected through a lens.4

One of the earliest persons to recognise Bhagavan’s greatness was Achyutadasa, a famous poet and a scholar. When Bhagavan was staying at the Gurumurtam in the late 1890s, he went for Bhagavan’s darshan. After performing bhajans for sometime, he sat near Bhagavan, caught hold of his feet and hands and immediately went into a state of ecstasy. When Achyutadasa’s disciples also wanted to hold Bhagavan’s feet, he stopped them by saying, “This is a huge fire, and none of you can get close to it.

At the Skandasram we never saw Bhagavan lying on the bed fully stretched out on his Backor his side. Nor did we ever see him with a pillow under his head. He never used to lie down and sleep like other people. Instead, he would sleep sitting down in a semi-reclining position, with a few pillows supporting his back. Sometimes, he would support his head with his hand while sleeping.5

Bhagavan’s head would shake continuously and without the stick to support he could not walk or even stand upright. These were not symptoms of old age. Both the shaking of the head and his holding on to a stick date Backto very early days. These were the marks left on him by the stupendous experience of atmanubhuti in Madurai! When asked about this condition, Bhagavan remarked, “What do you think would happen to a small thatched hut inside which a big elephant is kept tied up? Wouldn’t it be shattered? Same is the case here!”6

An old woman living near Arunachaleswara Temple7 and some other elderly people in the town had decided that they would eat morning food only after Bhagavan’s darshan at the Skandasram. One day the lady devotee could not come. Bhagavan asked her the next day as to why she had missed a day. She answered, “Realising my infirmity you gave darshan from near my house, while you were sitting on the rock near the ashram, brushing your teeth.” She added, “I am not able to climb the hill everyday, I would now have your darshan from my house.” From that day onwards, even when the weather was bad, Bhagavan brushed his teeth sitting on that rock. This proved convenient to many other elderly devotees who wanted to have his darshan but were unable to climb the hill.8

In the Ashram kitchen only Brahmins were allowed to cook, because Brahmins will not eat food cooked by non-Brahmins. Bhagavan approved of this not because he favoured religious orthodoxy but because he didn’t want to cause ol^ence to the many Brahmins who stayed at the Ashram.

Once it became necessary for me to go to my place in Kerala. I had just enough money to buy the train ticket and no extra money to buy food on the way. That afternoon a devotee unexpectedly brought a lot of pooris and served them to Bhagavan and others in the Ashram. We were surprised to see that Bhagavan, who normally did not take more than two pooris, happily accepted six from the devotee.When the serving was over, he ate only one of the six and neatly packed and tied the remaining five with his own hands and gave the packet to me. Everyone was deeply touched by Bhagavan’s compassion.

We had the benefit of regularly receiving personal instructions from Bhagavan. One of them was that we should get into a meditative state before going to sleep. We were also advised to go into meditation for sometime, immediately after getting out of bed.

In 1932, after spending about twelve years in personal attendance on Bhagavan, I felt the urge to devote myself entirely to sadhana. I had been debating the matter for some days when the answer came in a strange way. As I entered the hall one day, I heard Bhagavan saying to others who were there that the real service to him did not mean attending to his physical needs, it meant following the essence of his teachings, that is, concentrating on realising the Self. This cleared my doubts and I shifted to a room in Palakottu9 to continue with my tapas, and at the same time remain in close and regular contact with Bhagavan.

1. These were translated into English by Dr. K.Subrahmanian (no. 33), and got printed by him for Sri Ramanasramam with the help of devotees of Sri Ramana Kendram, Hyderabad.

2. David Godman says that when he spoke to Kunju Swami about this phenomenon, the latter conceded that he had never personally seen Bhagavan enter that state, but added that the story was a matter of common knowledge when he was staying at the Skandasram. (Refer Godman’s book The Power Of The Presence, part-II, p. 17.)

3. Refer no. 41, p. 102, where Telugu translation of Upadesa Saaram has been extolled.

4. David Godman asked Kunju Swami how Bhagavan managed to acquire the knowledge of the film projection system during the very early years of the twentieth century. Sri Ramana used this analogy in Self-Enquiry as early as 1902. Kunju Swami’s answer was: “I don’t know. We always used to wonder where he got his practical knowledge. He lived a very unworldly life, yet somehow he amassed a vast repertoire of practical skills. He just seemed, quite naturally, to know them.” (Source: The Power Of The Presence, op. cit., pp.28-9.)

5. Refer no.88, where Sri Ramana tells Dr. M.Anantanarayana Rao that “he had not slept flat on the ground or on the couch ever since he came to Tiruvannamalai,” p. 233.

6. Moments Remembered by V. Ganesan, Sri Ramanasramam, p.7.

7. Refer annexure-I, p. 410.

8. The Skandasram is located on the hill facing Tiruvannamalai town.

9. Sadhus’ colony abutting on the Ashram.

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