Today’s post comprises extracts from Sages, Saints and Arunachala Ramana by Mrs Feroze Taleyarkhan. This book is a primarily a memoir of her time with Ramana Maharshi and Ananda Mayi Ma. It was published by Orient Longmans in 1970 and has never been reprinted.
The story begins in the mid-1930s when Mrs Taleyarkhan became involved in a charitable project called ‘The Home of Devotion’. It was intended to be a spiritual refuge for women in Bombay. Two of the people she was working with on this project suggested that she travel to Tiruvannamalai to obtain Bhagavan’s blessings on the scheme. She agreed and undertook the journey. It was her first trip to Arunachala. Since she knew her family would not approve of this visit, she had to keep the details from them:
I knew that my people would not approve of these ‘wild cat’ schemes of mine. Nor would they approve of my visiting sadhus. So, on the pretext of visiting Madras, I managed to slip out of Bombay and reached Tiruvannamalai on November 9th, 1937 – a memorable day in my life. The witty station master called for a bullock cart and put me in it, saying that it was ‘the taxi’. For a mere three annas it dropped me at the ashram. In those days there was the old hall, the dining hall, a cowshed and a few other huts. There were no rooms for guests such as you find today. At the ashram office I was received kindly by the sarvadhikari and then escorted to a small, cage-like room that had none of the conveniences I had been accustomed to. I was anxious to see the Maharshi immediately, so I asked to be taken to the bathroom since I wanted to bathe before having his darshan. It was a shock to be told that there wasn’t one. I made a makeshift one out of my saris, had my bath, dressed, and left for the old hall where the benign Maharshi, seated on a couch, beckoned me to sit down.
The lovely star-like, calm eyes greatly attracted me and looked at me with deep compassion. A little later I spoke to Bhagavan about the object of my visit, and I handed to Rajagopal [an attendant] the copy of the prospectus of the Home of Devotion I had brought with me for Bhagavan to read. He read it, re-read it, and then read it out to the people who were present in the old hall. Then he pointed me out as its sponsor in such a way that made me feel highly elated to think that even on the first day I had been able to get the blessings of the Maharshi. The lunch gong rang at 11 a.m. The few of us who were present trooped into the dining hall after Bhagavan. I was seated opposite him. Bhagavan was all solicitude for me. He paid great attention to what I was eating, and extended the same courtesy to the others who were eating there as well. As I sat there eating the lunch, I was touched by Bhagavan’s love and concern for me. This was the first occasion I felt that God can be love, only love, and nothing but love. The love that I subsequently came to feel for Bhagavan was prompted not because he was a jivanmukta, but because he represented to me the very embodiment of love in its finest, purest and noblest aspects.
After the midday rest I came back to the hall at 2.30 p.m. The sarvadhikari sent for me at 4 p.m. to inform me that since ladies were not allowed to stay in the ashram at night, I must pack and be ready to go to town after dinner. I was shocked to discover that there were no facilities for women to stay overnight. The ashram room I had been offered had been very primitive, and I shuddered to think what might await me if I had to leave and find a place in town. I was protesting about this unfair arrangement to the sarvadhikari in the office when Mr Bose walked in. He remembered me from an earlier meeting in Bombay, although at the time I have to say that I didn’t remember him. When he asked me how long I was planning to stay in the ashram, I had to tell him that I was leaving that minute because I was not allowed to stay there at night. Mr Bose offered to accommodate me in his own house, which in those days consisted of only one room, a bathroom and a veranda. He let me occupy his own room while he made himself as comfortable as possible on the veranda.
When I returned to the ashram, Bhagavan made kind enquiries about my accommodation. That evening, after I had been compelled to leave the ashram, Mr Bose spoke to me about his own experiences with Bhagavan. I spent three days with Bhagavan on this first visit and then returned to Bombay with a feeling of elation because I felt that my pet scheme, the Home of Devotion, would succeed. I gave the green signal to Shri Yogendra and Smt Sita Devi [the people who had suggested she seek Bhagavan’s blessings] to proceed with the scheme.
[The House of Devotion project failed to materialise since the government changed its mind about allocating a promised plot of land. Feroze Taleyarkhan decided that Bhagavan had misled her about the scheme and didn’t go back to Ramanasramam for two years. When she did return, she wanted to pick a fight with Bhagavan:]
It was in the year 1939 that I paid my second visit to Ramanashram. This time I came to fight with Maharshi. Between 1937 and 1939 I was at Bodh Gaya for some time, doing my sadhana. Later, during the same period, I went to Australia. On my return from Australia, I went to Tiruvannamalai, intending to take the swami to task for having failed me grievously over my project of a ‘Home of Devotion’ in Bombay. I was greatly upset over this failure, for I had thought to myself that I had secured the blessing of the Maharshi at Tiruvannamalai when I first came to see him in 1937.
On reaching the ashram on this second visit, I was met at the gate by Bhagavan’s attendant Shri Rajagopal, a lively and jolly person. Recognising me at once, he asked me immediately what had happened to the project for which I had sought the blessing of Bhagavan during my earlier visit in 1937. My anger knew no bounds. I told him what I thought of ‘that old humbug’ who had misled me into thinking that the project had had his blessings, only to find within a few months that it had collapsed altogether. I told Rajagopal that I had come to take Bhagavan to task for failing me so grievously.
