It was the evening of December 27, 1945.
Bhagavan was enveloped in a bright ethereal light, which could not even be looked at. Normally, such a light enveloped Bhagavan on the jayanti and Mahapooja days as disciples prostrated before him after the pooja. But as it was not one of those days the disciples wondered at the light.
That night, Echammal merged in Bhagavan. Maybe it was for that reason that Bhagavan intensified his lustre. Many people did not even know that Echammal was sick though a few noticed that for about two or three days earlier she had not been fetching food for Bhagavan.
Around ten o'clock, of the next day, Lokamma came to Bhagavan and reported the passing away of Echammal. In a stentorian, emotion-filled voice Bhagavan said, "Yes it is so. I am also looking forward to go but the time has not yet come." Those who heard these words were bewildered. "Was it the beginning of the end? If not, why would Bhagavan utter such words?" they asked themselves.
It was only by the evening that Bhagavan became normal. Only then he enquired how the funeral rites of Echammal were performed. He was told that her body
was cremated. Later her ashes were taken to her place and a tulsi plant was planted thereon.
Towards the end of Krishna-avatara, Brahma and other deities approached him and said, "The purpose of your avatara has been fulfilled, and it is time to think of return to your place." Krishna's reply was, "I have a little job left. I have to help the Yadavas who cannot help themselves." Maybe, Bhagavan also thought it desirable to send those who were close to him to the heavens before he himself departed.
In her last days, Echammal suffered great penury but still did not give up her service of Bhagavan. He used to dissuade her saying, "Formerly we did not have enough to eat but now the situation is much better, why do you not stop this service and have food with us here?" She did not heed his advice and just to satisfy her, Bhagavan would taste a little of what she brought. He would not go towards the dining hall until Echammal's service was over. After her demise, her relations offered to send food to Bhagavan as before but he did not approve of it. The privilege of service was special to Echammal! After her passing away Bhagavan is reported to have said, "I have still the responsibility of Mudaliar patti."
The next person to make his exit was Madhavaswami.
Madhavaswami was a very quiet Malayalee who came to Ramanasramam within five or six years of its establishment, from a village near Palghat. He was detailed to attend on Bhagavan. A bachelor, his devotion and attention to Bhagavan
were matchless. Wherever Bhagavan went, Madhavaswami followed him with a bowl of water (kamandalam).
Such a devotee surprisingly began experiencing an inexplicable burning sensation all over the body. Possibly his body could not stand the intensity of the power of Bhagavan with whom he came into contact. He then left the Ashram in spite of Bhagavan's advice and began wandering about at different places. Yet he could find peace nowhere.
Madhavaswami who was immersed in joy while at the Ashram became drowned in sorrow and finally joined a math in July 1946 at Kumbakonam. He wished to go back to Aruncahala before his death but hesitated thinking that he would not be allowed to go out again. Just before his death he had an attack of dysentery. Thereafter, he sat in padmasana and breathed his last on 7th July 1946. Kunjuswami went from Ramanasramam to perform the funeral rites.
Madhava was a blessed being, almost a shadow of Bhagavan, such being the case, why did he leave Bhagavan? Or, why did he pass away at a different place? There is a belief that the soul of one who served a siddha purusha would be attached to the Mahatma and that if he left the company of the Mahatma the body would not survive long. A parallel to this can be found in the case of Sri Aurobindo's wife who did not go to Pondicherry in spite of being repeatedly asked to do so. She passed away a little after the Master moved to Pondicherry. The power of attraction of Siddha purushas is intense. If a body confronts it, it naturally perishes.
He came to Bhagavan during the latter's stay at the Virupaksha cave. A bachelor and a very fine person he had a good knowledge of Tamil literature. He was frail, physically unattractive, and utterly poor; his goodness was not discernible easily. He used to perform pooja in someone's house in the town and have his food there. As he had no means to buy himself a pair of sandals he would wrap his feet in pieces of gunny sacks while walking in the hot sun. Therefore, his walking was odd. Bhagavan would joke, "Ramanatha, those who watch you walk could comment that you are making fun of the way I walk." He fell ill and went to Madras for treatment where he passed away on December 19, 1946.
