Soon after Sri Ramana Maharshi's Mahasamadhi in 1950, a committee was formed to collect written reminiscences from the Master's devotees. Committee members approached those devotees who were intimate with Bhagavan, had firsthand experience of his ways, and understood his teachings. Arthur Osborne and S. S. Cohen, who were members of the committee, met with N. Balarama Reddy and wasted no time in requesting him to write his reminiscences. Balarama Reddy declined. He told them he mostly sat silently meditating in Bhagavan's presence and never took notes of what he heard or saw.
While visiting Sri Ramanasramam in 1993, my name was added to the list of devotees who entreated him to write. After all, he was then in his eighty-fifth year and how much longer could he delay? I reasoned with him. Where would be the Christ of the Christians if not for Mathew, Mark, Luke and John? I pleaded. It was only through his eyes that we, the second generation of devotees, could see and know about the personality that captivated his heart; the same personality that would undoubtedly captivate the hearts of countless future generations. 'After you go, this wealth within you will be lost. You must write now, while you are still able,' I beseeched him.
Balarama Reddy is a kind man, intelligent and wise. If he didn't exactly agree with my argument, he sympathized with my sincerity, and in his goodness agreed - not to write, but to relate to me whatever incidents and experiences with the Maharshi he could remember. These stories went on to include meetings with Ananda Mayi Ma, Swami Ramdas and other personalities. He fixed a time, between 6:30 and 7:30 in the evening, to meet with me. So I began meeting with him in his room every day for the purpose of hearing his reminiscences. After we met I would put down a few brief notes on the topics of our conversations, and in the morning, following breakfast, I would sit in my room and use these notes to recall all I had heard the previous evening.
I found this daily exercise to be an exhilarating experience. I would be so caught up in the flow of incidents relating to Bhagavan, that I felt as if they were taking place before my own eyes. Balarama Reddy has the power to draw out from his memory, like a spider drawing out his web, the dynamic personality of the Maharshi's presence. He easily caught me in this web, and I sincerely hope this little book catches many others.
Dennis J. Hartel
Second Visit to Sri Ramanasramam
When I visited Sri Ramanasramam for the second time in March 1935, I decided to make it a three-day visit. At the end of this three-day visit, I began to feel that perhaps my place was here with the Maharshi. The idea of having Bhagavan as my Guru and Ramanasramam as my home began revolving in my mind.
Taking leave of the Maharshi, I approached him while he was sitting on his couch, which was then positioned outside on the verandah. His feet were softly resting on the ground. He had just returned from an afternoon stroll, following the mid-day meal. I fell to my knees and bowed before his holy feet. I was aware of the ashram rule that prohibited devotees from touching Bhagavan's body, so I kept a slight distance. But, as I lowered my head near his feet, in the twinkling of an eye, Bhagavan's feet ever so gently rose from the ground and the big toe of each foot very lightly touched the closed eyelids of each eye. It all happened in an instant. I was thrilled.
Settling at Sri Ramanasramam
On January 5, 1937, I arrived at Sri Ramanasramam for good. This happened to be the day after the Maharshi's fifty-seventh birthday. On another day, not too long after settling near Sri Ramanasramam, I approached Bhagavan when no one was in the hall and showed him that last letter I had received from Sri Aurobindo. He asked me to read it out. I began reading it and when I came to the sentence, 'Since you are determined to follow a path in which you can achieve only partial realisation...' Bhagavan stopped me and said, 'Partial realisation? If it is partial, it is not realisation, and it it is realisation, it is not partial.'
In the first year of my settling in Tiruvannamalai, I remember one afternoon when I was sitting in the hall and Bhagavan was explaining a particular spiritual point to me. During the discussion he asked me to go to one of the two almirahs that were up against the west wall and bring him a certain book. I searched for the book but was unable to find it. I returned to Bhagavan, informed him of my failure to locate the book, and again sat down against the south wall facing him.
Presently, I saw Bhagavan slowly and majestically walk over to the almirah, open it, and immediately pull out the book he had asked me to find. He closed the almirah and, to my surprise, instead of walking back to the couch, he came and sat on the floor right next to me, on my left. He opened the book to the page he wanted me to read and, holding it in his right hand, held the book before my face and asked me to read the particular passage.
Bhagavan's attendants had told me that his body was like a furnace. Only then, when he sat so close to me, did I understand what they meant. I felt spiritual power emanating from his body like an electric dynamo. I was thrilled to the core of my being.
Krishnaprem visits the Ashram
During this visit, Krishnaprem handed over his small Gopala Krishna idol to Bhagavan. Bhagavan tenderly turned it this way and that, looked at it intently and then returned it to him. Krishnaprem's vision and inner experiences while sitting before Bhagavan in the Old Hall has already been recorded in other places.
From Sri Ramanasramam he travelled to the Aurobindo Ashram. After staying there a few days we planned that he and I would rendezvous at Villupuram railway station, from where we would travel south, visiting famous temples and holy places. My train from Tiruvannamalai was scheduled to leave at 1 P.M. So, immediately after lunch I approached Bhagavan to take his leave. He had just finished his meal and was massaging his rheumatic knees; he had to do this before walking in his old age. I prostrated before him and informed him of my departure. He already knew all the details. He also knew I was planning on visiting Kanyakumari.
