At Skandashram Sri Bhagavan’s mother would get up at 4 a.m. and start reciting devotional hymns. The rest of us would all meditate except for Sri Bhagavan who, after waking at about 3 a.m., would lie half-reclining on his bed. This was the same position he slept in at night. None of us ever saw Sri Bhagavan lying on his bed fully stretched out on his back or his side. Nor did we ever see him with a pillow under his head. He never used to lie down and sleep in a bed like other people. Instead, he would sleep sitting down, in a semi-reclining position, with a few pillows supporting his back. Sometimes he would support his head with his hand while he was sleeping.
My favourite account of life at Skandashram comes from Kunju Swami. The version I am giving here comes from The Power of the Presence, part two, chapter one.
This poor-quality old print has a very young-looking Kunju Swami sitting second from the left on the front row. The second row, left to right comprises Dandapani Swami, Bhagavan, Chinnaswami and Iswara Swami. The identities of the other people featured are not known.
At 5 o’clock Sri Bhagavan would go out for about half an hour. During that time we would start reciting Aksharamanamalai and complete it by 6 o’clock. Then Sri Bhagavan, who had returned by then, would go out for his morning bath. We would also bathe at around the same time.
The frugal way in which Sri Bhagavan used oil, soap and water during his morning bath astonished us all. Although he could have had anything he wanted merely by asking, by remaining without possessions Sri Bhagavan taught us the virtue of frugality. His morning bath routine exemplified this in every way.
Both Sri Bhagavan and the devotees cleaned their teeth with tooth powder that was prepared in the ashram. It was kept in small, folded paper packets, with each packet containing a day’s requirement for one person. If on any particular day Sri Bhagavan found the tooth powder in his packet to be in excess, he would rewrap it in the same paper and give it back to us. We were expected to keep it carefully and return in to him for his use on the following morning. If we failed to give it to him, he would reprimand us for our carelessness and our lack of thriftiness.
Both at Skandashram and for a few years at Sri Ramanasramam Sri Bhagavan used panchakalpam [a herbal concoction made from five different ingredients] for his bath. Later on we used to extract the milky juice from ripe coconut kernels and make an oil by boiling it. We would then add pepper and tumbi flowers and decant the mixture into bottles. Sri Bhagavan used this oil, which was very fragrant and clear, each day when he had a bath. He would take a little of the oil on his palm and rub it on his head while we were getting the hot water ready in the bathroom. Sri Bhagavan would then put a little hot water on his head, mix it with the oil he had put there and apply the resultant oily liquid to his body. Because he did this several times during his bath, the little oil he took at the beginning would be sufficient to cover his entire body. After he had oiled himself in this way, he would pour small quantities of hot water over his body, put a little bath soap in his hand and rub it over his body. In bathing this way he got the maximum benefit from the minimum of materials.
On the eastern side of Skandashram, at the place where the parapet wall is now located, there used to be a large stone slab. We used to put tooth powder and water there so that Sri Bhagavan could clean his teeth after the completion of the recitation of Aksharamanamalai. Even on very misty and cold mornings Sri Bhagavan insisted on brushing his teeth only on that particular stone. At that early hour Sri Bhagavan’s body shone like gold in the morning sunlight. On very cold mornings devotees used to request him not to sit outside while he brushed his teeth, but Sri Bhagavan ignored their repeated requests. It was only later that we came to know the reason why.
Bhagavan reclining on his sofa at Skandashram. This is a wonderful photo that is somewhat spoiled by the slightly damaged surface of the original print. A friend of mine is working to make a better copy in Photoshop which will have all these marks removed. When that new version becomes available, I will upload it here.
Bhagavan sitting on the parapet wall at Skandashram. This is the clearest of all the images of Bhagavan that date from this period. Kunju Swami's account continues on the next page.
David Godman Books
Books by David Godman on Ramana Maharshi, his devotees and his teachings