Almost all the information I will give in this post has come from a book entitled The Gift of God or Andavan Pichhai by Smt and Dr Krishna Rao. It was published by the Divine Life Society, Sivanandanagar, Uttar Pradesh, in 1983.
Bhagavan does have a major role in this drama, but he does not appear until quite late on in the narrative. Bear with me while I first set the background. For those who like a good story, it’s well worth the wait.
Andavan Picchai was born in Mylapore,
Maragathamma hardly ever opened her mouth. A private tutor was engaged to teach her since in those days girls did not go to school, but she frequently managed to escape from her tuition. Her father gave her the nickname ‘Nirakshara Kukshi’ – ‘one who does not know a single syllable’.
In other families, where female education was not considered necessary or even desirable, this would not have mattered, but most of Maragathamma’s family were highly educated, and they expected all their children, both male and female, to be literate and knowledgeable.
Maragathamma’s grandfather, Tandalan Ramakrishna, was a distinguished Sanskrit scholar, and most of the family was well versed in English, Tamil and Sanskrit. Her father, Sankaranarayana, was also an accomplished Sanskrit scholar and both he and his brother, Venkatasubbiar, were well-regarded lawyers.
When Maragathamma was a small child, Guruswamy, a relative on her mother’s side, gave a promise to her grandfather that he would marry her to his own son Narasimhan. Although Narasimhan was not happy about the proposed marriage, he agreed to it in order to honour his father’s promise. The marriage took place in April 1908 when the girl was barely nine years old. Narasimhan was about twenty at the time. Although child brides sometimes lived in their parents’ house until puberty, in this case Maragathamma was immediately dispatched to the husband’s house with jewellery and a dowry of two bungalows.
During the Navaratri celebrations of 1908 Maragathamma was taken back to her father’s house. Her grandmother had been a great devotee of Tiruttani Muruga and throughout her childhood Maragathamma had listed to tales of the greatness of Lord Muruga. During this visit she had a life-defining vision. This is how her biographer describes it:
One day [during this Navaratri visit to her father] when she was lying down near her grandmother, she beheld a vision. In that she saw Lord Muruga, as a young boy of twelve, come to her slowly and reluctantly, gently playing with His peacock. He playfully took her hand in His own, lest she should get frightened of Him. He pressed it with love and told her, ‘I love you very much’... He asked her to talk to Him. Being very shy she kept quiet, waving her hand in the negative. He asked her to open her mouth. He pulled her tongue out and wrote ‘
Om’ on it with His vel or spear. He then initiated her into the Shadakshari Mantra, viz., ‘Saravanabhava’. He vanished that instant saying that He would meet her again some other time. From then on she felt Him in her heart, from where He started prompting her to sing. She narrated this incident to her grandmother and asked her to keep it a secret and be silent about it. Her grandmother was, however, very happy to hear Maragathavalli talk and sing so fluently. She then asked her to go and see her father. The girl rushed to the father in the library, where, as usual, he was busy reading. He was surprised to see his daughter there as she had never been to the library room before. He took Maragathamma on his lap and enquired of her the reason for coming there.
The girl told him that she wished to talk to him. This made the father very happy as she had never expressed anything like that to him before. As a matter of fact, until then, she used to talk like a small baby, with a little lisp. That day was the first occasion when she talked normally. Then she sang her first poem before him. It was so beautiful and so full of profound meaning that Sankaranarayana asked her who had taught her that. She told him it was that ‘payyan’ [boy] whom they all worshipped as Lord Muruga. The gist of the poem, which was in chaste Tamil, was: ‘In the beginning there was only one; this one became three, which again multiplied into many.’ The father was so overjoyed to hear her describe this great truth, he called out to his brother to listen to her. His brother too was extremely happy. Sastri then asked her to compose a song on Muruga, then one on her husband, and later on her parents. She spontaneously sang all of them. She composed and sang songs on Avvaiyar and Lilavati of Bijaganit fame (daughter of Bhaskaracharya). They were all so immensely pleased that they dressed her up as Goddess Gayatri and took pictures of her in several poses. After this incident, Maragathamma became unattached to everything except the memory of the vision of Lord Muruga which remained in her heart; and she revelled in him.
Maragathamma gave her own version of this event in a foreword which she wrote for her own biography in 1983. This is how she described it:
During my tender age, full of innocence, Lord Muruga of Tiruttani took me completely under His charge. He graced me with the ability to sing. He asked me every day to offer a flower [song] as in the olden days [when] Andal gave ‘Tiruppavai’ to Lord Ranganatha when she was young. And songs began to come out of me. The purport of what I sang on that first occasion was:
‘He stood before me and asked me to adorn His twelve shoulders with garlands of songs. O dear friend, hear how, during my tender age, Muruga called me aside and told me ‘Although you may appear as a crazy one to the world, be united with Me with undiminished and unadulterated devotion while you are busy with your daily works. Your heart will always overflow with deep devotion unto me.’