My aggression somehow melted away when I found myself in Bhagavan’s presence again. Though I spent quite some time in the ashram in the presence of Bhagavan, it did not occur to me to raise the topic, let alone take the him to task.
Among those who were present in the hall during this visit was Uma Devi, a Polish lady, who was telling Bhagavan that she had collected a sum of Rs 15,000 and a number of boxes of clothes which were being sent to refugees from Poland who had assembled at a camp in India. Although Bhagavan seemed uninterested, she went on repeating her achievements with, in my opinion, a view to draw Bhagavan’s approval for the work she had done.
When Bhagavan had patiently heard the story for the third time, he slowly turned the revolving shelf near his couch and took out a copy of an issue of The Kalyana Kalpatura. He picked out a passage and asked that it be shown to Uma Devi. At this point I had been in Tiruvannamalai for some time, and although I had come with the purpose of complaining to Bhagavan, I had not yet found any opportunity to raise the subject. I was sitting next to Uma Devi, watching the interchange and thinking that it had nothing to do with me.
But then Bhagavan smiled, looked at me, and said, ‘That is for you too’.
I looked over Uma Devi’s shoulder to find out what message Bhagavan was sending to me.
The text that had been given to us both to read said: ‘A weak, frail woman who knows how to find God’s peace through prayers can to do more to save the nations of the world than all the intellectuals combined.’
The meaning of that passage was utterly clear and definite for me. From that day on I felt that my place was at the feet of this Master, who, without a word said, could understand the workings of the human mind and find the answer to its troubles. From that moment on, Bhagavan’s infinite patience and grace guided me, not directly, but no less decisively and infallibly. I realised that I, who was full of passions such as anger and jealousy, could hardly have carried out such a project [The House of Devotion] through to a successful conclusion.
One must first conquer oneself to be able to take on an onerous task such as the one I had planned. Had Bhagavan told me so in so many words, I am sure I would have flared up, even in his presence, and hurled, in a fit of temper, some words that I would in leisure regret.
How gently, yet firmly and forcefully, he acted, and how great was his thoughtfulness for the welfare of the people who came to seek his help. He had, with no words of his own, conquered me completely. From that day on, I knew no Master who could hold me as he did. To this day I remain bound to his feet faster than one can be with hooks of steel. I am bound with bonds of love to him who was and is the personification of love in all its plenitude, grace and majesty.
The decision to stay at Tiruvannamalai and certainly the decision to make it, and not Bombay, my home was not an easy one. During my second visit to the ashram I stayed for about three or four months and took up residence in the house of my friend, Mr Bose. Years earlier I had met him at Shri K. F. Nariman’s in Bombay, and Mr Bose had there sought my help in some of his ventures. During his frequent visits to Bombay he used to be my guest.
I would go to the old hall to sit in Bhagavan’s presence to enjoy the deep ineffable peace radiating from him. I noticed that his powerful, bright and shining body sometimes seemed to tremble a bit, and then become immobile and motionless, as if he were in deep samadhi. When he emerged from it the same trembling motion would be noticed. I felt that the greatest power on earth was not with its kings and statesmen but with this man here whose only earthly possessions were the bamboo staff and kamandalu, lying beside him on the floor, and his loin cloth. This man had plunged into his inmost depths to find and be the truth that we are, which men of giant intellect may try to explain in learned ways. His love and humility were heroic. Utterly unassuming, he never tolerated any fuss being made about him. Gentle yet firm, his calm could never be disturbed. Pure in heart and mind, having realised the Self of all, there was no Guru or sishya for him.
He had an equal regard for one and all. Sitting in the presence of such a man, thoughts of the fugitiveness and vanity of life as I had known, lived and suffered would pass across my mind. I felt that one and one thing alone was worth thirsting after in life: that was to know who was the ‘I’ we always refer to in all our thoughts, words and actions. To accomplish this it was my deep conviction that it was absolutely necessary to obtain the grace of the Guru. Wealth, relations and status did not count in the least.
My appetite to know more of Bhagavan was considerably whetted by Shri Naina, whom I met on my first visit. I established a great and life-long bond with him in almost the first moment that I saw him. He and Viswanatha Swamy would spend the evenings with me at Mr Bose’s place and regale me with stories from Bhagavan’s life and of their own experiences with him.
[‘Naina’ was Professor Munagala Venkataramiah, the compiler of Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi.]
One such evening I saw on the Arunachala hill a vision of a blood-coloured heart and the planet Jupiter, both set against the background of the hill. It made me think of my birth-star, Jupiter. The vision was not visible to Naina. When I tried to call his attention to it, he tried to brush it off, saying that it was probably some fires lit by woodcutters on the hill. I could not believe that such brilliance, which was quite stationary and immobile, could proceed from any man-made fire. I watched fascinated by this vision from about 8 p.m. till 3 a.m. that night. Then, tired, I fell asleep and had a dream. The sky before me opened, and a flower-decked swing appeared out of it, with the Lord Siva seated on it. He had the tiger skin around his waist and the hooded cobra round his neck. Swinging three times, the Lord placed his feet on my forehead with each swing. On the third movement, when I asked who he was, he said he was Lord Siva.
