Once Bhagavan had settled in Ramanasramam, his visits to Skandashram tailed off until they completely stopped. There was a period from the mid-1920s to the mid-1940s when he didn't go there at all. However, one incident, recorded by T. P. Ramachandra Iyer, compelled him to return. The story is taken from The Power of the Presence, part two.
An incident that took place during the construction of this temple [the Mother's Temple at Ramanasramam] once precipitated an astonishing show of grace from Sri Bhagavan. It clearly showed how Sri Bhagavan is aware of all our thoughts and it also shows how he can respond to our prayers if our devotion and faith are strong enough.
In 1945 Bhagavan either dislocated his big toe or severely sprained it. The ashram doctor recommended that Bhagavan restrict his movements for one month. He was advised only to walk between the dining room, the hall and his bathroom. Towards the end of that period, Venkatarama Iyer and I went up to him and greeted him as he was leaving the dining room. When Bhagavan asked what we had come for, we asked for his permission to go to Skandashram.
‘All right,’ he said, ‘you can go.’ Then, turning towards Rangaswami, his attendant, he asked with wistful eagerness, ‘Shall we also go?’
Rangaswami was horrified. The sun was at its hottest and Bhagavan’s toe had not yet fully healed.
‘How can you do it, Swami?’ he asked. ‘You are not yet cured and you are still very weak.’
Bhagavan looked at us like a helpless child and asked, ‘Won’t you take us along with you?’
‘Bhagavan,’ I answered, ‘if you want to accompany us, who could deny himself such a pleasure? But what about your physical condition? How can you possibly come?’
‘It seems that they will not take me,’ said Bhagavan regretfully to Rangaswami.
Venkatarama Iyer and I began to climb the hill towards Skandashram. When we looked behind us we saw that Rangaswami and Bhagavan were also coming up the hill.
Rangaswami called out to us, ‘Don’t worry, we are not coming with you!’
Bhagavan usually went up the hill every day, but while his toe was healing his doctors had forbidden him to walk further than the ashram dining room. When I saw Bhagavan coming towards us, I assumed that he had decided to resume his daily walk on the lower slopes of the hill.
We accompanied Bhagavan and Rangaswami for some time, but when we left them in order to continue our walk to Skandashram, Rangaswami ran up to us and said, ‘After Bhagavan goes back to the hill to rest, I shall come with you. Please don’t go any further. Stay somewhere near here and wait for me.’
We climbed a short distance up the hill and sat there in a shady place. An hour passed but Rangaswami did not arrive. Eventually we saw a man coming up. As he approached us we saw that he was the Skandashram watchman and that he was carrying food for a sadhu who lived there. As he passed us we asked him whether anyone else was climbing the hill.
He said ‘No’ in a somewhat uncertain tone, so we stopped him and asked him again. After some hesitation he said in a whisper that Bhagavan was coming up the hill, accompanied by Rangaswami.
There were two devotees called 'Venkataram Iyer'. The earlier one appears on the bottom left of this group photo, sitting next to Ganapati Muni. I think it is more likely to be the second one, who features in the next group photo, since that man was a childhood friend of Bhagavan. He appears second from the right in the middle standing row. Arunachala Swami (standing between Venkatarama Iyer and Ganapati Muni in the photo above) was one of the devotees who sat with Kunju Swami and Bhagavan on the night Azhagammal passed away and chanted the Tiruvachagam from beginning to end.
Bhagavan in that hot sun! I asked Venkatarama Iyer to sit there while I ran down to meet them. When I found them I saw that Bhagavan was tired and that he was also sweating profusely in the hot sun. He was crawling slowly over the stones, and the sharp edges of the pebbles were rupturing the skin on his palms and feet. In his month of inactivity Bhagavan had lost the habit of walking, so much so that he was finding it extremely difficult to climb the hill. His big toe had not yet healed properly, but even so he did not agree when we proposed to take him down the hill. Since he was determined to carry on, Rangaswami and I caught hold of him on either side and helped him to climb the hill. After a long struggle we reached Skandashram at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. By then Bhagavan was utterly exhausted. He lay down on a stone slab gasping for breath.
An ashram worker who was whitewashing and cleaning Skandashram came, prostrated before Bhagavan and said, ‘What a fortunate day for me! The all-merciful Bhagavan came up the hill all this way to give me darshan.’
I thought that Bhagavan would recover if we gave him something to drink, but what was available in such an isolated place?
The man said that he would go down the hill and bring something but Bhagavan stopped him and asked, ‘Is there no porridge in your bowl?’
The man went and saw that there was nothing left in his bowl except a few dried pieces that were sticking to the sides. He had drunk the remainder earlier that day. We wet the sides of the pot, mixed the dried porridge with water and gave the resulting liquid to Bhagavan. It revived him and he soon recovered.
Down the hill in the ashram the doors of Bhagavan’s hall were opened at 3 o’clock. When it was discovered that Bhagavan was not there, people ran in all directions looking for him. One of them came to Skandashram, arriving just as Bhagavan was narrating to us the story of how he used to beg for his food in town.
‘In those days,’ he said, ‘I used to walk without even a bowl in my hand. If anyone gave me anything, I used to take it in my hands, eat or drink it, and then clean my hands with my hair and walk away. There was not a single street in which I did not wander and beg.’
