Incidents during Stay at Skandashram
Sri Ramana spent the years 1916 to 1922 with his mother Alagammal and the small community at Skandashram. It was during this period that he was joined by a number of those disciples who were to remain with him permanently, these included Viswanatha Swami, Ramaswami Pillai and Kunju Swami. His younger brother Nagasundaram also joined the Ashram. When Alagammal died in 1922, she was buried at the foot of the hill. Shortly thereafter the time at Skandashram came to an end, as the Maharshi and his followers moved to settle down at her burial site, and Ramanashram,where Sri Ramana was to remain until his death, came into being.
As a result of several deaths in her family and the difficult circumstances of her life Alagammal finally felt that she should spend the remaining years of her life with her second son. Nagaswami, her eldest son, had died in 1900. Soon after her visit to Ramana her brother-in-law Nelliappa Iyer had died and then also her daughter-in-law Mangalam. The house in Tiruchuli had been sold to cover debts. Nelliappa Iyer had left the family in difficult circumstances.
In early 1916 Alagammal set off for Tiruvannamalai. As she did not know whether she would be allowed to stay with Ramana in the Virupaksha Cave she moved in with Echammal, who each day brought a meal up to the cave. But after some time she felt the urgent need to stay with her son. The community, however, did not want to see any change in the established Ashram routine.
Without consulting Ramana they declared with one voice that under no circumstances should women be allowed to live in the cave.Although the other women argued that the mother should be permitted to do so as she was now too old to climb the hill each day, they remained unmoved. When Sri Ramana came to hear about the matter he at first kept silent. Alagammal stood there unhappy and despairing and wanted to go, when Ramana, deeply moved, took her hand and said, “Come let us go, if not here we can stay somewhere else, come. Fearful that he may indeed go away they all immediately changed their view and Alagammal moved into the Ashram.
At the Virupaksha Cave there was often not enough water or at times none at all. But further up the hill there was a waterfall under which the members of the community took their daily bath. Alagammal,however, was too old to climb up to the spring. Ramana told how he used to fetch the water for her “bath’ from this spring in two kamandalams, “I used to bring water in both of them, carrying one in each hand. She used to sit down wearing a small cloth and I used to pour the water over her head just as we do abhishikam over an idol. That is how she used to have her bath.Someone used to wash her cloth and bring it back. That was all.
If water was brought in those two kamandalams all her requirements used to be met.
Kandaswami, one of Sri Ramana’s disciples, eventually found this all too tiresome. Also, because of the growing number of disciples,the Virupaksha Cave was becoming crowded. He therefore decided to look for another place to stay, where they could live more comfortably and he thought that the best thing would be to settle down at the spring. Once Ramana had given his agreement, he started work, cleared away the undergrowth, cacti and trees, removed the rocks and started building the Ashram. He also planted a garden with coconut trees.
Ramana named the new Ashram after him. Kanda is the Tamil name for Skanda, and so the new lodging was named “Skandashram’. It is one of the most enchanting places on the hill with an impressive view of the Arunachaleswara temple and the whole town.
The daily routine at Skandashram was subject to strict regulation.At four o’clock in the morning Alagammal would rise and sing devotional songs, while the other community members meditated.Then Akshara Mana Malai (The Marital Garland of Letters) was recited. Afterwards Ramana took his bath. To brush his teeth he sat on a big stone slab on the eastern side of Skandashram. He continued to do this even when the weather was cool, nobody could make him give this up. Exactly why he did so was only discovered later. An old woman was in the habit of coming up daily for darshan. When her health would no longer allow her to climb up the hill, she could see Ramana from her house when he brushed his teeth at this place. He knew how important this was for her, so he always sat there, irrespective of the weather.
At eight there was rasam and rice for breakfast. After this the Ashram community sat outside. Some devotees read, others meditated.The atmosphere was very peaceful. Occasionally Ramana answered the questions of devotees and visitors.
In the evening Akshara Mana Malai was recited again.
When Alagammal moved into Skandashram, food was meagre and depended upon whatever visitors and devotees brought. Sometimes the food was delicious and there was more than enough for everybody, at other times there was much less and sometimes nothing at all.
Soon Alagammal started cooking regularly and took charge of running the household. She would wander about the hill and bring Backthings that she found there. She was an excellent and imaginative cook and liked to spoil the devotees with a variety of delicious dishes, using the ingredients she had somehow managed to find.
During her last years Alagammal still had some lessons to learn.When she first came to live with Ramana he did not call her “Amma’ (mother). Sometimes he would ignore her and not answer her when she spoke to him, whilst at the same time paying attention to everybody else. If she complained he would say to her, “All women are my mothers, not only you. This was very hurtful for her. At first this would often make her cry, but later she learned to give up the possessiveness she felt towards her son and to overcome any feelings of superiority she may have had at being the mother of the great Swami.
If Alagammal were to think that this thing or that thing were needed, Ramana would say to her, “Mother, if you want bodily comfort, go to the other son; if you want mental comfort you stay here.
Alagammal understood and became accustomed to the life of privation at the Ashram. She never thought of leaving.
Alagammal wanted her younger son Nagasundaram, whose wife had died, to come to live with them in the Ashram. His sister Alamelu had taken over the upbringing of his small son Venkataraman (Venkatoo), so he was free and unattached. She sent one of Ramana’s companions to Nagasundaram to tell him of her wish. In 1918 Nagasundaram left his job and came to Tiruvannamalai. First he lived at a friend’s house and climbed up to the Ashram each day. Then he took a vow of renunciation and adopted the ochre robe of a sannyasin. His name was changed to Niranjanandaswami,but he was generally called “Chinnaswami’ (little Swami), because he was the brother of the big Swami. At first he used to go to town every day begging, later he gave it up as there was by now enough for all to eat in the Ashram itself.
Alagammal’s only desire was to be with Ramana at the moment of her death. When her daughter Alamelu invited her to the ceremony to open her new house, she declined, fearing that she would be unable to return to her son if she became sick there. She said to Ramana, “Even if you were to throw away my dead body in these thorny bushes I do not mind but I must end this life in your arms.
When Alagammal felt that her end was nearing, she called both her sons to her side, placed Chinnaswami’s hand in the hand of Ramana and said to the latter one, “This boy does not know what is right and what is wrong. Don’t let him go away from you. Keep a watchful eye on him. This is my last wish.
On 19th May 1922 Alagammal’s condition became critical. Kunju Swami reports, “After his morning walk, Sri Bhagavan went into mother’s room and sat beside her. He ate his lunch there itself and was sitting beside her all the time. When he noticed her struggling for breath, he put his right hand on her chest. She became a little restful after a while. The time of mother’s liberation was drawing near. Sri Bhagavan put one of his hands on her head and another on her chest and sat quietly. The devotees had started to recite the Vedas, Akshara Mana Malai and the name of Ram simultaneously in three groups, to silence down her mind. At 8 p.m. Alagammal died.
In the meantime Alamelu had arrived along with her husband, her nephew Venkatoo and some devotees. Although it had been decided that Alagammal’s burial should be a quiet affair, a huge crowd of Maharshi’s devotees had come, bringing fruit, flowers and coconuts. A Shiva lingam was erected over the grave, which, at the suggestion of Ganapati Muni, was named Mathrubhutheswara (God in the form of the mother).
Source: Ramana Maharshi: His Life A biography by Gabriele Ebert