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Mother Azhagammal

Sri Ramana and Mother



Azhagammal was born at Pasalai, a village near Manamadurai in Tamil Nadu. As a child, she was married to Sundaram Iyer of Tiruchuzhi. Though there was no formal schooling for women at that time, Azhagammal learned hundreds of vedantic hymns from the elder ladies at Tiruchuzhi.  She was always keen to learn a new hymn and would visit at anyone's home if there was a chance to do so.  "Dakshinamurti Stotram" was one she regularly recited, (little knowing at the time that she would one day give birth to a baby who would come to be recognized as Dakshinamurti!). She also received Upadesa of the sacred mantra 'Aham Brahmasmi'.

Azhagammal, an exceptionally loving and generous person, suffered some extreme blows in her life. Her husband died at the age of 47, leaving her with four children, the youngest only four, which resulted in the family having to split up. When her beloved Venkataraman vanished at the age of sixteen, leaving no clue as to where he had gone, she suffered the most extreme grief as extensive searching for him turned up no clues for years. Then, when he was finally tracked down and she went and found him, emmaciated and very dirty, her days of desperate pleading and weeping with him to return home were all to no avail. Though Sri Ramana (then known as Mouna Swami) showed no expression on his face, he was certainly not impervious to her pain, and indeed he had to turn and walk away at times so she did not see the look of compassion on his face and gain false hope that she would be able to coax him home. His love for her was profound, but he knew there was no possibility of leaving his Father, Arunachala.

Not too long after this, Azhagammal suffered another great loss -- the death of her oldest son, who was still a very young man.


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Some people are under the erroneous impression that jnana, which involves total disidentification with the body-mind complex, implies a certain lack of emotional depth. It is assumed that since people, events and things are viewed by jnanis purely as witnesses, with total detachment, they would not have the normal human feelings with their relatives and others. The fact however is the exact opposite and it is only jnanis who can truly bestow total undistracted love on one and all including their own blood relations ....

Coming to the life of Ramana Maharshi we find an extraordinarily beautiful and tender relationship between Sri Ramana and His mother, Alagammal. For ostensible purposes, one finds three different stages in the relationship, but throughout, the undercurrent of love Sri Bhagavan had for his mother and the regard and love she had for him are evident.

~ from The Maharshi and His Mother by A.R. Natarajan


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from Timeless in Time:

Alagammal, Ramana’s mother, moved to Tiruvannamalai in 1916 to be near her son. Like all devout persons she wanted to end the repeating cycle of birth and death. Who could be a better guide than her own son to whom the world was turning for an inward way of life? In the beginning she stayed with Echamma who would daily prepare food for Ramana and the inmates of Virupaksha Cave and take it to them. Mother would accompany her. Notwithstanding her resolve it was increasingly evident that the fatigue of climbing up to the cave was beyond her physical strength at her age. The lady devotees intervened on her behalf and pleaded that she should be permitted to stay with Ramana in the Virupaksha Cave itself. Not knowing Ramana’s views and apprehensive that other lady devotees too would follow suit, the inmates flatly refused to hear their pleadings. The lady devotees persisted saying that mother was mother, and therefore special. Yet the inmates remained stubborn. The mother was about to return in deep sorrow.

Ramana, who was silent until then, was moved. He got up, held her hand and said, “Come let us go, if not here we can stay somewhere else. Come.” Alarmed, everyone regretted their negative stand and begged him in one voice, “Please stay with us. Mother too is welcome.”

Ramana now had the opportunity to give the necessary guidance to his mother. Firstly, he had to wean her out of the kitchen-religion, out of her orthodoxy. He would make fun of it. For instance he would say, “Amma, what are you going to eat? Today they have brought drumsticks and onions. If you eat them, will you not encounter a forest of drumsticks and onions on the way to moksha?” Gradually she came to see that moderation in food was all that was required for sadhana.

Besides her ingrained orthodox habits there was an even more important hurdle. It was the understandable feeling of being special as Ramana’s mother. Ramana would frequently tell her that all women were his mothers. There was undoubtedly a corrosion of her background because of these lessons from Ramana. Yet the real reason for her transformation was the way Ramana lived before her day in and day out. How could mother’s mental notions remain unchanged? She too felt like a mother to all those who had entrusted their lives to Ramana. Her heart began to blossom. This change should be seen in an illustration. Once a man carrying firewood fell down in front of the asram exhausted with fatigue and hunger. She fed him unhesitatingly ignoring caste restrictions. She would also refer to the many inmates of the asram as her sons.

