Sri Kunjuswami is one of the greatest devotees of Sri Bhagavan. He went to Sri Bhagavan in his teens in 1920 and served him till Sri Bhagavan's nirvana in 1950. He lives, moves and has his being in Sri Bhagavan. At 95, he talks about Sri Bhagavan and his life with the enthusiasm of a young man. Those who listen to him are transported to a different world altogether. Living a simple and austere life at Sri Ramanasramam, he is rendering invaluable service by sharing his experiences with the seekers.
Reminiscences by Sri Kunjuswami is one of the best books on Sri Bhagavan and his devotees. It is written in simple Tamil. It was dictated by Sri Kunjuswami to Smt. Pankajakshi Ammal at Tiruvannamalai. Devotees of Sri Bhagavan owe a debt of gratitude not only to Sri Kunjuswami but also to Smt. Pankajakshi Ammal.
God's Gift of Grace
I was born in January 1897 in Cherakkodu, a village between Palghat and Chittoor in Kerala. I am the third child of my parents, who belonged to the middle class. There was nothing unusual about me till my third year. However, I neither played with other children nor cried petulantly. I used to sit quietly in some place. Observing my unusual behaviour, my father showed my horoscope to my maternal uncle, who was an expert astrologer. After studying the horoscope, he said with delight; "This is not a child we deserve; it is a diving one. In the matter of food and other things, you must be extra careful with this child.'' My father was very happy to hear this. He had read Kaivalyam (Kaivalya Navaneetha) and other Vedantic works and was a deeply religious person. Hence he was very happy that he had been blessed with a divine child.
On a fine morning in January 1920, I set out for Tiruvannamalai without informing at home. Thinking that I would not return to that house, I prostrated to the house and my parents within and left my village. I thought someone might spot me if I went to Palghat station; so I went to a very small unimportant railway station called Kanjikodu and asked the booking clerk when the train to Tiruvannamalai would arrive. I was told that it would come in the evening. I waited in fear of being recognised by someone known to me. I forgot hunger and thirst in my fervent desire to see Sri Bhagavan. As I had to buy the ticket with the five rupees I had, I did not eat anything till evening.
Darshan from a Distance
There was a large stone slab where you now see a tiny wall to the east of Skandasram. Everyday we used to keep tooth powder and water over there for use by Sri Bhagavan. However cold it was, Sri Bhagavan would come and sit on the slab and clean his teeth. In the early morning sun's rays, Sri Bhagavan's body would shine beautifully. When it was very cold, devotees used to request him not to sit there, but Sri Bhagavan would not listen to them. We came to know the reason for this only later.
In Big Street, which is to the north of Arunachaleswara Temple, there was an elderly woman called Sowbagyathammal. She and a few others had taken a vow that daily they would eat only after they had seen Sri Bhagavan and Seshadriswami. Every day they used to climb the hill to have the darshan of Sri Bhagavan. One day Sowbagyathammal did not come. Among his devotees, if he found even one missing, Sri Bhagavan would ask whether he was all right. In the same way, he asked Sowbagyathammal the next day why she did not come the previous day. She said, "All the same I had your darshan, Bhagavan.'' Sri Bhagavan said, "But you didn't come yesterday.'' She replied, "I could not climb the hill because of my weakness. But I was fortunate enough to have your darshan from my house.'' She explained how she saw Sri Bhagavan when he was brushing his teeth sitting on the stone slab. She said if he brushed his teeth at the same place everyday, she would be able to see him every day from her house itself as she found it difficult to climb the hill. From then on, Sri Bhagavan brushed his teeth sitting on the stone, irrespective of weather conditions. It was a boon for other elderly people also.
