This article was originally posted in my blog on 19 May 2008.
Born in 1889, Ramanapadananda had made and lost several business fortunes before he first encountered Bhagavan in 1928. In that early period of his life he was known as V. S. Kuppuswami Ayyangar. An initial meeting with Bhagavan in 1928 made a great impression on him, and he returned two years later for a more permanent stay.
Being an educated man with a passion for Tamil devotional literature, it was not long before he encountered Muruganar’s poetry. He took upon himself the task of publishing Muruganar’s verses, an ambition which brought him into conflict with Chinnaswami, the Ramanasramam manager. When Ramanapadananda declared in 1933 that he was going to publish the first edition of Sri Ramana Sannidhi Murai, Chinnaswami attempted to veto the project on the grounds that only the ashram had the right to publish books about Bhagavan.
When this ‘order’ was conveyed to him, Ramanapadananda apparently remarked, ‘Even if all the trimurthis [Brahma, Vishnu and Siva] came and stood in front of me and ordered me not to publish it, I would not stop. I am doing Bhagavan’s work, and in all the three worlds there is no authority higher than Bhagavan to stop me.’
Bhagavan, it seems, was in favour of the project. Ramanapadananda went ahead and published the book, and in the years that followed he published other titles by Muruganar as well. In fact, every book of Muruganar’s poetry that was published in Bhagavan’s lifetime, including Guru Vachaka Kovai, was published by Ramanapadananda and not Sri Ramanasramam.
The works by Muruganar that Ramanapadananda brought out in Bhagavan’s lifetime are: Sri Ramana Sannidhi Murai (1933), Guru Vachaka Kovai (1939), Sri Ramana Deva Malai (1939), Sri Ramana Charana Pallandu (1943) and Sri Ramana Anubhuti, part one (1950). As noted by Devaraja Mudaliar in his book of reminiscences, Ramanapadananda also published a book that contained the Tevaram poems about Arunachala. All of these Tevaram verses were included by Bhagavan in the Tamil parayana that was chanted during his lifetime.
After Sri Ramana Sannidhi Murai had been published by Ramanapadananda, Chinnaswami responded by issuing an order that all copies of the book should be surrendered to him, and that no one should read it in Bhagavan’s presence. Generally, Bhagavan went along with Chinnaswami’s rules, but in this case he decided to make an exception. He put a Tiruvachakam dust jacket around his own copy of Sri Ramana Sannidhi Murai, and devotees in the hall followed his example. The whole work was chanted in Bhagavan’s presence, and when Chinnaswami looked through the window to see what was going on, Bhagavan showed him the dust jacket on his own copy to reassure him that nothing illegal was occurring. Though he could hear what was being chanted in his nearby office, Chinnaswami did not know enough literary Tamil to realise which work was being chanted.
In an article that introduced Ramanapadananda to readers of The Mountain Path in October 1968, the following comments were made:
A phenomenon as remarkable as it is praiseworthy is the total absence of misprints, wrong spacing or broken type in any one of the many volumes of Tamil poetry brought out by this ardent admirer. This absolute flawlessness was the result of the publisher’s close co-operation with Muruganar himself and of his success in enlisting the help of scholars like V. S. Chengalvaraya Pillai and K. V. Jagannathan in the formidable task of taking these complex compositions through the press. No wonder Muruganar makes a specific reference by name to this admirer [Ramanapadananda] in stanza 5 of Ramana Vaibhavam, one of the poet’s most highly elaborate songs.
Fired up by a strong urge to disseminate information about Bhagavan in far-flung places, Ramanapadananda undertook tours of India, Ceylon, Malaysia and Burma. Wherever he went he would install photos of Bhagavan and encourage continuous chanting of Sri Ramana Sannidhi Murai.
His publication activities, unfortunately, caused him to be banned from Ramanasramam by Chinnaswami. When he returned to Tiruvannamalai from his various tours, he would stay in Palakottu and have darshan of Bhagavan there when Bhagavan visited on his daily walks.
In 1964, after a lifetime of promoting Bhagavan and Muruganar’s poetry, Ramanapadananda gave up his travelling and settled down in Tiruvannamalai again. By this time his efforts were more appreciated, and the last few years of his life were spent in Ramanasramam, where he was a regular and passionate participant in the daily Tamil parayana. In those days the parayana did not just consist of Bhagavan’s works and his translations; it also included classical Tamil devotional literature that Bhagavan had personally selected for daily chanting in his presence.