‘Did everyone give food?’ I asked.
‘Some used to keep food and wait for me. Others used to give if anything was left over. Some people used to scold me, saying, “You are very strong; why don’t you work?” These people used to chase me away.’
‘Did you not feel bad when you were treated like this?’ I asked.
‘Why should I?’ he replied. ‘I used to go away with a smile.’
The man who had come up looking for us went back down the hill to inform those in the ashram that he had found Bhagavan. The man who was whitewashing left temporarily. He went down the hill and came back with some puffed rice and dhal for us to eat. Seeing Bhagavan had obviously made him very happy.
Bhagavan turned to him and said, ‘I came for you. Your prayer brought me here.’
I was astonished that Bhagavan had gone to so much trouble in the heat of the day merely to answer a prayer.
‘What was his prayer?’ I asked.
‘Don’t you know?’ enquired Bhagavan.
When it became clear that we did not, he narrated the whole story.
A hall was being built for Bhagavan in front of Mother’s Temple. Four days previously the ashram priests had decided to do a puja to bless and sanctify four pillars that had recently been erected there. On that day, with the doctor’s consent, the temple architect had taken Bhagavan and had made him sit before the pillars. A big crowd collected there to watch. Our hero, the whitewashing man, was also in the crowd.
After the puja, when Bhagavan was going away, it seems that he thought, ‘Those who build this temple are important people, so Bhagavan came to see their work. How will Bhagavan see my work and devotion in Skandashram? It is a long distance for him to walk. Why should he come now?’
After narrating this story Bhagavan answered his prayer by inspecting his work.
A little later he came back and said to us, ‘A message will soon come from the ashram asking me to come back. Let us ignore it. We can spend the night here. At 1 a.m., after the moon has risen, we can slowly go down to the town, see the newly whitewashed temple gopuram in moonlight, and then go back to the ashram without making much noise.’
Bhagavan spoke like an absconding school child involved in a great conspiracy.
What else do we want except to be with him? However, the plan was not carried out because as soon as it became known that Bhagavan was on the hill, all the people in the ashram came up to see him. At six o’clock a big crowd had assembled. We were very disappointed that our overnight programme could not be carried out, but in a last attempt to salvage it, we asked all the devotees to go down to Ramanasramam. None of them moved.
‘It is getting dark,’ I said. ‘There are some snakes here. So please go back to the ashram.’
‘When our lamp [Bhagavan] is here, where is the darkness for us?’ said Mudaliar’s wife Rukmini Amma.
I tried to frighten the devotees with stories of tigers and wolves. I tried to tell them that being stranded on the hill in total darkness with no food would be dangerous, but no one was inclined to believe me. Or if they did, they were prepared to risk all the dangers so long as Bhagavan was with them.
Bhagavan knew that it was pointless to argue any more. He got up and we went down via the eastern slope of the hill. We reached the ashram at about 9 p.m. that night.
Left: T. P. Ramachandra Iyer is standing nearest the camera on the left. Rangaswami, Bhagavan's attendant, is in the centre, with Bhagavan on the right. The three of them appear to be half way up the path to Skandashram. Since this story is about a trip the three of them took to Skandashram, it is possible that this photo was taken on that day. Bhagavan, though, does look a lot healthier than the description in Ramachandra Iyer's story, so it might be another occasion.
Right: Bhagavan and T. P. Ramachandra Iyer walking together on the hill.
These two photos were taken about forty years ago. This is more or less how Skandashram would have looked when Bhagavan visited it to answer the unspoken prayer of the ashram worker.
Bhagavan’s visit to Skandashram took place on 27th September, 1945. Devaraja Mudaliar’s description of the visit, taken from Day by Day with Bhagavan, reveals what a unique event it was:
Bhagavan suddenly seems to have felt like visiting Skandashram where for about a week now repairs are being done; and so without notice to anybody, after the midday meal, Bhagavan, on his usual after-lunch stroll, wended his way towards Skandashram, followed by attendant Rangaswami. Few knew about this till about 3.30 p.m. But after 3.30 the news gradually spread and almost all the devotees went up to Skandashram and found Bhagavan seated on the terraced platform in front, which overlooks the temple and town. We found Bhagavan in very good spirits and relating various events and incidents that happened during his stay there previous to his coming to Ramanasramam. Bhagavan had a mind even to continue stopping there and to spend the night there. But all the devotees had thronged there and none looked likely to move till Bhagavan moved. So at about 5.30 p.m. Bhagavan started, looked at the various parts of the ashram, telling us where he used to sleep, where he used to sit, where they cooked, where the old tap was, and so on, and then got down by the steps. On the way he visited Virupaksha Cave and explained about his life there also….
It is a marvel that Bhagavan did this trip all on foot in this way, the more so because his left big toe had become either dislocated or badly sprained on 26th August and as a result thereof [he] is still having some pain there.
Since Bhagavan left Skandashram [in 1922], he had gone there two or three times within about a year or two after his settling down here. But after that, i.e. for nearly twenty-two years now, he has never gone there till today.
David Godman Books
Books by David Godman on Ramana Maharshi, his devotees and his teachings