Parayana and Bhagavan's Deep Meditation
At Skandasram we would sit before Sri Bhagavan every evening at 6.30 and recite Aksharamanamalai. Sri Bhagavan used to close his eyes reclining on the pillows. We would finish the recitation exactly at 7.30 when we generally had our supper. Once in two or three days, during the parayana, Sri Bhagavan would go into deep meditation. Even at the end of the parayana, he would not open his eyes. We used to call him gently, but Sri Bhagavan would be completely oblivious to his surroundings. To wake him up, Perumalswami, Akhandananda, Mastanswami and I would take out some conches at the ashram and blow them. The sound of the conch used to penetrate into him and bring him back to the external world slowly. On such days, we would eat only at 9 p.m. This happened frequently. Even after moving to his Mother's samadhi at the foot of the hill, this used to happen once in a week or ten days. Dandapaniswami used to massage Sri Bhagavan's feet to wake him up, but in vain. He used to become aware of the external world only through our blowing of the conches. It is said in Vaasishtam that Sri Krishna had to blow the conch to wake Prahladha from his tapas.
Significance of Namaskar
When I returned to the ashram after spending some days at Kovilur Mutt, Sri Bhagavan asked me in detail about what I did, where I went and so on. I said, "Mahadevaswamy made kind enquiries about Sri Bhagavan and the ashramites. The day I went there, Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiar and his relatives came to visit Mahadevaswamy.'' Sri Bhagavan asked me what Chettiar did there. I said that he prostrated with great reverence before Mahadevaswamy and accepted vibhuti prasad from him. Sri Bhagavan asked, "Did you prostrate before Mahadevaswamy?'' When I said no, he asked me why. I said, "I don't want to do namaskar to anyone except Sri Bhagavan.'' Sri Bhagavan said, "What an intelligent, wise fellow! Is your Bhagavan only within this body on the sofa? Is he not elsewhere? If a person is devoted wholly to one person, he should not go anywhere. If you go to another place, you must do what the people in that place do. Wherever and whenever you prostrate you should think of your guru or your favourite god. If you do like this, your namaskar will reach the person you have in mind. That is the proper thing to do.'' I realised my mistake. >From then on I think of Sri Bhagavan whenever I do namaskar to anyone.
Devotees' Adventure and Sri Bhagavan's Forgiveness
Once we decided to go to the hill top. We engaged four coolies and asked them to carry food for us and wait at the Seven Streams on the way to the top. Mrs. Talyarkhan, Cohen, some devotees from the Bose compound and some devotees from outside, in all about forty, left as a group. We prostrated before Sri Bhagavan before we left. Muruganar, Munagala Venkataramayya, Kalyanasundaram Iyer (who was working in the ashram book depot), an English devotee by name Thompson and his friend, a Zamindar's son, and the friend's bodyguard had planned to go and see first the banyan tree referred by Sri Bhagavan and later join the other party. This was a secret agreement among us and we did not tell either Sri Bhagavan or the other members of the party whom we saw off at Namasivaya Cave.
Keeping in view the three streams mentioned by Sri Bhagavan, we started climbing the hill at 6 a.m. Around noon, we crossed the three streams and reached a steep place. We could not see either the foot or the top of the hill. We were perplexed. We could not see Muruganar. We looked for him and found him in a bush. When we called him, he came crawling on all fours like a child. We asked him why he walked like that. He said, "How should I walk then?'' Venkataramayya was lying on the ground breathless. Kalyanasundaram Iyer was speechless. Thompson was sitting absolutely stunned. His friend and the servant were sobbing in fear. I, who was responsible for all this, did not know what to do.
'This is my end,' I thought. I felt wretched that I would be leaving the world without seeing Sri Bhagavan's face. I wept. Even if I was saved, if one of my companions died, how could I go and see Sri Bhagavan? In case such a thing happened, I felt I should give up my life also. The thought that I wouldn't see Sri Bhagavan any more made me feel wretched. Till then I had not prayed for anything. On this occasion a prayer came out of me; "Oh Lord! See that we don't meet our end without seeing you. Please forgive us.''
