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Cherished Memories

Chapter 26 - Anandammal

Anandammal was one of Bhagavan's earliest devotees. She came to Bhagavan while he was in Virupaksha Cave. Anandammal's parents had settled down in Tiruvannamalai and the girl's childhood was spent in the temple town. Right from her childhood, she had a spiritual bent of mind. Even as a young girl, she used to come to the Virupaksha Cave very often and sit in meditation before Bhagavan for long periods of time.

When Anandammal reached marriageable age, her parents started looking for a suitable bridegroom. Anandammal had no desire for family life and tried her best to dissuade her parents from getting her married. But her protests were in vain and she had to get married.

Even after her marriage however, she used to go to the Virupaksha Cave every evening and spend her time in blissful meditation in Bhagavan's presence. Her people did not approve of this. They tried to change her ways saying, "Now you are a married woman and your duty is to look after your husband and home. You should not go out every evening." To this Anandammal had only one reply, "I told you that I was not interested in marriage. Why did you not listen to me then?"

In course of time, Anandammal gave birth to a son. Her relatives rejoiced, thinking that the child would bind her more firmly to her home life. But they were sadly mistaken. She did not allow the birth of her child to interfere with her spiritual pursuits. She left her son in the care of other family members and continued her spiritual practices. After a while, her husband passed away. By this time, Bhagavan had come down from the hill and Sri Ramanasramam had been established. Anandammal came to live in a small thatched hut in Ramananagar. Her brother took up the responsibility of caring for her son. He educated the boy and eventually made him his son-in-law. Anandammal's son and daughter-in-law worked as teachers in a school in Tiruvannamalai town. Anandammal did not attach importance to material possessions or physical needs. A kind hearted lady called Dhanam took upon herself the responsibility of cooking for her and generally looking after her.

Anandammal had not had much education. She was therefore unable to read much even though she was very much interested in philosophical works. A lady from Madurai used to visit Anandammal frequently. This lady was a teacher in Madurai and would come to Sri Ramanasramam during school holidays. She had great respect and love for Anandammal. She would bring good books on philosophical subjects from the library and read them aloud to Anandammal. This lady from Madurai was a Tamil scholar but sometimes she had difficulty in understanding some of the passages in the books she read. Every time she found a passage too difficult to grasp, Anandammal would clear her doubts with concise explanations. The lady was often surprised by Anandammal's intuitive grasp of great philosophical truths.

Anandammal's life is an excellent illustration of the fact that in spiritual sadhana, experience and intuition play a more important role than mere book knowledge. Anandammal never wasted even a single moment of her time. If she could find someone to read to her, she would have works of Bhagavan and the a< href="i/elibrary/books/ancient-texts/#item_1950">Ribhu Gita or some other philosophical work read out to her. She would at times go on Giripradakshinam. If there was nothing else to do, she would calmly sit and meditate for hours together in Bhagavan's presence. She did not spend time in worldly thoughts.

Her very appearance seemed to indicate her purity. She wore an ochre colored sari. Her shorn head and a necklace of Rudraksha beads gave her the appearance of a sannyasini. She had no interest in worldly matters; even with regard to food, she had no likes or dislikes. She ate only to keep the body and soul together. At times, Dhanam had to go away for three or four days at a stretch. On such occasions, she would cook enough rice to last for a few days and leave it in a pot. Anandammal would eat a little of this rice whenever she felt the need. All of her concentration was on the Self and she did not bother about the trivial details of daily life.

Once, I got the idea that it would be nice to prepare some snacks and distribute them among the sadhus in the Ashram. Accordingly I prepared some pakoras (savouries) and made several packages. I distributed the packets to all sadhus in the Ashram and went to Anandammal's hut with the last packet. When I reached her place, she beckoned me to come and sit beside her. When she noticed the packet in my hand, she asked, "What is it that you have brought?"

