1. Exit of the area of Virupaksha Cave
There was no cooking in the Virupaksha Cave. Visitors used to bring milk, fruits, cake and other food. Gradually more followers came to live with Ramana and Palaniswami. Any food donated was always evenly distributed. But as it was not possible to rely on sufficient food for all being brought by visitors, Palaniswami and other devotees would go down to the town to beg for additional food. Then Ramana would mix up all the food donated, make a mash by pouring hot water over it and gave each one a glassful. Often there was not even any salt to flavour it, but Ramana thought it better to be without than to beg anyone for it, “If once we begin to ask for salt, we would feel like asking for dhal, and when we ask for dhal, we would feel like asking for payasam and so on. So we felt that we should not ask for anything, and swallowed the gruel as it was. We used to feel extremely happy over such diet.”35
Devotees asked Sri Ramana, to compose a hymn to sing during the regular begging tours in town. So the famous 'Akshara Mana Malai (‘The Marital Garland of Letters’, which is contained in ‘The Collected Works’) came into being. It is a deeply spiritual and heartmoving hymn in praise of the much loved hill Arunachala, which the devotees now sang on their begging tours. Ramana remarked humorously, “’Marital Garland of Letters’ fed us for many years.”
The begging mission to town followed a fix course. At least four of Ramana’s devotees started on their way, announcing their arrival to the inhabitants by blowing their conches. They then went through the streets singing and collecting what was given to them.
As for kitchenware there was only one earthen pot, later there was an aluminium pot, then one of brass. The pots grew in number. When Ramana’s mother joined the community in 1916 she instigated regular housekeeping chores and regular cooking. But Ramana made it clear in several remarks that he preferred the simplicity of the years when they lived from hand to mouth.
Some days there was not enough of anything, on other days there was more than enough eatables. At times Ramana, so as not to disappoint anyone, ended up overeating. There is a wellknown story of how one day he planned a day of fasting and started off early in the morning to walk alone on the hill. There he met several women who competed with each other to serve him food. He had to eat all that they served him. Some hours later he met them again and again they forced him to eat. Then he lay down in a mantapam to sleep. In the evening he wanted to return to the Virupaksha Cave when a devotee met him, bringing him mangoes cooked in rasam. He ate this too. Jokingly he said, “It is like the story of the man who fled the town of mice and found himself in the land of tigers.”
Sometimes people would also send their carriages to pick him up for a meal. But he always refused, as he feared that if he accepted there would be no end to the invitations.
35 Nagamma: Letters, p. 85