Annamalai Swami (1906-1995) since his childhood had a natural inclination towards spirituality. He came to Sri Ramana in 1928 and got a job with the Ashram. After being closely involved in many construction projects for ten years under direct supervision of Sri Ramana, he shifted to Palakottu near the Ashram to live alone and meditate.
In 1928, a wandering sadhu gave me a copy of Upadesa Undiyar by Sri Ramana. It contained a photo of the Maharshi. As soon as I saw the photo I had the feeling that this was my Guru. Simultaneously, an intense desire arose within me to go and see him. That night I had a dream in which I saw the Maharshi walking from the lower slopes of the hill towards the Ashram. Next morning I decided to go and have his darshan.
Having arrived at about 1 p.m., when I approached the hall, a part of the dream I had repeated itself in real life. I saw Bhagavan walk down the hill as I had seen in the dream. When I sat down and Bhagavan gazed at me in silence for about 10-15 minutes, I had a great feeling of physical relief and relaxation. It was like immersing myself in a cool pool after being in the hot sun. I asked for permission to stay, which was granted and
I got a job as Bhagavan’s attendant. At that time Madhava Swami was doing the job by himself.
About ten days after my arrival I asked Bhagavan how I could attain Self-realisation? He replied, “If you give up identifying with the body and meditate on the Self, you can attain Self-realisation.” As I was pondering over these remarks, Bhagavan surprised me by saying, “I was waiting for you. I was wondering when you would come.” As a new comer I was too afraid to ask him how he knew, or how long he had been waiting. But I was delighted to hear him speak like this because it seemed to indicate that it was my destiny to stay with him.
A few days later I asked, “Scientists have invented and produced the aircraft which can travel at great speeds in the sky. Why do you not give us a spiritual aircraft in which we can quickly and easily cross over the sea of samsara?“ Bhagavan replied, “The path of self-enquiry is the aircraft you need. It is direct, fast, and easy to use. You are already travelling very quickly towards realisation. It is only because of your mind that it seems that there is no movement.” In the years that followed, I had many spiritual talks with Bhagavan but his basic message never changed. It was always: “Do self-enquiry, stop identifying with the body and try to be aware of the Self, which is your real nature.”
When I first came to the Ashram there were still some leopards in the area. They rarely came into the Ashram but at night they frequented the place where Bhagavan used to urinate. Once when a leopard appeared he was not in the least afraid. He just looked at the leopard and said, ‘Poda! ‘ [Go away!] and the leopard walked away.
Soon after I came I was given a new name by Bhagavan. My original name was Sellaperumal. One day Bhagavan mentioned that I reminded him of Annamalai Swami, who had been his attendant at the Skandasram. And within a few days my new identity got established.
When I had been an attendant for about two weeks, the Collector of Vellore, who came for Bhagavan’s darshan, brought a large plate of sweets, which I was to distribute to everyone in the Ashram. While I was distributing the sweets outside the hall I went to a place where no one could see me and secretly helped myself to about double the quantity that I was serving to others. When I went Backto the hall and kept the empty plate under Bhagavan’s sofa, he looked at me and said, “Did you take twice as much as everyone else?” I was shocked because I was sure that no one had seen me do it. This incident made me realise that it was impossible to hide anything from Bhagavan.
After serving as an attendant for a month, Bhagavan asked me to supervise construction work within the Ashram. My big assignment was supervising the construction of the cowshed on a scale much bigger than envisaged by the sarvadhikari, as Bhagavan wanted it that way. The problem was of funds, which came almost under miraculous circumstances.
The editor of The Sunday Times, Madras, published a long complimentary article about Bhagavan after he had his darshan. This article came to the attention of a prince in North India, who was much impressed by Bhagavan. Sometime later, the prince went for a tiger hunt. He managed to track down the tiger but when he raised his rifle to shoot, he felt paralysed by a wave of fear. Suddenly he remembered about Bhagavan and prayed saying, “If successful, I will not only send you Rs.1000, but also donate the head and skin of the tiger.” The paralysis left him and he killed the tiger and saved his own life in the process, as the tiger was within attacking distance.