I was not even ten years old then and could not even speak clearly, but once He took me into his fold with abundant love, He saw to it that songs came out every day to be offered to Him. On some occasions the garland would be colourful and long. He entered into my heart long before this body was given in marriage. The heart was ever with my Lord, secretly enjoying His blissful presence, while the body was mechanically serving my husband and family. Once the Lord had entered the secret chamber of my heart, there was no room there for anything else – such as father, mother, husband, family, relations, name and fame, joy and sorrow, love and hatred, anger and greed and jealousy. This experience of mine found expression in a song:
‘I dived deep into the ocean of the Lord’s love and took out the pearl called Muruga.’
In the years that followed Maragathamma became fully immersed in family life. Her husband Narasimhan became a lawyer, and she gave birth to many children. Her first pregnancy ended with a still-born child. She was less than thirteen years old at the time. A few years later she gave birth to Guruswamy (born 1917), Shankar (1919), Kalpagam (1921) Ganapathi (19230 and Seshadri (1924).
Two days after the birth of Seshadri she had another vision of Muruga. She went into a kind of trance and ended up singing over 600 verses extolling Muruga in the form of ‘aandi’ a beggar. Her flow was stopped only when she heard the cry of her baby, begging for food. Apparently, Seshadri had been crying for food for quite some time before Maragathamma became aware of his needs. The nurse who was attending her scolded her for neglecting her baby while she was absorbed in her devotional singing. This precipitated a minor crisis in the family because the nurse told Maragathamma’s mother-in-law, Kaveriamma, about the event.
Apart from the issue of neglecting the baby, Kaveriamma complained that singing songs that praised God as a beggar would end up making the whole family beggars. She also said that since Maragathamma was in a state of ritual impurity, having just given birth to a baby, she should not be composing songs in praise of God. Kaveriamma collected all Maragathamma’s songs, hid them, and made her take an oath that she would not sing songs on Muruga again, or even talk about him.
Being a dutiful daughter-in-law, Maragathamma took the oath because she knew that she always had Muruga in her heart. She did not have to promise that she would not think about him or be aware of him internally.
More children followed. Venkataraman was born in 1926, but a couple of days after delivering him she developed septicemia because part of the placenta had stayed inside her and become infected. He doctor said that she needed an operation to remove it, but Maragathamma declined an anaesthetic and remained perfectly still, quiet and conscious while the doctor removed the infected material. She had apparently developed an ability to suspend body consciousness and be unaware of pain, or at least be completely unaffected by it.
More children followed: Kamakshi was born in 1928, Padma in 1929 and in 1936 Vasudevan. Padma became something of a child prodigy. She began composing songs when she was only three years old and became a devotee, even at that age, of the Sankaracharya of Kamakoti Peeta. She went blind, regained her sight after the Sankaracharya intervened and sent her to a doctor who restored her sight, but in 1936 she passed away at the age of eight while she was presenting a home-made garland to a Devi statue.
One son, Vasudevan, died of a serious illness; Shankar had some sort of accident that made him mentally retarded, and he died in 1940. The others grew up and were successful in their chosen fields.
None of these family dramas dented Maragathamma’s equanimity since the inner vision of Lord Muruga was always with her. Songs would come to her in the usual way, but she refused to sing them out loud even after her mother-in-law, Kaveriamma, passed away in 1930 after a long illness. Kaveriamma had made her take the oath of silence on Muruga, on her husband, and on her children. She feared that if she began to sing again, something bad might happen to her husband and children. She complained internally to Muruga about this situation, and soon after that she felt his presence within her disappear.
She implored him to return and give her darshan again. After a few days she heard a voice within her saying, ‘Why are you searching for me outside? Am I not inside you? Look within and you will see me.’
He introverted her vision and immediately lost herself in an ecstatic vision in which she became aware that Muruga was everywhere, not just inside her. When she returned to her usual state, she said that it reminded her of the occasion when
In March 1948 Maragathamma went on a trip to Srisailam for Sivaratri to please one of her relatives who had a desire to go there. On her return, she became slightly ill, a condition that persisted for several weeks. In May, as she was walking down the staircase in her house, carrying one of her grandchildren in her arms, she slipped, fell and fainted. She was put to bed and the doctor who was brought in to attend on her declared that she had had a heart attack. Two of Maragathamma’s sons who had become doctors returned home to help with her treatment. She was unconscious, her pulse was beating very slowly, and her general condition was deteriorating to the point where her relatives began to fear for her life.
And now (and this is where the story starts to get very, very weird) we have to leave her unconscious in bed for the moment to give some background information on events that had happened elsewhere a few years before.
