Author Topic: Part 1 - Bhagavan's Attendant Venkatarathnam Recollects His Experiences  (Read 1423 times)


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Sri Venkatarathnam lived with Bhagavan from 1944 to 1950. During the last year he served as one of his personal attendants. Neal Rosner came to Sri Ramanasramam from the USA in 1968, attached himself to Venkatarathnam and diligently served him until his passing in 1976. Neal's immersion into the spiritual heritage of India under the guidance of Venkatarathnam is elaborately described in his book On the Road to Freedom: A Pilgrimage in India.

Neal now resides in Amritanandamayi's Kerala Ashram and is known as Swami Paramatmananda.

In the following article, details regarding the life of Venkatarathnam have been extracted from a 25-page essay written about Venkatarathnam by Neal Rosner. He presented this manuscript to us thirty years ago at Sri Ramanasramam. We have also utilized some material from the above-mentioned book.

THE following is what Sri Venkatarathnam personally told me about himself.

He was born in Koduru, Krishna District on the 23rd of May 1921, and at the age of three months his father died of a diabetic carbuncle. At seven his Upanayanam was performed and from that day onwards he never failed to repeat the Gayatri mantra for even a day. Even when in Maharshi's service, he would not come into his presence without having done some Gayatri beforehand. From his seventh year till his last he performed the yearly Sraddha of his parents. He had deep faith in this and believed that the pitrus (departed ones) would bless him with good health and Brahmajnana. Even when he was physically in a serious condition, he would somehow struggle and do it.

He went to school in Gudivada, Hyderabad and Guntur in Andhra Pradesh. At this time he was somewhat opposed to Hindu orthodoxy and even wrote a paper for the uplift of Harijans, about which he laughed while recalling later.He also now and then would go to see movies of the bhakti type only. He used these occasions at the cinema to test how his mind would react. A scorpion in Hyderabad once stung him, but being afraid to tell his elders, he simply bore the pain until they discovered it and sent him to a doctor. Whenever he had free time from his studies, he would either go to a temple or do japa, sometimes a lakh (100,000) in one day.

Marriage Proposal

After he graduated from school, he thought of using the money from a scholarship he was awarded to go and live in Tiruvannamalai, but his brothers wanted him to get married. A rich family who offered a big dowry and a lucrative post was arranged. Even though his mother knew his temperament she had to keep quiet since she was under the influence of her other sons. Venkatarathnam said that they should first ask his guru, Dass Garu, for permission. They searched him out and after finding him proposed their idea. Dass Garu said that it would be all right if Venkatarathnam got married. When the brothers returned thinking victory was in their hands, Sri Venkatarathnam objected, saying that according to Sastra, a brahmachari must first serve a Guru before entering into Grihastashrama (married life). No one accepted this evasive objection and so he told them that if such a thing is not written in the Sastras, he was ready to burn the Sastras. He asked them to immediately bring the Bhagavata and Ramayana and he would set fire to them. Naturally they did not want to be a party to this crime, and so they helplessly let him go to Arunachalam. He, however, told them that he would go only on an experimental basis and if it suited him there he would stay, otherwise he would return. At this time one of his brothers declared, "You will all see. He will become a sadhu for sure," and this came out to be true.

At Ramanasramam

At the Ashram he was put in charge of the book depot. He later laughed when telling this because it seems that one astrologer had told him that he would get married and do business and he really thought this is what happened because he had married Sri Ramana and was selling his books. Afterwards he became an assistant of Sri Niranjanananda Swami, Sri Ramana's younger brother and the Sarvadhikari of the Ashram. Then he was put in charge of the Ashram library and the books that were kept for the personal use of Bhagavan. Bhagavan personally taught him to bind and stitch books and also to read.

Bhagavan's Attendant

In 1949, Shiv Mohan Lal asked Bhagavan if Sri Venkatarathnam could join as one of Sri Bhagavan's personal attendants. Bhagavan told that he had no objection but that the office people must give the permission, which they did. Bhagavan was very strict in correcting him and if anything was done improperly it would be a matter of two days of continuous chiding in front of all the devotees.

