Friday, May 9, 2008

More of B. V. Narasimha Swami's notes

The following article, in which Bhagavan candidly elaborates on the poor state of his health in his early years at Tiruvannamalai, was published in The 1981 edition of The Mountain Path, pp. 74-5. The italicised paragraph that precedes it is the editor’s introduction from the original article.

In the appendix of Narasimha Swami’s book Self Realization there is an account of the Maharshi’s second death experience which took place on the mountain in 1912. The account finishes with Bhagavan’s comment that this was the only occasion on which both blood circulation and respiration stopped. After concluding his description of the experience, the Maharshi continued to reminisce about his early days on the hill. This account was edited out of the book and has never been published before.

On a later occasion I started from Virupaksha Cave to Skandashram. Kandaswami had gone down somewhere and no one accompanied me except A. Mahadevan, the son of Ganapati Muni. As soon as I reached Skandashram, I sat on the pial, leaned against something and became unconscious. Mahadevan noticed that I was foaming at the mouth. After some time I regained consciousness.

I had no fits after that unless one includes my exhaustion during an attack of diarrhoea in Skandashram. I had been given some irritating medicines, including purified sulphur, and I was having continual motions for several days. On the first night I found it troublesome to move up and down for each motion so I moved down the koradu [outside the ashram] and lay on the stone there. Eventually, I became too ill to move, and motions were being passed as I lay there. There was no sense or idea of cleansing. For some time I lay there with no one seeing my condition. Later, about midnight, I was discovered and taken into the ashram.

These fits came on and off at Madurai. They came on even when I was at Tiruvannamalai in the early years. I had it at Vahana Mantapam often, also in the Vazhaithottam of the temple and also in Gurumurtham.

At the Vahana Mantapam [the place where the vehicles of the gods are stored in the thousand-pillared mantapam] I would edge through the narrow passage between the vahanas [vehicles] and the tatties [coverings] in front of that mantapam to the interiormost vahana to escape attention and I would seat myself under the belly of a vahana on a sort of supporting plank. I would lose consciousness there and sometimes when I woke up I would find myself on the tenth row [of vahanas] instead of the fifteenth, having got there via a very narrow passage under one of the vahanas. I must have crept into it like a lizard. Whether I did so or something carried me, I never knew. But strangely enough, at no time did the crawlings and movements produce even a scratch, much less any hurt, to my person.

Similarly in the Vazhaithottam [a garden within the temple grounds] there would be a dense alley of oleander trees with cut off stumps projecting Occasionally I would sit under one and wake up many fathoms further inside. I must have passed through these projecting stumps in my unconscious condition, yet I was not hurt at any time.

At Gurumurtham I was very much constipated. I would pass hard, solid, steel-hard square blocks. I would just sit there and after some time try to rise. I would raise myself from my haunches and at once feel faint and giddy and resume my old position. Sometime later I would endeavour to get up, raise myself a foot or so, then feel the same reeling sensation and sit down again. On one occasion, after such failures, I got up and tried to go out and was clutching at the front door. When Palaniswami came and held me in his arms, I turned to him and wished to know (through silence) why he was behaving in this manner. He said that he noticed that I was about to fall and so he seized me to prevent the fall. But I was holding on to the door with both hands outstretched and was not aware that I was about to fall. This difficulty in getting up on account of reeling was a constant feature of my life at Gurumurtham. Days and nights would pass without my being aware of their passing. I entertained no idea of bathing, cleaning my teeth or other cleansing when I had defecated. The face got begrimed, the hair became one clotted mass like wax and the nails grew long. When anyone thought that I should take food and called, I would stretch a hand. Something would drop on it and I would eat it and then rub my hand on my head or body, and then drop again in to the continuous mood. Sometimes people would pull out my hand and place food on it and I would swallow it. This was my condition for many years from the time of my arrival. For many years I only ate off my hand without using any leaf plate.

Question: Who fed Bhagavan all this time? Did their exist any who undertook to provide you with your daily food?

Bhagavan: Yes, almost from the outset there were such people. First there was Jadai T. Mounaswami of Chidambaram; Uddandi Nayanar and Thambiram to see to my daily supply of food when I was in the thousand-pillared hall, Vahana Mantapam, Gopura Subramania Temple and Vazaithottam. Even them some pious people resolved to see to my daily supply of food. Nagappiar’s grandmother and others did so. A young and beautiful dancing girl named Rajammal used to go there and feed me, even under the Sivaganga Illupai tree. She and I were sometimes all alone and the situation would be considered delicate. But she would throw food on my hand and I would eat it even without any objectionable thoughts arising in me, even though for one month in the Gopura Subramania Temple I was naked.

At the first Kartikai festival, when innumerable pilgrims flocked there, just a few came and saw me, and after that the number of those who came to see me steadily increased. By the time I was at Gurumurtham I had a fairly large number calling to see me and, in a sense, a reputation had been established. A number of persons wished that I should eat the food which each of them brought every day, but there was a difficulty in eating all that was brought. Each day a bit of what each had brought, solid or liquid, sweet or salty, fruit or rice, would be taken and mixed up into a sauce and given to me in a cupful. The rest would be given back to the donors as prasadam. This would be my night meal and I would drink it off, not minding how this compound mixture tasted.