The following morning, when I was sitting in the hall, I had the sensation that Bhagavan was looking at me curiously, obliquely, from out of the corner of his eye, as if to say he was aware of my experience the previous night. That night, maybe around 1 or 2 a.m., I was asleep in my room in Mr Bose’s house. I dreamt I was quite alone with Bhagavan in the old hall, with my eyes closed in meditation. Bhagavan was leaning on his couch against the side pillow, out of which appeared a brilliant star that threw a soft, heavenly light on me. The light disappeared and I saw Lord Buddha dressed like a king, with all the kingly regalia and jewellery. He had a tiara on his head and was seated in Bhagavan’s usual position. After a few seconds the figure disappeared and was replaced by the figure of Shri Ramana. This gave me the assurance I needed to make up my mind that I should make a home in Tiruvannamalai and spend a few winter months here every year.
[Feroze Taleyarkhan spent 1937-1939 in Bodh Gaya. She had formed a great attachment to the Buddha and his teachings during this period. Her vision convinced her that in Bhagavan she had found her own living Buddha. Initially, Feroze Taleyarkhan stayed in the Bose compound, but after a brief stay there Munagala Venkataramiah offered her a plot of land which he owned in Ramana Nagar. She built her own house there and lived in it for the rest of her life.]
It was said that Bhagavan would not permit a married woman to live away from her family and home and that he would not view with favour the idea of my building a residence for myself. I was very happy that day when he asked me as I entered the hall, ‘So, you are going to build yourself a house here’.
[Though there was no explicit approval in Bhagavan’s remark, had he not approved, I think he would have made his position clear. Generally, he did not approve of devotees who informed him that they were planning to leave their family to stay permanently with him in Tiruvannamalai. However, in a few cases, he did give his approval. Feroze Taleyarkhan had both a husband and a son when she made her decision to spend at least part of her time in Tiruvannamalai. It seems that she had already given up her life as a householder when she went off to do tapas in Bodh Gaya. Her family did not approve of that particular move, nor did they approve of her subsequent decision to move to Tiruvannamalai. The next stories feature the responses of various members of her family when they discovered that Feroze was planning to stay long-term in Tiruvannamalai.]
My way of life and attitude to it, along with the yearnings of my heart, were in dissonance with that of all my relations. Treading the path I did, I was quite alone in my family. All the other members of my family followed worldly ways and ridiculed me for what I had chosen to do. Although they just about tolerated me, I was once the recipient of a ‘stinker’ of a letter from one of my sisters who, so I thought at the time, might have had a greater appreciation for my chosen life. I took that letter to Bhagavan. He remarked that if one member of a family chose to tread the path of spirituality, by that very act the rest of the family would derive immense benefit and be protected from evil. I informed my sister that far from railing at me for my ways, my family had every reason to thank me as they were being protected from unknown and unseen dangers.
I was about this time oppressed with the thought of the lack of money for the ordinary comforts of life. My family, with a view to forcing me to return to their walk of life, had withheld from me all my personal property. I walked one day into the ashram, thinking I must tell Bhagavan of my dilemma. I felt it might, ultimately, oblige me to leave the ashram. I did not, however, want to tell Bhagavan in public. That day Bhagavan looked at me with such benign glances, I felt he knew my situation. As on the occasion with Uma Devi, Bhagavan offered me advice when he spoke to someone else in the hall.
A gentleman in the front row asked Bhagavan what he should do if he wanted seriously to lead a sadhu’s life, but had no money. Bhagavan’s reply was, ‘If your intentions are serious, then, for the sake of a little morsel of food, do not give up your good intentions. Go for bhiksha. That will be a rich and rewarding experience. First, the ego will subside. You can collect a lot more food than you can consume yourself, and then you can share it with others. That has been my experience too. One day ‘R’, whom I addressed as “father”, offered to go for bhiksha and bring food. We subsequently shared the food, and we were both happy. You can do that as well.’
After he had said these words Bhagavan asked that his reply be translated for my benefit. I knew immediately that Bhagavan had, in his inimitable way, offered the solution for the dilemma posed in my mind. I made up my mind that it would be quite a wonderful sadhana for me.
[She never had to resort to begging because when she mentioned the possibility to her son Sohrab, who visited her at Ramanasramam, the family was shamed into supporting her.]
Sohrab’s birthday was on the 25th of July. That day I gave a party for my friends at my residence. Major Chadwick, Mr McIver, and Shri Devaraja Mudaliar were among those present. It was an enjoyable party.
The next afternoon, on the 26th, as we were resting at home after lunch, Sohrab put me the question: ‘Mother, how do you manage?’
‘Manage what?’ I asked in reply.
‘For upkeep,’ said Sohrab.
‘Thanks to your father and you, I have nothing, so I intend to go about with a begging bowl.’
He was astounded, and asked if I was off my head. He could not understand how any member of his family, particularly his mother, could voluntarily decide to be a beggar. The Taleyarkhans are a great and influential family, and he was quite upset that one of them would choose this option.
On the day of his departure he asked if I would accompany him to Madras to see him off. With Bhagavan’s permission, I accompanied him. I was hoping that he would tell me of his reactions to the ashram and his impressions of Bhagavan. Up till the moment that the train was about to leave, he had not spoken a word.
