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Cherished Memories

Chapter 26 – Anandammal

Anandammal was one of Bhagavan’s earliest devotees. She came to Bhagavan while he was in Virupaksha Cave. Anandammal’s parents had settled down in Tiruvannamalai and the girl’s childhood was spent in the temple town. Right from her childhood, she had a spiritual bent of mind. Even as a young girl, she used to come to the Virupaksha Cave very often and sit in meditation before Bhagavan for long periods of time.

When Anandammal reached marriageable age, her parents started looking for a suitable bridegroom. Anandammal had no desire for family life and tried her best to dissuade her parents from getting her married. But her protests were in vain and she had to get married.

Even after her marriage however, she used to go to the Virupaksha Cave every evening and spend her time in blissful meditation in Bhagavan’s presence. Her people did not approve of this. They tried to change her ways saying, “Now you are a married woman and your duty is to look after your husband and home. You should not go out every evening.” To this Anandammal had only one reply, “I told you that I was not interested in marriage. Why did you not listen to me then?”

In course of time, Anandammal gave birth to a son. Her relatives rejoiced, thinking that the child would bind her more firmly to her home life. But they were sadly mistaken. She did not allow the birth of her child to interfere with her spiritual pursuits. She left her son in the care of other family members and continued her spiritual practices. After a while, her husband passed away. By this time, Bhagavan had come down from the hill and Sri Ramanasramam had been established. Anandammal came to live in a small thatched hut in Ramananagar. Her brother took up the responsibility of caring for her son. He educated the boy and eventually made him his son-in-law. Anandammal’s son and daughter-in-law worked as teachers in a school in Tiruvannamalai town. Anandammal did not attach importance to material possessions or physical needs. A kind hearted lady called Dhanam took upon herself the responsibility of cooking for her and generally looking after her.

Anandammal had not had much education. She was therefore unable to read much even though she was very much interested in philosophical works. A lady from Madurai used to visit Anandammal frequently. This lady was a teacher in Madurai and would come to Sri Ramanasramam during school holidays. She had great respect and love for Anandammal. She would bring good books on philosophical subjects from the library and read them aloud to Anandammal. This lady from Madurai was a Tamil scholar but sometimes she had difficulty in understanding some of the passages in the books she read. Every time she found a passage too difficult to grasp, Anandammal would clear her doubts with concise explanations. The lady was often surprised by Anandammal’s intuitive grasp of great philosophical truths.

Anandammal’s life is an excellent illustration of the fact that in spiritual sadhana, experience and intuition play a more important role than mere book knowledge. Anandammal never wasted even a single moment of her time. If she could find someone to read to her, she would have works of Bhagavan and the Ribhu Gita or some other philosophical work read out to her. She would at times go on Giripradakshinam. If there was nothing else to do, she would calmly sit and meditate for hours together in Bhagavan’s presence. She did not spend time in worldly thoughts.

Her very appearance seemed to indicate her purity. She wore an ochre colored sari. Her shorn head and a necklace of Rudraksha beads gave her the appearance of a sannyasini. She had no interest in worldly matters; even with regard to food, she had no likes or dislikes. She ate only to keep the body and soul together. At times, Dhanam had to go away for three or four days at a stretch. On such occasions, she would cook enough rice to last for a few days and leave it in a pot. Anandammal would eat a little of this rice whenever she felt the need. All of her concentration was on the Self and she did not bother about the trivial details of daily life.

Once, I got the idea that it would be nice to prepare some snacks and distribute them among the sadhus in the Ashram. Accordingly I prepared some pakoras (savouries) and made several packages. I distributed the packets to all sadhus in the Ashram and went to Anandammal’s hut with the last packet. When I reached her place, she beckoned me to come and sit beside her. When she noticed the packet in my hand, she asked, “What is it that you have brought?”

I gave her the parcel and explained the background. She admonished me saying, “Why do you waste your time like this? Where did you get the idea that sadhus need such trifles as snacks and sweets? Don’t you ever listen to what Bhagavan says? He has told us all repeatedly that the only thing to do is to be still. And yet, you engage yourself in such totally unnecessary activities. Dhanam has left me some rice in the pot in the corner. There is enough of it to keep me from starving till she returns. I have never felt the need for fancy food and I am sure that the sadhus also feel the same way. I am disappointed in you. You do not seem to realise what a great privilege it is to be allowed to live in Bhagavan’s presence. You are so young; you will be able to enjoy this privilege for a long time yet. Do not waste this rare opportunity. Concentrate your energy in the search for the Self and do not fritter it away in such worthless activities.”

