Sonntag, 14. September 2008

12.4. Meals at the Ashram

In the Dining Hall after breakfeast

Sri Ramana always took care that devotees had enough to eat. Often he personally ensured that they were served a meal upon their arrival at the Ashram.

One of Sri Ramana’s principles was that under no circumstances did he want to be treated differently or better than anyone else. This was particularly apparent in the dining hall. In order to be sure that all were served the same as he himself, he took very little if he was served first. He later insisted that all others had to be served first and that he should be served last. One day when Suri Nagamma was handing out fruit from her nephew in the Hall, she served Sri Ramana first, then everybody else. At the end it was found that there was not enough fruit for everyone. So one of the attendants cut the remaining bananas into small pieces. Ramana said indignantly, “This is what I don’t like. Why do you serve when you cannot give the same quantity to all people? …

If you serve Bhagavan after you serve all the others, there will be equal distribution. If by chance nothing remains, it does not matter if I don’t get anything; if all eat, I am satisfied even if I do not get my share.”83

To prevent those sitting in the last rows being at a disadvantage and having nothing of the best dishes left for them, he would wait until the very last person had been served before eating. It was his general custom not to touch anything on his banana leaf until all had the same on theirs as he himself.

On special occasions such as his birthday (jayanti), the anniversary of his mother’s death (mahapuja) and at Kartikai Deepam, lots of people, often hundreds and in the later years even thousands, came, all of whom had to be fed. On such days meals had to be served in several shifts. Ramana then liked to join the last group.

Daily feeding of the poor in the background.

The principle of equality of all was also respected with regard to the daily feeding of the poor, which took place at 11 a.m., whereas devotees and Ramana had their lunch at 11.30 only. The poor received the same food as the Ashram inhabitants. He was very particular about this too. One day he noticed that the feeding of the poor outside was not carried out correctly and one of them did not receive his share. The next day, when the poor had formed a queue for their meal, he went outside and said to those serving, “If you do not give them food first, I will not come to the dining hall at all. I will stand under the tree along with these people, stretch out my hands for food like them, and when I am given a ball of food, I will eat it, go straight to the Hall and sit there.”84

There are lots of dining hall stories which make clear how fiercely Maharshi resisted any preferential treatment of his person, as, again and again, devotees tried to serve him a special delicacy or a larger share than others. The cook Santamma also had to learn her lesson. At the beginning of her stay at the Ashram she served Sri Ramana an extra portion on his leaf, which he at once noticed saying angrily, “Why did you serve the Swami more of the curry than the rest? Have you come all the way here to learn this? If you serve more to others and less to me I would be happy. Do you want to purchase grace by serving extra? If you show the devotees the same love as you have for me, then your love for me too will grow.”85

Sri Ramana did not want anything special done for his health. Once he alone was served rice whereas everyone else was served boiled wheat. When he asked Chinnaswami why this was, he was told, “Wheat is not good for Sri Bhagavan’s health.” Ramana re-torted, “Oho! Are you a doctor? Serve me the same as is served to others. Make no discrimination.” And when someone suggested that Ramana should regularly take orange juice for his health, he said, that in that case 200 glasses of juice would be needed. “Do you want me alone to gulp down the drink with all of you watch-ing, empty-handed? Moreover, how can poor people like us pro-vide for 200 tumblers of juice, paying Rs 50 every day.”

Mudaliar Patti, also known as Mudaliar Granny, and Echammal, who had both been bringing food up the hill to Sri Ramana since the early years, refused to be deprived of this privilege in later years. They used to cook at home and bring the lunch to the Ashram in a basket. Echammal cooked enough for around two people, Mudaliar Patti for four. Both had the privilege of serving their food personally to Ramana and the devotees. When the kitchen at Ramanashram was better equipped this no longer made any sense. Ramana asked the women to spare themselves the trouble in future, but they were so fond of it that he didn’t insist.

Back of Dining Hall

For the Brahmins’ sakes a certain importance was attached to the observation of caste rules. Brahmins are only allowed to eat together with members of their own caste. To enable them to obey this rule the dining hall was separated in two by a bamboo screen. On the one side the Brahmins had their place, on the other side the non-Brahmins. Sri Ramana sat in the opening of the screen on the non-Brahmin side and was visible to all. Again and again Brahmins tried to sit on the non-Brahmin side and circumvent their own caste rules in the Ashram. They argued that with Ramana there were no caste differences. But he did not accept their arguments as long as they continued to apply caste rules at home.

Apart from this, no differences were made in the dining hall and in the Hall. The poor sat alongside the rich, the educated alongside simple workers.
83 Nagamma: Letters, pp. 291ff
84 dto., p. 427
85 Unforgettable Years, p. 73

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