Sonntag, 14. September 2008

10.2. Ramanashram is Growing

Sri Ramana on his couch in the Old Hall

In the early years Ramanashram consisted of just a few huts. The so-called Old Hall, in which Sri Ramana lived day and night until 1949, was built in 1928. It was here that the many meetings with visitors and devotees took place. The Old Hall, which measures 40 feet by 15, is not very spacious and contains only Ramana’s sofa and some bookcases.

The story of the first couch is worth mentioning. Ramana used to sit on a simple wooden plank in a corner of the room. One day Rangaswami Gounder brought a couch as a gift for Ramana and asked him to sit on it. But Maharshi refused. For three days Gounder prayed that he may accept his present. On the third night Ramana finally gave way and laid down on the couch to sleep. From that moment on it became his place of residence day and night.

In 1925, in Palakothu on the western side of the Ashram, a colony came into being where sadhus and devotees lived in caves and in huts under the trees. This was the year in which B.V. Narasimha Swami57, the first Ramana biographer, came to the Ashram. It was his intention to stay a long time, but as the Ashram resources were very limited, he decided to look after himself and built a small hut at Palakothu. He was soon joined by other devotees. As it had by now become the custom that only those who worked in the Ashram were allowed to stay there for any length of time, those who wanted to lead a meditative life built their huts in this colony and cared for themselves. Annamalai Swami lived there, when he was no longer working for the Ashram, also Kunju Swami, Yogi Ramiah, Muruganar, Paul Brunton, Viswanatha Swami, Ramanatha Brahmachari, Balarama Reddy and many others. Sri Ramana used to pass through the colony every day on his walks.

The Ashram grew steadily. Over the years, more buildings were erected, such as the store room, the office and the bookshop, the dispensary, the guest house for male visitors and a row of small bungalows for guests staying for longer periods. These were fol-lowed by the cowshed, the Veda school, the kitchen and the dining room. In 1937 the Ashram even opened its own post office.

The Old Hall today

Maharshi displayed a natural talent for planning building projects. Annamalai Swami gave detailed accounts of this in his reminiscences (Godman: Living by the Words of Bhagavan). For many years he was entrusted with the task of supervising the projects and received his instructions from Ramana directly. These instructions were never given in the form of a command but more in the form of a suggestion. So Ramana would say that he had just had this or that idea and that if he wanted to he could do it like that. Sri Ramana inspected the work each day. Before work started he would explain to Annamalai Swami what needed to be done. Sometimes he would draw a few lines on a piece of paper to illustrate what he meant. Apart from these small sketches there were no construction drawings. All buildings originated from Ramana’s simple plans, with the exception of the store room, which a local building contractor had drawn, and the Temple for the Mother, which was erected in accordance with the plans of a master temple builder. The engineers amongst the devotees offered their assistance in the form of construction drawings. All these plans were placed before Ramana, but without even unfolding them, he laid them aside and explained, “Before we came here all these buildings had already been planned by a higher power. At each destined moment all things will happen according to that plan. So why should we bother with all these written plans?”58

The impression which is sometimes given, that the Ashram came into being around the Maharshi without his participation, is therefore absolutely wrong, as Annamalai testified, “It was Bhagavan, and Bhagavan alone, who decided when buildings should be built, where they should be built, on what scale they should be constructed, what materials should be used, and who should be in charge of the construction.”59

The financial side was the only aspect in which he did not interfere and which he left in full to Chinnaswami, who had taken over the Ashram management in 1929. Often there was no money available for new building projects, nevertheless Ramana initiated their start. Then Chinnaswami would complain about the imminent financial ruin the Ashram was facing, but sufficient donations were always received to enable the current project to be finished.

In 1942 the building of a small three-roomed hospital was started. It was designed to be used only for distributing medicine to out-patients and as a first aid station, but it was here that the operations were later carried out to treat Sri Ramana’s cancers. Sri Ramana showed particular interest in the construction of this building. Annamalai Swami, who once again was entrusted with managing the project, reports, “When there was little or no work going on, and nothing of interest to inspect, he would still come to the site and sit there for long periods. On these occasions he would often look at me and give me the same type of darshan, involving a direct transmission of grace through the eyes, that he frequently gave to devotees in the Hall.”60

Sri Ramana not only took great interest in the various building works, gave advice and instructions and each evening asked for a progress report from Annamalai Swami, he also liked to participate in the work himself. He evidently felt more comfortable on the building site outside, than on his couch. He would have liked to have participated more fully in this physical work, if only his devotees had allowed him. But they thought it inappropriate for him to do strenuous physical labour. In addition, he also had to care for the increasing numbers of visitors, who often came from afar for the sole purpose of having his darshan. Once when he was visiting the building site, his attendant Madhava Swami announced the arrival of new visitors, Sri Ramana replied jokingly that a new warrant had been issued for his arrest and it was now time for him to return to jail.

57 Narasimha Swami’s Ramana biography “Self Realization” had already been published in 1931 and serves as a unique source for the early years of the Maharshi.
58 Godman: Living by the Words, p. 163
59 dto., p. 161
60 dto., p. 207

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