Her strong words brought me to my senses. I realised how irresponsible I had been. I decided never to make such a mistake in future. Since then, I have not been tempted to do anything of that sort. Even if the impulse arose, I would be reminded of Anandammal’s words, and this would keep me from succumbing to temptation.

At times her friends came to her with their troubles. Her advice was always the same. ” Why do you waste your time on such unimportant things? What is the point in worrying? Life is like that. There will always be some problem or the other. But you should not let your mind dwell on such things. Forget everything and sit at Bhagavan’s feet. He will take care of everything.”

Anandammal used to say with pride, “This Arunachala has a unique distinction. It is said that if a woman were to do penance here, her prayers are granted very soon. It was here that Goddess Uma became a part of the Lord. There are a number of temples for Rama’s mother Kausalya or Krishna’s mother Devaki. But the mother of our Bhagavan, Alagammal, has been granted this unique privilege. Is not the Mathrubhutheswara temple the greatest proof that women are held in very high esteem in Tiruvannamalai?”

After Bhagavan’s Mahasamadhi, many of his devotees left Tiruvannamalai and went to far off places in search of solace. But they could not find peace or comfort anywhere. Like a sea-bird, which takes flight from a ship, is compelled to return to it eventually, so also did Bhagavan’s devotees return to the haven of Ramanasramam after a while. Though they came back, they were unable to find the peace they had enjoyed during his lifetime. The sight of Bhagavan’s favourite resting places, bis few personal belongings and the objects he had looked at or touched, all these brought Backpoignant memories. The devotees were unable to get over the grief of Bhagavan’s departure from the physical body.

It was at this time that Anandammal and a few other devotees approached Muruganar and requested him to read from Bhagavan’s collected works and explain the same in detail. Muruganar agreed, hoping that a detailed study of Bhagavan’s teachings would help them all overcome their grief. Muruganar’s discourses on Bhagavan’s Collected Works (Nool Thirattu) were very lucid and illuminating. Those days, when we listened to Muruganar’s exposition on Bhagavan’s works, were blessed ones. It was an unforgettable experience.

Muruganar systematically took us through all the verses and songs in Bhagavan’s collected works. These lectures went on regularly for nearly six months. Even after the lectures were over, Anandammal often visited him for clarifications of her doubts, in various other spiritual works. On one such occasion Anandammal approached Muruganar and asked him, “Is it not true that saint Vamadeva attained supreme knowledge even while he was in his mother’s womb?” As she was saying this, she fell down. I was standing nearby at that time. At first I thought that Anandammal was just prostrating to Muruganar. But when, even after a long time she did not get up, I sensed that something was seriously wrong. When I lifted her up, I found that she was unconscious. My friend Padma and I tried to revive Anandammal by sprinkling water on her face. But our efforts were in vain. We sent word to Dhanam and she immediately rushed to the town to inform Anandammal s son. As soon as her son arrived, Anandammal was lifted on to a cart and taken to her son’s house. Anandammal continued in the same state of unconsciousness throughout the day and breathed her last that night. She was a devotee par excellence, full of detachment, wisdom and spiritual experience. Even her last thoughts and words were on spiritual matters. The purpose of her life was fulfilled and this ripe soul reached Sri Bhagavan’s Lotus Feet. Her son and her brother performed the last rites, in the manner prescribed for the interment of a realised soul.

Chapter 68 – Pranavananda

Swami Pranavananda was one of the earliest devotees to come to Bhagavan. He visited Bhagavan in 1910, in the Virupaksha Cave. His integrity and strong spiritual aspirations earned him an enviable place among Bhagavan’s devotees. He was one of Bhagavan’s intimate companions. His love for Bhagavan was so great that he surrendered himself unconditionally at Bhagavan’s feet, relinquishing all worldly attachments, and this filled his heart with joy and peace. He was very modest and never spoke about himself and his speech was restricted to the barest minimum. Though he did not consider himself a teacher, his life itself served as a valuable lesson in spirituality. Pranavananda belonged to the Sarvepalli family, which was highly esteemed in the village of Venkatapuram, near Tiruttani in South India. The Sarvepalli family was a stronghold of learning in the Vedas, sastras and puranas. The family deity was Lord Yoganarasimha of Sholingapuram, and Pranavananda was named Narasimham after the family deity. He took the name of Swami Pranavananda at the time of becoming a sannyasi.