I gave her the parcel and explained the background. She admonished me saying, "Why do you waste your time like this? Where did you get the idea that sadhus need such trifles as snacks and sweets? Don't you ever listen to what Bhagavan says? He has told us all repeatedly that the only thing to do is to be still. And yet, you engage yourself in such totally unnecessary activities. Dhanam has left me some rice in the pot in the corner. There is enough of it to keep me from starving till she returns. I have never felt the need for fancy food and I am sure that the sadhus also feel the same way. I am disappointed in you. You do not seem to realise what a great privilege it is to be allowed to live in Bhagavan's presence. You are so young; you will be able to enjoy this privilege for a long time yet. Do not waste this rare opportunity. Concentrate your energy in the search for the Self and do not fritter it away in such worthless activities."

Her strong words brought me to my senses. I realised how irresponsible I had been. I decided never to make such a mistake in future. Since then, I have not been tempted to do anything of that sort. Even if the impulse arose, I would be reminded of Anandammal's words, and this would keep me from succumbing to temptation.

At times her friends came to her with their troubles. Her advice was always the same. " Why do you waste your time on such unimportant things? What is the point in worrying? Life is like that. There will always be some problem or the other. But you should not let your mind dwell on such things. Forget everything and sit at Bhagavan's feet. He will take care of everything."

Anandammal used to say with pride, "This Arunachala has a unique distinction. It is said that if a woman were to do penance here, her prayers are granted very soon. It was here that Goddess Uma became a part of the Lord. There are a number of temples for Rama's mother Kausalya or Krishna's mother Devaki. But the mother of our Bhagavan, Alagammal, has been granted this unique privilege. Is not the Mathrubhutheswara temple the greatest proof that women are held in very high esteem in Tiruvannamalai?"

After Bhagavan's Mahasamadhi, many of his devotees left Tiruvannamalai and went to far off places in search of solace. But they could not find peace or comfort anywhere. Like a sea-bird, which takes flight from a ship, is compelled to return to it eventually, so also did Bhagavan's devotees return to the haven of Ramanasramam after a while. Though they came back, they were unable to find the peace they had enjoyed during his lifetime. The sight of Bhagavan's favourite resting places, bis few personal belongings and the objects he had looked at or touched, all these brought back poignant memories. The devotees were unable to get over the grief of Bhagavan's departure from the physical body.

It was at this time that Anandammal and a few other devotees approached Muruganar and requested him to read from Bhagavan's collected works and explain the same in detail. Muruganar agreed, hoping that a detailed study of Bhagavan's teachings would help them all overcome their grief. Muruganar's discourses on Bhagavan's Collected Works (Nool Thirattu) were very lucid and illuminating. Those days, when we listened to Muruganar's exposition on Bhagavan's works, were blessed ones. It was an unforgettable experience.

Muruganar systematically took us through all the verses and songs in Bhagavan's collected works. These lectures went on regularly for nearly six months. Even after the lectures were over, Anandammal often visited him for clarifications of her doubts, in various other spiritual works. On one such occasion Anandammal approached Muruganar and asked him, "Is it not true that saint Vamadeva attained supreme knowledge even while he was in his mother's womb?" As she was saying this, she fell down. I was standing nearby at that time. At first I thought that Anandammal was just prostrating to Muruganar. But when, even after a long time she did not get up, I sensed that something was seriously wrong. When I lifted her up, I found that she was unconscious. My friend Padma and I tried to revive Anandammal by sprinkling water on her face. But our efforts were in vain. We sent word to Dhanam and she immediately rushed to the town to inform Anandammal s son. As soon as her son arrived, Anandammal was lifted on to a cart and taken to her son's house. Anandammal continued in the same state of unconsciousness throughout the day and breathed her last that night. She was a devotee par excellence, full of detachment, wisdom and spiritual experience. Even her last thoughts and words were on spiritual matters. The purpose of her life was fulfilled and this ripe soul reached Sri Bhagavan's Lotus Feet. Her son and her brother performed the last rites, in the manner prescribed for the interment of a realised soul.