At the last minute, though, he took hold of me, kissed me and said, ‘Mother, I am very happy. You are right!’
Without any further explanation he jumped on the train and returned home. Four days later a telegram arrived from my sister in Bombay, asking me for instructions for the disposal of my jewels and other valuables which had been handed over to her by my son. I asked for them to be sent to me through a friend to Madras. With Bhagavan’s permission, I went again to Madras, took charge of the valuables, sold a part of my jewellery for a few thousands and came back with the rest to the ashram. Thus did it please Bhagavan to put an end to my alarms on the material plane as well.
[In the late 1940s Feroze’s sister Rita, a convert to Christianity, came to see her, along with her Catholic husband. They were returning to Bombay after a trip to Ceylon. Feroze was worried how her sister and brother-in-law would relate to Bhagavan, but her fears were ungrounded.]
My brother-in-law, Mr D’Mello, had returned earlier than he had anticipated from Ceylon and came to Tiruvannamalai with Rita. Both husband and wife were anxious to have darshan of Bhagavan. Entering the nirvana room, the couple made a low bow to Bhagavan. Rita took off her finger the diamond-studded engagement ring given to her by her husband, and also the jewel-studded bracelet on her wrist that contained medallions of Jesus Christ and several other saints. She laid them both on Bhagavan’s lap. Bhagavan examined them all carefully. He was greatly interested by the medallions and praised all the saints who were featured there. He put the ring on his finger for some time and then returned all the items to Rita. Husband and wife then both prostrated to Bhagavan to seek his blessings.
Emotionally overcome in Bhagavan’s presence, my brother-in-law knelt down at Bhagavan’s feet and requested, ‘Bhagavan, won’t you cure yourself? The world needs you. I am sure you can easily cure yourself to bless the world.’
My fears for the behaviour of this ardent Catholic couple in Bhagavan’s presence were quite groundless. Such is the overpowering grace of Bhagavan. Though we all had family relations of our own, all the devotees seemed to feel that they were members of Bhagavan’s own family. A question that was often discussed in the ashram, among visitors and residents, was who constituted Bhagavan’s family: blood relations or others. To these questions Bhagavan never gave any answer. On one occasion, though, he made an exception to say that a jivanmukta’s family consists of those disciples who follow the jivanmukta’s tenets, practise them, and bring their sadhana to a successful conclusion, becoming themselves jivanmuktas. Not one of us can stand this test.
So vexed was I by this question I found occasion to discuss it with Shri Rajaji [Rajagopalachari] and Dr S. Radhakrishnan. They both confirmed that this view alone was right and that we would be pulling Bhagavan down from his high pedestal, besides doing him a great injustice, if we named anybody else a member of Bhagavan’s family.
One of the four Sankaracharyas to whom I paid my respects also confirmed this view, almost in the same terms. He told me that only such a one who has followed the precepts and practised the sadhana laid down by a jivanmukta of the high status of Bhagavan could ever claim to be a member of his family.
[In the late 1940s Feroze was taken to Bangalore for medical treatment. This is her story of what happened there.]
I am uncertain what year it was, perhaps 1947. I was having pains in my abdomen which did not respond to the homoeopathic remedies administered by my friend Mr Cohen. So, with Bhagavan’s permission, I went to Bangalore for examination and treatment at the Curzon hospital there. X-ray diagnosis revealed a big lump on the left side. My friends, Doctors Wanless and Vail, had warned me earlier that the disease was likely to recur and spread. The doctors at this hospital in Bangalore did not, however, take me into their confidence in the matter of their diagnosis, but were arranging amongst themselves privately to perform an operation for the removal of this growth. They spoke to my friend Shri Mizra Raza about this, but not to me.
Around that time a letter from Shri Rajaji, then Governor-General, was redirected to me from Tiruvannamalai. In my reply I informed him of my condition. So kind and solicitous of my welfare was Shri Rajaji that even when he occupied the highest position in India, he found time to write to the doctors in charge to bestow close attention on me as if he himself were the patient. The letter came to the notice of the Dewan of Mysore, Sir A. Ramaswami Mudaliar, who decided to visit me in the hospital. These factors made the doctors evince deep interest in my case. I was alone; none of my relatives were at my bedside. The operation would be the eighth of a series of operations I had undergone in my life. But the doctors encouraged me and made me feel quite at home in the hospital.
Suspecting that I might have to undergo this operation, I wrote to Bhagavan, praying to him to grant that I might close my eyes in peace [die] rather than undergo this eighth operation. When this letter reached Bhagavan, he read it as usual in the old hall, and there he made kind mention of me to the people present. Following Bhagavan’s directions, Mauni – bless his soul – wrote to ask me to come back to Tiruvannamalai, assuring me that things would be all right.
[Mauni Swami drafted all the letters which were sent out from Ramanasramam. They were shown to Bhagavan prior to being posted.]
The Dewan and the doctors all assured me that the operation that was scheduled to take place within the next two days would relieve me of my pain, and that I would go back fit and healthy. I told him that I had decided against the operation, and then showed them the photo of Bhagavan which was on my table near the bed. He, I said, was my doctor and in accordance with his instructions, I would be returning to Tiruvannamalai without undergoing the operation. Dear reader, believe me that I, who for ten days earlier, could not retain any food, that day enjoyed toast and scrambled eggs without pain or discomfort. That evening I attended a cinema show with the matron of the hospital.
