When Bhagavan left Virupaksha Cave to avoid the harassment from the sadhus, he first decided to go to the forest near Pachaiamman Temple and undertake a dietary fast so that he could enter a state of ethereal existence known as “pranava body”. However, the appearance of Vasudeva Sastri and another Swami on the scene foiled Bhagavan’s plan. After a few similar unsuccessful attempt to retreat into seclusion, Bhagavan finally accepted the presence of visitors as unavoidable.
Sri Bhagavan at Skandashram with Mother Alagammal (front right) and devotees; Click to enlarge
Skandasramam was the first to be known as an Asramam. He stayed there for seven years with his mother, his younger brother Niranjanananda Swami, who was to be the future sarvadhikari (manager), and a few sadhus. It was here that Asramam cooking first started. This was due to the presence of his mother. It was her presence that made it into an Asramam. After her nirvana Bhagavan went to live beside her shrine at the foot of the Hill, where the present Ramanasramam has grown up. This shows her to have had greater importance than commonly supposed.
For some days after Alagamma’s samadhi people stayed close by. They had to fetch water from Paliteertham with great difficulty. Observing this, Bhagavan dug into the soil at a moist place and a spring emerged at the very spot. A larger pit was dug and enough water was obtained. This came to be known as Ramanateertham or aghasamanam.
Daily pooja had to be performed for the Matrubhuteswara linga. Niranjanananda Swami would come down from Skandasramam every day to perform pooja. In course of time he also found this to be difficult. A few days later he erected a thatched roof over the samadhi and began staying there. Meanwhile, the jayanti of Bhagavan neared. Dandapani wished to celebrate the jayanti at the samadhi. A week before the jayanti, Bhagavan visited the samadhi and stayed back. Nobody knew the reason for it, though a few speculated that it was for the convenience of the visitors who found it difficult to visit him and serve him atop the hill. But the real reason was quite different. Bhagavan himself said that one morning when he came out of Skandasramam some irresistible power dragged him down and that he came down even forgetting for the moment that back at Skandasramam the ashramites would be waiting for him at meal time. “Did I come here of my own volition? Not at all, it was due to the will of something else,” said Bhagavan. Earlier, the power of Arunachala drew him to this place, now the power of Amba residing in Matrubhuteswara must have done similarly.
Quite surprisingly, from that day on, the influence of that sakti became manifest in all activities. It was as if in the presence of Bhagavan that power acted just as prakriti would in the presence of purusha! Its first job was to transform the face of the Ashram itself.
To start with, there was only one hut at the samadhi but in 1924 two huts, one opposite the samadhi and the other to the north of that got erected. For bathing, the waters of Paliteertham and for pooja the waters of Ramanateertham were used. As for food, several devotees from the town came with offerings; in addition, some vessels were also donated to enable the Ashram to have a kitchen. People also donated money. Books like Ramana Geeta were sold at a book shop called Ramaneeya Granthalaya and the proceeds were given to the Ashram. Dandapani and others utilized that money for buying vessels and food articles. No money could be saved.
With all this, the Ashram did face difficulties. On any given day at least ten persons dined there. This practice gave ideas to a group of robbers. They thought that the Ashram was affluent; so on the night of June 26, 1924 they came for a robbery. Earlier also some robbers had entered the pooja room and decamped with whatever they could lay their hands on. But the present gang was made of sterner stuff. They threatened to burn the place down and struck Bhagavan on his thigh with a stick. Bhagavan’s conduct during that robbery will for all time remain a teaching for those who wish to walk the Lord’s way. Bhagavan firmly negotiated with them to refrain from hurting the dog but asked them to hit him again if they so wished. The objective of the robbers was to terrify them. The Maharshi was unmoved and unperturbed.
By 1926, a few more constructions took place. Along with this expansion squabbles arose among the disciples as to who should manage the affairs of the Ashram. How true it is to say that the desire to exercise power is as strong as the desire to earn money and have possessions. After Niranjanananda Swami became the sarvadhikari in 1930, the construction activity in the Ashram was spectacular. Several buildings like the office, the book depot, the store room, the dining hall, the guest room, the Veda pathasala, and the goshala were constructed the last named, largely because of Lakshmi the cow who became a sort of an adopted daughter of the Ashram.
As time passed, facilities for visitors and inmates of the Ashram were added. Notable among these was the guest house built by the Raja of Morvi across the road opposite the Ashram.
Both Chadwick an Englishman and Devaraja Mudaliar who were disciples of Bhagavan built rooms for themselves in the Ashram compound itself. Adjacent to their rooms Yogi Ramaiah and Subbarama Reddy constructed their rooms. All these four were close to the flower garden lying to the west of the hall where Bhagavan stayed.
A dispensary also had come up to the north east of the flower garden to cater to the medical needs of visitors and Ashram inmates. Ashramites also spent substantial amounts in renovating Paliteertham and built steps to approach the waters. A library housing numerous volumes in various languages was also established.
Huge sums were needed to build all these. The ashramites never sought any donations. They also had no capital to start with. The amounts given unasked by visitors, and the amounts received by the sales of Ashram publications constituted the main sources. There were a number of devotees who served in the Ashram expecting no return. Actually, Ashram employees were few; the devotees got nothing in return but Bhagavan’s grace. Work would always go on from four in the morning to about eleven in the night. With the passage of time, providing food for unexpected guests ceased to be a problem.
Quote from Bhagavan
One day I chided Nondi(the lame monkey) saying, What! Why are you scattering food? He at once hit me over the eye and slightly hurt me. As a punishment he was not allowed for some days to approach me.