There were large bands of monkeys living on Arunachala. Sri Ramana had had dealings with them since the time when he lived in the Virupaksha Cave and this did not change when he settled down at the foot of the hill in Ramanashram. He had studied their behaviour and knew everything about the hierarchical structure of a monkey tribe and its laws. He knew what they preferred and understood their speech. He often defended their behaviour and activities and sometimes also compared them with those of people, often to the detriment of the latter. He became very friendly with some of the monkeys, such as, for example, Nandi (the Lame), a name which he had given to a monkey which had become lame. Nandi had been bitten by the monkey king and left, badly injured, to die near the Virupaksha Cave. Ramana was moved by compassion and cared for him until he regained his health. Thereafter Nandi was deeply attached to Ramana and always stayed close to him. He now received his daily food from the Ashram and if other monkeys came by, he prevented them from approaching Ramana. Later Nandi himself became the monkey king.
Ramana defended the monkeys and their actions at each opportunity. Sometimes they created havoc with the food and other things which devotees had brought. If someone complained to him he would say, “Not many years back it was deep jungle here, the monkeys’ home. We came, cleared the ground, built houses and drove the monkeys away. Who is to blame, we or they? If they give us a little trouble, can we not bear it quietly?”
When one of the attendants beat the monkeys, because they had stolen nuts, Bhagavan rebuked him, “You are not beating the monkeys, you are beating me. The pain is mine.”
The monkeys often stole the fruit which devotees had brought as a food offering, if the latter were not careful or were meditating. One of the attendants was entrusted with the task of receiving the fruit from the visitors. One day he was sitting with eyes closed, a basket full of fruit at his side, listening to the radio. In the meantime the monkeys were freely helping themselves to the contents of the basket. When people in the Hall tried to chase the monkeys away, Ramana joked, “When these attendants are immersed in deep meditation, the monkeys come and see to the work of the attendants. Someone has to look after the work! The attendants put the fruit into the basket, the monkeys put the fruit into their stomachs; that is all the difference. While people forget themselves while listening to the music over the radio the monkeys busy themselves in enjoying the sweet juice of the fruit. That is good, isn’t it!”
The monkey mothers liked to come with their babies, to show them to Ramana full of pride. Suri Nagamma reports, “Yesterday a monkey with her baby stood in the window by the side of Bhagavan’s sofa. Bhagavan was reading something and so did not notice it. After a while, the monkey screeched and one of the attendants tried to drive her away by shouting, but she would not go. Bhagavan then looked up and said, ‘Wait! She has come here to show her baby to Bhagavan; do not all the people bring their children to show them? For her, her child is equally dear. Look how young that child is.’ So saying, Bhagavan turned towards her, and said in an endearing tone, ‘Hullo! So you have brought your child? That is good!’ And, giving her a plantain, he sent her away.”108
Sri Ramana felt a deep admiration for the monkey tribes and was convinced that tapas was not unknown to them. Once he said, “I have known something about their organisation, their kings, laws, regulations. Everything is so perfect and well-organised. So much intelligence behind it all. I even know that tapas is not unknown to monkeys. A monkey whom we used to call ‘Mottaipaiyan’ was once oppressed and ill-treated by a gang. He went away into the forest for a few days, did tapas, acquired strength and returned. When he came and sat on a bough and shook it, all the rest of the monkeys, who had previously ill-treated him and of whom he was previously mortally afraid, were now quaking before him. Yes, I am clear that tapas is well known to monkeys.”109
On festival days monkeys were always looked after and were given a special meal from the festival offerings.
108 Nagamma: Letters, p. 262
109 Mudaliar: Day by Day, pp. 138ff