Two days after all the quarrels about the size of the cowshed, the postman appeared with Rs.1,000. I took the money to Bhagavan who remarked in a most casual way, “Yes, I have been expecting the money order. Take it to the sarvadhikari“”
Our finances were always in a precarious position but we never experienced any real financial crisis. While the work was going on, enough donations would come to cover all costs. If no building works were in progress, no donations would come.1
Bhagavan took a keen interest in the construction work, guiding me at all stages of the work. In the evening, when I went to him with my daily report, he would tell me the work to be done the following day. For any difficult jobs he would even explain how to go about.
I had hired both men and women for the construction of the dining hall. Some of the women were quite attractive and I was occasionally troubled by sexual desires. I told Bhagavan, “I don’t want moksha, I just want that the desire for women should not enter my mind.” Bhagavan laughed and said, “All the mahatmas are striving only for this.” To avoid sexual thoughts, I decided to do away with women workers. Bhagavan did not approve of this. He saw no reason why the women should lose their jobs merely because I was unable to control my mind.
Bhagavan spent hours in our company on the construction work. He often used to say, “When I am outside I am more healthy – that six-feet long sofa is just like a jail for me.” He would go Backto the hall when informed that some devotees had come to the hall for his darshan. Once,
Bhagavan saw his attendant coming to tell him that some people had come, he turned to me and said, “A new warrant is coming for my arrest. I have to go Backto jail.“
In the 1930s Bhagavan alone decided when and where the buildings should be built, on what scale and what material be used. He drew up the plans for Ashram buildings, and told me what to do. Ifinstructions were complicated he would sometimes sketch a few lines on a piece of paper to clarify or illustrate what he was saying. When he gave me plans he would always say that it was only a suggestion. He never presumed to give me orders.
Bhagavan himself wrote in Tamil pakasalai 2 in big letters on a piece of paper. These along with the year 1938 and Sri Ramanasramam in devanagari script, appear today on the top of the eastern wall of the dining hall.
Bhagavan would frequently come out to see what we were doing. He bombarded us with advice and instructions and would occasionally join in the work himself. But he would say, “I am not connected with any of the activities here. I just witness all that happens.“
Bhagavan would start projects when no money was available to pay, happily ignoring all predictions of imminent financial doom made by the sarvadhikari. He never asked anyone for money and he forbade the sarvadhikari from begging for donations3 yet somehow enough donations came to complete every building.
Once when Bhagavan was very sick, Maurice Frydman [No.36] gave Rs.1,000 to the sarvadhikari for buying fruits for Bhagavan. Knowing that Bhagavan would not eat fruits unless everyone else was given an equal share, he avoided the use of money for the purpose. Some months later, Frydman complained to Bhagavan that his donation had not been properly spent. Bhagavan said rather angrily, “When you give something you should regard the matter as closed. How dare you use this gift to further your ego?“
Bhagavan taught us a lesson by doing the work himself. A room near the kitchen was dirty and dusty and was rarely cleaned. Many people walked through the room but never thought of making it tidy, until Bhagavan himself took a broom and completely cleaned it. Several devotees tried to stop him saying, “Please, Bhagavan let me do this job. I will clean the room.” Refusing to handover the broom he said, “Now your eyes are on it. Did you not see the mess before?” From that day on, the room was cleaned regularly.
Annamalai Swami moved to Palakottu (a colony abutting on the Ashram) in 1938. Till the end of his life in 1995, he lived peacefully and silently in his little ashram. He also provided spiritual guidance to seekers who wanted his help and guidance. We can see Annamalai Swami narrating some of his reminiscences in the video Guru Ramana.
1. The same thing happened in regard to construction activity at Sri Ramana Kendram, Hyderabad. The devotee-in-charge of construction told the compiler-editor how funds would come mysteriously in the Building Fund Donation Box at the Kendram, and the construction work did not suffer due to paucity of funds.
2. Dining room.
3. Refer 3rd para, p.160.