When I approached the chief surgeon to take leave of him, he was pretty incredulous. He again had x-ray photos taken of me, but to his astonishment they did not show the growth where it had been previously located. Assuring the doctors that I would place myself at their disposal for treatment in case of the recurrence of the trouble, I returned to the ashram. Bhagavan’s gracious smile on the day I returned to the ashram is still a priceless treasure in my memory. Nearly two decades have passed since then, and I have not had any recurrence of this particular trouble so far. Miraculous cures like mine by Bhagavan, may I say in all humility, were not uncommon.
In the mid-1940s a few motion picture shots of Bhagavan’s life were made at my request by Shri Raja Reddy, a wealthy landlord of Hyderabad. I also desired to make a recording of the voice of Bhagavan, so sweet and moving, as though it came out from heaven, in its most gracious mood. I told Bhagavan that I intended to make a ‘talkie’ of him. He just smiled as if to tell me that he knew it would not be permitted by the ashram office.
[Bhagavan himself generally vetoed all attempts to record his voice. Though he was generally always happy to say ‘yes’ to someone who wanted to take his photo, or make a silent film of him, he always said ‘no’ when devotees asked if they could record his voice. There are no recordings of his voice in existence and, so far as I am aware, none were ever made.]
Bhagavan’s Golden Jubilee – the fiftieth year of his arrival in Tiruvannamalai – was proposed to be celebrated on a grand scale. [In the days leading up to this event] Devaraja Mudaliar recounted to Bhagavan the story of the Maharashtra saint Dnyaneshwar. He had seen a film of Dnyaneshwar’s life in Madras. In the film some pandits teased the saint over his lack of vedic knowledge. In response that saint made a buffalo recite the Vedas by merely touching it. Shri Devaraja Mudaliar’s lively account interested Bhagavan greatly. He asked several questions regarding this film, and this proved quite a lively discussion. Then it struck me, ‘Why not arrange for a film show or shows on this great occasion?’
My desire to make this happen was facilitated a short time later by a fortuitous meeting. Anantanarayanan, wife of Shri M. Anantanarayanan, who retired recently from the High Court of Madras, wanted me to go with her to a local travelling cinema to witness the life of a saint. The theatre was near my house. Some twenty-five of us went to see the film. During the interval Mr Mani, the manager of the theatre, introduced himself to me and asked to be allowed to meet me at my residence the next day. During his visit he told me that he would be obliged if I would put in a word for him with the district officials for an extension of his licence for three months to enable him to take advantage of the big crowds the great festival of Kartikai Deepam would be attracting to Tiruvannamalai. I agreed, but in return I asked him if he would help present the film shows in the ashram on the occasion of the Jubilee.
He was the manager, rather than the owner of the cinema, so his bosses had to be consulted. They came from Madras on a subsequent Sunday and agreed to lend their equipment, costing over a hundred thousand rupees. I took these gentlemen to Bhagavan and prayed to him to bestow his grace on them. I also told him of my plans for the Jubilee.
Bhagavan remarked sweetly, ‘Oh, so you are going to show films,’ and discussed the plans for them with us.
The task of setting up the machinery was a difficult one, and it took us a fortnight to rig up a theatre in the dining hall, which was hardly suited for that purpose. But somehow this was done and the hall was ready for a film show. The show was a grand success, thanks to the grace of Bhagavan. The first film shown was Ram Rajya. This was followed by a film about Tukaram, Dnyaneshwar, The Vatican, Charlie Chaplin and some others, making eight films in all.
The film Bhakta Chukka was shown one day. In this film a man used to go to a female singer, and everyone knew that his character was bad. Later, some miracle happened and he entirely changed and became a great saint. Some widowed women of the ashram watched the film. The next day they told Swami Niranjanananda that I was spoiling Bhagavan’s character by showing such films on the premises. Swami called me into the office the next day to tell me to stop the performances as all these women were complaining. I went straight to Bhagavan. I informed him that these women were saying that I was spoiling his character by showing such bad films. Immediately, Bhagavan sent for the life of the saint and started reading it, and showed them how human beings can change in a minute.
[Feroze was fortunate enough to receive several gifts from Bhagavan. Here she describes two such events:]
Hard coconut shells are generally used in households as fuel, and the ashes sometimes used for tooth powder. Bhagavan had other uses to put them to. He would take immense pains to clean off the strands of fibre from the shells, scrape and polish the surface inside and out, and make ladles out of them for use in the kitchen, and for other purposes as well. I saw Bhagavan at work with two shells, and a few days later found them turned into very beautiful cups. This type of work was almost a hobby, and a passionate one, with Bhagavan. One of these shells was big and the other somewhat smaller. He took three or four days to polish these cups to his satisfaction. As I was watching him, I was praying to have one. Sensing my desire to have it, he passed the smaller one on to me. I was thinking, however, of the other one too, and although I never gave expression to my wish, he called, ‘Ho, come here, take this,’ and gave me the other one as well. These are possessions which I am never tired of showing to all my friends as the handiwork of Bhagavan for whom no work was too small.
For him all work was sacred. Close attention to detail, absence of hurry, perfection in every task attempted, and maximum utilisation of every bit of an article characterised Bhagavan.
