Starting from Seeyamangalam, we drive for five or ten minutes, down country lanes, and then we arrive…
We have come Akhilandamma’s place. There is a sign outside that reads “Shree Ramana Mataalayam.. Established 1914, Desur”.
This is a quiet, village street.
Opposite Akhilandamma’s place, on the other side of the street is a typical Indian village hut…
Shree Ramana Matalayam is the place which Akhilandamma and Mastan Swami constructed, as a place of service, an Ashrama, for living the Ramana Way, and serving His devotees….
After her demise, Akhilandamma’s samadhi was built here itself….
Akhilandamma was one of the early devotees of Sri Ramana. You can know more about Akhilandamma by reading David Godman’s book, Power of Presence, or access his write up on her in his blog by clicking here…
At the Ramana Matalayam, we are welcomed by the Ramana Mutt priest and the local people. The priest is a great grand nephew of Akhilandamma.
We step into the Ashram… The central structure is her Samadhi shrine. On the left is a small tenement that was Akhilandamma’s residence. And on the right is another small building…I notice a picture of Akhilandamma…
Here is a picture of that picture….
She looks the very picture of austerity, piety.
A quick brief about her.
Akhilandamma was a child widow. Drawn to spirituality, she first had Darshan of Sri Ramana, in 1896, when he had just arrived at Arunachala, and was staying at the great Arunachaleshwara temple. Later she met him again, a few years later, when He was staying on the hill. She became an ardent devotee, and would come to Arunachala on many occasions, and bring some food for Ramana and His devotees. She and Mastan Swami would walk it from Desur, carrying provisions with them. A distance of around 60 kms or so…
In 1914, she and Mastan Swami established a Mutt at Desur.
Inside the Matam, on the outer wall of Akhilandamma’s shrine, is embedded inaugural stone-tablet of the Mutt… Here’s a picture.
The sign reads…
“Om! Shree Sivamayam!
Shree Ramanaaya Nama!
Shree Ramanaananda Mataalayam, Desur.
This Dharma-Establishment has been set up on the 9th day of Vaikasi month, the year of Ananda,1914, by Akhilandamma and Mastaan Swami, disciples of Shrilashri Ramana Maharshi, who graced the world as a Sadguru, in Arunachala…
Hereby, Shri Mastan Swamigal, Akhilandammaiyaar, Desur’.
Looking up the almanac, I find that this date corresponds to Friday, 22nd May, 1914. It was a Pradosham day, and the asterism was Ashwini.
That was how the first centre for Bhagavan Sri Ramana was set up. Ramana would have been in Virupaksha cave at that time. No organized Ashram of any kind was set up then. So one may well say that this humble dwelling, the Desur Ashram is the first of all Ramana Centres worldwide! Akhilandamma, would invite Ramana devotees to come and stay here, especially when they were convalescing. Many early devotees of Ramana have come here, and stayed under her care, as they recovered from illness…
Sometime in her life, Akhilandamma, took to a life of Sanyasa, and started wearing ochre robes. Here is how that came about (to see source, click here)
“Desuramma alias Akhilandamma, who was serving food for Bhagavan Ramana, was in due course, desiring to take up ‘sannyasa’ by wearing ochre robes. She wanted to have inititation by Bhagavan Ramana, by one of the three methods mentioned in Arunachala Akshara Mana Malai, that is either by ‘look’, ‘touch’ or through His thought. She narrated her intention to Chinnaswami, who said that it would be difficult to persuade Bhagavan Ramana in the matter, since He did not initiate anyone and further, even if He took an exception, many others like Echammal and Kamakshi Ammal would also desire to have initiations by Him.
Akhilandamma kept quiet for a few months but she was eager to embrace sannyasa with initiation by Bhagavan Ramana. One day she had a dream where Bhagavan Ramana gave her vibhuti. She took this dream as a good omen, and then made the white sari into an ochre sari by dipping it in red dye, dried up the sari and kept it in a vessel, closed it with a leaf and went to the Asramam next morning. She was scared as to how to go about further. She merely kept the vessel in the presence of Bhagavan Ramana and was waiting with bated breath. Bhagavan Ramana knew everything even without words. He came to the Hall, opened the vessel and looked at the robes, as if there was some food, and then looked at Akhilandamma. No one knew the implication. The eyes that burnt Tripura and also the karmas of devotees, the eyes of Siva-Ramana gave her inititation. Akhilandamma rushed back to her home and came back to the Hall in the new attire!”
That was a glimpse of Akhilandamma…
Coming back to her Desur shrine…. A Shiva-linga is installed on her samadhi…The priest, her grand-nephew, offers worship….
From the samadhi shrine, we go to the little tenement inside this compound, that was home to Akhilandamma.
Inside this, are a couple of very small rooms, one of which is a simple kitchen where she made “murukkus” for Sri Ramana….
The hosts at the Mutt, serve us a nice meal… Akhilandamma’s food continues to be served in this Mutt… A blessing….
Here’s a picture of the Mutt entrance, as seen from inside the Mutt. To my eyes, the cracks on the floor seem to be in the shape of an outline map of India…
After spending an hour or so at Ramanananda Matalayam, we start on our return journey to Arunachala.
Signing off this post with a picture of Kasi Vishwanatha temple, Desur.
Shree Ramanaya Nama!