Ramanatha Brahmachari was a great believer in service, not merely to the Guru but also to the Guru’s devotees. He helped with the kitchen work at Skandashram, and when Bhagavan moved to Ramanasramam, at the foot of the hill, he continued to make himself available to all devotees who required assistance.
Sri V. Ganesan has described some of his activities in the early years at the foot of the hill:
After Mother’s samadhi Bhagavan moved to the present ashram. Ramanatha Brahmachari continued his services. He would surprise everyone with the tireless energy that lay in his tiny frame. Of his own accord he would clean the premises and do all sorts of odd jobs for the residents. His self-appointed task was to wait for the arrival of the 8.30 evening train and keep the food warm after he and others had taken dinner. If any visitors arrived, he would feed them lovingly, and then provide each with a small log to serve as a pillow and a leaf mat to sleep on. His dedication to service had to be seen to be believed. He would get up even in the midst of sound sleep if someone nearby murmured a requirement of hot water at night…
He was in the habit of liberally using the word 'Andavane' [meaning Lord] while talking. He would even call others ‘Andavane’. Thus people started addressing him as ‘Andavane’.
He spun the charka [spinning wheel] regularly. Yes, Ramanatha Brahmachari was a staunch Gandhian! Once he took a dhoti woven from his yarn, met Mahatma Gandhi and presented it to him. When he returned he related all this with a broad smile to those in the ashram. He also started a parallel twenty-one-day fast along with the Mahatma, but was dissuaded by Kunju Swami and others from continuing after three days.
It was a strange sight to see Andavane returning from town every day. In his right hand he would clutch a tattered umbrella, while his left hand would be holding a vessel containing food. Sometimes he would also carry a thermos flask (a luxury enjoyed only by the aristocracy in those days) containing hot coffee for Bhagavan. It was sent by an ardent devotee in town. That was not all. As he was not in the habit of using a bag, he would fold his dhoti at the knees and stuff into its rear and sides vegetables brought from the market. With the dhoti bulging and drooping at the knees, he would waddle forward, slowly raising each foot. And with each slender foot would rise a relic of a sandal, gargantuan in thickness, with several layers of patchwork. Andavane’s reluctance to part with his archaic pair of sandals often provoked teasing but he would fondly cling to them.
When the calf Lakshmi was brought to Bhagavan in 1926, along with her mother, by Arunachalam Pillai, Sri Bhagavan tried to dissuade Pillai from leaving the pair in the ashram as there was no one to take care of them.
At the crucial moment it was Ramanatha Brahmachari who declared without hesitation, ‘I will look after them!’
For three months he tended to their needs, after which someone in the town came forward to keep them on behalf of the ashram. Ramanatha therefore played an important part in cow Lakshmi attaching herself to Bhagavan.
In the late 1980s I spoke to Annamalai Swami about Ramanatha Brahmachari since they had been neighbours together in Palakottu for several years. This is what he said:
Ramanatha Brahmachari first came to Bhagavan in the days when Bhagavan was living in Virupaksha Cave. He had a very distinctive appearance because he was very short, wore thick glasses, and always covered his body with a large amount of vibhuti. In the Virupaksha Cave days he used to go for bhiksha in town. He would bring whatever food he had managed to beg to Virupaksha Cave, serve it to Bhagavan, and afterwards eat whatever remained.
One day, as he was bringing some food to Bhagavan, he met his father on the hill. He found him sitting outside Guhai Namasivaya Temple about halfway between the town and Virupaksha Cave. His father said that he was very hungry and asked for some of the food that his son had begged.
Ramanatha Brahmachari, thinking that it would be improper and disrespectful to feed anyone, even his own father, before Bhagavan had received his share, told his father, ‘Come with me to Bhagavan. We can share the food there.’
His father, who had no interest in Bhagavan, refused to come. He asked his son to give him some food and then leave, but Ramanatha Brahmachari refused.
Bhagavan had been observing all this from Virupaksha Cave. When Ramanatha Brahmachari finally arrived there, Bhagavan told him, ‘I will not take any of your food unless you first serve your father’.
Ramanatha Brahmachari went back to Guhai Namasivaya Temple, but instead of following Bhagavan’s instructions he again asked his father to come and eat with Bhagavan at Virupaksha Cave. When his father, for the second time, refused to come, Ramanatha Brahmachari went back to Virupaksha Cave without giving him any food.
Bhagavan told him, this time more firmly, ‘I will only eat if you feed your father first. Go and feed him.’
Ramanatha Brahmachari (front, left and smeared with vibhuti) in a group photo at Virupaksha Cave.
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Books by David Godman on Ramana Maharshi, his devotees and his teachings