Dr.Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the world famous philosopher and one of the most illustrious Presidents of India, was Narasimham’s nephew. Surprisingly enough, Dr. Radhakrishnan, who is esteemed for his erudition and wisdom, was rather dull as a child. His father was very much upset by Radhakrishnan’s nature, and concerned about his future. Narasimham offered to take the boy to Vellore and take care of his education. Upon reaching Vellore, Narasimham initiated his nephew in the Ramataraka Mantram. Constant repetition of this potent Mantram resulted in the blossoming of Radhakrishnan’s intellect and he grew into a brilliant student. He joined the Uris College in Vellore and passed his Intermediate course. By taking care of Radhakrishnan during the formative years of his life, and by helping him through the initial stages of his academic career, Narasimham can be said to have laid the foundation for Radhakrishnan’s success in later life.

The Sarvepalli family was not a wealthy one. It is said that though Goddess Saraswati (the Goddess of Learning) showered Her Grace upon the family. Goddess Lakshmi (the Goddess of Wealth) looked askance at them! Though they were never reduced to extreme poverty, the family never enjoyed the comforts of affluence. With the intention of acquiring some wealth, some members of the Sarvepalli family migrated to Madras, where they were able to make some money by giving discourses in sastras and puranas. Later on, some of the members settled down in Tiruttani. Narasimham was well versed in the three South Indian languages namely Telugu, Tamil and Kannada. He was also a Sanskrit scholar. Ironically enough, Narasimham did not get through the Matriculation Examination, but his scholarship in English was remarkable. Englishmen themselves used to marvel at his mastery over the language!

Narasimham joined the Arcot Christian College as a teacher. The authorities were so impressed by his scholarship and his capacity as a teacher that they appointed him as a Munshi (a teacher who trained foreigners in the use of local languages) to teach Telugu and English to the members of the mission and the managers of the institutions under their care.

Narasimham also trained some of the members of the mission in the techniques of meditation. Some of his students, like Paul Adiseshayya and Ida Scudder (who founded the CMC Hospital in Vellore) were so impressed by the clarity of thought obtained through meditation that they were prepared to embrace Hinduism if Narasimham advised them to do so. Narasimham did not believe in religious conversions, and did not think that only Hindus could benefit from meditation. He declared that one could meditate on God even if one did not profess any religion. He told his students that one could serve mankind and live in peace even if one did not belong to any recognised religion. Narasimham’s beliefs and his teachings astonished the authorities of the mission.

Narasimham made several visits to the Vellore Central Jail, to meet the prisoners and to talk to them about moral values. He initiated the prisoners into the Ramataraka mantram and persuaded them to give up their lawless ways. Through his influence, Narasimham helped in reforming and rehabilitating many of the criminals in the jail. He left the Mission because of some difference of opinion with the authorities, and took up the job of Munshi in the Police Training College. Many of the Europeans who came to Vellore during that period had the good fortune to learn the local language from Narasimham. Those who were spiritually inclined found an able guide in him, and his classes became very popular satsangs (spiritual congregations). Very soon, Narasimham gained the reputation of a capable teacher and a spiritual guide.