In 1969 Ramanapadananda wrote an article for The Mountain Path entitled ‘Tears of Ecstasy’ in which he described his relationship with Bhagavan. In the same year he also gave an interview to the editor of the Arunachala Ramana magazine. This interview was not published until 1982. Since the stories from these two sources overlap in many places, I have amalgamated the two narratives.
Ramanapadananda passed away in 1970 at Ramanasramam.
Question: When did you first hear about Bhagavan?
Ramanapadananda: I was representing a foreign firm that manufactured paints. I happened to go to Kashmir on business for this company, and it was there that I heard about Bhagavan.
Question: When did you see Bhagavan for the first time?
Ramanapadananda: Soon after my return to Madras I went to Tiruvannamalai. It was strange! As soon as I saw him, I felt some sort of current pass through my body. My eyes were filled with tears of joy. The thrill I experienced was inexplicable. My wavering mind stood still. Silence filled my whole being. I stayed there for a couple of days, but I didn’t ask any questions. While I was there, somebody raised the topic of politics and politicians. To all his questions Bhagavan’s reply was one and the same: ‘The Creator knows what to do with his creation. Why should you worry?’
When I first saw Sri Bhagavan he was sitting on a bench inside a long room, thatched with coconut leaves, which had been erected over his mother’s samadhi. This was in January 1928 when the ashram consisted of this and practically nothing else. The moment I saw Sri Bhagavan I was overcome by an inexplicable feeling of joy and devotion. I burst into tears immediately and could not stop them for a long time. I had had a chequered career and had never known peace of mind. But in Sri Bhagavan’s presence I experienced complete peace of mind. I also experienced extraordinary bliss. The next day I was fortunate enough to have darshan of Sri Seshadri Swami as well.
Although I had to return to Madras, my heart was with Sri Bhagavan. I came back again in 1930 and was blessed by Sri Bhagavan with a smile and a piercing look. This time also I was overcome by an uncontrollable flow of tears of joy. The same thing happened when I visited the house at Tiruchuzhi in which Bhagavan was born. The moment I entered the house, I could not resist my ecstasy and tears, to the surprise of everybody there. None of them had the least idea of Bhagavan’s greatness. They had been thinking that Venkataraman had merely become a sannyasin and had gone to Tiruvannamalai like other sannyasins and sadhus. When I explained his greatness to them, they were all greatly impressed.
On my trip to Tiruchuzhi I met many of his old friends, and other people who knew him too.
One of them said, ‘Bhagavan was never keen on his studies. He was always fond of playing. At Madurai he used to swim from shore to shore of the River Vaigai, even when it was in spate.’
Someone else told me, ‘While his mother was carrying him, she suffered from unbearable scorching pains. Doctors could not diagnose it. But, strangely enough, she used to have some temporary relief whenever she was treated with sacred bilva leaves.’
Later on, when I was back in the ashram, I asked Bhagavan about the authenticity of this rumour. He confirmed that it was true, saying that his mother herself had often told him this story with a feeling of awe and wonder.
Question: Who named you Ramanapadananda?
Ramanapadananda: I always used to sit near the holy feet of Bhagavan. As soon as I saw him or heard his name mentioned, I felt a sort of thrill pass through my physique. Tears would come to my eyes. In my excitement I used to dance as well. B. V. Narasimhaswami observed all this and named me ‘Ramanapadananda’ [one who rejoices in Ramana’s feet]. This name subsequently became popular.
On all my subsequent visits to Bhagavan I experienced the same bliss and flow of tears. Sri Bhagavan himself noticed this. Once a small calf came running and prancing to Sri Bhagavan where he sat grinding black gram for vadai. Seeing this Polur Srinivasa Ayyar, who was nearby remarked, ‘This calf dances about like Ramanapadananda’.
On hearing this, Bhagavan said, ‘Who can shed tears of joy like him at the very mention of Bhagavan’s name?’
Sri Bhagavan also used to greet me very often with the words, ‘I never feel that you are away from the ashram. I always feel that you are here.’
Question: What particular initiation did Bhagavan bless you with?
