Dr. T. N. Krishnaswami was a prolific photographer of Sri Ramana. Dozens of his shots are reproduced in Radiance of the Self, Sri Ramana’s picture album, published by the Bangalore Centre.
When I was studying medicine at Madras, together with a few friends I set out on an excursion to Vellore with my camera. Someone suggested that the temple at Tiruvannamalai was a huge and impressive work of art, so we went there and admired the beautiful stone carvings and the huge towers.
We also paid a visit to Ramana Maharshi who was living a couple of miles away. When we arrived at the Ashram, the Maharshi had gone out for a walk on the hill. We waited and saw a string of people following a tall man walking with a stick and holding a kamandalu When the tall stately figure approached us and asked what the matter was, he was told that the party from Madras wanted to take some pictures of Bhagavan. “Oh! Is that so?” said the Maharshi. “Let them,” so saying he stood posing for me with his hands on his hips and with his face in semi-profile. I lost no time. I opened my camera and clicked. I was not looking for any spiritual face and was not conscious of any holy atmosphere.
Bhagavan, as they called him, entered the hall and lowered himself on the sofa which was carefully arranged for him. We also entered the hall and sat a few feet away, in front of him. The Maharshi did not seem to take notice of anything around him. He wore a calm and distant look. His eyes were shining and there was something divine about his countenance.
The hall was badly lit for photography but still I took a few pictures of the Maharshi. We then got up and mechanically prostrated before him and left the hall. I returned to Madras, developed the films and sent a few prints to the Ashram, as desired by them.
I settled down to my studies and had almost forgotten Tiruvannamalai. One morning I received a letter inviting me to come and take a group photo with the Maharshi, as the devotees were impressed with the good pictures that I had made. I wondered if this could not be put off till my examinations were over. But somehow I found myself on train to Tiruvannamalai.
When I entered the Maharshi’s presence, he greeted me with a smile and said, “They want a group photo and they want you to take it for them.” I was highly flattered. To have been the object of the Maharshi’s remark was exquisitely pleasing. I arranged the group, erected my camera and took a few pictures. Then Bhagavan posed for me in the conventional padmasana. He sat almost statue-like, with a clean-shaven head.
Whenever I went to the Ashram, though I usually stayed only from morning till evening, I made it a point to accompany the Maharshi and take as many pictures of him as possible. In the few hours I spent with the Maharshi, I felt charged with an inexplicable peace and contentment and I always returned home elated. My short walks with him gave me the rare opportunity of listening and taking part in the conversations.
Once a devotee who had strong faith in the Maharshi brought the corpse of her only child right into the hall. Crying and lamenting she said, “My son is dead. I pray and beseech you to grant him life.”The Maharshi sat silent for a while, as was his custom, and then gently said, “Please remove the body to a nearby cottage and let us see what happens in the morning.”
Nothing happened and the boy lay dead. But something happened to the minds of the relatives and they removed the corpse and cremated it, realizing that they should not expect the dead to rise. The Maharshi later remarked: “Even an incarnate God cannot raise all the dead. He has no individual will so he cannot decide to perform a miracle. If miracles happened in his ambience, he witnessed them; that was all.”
One day, as we were going up the hill, the Maharshi picked up a small glistening pebble from the path and held it out to me saying, “Someone from abroad has written asking for a stone taken from a holy part of this hill. He does not know that the whole hill is holy. This hill is Siva Himself. As we identify ourselves with the body, so Siva has chosen to identify Himself with this hill. The seeker will obtain guidance and solace by staying near this hill.” These words sank into my heart. It never occurred to me to weigh or examine the aptness of what was said. The hill was holy. The Maharshi had said it and that was what counted with me.
So long as I was meeting the Maharshi, I felt drawn and attracted to him. It gave me immense pleasure to take pictures of him. He was more important to me than his teachings – every little movement, every one of his acts and gestures, was highly gratifying. I was attracted to him like a baby to its mother.
His mahanirvana gave me a severe jolt. I was shocked. I had done nothing in the direction of spiritual sadhana. Had I wasted all my time taking photographs, while I should have engaged myself in trying to understand and practise his teachings in his very presence? ‘No’, I said to myself, ‘this cannot be true.’I was sure that I had obtained some grace from the Maharshi. He was somehow still here. Only, we have to learn to feel his presence. We would never be forsaken for he had himself assured us that he was not going away.