While Narasimham was serving as a Munshi in Vellore, Kavyakanta Ganapati Muni was working as a Telugu Teacher in the same town. In 1910, Narasimham and Ganapati Muni went to Tiruvannamalai and met Bhagavan. At that time, Bhagavan was staying in the Virupaksha Cave. In the very first meeting, Bhagavan’s look of grace entered deep into Narasimham’s heart and destroyed all the doubts that had been troubling him till then. From that moment onwards, Narasimham’s heart was full of peace. It was during this period that F.H.Humphreys came to India as an Assistant Superintendent of Police. As soon as he reached Bombay, he fell ill, and had to be hospitalised. Upon being discharged from the hospital, he came to Vellore. He reached Vellore on March 18th, and Narasimham went to him on the same day, to start the Telugu classes. As soon as he saw Narasimham, Humphreys asked him whether he knew any astrology. Narasimham said he did not. Humphreys then requested Narasimham to get him a particular book on astrology. Narasimham obtained the book from the local library. The next day, while returning the book, Humphreys asked Narasimham whether he knew any mahatmas (great souls) in Vellore. Narasimham did not feel like divulging any such information to an inquisitive foreigner and so he said that he did not know anyone. At their next meeting, Humphreys said, “Why, Munshiji! You told me you did not know any mahatmas in this town. But last night I saw your guru in my dream. He was sitting beside me and saying something, but I could not understand him. You were the first person I saw in my dream while I was in Bombay, and I felt that you would lead me to my guru.”

Narasimham replied, “I have never travelled beyond Guntakal. I never went to Bombay.” Humphreys then gave a detailed description of the vision he had had while lying in the hospital in Bombay. He said that even as he lay upon the hospital bed in Bombay, he had gone to Vellore in his astral body. He had seen some people in Vellore, and Narasimham was the first person he saw. Narasimham was impressed by the yogic powers of his new student, but he wanted to test him further. When Narasimham came to teach Humphreys that afternoon, he brought some pictures of Bhagavan, Ganapati Muni, Seshadri Swami and some others. He put these pictures on the table and, without meeting Humphreys or giving him any kind of explanation, he went to teach another student. When Narasimham returned, Humphreys was waiting for him eagerly. Holding out Ganapati Muni’s picture, Humphreys said, “This is the person I saw in my dream yesterday. Is he not your guru? Please tell me the truth.” Narasimham was amazed, and he admitted that it was indeed the picture of his guru, Sri Ganapati Muni. Narasimham had become Ganapati Muni’s disciple in 1906, and the Muni had explained Bhagavan’s teachings, and trained him in the method of Self-enquiry as taught by Bhagavan. A fortnight later, Humphreys fell ill again. He was sent to Udagamandalam (Ooty), to recuperate. While in Ooty, Humphreys kept up a regular correspondence with Narasimham. After returning from Udagamandalam, Humphreys sketched the picture of a cave with a mountain spring at its entrance, and a Muni standing in front of the cave. He showed the picture to Narasimham and told him that it was the representation of what he had seen in his dream the previous night. Humphreys asked Narasimham whether he could identify the sage in the picture. Narasimham was amazed to see that Humphreys had drawn a picture of Ramana Maharshi standing in front of the Virupaksha Cave. When he was told about this, Humphreys expressed the desire to meet Bhagavan.

Humphreys had been asking Narasimham to take him to meet Ganapati Muni. It so happened that Ganapati Muni came to Vellore around that time. The Muni was on his way to Tiruvannamalai, and had stopped in Vellore because he had been invited to give a discourse in the Theosophical Society there. While he was in Vellore, Narasimham took Humphreys to meet him. When the Muni resumed his journey to Tiruvannamalai, Humphreys took a day’s leave from work, and accompanied the Muni and Narasimham to Tiruvannamalai. Thus it was that Humphreys had his first darshan of Bhagavan in the Virupaksha Cave, in the year 1911, and Narasimham was instrumental in bringing about this momentous meeting. While he was teaching Telugu to the officials in the Police Department, Narasimham used to translate several spiritual texts, including the Ramayana, for the benefit of his students. The Englishmen were highly impressed by Narasimham’s mastery of their language, and his lucid style. They held him in high regard, both for his scholarship and for his spiritual achievements. Most of Narasimham’s students were very wealthy people, in important, influential positions. But Narasimham treated all his students equally, without fear or favour. He made no demands, but the Englishmen used to send a motor buggy to pick him up from his house and to drop him Backafter classes. The chauffeur used to salute Narasimham as though he were the Governor! Very rarely was such reverence shown to an Indian during the days of the British Raj. Though he was just a teacher of local languages, Narasimham commanded the respect of a large number of foreigners.

