Adapted from The Human Gospel of Ramana Maharshi by John Troy
Perumal Swami was a tough guy with a robust body and a rough demeanor. He came to Ramana Maharshi when Ramana lived in Viru-pak-sha cave in 1914. His first meeting with Ramana left him awestruck. He accepted Ramana as his guru, decided to be the protector of Ramana and chose to beg for food for Ramana in the streets of the town.
Let’s look at the character of Perumal through several short stories about him. The character of Ramana Maharshi shall also become evident through these stories.
Once, when Perumal and another Swami were away in the town leaving Ramana alone in the cave, a group of fierce-looking men from a particular Hindu sect arrived with swords and spears. They said, “We are from the Vind-ya hills, the kingdom of the Sidd-has. The head of the Sidd-has told us that at Arunachala, there is a ripe soul who needs the final initiation. He commanded us to bring him there. Whether you accept it or not, we are going to physically remove you to the Vind-ya hills.”
Ramana sat silently, unmoved.
Some of the shepherd boys heard the commotion and felt that something troublesome was happening. They rushed to Perumal Swami. He ran back to the cave, and in one look sized up the situation. He cleverly told the men, “I come from a nearby village. Last night I had a dream, in which the head Sidd-ha of the Vind-ya hills appeared and said, “My disciples will be coming to Viru-pak-sha cave tomorrow. You go there and ready a cauldron of oil, fry them in that cauldron, and bring their fried bodies to me.” Then he ordered the shepherd boys, “Hey! Go and bring the firewood. I will go into town and bring a cauldron and some tins of oil, so that we can fry these people.”
And that is the end of the first story. Let’s look at some others.
Perumal Swami had managerial qualities. However, his being a robust, forceful man had its drawbacks. When Ramana‘s mother came to stay at the cave, Perumal disliked it and shouted, “You get out! You cannot stay here.” He may have felt that women didn’t belong. Though deeply hurt, she obeyed. Tucking her one sari or so in a bundle under her arm, she walked out in sadness. Ramana, who was seated outside, got up, and with tender affection, took the bundle from her and said, “Come, let us go away from where we are not needed.” Perumal fell at Ramana‘s feet and requested them to stay.
When Ramana moved to Skanda Ashram at the request of devotees in order to be closer to a water source, Perumal also went along with the others. Among the many attendants that gathered in the Ashram, there was one Yaz-pani from Sri Lanka. (Sri Lanka was known as Yaz-pa-nam, so this devotee was nicknamed Yaz-pani.) He was a scrupulously clean person. He would sweep the ashram daily and keep everything spotless.
Once, Yaz-pani spread a paste of cow dung on the rough, soft earth of the ashram, to make the ground smoother and harder. When Perumal, who was the self-appointed manager of ashram, came and saw it while it was still wet and slippery, he became livid and shouted, “Yaz-pani, get out of the Ashram!”
Yaz-pani was a very sincere devotee. He could not leave Ramana, but also wanted to obey the orders of the manager. Being a clever man, he tried to find a way out. There was a tall coconut tree inside the ashram that protruded outside the ashram grounds. Quickly he got onto the tree, climbed to the top of it, and stayed there. Now he was technically “out” of the ashram without leaving it! Everyone pleaded with him to come down, but he refused. At lunch, Ramana noticed that Yaz-pani was missing. The other devotees then related what had happened. Ramana got up, went toward the coconut tree and gently said, “Yaz-pani, you may come and share the food.” He spoke so softly that this man came down like a child, and started eating his food.
There was a sadhu living at the ashram who was called Se-poy Swami. (Se-poy means “soldier,” and he was called so because he was a retired army man.) He had a tendency toward military etiquette. Totally devoted to Ramana, he expressed his devotion by guarding Ramana, and felt it was his duty to be Ramana‘s guardian. Thus, whenever Ramana was seated at the ashram, he would come with a long stick that was supposed to be his rifle, and stand in attention next to him. Every minute that Ramana was seated there, he would stand guard, silently, not looking at anybody else, completely immersed in meditation next to him.
One day, Perumal got vexed with him and shouted, “What are you doing? Are you enacting some drama here? Get out of the ashram!” This man wanted to obey, but could not go away from Ramana. So he stood outside the ashram, guarding Ramana from outside, just like he had been doing from within its walls.
Though Perumal disliked Ramana‘s mother, when she passed away in 1922, it was he who, along with others, carried her body to the present site of Ramana Ashram. After putting the body down, he went into town and got all the ingredients necessary for her burial. However, Ramana, after a while, began staying in the present ashram location near his mother’s burial site instead of the previous ashram location where Perumal acted as manager. When Ramana began staying there, Perumal did not like it. He also intensely loathed Ramana‘s brother, Chin-na, who managed the new ashram by their mother’s burial site. Although the new ashram was nothing but a straw hut next to their mother’s grave and nothing to be jealous about, Perumal went to court and filed a suit against Ramana and tried to pull Ramana into court. He even created a statue of Ramana, started another Ramana Ashram in town and then proclaimed it as the real Ramana Ashram! Further, he declared himself the secretary of this institution!
Whenever mail arrived at the post office for Ramana Ashram, there was always a tug-of-war between Perumal and Chin-na regarding which ashram was the true ashram and who should take the mail. Then Ramana solved it very simply. He said, “Let all the letters go to Perumal. Whatever he wants to take let him take, and whatever he does not want, let us take. Where is the need to quarrel?”
Ramana also sent word to Perumal through another devotee: “Tell Perumal Swami that he should not swerve away from spiritual practice.” Perumal did not listen, but Ramana never gave up on him. When Perumal lost the court case and felt humbled, he fell ill. He sent word to Ramana: “I want to come and apologize. I have committed a sin.”
The rest of the people in the ashram said, “No! He is the person who went against you. He should not be allowed to come inside the ashram.” When Ramana heard this, he said, “Why do you say so? He is our Perumal Swami. Let him come.”
When Perumal came, everyone looked at him with acid eyes. He broke down before Ramana and said, “I have committed such a terrible sin. I will surely go to hell.” Ramana smiled at him and said, “Perumal Swami, will I not be with you even there?”
That was a turning point for Perumal. He chose a small cave and started living there in meditation and contemplation. Even after Ramana dropped the body, he felt he must have [spiritual food] from Ramana Ashram. Hence, devotees came from Ramana Ashram with food for Perumal twice a day. That is how he continued to be taken care of. He may have been rough-edged, but Infinite Love took care of him.