When I came up the hill, occasional food offerings from the casual visitors coupled with these daily supplies kept me up. But soon, Palaniswami and others who were with me would go to the town and beg for food and bring the begged food and eat it with me.

[Some of the incidents that Bhagavan described here, such as being oblivious to his body’s movements in the Vazhithottam and the Gopura Subramanya Temple, did appear in Self-Realization, but not exactly in the way they are described here. In the 1940s Bhagavan spoke of two other occasions when he was fed in this temple. The first comes from Letters from Sri Ramamasramam 30th Decemember 1945, and the second from The Power of the Presence, part two, pp. 151-2.]

Bhagavan: There used to be in Gopura Sabrahmanyeswara Temple, a Mauna Swami [a silent sadhu]. One morning when I was going about the Thousand-Pillar Mantapam, he came with a friend. He was a Mauna Swami and so was I. There was no talk; no greetings. It was soon midday. He made signs to his friend to mean: ‘I do not know who this boy is, but he appears to be tired; please get some food and give him it.’ Accordingly, they brought some. It was boiled rice. Each grain was sized. There was sour water underneath. There was a bit of pickle to go with it. That was the first bhiksha given to me by Sri Arunachaleswara. Actually there is not an iota of pleasure in what I eat now. All the meals and sweets are nothing compared to that food.

Question: Was it on the very first day of Sri Bhagavan’s arrival in that place?

Bhagavan: No, no, the next day. Taking it as the first bhiksha given me by Iswara, I ate that rice and pickle and drank the water given me. That happiness I can never forget.

* * *

‘After leaving Madurai for good [in 1896] I [Bhagavan] only ate food in private houses on two occasions. One of them was when I ate at the home of Muthukrishna Bhagavathar of Tirukkoilur while I was still travelling to Tiruvannamalai.’

Then, turning to me [T. P. Ramachandra Iyer], he observed, ‘The other occasion was at your grandfather’s. That was the only house I ever ate in after coming to Tiruvannamalai.’

I was delighted to hear of the good fortune my grandfather had had in serving Sri Bhagavan in this way. I asked Bhagavan how this came about and he graciously described the event, vividly recapturing the occasion for me.

‘After I came to this town, I had bhiksha in your house, eating from a leaf plate. Your grandfather, a devotee of Siva, was there. He was tall, had a stout frame, and was adorned impressively with a garland of rudraksha and other beads. Every day he would unfailingly visit the temple of Arunachaleswara and return only after having darshan. In those days [1896] I used to live near the temple of Subramaniam. Every day your grandfather would sit before me for a while without saying anything. Then he would rise and go away. I was a young boy keeping silence. He was an elderly person who also kept silent while he was with me, though he used to watch me all the time. He was well known in the town, and people of consequence used to be his guests. Do you know what happened? One day, some official arrived at his house and arrangements were made for a feast. That day also, as usual, after going into the temple and having darshan, he came to me and sat down. The thought came to him that he should take me that day to his house and give me a bhiksha.

‘As soon as he rose to return home, he abandoned his customary silence and said to me, “Hum, hum, get up! Get up! We will go to my home, have bhiksha and come back.”

‘What to do? I was not used to speaking, so I made negative signs, shaking my head and hands, signifying that it was not necessary. He did not listen to me or heed me. He was determined to take me that day and offer bhiksha. What could I do? He was big and strong whereas I was small and slight in comparison.

‘He repeated his demand: “Hum, hum, get up! Get up! You are just a youth. Leave yoga and tapas for a while. We shall go to my home, eat bhiksha and return.”

‘So saying, he took my arm, linked it into his, and made me get up and follow him. I was led to his house, which was near the temple chariot. It was a very spacious house with verandas on both sides. In between there was a big open courtyard with an edifice to goddess Tulasi in the centre. He made me take the most important place on the northern veranda. Then he spread a leaf larger than all the others and served me himself. It was only after I had finished eating that he ate his own meal. That was the only occasion I entered a house in this town. In those days, because I never had a bath, the body would be smelling. No one would come close to me. In spite of all that, your grandfather used to come unfailingly and sit with me. In this town, so many people would come, see me and go. But he alone realised that though I was a young boy, what was in this [body] was a Fullness.’

[The same incident is mentioned in a briefer version in Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, 27th June 1947.]


Anonymous said...

I was under the impression that a sage in sahaja nirvikalpa samadhi, is neither aware of his body nor of any action he or she does. Are Bhagavan's elaborations on his poor health meant for the lay reader? Wasn't Bhagavan always sunk in bliss inspite of the body he previously identified with suffering from poor health?

Anonymous said...

He Did. For the common man, he would have spoken like that. They do not mind the worldly things.

Anonymous said...

Very interestingl story