In the final year of Bhagavan’s life I made two long cushions for Bhagavan to rest the arm that was affected by the cancer. After one of the operations, the wound opened and the cushions became soaked with blood. On this occasion Bhagavan, in the presence of his attendants Shri Rangaswami and Shri Sathyananda, gave me those two cushions as his gift to me. I replaced them with fresh ones the next day. The original cushions I esteem as precious relics and today they are amongst my most prized possessions.
[Though Feroze Taleyarkhan had little money of her own, she knew many families who were extraordinarily wealthy. Starting in the 1940s, she tapped into this resource and collected donations for Ramanasramam which were primarily used to fund building projects. She was instrumental in the purchase of the two houses where Bhagavan was born and attained enlightenment, she personally supervised the renovation of the Patala Lingam Shrine where Bhagavan stayed briefly in the 1890s, and in the 1960s she briefly took charge of the construction of the mantapam that was being erected over Bhagavan’s samadhi. Here are a few of her recollections of these projects:]
In my travels around the world I have seen and I have also heard that places associated with the great men of the several countries I have visited have been preserved, in some cases as national memorials, and that these countries have honoured their great men in other ways as well. The thought of these spots dedicated to the memory of the great of the land came upon me one evening as I was sitting idly with Viswanatha Swami on the parapet wall of the well at Ramanasramam. After making some enquiries, I was told that Bhagavan had been born in the village of Tiruchuli in the Ramanathapuram District, but that no one nowadays knew who the owner was, or who was currently in possession of the house.
I felt it was a shame that none of Bhagavan’s devotees had ever thought of Bhagavan’s birthplace. My restless energy made me pursue these enquiries. I resolved that the birthplace should be purchased and preserved as a memorial to Bhagavan, as I considered him to be the greatest of the great. Negotiations were begun for the purchase of the house, but as soon as it became known that the house was to be purchased by a Bombay lady, the price, as usual, was increased. However, thanks to the indefatigable efforts of an old lawyer-devotee, Shri Ranganathan, the price was settled at a reasonable figure and the sale put through. My friends, Shri Pestonjee Mahaluxmiwalla and Shri Govindram Seksaria, both personally gave me gifts of Rs 2,500 as a contribution towards the purchase.
The house was in bad repair, but soon was made suitable for the purpose for which it was intended. The sarvadhikari was in a great hurry to perform the house-warming ceremony. He approached Bhagavan, who asked him if he was planning to perform the ceremony without me. I was then in Bombay. The sarvadhikari asked me to return to the ashram, since he was eager to complete the ceremonies. On my return, a party of about thirty of us left for Tiruchuli. On the way, I stayed at Madurai with Shri R. M. Mahadevan, then District Superintendent of Police there. He made all arrangements for our onward journey to and from Tiruchuli. The Dewan of Ramanathapuram was present with us on the occasion of the ceremony. It was performed in a fitting manner and was enjoyed greatly by everyone present.
Since our party was a large one, while we were in Madurai we were accommodated in several houses. During our visit we went to see the famous Shri Meenakshi Temple. On the way there the lawyer Shri Ranganathan pointed out to me the house in Chokkappa Naicker Street where Bhagavan had lived as a student and where he attained that illumination which turned the student Venkataraman into the latter-day Bhagavan Ramana. When I saw the house, I again felt the urge that this house too should be bought and preserved as a memorial to Bhagavan. Shri Ranganathan was again helpful in arranging for the purchase. The funds were provided at my request by Shri Raja Reddy, a wealthy zamindar who had been my guest at the ashram, and who had made a few motion-picture shots of Bhagavan. The house is known as ‘Shri Ramana Mandiram’ and the house at Tiruchuli as ‘Shri Sundara Mandiram’, in memory and in honour of Shri Sundaram Iyer, Bhagavan’s father.
Although I had seen on the person of Bhagavan the marks of insect bites suffered by him during a period before I came to the ashram, for quite a long while my curiosity had not been sufficiently excited to enquire how Bhagavan came by them. One day, in a reply to a question put by him, Bhagavan said that they were the legacy of the days he had spent at the Patala Lingam Shrine, very early in his life here.
Bhagavan desired me to see the place. Because I had not seen it before, one evening he asked Naina to take me to the Shri Arunachaleswarar Temple. During our visit Naina pointed to a part of the thousand-pillared mantapam as the place where the shrine referred to by Bhagavan was. We could hardly approach the place, so dirty it was. It was being used as a public lavatory rather than a shrine. This news saddened Bhagavan.
He remarked in a sad, soft and gentle voice: ‘Oh, they have no other place but this for that purpose. Do you know the place is a very sacred one, and is the samadhi of a very great saint?’
I felt that must be the reason for Bhagavan having chosen that spot for his austerities and something impelled me to say, ‘I will do up the shrine and see that the place is put to its proper purpose’.
Bhagavan asked me, ‘Oh, will you?’
I reaffirmed my intention, although I did not know then what I had undertaken.
I decided to approach Shri Kailoo Parekh, who was almost a son to me, and for this purpose left for Madras in the company of Shri Narayana Iyer, Sub-registrar. When I met Shri Kailoo Parekh, he asked me to be ready to accompany him that afternoon when he would take me to the right person to help me. I did not know whom or what he had in mind.
