Akhilandamma – An Early Devotee
Akhilandamma was born in 1871 in a small village called Desur, located about fifty kilometres northeast of Tiruvannamalai. Following a tradition that was still prevalent at the time, she was “married ” at the age of five. Such child brides usually lived with their parents till they reached puberty, at which point they would move to their husband “s home. However, since Akhilandamma “s husband died when she was only seven years old, she spent all her childhood and youth at her parents ” home. Under the social conditions that prevailed at the time, it was not possible for her to remarry, so when she grew up she decided to devote her life to serving sadhus. Though she was primarily attracted to Ramana Maharshi, she also served Seshadri Swami and Vitthoba, an eccentric saint who lived in Polur, about thirty kilometres north of Tiruvannamalai.
She first saw Bhagavan in 1896 while he was residing in the Arunachaleswara temple. On that occasion she saw the temple priest collecting the abhishekam milk from the Amman shrine and giving it to Bhagavan. This darshan did not make a great impression on her. It was not until 1903, when she visited Sri Bhagavan on the hill, that she first felt his power. From 1903 onwards she was a regular visitor. She invariably came for Bhagavan “s birthday celebration, for the Deepam festival and for Jnanasambandhar Guru puja. She frequently came at other times during the year. On each visit she would bring food for Bhagavan and his devotees.
When she stayed in her native village with her mother, many of Bhagavan “s devotees used to come and stay at her house. With the object of serving such devotees, Akhilandamma and Masthan Swami (whom she introduced to Bhagavan) established a math or centre there in 1914. Called Sri Ramanananda Mathalayam, it was the first “Ramana Centre ” to be established outside Tiruvannamalai. Many of Bhagavan “s early devotees such as Kunju Swami, Ramaswami Pillai, Madhava Swami and Ramanatha Brahmachari were taken there to recuperate from various illnesses they had contracted in Tiruvannamalai.
Kunju Swami, one of her cured patients, made this comment in the introduction to her biography: “I know that for the last forty years this lady has been engaging herself in serving food to Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi and Mahan Seshadri Swami. Even from the days when Bhagavan was living at Skandashram, whenever any devotees there fell ill, it was her custom to take them to the math in her village and look after them. She would only send them Backafter curing their illness. “
There are two principal sources for information on Akhilandamma “s life: a Tamil biography written by Sadhu Om in 1960, and a Telugu account by Nageswara Rao. Nageswara Rao, who interviewed Akhilandamma himself, incorporated many of Sadhu Om “s stories in his own account, but also added incidents that Sadhu Om did not cover. The following story, from Nageswara Rao “s account, was published in the Arunachala Ramana magazine in 1982. It does not appear either in Sadhu Om “s account or in the “Power of the Presence ” chapter on Akhilandamma:
Whenever Ganapati Muni saw me coming, he would exclaim with delight, “Oh! Akhlkandamma has come! “
Emboldened by this, his favourable disposition towards me, one day I asked Ganapati Muni in a plaintive tone, “I am utterly unlettered while you, I am told, are a Master of all the Vedas and the Upanishads. What is the way for me? “
The great scholar explained to me, with great respect and sweetness, “Akhilandamma, you are really blessed. You are feeding Bhagavan Ramana who is the very avatar of Kumara Swami. This is a sure sign of the Lord “s grace. Bear it in your mind and take heart. No austerities can give fruit by themselves. Remember this always: it is Iswara who is the dispenser of the fruit [of karma]. Sent by that Iswara himself, Sri Ramana has come down to earth. So what can please Iswara more than devoted service to Sri Ramana? When you recognise this secret, your fruit will increase all the more. “
I have already acquainted you with the fact that my family was very poor. We were always beset with economic difficulties. In addition to this, there arose, at one time, differences in the family. Unable to bear that affliction, I came before Bhagavan, cried, and broke down I tears.