However, her love for Ramana would not be defeated. Slowly, at Skandasramam she started cooking, “First a vegetable, then a soup and so on. She used to wander all over the hill, gather something or the other and say that he likes this vegetable, that fruit.” She took no notice of Ramana’s remonstration. In fact this was the beginning of the asram kitchen and the Ramana family of an ever widening circle of disciples and devotees.

In the last years of her life, mother completely surrendered herself to Ramana who had become her Sadguru. Above all it was life in Ramana’s sanctifying presence, listening to his teachings and observing his daily life, which transformed her. Such was her faith in Ramana that she used to tell him, “Even if you throw away my dead body in these thorny bushes, I do not mind. I must die in your arms.”


Mother’s Liberation

Mother’s health started deteriorating from 1920. On the 19th of May 1922, her condition became critical. After his morning walk Ramana want to her room at about 8 a.m., and sat beside her. Throughout the day, he had his right hand on her spiritual heart, on the right side of the chest and his left hand on her head. Ramana took on the sacred assignment of liberating his mother from the travails of births. He had the power to bestow liberation. But he let her battle for it while at the same time he extended his gracious and invaluable support for it to fructify. What happened has been described by Ramana himself. “The vasanas of the previous births and latent tendencies which are seeds of future births came out. She was observing one after another the scenes of experiences arising from remaining vasanas. As a result of a series of such experiences she was working them out.” Later someone asked Ramana to explain the process to which he replied, “You see, birth experiences are mental. Thinking is also like that, depending on samskaras (tendencies). Mother was made to undergo all her future births in the comparatively short time.” At 8 p.m., her mind was absorbed in the heart and she was liberated from all tendencies which give rise to future births. Even so Bhagavan waited for some time. For in the case of his faithful attendant of many years Palaniswami, he had done the same thing. But after the subsidence of the mind in the heart, Palaniswami had opened his eyes momentarily and the life force left the body though them. After a few minutes Ramana got up. When someone said that mother has passed away, Ramana immediately corrected and affirmed, “She did not pass away. ‘Adangi Vittadu, Addakam’ (‘absorbed’).” He added, “There is no pollution. Let us eat.”

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Mother Azhagammal by A. R. Natarajan,
The Mountain Path, Vol 27, Nos. 1 & 2, May - June, 1990


The Evolution of the Mother's Temple    by David Godman

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Sri Ramana's Mother once asked him to help with the preparation of poppdum. Instead, he composed this song. (1915)

The Song of the Poppadum   

No need about the world to roam
And suffer from depression;
Make poppadum within the home
According to the lesson
Of 'Thou art That', without compare,
The Unique Word, unspoken
'Tis not by speech it will declare.
The silence is unbroken
Of Him who is the Adept-Sage,
The great Apotheosis,
With His eternal heritage
That Being-Wisdom-Bliss is.

Make poppadum and after making fry,
Eat, so your cravings you may satisfy.

The grain which is the black gram's yield,
The so-called self or ego,
Grown in the body's fertile field
Of five-fold sheaths, put into
The roller-mill made out of stone,
Which is the search for Wisdom,
The 'Who am I?'. 'Tis thus alone
The Self will gain its freedom.
This must be crushed to finest dust
And ground up into fragments
As being the non-self, so must
We shatter our attachments.

Make poppadum and after making fry,
Eat, so your cravings you may satisfy.

Mix the juice of square-stemmed vine,
This association
With Holy Men. With this combine
Within the preparation
Some cummin-seed of mind-control
And pepper for restraining
The wayward senses, with them roll
That salt which is remaining
Indifferent to the world we see,
With condiment of leanings
Towards a virtuous unity.
These are their different meanings.

Make poppadum and after making fry,
Eat, so your cravings you may satisfy.

The mixture into dough now blend
And on the stone then place it
Of mind, by tendencies hardened,
And without ceasing baste it
With heavy strokes of the 'I-I'
Delivered with the pestle
Of introverted mind. Slowly
The mind will cease to wrestle.
Then roll out with the pin of peace
Upon the slab of Brahman.
Continue effort without cease
With energetic élan.

