Author Topic: Part I - Ramana Maharshi Devotee Sub-Registrar Narayana Iyer  (Read 1154 times)


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Narayana Iyer was a devotee who came to scoff, but remained as a worshipper. Before he met Bhagavan he was an out and out sceptic with no religion in him. He considered sannyasins and sadhus to be impostors and parasites and felt that no one, however great, had the right to accept the homage of others. But a chance meeting with Bhagavan wrought a complete transformation in this doubting Thomas and turned him into a staunch devotee.

Dr Ramakrishna Iyer was his friend, philosopher and guide. Like Narayana Iyer, this doctor was also working in Chetpet. He was well acquainted with Bhagavan, being the son of Lakshmi Ammal of Tiruchuzhi, one of Bhagavan’s childhood playmates. He invited Narayana Iyer to go with him to Tiruvannamalai during the Deepam festival, and his invitation was accepted, even though Narayana Iyer disliked crowds and temple festivals had no attraction for him; he agreed on the condition that he would neither come inside the ashram nor prostrate to the swami if perchance he met him.

Circumstances forced him to accompany his friend into the ashram. As they were coming inside, a person clad only in a white loin cloth, a towel on his shoulder, a kamandalu [water pot] in one hand and a walking stick in the other stopped in his walk in the opposite direction when he saw them. He spoke kindly to the doctor and enquired about his mother and brother. Though Iyer guessed that this must be the Maharshi, he did not look up, thinking that, after all, he was a complete stranger to him. On being introduced as the Sub-registrar of Chetpet, out of courtesy he looked up. Let us hear him now in his own words:

‘What a wonderful face and what a welcoming smile! Bewitching, fascinating and a powerful look too! In a moment I was at his feet on the gravel ground…. He is not bogus…. looks genuine…. but has he solved the mystery of life, of the universe that we see around us? If not, I withdraw my homage and go my way…. I tried to find out if he had written any books. I got a copy of Ulladu Narpadu [Reality in Forty Verses] in Tamil. It had just been published.’

As he tried to read the first stanza he was confounded and filled with dismay at the repeated use of the word ulladu, which seemed too closely packed. The pure language, embodying the essence of absolute reality, would drive even pundits of Tamil prosody to despair. Someone nearby said that the Maharshi himself would explain the forty verses that night. In anxious and eager suspense Narayana Iyer waited for the night.

A solemn stillness pervaded the air. There was absolute silence. The Maharshi read the first stanza. The mere reading of it made the meaning as clear as clarity itself. Stanza by stanza he read and explained in a voice so sweet and melodious, it seemed to come from a transcendent being.

The climax came when he said, after explaining a verse, ‘God cannot be seen with our eyes and known by our senses. This is what is meant by saying, “To see God is to be God”.’

It flashed upon Narayana Iyer instantly that if He whom all religions acclaim as God were to appear before him in flesh and blood, here He is. Successive waves of bliss flooding from within shook his frame. He went out to compose himself.

He says, ‘I came, he saw, he conquered’.

The spell was thus cast. Henceforth Bhagavan was his God. Bhagavan was the way and the support on the way as well.

To Narayana Iyer the content of Ulladu Narpadu became a vedic truth and its verses veritable mantras. He took to chanting them as japa. From then on nothing could stop him from frequenting the ashram.

His job entailed frequent transfers; he was successively posted to Arani, Polur, and Shankagiri (Salem) for varying periods. However, there was no let up in his regular visits. Never a Sunday passed without Narayana Iyer arriving at the ashram. He always had some delectable snacks with him which were prepared by his wife Lalitha Iyer, who believed that she was cooking delicacies for God. These were savoured by everyone as Bhagavan would never accept anything unless there was enough for all. Very often Iyer would bring omappodi, [a snack made of gram flour and spices] which Bhagavan appears to have been quite fond of, and occasionally he would bring other items in quantities that would suffice for all in the hall.

Once when Shantammal enquired of Bhagavan whether she could prepare some snacks in the ashram, Bhagavan replied, ‘Tomorrow is Sunday. Narayana Iyer will be arriving and will surely be bringing something to eat.’

Such was the certainty of his arrival and of the snacks that came with him.

In those days [the early thirties] the area surrounding the ashram was very bare, with no trees or shrubs. The Mother’s Temple was yet to be constructed. Anyone approaching the precincts of the ashram could be easily seen from the old hall. Once, between two successive weekend visits by Narayana Iyer, the ashram administration, feeling that Bhagavan needed some rest in the afternoon after lunch, imposed a restriction that no one would be allowed to disturb him between 12 noon and 2 p.m. Neither Bhagavan nor Narayana Iyer was aware of this new decree. The following Sunday afternoon, as usual, Iyer arrived with omappodi in hand. As he approached the hall those strategically positioned to deflect the would-be visitors until 2 pm, the new receiving hour, apprised him of the rule. Iyer, though still at a great distance from Bhagavan, made his customary prostration from where he was, retraced his steps and waited until the appointed hour.

