Sri Natesan, a staunch old devotee of Sri Bhagavan, had the unique privilege of shaving Bhagavan for an uninterrupted period of twenty five years.
Sri Natesan is a native of Polur, a small village to the north of Tiruvannamalai. His father, a staunch devotee of Lord Arunachaleswara (the deity in the Tiruvannamalai temple) used to visit Tiruvannamalai, walking the distance of twenty miles on the first day of each Tamil month in order to do a pradakshina of Arunachala. After reaching a ripe old age, his father eventually died during one of his walks around the mountain, and Sri Natesan considers that it was the merit earned by his father which eventually earned him the privilege of serving Bhagavan.
After his father’s death, Natesan was adopted by his uncle, Subbarayan. His uncle first saw Bhagavan at Gurumurtam, the period when he had long matted hair. On seeing Sri Bhagavan, Subbarayan asked for permission to give him a shave. Bhagavan remained silent and Subbarayan took this to be a negative answer, but later, when some of the devotees wanted to give Bhagavan a shave, he was approached by them and he happily accepted their invitation. From that time on, he shaved Bhagavan regularly, and when he became too old to continue the work, he advised his nephew, Natesan, to continue the service. Natesan gladly accepted the honour, and he shaved Sri Bhagavan on the morning of each full-moon day.
On the mornings when he was due to shave Bhagavan, Natesan would first have a bath, smear vibhuti (sacred ash) on himself and then respectfully approach Bhagavan at exactly 9 a.m. At this time of day, Bhagavan would normally have just returned from his morning walk, and on seeing Natesan Bhagavan would apply oil to the rheumatic swelling in his joints and then slowly walk to the goshala (cow shed). A special place was set aside in the goshala for shaving and on the days when Bhagavan had his shave it would be specially cleaned and decorated with rangoli (floor patterns). Natesan would prostrate before starting the shave, and then complete the shave in silence; only when it was completed would he say a few words to Bhagavan.
On one occasion, Sri Niranjanananda Swami called Natesan and asked him to start the work an hour earlier. Niranjanananda Swami thought that in the heat of the summer this would be more convenient for Bhagavan. Natesan turned up at the newly appointed hour, and in response to Bhagavan’s questioning gaze, he narrated Niranjanananda Swami’s new plan. Bhagavan said that the heat was of no importance, and the former timetable was restored.
Natesan also used to play pipe-music for weddings and other festivities, and once when he was shaving Bhagavan, his uncle Subbarayan came to see him and told him that he was required in town to play some music as soon as he had finished shaving Bhagavan. On hearing this Bhagavan remarked: “It seems that Natesan has to go to town by noon, and he has not taken any food since this morning.” His attendants who were standing nearby took the hint and brought him some lunch from the kitchen. Barbers are normally treated as outcasts, and caste Hindus would normally only offer them food after they
themselves had finished eating. Natesan was overwhelmed by this show of compassion by Bhagavan and felt that only Bhagavan could love like this. Recalling this incident in later years, Natesan was moved to tears and pointed out that Bhagavan always treated devotees equally, and was particular that none went without food.
Natesan considered his service to Bhagavan to be his highest priority, and never failed to appear for the monthly shave. On one occasion, on the day before full-moon, Natesan’s brother who was living in a village nearby, fell sick and his life appeared to be in danger. Natesan explained his position to his relatives and they wisely advised him to go at once to Tiruvannamalai and do his sacred duty.
Soon after the shave the following day, one of his relatives came to inform him that his brother had died and that he was required immediately for the last rites. Bhagavan heard this information being passed on and remarked: “It seems that Natesan’s brother has passed away and he has to go at once to Polur. He could not have taken his food yet and it is not known whether he has money to travel.” On hearing this, one of Bhagavan’s attendants, Ramakrishna Swami went to the kitchen and brought some food. Natesan had little appetite for food, but he took three cups of coffee and was given five rupees for his journey home.
Natesan once prostrated to Bhagavan when he met him walking on the hill. “Why here?” questioned Bhagavan, and Natesan took this to mean that his prostration in the goshala was a sufficient expression of devotion and that he need not do it elsewhere.
Natesan always used to spend a few minutes with Bhagavan after his monthly work had been completed. In those few minutes he would have Bhagavan’s uninterrupted and undivided attention. Natesan now considers these short sessions listening to the compassionate words of Bhagavan to be the happiest moments of his life.