Though Narasimham had originally accepted Ganapati Muni as his guru, he was proud to declare himself a devotee of Bhagavan Ramana. He led a very simple life; but he never hesitated to help those in need. Though his was a very modest house in a crowded street (named Avalkaran Veedhi), there were at least ten students staying with him at any given time. He boarded them free of charge, and his wife fed them all with the loving concern of a mother. Narasimham had no male issue. This fact did not bother him, but his wife longed for a son. One day, she requested Ganapati Muni to bless her with a male child. With the Muni’s blessings, a baby boy was born, but he did not survive beyond early childhood. Narasimham’s wife was an ardent devotee of Lord Yoganarasimha of Sholingapuram, and she often visited His temple on the Ghatikachalam hill. Late one evening, while she was sitting in meditation behind the idols of the Saptha Rishis (Seven Sages) the temple priests, who had not noticed her, locked up the temple for the night and went home. The lady claimed that, on that occasion. Lord Yoganarasimha Himself brought her out of the locked temple and sat her on the steps leading up the hill. Narasimham had no special feeling towards his family deity, Lord Yoganarasimha. His whole concentration was on the Vichara Marga (path of Self-enquiry) as taught by Bhagavan. In course of time, Narasimham renounced the world and became a Sannyasi, assuming the name of Swami Pranavananda. However, the ritual was a mere formality, as Narasimham had always been a Sannyasi at heart, living a life of detachment and devoting his time to spiritual pursuits.

Pranavananda considered Bhagavan the very personification of the Vedas and the Upanishads, and so he had great love and reverence for him. Bhagavan, too, had a special regard and concern for Pranavananda. The following anecdote serves as an illustration of Bhagavan’s concern for him: Pranavananda used to compile Bhagavan’s teachings into books. One of the devotees owned a printing press, and he printed the books that were brought to him by Pranavananda. One hot summer afternoon, Pranavananda was returning to Tiruvannamalai with a copy of one of the books. He had just one rupee with him, and, not wanting to engage a bullock cart, he decided to walk to Ramanasramam. He somehow made it to the gate of the ashram, but the terrible heat had taken its toll-Pranavananda could not proceed any further. He sat down in the shade of a tree for a short rest before entering the ashram. At that moment, Bhagavan happened to look out of the window. Seeing Pranavananda’s exhausted attitude, Bhagavan immediately came out to him. Sitting down beside him, Bhagavan poured cool water over Pranavananda’s sore feet and spoke to him in gentle, compassionate tones, saying, “Why do you put yourself to such strain? Did I ever ask you to go out in this heat?” Such was the Masters concern for his disciples welfare! Pranavanada was instrumental in printing several books of Bhagavan’s teachings. He priced these books at half-anna or one anna and gave them to the ashram. It was his desire that Bhagavan’s teachings should be made available to the maximum number of people at affordable cost. It was Pranavananada who first translated Bhagavan’s Who am I?, Vicharasangraham, Vivekachudamani and Devikalottaram into Telugu. His style was very simple and lucid. In addition to these translations, Pranavananda also wrote several original books, including Rama-no. Maharshi Charitramu, Advaitabhoda Dipika, Tatwamali Dhyanamu, Sri Guru-Anugraha-avataramu, Dipamu Choodandi and Sri Ramana Stutipaatalu.

For Pranavananda, spirituality was not mere intellectual exercise but the very way of life. From his childhood, he had great faith in the Rama Taraka mantram. He used to impart this mantram to his students, so that their hearts and their brains could acquire clarity and brilliance. He used to teach the Ramayana to his students, and they learned to appreciate and admire this priceless epic. One day, Bhagavan was sitting on the verandah with some devotees. Suddenly, a crow flew in at greatspeed and fell at Bhagavan’s feet. Bhagavan picked it up and stroked its feathers gently. He saw that the crow was mortally wounded, and tried to revive it, but it died in Bhagavan’s lap. “Some Siddha purusha has left his body today”, said Bhagavan, and gave instructions for entombing the dead crow. While this was going on, Pranavananda came to the ashram. Upon seeing him, Bhagavan said, “The entombment of the crow is over.” All the other devotees seemed to be impressed by the gravity of the moment, but Pranavananda remained unmoved and said to Bhagavan, “Why should Bhagavan expect us to be impressed by this incident, as though it is some great achievement? Is it really such a wonderful thing to have happened?” Everyone was taken aBackby Pranavananda’s inexplicable reaction, but Bhagavan remained grave and dignified. Suddenly, Pranavananda broke into tears and said, “Why Bhagavan, is this really a great deed that you have done now? Did you not grant liberation to Jatayu in the last yuga? Now you have done the same for a crow. There is nothing strange about this … it is just a routine affair for someone like you!” Hearing this, the devotees were moved by Pranavananda’s devotion to Bhagavan, and his unshakable faith in Bhagavan’s divine nature. Bhagavan himself looked on silently, as though he accepted everything. Once, Pranavananda asked his grandson Hariprasad to attend Bhagavan’s jayanti Celebrations. He instructed the boy to get up early in the morning, have his bath and take his breakfast with Bhagavan, and to leave immediately for giripradakshinam. As the boy was about to leave, Pranavananda slipped a letter into his pocket and told him to give it to Bhagavan.