There was a yogi named Ramakrishna who lived in Pinnavasal, Tamil Nadu. He came from a Telugu brahmin family that had settled in Tamil Nadu. His Paramaguru was the famous Sadasiva Brahmendra. Ramakrishna had stayed in the Avudaiyar temple for twelve years doing Devi upasana with the Navakshari mantra. He did severe tapas and apparently acquired many siddhis. At one point he had married, but he had never lived with his wife. His wife was deeply devoted to him and wanted to serve him and be with him all the time. She accepted that they were never going to be man and wife, but she thought that she could at least be his devotee and serve him to the best of her ability. However, whenever she came anywhere near him, Ramakrishna would drive her away, saying that he didn’t want her to be with him. Driven to a state of despair by these continuous rejections, the wife uttered a curse that her husband would have to be born as a woman and suffer as much as she had done herself.
Ramakrishna was well versed in Sanskrit; he had many devotees, and he travelled widely all over
In 1943, shortly before he passed away, Ramakrishna’s Paramaguru Sadasiva Brahmendra appeared before him and told him that he would have to take another birth to fulfill his wife’s curse. Ramakrishna begged him to spare him from this curse, but Sadasiva Brahmendra told him that since his wife was a very devout woman who had gained power of her own, the curse would have to take effect one way or another. Sadasiva Brahmendra did tell him, though, that, as an alternative option, he could enter a living woman’s body in his subtle form and go through the ordained sufferings.
Ramakrishna decided that he would try to take that second, rather bizarre, option. He took mahasamadhi in 1943, having already informed his devotees that they should not seal his samadhi shrine. A tube of some sort was left connecting the interred body to the outside world.
Now we go back to Maragathamma, who, when we left her, was lying unconscious in her family home in May 1948, five years after Ramakrishna had been buried. Late one evening Maragathamma’s heart beat and pulse completely stopped. At that same moment Sadasiva Brahmendra appeared to Ramakrishna, pointed to Maragathamma’s body and told him, ‘Now is the time for you to enter this pure and holy body of a saint. This body has been a
Ramakrishna somehow managed to move his subtle body into the body of Maragathamma during the period when her heart had stopped. I have read the relevant paragraphs in Maragathamma’s biography a few times, but it is not clear from them whether the authors are implying that Ramakrishna was reborn into Maragathamma’s body after dying five years before, or whether he existed in some state of suspended animation in his samadhi shrine and managed to escape at the right moment through the tube he had arranged to have inserted there. I get the feeling that they are implying the second, highly probably option. However it happened, Ramakrishna entered Maragathamma’s body and somehow took up residence there. Immediately afterwards, ‘Maragathamma’ began to revive. She opened her eyes, having been unconscious for most of that day, and saw a group of people who appeared to be strangers.
She closed her eyes, with thoughts welling up inside her: ‘Who is this mother they are referring to? Who am I? They must be calling this body ‘mother’. If so, who is the one inside it? Am I their mother, or I am that which I have always been so far?’
With these thoughts floating around, she relapsed back into unconsciousness.
Maragathamma was bedridden for nearly six months, during which time she lived on a liquid diet and became very weak. One by one her relatives would come and say, ‘Don’t you recognise me? I am your son?’ or ‘Don’t you remember me? I am your daughter.’ All her relatives were confused and worried by her strange behaviour and reactions to them.
Eventually, Maragathamma heard a voice inside her that said, ‘Time will reveal what the soul hankers for. You will get whatever you want. What you have asked for, you have obtained. Make the best of the available circumstances. You asked for an abode where you could live peacefully. This body has been the hidden temple of the Lord where he was worshipped with incessant prayers. You never wanted the miseries of a birth in a mother’s womb. Now you have been given this body by His supreme benevolence. In this you will be vouchsafed the darshan of great saints. You will visit various kshetras and temples. Take on the duties that come before you and surrender your acts to the Lord.’
The hearing of this message caused her body to cry out ‘O Lord!’ and eject itself from her bed. Her relatives thought that she had had another heart attack and put her back to bed. What had actually happened was a sudden understanding by Maragathamma, the original tenant of the body, that her body had become the home of someone else. Her memories came back, along with the understanding that there were now two people living in her body. Perhaps it was the intention of Sadasiva Brahmendra to place Ramakrishna in a body whose former occupant had just died and departed. And perhaps Ramakrishna showed up a little too soon because, when he installed himself, the jiva of Maragathamma was still in residence. The end result, though, was that there were two occupants of the body, and in the initial period after Ramakrishna arrived, it was he who seemed to be the more dominant of the two.
In January 1949 a trunk belonging to Kaveriamma was opened. Kaveriamma was the mother-in law who had confiscated Maragathamma’s poems and forbidden her from singing them out loud. It had lain unopened since Kaveriamma had passed away in 1930. The trunk had contained many things – money, documents and so on – but when it was finally opened, it was discovered that white ants had eaten everything except for the notebooks in which Maragathamma had written her verses. Taking this to be a sign that they should be published and brought to the attention of a wider audience, they were sent to Tiruppugazh Mani, a devout Muruganar bhakta, who arranged for them to be serialised in a magazine that he was editing. These were Maragathamma’s first published works.