Ramanapadananda: Nothing particular. His every word and his look of grace were enough for me.
Once, though, while we were on the hill I prostrated before him and said, ‘Bhagavan, I have had your darshan. Now I am going home.’
At once Bhagavan replied, ‘Who is giving darshan to whom? I say that you have given your darshan to me.’ This has been recorded in Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi [talk no. 359].
In 1930 I resigned my well-paid job and came to settle here. Of course, Bhagavan told me that I didn’t need to relinquish anything and that I could practise self-enquiry while remaining in my routine life. Furthermore, he stressed that the practice would become easier while remaining as a householder. Even so, I did not relent.
[Later that year] I went north on a sudden impulse. I went to Varanasi, Hardwar, Rishikesh and Badrinath. At Badrinath I met Sri Swami Tapovanji who was impressed by my devotion to Bhagavan, so much so that he composed a sloka in Sanskrit in which he invoked ‘Sri Bhagavan’s blessings on Ramanapadananda who sheds copious tears at the very mention of his name’.
Although I was made very comfortable at Badrinath by the swamiji and the head priest of the temple, and was even granted a piece of land at Bhrigu Dara, I could not stay there. So, I returned to Tiruvannamalai. At Varanasi I had been advised to wear ochre robes, the recognised dress of sannyasins, as a means of obtaining alms easily. I had continued to wear them, but when I came before Bhagavan, he burst out laughing and said, ‘Giving up the ego is the real sannyasa, not the wearing of ochre robes’. I at once discarded them and since then I have only worn white.
Question: Please tell us about your inner experiences.
Ramanapadananda: I don’t think I have any. However, I can tell you one particular story.
I was trying to meditate in a small Siva temple at Gokarnam. I was feeling frustrated because I could not continue to make the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ successfully. Suddenly I felt that my body had become exactly like that of Bhagavan as it appears in the tri-colour photograph in the old edition of Self Realization. I fell into a trance and did not know how long I remained in that state. When I regained consciousness, I wrote to Sri Bhagavan, quoting a well-known song by Ramalinga Swami that begins with the words, ‘I cannot endure my torments any longer’. Without waiting for a reply, I left for Tiruvannamalai, where I arrived two days before Mahasivaratri. When Bhagavan asked me why I had come away from Gokarnam when thousands of people were going there on this sacred occasion, I replied that Bhagavan was my Lord Siva and that I had therefore come for his darshan.
Question: Please tell us some stories about your intimate moments with Bhagavan.
Ramanapadananda: There were many, but I am an old man now, and most of them have slipped from my memory. However, there are still a few stories that I remember well.
I told you, didn’t I, that I was always travelling from place to place as a representative of the company I worked for? Wherever I went I used to try some local speciality, and if I liked it, I would send samples to Bhagavan. I would think of Bhagavan as I was trying, for example, honey, and it seemed that he would also be thinking along similar lines. Sometimes he would say, ‘Look! Ramanapadananda bought it just as I was thinking about the same thing!’
On one of these trips I sent some palm-gur to Bhagavan from Tiruchendur. A few days later I visited the ashram. As soon as he saw me Bhagavan said that he had been thinking about palm-gur, and that my donation had arrived soon afterwards. During my travels I used to send fruit to Bhagavan from wherever I was. And wherever I happened to be, I would always tell the people there about Bhagavan.
Once, when I came from Madurai, Sri Bhagavan asked whether I had brought sellu, a special preparation which is offered to the deity at Alagarkovil and then distributed as prasadam to devotees. I immediately rushed back to Madurai without informing anyone and came back quickly with a large quantity of sellu. When some of it was served on Sri Bhagavan’s leaf plate next time he said to me, ‘I asked you only in a casual way whether you had brought any, and now you have gone all the way to Madurai and got it’.
On another occasion my brother-in-law, sent, at my request, a deal wood box of sugar candy made from palmyra juice which I thought was good for Sri Bhagavan’s asthma. When Bhagavan saw it he observed, ‘I just thought of this kind of sugar candy, and here you have already obtained it for me.’
I used to obtain jack fruits from Panruti and mangoes from Salem, and Bhagavan used to see that they were properly cut and distributed.