Make poppadum and after making fry,
Eat, so your cravings you may satisfy.

The poppadum or soul's now fit
To put into the fry-pan,
The one infinite symbol it
Of the great Silence, which can
Be first prepared by putting in
Some clarified fresh butter
Of the Supreme. And now begin
To heat it till it sputter,
On Wisdom's self-effulgent flame
Fry poppadum, 'I', as That.
Enjoying all alone the same;
Which bliss we ever aim at.

Make poppadum of self and after eat;
Of Perfect Peace then you will be replete.

~ from The Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi, Edited by Arthur Osborne


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A little less than six months after his arrival at Tiruvannamalai Ramana shifted his residence to a shrine called Gurumurtam at the earnest request of its keeper, a Tambiransvami. As days passed and as Ramana's fame spread, increasing numbers of pilgrims and sight-seers came to visit him. After about a year's stay at Gurumurtam, the Svami - locally he was known as Brahmana-svami - moved to a neighbouring mango orchard. It was here that one of his uncles, Nelliyappa Aiyar traced him out. Nelliyappa Aiyar was a second-grade pleader at Manamadurai. Having learnt from a friend that Venkataraman was then a revered Sadhu at Tiruvannamalai, he went there to see him. He tried his best to take Ramana along with him to Manamadurai. But the young sage would not respond. He did not show any sign of interest in the visitor. So, Nelliyappa Aiyar went back disappointed to Manamadurai. However, he conveyed the news to Alagammal, Ramana's mother.

The mother went to Tiruvannamalai accompanied by her eldest son. Ramana was then living at Pavalakkunru, one of the eastern spurs of Arunachala. With tears in her eyes Alagammal entreated Ramana to go back with her. But, for the sage there was no going back. Nothing moved him -- not even the wailings and weepings of his mother. He kept silent giving no reply. A devotee who had been observing the struggle of the mother for several days requested Ramana to write out at least what he had to say. The sage wrote on a piece of paper quite in an impersonal way thus : "In accordance with the prarabdha of each, the One whose function it is to ordain makes each to act. What will not happen will never happen, whatever effort one may put forth. And what will happen will not fail to happen, however much one may seek to prevent it. This is certain. The part of wisdom therefore is to stay quiet."

Disappointed and with a heavy heart, the mother went back to Manamadurai. Sometime after this event Ramana went up the hill Arunachala, and started living in a cave called Virupaksa after a saint who dwelt and was buried there. Here also the crowds came, and among them were a few earnest seekers. These latter used to put him questions regarding spiritual experience or bring sacred books for having some points explained. Ramana sometimes wrote out his answers and explanations. One of the books that was brought to him during this period was Sankara's Vivekacudamani which later on he rendered into Tamil prose. There were also some simple unlettered folk that came to him for solace and spiritual guidance. One of them was Echammal who having lost her husband, son, and daughter, was disconsolate till the Fates guided her to Ramana's presence. She made it a point to visit the Svami every day and took upon herself the task of bringing food for him as well as for those who lived with him.

In 1903 there came to Tiruvannamalai a great Samskrit scholar and savant, Ganapati Sastri known also as Ganapati Muni because of the austerities he had been observing. He had the title Kavya-kantha (one who had poetry at his throat), and his disciples addressed him as nayana (father). He was a specialist in the worship of the Divine Mother. He visited Ramana in the Virupaksa cave quite a few times. Once in 1907 he was assailed by doubts regarding his own spiritual practices. He went up the hill, saw Ramana sitting alone in the cave, and expressed himself thus : "All that has to be read I have read; even Vedanta sastra I have fully understood; I have done japa to my heart's content; yet I have not up to this time understood what tapas is. Therefore I have sought refuge at your feet. Pray enlighten me as to the nature of tapas." Ramana replied, now speaking, "If one watches whence the notion 'I' arises, the mind gets absorbed there; that is tapas. When a mantra is repeated, if one watches whence that mantra sound arises, the mind gets absorbed there; that is tapas." To the scholar this came as a revelation; he felt the grace of the sage enveloping him. He it was that proclaimed Ramana to be Maharshi and Bhagavan. He composed hymns in Samskrit in praise of the sage, and also wrote the Ramana-Gita explaining his teachings.