One evening Sri Venkatarathnam came into the hall and quietly went behind the Maharshi and started fanning him. In the morning Bhagavan had told that nobody should fan him. Now he exploded and scolded him saying, "Oho, very good, very special, this fellow thinks he is doing a great service. He has so much bhakti, much more than the rest of the bhaktas here. Why doesn't he go and fan all of them and get the punya (merit) of fanning the devotees of the Guru? He thinks that by his tapas he can make me bend to his will." Bhagavan spoke like this on and off to every incoming devotee for nearly two days. Finally, when alone with the Maharshi, Sri Venkatarathnam broke down in tears and asked Bhagavan to forgive him for having made Bhagavan exert himself so much to correct his fault. Sri Bhagavan graciously said, "Never mind, everyone makes a mistake," and that was the end of the matter.

Bhagavan then had about six or seven attendants who would serve him taking shifts. When it came time to choose shifts, they asked Venkatarathnam which shift he wanted. He told them that he would take that shift which remains after everyone else had chosen for himself. So he got the 10 P.M. to 4 A.M. shift, since everyone liked to sleep at that time.

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because after 9.30 P.M. all the bhaktas would go away to sleep and Venkatarathnam and Sri Maharshi would be left all alone for the night. It was at this time that Sri Venkatarathnam got his heart's desire to be intimately close to Bhagavan without others around fulfilled. Many nights were spent in spiritual talk or simply gazing on the Divine Face of the Maharshi.

Failing Health

By this time, Sri Bhagavan's health was already serious with sarcoma cancer in the left arm. At the sight of the blood while dressing the wound, Sri Venkatarathnam would feel faint. Whenever he would come near Bhagavan, Maharshi would rebuke him thus, "Don't come near me. You people come here thinking `0h, Bhagavan is sick. He is dying'. I don't want you to come near me when your mind is full of such thoughts. Stay away." Then Sri Venkatarathnam asked Bhagavan that without thinking that Bhagavan is sick or that such and such a thing must be done to relieve the suffering, how can he serve Bhagavan? Bhagavan told him that he should simply play his part as in a drama and do whatever is necessary without having any feeling and to have the mental attitude of a witness, attending to the work as the situation demands. After this, he again was permitted to attend on the Maharshi. Following Bhagavan's instructions, he began to feel everything as Atma Vilasa (the Divine Play) and that Bhagavan was simply playing a role as a sick person, although in reality he was the Paramatma Himself.

Serving Mother

In 1952 he went to serve his mother who was ailing with paralysis and wanted him nearby. She had already spent a year or two at Arunachalam with him in the presence of the Maharshi. When she first came to the Ashram, Sri Venkatarathnam went and prostrated to her and returned to the bookstall where he was working at that time. On seeing this, Niranjanananda Swamy chided him for not showing his mother round the Ashram and finding her a place to stay. He said, "Oho, I see, you are a gunatita (beyond all differences) and need not serve your mother, is it?" Then Sri Venkatarathnam went and got her settled in a room, since the Sarvadhikari had ordered him to do so.

Whenever his mother would sit in Bhagavan's presence, she would become completely unconscious of the world. Even after everyone had gone out for food she would be sitting like that in trance. She told her son this and he suggested that she sit outside near a window facing Bhagavan. He later related that she really had the Grace of Bhagavan during her residence there. When others told her that it was a sorry thing that one of her sons had become a sadhu, she retorted and said that because she was a woman she could not live as a sadhu but her desire to do so had found its fulfillment in her son, Sri Venkatarathnam.

When he came to serve her in his home, she insisted on taking food only from his hands, even though he was not maintaining madi (orthodox procedures). He had personally served and touched the body of the Maharshi and that consecrated everything he touched afterward, she thought. She always kept a photo of the 21-year-old Maharshi by her head. Every day after bathing his mother, he would read to her Bhagavatam, as this was her favorite book.

As her end approached, Sri Venkatarathnam would everyday keep the Darbha Seyya (kusa grass mat) under her cot, as it was her only wish that she should die on the Darbha Seyya and not on the cot. On the last day he shifted her to the ground in spite of the cold and damp weather and the objections of Venkatarathnam's brothers. Then he kept her head in his lap and plunged himself into dhyana. At that time the same experience of an infinite expanse of Grace in the heart, which he had had in Sri Ramana's presence, occurred again, and it was while he was in this state that his mother expired in his hands.