At 2 p.m. he came before Bhagavan. Bhagavan had spied him on his arrival and noted his subsequent disappearance.

As soon as he entered the hall Bhagavan asked him, ‘Didn’t you come at 1 o’clock? I saw you arriving through the window and was expecting you to come to the hall at any moment. But you didn’t come. Did you have to go elsewhere?’

Narayana Iyer, who had no idea that Bhagavan was not supposed to know of the new arrangement, replied in all innocence, ‘My train arrived late and I could come only at 1 o’clock. I was informed that Bhagavan nowadays rests in the afternoons and is not to be disturbed until 2 p.m. That’s why I have only come in now.’

Bhagavan listened without any comment, other than his customary, ‘Oh! Is that so?’

The next day after lunch, instead of going into the hall, Bhagavan sat outside the hall. The attendant very hesitantly suggested that he go inside, as it was becoming very hot.

Bhagavan said, ‘Nobody is allowed to enter until 2 p.m. Is there also a rule that I should not sit here until two?’

Then Bhagavan, the very embodiment of compassion added, ‘People come from far-away places by various means, suffering innumerable hardships in order to get here. How can they be sure of the exact time of their arrival? When they come after all that trouble, how fair is it to deny them ready access?’

Hearing this, the management immediately revoked the new rule.

In due course, owing to the profound grace of Bhagavan, Narayana Iyer was posted to Tiruvannamalai itself. He was the first in a long line of devotees to have had the rare privilege of establishing a residence near the ashram in order to be in the holy presence of Bhagavan on a regular basis. His entire sadhana comprised of simply remaining with Bhagavan whenever possible, in the hall or in the kitchen, cutting vegetables, grinding chutney and preparing breakfast in the wee hours of the morning. On any given morning the trio of G. V. Subbaramayya, Kalyana Sundaram Iyer of the bookstall and Narayana Iyer, would be found with Bhagavan.

One year, due to an unusual spell of drought, the ashram faced severe water scarcity on the eve of Jayanthi. The devotees, organising themselves into a long chain, passed vessels filled with water from hand to hand from the Agasthya Teertham in Palakothu to the kitchen. Narayana Iyer very enthusiastically participated in this collective endeavour.

An extensive area of twenty grounds [one acre] was the site of Narayana Iyer’s residence where he grew a variety of fruit trees and fodder for his cow. Whatever wild creatures found in that area were left to themselves. Occasionally, he had snakes caught and released in isolated spots on the mountain.

Prior to constructing the house, Iyer took the plans to Bhagavan to have them blessed. After careful perusal Bhagavan observed, ‘The plan is all right, but where is the well?’

Though Iyer had a location in mind, it was not marked on the blueprint. This turned out to be a benediction as Bhagavan selected the site and marked the exact location. Later, one could see what a blessing it was; not only was the water as sweet as tender coconut water, but the well never ran dry and was thus a source of succour for the entire neighbourhood in times of severe drought.

His wife was a truly sattvic woman, given to dharmic ways and scrupulously adhering to the sastraic injunctions pertaining to a housewife. She shared her husband’s ways and views completely. Though born in a rich family, she had no pretensions or airs about her. Simple, carefree and unattached, she ran the household with a contented mind and to the satisfaction of the entire family, making optimum use of the resources available to her. The children, like the mother, were an uncomplaining lot and were content in doing what they were told to do by their father.

Iyer’s one passion was to chant Ulladu Narpadu unceasingly. Neither conventional vedic duties nor extravagant ritualistic observances had any attraction for him. The constant chanting of Ulladu Narpadu was all the religious observance known to him. It would start right from the morning.

Dyed in brahminical custom, Narayana Iyer looked forward to his invigorating cup of morning coffee. The person who milked the cow used to turn up at 5.00 a.m., announcing his arrival by ringing his bicycle bell. Iyer, who would invariably be chanting Ulladu Narpadu loudly, would open the gate for him. The day would, therefore, begin with Ulladu Narpadu, a routine so predictable and punctual, the neighbour opposite him, an Andhra lady, remarked that she could safely set her clock by his recitation in the morning. His chanting continued throughout the day while he watered the plants or gave the cow a bath.

If ever he were to hear a voice raised in argument among the children, he would simply raise his voice and chant even louder. It was a wonder to see the children immediately quietened, as if the mesmerising spell of this powerful mantra made them aware of Bhagavan’s very presence.

Kanakammal stayed in Iyer’s compound, occupying a small cottage for nearly ten years. He looked upon me as his own daughter. He always made himself aware of my requirements when he procured groceries for his own household and would always meet my needs.

Narayana Iyer and Venkataratnam used to narrate to Kanakammal whatever transpired in the hall during the nights and on days when Kanakammal was unable to attend.

