Reminiscences of Ramana Maharshi – Shantammal

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Shantammal, head cook at the Ashram, belonged to Ramana-thapuram in Tamil Nadu.

In 1927, I, along with three other women, went to see Bhagavan. He was sitting on a bench in a thatched shed with Muruganar [No. 53] at his side. As soon as I saw him I knew he was God in human form. I bowed reverently and said, “Grant that my mind does not trouble me any more.He turned to Muruganar and said, “Ask her to find out whether there is such a thing as mind. Ifthere is, ask her to describe it.” I was very confused since his upadesa meant little to me at the time, but I remembered to honour Bhagavan by singing a verse from Ramana Stuti Panchakam: “Your spiritual splendour fills the universe with its perfume. Attracted by it, numberless beings turn their face to you. I too grew restless and sought you eagerly. Where is he? I enquired, and now I have come to you.When Bhagavan asked me how I knew this verse, Muruganar said that he had given me a copy of the book. On this first visit we stayed for forty days.

After spending a year at my place in Ramanathapuram, I visited the Ashram on a jayanti day. When I arrived, Bhagavan was explaining something from Ulladu Narapadu to Dandapani Swami.1 When Bhagavan saw me, his first question was, “Have you received a copy of this book? I asked them to post one to you.” I said to myself, my Lord remembers me by name and how loving is his personal attention to my needs!

At that time, Bhagavan was unusually active, working both in the kitchen and outside. He would clean grain, shell nuts, grind seeds, stitch leaf-plates we ate from, and so on. We would join him in every task and listen to his stories, jokes, reminiscences and spiritual teachings.

Once we had to fry a big quantity of snake gourd. This vegetable is full of water and the usual way is to squeeze the water out of it to shorten the frying time, but Bhagavan said it should be fried with water in it. We were sitting near the fire, stirring the vegetable in a big iron pan with long ladles. Suddenly Bhagavan let go his ladle and stared, motionless. When I looked at him my mind stood still. Everything disappeared from before my eyes.

After some time Bhagavan said, “The curry is noiseless, it is time to add the spices.” It could refer to cooking the vegetables; it could also refer to his poem Aksharamanamalai, in which he addresses Arunachala: You drugged me with your charm and I woke up full of knowledge. When the curry of mind is silent, then it is time to add spices of wisdom.

When I first worked in the kitchen, there were no proper jars for foodstuff, which made the kitchen floor messy. I mentioned the problem to Bhagavan. Ten days later I was called to the hall. Attendants were opening wooden boxes that contained six beautiful jars. Bhagavan told me, “You wanted jars. Take them to the kitchen.” On enquiry I found that some person had booked them to the Ashram. Such mysterious incidents used to happen every now and then.

I can give another example. Once I had no money and badly needed some. I prayed silently to Bhagavan: “Ramana, how can I get hold of a little money?” Three days later I received a money order from one Dr. Srinivasa Rao, whom I did not even know. It seems he was reading an account of Bhagavan’s life, and on reading the name of Shantammal decided that it would be nice to send her some money.

The following year, I wanted to return briefly to Ramanathapuram for the devi puja.^ Later, while I was sitting in the hall in meditation, I saw, instead of Bhagavan, a little girl. She was full of charm and splendour, intensely alert and powerful and she radiated a golden brilliance. The vision soon ended and I saw the normal face of Bhagavan again. I understood at once that Bhagavan was the goddess I had wanted to worship in Ramanathapuram. Where, now, was the need for a pilgrimage to a goddess when I was daily serving one in whom all gods are born?

When I was still new in the kitchen, I served Bhagavan with a few extra pieces of potato. Bhagavan got very angry. Each night, after the day’s work was over, the women who worked in the kitchen would collect around the Maharshi and ask permission to leave.3 Usually, he would exchange a few words with us, enquire who was accompanying us, whether we had a lantern, and so on. That evening he gave me a sign to come near and said, “You served me extra curry. I felt ashamed to eat more than the others. You should always serve me less than other people. The more you love my people, the more you love me.” The matter was closed. A good lesson was learnt and never forgotten.

Once the Maharaja of Mysore visited the Ashram. Trays and trays of sweets and other presents were laid at Bhagavan’s feet. For ten minutes the Maharaja just stood looking and then prostrated before Bhagavan. Tears flowing from his eyes made Bhagavan’s feet wet. He told Bhagavan, “They made me Maharaja and bound me to a throne. For the sin of being born a king, I lost the chance of sitting at your feet and serving in your glorious presence. I do not hope to come again. Only these few minutes are mine. I pray for your grace.

A devotee while taking leave of Bhagavan said, “Swami, I am going far away from you. The devotees who are staying in the Ashram are enjoying the bliss of your company every minute. Please accept me also in the same manner.” Bhagavan replied, “Everyone thinks that special grace is bestowed on the devotees who stay here. If there is such a preference how can he be a jnani? The Lord is bound to protect a person who has surrendered to Him. In fact one who has surrendered need not even pray; the Lord always remains close extending His protection. The frog stays near the lotus but it is only the bees that suck the honey of the flowers, from whatever distance they may come from.

1. Father-in-law of great poet Muruganar (no. 53).

2. Worship of a female deity.

3. Women were not allowed to stay in the Ashram at night.

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