30th November, 1947
(24) Poor Man’s Mite
I have already written to you that on the night of the festival of the Holy Beacon, (i.e. the Deepam Festival) when the Beacon at the top of the hill was lighted, we took the permission of Bhagavan and went round the hill. Hitherto, the usual practice had been to go round the hill before the festival, not after. But this time, however we started at night, after the evening meal. There were about a hundred of us. With Bhagavan in our hearts and with the Beacon Light on the top of the hill before our eyes, and with the full moon brightly shining, we started out on foot. Devotees who had had the privilege of accompanying Bhagavan on his walks round the hill in his earlier days, began to tell us about their experiences; “Bhagavan used to sit here”; “here he used to cook”; “this happened here” “Bhagavan told us about this, there”. While they were relating such incidents, we did not feel the fatigue of walking, for we were absorbed in the tales. But for the fact that we wanted to get Backfor the Vedaparayana at 5 a.m., we might only have returned at day-break. As it was, we returned at 3 a.m.
I will now tell you some of the things the devotees told us that night: As we were approaching the Unnamalai tank, a devotee said, “When Bhagavan went round the hill, he used to sit here for some time so that those who were lagging behind might catch up with the party. Let us also sit here and wait for a while”. We accordingly all sat there for some time.
“How long ago was it that Bhagavan gave up going round the hill?” I asked.
“Till 1926 Bhagavan used to do it. That was an exhilarating experience,” said Kunjuswami, one of the old devotees.
“Why not tell us some of the incidents of those days?” we said. Kunjuswami agreed and began to tell us as follows:
“One day, we all felt like going round the hill with Bhagavan. When we told him, he readily consented and we started that afternoon immediately after food. In was usual for Bhagavan to walk slowly while going round the hill, so Venamma hearing that he had gone and confident that she could catch up with the party in no time, started out with a big basket of provisions.
“We were passing Sona Thirtham when Bhagavan noticed Venamma at a distance, approaching, and he said, ‘ There, you see, Venamma is coming; someone must have told her and sent her with a basket of food. However much I protest, people will not give up these things. There she is, with a heavy load on her head. All right; this is going to be a punishment for her.’
” So saying, he began to walk fast. Could she overtake him if he walked fast? Let us see. She continued to hurry, panting and fretting all the time, but did not stop walking. Bhagavan continued to walk in this way until we passed the Gautamasram, when we looked back. He could see that she, too, was walking fast, and, his heart melting at the sight, he led us to a mango grove that was nearby the road.
“Standing under the shade of one of the trees, Bhagavan said, ‘We will stop here. There is a well, and if not here, we may not get water anywhere else near. I was hoping that she would give us up, but she could not. She is tired and is panting for breath. What a shame!’ So saying, he sat down.
“Unable to discover our whereabouts, and coming up to the trees, Venamma began anxiously saying, ‘Where has Bhagavan gone? There is no sign of him anywhere’. When Bhagavan heard this, he began laughing, whereupon she traced us to where we were and joined us. After eating what she had brought us, we began our walk again, Venamma now with us. From that day, we named the tree Venamma’s mango tree.
“Bhagavan used to tell us that sometimes he started for pradakshina at night and returned by daybreak. It was the usual thing to start so. Sometimes, however, we would start in the morning, with cooking utensils to cook food at noon either at Sona thirtham or at Gautamasram or at Pachyamman Shrine, eat, rest and return to the Asramam in the evening. Before the Asramam grew to its present size, we would go round leisurely, sometimes taking two days, or three days or even a week, camping en route.
“On one occasion, we started to go round in the morning with the intention of returning the same evening. We stopped at the Gautamasram, cooked our food, ate it and after taking some rest, packed all the milk, sugar, buttermilk, etc., that remained and started walking again. As we were approaching Adi Annamalai, Bhagavan began walking off on a side road and very fast. Thinking that he wished to avoid the crowds on the main road, we followed him.
“After going along a path for about half a furlong, we came to a tank. At the edge of the tank and under a tree, sat an old man, his body covered by a blanket and holding a small pot in his hand. This old man, whenever he heard that Bhagavan was coming round the hill, would await Bhagavan’s arrival on the road and bring him something to eat. Not seeing him on the road, and lest the poor man should be troubled at missing him, Bhagavan had made the detour.
“Bhagavan, on seeing him, called him by name and began talking with him very simply. The old peasant prostrated before Bhagavan, then stood with folded hands, saying nothing. ‘What is the matter?’ said Bhagavan, ‘why is it that I do not see you anywhere these days? Are crops and cattle all right. How are the children?’ And then, ‘What is in the pot?’ queried Bhagavan.
“Very hesitantly, the old man said, ‘Nothing particular, Swami. I came to know that you were coming. I wanted to bring something as usual to offer you, but there was nothing in the house. When I asked my old woman, she said, ‘ There is ample food in the cook-pot; you can take it to them’. Unable to decide what to do, I put some of the food into this small pot, but ashamed to face you with only this sort of food to offer you, I was sitting here, Swami.’
“Bhagavan, seemingly very pleased, exclaimed, ‘Oh! Cooked food, is it? That is excellent. Why be ashamed? It will be very good. Let me have it’. As the old man was still hesitating, Bhagavan took the pot from him, sat down under a tree and told his followers to unload all the things they had brought. We unloaded accordingly. Bhagavan took out from among the cooking things, a big open mouthed tin-lined vessel into which he put all the food, poured in a lot of water, and mixed it well into a paste with his hand; then from some left-overs amongst our things, he took out some limes and squeezed the juice into the mixture, poured in some buttermilk, and made the whole thing into a liquid. Finally he mixed some salt and dry ginger powder, then took out a tumbler full of the liquid, drank it, and said, ‘Oh, this is delicious! ‘ Then looking at us all, he said, ‘All of you, mix some sugar with that milk left over and drink it; our luggage will be lighter. I have this food; so what need have I for the milk? This is first rate food for me in this hot weather. It is also very nourishing, and has many other good qualities too. But you wouldn’t like it, do drink the milk, and please give my share of it and the sugar to this old man’.
“We accordingly mixed the sugar with the milk and, after giving some to the old man, we drank the rest. Bhagavan was meanwhile talking sociably with the old farmer and taking two or three tumblers full of the liquid preparation saying that it was like nectar. He then said to the old man, ‘My stomach is quite full. I feel that I shan’t be able to take any food tonight. Take the rest of this liquid food home’. So saying, he gave the remaining food to the old man, who accepted it as though it were nectar. Wiping the tears of joy that were welling up into his eyes, he took leave of us and went off to his cottage.’
“Until recently”, I said, “that old man used to come to see Bhagavan every now and then. Vyasa wrote in glowing terms in the Bhagavatam about the beaten rice that Kuchela presented to Lord Krishna. Had he seen this Lord’s kindly act, how much more glowingly would he have written!”