When ashram workers left to go on trips such as these they were expected to get permission from the ashram manager. In this particular case Chinnaswami refused to allow Ramanatha Brahmachari leave to join the protest. Since he was determined to contribute to this protest march, Ramanatha Brahmachari left without getting the requisite permission. When he returned, Chinnaswami refused to allow him to resume his work in the ashram. This meant that Ramanatha Brahmachari had to make alternative arrangements for his food and accommodation since only visiting devotees and full-time ashram workers were allowed to eat and sleep in the ashram.
Ramanatha Brahmachari’s relationship with Chinnaswami had already been strained by an incident that had taken place a few years earlier. Chinnaswami had asked Ramanatha Brahmachari to stop spinning thread, saying that it would damage his already weak eyesight. Ramanatha Brahmachari refused. Somehow, this seemingly innocuous conversation degenerated into a violent quarrel in which Chinnaswami started rolling the diminutive figure of Ramanatha Brahmachari along the ground. Kunju Swami intervened when it looked as if Chinnaswami was about to roll Ramanatha Brahmachari down some stone steps.
Chinnaswami, in an attempt to enforce his authority, shouted, ‘Do you know who I am?’
Ramanatha Brahmachari replied meekly, ‘If we knew that, we wouldn’t be in this quarrel’.
When Ramanatha Brahmachari spun cotton thread, some of his output was given to Mastan, a weaver-devotee of Bhagavan who lived in Desur, a village about forty miles from Tiruvannamalai. Mastan would use this thread to make the cloth that was used for Bhagavan’s kaupinas (loincloths), the only clothing he ever wore. Mastan also made towels for him out of the same thread.
The next account comes from Kunju Swami, who was one of Ramanatha Brahmachari’s neighbours in Palakottu in the 1930s and 40s.
One of the devotees who joined us in Palakottu was Ramanatha Brahmachari. He was the boy, mentioned earlier, whom Sri Bhagavan had looked after when the former had had bubonic plague. Ramanatha Brahmachari was a tireless worker, and in addition to being a devotee of Sri Bhagavan, he was also a follower of Mahatma Gandhi.
Of his own accord he would clean all our huts in Palakottu. In the evening he would prepare the wicks, pour oil and light the lamps. He was always looking for odd jobs to do.
In those days we were all quite young and thought we were great ascetics. We would not bother to sweep our rooms in Palakottu, or care to light the lamps. If there was no fuel, we might even skip our meals. But Ramanatha Brahmachari would take care of all these chores whether we asked him to or not.
Once, when we were all sitting in front of Sri Bhagavan, a letter was received from Ekanatha Rao. He had made enquiries about ‘the sarvadhikari of Palakottu’.
When Sri Bhagavan read that, he enquired, ‘Who is this? I don’t know anything about this.’
I got up and nervously pointed to Ramanatha Brahmachari. ‘We call him the sarvadhikari ['Supreme Ruler,'] of Palakottu. He buys our things, cleans our lamps, and sweeps our floors. So we call him the “Palakottu Sarvadhikari”.’
Sri Bhagavan said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me about this? With a sarvadhikari like this, everyone should be happy.’
Ramanatha Brahmachari got up very shyly and said, ‘I don’t know, Bhagavan. They gave me that name as a joke.’
‘What is funny about it?’ asked Sri Bhagavan. ‘It is a good name.’
Ramanatha Brahmachari was a simple man who had no time for spiritual or philosophical abstractions. He was content with his own experiences and with the service that he offered Bhagavan and his devotees. This is brought out in the following story.
Once, when Ramanatha Brahmachari was ill, T. S. Rajagopala Iyer took him to Madras for treatment. They stayed at the home of T. S. Rajagopala Iyer’s brother, who was a great Sanskrit pandit and a professor of Sanskrit in a well-known college. The professor gave them a lengthy discourse on spiritual matters, quoting profusely from various texts. Ramanatha Brahmachari initially listened calmly and patiently to the lecture, even though he could tell that the professor was saying many things that contradicted Bhagavan’s teachings.
Finally, when there was a small pause in the discourse, Ramanatha Brahmachari quoted part of verse thirty-five of Bhagavan’s Ulladu Narpadu Anubandham: ‘What is all this for? They are like a gramaphone. Tell me, Lord of Arunachala, what else are they?’
After making this statement, he got up and left, and the professor’s lecture came to an abrupt halt.
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Books by David Godman on Ramana Maharshi, his devotees and his teachings