The morning after the notebooks were sent for publication Maragathamma had a vision in which Muruga appeared to her in a glorious light-filled form. He came close to her, lifted her chin with his hand and asked, ‘Do you not know me?’
Maragathamma prostrated at his feet and called out his name to show that she knew who her visitor was.
Muruga spoke to her: ‘Yesterday you gave away all my songs. Do you not like them or need them any more? More than garlands of gold, beads and flowers, I love garlands of songs. The songs are like flowers moistened with tears and woven into a garland in the heart of the devotee. From now on, start singing hymns on me as you used to do before.’
‘O Lord!’ cried Maragathamma, ‘I have forgotten everything. The flame of light that was burning in this body has gone out. The gift of singing was given by you and also the oath not to sing. The bird that used to sing has flown away from this cage. You know very well the one who is residing in it now. Are you just playing with me?’
The Lord replied: ‘The oath was for the previous soul. Although the body is the same and the previous bird has flown out, do I not know who is the one residing here now? The power to sing is given by me. I am the one who prompts you to sing. You are but a penholder who is dipped in different-coloured inks. I am the eternal poet who catches hold of you to write the songs. I have given you the understanding to know yourself, and still you have not come out of your delusion.’
After saying this, Muruga laughed loudly. Then he continued to speak:
‘This is the first vision that you asked for. In this drama many such scenes will be opened out for you, one after the other, filled with joys and sorrows. Be a witness to all that is going to happen henceforth. The duty of composing songs has been allotted to this pen only by me.’
Muruga then disappeared in a brilliant flash of light. Maragathamma, inspired and empowered by the vision, composed a spontaneous song which described her recent vision. The songs began to flow again.
That evening Balambika, the man who had taken the songs to Tiruppugazh Mani, came to see her with the message that the songs had been highly appreciated and would be published. Balambika also handed her a packet of prasad and a small pamphlet which described a function that had taken place in Tiruttani on
I recounted earlier that Maragathamma had heard an inner voice reassuring Ramakrishna, the co-tenant of her body, that all would be well. The voice promised ‘you will be vouchsafed the darshan of great saints’. This promise bore fruit when Maragathamma came on a pilgrimage to Tiruvannamalai in March 1950. This is how her biographer describes the first part of her visit:
27th March 1950many ladies, including Amma’s sister-in-law, planned to go to Tiruvannamalai. They requested Amma also to go along with them to have Ramana Maharshi’s darshan. When they reached Tiruvannamalai, it was almost in the night, and they rushed to the temple. The pujaris of the temple met them at the big outer gate and told them that they were returning after closing the temple. Members of Amma’s party told the pujaris that they wished to have the darshan of the Lord through the grills before the lights were switched off. Half the party went inside, while the other half stayed behind. Those who went inside first visited Siva’s temple and had his darshan. When they went near the Devi’s temple they saw a charming young lad sitting on the steps and singing in a melodious voice. He told them that he would do puja and archana to the Devi on their behalf. They said they had not brought any flowers or fruits. The boy replied that there was a plate full of flowers and fruits inside the sanctum, and they could share its contents. The visitors were happy. The boy opened the door of the sanctum, did puja and archana, and gave them the prasad. In their hurry the visitors had not brought any cash with them. Amma had only one old copper coin, the ring-like quarter anna of the olden days, which she gladly offered. The boy took it and happily wore it on his little finger like a ring. He said he would take his full dakshina [payment] the next day. They asked him his name and the boy replied that it was Dandapani. While Amma and the others were coming out, the lights went out. Everyone rushed out except Amma. The boy caught hold of her hand and led her inside the temple to a place where there was a small shrine of Muruga. It was at that spot that he had emerged from a pillar to give darshan to Arunagirinathar, the great bhakta saint and author of Tiruppugazh. Dandapani told Amma that he always stayed in that temple and narrated several stories to her. Then, leading her up to the others, he said, ‘You have won. I have brought you to light.’ Then he vanished. All the members of the party came to the temple the next morning to search for the boy, but they could not find him anywhere. When the previous night’s incident was narrated to the pujaris, they made fun saying, ‘How could you perform puja when the temple was already closed and we ourselves had already gone out?’
