Sri Ramana Leela is a Biography of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi by Sri Krishna Bhikshu Edited and Translated by Pingali Surya Sundaram

Chapter-XXXII, The Mother’s Nirvana

“May you have a permanent residence in that world
where all treasures, happiness and pleasures abound!”
– Bhavabhuti.

Alagamma’s spiritual training had commenced. It was as if the Maharshi intended to provide eternal life for her who had provided him with physical life. But for a liberated state to arise it was essential that all latent tendencies should vanish. Alagamma had some orthodox observances like untouchability and madi. The observances were of minor importance but attaching any significance to them only made them hindrances to spiritual progress. At the ashram there were no caste distinctions, all were welcome. In order to ensure that she no longer clung to several orthodox observances the Maharshi would make fun of her on every possible occasion. For instance, orthodox women did not partake of anything which contained onion. So, the Maharshi would point at some onions in the ashram and joke that they or a drumstick, which was also taboo, could block her way to heaven. He would also tell her that the observances had a limited purpose and that religion was not confined only to these regulations. The mother gradually got reconciled to the situation and thought that one should be satisfied with what was available. Even if she was not able to observe her orthodox ways she realised that the Maharshi’s greatness would take care of her transgressions, if any.

Another latent tendency of hers was her strong attachment to the Maharshi, her son. She loved him and expected him to love her equally strongly. This bond could not be swept away, though it needed to be swept away . Whenever she demonstrated her love through any act the Maharshi admonished her. On several occasions he pulled her up, upon which she wept. The Maharshi would then say “Cry and cry more. It does you good. The more you cry the more satisfied am I”. She could not understand why he was so harsh towards her. On some other occasions he would not give her any reply but would converse with other ladies, which hurt her. She felt that he slighted her deliberately. All that he would say was: ” All women are my mothers, what is so special about you?” Apart from this, the Maharshi who always helped in household chores, intentionally refused to help his mother whenever she sought it. Once, she asked him to help her in preparing appalams. Instead of doing so, he gave her a song – famous as the “appalam song”. The song goes like this:

  1. Try and make some appalams.
    Eat them and your longing satisfy.
    Don’t roam the world disconsolate.
    Heed the word, unique, unspoken
    Taught by the teacher true who teaches
    The truth of Being -Awareness-Bliss
    Try and make some… satisfy
  2. Take the black-gram, Ego-self,
    Growing in the fivefold body field
    And grind it in the quern,
    The wisdom – quest of “Who am I?”
    Reducing it to finest flour
    Try and make some… satisfy.
  3. Mix it with pirandai – juice,
    Which is holy company,
    Add mind-control, the cummin seed,
    The pepper of self – restraint,
    The salt of non-attachment,
    And asafoetida , the aroma
    Of virtuous inclination.
    Try and make some… satisfy.
  4. In the heart mortar place the dough.
    And with mind -pestle inward turned,
    Pound it hard with the strokes of ‘I’ ‘I’,
    Then flatten it with the rolling – pin
    Of stillness on the level slab (of Being)
    Work away, untiring, steady, cheerful
    Try and make some… satisfy.
  5. Put the appalam in the ghee of Brahman
    Held in the pan of infinite silence
    And fry it over the fire of knowledge.
    Now as I transmuted into That,
    Eat and taste the Self as Self,
    Abiding as the Self alone.
    Try and make some… satisfy.

– Tr. K. Swaminathan

Alagamma could not appreciate this type of a behaviour nor did she think it appropriate.

In course of time she came to understand the Maharshi’s behaviour and grasped that attachment was not proper. She realised that she had come to the ashram not as the Maharshi’s mother but as a devotee keen on attaining spiritual knowledge. There was only one way by which she could win his grace and that was by service without any desire, but with contentment and detachment. With this realisation her old body toiled day and night to serve the ashram inmates. Finally she donned ochre robes, gained detachment and listened to Vedantic matters. She surrendered herself to the Maharshi, certain in the belief that he was her saviour.

In the last two or three months of her physical life she was sick, hence it had become necessary for someone to look after her. The Maharshi was her first servant. He nursed her day and night but how long could that old and tired body survive?

May 19, 1922 (Dundubhi year and Vaisakha month) was her last day; everyone could sense the impending end that day. Yet they had to do whatever was possible in a spirit of detachment leaving the result to the Lord. As long as she was conscious, Bhagavan gave her spiritual instructions. When she lost consciousness Ganapati Muni and others commenced vedic chants, some others chanted the Rama-nama.

After the violent gasps (urdhva-swasa) began, Bhagavan placed his right hand on her heaving heart and the left one on her head. He looked at her intently. The day passed that way. Subsequently Bhagavan himself narrated what had happened thus:

The latent tendencies and thoughts which are the cause of future births flared up. She had just then lost consciousness of the external world. Hence in the subtle world her subtle body was witnessing scene after scene of what was to happen. By this sequence of experiences, the soul went through the future births and travelled towards the highest.

How could she experience this? It was because of the current of Bhagavan’s spiritual power transmitted by touch that she experienced all within herself, without having to be born over and over again. There was a battle between her soul forces and Bhagavan’s spiritual power in which her latent tendencies gradually weakened and ultimately got vanquished. Bhagavan actually described the scenes she witnessed in the subtle state including their intensity.

The end came peacefully by eight in the night. Among those present, Ganapati and Niranjanananda Swami heard a sound indicative of the mother’s death.