Bhagavan, after remaining silent for some time, opened his mouth and kindly said, “Tesuramma [ “Mother from Desur , her village], you are under the impression that difficulties have come to you alone. This life is a blend of pain and pleasure. One should have no elation when there is pleasure, and no dejection when there is pain. Take my example. I came here at the age of seventeen. I had no mother or father here. I have spent my time in caves and under trees in sun, in showers, and in the cold. I begged alms to pacify my hunger. It is only nowadays that all of you have come here to minister to my needs. “
Still shedding tears, I said to Bhagavan in a begging tone of voice, “You,
Bhagavan, are an incarnation, so you can bear all that. But what about a woman like me? I have no one but you to help me. You alone have to have compassion on me. “
These plaintive words moved Bhagavan, and his eyes became moist. After remaining grave and serious for a while, slowly and steadily these supreme words emerged from his mouth: “Hereafter, remember me whenever you face calamities. “
With these mighty words of grace ringing in my heart, I came out of the cave, followed by Ganapati Muni.
“Akhilandamma! ” he cried with great elation. “Your virtue has ripened.
Bhagavan has bestowed a rare boon on you. Never before have I seen Bhagavan bestowing a boon like this. And this boon is for future lives also. This day is one of extreme rejoicing for me, for the mighty power of conferring boons, till now hidden in Bhagavan, has now broken out for your sake. The hidden powers of a great and genuine Guru do not easily come out to work in the external world; they do so only for the sake of worthy disciples. The credit of drawing them out, pure lady, goes to you now. “
It was really a boon to me as my subsequent experience proved. When difficulties surrounded me like threatening clouds, when life itself became a dungeon, I would utter “Lord Ramana, my Lord Ramana “, and call on his protection and help. Then, in a trice, the difficulties would disappear. However severe the calamity, because of Bhagavan “s protection, my mind would not get agitated.
Desuramma alias Akhilandamma, who was serving food for Bhagavan Ramana, was in due course, desiring to take up ‘sannyasa’ by wearing ochre robes. She wanted to have inititation by Bhagavan Ramana, by one of the three methods mentioned in Arunachala Akshara Mana Malai,that is either by ‘look’, ‘touch’ or through His thought. She narrated her intention to Chinnaswami, who said that it would be difficult to
persuade Bhagavan Ramana in the matter, since He did not initiate anyone and further, even if He took an exception, many others like Echammal and Kamakshi Ammal would also desire to have initiations by Him.
Akhilandamma kept quiet for a few months but she was eager to embrace sannyasa with initiation by Bhagavan Ramana. One day she had a dream where Bhagavan Ramana gave her vibhuti. She took this dream as a good omen, and then made the white sari into an ochre sari by dipping it in the red dye, dried up the sari and kept it in a vessel, closed it with a leaf and went to the Asramam next morning. She was scared as to how to go about further. She merely kept the vessel in the presence of Bhagavan Ramana and was waiting with bated breath. Bhagavan Ramana knew everything even without words. He came to the Hall, opened the vessel and looked at the robes, as if there was some food, and then looked at Akhilandamma.No one knew the implication. The eyes that burnt Tripura and also the karmas of devotees, the eyes of Siva-Ramana gave her inititation. Akhilandamma rushed Backto her home and came Backto the Hall in the new attire!
Elsewhere in in Nageswara Rao “s account Akhilandamma recounts some of the incidents from Bhagavan “s early days on the hill when he was harassed by jealous sadhus. These have been well documented in other books, but Akhilandamma adds a few details that I have not seen elsewhere. Before I give her version of events, I should mention that many of these stories appeared in the first edition of Self Realization that came out around 1930. Bhagavan had not been shown the book prior to publication. When he saw all the stories about the hostile sadhus, he asked that they be removed from the next edition. He was not questioning the validity of the stories, he was, in characteristic fashion, trying to avoid causing offence to the people who had given him so much trouble. He apparently said that many of these sadhus were still alive and might be upset if they found their stories in print. Towards the end of his life Bhagavan said that the accounts could be republished because the sadhus had all passed away, and were therefore beyond taking offence. However, they were not included again until a few years ago when Sri Ramanasramam made a reprint of the first edition of Self Realization that included all the original incidents.