As I mentioned earlier, Arunagirinathar is one of Tiruvannamalai’s most famous saints. His most well-known work, Tiruppugazh, is revered and sung by all Muruga bhaktas. Arunagirinathar received the gift of poetry in the same way that Maragathamma did. While attempting to commit suicide by jumping off one of the gopurams in the
Arunagirinathar followed Muruga’s instruction and spent the next few years touring
In the court of this king there was a famous scholar, Sambandandan, who had a tendency to boast both about his spiritual attainments and his religious knowledge. He had managed to establish himself as a favourite of the king. When he heard about the reception accorded to Arunagirinathar, he felt that his position in court might be threatened. His jealousy motivated him to hatch a plot against Arunagirinathar which he hoped would belittle his new rival in the eyes of the king. Sambandandan had done great tapas earlier in his life, so much so that he had obtained a boon from Kali, his ishta devata (chosen deity), that for a period of twelve years she would appear before him whenever he summoned her. Knowing that he could call on Kali to appear at any time, Sambandandan proposed to the king that he and Arunagirinathar should have competition in which each would try to make his chosen deity manifest in a form that would be visible to everyone. Sambandandan not only persuaded the king to agree to the competition, he also persuaded him to add a stipulation that the loser of the competition should leave the kingdom and never return. Although the king agreed to the rules of the competition, it seems that he did not pass on the full details to Arunagirinathar. He merely told him that he had organised a competition in which the two devotees would try to summon their favourite deities. Arunagirinathar agreed to take part, saying that if Lord Muruga could be persuaded to appear, he would give the king darshan and bless him.
The competition was held in public in the
Arunagirinathar began his attempt by singing a song. After praising Muruga at length in verse form, he summoned him to appear:
…O Lord Muruga who resides in the heart of Pravuda Devaraya in such a way as to make it dance with joy! O Lord of Lords! Come dancing, O Lord, come dancing in such a way that when you dance, everything dances…
In some versions of the story Muruga manifests immediately, but in other accounts he fails to appear because he is being held tightly by his mother, Kali. In the version in which Muruga is restrained, Arunagirinathar devised a strategy to counter Kali’s influence. He first sang another song that was so entrancing, Kali unconsciously began to loosen her grip on her son, Muruga. When Arunagirinathar sensed that this was happening, he sang a different song that summoned Muruga’s vahana, his peacock, to appear and dance before Muruga and Kali. The peacock promptly appeared and danced in such an enticing way, Kali momentarily forgot to hold on tightly to Muruga. At this crucial moment Muruga leapt out of her arms, mounted his peacock and entered the physical world through one of the pillars of a mantapam in the
This traditional story is so full of improbable events, it would be tempting to dismiss the whole episode as quaint myth. However, the central event of the story, the manifestation of Lord Muruga in public in response to Arunagirinathar’s pleas, finds some corroboration in two verses from the Tiruppugazh:
In the midst of the assembly of Your devotees who deserved Your compassion… You came once in Tiruvannamalai…
O Victor on the peacock! You came to my help in Tiruvannamalai in a way that people of the world can perceive and praise your great compassion.
There is no mention of a competition in any of the verses, nor are the activities of Sambandandan and Kali alluded to, but there seems to be enough textual evidence in the Tiruppugazh to suggest that, prompted by Arunagirinathar, Muruga appeared, mounted on a peacock, before a large assembly of people, including the king, who had gathered there with the express purpose of determining whether or not Arunagirinathar could make his chosen deity appear.
So much for the traditional story. I mention it because the pujari who performed the puja for Maragathamma said he lived in the temple that had been built over the broken pillar in the precincts of the
After having darshan late in the evening, the party waited until the next day before proceeding to Ramanasramam to have Ramana Maharshi’s darshan. This is the account that her biographer wrote of the events that followed:
After darshan at the temple, they all went to see Ramana Maharshi. It was a Monday, and a pradosha day at that. There was a large number of people for his darshan. When Amma entered the ashram she felt a great joy, and although this was her first visit, she had a feeling of being familiar with all her surroundings from a long time. She forgot herself and was oblivious of her companions. Her mind stopped and all the five senses completely ceased their functions. Yet she could vaguely see from afar only Bhagavan Ramana in his reclining posture with eyes closed. His face was beaming with a brilliance and there was not a shadow of the pain he was actually suffering from. She felt as if she was floating in an ocean of bliss and was being carried away beyond the dualities.
When Amma came near Bhagavan she was abruptly shaken from her stupor as if by an electric shock. The whole body started trembling and her heart was pounding hard. She prostrated before him and looked up. At that instant Bhagavan’s gaze fell on her. His eyes were shining brilliantly and showering compassion all around. From them a streak of light like that of lightning flashed out. He gave her an initiation, through the eyes, of the Shadakshari Mantra. This pierced her soul and once and for all the darkness of ignorance in her heart was completely removed. The great truth behind the mahavakya flashed in her and she realized the secret of ‘WHO AM I?’ This gave her an ecstatic experience of merging her individual soul with that of the supreme soul and in this unique state she felt the whole universe within her only.
She was in a daze and she could just visualise her party offering various fruits at Bhagavan’s feet. Amma had brought only seedless grapes.
Maharshi that morning was in a jovial mood and remarked, ‘Have you had the darshan of Dandapani?’ His mention of the word ‘Dandapani’ sent a thrill through the heart of his listeners since they felt that the Maharshi was confirming that the boy who had done puja for them the previous night was no other than Lord Muruga Himself!