He said to me, 'These people (meaning the management) have written to an advocate-devotee of Nagerkoil to send us the three different-coloured sands that are available at Kanyakumari. These are needed for the Kumbhabhishekam of the Matrubhuteswara Temple. So far, he has not sent them.' Though Bhagavan did not say specifically that I should bring the sand, I naturally understood what was in his mind. In fact, he often employed this manner of speaking, asking us indirectly, when he wanted something done. Before leaving he also asked me to write and send him details of the pilgrimage.
When I arrived in Kanyakumari I discovered that the government had enforced a law prohibiting the removal of any sand from the beach. Uranium, used for making atomic bombs, had been found there. Nevertheless, I thought I should take my chances and stealthily proceeded to gather the three different sands. I filled three bags and concealed them in my bedroll. At the railway station I hired a man to carry my luggage. I saw the ticket collector and two policemen standing at the gate. The ticket collector was checking tickets and the policemen were checking baggage for illegal sand. I asked my man to stop and we both stood there momentarily as I contemplated the situation. Pondering over my next move, I mentally prayed to Bhagavan, 'You wanted me to bring this sand. Now look at this - police! What am I to do? As soon as I prayed thus, the policemen, for some unknown reason, turned and walked away from the gate. I immediately told my man, 'Let's go.' We passed through the gate and boarded the train.
When I returned to the ashram and brought the bags of sands to Bhagavan, he called everyone around to come and look. Later the sand expected from the advocate arrived by post, but the bags had broken en-route and the three varieties of sands got mixed, making them useless. When Bhagavan heard that, he remarked, 'If Balarama Reddy had not brought the sands, how could we have gotten a fresh consignment in time for the consecration ceremony?''
In Bhagavan's Hall
Once the private secretary to the Governor of Pondicherry arrived at the ashram with a few of his associates. He came into the hall with a large sheet of paper filled with a long list of questions written in an elaborate, complex style of French. He handed the paper over to Bhagavan, walked to the window opposite Bhagavan's couch and sat on the window sill. Bhagavan looked at the questions and, noticing they were in French, asked me to translate them. I found the French difficult to translate. I was struggling with it, word by word, while translating it to Bhagavan.
Bhagavan, realising my difficulty, said, 'That's not necessary. Just tell me the gist of it. I scanned the list and told Bhagavan that he really didn't want oral answers but rather in the form of an experience.
Bhagavan paused for a moment. He then slowly turned his face in the direction of the questioner and rested his eyes on him. After about thirty seconds, I noticed the man's body began to tremble. Soon he was shaking all over. Then he blurted out, 'Oh no, Bhagavan, not now! Please Bhagavan, not now!'
The Last Days
A government minister from Madras, Sitarama Reddy, arrived at the ashram. This was his first visit and, since he was known to me, I was asked by the management to personally take him to visit Bhagavan in the Nirvana Room.
When we walked into Bhagavan's presence I noticed a peculiar radiance, or a strange kind of soft splendour, pervading the room. I thought I was seeing this because of my devotion to Bhagavan. Rationalizing it in this manner, I even tried to dismiss it.
As soon as we came out of the room the minister turned to me and asked, 'What was that brilliance, or radiance, pervading the Maharshi's room?' When he said this, without any probing from me, I thought there must be something to it. Then, all of a sudden, I remembered Ganapati Muni's second verse from his Chatvarimsat:
Who is the master and guide of the whole group of
learned scholars beginning with Ganapati,
Who is the repository of all the highest virtues,
Whose beatific effulgence is hidden by the sheath of
the gross body, like the blazing sun hidden behind the clouds.
Dr. Lt. Col. P. V. Karmachandani, the district medical officer, was present. Seeing Bhagavan's critical condition on April 14, he went to Vellore to bring his wife. The Doctor told me: 'I had a great desire to offer orange juice to Bhagavan. As the fruit was not available here, we purchased a few at Vellore, which my wife, with great devotion, made into juice. This we took with us to the ashram. Sri Bhagavan was by then declining all liquids, as movement to and from the bathroom was so troublesome to him. Twice he declined the offer, but asked for water instead. I was feeling sorry for my wife's unfulfilled longing. This time, with all the earnestness in my soul, I conveyed a mute prayer to the Maharshi to spare my wife from heart-breaking disappointment. Bhagavan at once said, "Give me orange juice.'' And when I offered it, he drank it.' It was nothing but total compassion on Bhagavan's part to have asked for the orange juice, simply to fulfil the desire of a devotee.
On the final evening, thousands were cramped into the ashram grounds around Bhagavan's room. A gloomy mood enveloped the area, as Bhagavan's end was anticipated at any moment. The fan being waved over Bhagavan's body by the attendant was visible through the door, and all eyes were fixed on it. knowing that when it ceased moving, Bhagavan's heart would have ceased beating.
Mrs. Taleyarkhan, an influential devotee with the administration in those days, obtained permission to go into the Nirvana Room and have her last darshan at 7 P.M. At this sad juncture, she approached me and asked me to join her. I quietly stood there thinking, and then replied, 'No, You please go ahead. I cannot go.' During that year I had seen Bhagavan's body suffer enough. There was no need for me to see more.
Shortly there after, the fan stopped, the famed meteor slowly floated across the heavens, and it was all over. The light that illumined the earth as Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi had now merged with the Eternal Light, the source of all creation.