Ramana's mother, Alagammal, after her return to Manamadurai, lost her eldest son. Two years later, her youngest son, Nagasundaram paid a brief visit to Tiruvannamalai. She herself went there once on her return from a pilgrimage to Varanasi, and again during a visit to Tirupati. On this occasion she fell ill and suffered for several weeks with symptoms of typhoid. Ramana showed great solicitude in nursing her and restoring her to health. He even composed a hymn in Tamil beseeching Lord Arunachala to cure her of her disease. The first verse of the hymn runs as follows : 'Oh Medicine in the form of a Hill that arose to cure the disease of all the births that come in succession like waves! Oh Lord! It is Thy duty to save my mother who regards Thy feet alone as her refuge, by curing her fever.' He also prayed that his mother should be granted the vision divine and be weaned from worldliness. It is needless to say that both the prayers were answered. Alagammal recovered, and went back to Manamadurai. But not long after she returned to Tiruvannamalai; a little later followed her youngest son, Nagasundaram who had in the meanwhile lost his wife leaving a son. It was in the beginning of 1916 that the mother came, resolved to spend the rest of her life with Ramana. Soon after his mother's arrival, Ramana moved from Virupaksa to Skandasramam, a little higher up the hill. The mother received training in intense spiritual life. She donned the ochre robe, and took charge of the Asrama kitchen. Nagasundaram too became a sannyasin, assuming the name Niranjanananda. Among Ramana's devotees he came to be popularly known as Chinnaswami (the Younger Swami). In 1920 the mother grew weak in health and ailments incidental to old age came to her. Ramana tended her with care and affection, and spent even sleepless nights sitting up with her. The end came on May 19, 1922, which was the Bahulanavami day, in the month of Vaisakha. The mother's body was taken down the hill to be interred. The spot chosen was at the southernmost point, between Palitirtham Tank and the Daksinamurti Mantapam. While the ceremonies were being performed, Ramana himself stood silently looking on. Niranjanananda Swami took his residence near the tomb. Ramana who continued to remain at Skandasramam visited the tomb every day. After about six months he came to stay there, as he said later on, not out of his own volition but in obedience to the Divine Will. Thus was founded the Ramanasramam. A temple was raised over the tomb and was consecrated in 1949. As the years rolled by the Asramam grew steadily, and people not only from India but from every continent of the world came to see the sage and receive help from him in their spiritual pursuits.

~ from Bhagavan Ramana by T. M. P. Mahadevan, M. A., Ph.D.

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In the biography of Bhagavan, Ramana Maharshi, and the Path of Self-Knowledge, it is mentioned how when Bhagavan was in the Virupaksha Cave his mother came there on one or two occasions, and how when in 1912 she stayed for about ten days, she fell ill. It was on that occasion Bhagavan composed four verses appealing to Lord Arunachala, which is perhaps the only instance known of any prayer of his to influence the course of events. The fever subsided and she returned to her family in Manamadurai. In 1916, as a result of some calamities in the family, she got disgusted with life and came to Arunachala again, this time with the intention of staying with Bhagavan till the end of her life. As she was doubtful about her being permitted to stay with him in the Virupaksha Cave, she went first to Echamma’s house for a temporary stay and visited Bhagavan frequently along with Echamma and other lady devotees. After a while, she made known her desire to remain in the cave permanently with Bhagavan. Bhagavan just listened to her but did not say anything. One of the attendants who was looking after the affairs of the Ashram at the time protested, as he felt that Bhagavan might not like the idea and might go away from the place never to return. That was because of his well-known attitude towards his relatives, including his mother.

Moreover, it was felt that if an exception was made in the case of the Mother, other women like Echamma and Mudaliar Patti might likewise seek an exception. Hence all the attendants in one voice said that ladies should not be allowed to stay in the cave under any circumstances.