Hariprasad followed his grandfather’s instructions; he woke up early in the morning and had his bath. Then he went and prostrated to Bhagavan. Bhagavan made enquiries regarding the welfare of all the family members, and told Hariprasad to have the iddlies and chutney that had been prepared for that day’s breakfast. While he was eating, Hariprasad told Bhagavan that he wanted to set out on Giripradakshinam immediately after breakfast. Bhagavan said, “First of all, let me read the letter your grandfather has written to me”, and he took the letter from the boy’s pocket. Bhagavan asked for one more idii to be served to the boy, and read the letter while Hariprasad finished his breakfast. The letter contained the information that the Maharaja of Mysore was planning to visit Ramanasramam. Even though the boy had forgotten his grandfathers instructions, Bhagavan made sure that the letter was handed over to him. Pranavananda had an ashram in Gudivada, in the Guntur District of Andhra Pradesh. However, he stayed in Vellore most of the time. Kulumani Narayana Sastri, a devotee of Bhagavan, also stayed in Vellore, and he was a close associate of Swami Pranavananda. He was devoted to both Bhagavan and to Seshadri Swami. Kulumani Sastri came to Bhagavan while Bhagavan was living on the Hill. At the very first meeting, he surrendered himself to Bhagavan. There is an interesting story about Kulumani Sastri. It is as follows: Kulumani Sastri had written an abridged version of Valmiki’s Ramayana in English prose. He wanted to have the first reading of the completed work, in Bhagavan’s presence. Accordingly, he started up the Hill with his manuscript, and a big bunch of bananas as an offering for Bhagavan. On the way, he saw a Vinayaka temple and offered a few bananas from the bunch to Lord Vinayaka. This was done mentally; he did not actually remove the fruits from the bunch and leave them in the Vinayaka temple.

Kulumani Sastri went up the Hill and prostrated to Bhagavan, and laid the bunch of bananas before Bhagavan. The usual custom was for the attendant to put away all offerings safely, until they were distributed among the devotees, at an appropriate time. When the attendant came to remove the bananas, Bhagavan stopped him, saying that the fruits offered to Lord Vinayaka had yet to be removed from the bunch. The attendant and the other devotees were puzzled. Kulumani Sastri was stunned! He told the gathering that it was indeed true that he had mentally offered a few fruits to Lord Vinayaka on the way up the Hill, but had forgotten to separate those fruits from the bunch. Everybody was amazed at Bhagavan’s omniscience. Before Sastri even mentioned the purpose of his visit, Bhagavan himself said, “Sastri! Why don’t you start reading the Ramayana?” Sastri was even more amazed than before! It was as though Bhagavan had photographed Sastri’s mind and could see every detail in it. One day, Pranavananda asked his grandson, Hariprasad, to fetch Kulumani Sastri. As soon as Sastri reached their house, Pranavananda asked him to recite Rudra Namakam and Chamakam along with him. At the end of this recitation, Pranavananda closed his eyes and repeated ‘Hari Om’. With the Lord’s Name on his lips, he merged with the divine. Thus ended Pranavananda’s glorious life.

Pranavananda merged with Bhagavan in the year 1969, and his mortal remains were entombed on the banks of the River Palar, in Vellore. Though Pranavananda is no more with us, his memory lives on, through the numerous books he has written.

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