And now back to Bhagavan. In the late 1890s Bhagavan was still spending much of his time in samadhi. This meant that he was exposed to possible mistreatment from visitors if no one was there to protect him. If Palaniswami was absent the priest who looked after the Pavalakundru Temple would often lock Bhagavan inside after completing his puja. Sometimes Bhagavan was locked inside a tiny cell that was so small, he would have had to squat there in order to fit into the tiny space. Here is a photo of the space that was taken about thirty-five years ago when it still existed.

The tiny cell that Bhagavan was locked away in when Palinaswami and the temple priest had to leave the temple precincts.

 

Kunju Swami told a story in the Ramana Pictorial Souvenir that a devotee of another Guru once asked him why he thought Bhagavan was so great. Thinking that no descriptions of his teachings or his powerful presence would suffice, he took the man to this 'room' and told him to squat inside while he closed and locked the outer door. After five minutes the man emerged bathed in sweat. Kunju Swami told him that Bhagavan had spent weeks locked in this tiny space, without apparent discomfort. This practical demonstation was enough to convince the visitor of Bhagavan's greatness.

 

The empty can and the brick should give some idea of just how small this space was.

I am not sure why Bhagavan had to be locked in this cupboard when no one else was there. The temple itself seems quite spacious, and I am sure there were more comfortable places to stay. Perhaps, if there was nowhere else with a locked door, it was done to protect Bhagavan from people who might have pestered him if he had been sitting in a more accessible location.

Pavalakundru is, of course, the place where Bhagavan’s mother was reunited with her son towards the end of 1898. Annamalai Swami has recounted an entertaining story from this era that involved this small locked room and Azhagammal, Bhagavan’s mother. Bhagavan once told Annamalai Swami that he had only deliberately lied three times since he left home. A prank he played on his mother was one such occasion:

 

While Bhagavan was sitting inside the Pavalakundru temple, apparently in some kind of samadhi state, his mother decided to go to town. Before she left she decided to lock Bhagavan inside the temple so that no one would be able to disturb or harm him. Bhagavan was not really in samadhi, he was just sitting with his eyes closed. As soon as his mother left, he put his arm through a hole in the door, released the bolt, and let himself out. Having gained his freedom in this way he bolted the door again. When his mother returned she was shocked to see him sitting outside the bolted door. Bhagavan could see that she thought that he had acquired some special siddhi [power] which enabled him to pass through solid matter. As a joke he confirmed her suspicions.

 

When she asked, ‘How did you get out?’ he looked very solemn and replied, ‘Through the akasa [space or ether]’.

Two views of Palakottu taken around 1980. This is how it looked when I first went there in the late 1970s.

David Godman Books

 

Books by David Godman on Ramana Maharshi, his devotees and his teachings