Ramana was absorbed in deep samadhi most of the time unaware of his body, which he neglected, completely disregarding his outward appearance. He was filthy, his hair had grown very long and had become a dishevelled and matted mass and his fingernails had grown so long and crooked, that he was unable to use his hands for any useful purpose. Neither Tambiran nor Uddandi did anything about this and he himself felt no need to change his bodily condition. Only later, when Palaniswami took care of him, did the daily bath become a routine.
Once, however, he was forced to bathe and on another occasion to have a shave, “Even so, a lady, by name Minakshi, who used now and then to bring food to give me, one day brought a large pot and began to boil water. I thought it was for some use for herself, but, taking from a basket some oil, soapnut, etc., she said, ‘Swami, please come’. I did not move. But would she keep quiet! She pulled me by the arm, made me sit, smeared the oil all over my body and bathed me. The hair on the head which had got matted for want of care, was now spread out and hung down like the mane of a lion. … Shaving was also like that. The shave I had on the day I came here has been recorded; the second was after a year and a half. The hair had got matted and woven like a basket. Small stones and dust had settled down in it and the head used to feel heavy. I had also long nails, and a frightful appearance. So people pressed me to have a shave, and I yielded. When my head was shaven clean, I began to wonder whether I had a head or not, it felt so light. I shook my head this way and that to assure myself that it was there. That showed the amount of burden I had been carrying on my head.”20
About an unsuccessful attempt to shave him, when he was still living at the Subrahmanya-shrine, he reported, “One Nilakanta Iyer … used to come there frequently. One day, he came prepared for the purpose. Thinking that he had come as usual, I kept my eyes closed. Without saying a word to me, he stood some way off opposite me. I heard a ‘tip, tup’ behind me, so opened my eyes. I saw a barber sharpening his razor. I left the spot immediately without saying a word. Poor man, he realized that I was not willing to be shaved and so had gone off.”21
The place where Ramana sat was infested with ants, but he took no notice of them as they crawled over his body and bit him incessantly. After a while his devotees sat him on a stool against the wall. To keep the ants away they placed the legs of the stool in jugs of water, but to no avail, as the ants merely ran up the wall and bit his back. To this day the imprint of his back can be seen where he sat leaning against the wall.
Nor did Ramana react to outer events or threats. Once thieves came into the garden at Gurumurtam to steal tamarinds. When they noticed the young Swami sitting under one of the trees and not paying the least attention to them, one of them said to the others that he would trickle the caustic juice of a plant into his eyes to see if that would make him react. But Ramana remained unmoved. Finally they gave up their plans and vanished with the fruits of their labour.
Day by day Sri Ramana’s fame grew. People flocked to admire this extreme example of self-denial. Some said, “This Swami must be very old”, and pointed to his long fingernails. They thought that he had used yoga to keep his body young, but that, as his nails had grown so long, he must actually be very old. Others were convinced that with so much saintliness he could fulfil all their wishes for prosperity, health, children and, of course, salvation from the cycle of rebirth. They therefore laid offerings at his feet and sang his praises. The result of all this was increasing disturbance for him, so that eventually a bamboo fence was constructed around him for his protection.
During the first two months spent in Gurumurtam, Tambiram used to give him some of the food which had been offered at the Gurumurtam shrine. But then Tambiran went away, after first asking Uddandi to look after the Swami. He promised to be back in a week but, in fact, only returned a year later. Some weeks after he left, Uddandi also had to return to his own math. So suddenly no one was there to care for Ramana. But, as a result of his increasing fame, food was always brought to him. After the departures of both Tambiran and Uddandi the only problem was that there was no-one there to keep the crowds away. This problem was finally solved when Palaniswami joined him.