When their objections were made known, Echamma and other ladies gave an assurance saying, “We will never ask for permission to stay in the Ashram. It is enough if the Mother alone is allowed to stay. She has become too old. She cannot climb up the hill every day; and where else can she go at this old age? Bhagavan alone should look after her hereafter.” As no one could guess what exactly was in Bhagavan’s mind and afraid of suggesting any change in the existing traditions of the Ashram, they persisted in refusing to accede to Mother’s requests. She therefore got up in great anguish to leave the Ashram. Seeing that Bhagavan, deeply moved, also got up and taking hold of her and said, “Come. Let us go. If not here we can stay somewhere else. Come.” At this, the residents of the Ashram fell at his feet and as they were afraid that he might leave them altogether, begged him to stay, saying, “Please do not go anywhere. Pray do stay here itself along with Mother.” From then on Mother stayed with Bhagavan.

With the passage of time, because of latent vasanas, Mother would say it would be better if they had this article or that and Bhagavan would admonish her quietly saying, “Mother, if you want bodily comfort, go to the other son; if you want mental comfort you stay here,” and she opted for latter as a matter of course. She adjusted herself to the hard life of the Ashram and never thought of going elsewhere under any circumstances. She remained there alone till the very end, and Bhagavan with his divine grace gave her moksha thus fulfilling the Upanishad injunction “Matrudevo Bhavah.” When I heard about this incident from Kunjuswami, I asked him why it was not mentioned in Bhagavan’s biography.

He said, “It is a fact that it is not mentioned.” I asked Bhagavan in the same manner as you have asked me and he said: “Why? I did not like to make public a matter where there was some difference of opinion amongst the members of the Ashram.” When I suggested that there might be many such matters which are not known to the public, Bhagavan said, “Yes. There are very many matters not known to others. What can one do?” I was naturally interested in giving publicity to important matters of this nature and so one day mentioned it to Santhamma and Subbalakshmamma, two lady devotees
working in the kitchen. They related to me another incident which is as follows: “After Bhagavan settled down in Skandasramam along with his mother, Chinnaswami, the younger brother of Bhagavan, came to Arunachala, took sannyasa and began living by begging food from the public.

After some time he came to stay with Bhagavan along with the other attendants. It will be remembered Bhagavan stayed in Skandasramam till the death of his Mother. Knowing that her end was near and before losing consciousness, she called Bhagavan to her side and placing Chinnaswami’s hand in his, said, ‘Look, my dear. This boy does not know what is right and what is wrong. Don’t let him go away from you. Keep a watchful eye on him. This is my last wish’. So saying she entrusted her third son to the care of Bhagavan. In accordance with her wishes Bhagavan always kept a watchful eye on him. Whenever there were any lapses on the part of Chinnaswami, who later became the Sarvadhikari, Bhagavan tactfully solved the problems arising therefrom.

Chinnaswami too, had the greatest devotion and highest regard for Bhagavan.

This was very much in evidence when Chinnaswamy was looking after the administration of the Ashram as its Sarvadhikari. If he found fault with anybody and the devotee stricken with grief complained to Bhagavan, Bhagavan would look on him with compassion and in his inimitable way relate some amusing stories to soothe his feelings. If in spite of that, the devotee were to persist in his complaint, Bhagavan would console him by saying, “Who knows what tales have been carried to the Sarvadhikari?” As regards giving mukti to his mother, as stated above, one incident deserves special mention. When Palaniswamy, an early disciple, was in the last throes of death Bhagavan thought of giving him mukti and so placed his hands on the heart and the head but the strength of his vasanas was so intense, they could not get dissolved and so after some time he removed his hands and gave up the effort, ultimately. In the case of his Mother some years later, Bhagavan similarly
placed his hands on the heart and the head and as the vasanas gradually subsided, he continued to keep his hands thus until life was completely extinct. Thus his efforts at giving mukti to Mother succeeded. In the case of Lakshmi, the cow, Bhagavan often told us that all the past incidents in life welled up in the same manner as in the case of Mother but they subsided ultimately, which did not happen in the case of Palaniswami. When I pointed out that Bhagavan was not with Lakshmi till she breathed her last as in the case of Mother, he said, “Oh that! What desires did Lakshmi have after all? Only if there are desires in plenty, they will remain till the end.” So what Bhagavan wanted us to understand was that Lakshmi the cow, being an animal, had no vasanas like us human beings. It was only in the case of these three living beings that Bhagavan was known to have extended his grace during the last moments of their lives.

~ from Recollections of Sri Ramanasramam, by Suri Nagamma


Sri Bhagavan's Feet
Sri Ramanarpanamastu