Ruzbeh N. Bharucha
Bhagavan Ramana Maharishi gave the first indication of dropping His body during the end of 1948 and early 1949, when He kept rubbing His left elbow. On closer examination it was found that a growth, the size of a peanut first showed itself. That peanut size boil began to grow in size and pain had commenced. Ramana Maharishi without consulting any doctors from outside the ashram asked those in charge of His health to remove the growth. The simple operation was performed in the bathroom just before breakfast. Realising that the sight of the bandage would get His devotees worried Ramana Maharishi draped a towel on His left hand which covered the elbow and when inquired as to what He had on His arm or why was He draping His hand with a towel, He jokingly replied that it was a bracelet or a Lingam had decided to erupt from His arm.
In a few months time that growth had been detected as a tumour. It was removed and miraculously the wound healed in a week and everybody heaved a sigh of relief. Ramana Maharishi all through seemed to be oblivious of the tumour or its pain. A month later, the tumour returned on the same part and was removed and after tests were done it was detected to be malignant. The tests showed that the tumour was a sarcoma, which is a kind of malignant cancer. Radium treatment had to be commenced as the wound refused to heal till a point came when the doctors insisted that the arm should be amputated. Raman Maharishi refused saying that the body itself is a disease and it should have a natural end. Why try to mutilate it? He insisted that the affected part should be covered by a simple dressing. All through the process and the operations, Raman Maharishi showed complete disregard to the tumour and the pain.
Some of the doctors suggested that the healing rays of the Sun would help heal the wound, so every day Ramana Maharishi would sit behind the cow shed, with the bandage removed, the wound cleaned and the arm exposed to sun rays. He continued to joke about the wound, calling it a precious ruby that glowed when the sun rays touched it, and was an ornament to His arm.
But the cancer cells began to spread through His blood stream and another operation was performed and in matter of no time the wound reappeared more fierce in its malignancy. In fact after His third operation within hours Ramana Maharishi gave darshan to the multitude of devotees longing to just have a sight of Him, much to the helplessness of the medical team. The next day once the doctors had left, Ramana Maharishi returned to the darshan Hall, to meet His devotees, saying that it was not right of Him to disturb other patients who would get inconvenienced by the devotees who wanted His darshan.
In December 1949, another operation was performed where it was realized that surgery in fact aggravated the cancer rather than heal the body.
Thus other forms of treatment commenced. Homeopathy, ayurveda and other alternative medications. Returning from His daily walk, one evening, shivering with fever, barely able to walk, Ramana Maharishi sat on His couch devoid of any strength much to the grief of all those present. When inquired about His body Ramana Maharishi said, ‘ what about the body? What if the body is shivering? What all want is that there should be life in the body? Is there not life in this body? Aren’t you all satisfied that life still remains in this body? This is the Natrajana dance going on. Every day the dance is not visible today it is giving the Tandava Darshan. Don’t be worried about this.’
Then one morning, Ramana Maharishi while entering the bathroom, trying to cross the threshold, stumbled and fell down. Refusing all help from the devotees He stood up. His clothes were covered in blood and though He had suffered a fracture, the news of His fall was not allowed to be made public. The fall and the ensuing injury was painful but Ramana Maharishi gave darshan from early morning to the countless devotees who wanted a glimpse of Him. Nobody was aware of the fall nor could anybody see Him in any discomfort.
Slowly Ramana Maharishi found it difficult to climb steps and as His daily routine required Him to climb the steps from the eastern entrance many suggested that He should use the northern part of the Hall. He refused, saying that the northern part of the Hall was meant for women devotees and He did not want to cause any bother to His women followers. Whenever He was not giving Darshan, He began to remain in a very small room which was on the eastern side of the Hall. Eventually this room came to be known as the Nirvana Room as Ramana Maharishi left His body from this room.
By early April 1950 it became clear to all that Ramana Maharishi would not be long in His body but He continued to give Darshan to all, even though now He could barely sit. Everybody realized that their beloved Master would not be long with them in the physical body. Though He was physically dying, His body began to glow with a radiance visible to all. Every time a devotee broke down seeing the pain and discomfort He was in He would tenderly tell them, ‘ they say I am dying, but I am not going anyway. Where can I go? I am here.’
Many of His intimate followers have described Ramana Maharishi’s last days in the physical body. According to S.S.Cohen, on the 10th of April the devotees that thronged to get a glimpse of their Master was immense. He has noted down that, “this darshan is no doubt a very great strain on the Maharshi, who, in his infinite compassion, keeps his face constantly turned towards the devotees the whole time the darshan lasts. His couch has east-west position and the door through which he looks at the devotees’ faces south, so that for one full hour he keeps his head turned in that direction and strains his neck. In his present state of health the strain on him must be great; yet he refuses to stop the darshan, or even reduce it to once a day. His nourishment consisted today of a little fruit juice, tomato juice and some coconut water with glucose.”
On the 12th of April, S.S.Cohen wrote down that, “today he is stretched full length on the sofa, with hollow eyes, sunken cheeks, pale, waxy skin and drained of vitality. Three attendants are massaging hard his legs. The upper half of the body is exceedingly sensitive and cannot be touched without causing him severe pain. During the half-hour running darshan at 9 a.m. he could only at times turn his face to the devotees, but mostly he is listless. Doctors stopped testing and examining him and strictly forbade all access to his room.”