And then pointing to the grapes brought by Amma, Ramana Maharshi said, ‘These grapes this body likes very much’. He took a grape and put it in his mouth and distributed the rest to all.
It may seem a little incongruous that Bhagavan initiated her into this particular mantra, but that seemed to be part of her destiny. Throughout her life, whenever she came into the presence of great beings, she found herself being initiated into this particular mantra. It happened six times in all. In this case, though, it seemed to be accompanied by a direct experience of the Self, the true impost of the mantra. Bhagavan not only gave her the mantra, he also gave her the fruit of chanting it.
The party left Tiruvannamalai that day, but two weeks later Maragathamma returned because she had heard that Bhagavan was seriously ill. A second darshan ensued:
12th April 1950Amma and others went to see Ramana Maharshi again as his physical condition was reported to be very serious. His left arm, which had been operated on, was under bandage. There was a stream of visitors to see him and so each visitor was allowed just a minute to tarry by his side. Amma’s turn came. She wanted to prostrate to the Maharshi but she held in her hand a copy of Ramana’s photo which she had bought earlier at a stall. Even as she was wondering where to place it, Ramana himself took it from her and held it in his right hand, enabling Amma to do proper pranam to him. Then he smiled, gave her back the photo copy and held his right hand in abhaya mudra. Amma felt sad at not being able to converse with him. Two days later the world heard the news that the Maharshi had attained Mahasamadhi.
The blissful state in which Amma remained for quite some time was brought out by her in a short drama which she wrote on the 19th June after returning to
. This was titled Jiva-Brahma Aikya [The Madras Unionof Jiva and Brahman].’
Amma gave the above script to Chengalvarayan Pillai for perusal. At that time Muruganar, a Ramana bhakta, was with Pillai. Pillai read through the drama appreciatively and then handed it over to Muruganar who took it with him to his own place. Going through the drama he was highly thrilled and commented that even after being with Bhagavan for a long period, he could not get such an experience, and even if he had one, he would not have been able to give such vivid expression to it. Amma’s exposition and the explanation of the blissful state of samadhi were so convincing that Muruganar asked Chengalvarayan to get it published. So the script was given to Sri Pani for publishing. Unfortunately however, it was eaten away by termites while on the shelf.
Pani was quite upset and ran to Amma and requested her to write it out again. But Amma, who was not in the least perturbed, said that once the jiva-Brahma aikya had taken place, there was no need for any article or drama, and that was probably why the manuscript got destroyed.
Maragathamma returned to her house and resumed her usual life. Sometime in 1951, while she was sitting in her courtyard, she heard the voice of Ramana Maharshi saying that two grandsons would soon be born to her. He asked her to name the first one Ramana and the second one Dandapani. Ramana (the baby) was born in June that year, and Dandapani followed on 20th August. One more major Ramana experience was to come, and it took place about a week after the birth of her grandson Dandapani:
28th August 1951, the day of the gayatri japa, Amma told her cook that she would manage the kitchen and that he could join the male members of the family for the japa. The cook was a Naishthika Brahmachari. He went upstairs, after placing a large vessel of water on the stove for making coffee. Amma went into the courtyard at the back of the house – where also the puja room was situated – to decorate the puja room with kolam or rangoli. The courtyard was the place where, on bhajan days, they all sat together and performed bhajans. There was a platform there, built around two trees, and when Amma opened the door into the courtyard, the sight which greeted her eyes froze her into a statue. In front of her was Ramana Maharshi, sitting on the platform in his usual pose, holding Dandapani’s hand.
He spoke to Amma, ‘Are you afraid of me, thinking that I am a ghost? Please come close to me. I have come to talk freely with you, as you desired when you met me last time.’
He asked her to clasp Dandapani’s hand tightly and not let him go. Amma prostrated to the Maharshi and sat near him. He explained [many philosophical things] to her and initiated her into the gayatri mantra. Being a woman, Amma felt hesitant to recite that holiest mantra, but the Maharshi made her repeat it along with him. Much of his upadesa, however, was transmitted to Amma through his piercing look.
Once again Amma prostrated to Ramana and tried to touch his feet. She could not do so. Ramana Maharshi laughed and told her that her gross body could not feel his subtle body. He blessed her by placing his hands on her head. That she could feel. The Maharshi then explained that he could touch her. The vision then vanished and she lost count of time. She was transported to the highest consciousness. In her very position of prostration she went into samadhi.
That was Friday. Amma’s husband and his sister came to the kitchen at about to have coffee. Amma was not there; and they found the water boiling in the vessel. They thought that Amma must be in the puja room. Instead they found her in the courtyard, near the bhajan platform, in the prostrating position and unconscious of the world around her. She was carried inside and given injections which however failed to revive her. The next two days also Amma remained in the same condition.
