30 September 2008

Swami Ramanananda Saraswati

Swami Ramanananda Saraswati
(Sri T. N. Venkataraman)

On December 26th, 2007 Swami Ramanananda Saraswati (Sri T. N. Venkataraman), former president of Sri Ramanasramam, died peacefully at the Ashram. Swami Ramanananda was Assistant Manager of Ramana Ashram from 1938 to 1950 and its President until 1994 when he took sannyasa and gave over the managing of the Ashram to his eldest son, Sri V. S. Ramanan.

I previously made a posting on Swami Ramananda (Sri T.N. Venkataraman) at the time of his death, which was a beautiful excerpt from The Silent Power entitled "The Fortunate Boy". I recently read a short narrative on the life of Sri Venkataraman which is quite interesting in that it mentions little known details of the Ashram during Bhagavan’s life. Below is an abridged version of that narrative which first appeared in the ‘1974 Souvenir, Venkatoo’.

“T. N. Venkataraman (nickname Venkatoo) was born on May 26, 1914 son of Sri Ramana’s younger brother, Nagasundaram Iyer. When Venkataraman was two years old, his mother Mangalam died and his father, Nagasundaram Iyer, went to Arunachala where he took sannyasa under the name of Sri Niranjanananda Swami. The child Venkatoo was brought to Tiruvannamalai on visits two or three times a year to see Sri Bhagavan who was then living in Skandashram. Because women were not allowed to stay in Skandashram, Bhagavan himself took responsibility for the child. On such occasions Sri Ramana would put Venkatoo to sleep, and in the mornings bathe the child and help him brush teeth in the morning!

At the end of 1938, the course of Venkatoo’s life changed when at that time he received a letter from the Ramana Ashram summoning him to Tiruvannamalai for good. On arriving he worked in the office, assisting Sri Niranjanananda Swami, the Sarvadhikari, whom he was to succeed as President in 1953.

Sri Bhagavan had always shown love and interest in Venkatoo. When Sri Seshadri Swami’s body was interred, Sri Bhagavan asked Venkatoo to join him and others in placing vibhuthi (sacred ash) on the samadhi pit. When Gandhiji visited Madras in 1946, Venkatoo wanted to go and meet the Mahatma and it was Sri Ramana’s encouragement that led to Venkataraman spending time with the Mahatma.

Sri Ramana with Venkatoo

Sri Bhagavan gave a general power of attorney to Sri Niranjanananda Swami, who became the Ashram Agent and Sarvadhikari. In the legal proceedings that followed, Bhagavan had to make a deposition, and on that basis, the Court declared the Ashram to be Private Property. To avoid similar troubles in future, devotees drew up a Will under which the Ashram was to be maintained as a spiritual center and its management vested in the Sarvadhikari and, after him, Sri Venkataraman and his descendants.

For the installation of the Sri Chakra Meru and the Kumbhabhishekam of Mother’s Shrine (Sri Mathrubhuteswara Temple) Sri Venkataraman officiated in all the rituals on behalf of Sri Bhagavan and the Ashram. Again, when Sri Bhagavan attained Nirvana on April 14, 1950, the ceremonial acts of bathing, puja and burial on the following day were all performed by Sri Venkataraman.

Swami Ramanananda Saraswati

Sri T. N. Venkataraman played, an active role in both the ritual observances and practical administration of the Ashram. After the samadhi of Sri Niranjanananda Swami, he had to go to Court and obtain a certificate of succession to administer the Ashram. In March, 1954 the Court declared that Sri T. N. Venkataraman was entitled to manage the properties under the Will of the Maharshi. When he took over the management, the Ashram was heavily in debt. Venkataraman retrieved it from this position and built up capital and property. Even a casual visitor to the Ashram can notice the substantial improvements; the number of new residential buildings, the facilities now available and the smoothness and efficiency of the whole administration.

In spite of such preoccupations and administrative worries, Venkatoo always managed to keep cheerful. His dealings with devotees and Ashram inmates were characterized by warm affection and thoughtful concern. The devotees, in their turn, held him in loving esteem and regarded him like a brother or father. At home he was very simple. His children called him ‘Anna’ (elder brother). The family could not have a comfortable life till after the eldest son had gotten a job; but, in spite of the hardships, he gave all his children higher education. Likewise he discharged in full his duty towards elders in the family.

All his children married except Sri Ganesan, the second son, who used to work as the Managing Editor of the Mountain Path and also assisted his father in running the Ashram. With the blessings and presiding guidance of Sri Bhagavan, the gracious good wishes of elder devotees and willing cooperation from fellow workers, Sri Venkataraman cheerfully carried on the management to the satisfaction of all concerned. Understanding his limitations throughout his life helped him to be submissive without being timid, and flexible without being infirm. His achievements include completing Sri Bhagavan’s Samadhi, its Kumbhabhishekam in 1967, the opening of the Ashram Auditorium/Meditation Hall in 1970, and the renovation of Sri Mathrubhuteswara Temple (in 1967) and also bringing out many books on and by Sri Ramana.

Anxious to keep the Ashram as it was in the days of Sri Bhagavan, he maintained the kitchen and quality of food that used to be served to the devotees. When once, there was a suggestion that in view of rising costs the kitchen might be closed and a canteen opened outside the Ashram, he became furious and said: ‘I will never allow it to happen. For, I remember vividly how Sri Bhagavan was reading a newspaper article on Him and read aloud appreciatively the passage, ‘There are two fires in Ramanasramam: one is Sri Bhagavan Himself and the other is the kitchen fire. They both will never cease to kindle the heart of any devotee visiting the Ashram!’ And so, I know how much Sri Bhagavan wanted the kitchen to be kept up and the devotees served good food.’”

You can watch a short video on the ardhana of Sri Venkataraman at this link here and details and photographs of the ardhana at this link There is also a recent video of the inauguration of Swami Venkataraman’s Mantap at this link


Robert Smythe said...

He was a wonderful man - always so cheerful. Often noticed him when he went round the samadhi at the Ashram.

Divya said...

Sweet and informative article, thanks.