This chapter ‘Reminiscences-I’ is written by Viswanatha Swami
My first darshan of Bhagavan Sri Ramana was in January, 1921 at Skandashram, which is on the eastern slope of Arunachala and looks like the very heart of the majestic Hill. It is a beautiful quiet spot with a few coconut and other trees and a perennial crystal-clear spring. Bhagavan was there as the very core of such natural beauty.
I saw in him something quite arresting which clearly distinguished him from all others I had seen. He seemed to live apart from the physical frame, quite detached from it. His look and smile had remarkable spiritual charm. When he spoke, the words seemed to come out of an abyss. One could see immaculate purity and non-attachment in him and his movements. I sensed something very refined, lofty and sacred about him. In his vicinity the mind’s distractions were overpowered by an austere and potent calmness and the unique bliss of peace was directly experienced. This I would call Ramana Lahari, ‘the blissful atmosphere of Ramana’. In this ecstasy of grace one loses one’s sense of separate individuality and there remains something grand and all-pervading, all-devouring. This indeed is the spirit of Arunachala which swallows up the whole universe by its gracious effulgence.
There were about ten devotees living with him there, including his mother and younger brother. One of them was Vallimalai Murugar, who for a while every morning sang the Tamil songs of the Tirupugazh with great fervour. These well-known songs, the remarkable outpourings of the famous devotee, Sri Arunagirinathar, are songs in praise of Subrahmanya. When he sang, Bhagavan used to keep time (tala) by tapping with two small sticks on the two rings of an iron brazier of live coal kept in front of him. Fumes of incense spread out in rolls from the brazier, suffused with the subtle holy atmosphere of Bhagavan. While Bhagavan’s hands were tapping at the brazier thus, his unfathomable look of grace gave one a glimpse of the ‘beyond’ in silence. It was an unforgettable experience.
There was also a devotee from Chidambaram, Subrahmanya Iyer, who often sang with great fervour Tiruvachakam, hymns in praise of Arunachala by Bhagavan, and songs in praise of Bhagavan also. One morning when he began a song with the refrain “Ramana Sadguru, Ramana Sadguru, Ramana Sadguru Rayane,” Bhagavan also joined in the singing. The devotee was amused and began to laugh at Bhagavan himself singing his own praise. He expressed his amusement, and Bhagavan replied, “What is extraordinary about it? Why should one limit Ramana to a form of six feet? Is it not the all-pervading Divinity that you adore when you sing ‘Ramana Sadguru, Ramana Sadguru‘? Why should I not also join in the singing?” We all felt lifted to Bhagavan’s standpoint.
The inmates of the Ashram used to get up at dawn and sing some devotional songs in praise of Arunachala and Bhagavan Ramana before beginning their day’s work. Niranjanananda Swami told Bhagavan that I could recite hymns in Sanskrit, and Bhagavan looked at me expectantly. Seeing that it was impossible to avoid it, I recited a few verses in Sanskrit. When I had finished, Bhagavan gently looked at me and said, “You have learned all this. Not so in my case. I knew nothing, had learned nothing before I came here. Some mysterious power took possession of me and effected a thorough transformation. Whoever knew then what was happening to me? Your father, who was intending in his boyhood to go to the Himalayas for tapas, has become the head of a big family. And I, who knew nothing and planned nothing, have been drawn and kept down here for good! When I left home (in my seventeenth year), I was like a speck swept on by a tremendous flood. I knew not my body or the world, whether it was day or night. It was difficult even to open my eyes; the eyelids seemed to be glued down. My body became a mere skeleton. Visitors pitied my plight as they were not aware how blissful I was. It was after years that I came across the term ‘Brahman‘ when I happened to look into some books on Vedanta brought to me. Amused, I said to myself, ‘Is this known as Brahman’! ”
One of the earliest devotees, Sivaprakasam Pillai, has referred to this at the beginning of his brief biography of Bhagavan in Tamil verse (Sri Ramana Charita Ahaval) as, “One who became a knower of Brahman without knowing even the term ‘Brahman‘.” Sivaprakasam Pillai used to sit in a corner in Bhagavan’s presence, as the very embodiment of humility.
Finding that I knew a bit of Sanskrit, Bhagavan asked me to take down a copy of Sri Ramana Gita and give it to my father. I did so, and it was only after going through it that my father understood Bhagavan. Yet I myself had not studied its contents. It was only at the end of 1922 that I happened to go through the thrilling verses in praise of Bhagavan Ramana and, profoundly moved, I made up my mind to return to Bhagavan for good. Thus, Sri Ramana Gita served to give direction to me in a critical period of my life when I was thinking of dedicating myself solely to the spiritual pursuit.
As it was impossible to get the permission of my father, I left home unknown to anybody and reached Tiruvannamalai on the evening of the 2nd of January, 1923. Hearing that Bhagavan had left Skandashram and was then living in a cottage adjoining his mother’s samadhi on the southern side of Arunachala, I made my way straight to it, after meditating for a while at sunset time. Proceeding round the Hill, I reached the cottage where Bhagavan was then living. Entering it, I saw Bhagavan reclining peacefully on an elevated dais. As I bowed and stood before him, he asked me, “Did you take the permission of your parents to come over here?” I was caught, and I replied that he need not ask me about it since he had himself irresistibly attracted me to his feet. With a smile, Bhagavan advised me to inform my parents of my whereabouts so that they might be somewhat free from anxiety. I wrote to my father the next day and saw his letter to the Ashram enquiring about me the day after.
There was a gathering of devotees there and I came to know that it was for the forty-third birthday celebration of Bhagavan the next day. So I learned that I had come to Bhagavan on the evening of the famous Ardra Darsanam day.
Early next morning there was a gathering of devotees – they were sitting before Bhagavan. But my attention was particularly gripped by a radiant personality amidst the gathering. He was, I came to know, Kavyakantha Ganapati Sastri. At once I saw that he was not merely a sastri, a learned man, but a poet and a tapaswin. His broad forehead, bright eyes, aquiline nose, charming face and beard, and the melodious ring in his voice – all these proclaimed that he was a rishi to be ranked with the foremost of the Vedic Seers. There was authority, dignity and sweetness in his talk and his eyes sparkled as he spoke. He recited the following verse (sloka) in praise of Bhagavan, which he had just then composed, and explained its import:
“It is effulgent Devi Uma sparkling in your eyes
dispelling the ignorance of devotees,
It is Lakshmi Devi, the consort of lotus-eyed Vishnu,
alive in your lotus-face,
It is Para Vak Saraswati, the consort of Brahma,
dancing in your talk,
Great Seer, Ramana, the Teacher of the whole world,
How can mortal man praise you adequately?”