On Sunday morning, the bhajan party arrived as usual. Tiruppugazh Mani asked where Amma was and was told that she was unwell. He insisted on seeing her and so a chosen few were taken upstairs. They saw that Amma was in a state of samadhi and they started singing ‘Kandar Anubhuti’ [an Arunagirinathar composition] in a loud tone, interspersing it with cries of ‘Haro Hara!’ Amma slowly opened her eyes. Seeing her husband and others seated and she herself lying, she tried to get up, but could not do so. They all asked her not to bother and slowly helped her to a sitting position.
Mani then applied kumkum on her forehead and prostrated before her. He queried her about her state of consciousness and her experiences during samadhi. A song burst forth from Amma’s lips in which she explained that she climbed six steps and saw ‘Annamalai Jyoti’ [the Light of Arunachala]. When she went further, there was nothing, and she merged into that nothingness. When they wanted more explanation of her experience, she could not say anything, because as soon as she thought of it, she again lost consciousness of this world. Later on, however, through the grace of Bhagavan Ramana, she wrote a number of songs called ‘Shashthimalai’, giving a description of all the six states of consciousness.
The Tiruppugazh Mani mentioned here is the same man who had first published Maragathamma’s poems. Tiruppugazh Mani had had a Guru, Pinnavasal Swami, who had promised him, just before he passed away, that he would return and give him darshan in some other form. When Maragathamma first went to see him, it was the day before Sivaratri and Tiruppugazh Mani said he was busy. He asked her to return the following day. That night Tiruppugazh Mani had a dream in which his old Guru appeared and ridiculed him:
‘I promised I would come and give you darshan in some other form, and when I did so I asked you if you would be able to recognise me. You told me that you would recognise me in any form I took. Yesterday morning, you not only failed to recognise me, you also sent me away, saying you were busy.’
On her visit to Srisailam in 1949 Maragathamma had been initiated by Tiruppugazh Mani into the Shadakshari mantra. When they met later, Maragathamma asked if he remembered the incident. Tiruppugazh Mani replied that he had never been to Srisailam. In that moment she realised that Muruga Himself had appeared to her in the form of Tiruppugazh Mani and given her the initiation. Having received this initiation from him, she accepted him as her Guru. When Tiruppugazh Mani realised that his former Guru had given him darshan as Maragathamma, he in turn accepted her as his own Guru. Thus there was the strange situation of each of them being the other’s Guru.
In the early 1950s Maragathamma became something of a minor celebrity in
Though the yogi Ramakrishna had taken up residence in Maragathamma’s body in 1949, the developments of the next few years seemed to be part of the natural progression of her own life. The passion for Muruga and the composition of songs praising him were very much ‘her’ samskaras, rather than ‘his’. However, in the early 1950s, the presence of Ramakrishna took over and directed the body in a wholly different direction.
In the early 1940s, while he was still occupying his former body, Ramakrishna went to Swami Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh and asked to be initiated. When Swami Sivananda refused, Ramakrishna went home and initiated himself. This pending desire for an association with Sivananda Swami came up in 1954 when Maragathamma went to Rishikesh and met Swami Sivananda. The jiva of Ramakrishna immediately asserted itself. ‘He’ became a disciple of Swami Sivananda, and took the desired sannyasa initiation from him. Swami Sivananda was delighted to have such a great devotee come to him. He gave Maragathamma his own robes and sandals as a measure of the respect he felt towards her. The desire for sannyasa was wholly Ramakrishna’s. Maragathamma still had a family, and her husband was wholly opposed to the move. In order to satisfy all the parties Maragathamma/Ramakrishna took formal initiation from Swami Sivananda, but then he sent her back home to live as a sannyasini in her own home in
In the next decades it was Ramakrishna who was directing operations. At one point Swami Sivananda even asked Ramakrishna, the tenant of Maragathamma’s body, to perform a kriya ceremony for the ‘departed’ soul of Maragathamma:
Amma was asked to perform religious rites to her previous soul… As instructed by Swamiji, Amma [i.e. Ramakrishna] performed the kriya ceremony of the soul of Maragathamma; and the ‘double’ that had been pestering her till then vanished for good.