Subsequently Iyer was posted to Polur, but he did not move his residence from Tiruvannamalai. Instead, he cycled to the station, left his cycle there, took the train to Polur and again cycled to his office from there. His return in the evening was by the same route, but like an arrow he would speed his way directly to the ashram in order to be with Bhagavan. He was like a calf rushing to its mother. By then it would usually be 9:00 p.m.

One evening, as Iyer came from the station, Bhagavan enquired whether he had eaten his dinner.

‘Not yet Bhagavan.’

Bhagavan, compassion incarnate, was filled with concern and said, ‘It is already so late. Poor Lalitha will be waiting for you. Just think how late it will be for her to go to bed after serving you dinner, eating herself and then completing the domestic chores. From now on go home first, have your dinner and then come to the ashram.’

Thus ordered by Bhagavan, and also moved by his compassion, Iyer reached his house and exclaimed to his wife, ‘How fortunate you are to be so graciously remembered by Bhagavan, despite remaining within the house. From now on I will have my dinner straight away when I come home from the station. Please have it ready then.’

Sri Bhagavan had his head shaved once a month on the full moon day. Natesan was the barber who used to do this service. Bhagavan sat on a stool and Natesan would stand and shave him. Once Sri Bhagavan suggested to Natesan in all seriousness that it would be more comfortable for the barber to sit on the stool while he himself would sit on the floor!

It was past 8.30 one night when I came to the Ashram on one of my visits. Everyone had retired to rest after the night meal. I went to the office. Chinnaswamy was sitting in his place talking to some Ashramites. When he saw me enter he said, “Narayana Iyer, don’t go near Sri Bhagavan’s couch.He is resting on the veranda near the well. He had a fracture of his collar bone and a plaster has been put on it. He should not be disturbed. Prostrate at a distance and come away noiselessly.” I was shocked to hear the news. If any other reason had been given it could have restrained me, but the mention of a ‘fracture’ made me eager and anxious to see Sri Bhagavan.
I went on tiptoe and prostrated quietly. He evidently saw me and said, “Narayana Iyer, come, sit by my side on the couch.Only then can I see you and talk. Otherwise the bandage they have put might be disturbed and there might be pain.” Implicitly I obeyed when he said this, notwithstanding my fear of Chinnaswamy’s reaction if he should happen to see me there. He said, “I was going up the steps. A dog was chasing a squirrel. I barred its way by putting my walking stick in front of it. The stick slipped and I fell down and got hurt on the collar bone. They say it is a fracture and the native bone-setter of the village, an old devotee, was sent for. He has put this bandage with some green leaves and black gram paste and I am enjoined not to move lest it be disturbed.”

He narrated the incident as though it was someone else’s body that was injured and was suffering!

As Bhagavan’s mahanirvana approached, Narayana Iyer never moved away from the vicinity of Bhagavan. He was a witness to all that went on during those precious last days. At that time Bhagavan’s water pot [kamandalu] and walking stick were in his room as he could not use them anymore. Iyer sensed that several people had secret designs on them, wanting to take them away and preserve them as private, sacred relics. After the mahasamadhi of Bhagavan, abhishekam, alankaram and arathi were performed and the holy body was taken in procession in a small ratha around the Mother’s Temple. Iyer took this opportune moment, picked up the walking stick and kamandalu, and slowly walked ahead of the ratha up to the samadhi chamber where Bhagavan’s body would be enshrined. A small hand spun cloth bag encasing Bhagavan’s earthly frame was filled with vibhuti and camphor according to scriptural procedure. It was then reverently lowered into the samadhi chamber. Iyer himself descended into the chamber and placed Bhagavan’s walking stick and kamandalu on either side of the body. The samadhi pit was then slowly filled in. Anyone who nurtured hopes of acquiring Bhagavan’s meagre possessions as relics was disappointed.

In the aftermath of Bhagavan’s mahanirvana Iyer did not give up his earlier routine of having Bhagavan’s darshan daily. He had darshan of Bhagavan at the samadhi shrine and continued to visit the old hall. The Iyers stayed on in Tiruvannamalai, as did Chadwick who, for a time, took up residence in the Iyer compound in a small thatched-roof cottage until he was invited by the ashram management to move back there again. Iyer and Chadwick were spiritual companions, their uniting bond being the love and devotion they both had for Bhagavan.

Later, when all their children had settled in Madras, the Iyers, who were beginning to feel their age, also moved there to be near their children and grandchildren.

Narayana Iyer and his wife were grihasta asrama [householders] and followed that dharma meticulously. Yet mentally both had donned ochre robes. Their lives, the way they lived, was a penance [tapas] that required no other spiritual practice. Wherever Iyer went, his continued recitation of Ulladu Narpadu made the air around him vibrant with the holy presence of Bhagavan, compelling an inner response from all.


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