About two years after I came to Sri Bhagavan his mother became bedridden on account of repeated attacks of diarrhoea. Since she was unable to do any of her usual chores, her saris were cleaned and washed by Niranjanananda Swami, her son. When I saw him toiling alone, I too cleaned and washed her clothes and thus had the great good fortune of rendering service to her. Although she received treatment, her condition did not improve. Instead it steadily deteriorated. On the morning of May 19th, 1922, a day that turned out to be the last day of her life, it was clear that she was suffering greatly. She spent the day lying in the room that is located on the southern side of the place where Sri Bhagavan stayed.
After returning from his morning walk Sri Bhagavan went to the room where his mother was lying, sat by her side and stayed there throughout the day. When evening came, she was panting for breath. Sri Bhagavan, seeing the intensity of her suffering, placed his right hand on her chest, an action that gave her a little relief. Her moment of liberation was fast approaching. Sri Bhagavan continued to sit quietly with one hand on her head and the other on her chest. The other people in the ashram, seeing her condition, felt that it would be good to finish dinner early, by 6 p.m. They put out the leaf plates and called to Sri Bhagavan to come and take his dinner. Sri Bhagavan replied that he would eat later and then asked all the others to go ahead and eat. Niranjanananda Swami and Ramakrishna Swami and I stayed with Sri Bhagavan while the rest went and had their food.
Kavyakantha Ganapati Muni was there, sitting on one side of the ashram. After the meal was over, Raju Sastry, Sundaresa Iyer, Vaidyaratha Sastry and a few others started doing a Veda parayana. Simultaneously, Saranagati Ramaswami Iyer, a Punjabi devotee, and many others were loudly chanting the name of Rama. Those of us who stayed near Sri Bhagavan recited Aksharamanamalai.
I am returning now to Kunju Swami's account of life at Skandashram. In the next passage he describes the final hours of Azhagammal, Bhagavan's mother, and narrates how Bhagavan liberated her at the moment of her physical death.
Mother Azhagammal, the meritorious person who begot Sri Bhagavan, was absorbed into the Self at 8 p.m. that evening. Sri Bhagavan sat there in silence for some time before getting up. After he had moved, we covered her body with a new ochre sari, applied vibhuti to her forehead, garlanded her and placed her on a seat on the outer veranda.
When these preliminary ceremonies were over, Sri Bhagavan said, ‘Now we can eat,’ and sat under a tree to take his food.
How can there be pollution or sorrow for a perfect jnani who has renounced everything?
Those of us who had remained with Sri Bhagavan also sat down to eat. Afterwards we discussed the construction of a samadhi for Sri Bhagavan’s mother. As the hill was revered as a lingam, it would not have been proper to perform the cremation or the burial on the hill. Furthermore, since it would have been difficult for devotees to come all the way up the hill, it was decided to take the body to the foot of the hill at 5 a.m. the next day. Nayana and some of the others then went down the hill after first arranging to be at Pali Tirtham by 5 a.m. During the night Perumal Swami, Ramakrishna Swami and a few others went down to the town to collect the necessary materials – cement, stone slabs etc. – for the construction of the samadhi.
During the night Sri Bhagavan sat near the place where we had put the Mother’s body. Brahmachari Arunachala Swami and I sat with him. Brahmachari Arunachala Swami had originally been a cook in the big temple in town before he renounced the world and became a devotee of Sri Bhagavan. Sri Bhagavan then announced that the Tiruvachakam should be chanted. Sri Bhagavan and the devotees took it in turn to read from the book. While we were reading Sri Bhagavan corrected all the mistakes in our pronunciation as and when we made them. In this way we went through the entire Tiruvachakam before 4 a.m. By then the people who had gone to collect the materials for the samadhi construction had come back. The bamboo poles that would be necessary for carrying the Mother’s body had been obtained serendipitously about four days before. Ramaswami Pillai and I had gone to the top of the hill. Someone who had cut and taken bamboo from there had in the process left a few large pieces, so we brought them down, but with no particular purpose in mind. Now these bamboo poles came in handy.
Above: Bhagavan and Ganapati Muni, standing together in the back courtyard of Skandashram. The pitched roof behind Ganapati Muni in the left-hand photo is the ashram kitchen where Azhagammal and othern devotees prepared food for devotees.
Below: On the left is an early photo of Ramakrishna Swami, taken when Bhagavan was livng at Skandashram. On the right, on the left of the photo, is T. K. Sundaresa Iyer, who joined Ganapati Muni and his devotees in a vedic chant during the final hours of Azhagammal's life. This is a later photo. The boy in the foreground is Sundaram (born 1934) the current President of Sri Ramanasramam.
Kunju Swami is standing on the right, and next to him is Ramaswami PIllai, who did a lot of the heavy lifting when the Mother was brought down the hill. Over the succeeding months he was also responsible for clearing much of the land that later became Ramanasramam. Several decades later he supervised the construction of the first substantial paved pathway to Skandashram from Ramanasramam. Two other devotees in this 1930 photo were present when Azhagammal passed away: Chinnaswami (bottom right) and Ramanatha Brahmachari (standing, second left). Annamalai Swami is standing on the left end of the back row, and below him, sitting on the ground, is T. P. Ramachandra Iyer, the ashram's lawyer and one of Bhagavan's attendants. One of T. P. Ramachandra Iyer's stories will feature on the next page.
Azhagammal was buried in the place where the Mother's Temple now stands in Ramanasramam. Before she was finally interred, there were funeral rites and processions at both Pali Tirtham (bottom right) and Palakottu (bottom left). The original Ganesh Temple of Palakottu, which was later occupied by both Ganapati Muni and Viswanatha Swami, can be seen in the top right of that photo.
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