Sonntag, 14. September 2008

9.2. Life at Skandashram

Skandashram today

At the Virupaksha Cave there was often not enough water or at times none at all. But further up the hill there was a waterfall under which the members of the community took their daily bath. Alagammal, however, was too old to climb up to the spring. Ramana told how he used to fetch the water for her ‘bath’ from this spring in two kamandalams, “I used to bring water in both of them, carrying one in each hand. She used to sit down wearing a small cloth and I used to pour the water over her head just as we do abhishikam over an idol. That is how she used to have her bath. … Someone used to wash her cloth and bring it back. That was all. If water was brought in those two kamandalams all her requirements used to be met.”49

Kandaswami, one of Sri Ramana’s disciples, eventually found this all too tiresome. Also, because of the growing number of disciples, the Virupaksha Cave was becoming crowded. He therefore decided to look for another place to stay, where they could live more comfortably and he thought that the best thing would be to settle down at the spring. Once Ramana had given his agreement, he started work, cleared away the undergrowth, cacti and trees, removed the rocks and started building the Ashram. He also planted a garden with coconut trees. Ramana named the new Ashram after him. Kanda is the Tamil name for Skanda, and so the new lodging was named ‘Skandashram’. It is one of the most enchanting places on the hill with an impressive view of the Arunachaleswara temple and the whole town.

More and more people were coming to Sri Ramana. Swami Thapovan Maharaj reports about his visit, “One midday I, a young brahmachari at that time, climbed to the cave, saw the Maharshi there and placing a bunch of bananas at his feet, bowed and sat before him. At the same moment some monkeys jumped on the scene, scrambled for the fruits and ran away with them. Maharshi looked lovingly into my face. That was all. He spoke but Silence; not a word passed between us. A supreme, a dynamic and divine Silence prevailed. An hour passed by, all in Silence. He rose for his bhiksha. I too rose from my seat, bowed again and walked down the hill. The divine Silence sank deeper and deeper into me at each step!”50

Viswanatha Swami, who became a lifelong disciple of Ramana, reported about his first visit to him, “My first darshan of Bhagavan Sri Ramana was in January 1921, at Skandasramam, which is on the eastern slope of Arunachala and looks like the very heart of the majestic hill. It is a beautiful quiet spot with a few coconut and other trees and a perennial crystal-clear spring. … His look and smile had remarkable spiritual charm. When he spoke, the words seemed to come out of an abyss. One could see immaculate purity and non-attachment in him and his movements. I sensed something very refined, lofty and sacred about him. In his vicinity the mind’s distractions were overpowered by an austere and potent calmness and the unique bliss of peace was directly experienced. This I would call ‘Ramana Lahari’, ‘the blissful atmosphere of Ramana’. In this ecstasy of grace one loses one’s sense of separate individuality and there remains something grand, all-pervading, all-devouring.”51

The daily routine at Skandashram was subject to strict regulation. At four o’clock in the morning Alagammal would rise and sing devotional songs, while the other community members meditated. Then Akshara Mana Malai (The Marital Garland of Letters) was recited. Afterwards Ramana took his bath. To brush his teeth he sat on a big stone slab on the eastern side of Skandashram. He continued to do this even when the weather was cool, nobody could make him give this up. Exactly why he did so was only discovered later. An old woman was in the habit of coming up daily for darshan. When her health would no longer allow her to climb up the hill, she could see Ramana from her house when he brushed his teeth at this place. He knew how important this was for her, so he always sat there, irrespective of the weather.

At eight there was rasam and rice for breakfast. After this the Ashram community sat outside. Some devotees read, others meditated. The atmosphere was very peaceful. Occasionally Ramana answered the questions of devotees and visitors. In the evening Akshara Mana Malai was recited again. Ramana would close his eyes and sink into meditation. Sometimes his meditation was so deep that great efforts were needed to bring him back to normal consciousness. Someone would then blow into a conch to wake him up.

Path from Skandashram down to Virupaksha Cave

When Alagammal moved into Skandashram, food was meagre and depended upon whatever visitors and devotees brought. Sometimes the food was delicious and there was more than enough for everybody, at other times there was much less and sometimes nothing at all.

Soon Alagammal started cooking regularly and took charge of running the household. She would wander about the hill and bring back things that she found there. She was an excellent and imaginative cook and liked to spoil the devotees with a variety of delicious dishes, using the ingredients she had somehow managed to find.

In 1918/1919 Tiruvannamalai was devastated by plague. It was at this time that Kunju Swami joined the Ashram, in a very bizarre manner. He became a close companion of Sri Ramana and remained at the Ashram after the death of Maharshi, where he himself died in 1992. Many episodes from Ramana’s life have been reported through him. When he came to Ramana, the town was deserted because of the plague and only a few people had remained at the Ashram. Annamalai Swami, who was attending Sri Ramana at that time (not to be confused with the other Annamalai Swami, who later directed the building work at Ramanashram) died because of it.

Ramanatha Brahmachari was also infected. One day Ramana and some devotees were going round the hill and decided to rest at Pachaiamman temple. One of them said, “We shall all remain here, since Ramanatha Brahmachari is afflicted with the plague. Arrangements can be made to send food to Skandashram.” When Ramana heard this, he was outraged, “What a wonderful idea! He came to me as a boy with complete faith in me. Is it proper for me to stay here leaving him alone there? If you are afraid of the plague, you may all stay here. I will go and stay with him. When you bring food to him, you can bring some to me also.”52 When they heard this, they all fell silent embarrassed. Ramanatha Brahmachari soon regained his health and no-one caught the plague from him.
49 Nagamma: Letters, p. 381
50 Swami Thapovan Maharaj: The Soul of Silence. In: The Mountain Path, 1986, p. 135
51 Natarajan: Timeless, pp. 173ff
52 Kunju Swami: Reminiscences, pp. 18ff

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