Narayana Iyer in a letter to Professor Subbaramayya described Ramana Maharishi’s last days. ‘Bhagavan’s condition was considered very critical. No liquid food even. No motions, no urine. Pulse very, very feeble. Blood-pressure very low. Heart weak. Temperature 96.8° and frequent hiccoughs … Bhagavan asked in the evening if there was the queue in the morning. Sarvadhikari replied that it was suspended for sometime. Bhagavan said that He would suspend taking even a drop of water till all that came had their darshan. So there was the queue last evening’.
On 13th April when a doctor had wanted to give Ramana Maharishi some medicine to relieve the congestion in the Master’s lungs, the Master refused saying that within two days everything would be all right.
Hours later Ramana Maharishi asked all to leave as He wanted to be alone. Only His attendant Rangaswami was present with the Master. In the morning Ramana Maharishi told Rangaswami, in English, ‘ thanks’. The attendant understood no English and Ramana Maharishi smiled and told him, ‘the English have a word thanks, but we only say santosham (I am pleased)’.
All through the morning and afternoon, devotees passed by His open door to get a glimpse of their beloved Master. His body had become very weak and He had lost immense weight. His ribs were heart achingly visible and His skin had darkened. Most of the devotees would begin to cry seeing His weakened body and His clear suffering.
Many people are under some misconception that Masters feel no pain. Pain is real. Christ felt it on the Cross and even asked God as to why had He forsaken Christ? Similarly Ramana Maharishi felt the pain. Many of His intimate devotees had mentioned that Ramana Maharishi suffered terribly when alone, especially at night, when He thought that nobody could witness His pain, He would on His couch, moan out in pain. He would tell often that pain was natural. I guess when the body is cut with a knife, the body will bleed, whether it is the body of a Saint or a sinner, the body would bleed, how one reacted to the cut, the bleeding, and whether one identified with the pain made all the difference.
But with all the pain and discomfort, Ramana till the very end of His physical journey made certain that His devotees always got a glimpse of Him and He got a glimpse of them. His love and concern for His animals and birds also remained till the very end. Hours before He dropped His body He heard His beloved peacocks screeching and He immediately asked His attendants if His peacocks had been fed properly. The peacocks walked continuously around His room, and His cows, dogs and monkeys all showed their restlessness for their Master’s wellbeing. There was a white peacock that stood on the Nirvana room’s roof screeching nonstop.
All through devotees would complain to Ramana Maharishi that He was abandoning them. His reply to them was, ‘you attach too much importance to the body….the Guru is not in the physical form, thus contact with the Guru will remain even after His physical form vanishes…You are and always were one with Me. You are Me’. To a few He would say, ‘ forget being my devotee…forget pleading and weeping and finding a new excuse or avenue for suffering….there is nothing you can give me, nothing……just sit still and enjoy My love, My devotion to you….enjoy how I love you and do nothing else…’
But on the 14th evening everybody realized that in all probability the Master would leave the body at any moment. The Master’s body was supported by large pillows and He sat upright with His head tilted backward and His mouth open. He found it impossible to breathe and He was given oxygen for a few minutes but it brought Him no relief and He indicated that He wanted the equipment detached from Himself.
O.P. Ramaswami Reddiyar, the retired Chief Minister, was with the Master during the last moments. He says, ‘seeing the difficulty that Bhagavan was experiencing, I drew a screen across and didn’t allow any more darshan. O. P. Ramaswani Reddiyar came, and I told him that he could come in, but he declined’, unable to see the Master suffer so much.
Ramana Maharishi then asked to be seated upright. From outside, His lovers began to sing, ‘ Arunachala Shiva’….Lord Shiva of Arunachala Mountain and when the Master heard the song, He opened His eyes wide. They were radiant and He smiled for a few seconds and then tears rolled down His divine eyes. Then He sat in the Padmasana pose and it was in the Padmasana pose that He exhaled one final time and then became very still. The time was 8.47 p.m and the devotees fanning Him stopped and as soon as the devotees outside saw the fans no longer moving fanning Their Master, they knew He had left His body and with broken hearts they began to cry for their beloved Master.
It has been noted in various journals and papers that exact 8.47 p.m. a shooting star or some say a meteor moved slowly across the sky, above Arunachala Mountain and then disappeared behind its peak.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, the famous French photographer who had been staying at the Ashram, says thus, “I was in the open space in front of my house, when my friends drew my attention to the sky, where I saw a vividly-luminous shooting star with a luminous tail, unlike any shooting star I had before seen, coming from the South, moving slowly across the sky and, reaching the top of Arunachala, disappeared behind it. Because of its singularity we all guessed its import and immediately looked at our watches – it was 8.47 – and then raced to the Ashram only to find that our premonition had been only too sadly true: the Master had passed into mahanirvana at that very minute.”
Lord Shiva of Tiruvannamalai, Lord Shiva of Arunachala, had left His physical body, to remain in the hearts of His lovers for ever and ever more.
Be blessed always.
Ruzbeh N. Bharucha