I soon found myself at the gate of a residence bearing the nameplate Shri Tarapore. I immediately wanted to leave as I did not want to meet any members of my [Parsi] community. However, it was too late for any protest as I soon found myself at the portico being welcomed by Mrs Tarapore – Dhanmai – and her beautiful daughter Dina Mai. They put me at ease at once, and I overcame the sense of uneasiness I had felt on entering their building. A sumptuous tea was laid out for us, after which Kailoo coolly asked me to hand over the plans to Shri Tarapore. I had had them prepared in Tiruvannamalai by the stapathi who was engaged in the construction of the Shri Mathrubhuteswara Temple in the ashram. I did not know at the time that Shri Tarapore was himself an architect of high repute, or that he was to play a great and important role in my life thereafter, providing me a home, love and care such as I have never enjoyed, or that it was a day of destiny for me. That is how it was to be, and I took it that it was so because of Bhagavan’s grace. Shri Tarapore took the plans and asked me to meet him at his office the next day when he put some questions. Then he simply told me to leave the whole thing to him, adding that whatever was required would be done. I wrote to Bhagavan a long letter, telling him of my good luck, saying that Shri Tarapore had undertaken the entire responsibility for the construction of the shrine of the Patala Lingam. Bhagavan expressed his satisfaction with what I had arranged.
Shri Tarapore and his engineers came a week later, inspected the place, and set to work on the construction of the temple. Removing the accumulated dirt itself was something of a problem. As was usual with him, Bhagavan evinced considerable interest. I reported daily to him on the progress of the scheme. Experts had been engaged by Shri Tarapore on the work, and he and his family would often come to Tiruvannamalai to inspect the progress of the work and to satisfy themselves that it was being executed properly. On all these occasions they never failed to pay their respects to Bhagavan. As the temple was nearing completion, I told Bhagavan that I was approaching Shri Rajaji, then Governor of Bengal, to perform the opening ceremony. With Bhagavan’s blessings I wrote and Shri Rajaji readily agreed to my request.
[Soon afterwards, Rajaji was appointed Governor-General of India. His staff felt that someone who was holding the highest position in the country should not preside over a function that was merely the renovation of a minor shrine in a temple. Attempts were made to dissuade him from coming, but he kept his promise and agreed to attend. The funds for the project appear to have been donated personally to Feroze Taleyarkhan by Ramnath Goenka, whom she met prior to her first meeting with the architect.]
I had undertaken the task of cleaning up the two big tanks in the temple premises, the waters of which were stinking from the accumulated moss and dirt. I may here be permitted to digress to an incident which happened a few years earlier.
At the time I was so much absorbed in my Lord Bhagavan, I had no other thought. Suddenly someone asked about the Arunachala Temple. I had never even been to the temple, so I asked Bhagavan about it.
‘You must go and see it,’ he replied, and he asked Naina to take me.
Hearing this, all the other devotees also wanted to accompany us. So, one night, all of us went. As we were entering a sepoy stopped Naina and started a discussion with him. Somehow, I felt that this was something about me, so I enquired what was happening. Dear Naina did not want to embarrass me, but he had to tell me that they were taking me to be a non-Hindu. At that time non-Hindus were not allowed into the temple. Immediately I went and saw the Executive Officer, who understood me and took us all inside.
When I went to Mother Parvati in the temple, I nearly cried and said, ‘O Ma, if you are a real mother, then see that today’s insult should give me the chance to serve you in such a way that one day my name will be in this temple’.
I was not aware of what I was saying, but lo and behold, five years later, I took up the Patala Lingam work, which I shall ever cherish as the great Mother’s answer to my prayer.
The task had expanded from renovating the shrine to a general spring clean of the whole temple. I brought pumps from Polur and Vellore and made sure that both the temple tanks received a long overdue spring cleaning. I saw to it that the entire premises of the temple were made spick and span for the function. The Executive Officer of the temple was of immense help to me during these activities.
The arrangements at Tiruvannamalai were vigorously pushed through. I saw to it personally that all the stations on the railway line from Madras to Tiruvannamalai received a long overdue coat of whitewash and that the houses lining the streets of the town of Tiruvannamalai along which Shri Rajaji was to pass were also whitewashed and gaily decorated. The town of Tiruvannamalai was also brilliantly lit up so that Shri Rajaji could have some idea of the reception planned for him from his special train itself.
On the day of the ceremony Shri Rajaji drove in an open car [from the station] to the well-decorated temple where he performed the opening of the newly renovated temple of Shri Patala Lingam. On entering, he asked Shri Tarapore to put up a plaque in English and Tamil to commemorate the occasion, which was done subsequently. He went down the steps and graciously prostrated to the lingam there.
[There is an account of the restoration and opening of the Patala Lingam Shrine in Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, 10th May 1949.