In this manner, the mother’s individuality submerged in Atma, God. She attained mahanirvana. She had no more births. Due to her son, who was Arunachala in human form, she attained mukti or became established in the Atma.

As the mother’s end was nearing nobody in the ashram ate anything that day. After her end, the Maharshi got up, and with no trace of grief said, “We may now eat. There is no pollution.” How could there be any pollution when they were in the presence of the Lord in whom the holy lady merged? Such a body was a holy shrine in itself. The ashramites had a quiet meal.

The entire night passed in the singing of devotional songs. According to Manavasi Ramaswamy Iyer, “Bhagavan had no grief whatever. On the other hand, he appeared to be relieved like a bird released from a cage.” These words were recorded in his diary. True, why did he have to grieve?

The mother attained the supreme state. Some days after the event somebody remarked to the Maharshi, “Mother has passed away.” Immediately Bhagavan corrected him saying “No, mother has merged, she has become one.” On another occasion, when the matter of his according mukti to the mother came up, Bhagavan said, “Yes my attempt in her case was successful. Earlier, in the case of Palaniswami I attempted the same. Thinking that he had attained the ultimate I removed my hand, thereupon he opened his eyes. The prana passed through the eyes. That is how my attempt at that time failed.” On still another occasion, Bhagavan said, “Where has mother gone? She is here.” Hence there need be no doubt as to where Alagammal had departed. The Maharashi meant that she merged in Easwara and was with him (as he also was abiding in the atma).

The question as to whether the body was to be cremated or buried came up on the very night of mother’s expiry. Bhagavan pointed out that according to chapter 13 of Ramana Gita the body of one who attained mukti was to be buried and not cremated. The disciples decided to bury the body. Early next dawn, they carried the body from Skandasramam down the hill to a spot near Paliteertham. Meanwhile, some relatives from other places came and though they argued in favour of a cremation, they were overruled. The news of the mother’s death passed round the town, in spite of every effort to keep it private. As a result, numerous people turned up at the burial ground.

A pit was dug below an aswatha tree. The body was lowered into it. The pit was filled with camphor, vibhuti, salt and other aromatic materials and later covered. The disciples erected a brick samadhi and by some coincidence, a Siva linga from Kasi arrived just then. It was placed atop the samadhi and named, Matrubhuteswara (Mother who was Easwara).

The Swami was watching the proceedings as a mere witness. With the samadhi of the mother the son’s filial duty ended.

As Swami had entreated Arunachala in 1914, the mother was consumed not by the fire of cremation but by the fire of Jnana .

For the Mahapooja day, Ganapati Muni wrote six verses entitled Soundaryamba shatkam (Six verses on Soundaryamba) – (Soundaryamba has the same meaning as Alagamma). This is the substance of the verses:

  1. In the first quarter of the night of Friday, the ninth day of the dark fortnight of Vaisakha month, Dundubhi year
  2. Wife of Sundaram born in the exalted lineage of Bharadwaja, Parasara and mother of Ramana Maharshi born as an avatara of Guruguha (Subrahmanya), the blessed lady,
  3. One devoid of any attachment, one cleansed by bhakti to Siva, one whose prana was arrested by the touch of Guha (Ramana Maharshi), one whose tendencies were all destroyed that very moment
  4. She, Soundaryamba, became that Light which can be known only by the Vedantic Vakyas, which is all- pervasive, and which was known by her son.
  5. At that samadhi of Soundaryamba the stream which poured out of the lotus palms of Ramana Maharshi became a new teertha, the Aghasamana teertha (the teertha which removes all sins).
  6. Glory to the holy mother of sacred Ramana!
    Glory to the samadhi!
    Glory to the linga consecrated by the Maharshi!
    Glory to the new Aghasamana teertha!

The Maharshi later said something interesting. After her passing away, Alagammal’s body acquired a new brilliance which persisted till the abhisheka on the following day at the time of samadhi; it disappeared soon after water was poured. Further, at the last breath in all cases a faint sound emanates. In the mother’s case, Bhagavan did not notice it but others present did.

Every year, to commemorate the anniversary, pooja is performed to Matrubhuteswara. Thousands of devotees from various parts of the world assemble to join the observance.

With this chapter, that part of the book dealing with the Maharshi’s life on the hill comes to an end. The Maharshi had numerous disciples but brief stories of only some of them who had significance from the writer’s standpoint and who might serve as examples to us, have been described here. Palani was an innocent bhakta, Ganapati was a scholar par-excellence with great prescience, Lakshmi Ammal was a pious lady who got out of that torment of samsara, Ramaswamy Iyer was beset by illness, Natanananda simply had the samskara of the East, Sivaprakasam had the samskara of the West, Seshayya was balanced. Speaking of different paths, Lakshmi Ammal had reached the stage of attaining samadhi through ashtanga yoga by the time she reached Bhagavan, Seshayya was a votary of Ramanama, pranayama and was also interested in yoga, Ganapati was a master at mantra japa, Sivaprakasam was a logician totally, Ramaswamy Iyer had no specialisation, Humphreys belonged to the siddha school, Natanananda was simply a believer. To grant spiritual benefit to such diverse persons by making them focus on a single subject is a matter of profound grace.

In the remaining chapters of this book, Sri Bhagavan’s life at the Ashram nestling at the foot of the hill, Arunachala, will be described.