Ramakrishna had taken over so completely, he wanted to remove all traces of the body’s first occupant. To some extent he succeeded. Consider this account he wrote of his association with Swami Sivananda:
‘That day when I was half insane, knowing and yet not knowing my whereabouts, and was struggling like a ship caught up in a storm. I came to the [Sivananda] ashram. Though I was almost a stranger, Bhagavan Sivananda acted like a light house and gave abhaya [freedom from fear], calling me by his side. He gave me mantra diksha. This was the seed of knowledge implanted in the dry ground of Pichhai’s heart by his graceful personality. He watered and manured it by his nectarine upadesa, now and then, till it became a healthy sprout. Being well protected by his Guru kataksha, it grew into a small sapling. On
March 3rd 1954, an armour was put on it by giving sannyasa, and I was sent back to live in the world in my own house as a sannyasini. The plant started bringing forth flower and fruit within the household fence from 1954 to 1968, being well-protected all around. If it had continued to stay there itself, the raw fruit might have dried up and withered, and fallen away without ripening. Hence on 4th July 1968it was removed to Vaishnavi [temple in ] to be under the protective care of the Devi. It started to ripen there. It was felt that the ripe fruit, if left on the tree, was likely to be eaten away by crow, sparrow, squirrel or monkey and be lost. Mother Vaishnavi Devi wanted to give the fruit, when it ripened, to Gurudev Bhagavan himself, who had planted the seed. The fruit came into the hands of Swami Chidananda, Gurudev’s beloved one [and successor], so that he could offer the ripe fruit at the right time to Gurudev himself.’ Madras
In the late 1940s Maragathamma took Tiruppugazh Mani, a great Muruga bhakta, as her Guru. It is inconceivable to me that this Maragathamma, who had spent a lifetime being devoted to Muruga to the extent that she was permanently aware of Him in her heart, would suddenly decide that spiritually she was ‘struggling like a ship caught in a storm’ and in need of another Guru who could save her, particularly one who was not imbued in the Muruga bhakti tradition. It was simply Ramakrishna asserting his own desires, even to the extent of trying to exorcise the spirit of Maragathamma from her own body.
I mentioned the story of the kriya ceremony to a foreign woman from Ramanasramam yesterday. She snorted in disgust and said, ‘Typical man! First he moves in without permission, and then he tries to kick her out of her own home.’
Did he succeed? I like to think that Maragathamma survived her ‘funeral ceremonies’ and continued to exist as a silent and possibly liberated witness to the decades of sadhana that Ramakrishna put in with Swami Sivananda. Perhaps her own spiritual work was done when she attained the ‘jiva-Brahma aikya’ ( the union of jiva and Brahman) that she spoke and wrote about after her darshan of Bhagavan in 1950. Perhaps the second half of her life ran its appointed course merely in order to enable Ramakrishna to fulfill his allotted destiny with Swami Sivananda. I can’t comment with authority on any of this, but I am encouraged in this belief by a foreword that she wrote for her own biography that came out in 1983. In it she wrote:
He [Muruga] took permanent residence inside my heart and his presence was felt whether I was awake or asleep. It is so from the time he entered my being in 1908 till this day, the Lord guarding me like the eyelids protecting the eyeball. He has shown me that he exists in all forms, that he is present in all names, and that he alone appears as father and mother, as uncle and aunt, as lover and the beloved, and as children and relations. He bestowed the vision of his divine presence in all his creatures and showed the way to serve them all with love and affection. I found the one Supreme reflected as many, like the one sun reflected as many in the waves of the ocean. My mind became calm and undisturbed, reflecting the Lord’s presence, as the placid lake reflecting the full moon.
He is the
OM, the source of all. He is the Lord Ganesha who removes all obstacles in the path. He alone appears as so many deities and is the serpentine power rising from the muladhara to the sahasrara. It is the Lord Muruga who has taken hold of me completely and has protected me so far, and for the remaining small tenure of my life, may he keep me in peace and solitude to be in His presence only. Let me serve others in utter humility and affection. He appeared before me several times and blessed me….
He who is in the past, the present and the future enters into perishable bodies and, residing in them, makes them dance to his tune. He himself is the dancer. He fills the cosmos as well as the atom. He has made this body bring out this story or else how can this inert lump ever do anything?
What is one to make of the central premise of this story – that, following a curse, Ramakrishna became the co-tenant of Maragathamma’s body? Swami Sivananda accepted it, and so did Swami Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi, the former Sankaracharya of Kanchipuram. He had great respect for Maragathamma and, recognising the relationship between the two jivas, personally gave her permission to remain at home with her family after taking sannyasa from Swami Sivananda. He is also on record as saying that she (or rather Ramakrishna) is only the fifth Hindu on record to take up occupancy in another body, the others being Raja Vikramaditya, Adi Shankaracharya, Tirumular and Arunagirinathar. Since Swami Sivananda and this Sankaracharya are among the most respected spiritual figures of twentieth-century
Maragathamma did not remain in
I have my own very minor postscript to add to this story. In 1992 I was in
After remaining silent for a few moments, he replied, ‘I should have asked myself “Who am I?” when I was eight years old. If I had done it then, I wouldn’t have had to spend a quarter of a century chasing visions of gods.’
Then, without further prompting, he told me the whole story of his life, starting from his first samadhi at the age of six up till the moment he had his meetings with Ramana Maharshi in 1944. It took over an hour. That tea-time narrative was the basis of the account that appeared in Papaji Interviews. After Papaji had read the first draft of that chapter (I posted it to him from Tiruvannamalai) he wrote to me and asked me to come back and write the full story of his life. That project, the writing of Nothing Ever Happened, took up the next four years of my life.