Author Topic: Widowhood as a Spiritual Catalyst - Vijaya Ramaswamy - M.P. July-Sept. 2010.  (Read 1155 times)

Subramanian.R

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 43564
    • View Profile


Widows at the Ramanasramam:

To illustrate the social and emotional affliction caused by widowhood and its role and its role as spiritual catalyst, I shall provide
a brief profile of the women who came to Sri Ramanasramam and opted to live, work and die there.  Many of these widows who
began by serving in the Asramam kitchen, are today remembered as diarists, essayists, poets and interpreters. 

A recurrent pattern in the lives of the women who came to seek refuge at Sri Ramanasramam is destitution, widowhood, and
great personal suffering.  Sri Bhagavan Ramana's presence provided the healing touch, restored their sense of dignity and
purpose in life and turned them gently onto the path of spirituality.  Initially, they came to seek at the feet of Sri Ramana spiritual
solace rather than spiritual enlightenment.  The metamorphosis of these women into spiritual aspirants occurred slowly but surely.
Instances of women coming to Sri Ramanasramam on a spiritual quest were rare but not wholly unknown. 

Echammal, (Mandakolathur Lakshmi Ammal) was a sad woman. Before she turned twenty five she had lost in quick succession
her husband, son and daughter.  In the prime life she was widowed, childless, and destitute.  There was nothing but pain and
darkness in her life.  Narasimhaswami, recounting her life, says that she could not bear to even open her window, for if she did
she would at once look upon the school where her daughter had passed several happy years of study.  Echammal began to go
on pilgrimages to assuage her grief.  She met many sages but none could help her.  When she returned to her village in 1906,
she was told about the silent young yogi on Arunachala Hill.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.         

Subramanian.R

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 43564
    • View Profile

continues.....

Echammal came to Sri Bhagavan at Virupaksha Cave in 1906.  She stayed in the town since women were not allowed to stay
at the Cave after 6.00 pm.  On beholding Sri Bhagavan the next day, she felt her bundle of sorrow drop.  The memory of her
husband and children no longer caused pain and bitterness.  Later she adopted a girl, Chellammal, who tragically died sometime
after giving birth to a boy named Ramana.  In the words of Lord Krishna quoted by Narasimhaswami:  'Whenever I wish to bless
anyone, everything he calls his, I snatch away from him.' 

Every relationship Echammal had as wife, or mother was now replaced by the spiritual bond she formed with the Maharshi.
In 1907, she started serving food to Sri Bhagavan and thenceforth dedicated her life to His service.

Suri Nagamma was a child widow.  She was orphaned when she was ten and widowed when she was eleven.  Despite being
a child who had not even matured, she was forced to lead a life of an orthodox Hindu widow -- serving her family, practicing
austerities and reading sacred books.  She felt her very presence was inauspicious and hence shunned human contact.  In
her own words, 'I was lying on the floor all the time on a torn mat, my hand for a pillow and resembled a lizard clinging to the
wall.  (Nagamma, My Life at Sri Ramanasramam, 1974). 

She was illiterate and hence the enjoyment of reading was also denied to her.  It was in 1913, that she had a vision of a Sage
in yogic posture to whom she would surrender everything.  It was almost thirty years later that she discovered her Guru in
Sri Bhagavan.

In 1918, she learnt to read and write Telugu at Vijayawada from a literary minded lady, Indumati.  Suri Nagamma used her
newly acquired skills to pour forth her heart in 108 verses in a composition called Manasa Shatakam, essentially a catechism
addressed to her own mind. When Nagamma moved to Vijayawada in order to pursue a life of meditation and reading, the women
of the orthodox Brahmin community rebuked her, saying that she was unfit for a spiritual life for not shaving her head as all
orthodox widows normally did.  But Nagamma never shaved her head because she had before her the shining example   
of Tarikonda Venkatamba, the celebrated composer of Venkatachala Mahatmyam.   This woman was a great saint who was
also a child-widow and when her relatives tried to force her to shave her head, blood gushed out forcing them to stop.  Of
this story, another version says that when the newly shaven Venkatamba emerged after the required dip in water, the river
had her hair already grown down to her waist !

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.       

Subramanian.R

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 43564
    • View Profile

continues.....

To help Nagamma get over her intense depression, her brother suggested that she should make a short stay in Tiruvannamalai
with her relative, Devulapalli Subbamma (Subbalakshmiamma) who was serving in the Asramam kitchen.  It was thus in July
1941, she reached Sri Ramanasramam after offering prayers at Kalahasti and Tirupati.  She wrote that by the concentrated gaze
from Sri Bhagavan's luminous eyes, all the ignorance of her mind was washed away at her very first meeting with Him.  She
considered this to be her initiation and spontaneously composed eight verses called Saranagati signifying her 'surrender' at His
feet. 

Suri Nagamma's relative Subbalakshmiamma, who had preceded her to Sri Ramanasramam, had a similar background of widowhood
and destitution.  Widowed at the age of sixteen she says that she was sent back to her mother's house in Nellore to live as a
widow should live.  After going on various pilgrimages Subbalakshmiamma was planning to settle down in Varanasi. However,
her destiny took her to Sri Ramanasramam to be an assistant in the kitchen.  Sri Ramana also entrusted her with tasks such as
multiple handwritten copies of Arunachala Ashtakam. 

Sampuranmma's life replicates that of Subbalakshmiamma closely.  A childless widow, her life became an endless rigmarole of
desolation and despair.  The turning point in her life came while she was worshipping in Madurai. An old Brahmin came up to her
and asked, 'Won't you cook a meal for me?' She offered to take him to her home after worship but found, on her return from the
temple, that he had vanished!  In 1932, she saw Sri Ramana, she identified Him with her vision. She took charge of the kitchen
and was assisted by Sri Ramana Himself.

contd.,

Arunachala Siva.     
       

Subramanian.R

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 43564
    • View Profile

continues.....


She says: 'The kitchen was small at that time, and every time I needed to move I would go around Him and take good care
to have Him on my right hand.  Thus I would perform numerous pradakshinams during the day.  Was He not my God?  Was I
not fortunate to have Him in the very middle of the kitchen?' (Ramana Smriti Part II)

The stories of Lokamma, Shankaramma and Brihadambal are very similar.  Brihadambal of Ramanathapuram summed it up
neatly when she said, 'Only amangalis (widows) come here, not sumangalis ('auspicious married women').  (Interview dated
24.9.1994).  What distinguished the lives of the Ramanasramam widows were their intense suffering, virtually an ordeal by
fire, before they found refuge at the feet of Sri Ramana, and the immense spiritual joy and tranquility they found at Sri
Ramanasramam. 

I conclude with the moving words of Subbalakshmiamma:

'Whoever has not experienced the ecstasy of grinding, the rapture of cooking, the joy of serving iddlis to devotees, the state when
the mind in is in the Heart, and the Heart is in Him  and He is in the work, cannot know how much bliss the human heart contains.
(Ramana Smiriti 'My Light, My Light' )

concluded.

Arunachala Siva.