I had obtained, for Bhagavan’s use, an easy chair specially made with a foot rest from Curzon and Co., the well-known furniture makers of Madras. It is now used on the day of the Deepam for placing Sri Bhagavan’s portrait. But when I got his sofa repaired without his knowledge, he refused to sit on it for a long time. It was only when he saw my extreme distress that he relented and agreed to sit on it.
Eventually, having been convinced that Bhagavan is the substratum of the universe and the most glorious avatar that has been witnessed till now, I felt it was my duty to make his greatness known everywhere. With this object in view, I resigned my post of a broker in the well-known firm Bombay and Co. of Madurai, much against the wishes of B. V. Narasimhaswami and others. I next proceeded to celebrate Ramana Jayanti [Bhagavan’s birthday] at various places with puja, music, discourses, processions, etc. I even travelled to Ceylon, Burma and Malaya to celebrate Ramana Jayanti or Raman Melas [Ramana festivals], and installed Ramana’s portraits in all the places that I visited.
Question: Did you see Kavyakanta Ganapati Muni while you were in Tiruvannamalai?
Ramanapadananda: See him? I have also received his blessings. His devotion to Bhagavan was unique. Even the gods envied him. Off and on he declared that Bhagavan was none other than Kumaraswamy, the son of Siva.
Question: What do you think is the difference between Bhagavan and the acharyas [teachers] who preceded him?
Ramanapadananda: Sankaracharya, and others like him, though they preached and spoke about truth, were also attached to religion and the rules and regulations that religion prescribes. Bhagavan was never bound by customs and traditions. Straight away he would ask you, ‘Know yourself. Find out where the ‘I’-thought rises from.’
Question: Bhagavan suffered from cancer and left his body. What do you think about that?
Ramanapadananda: He took upon himself the sins of his devotees and suffered on their behalf. Just pray to him with all your heart. That will be enough for him to take upon himself all your sins.
Once, when he was asked by a devotee why he was becoming weaker and weaker from day to day, he replied, ‘I am taking upon myself the sins of my sincere devotees. What do you think I am here for?’
Question: Which do you think is better, self-enquiry or surrender?
Ramanapadananda: Personally, I think surrender. During the Second World War I lost all my property. I told Bhagavan about this with tears in my eyes.
Bhagavan looked straight at me and said, ‘You have lost everything? There is nothing to worry about. Just surrender to him whom you adore. He will take care of you.’
As he uttered these words, his eyes were brightly shining like stars.
I replied, ‘Whom else do I adore? You are my sole refuge.’ Bhagavan remained silent.
Since then I have never suffered from anything. Bhagavan is protecting me.
Question: Please tell us some more stories about Bhagavan.
Ramanapadananda: I have forgotten almost everything. One thing I still remember, though, is that in 1931 I had an opportunity to serve him as an attendant. At that time I doubted whether he ever slept. He sat awake until we all fell asleep. Sometimes, we would wake up from our sleep just to find out if he was still awake or not. Answering our unasked question, he would say, ‘What do you want?’ At 3 a.m. he would get up and sit in the lotus posture. At that time an aura could clearly be seen around his face. Lucky were those who saw him at that time.
Question: Out of all the utterances of Bhagavan, which particular one do you remember?
Ramanapadananda: Bhagavan often asserted, ‘Those who come here will be liberated – even animals’. This promise of Bhagavan made a deep impression upon my mind. Whenever I recollect it I still feel an exhilaration.
One other instance sticks in my mind as well. A devotee was persistently trying to get Bhagavan to rank various great figures such as Gandhi, Ramalinga Swami, Sai Baba, and so on. He wanted Bhagavan to say which of them was the greatest.
Bhagavan refused to offer an opinion on this matter. Instead he simply replied, ‘What do you think I am? I am the real “I” in all beings.’
Question: Was it true that Bhagavan emphatically declared that, just as a lump of flesh cannot escape from a tiger’s mouth, no one can escape from his grace?
Ramanapadananda: Quite true. Take my own case. At several places people requested me to stay with them, saying they would even build an ashram for me. Sometimes I was tempted to accede to their requests, but look I am still here. Is this not enough to substantiate Bhagavan’s statement? I was given a room to live in here by the ashram authorities. All this is Bhagavan’s grace.
It is Sri Bhagavan’s grace that has finally brought me to the ashram to spend my last days near him. Salutations to Sri Bhagavan.