Almost immediately I saw a wood cutter at a distance and shouted to him. He did not respond thinking that we were forest guards. We waved our ochre robe and said we were from the ashram and he need not be afraid of us. He came to us and said, "Why did you come here? You can't go to the hilltop from here.'' When we said that we wanted to go to the Ezhusunai, he took us by our hand and brought us to the others, who were waiting for us. By Sri Bhagavan's grace, there was a light shower which drenched us and we felt cool and refreshed.
The others had eaten and wondered what had happened to us. Looking at our torn clothes and the scratches on our body, they teased us for attempting to go to the banyan tree without telling them.
Tirupugazh Sachidananda Swami of Vallimalai
Sri Bhagavan generally emphasised the path of jnana but he used to give different instructions to different people depending on the seeker's maturity level. Sachidananda Swami, known earlier as Ardhanari, worked as a cook in the palace of the Maharaja of Mysore. At that time, he suffered from acute stomach pain. The pain remained despite treatment by eminent doctors. In 1908, at the age of 38, at the instance of a devotee by name Nalla Kothan, he went to Palani and drank the abhishekam milk and was cured of the stomach ailment. He became deeply devoted to Lord Subrahmanya. He devoted himself to the service of Sri Subrahmanya at Palani from 1908 to 1912. In Palani he was called 'Mysoreswami'.
During his pilgrimage, he came to Tiruvannamalai on 21.12.1912, on Tiruvadirai day, to have the darshan of Sri Bhagavan. He himself has narrated his experience in the following words: "I joined the crowd waiting to see Sri Bhagavan. Sri Bhagavan came out of the ashram a few minutes later. I saw him with a loin cloth and a walking stick. He saw me and I saw him. Suddenly he appeared to me as the Lord of Palani. My hairs stood on end. I shed tears of joy. I was speechless. I quietly sat down.''
One day Sri Bhagavan said to him, "Go down,'' and he went to the foot of the hill from Skandasram. He was upset that Sri Bhagavan had asked him to move down. As he was coming down with this feeling, Seshadriswami, who was at the foot of the hill, ran to him and hugged him. He recited the fourth sloka of Adi Sankara's Sivamanasa Panchakam and asked him whether there was anything similar to that in Tiruppugazh. Sachidanandaswami quoted a verse which had the same sense. (Grant me the Heart that will not feel itself separate but will see itself in everything.) Immediately Seshadriswami said, Tirupugazh is a great mantra; everything is in it. Please spread Tirupugazh. Go to Vallimalai and I will also come. So saying, Seshadriswami left. Then he realised why Sri Bhagavan had asked him to go down the hill. His mind was filled with joy.
Sachidanandaswami went to Vallimalai and established an ashram and spread Tirupugazh. He founded a number of Tirupugazh sabhas in Madras. He travelled throughout the country spreading Tirupugazh.
On the night of 14th April 1950, Swamiji started with his disciples for Tiruvannamalai. At 8.45 when they were crossing a railway track, Swamiji stood stunned. He was about to be knocked down by a railway coach that had got itself detached. Swamiji was pulled back by his disciples. Swamiji intuitively knew of the merging of Sri Bhagavan in Arunachala that night at 8.47. He immediately rushed to Sri Ramanasram. When the samadhi rites took place, he sang Tirupugazh with great feeling. One of his devotees, S. V. Subramaniam, said, "Swami! You promised to show us Sri Bhagavan. Now we see only his body!'' Swamiji said, "You fool! Where has he gone? He is here. He has given up his body, but he is in everybody now.''
When I first heard Sri Bhagavan's name, I was thrilled. I wanted to go to Tiruvannamalai at once leaving my parents. But I could not go immediately. Later when I rushed to Arunachala, I got immersed in the Grace of Sri Bhagavan. He was my Father, Mother, Guru and God. He was and is, everything to me in this world. I don't know what good I have done to deserve his Grace, the Grace that permitted me to serve him. I have tried to communicate the taste and flavour of the nectar of Sri Ramana through my writing. Is it ever possible?