Devotees of Bhagavan Sri Ramana know well that the one book which radically influenced His inner life while He was still at school was the Periapuranam in Tamil, written by the poet-saint Sekkilar. This book contains the lives of the sixty-three saints of Tamil Nadu who, by their acts of supreme devotion or merit, won Siva’s Grace and came to the state whence one never again returns to worldliness. Bhagavan never made distinction between bhakti (devotion) or jnana (knowledge), provided this true State is thereby obtained: “In that state bhakti is no other than jnana, jnana nothing else but bhakti”; this is Bhagavan’s experience of them both.
In His perpetual silence, Sri Ramana was looked upon as Sri Dakshinamurti, and His teachings always emphasised the Karya-karana (cause-and-effect) aspect. The emphasis on this aspect was so great that there seemed to be no room in His teaching for anything but pure reason. People even used to feel that it was all cold and heartless logic. But those who have lived with Bhagavan know only too well that Bhagavan’s heart — a strange term, this; is Bhagavan different from Heart? — was full of feeling for suffering humanity. His great disciple, Sri Kavyakanta Ganapati Muni, used to say that Bhagavan had the light of the Teacher Sri Adi Sankara, the heart of Sri Ramanujacharya and the analytical powers of Sri Madhvacharya. Be that as it may, on several occasions Bhagavan revealed in His life the aspect of true Bhakti.
Once, on the night after the Karthikai Deepam, the deities Arunachala and Apithakuchambal were in procession round the Hill. When the procession came in front of our Ashram, we offered flower garlands, coconut and camphor, and after being waved before them, burning camphor was taken to Bhagavan on His seat in the Old Hall. The devotees took this camphor, along with the ash-prasad (vibhuti) of Arunachaleswara, and began to wave it before Bhagavan. But He exclaimed, “Why all this? The Son is included in the Father!”
Once someone placed the Periapuranam in Tamil prose in Bhagavan’s hands, and He began reading out of it. Now Bhagavan was a past master in story-telling, and he used to tell stories in hundreds. His solo-acting was ever the admiration of His devotees; His modulation of voice for different characters, suiting gestures and postures for each incident, was wonderfully effective. His devotees never missed a chance of being in the Hall on such occasions, so as to enjoy and benefit by the recitals.
Bhagavan began to read out the life of Kannappar, the great devotee saint. He went on reading incidents in his early life, and how he went to the forest and found Kudumi Devar, the Sivalinga, his Lord, up the Kalahasti Hill in the Chitoor district (of Andhra state). Then he told how Kannappar worshipped the Sivalinga with water carried in his own mouth, flowers taken from his own hair, and the well-cooked and tasted beef prepared for his own meal — knowing no better and having no better to offer his beloved Lord. The way in which the ordained priest, Siva Gochariar, resented the intruding defiler of the sacred Sivalinga was so characteristically brought out by Bhagavan, with His own explanations of the rites and the meanings of the mantras used in the worship, that it enriched the recital greatly to the benefit and admiration of the devotees.
Then came the scene of scenes, when the Lord in that Sivalinga tested Kannappar and incidentally revealed to Siva Gochariar the intensity of the forest hunter’s worship from a place of hiding. He saw the unexpected trickling of blood from one of the eyes on that Sivalinga; he saw Kannappar running to and fro for herbs, and treating the Lord’s eye with them. Then he saw how, finding them all useless, Kannappar plucked out one of his own eyes and applied it to that in the Sivalinga; then, seeing the treatment was effective, he ran into ecstasies of joyful dance.
When Bhagavan came to the story of how Kannappar was plucking out his second eye to heal the second of the Lord, and of how the Sivalinga extended a hand to stop him, saying “Stop, Kannappar!” Bhagavan’s voice choked, His body perspired profusely, His hairs stood on end, tears gushed out from His eyes; He could hardly utter a word, and there was silence, pin-drop silence in the Hall. All were dumbfounded that this great Jnani could be so overpowered by emotion and ecstasy at the great hunter- saint’s devotion. After a while Sri Bhagavan quietly closed the book, dried the tears in His eyes with the ends of His towel, and laid aside the book, saying, “No, I can’t go on any further.”
Then we could realise the import of His words in Aksharamanamalai: “Having become silent, if one remains like a stone, can that be called real silence?” His blossomed Heart had in it the perfect warmth of devotion, no less than the supreme light of Knowledge.