I suspect that Rajagopalachari’s decision to attend the function, despite the opposition of some of his staff, was because of his friendship with Mrs Taleyarkhan, not his devotion to Bhagavan. In Living by the Words of Bhagavan (pp. 96-98 2nd ed., and pp. 101-3 1st ed.) I gave some details of how Rajaji prevented Gandhi from carrying out his wish to come and see Bhagavan, and in the first edition account I cited some critical remarks that Rajaji had made about Bhagavan in the presence of Gandhi. However, in his speech, which is reprinted as an appendix to Mrs Taleyarkhan’s book, he made (p. 259) the following gracious remarks about Bhagavan:
Shri Ramana Maharshi has kept India’s spiritual glory alive in our generation. He had in his own way made the name of India respected by wise and enlightened men spread all over the world, even as Shri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and other saints did in former times. Ramana Maharshi’s meditations took early shape in this temple. Let us tender our tribute of reverence and homage to the enlightened soul and may his prayers, on our behalf, bear fruit. Let us be worthy of him.
The sentiments expressed in the speech, however, were not enough to persuade Rajaji that he should go to the ashram and pay his respects to Bhagavan in person. Although almost everyone else in his party made a visit to Ramanasramam, Rajaji stayed in his special train and ate all his meals there. In the Letters from Sri Ramanasramam account he sent his apologies to the ashram, saying that he had ‘some urgent work’ to attend to.
Mrs Taleyarkhan’s wish that ‘one day my name will be in this temple’ came to fruition with this project. In addition to the plaque which Rajaji suggested, for many years there were painted murals on the wall, which included scenes from Bhagavan’s life, along with a captioned painting of Mrs Taleyarkhan at the opening ceremony. In the most recent renovation of the shrine these paintings (which had almost disintegrated with age) were painted over and not replaced. The original plaque, though, still remains. Mrs Taleyarkhan concludes her description of the event with the following story:]
That evening the A.I.R. [All-India Radio] broadcast a recording of the function at the temple which Bhagavan heard with rapt attention. When the broadcast was over, Bhagavan said, with a sigh of relief, that for three or four days he had been moving in dread lest I should pick him up and take him to the function. What an opportunity I had missed, I shouted, but Bhagavan motioned me kindly to resume my seat and said he was much relieved.
A little later someone informed Bhagavan that a fee was being levied for admission into the newly constructed temple. Bhagavan asked me if it was true, and pointed out the informant, who affirmed it. Immediately, I wrote a strong letter to the Executive Officer to stop that practice. Bhagavan said that no levy ought to be made for entry into the temple.
[The final section of this narrative deals with events that took place during and after Bhagavan’s final illness:]
Bhagavan bore his pain with exceptional patience. It must have been terrible. The doctors could do little to mitigate it. Mauni [Swami] and a few others prayed to Bhagavan himself to ask him if anything could be done.
Bhagavan said, ‘Oh, oh, now you come to ask me. [Before] you wanted to do whatever you liked with this body. Why come and ask now?’
The night before the fourth operation, while the ashram people were in dinner, I went to the new hall where Sathyananda and Rangaswami were massaging Bhagavan’s back.
With tears in my eyes I said to him, ‘O Bhagavan, do grant me but one request. I have never asked Bhagavan anything for myself. Transfer this disease to me and live for the sake of mankind. Without you I cannot live. I would be helpless.’
Bhagavan said, ‘Why do you attach so much of importance to this body?’
I replied, ‘Bhagavan has taught me to love it.’
Then Bhagavan told me: ‘Where am I going? I am always with you.’
At this I knelt down crying and placed my head on his knees. Bhagavan touched my head three times, saying these words each time he did. Then he gave me the Kashmir shawl he had about him – yet another precious relic of Bhagavan that is treasured by me.
On 12th April 1950 Rangaswami came to my place at 8 p.m., while Mr Cohen and I were having our dinner. He brought us bad news.
He told us, ‘Bhagavan will leave us now within three days. I was gently rubbing Bhagavan’s swollen hand. Then my tears fell on his hand. Watching this Bhagavan gently said, “You have worked hard for me. There are no adequate words in Tamil to express my thanks except ‘Rumba santosham’ [much happiness], but in English I can express it by saying, ‘Thank you very much’. This I say to you: in three days you will all be free. You will have neither trouble nor work. But then you will have another trouble. There will be the problem of your food, stay and comfort.”’
Every word of Bhagavan’s prediction came true. Three of the attendants, including Rangaswami, were asked to leave the ashram after Bhagavan passed away, even though they wanted to stay. Rangaswami died in his village a few months later. For over a week after mahanirvana, I was quite desolate at missing the physical presence of Bhagavan, and I did not know quite what to do. Between tears, thoughts of ending this life often came to my mind. My husband too was no more then, and Bombay held no fascination for me.
Then, one afternoon, as I lay asleep, I had a dream. I was standing on the verandah of my house. I saw Bhagavan come down the Arunachala hill with his walking stick and kamandalu and enter the verandah of my house by the side door. He came up to me and asked, ‘Why are you weeping?’ Tears welled up in my eyes. I said I missed Bhagavan too deeply for words. Bhagavan bade me wipe my tears, assuring me he was always with me here. He went out by the door opposite, crossing the bodies of three or four people who were soundly asleep on the floor, whose identity to this day escapes me. This dream is still vivid in my memory, and were I an artist I would have drawn a picture of the scene. Bhagavan almost seemed to tell me that my place was at his ashram and that my services in the interests of the ashram should continue.
[I have begun a new ‘Open Thread’ post underneath this one. If readers want to make comments on this post, please do so here. If you want to discuss any other matters, please use the new ‘Open Thread’ space as a forum.]