Ramana Maharshi moved from Virupaksha Cave to Skandashram around 1915 and remained there until 1922. Kunju Swami, who is seated on the extreme right of the photo at the top of this page, has described the circumstances under which the move took place:
There was a black rock situated further up the hill from Virupaksha Cave. One day, when Sri Bhagavan was still living in Virupaksha Cave, he went up there and found a moist area beneath this rock. He poked the spot with his walking stick and soon afterwards a small quantity of water oozed out. He told Jada Swami, who had accompanied him, that there might be a spring beneath the rock. In order to verify Sri Bhagavan’s surmise as soon as possible, Jada Swami fetched some people and began to excavate there with a crowbar. A spring of clear water was soon discovered and a small pit was dug below it. Subsequently, whenever Sri Bhagavan happened to go to that place, he would bring water from there in his kamandalu [water pot] and use it at Virupaksha Cave. This newly found spring did not dry up even during the summer months.
This spring eventually become the water source for Skandashram. The development of that ashram began with the arrival of Kandaswami, a devotee from Konganada, now located in Coimbatore District. He was one of the devotees who regularly visited Sri Bhagavan in Virupaksha Cave. In those days there was no water facility near the cave, nor was there enough room for cooking or for seating the many devotees who came to Sri Bhagavan. With the idea of overcoming these drawbacks, Kandaswami removed the stones and the thorny shrubs that surrounded the black-rock spring. He levelled the surrounding area and prepared a plot of land that was big enough to accommodate a large building. Next, he raised a wall of granite on its eastern slope as a containing wall for a flat, level terrace. He filled up the space behind the wall and on the resultant plot he planted coconut, mango and jack fruit trees. He also raised a flower garden there. Then, with great effort and with the help of Perumal Swami, he first built the present brick building and then persuaded Sri Bhagavan to come and live in it.
After staying there with Sri Bhagavan for some time, Kandaswami went back to his home town. Surprisingly, he never came back to Tiruvannamalai and no one ever heard from him again. Since Kandaswami had played the major part in the development of the now famous Skandashram, in memory of his unparalleled effort, Sri Bhagavan named it after him.
Another, slightly different account, has been given by Sivaprakasam Pillai, the devotee who recorded the teachings that were eventually published as Who am I?
In those days there was a small thatched building a few hundred feet above Virupaksha Cave. A devotee called Kandaswami used to live there. He had planted and grown several mango, coconut, and banana trees near his hut. Nearby was a rocky spring that the Maharshi occasionally used to bathe in. Whenever Maharshi went to take his bath there, he would stay for about two hours. It occurred to me that it would be good to have at least a larger thatched shed there as it would prove convenient for these brief stays of the Maharshi. I told Kandaswami about my idea. He agreed to build it and asked me for some financial assistance for the project. I gave him Rs 25. However, before he had a chance to complete the building, he left Tiruvannamalai and never returned.
When Kandaswami left Tiruvannamalai, he gave the money collected for building the shed to Narayana Reddy. Perumal Swami, who was a friend of Kandaswami’s, obtained this money from Narayana Reddy, collected some more funds and put up a shed with a galvanised iron roof at a cost of Rs 100. A few months later he dismantled this shed and constructed a stone building that was mortared with lime. I donated Rs 50 towards the cost of this building. Other devotees, including the people at Isanya Math, also donated towards the cost. The building became known as Skandashram since Kandaswami had done most of the development work on the site.
Bhagavan at Skandashram
Ramana Maharshi sitting in the kitchen courtyard of Skandashram sometime between 1920 and 1922.
Most of the photos that appear in this presentation have come from the Sri Ramanasramam archives. I should like to thank the President of Sri Ramanasramam for permitting me to use them and John Maynard from the archives for helping me to locate some of the more obscure ones.
The group photo features many of the devotees who were associated with the beginnings of Skandashram. Standing at the back are (left to right) Perumal Swami and Kandaswami. There is a clearer photo of Perumal Swami on the right, but this rather murky group photo contains the only known image of Kandaswami. The photo and its caption, reproduced above, first appeared in Narasimhaswami's biography, Self Realisation, in 1930.
Sivaprakasam Pillai, the narrator of the last story, is sitting on the front row on the right. Narayana Reddy, who collected money for the construction of Skandashram, is the devotee on the left of Bhagavan's mother, at a slightly lower level than her. Bhagavan's long-time attendant Palaniswami is seated on the other side of Bhagavan's mother. Since Palaniswami passed away in 1915, the date on the photo is wrong. Bhagavan's mother moved into Virupaksha Cave in 1914 and Palaniswami passed away the following year. The photo must therefore date from the intervening period.
Bhagavan at Skandashram
David Godman Books
Books by David Godman on Ramana Maharshi, his devotees and his teachings