THE FIRST BATH AND THE FIRST SHAVE
12th April, 1948
After writing to you yesterday afternoon about the grandeur of Bhagavan’s surroundings in the Jubilee Hall, I went to the Asramam a little later than usual. As soon as he saw me, Bhagavan said, “Ramachandra Iyer and Ananthanarayana Rao together have just taken a photo”.
Being summer and already hot, Krishnaswami sprinkled water on the rush screen at the Backof Bhagavan’s sofa and also on the crotons which were behind the screen. The spray from the sprinkling fell on Bhagavan and he rubbed his body, saying, “See, they are consecrating (abishekam) me!”
That incident seemed to have reminded him of something that had happened in the past, for with smiles all over his face and with appropriate gestures, he told us the following story:
“After I came to this place, Tiruvannamalai, I had no bath for four months. One day, when I was in the compound of the Arunachala Temple, the wife of a devotee by name Ponnuswami, came unexpectedly, pulled me along, made me sit, cleaned my head with soap-nut powder and gave me a bath. She had been coming to the temple every now and then; so I had thought that she had come as usual, but that day, she had come there prepared! That was my first bath.”
“Were you bathing regularly everyday afterwards?” I asked.
“No, there was no question of a bath; who was to make me bathe? Who was the one to bathe? After that, a year or so passed in the same way. I had been in the Gurumurtham cave for some time, you see, and as not many people came there every day, no one bothered me. Even so, a lady, by name Minakshi, who used now and then to bring food to give me, one day brought a large pot and began to boil water. I thought it was for some use for herself, but, taking from a basket some oil, soap-nut, etc., she said, ‘Swami, please come’. I did not move. But would she keep quiet! She pulled me by the arm, made me sit, smeared the oil all over my body and bathed me. The hair on the head which had got matted for want of care, was now spread out and hung down like the mane of a lion. That was my second bath. After that, Palaniswami came and everything was adjusted into routine of daily baths.”
“This incident is not found in your biography,” I said.
“No, that is so,” said Bhagavan, “it was never written then. Shaving was also like that. The shave I had on the day I came here has been recorded; the second was after a year and a half. The hair had got matted and woven like a basket. Small stones and dust had settled down in it and the head used to feel heavy. I had also long nails, and a frightful appearance. So people pressed me to have a shave, and I yielded. When my head was shaven clean, I began to wonder whether I had a head or not, it felt so light. I shook my head this way and that to assure myself that it was there. That showed the amount of burden I had been carrying on my head.”
“During those one and a half years, did nobody try to get your head shaved?” asked a devotee.
“Yes, indeed they did try,” said Bhagavan, “when I was in the Subramanya temple. One Nilakanta Iyer, the grandfather of a lawyer of the same name now practising, used to come there frequently. One day, he came prepared for the purpose. Thinking that he had come as usual, I kept my eyes closed. Without saying a word to me, he stood some way off opposite me. I heard a ‘tip, tup’ behind me, so opened my eyes. I saw a barber sharpening his razor. I left the spot immediately without saying a word. Poor man, he realized that I was not willing to be shaved and so had gone off. Ponnuswami’s wife alone would not leave me unless and until I took a bath. When she dragged me, pulling me by the arm, what was I to do?”
“Perhaps she felt you were like a child,” I said.
“Yes,” said Bhagavan, “and another thing happened when I was living under the madukha tree; a twenty-year old dancing girl, by name Rathnamma, saw me one day while going to and from the temple to dance. She grew devoted to me and got disgusted with her profession, and told her mother that she would not eat unless she could give food to the Swami. So both of them brought me food. But I was then in deep meditation and opened neither my eyes nor my mouth, even when they shouted. But they somehow woke me up by asking a passer-by to pull me by the hand; they then gave me food and left. When Rathnamma insisted that she must daily feed the Swami before she ate, her mother said, ‘You are young and so is Swami, and he does not wake until somebody touches and pulls him. We can’t do that; what can we do?’ Rathanmma then asked a first cousin of hers for assistance, and with his help used to give me food daily. After some time, however, relatives of the boy felt this work to be undignified and so stopped sending him. She, however, would not give up her resolve to feed me; so at last the old mother herself came regularly, and being elderly and thinking that therefore there was no harm in it, used to wake me up by shaking me and then gave me food. Shortly afterwards, the old mother passed away, and I too shifted from there to a distant place. Rathnamma could no longer then go the long distance to feed me, and so gave up her attempts. Since she could not live unless she earned by her profession, Rathnamma confined herself to one man only; what does it matter to what community she belonged, she was pure. She had great non-attachment and great devotion. She had never liked her profession and did not want her daughter to follow it; so married her off.”
The story finished, Bhagavan was once more silent.