Ramanatha was a good poet. His verses entitled Ramanar
anubhuti and his song Tiruchuzhinathan kande ne are excellent. This song contains the substance of a three hour long speech he gave on the similarities of Nataraja of Chidambaram and Bhagavan one evening in Bhagavan's presence. The song says, "I saw the Lord of Tiruchuzhi and unable to come away, stayed back. The same Lord who comes to the succour of the pitiable, dances at Chidambaram. The same Lord stays at Virupaksha cave on Arunachala as an ocean of compassion. He manifested himself there as God." In this song Ramanatha repeatedly refers to Bhagavan as Andavane (God) which was why he got a nickname Andavane.
It was 1948, the next one to leave Bhagavan was Lakshmi the cow. We have already seen the love and
affection Bhagavan showered on the cow. She lived at the Ashram for well over twenty years. After a brief illness she had liberation on 18 June 1948. That morning Bhagavan visited the cowshed at about 9.45 and sat close to Lakshmi, and took her head in his lap. He began caressing her body and addressed her in several endearing terms like "Amma", "dear" and "nayana." Sometime in the afternoon Lakshmi breathed her last.
In the evening at about 6.30 her body was brought for funeral in a cart to a place north of the hall where Bhagavan normally sat. In the presence of Bhagavan, Brahmin pandits recited various mantras while performing abhisekha. Bhagavan spoke about Lakshmi in glowing terms. He said that possibly in an earlier birth she was a good sadhaka who came to the Ashram in the present birth for liberation. "Everything is being done for Lakshmi as was done for mother," he said to someone. Lakshmi's body was smeared with turmeric power and sandal paste, jasmine garlands were placed round her head and a red upper cloth was wrapped round her neck. After waving camphor light in front of her she was interred.
In the South there is a practice of writing an epitaph after the death of a great sadhu and getting it engraved on a stone to be placed on the samadhi. On the death of Lakshmi, Bhagavan himself wrote an epitaph in Tamil. Therein, Bhagavan referred to Lakshmi as having attainted mukti . Because of this a view was expressed that Bhagavan granted liberation to Lakshmi. It was also said that Devaraja Mudaliar had asked Bhagavan himself about this
matter when the latter clarified that vimukti meant mukti . Bhagavan never denied anything to anyone.
According to the Ramayana, Sri Rama granted liberation to Jatayu, the bird. He said, "You will go to those blessed lokas to which great, pious souls go, with my blessings." Maybe Lakshmi had a similar journey.
Translation: Collected Works.
Bhagavan later translated the verse into Telugu, in the very metre he used in Tamil. Bhagavan introduced this metre (Venba) to the Telugu language.
On the day Lakshmi passed away Bhagavan's body became utterly weak and it was with great difficulty that he could take a few steps.
MUDALIAR PATTI: (MUDALIAR GRANNY)
She was born in a Mudaliar family belonging to Injikollai (Thanjavur District). At the suggestion of her guru she visited Tiruvannamalai in 1908 on a pilgrimage along with her son and daughter-in-law. They had darshan of Bhagavan at Virupaksha cave. Possibly influenced by that darshan, Mudaliar granny decided to stay back. Not being able to persuade his mother to return home, her son, Subramanya Mudaliar, left his wife, Kamakshi to look after her and returned. Mudaliar Patti like Echammal, began serving food to Bhagavan. Her son also could not
resist Bhagavan's magnetic pull and got back to Arunachala for Bhagavan's service after some time. Later on, he became a renunciate and became the head of a math at Achalapuram, the place where the Saivite Saint Jnana Sambandar disappeared, merging in effulgent light.
Mudaliar granny and her daughter-in-law devoted their lives to the service of Bhagavan. In course of time after her daughter-in-law passed away the granny continued her service in spite of advancing age. Noticing her dedication and helplessness Bhagavan once said, "Anyone helping her can be deemed to be in my service."
Mudaliar granny was very independent and insisted on carrying on the service without anyone else's assistance, she also took liberties with Bhagavan. Once when she served a larger quantity of food than usual Bhagavan expressed his annoyance. Granny turned back and said, "It is all in the mind." Bhagavan had a laugh and remarked "She is throwing back my teaching at me!"
After passing away she was buried in the Gounder compound. The rites were performed as for a sannyasini. A large number of people gathered at the burial spot giving evidence of the respect and love she commanded while alive.
Having thus sent away his close associates it appeared as if Bhagavan began the preparations for his own withdrawal. The stories of the departure of only a few devotees have been given above. It does not mean that other devotees were not dear to Bhagavan.
After all, did not Lord Krishna depart leaving behind his very intimate Arjuna and Uddhava?