Lakshmi The Cow
Sometime in 1926, four years after Sri Ramana Maharshi had come to live at the foot of the holy hill, Arunachala, beside the samadhi (grave) of his mother, a gentleman named Arunachala Pillai of Kumaramangalam, near Gudiyatham, entered the ashram with a cow and her young female calf and offered them to Sri Ramana in token of his devotion. Sri Ramana tried to dissuade him, pointing out that there were no proper facilities at the ashram for looking after the cow and calf and told the devotee that since he had already presented them to him, that was enough and he could now take them back with him and look after them not as his own, but as Sri Ramana’s.
All this persuasion, however, was lost on the devotee who insisted on leaving the two animals with Sri Ramana and exclaimed: “I have made my humble gift and would not take it back even if my throat were to be cut.”
Seeing his insistence and the devotion behind it, the devotee Ramanatha, who was then living nearby, declared energetically: “I will look after the cow and the calf.” Now this Ramanatha was a frail, puny man from whom one would normally never expect any vehemence, but on this occasion he seemed like one inspired and said, smiting his chest, “Here I am! I make myself responsible for the upkeep of these animals.” So it was that, owing to the pure devotion of Arunachala Pillai and the unusual vehemence of Ramanatha; the cow and her calf came to live at the ashram.
They were well cared for but after three months they were taken to town and handed over to one Pasupathi Aiyar, who kept a dairy. A year past and all went well. One day Pasupathi decided to take the cows to Sri Ramana to have his darshan. The cow and calf were both bathed and groomed, as custom requires, before the visit to Sri Ramana’s ashram.
The Shrine -Sri Ramana Asrham
After the visit, the calf seemed to have noted the road and the lay-out of the ashram, because the very next morning she came again by herself and appeared before Sri Ramana. Such was the attraction that Sri Ramana held for her, from that day onwards she used to come alone from the town every morning, spend the day at the ashram, and find her way back to Pasupathi Aiyar’s house in the town in the evening. Moreover, while at the ashram, her attraction to Sri Ramana was so strong that she would scarcely leave his presence. He treated her very graciously and would give her plantains or any delicacy that was brought to him. Thus passed several happy years of almost continuous satsang (association) with Sri Ramana, during which time she came to be known affectionately at the ashram as Lakshmi.
In 1930, Lakshmi gave birth to a calf and she and her young one were brought to live permanently at the ashram. And for many years, she remained one of the most prominent of the ashram residents. Sri Ramana has recounted a number of incidents in the life of Lakshmi testifying to her almost human intelligence. He used to say that although she could not speak she understood everything and acted as intelligently as a human being. She used to come and stand by his side regularly at meal-times and accompany him to the dining-hall. Indeed, so punctual was she that if Sri Ramana was engaged elsewhere and had forgotten the time, she would know and would go to Sri Ramana to remind him that it was time to eat, as though her devotion gave her a special right to him, taking no notice of the ashram inmates or visitors. At that time a garden was being dug at the ashram with some difficulty owing to water shortage. It sometimes happened that Lakshmi would go into the garden and cause havoc and eat the young plants. Those in charge of the garden would come and complain to Sri Ramana. He, however, always took her side and defended her: “She is not to blame. She went where she could find food. If you didn’t want her to go there you ought to have fenced the garden in properly to keep her out.” Now there were ashram workers who looked after the cattle and garden, and they no longer allowed Lakshmi to visit Sri Ramana frequently, but whenever she could slip away she would go to him, be greeted and patted by him, receive some bananas or whatever else was available and then go back.
As the ashram grew, the number of cattle kept there increased and a fine stone cow-house was built. Lakshmi walked into the presence of Sri Ramana shortly before the time fixed for the opening ceremony and led him back to the new building. It had been decided she would be the first to enter. She was bathed and decorated for entering her new abode, but then she slipped away and went to Sri Ramana and sat down before him. She would not budge until he went too, so that he was the first to enter the new house and she stepped in behind him. After a few years, the cattle population increased. Lakshmi herself added nine of her progeny to the number, and it is remarkable that no less than three of her calves were born on the exact day of Sri Ramana’s birthday.
The Ramana Asrham Entrance
Thus, Lakshmi continued through the years as one of the favoured devotees of Sri Ramana. As with many human devotees, the constant association of the early years gradually became unnecessary and occasional visits sufficed to sustain the flow of his Grace. Whenever she visited him he would pay attention to her, pat her, stroke her and feed her with plantains, rice cakes and sweet rice. She was particular about her food. She did not much like ordinary plantains, so when she came, Sri Ramana would show great solicitude and say, “Go and see if there are not any hill-fruit”, and the attendants would run about attending to the needs of this devotee.
Her great devotion and the possessive way in which Lakshmi would always approach Sri Ramana and the great kindness and attention he showed her convinced many of the devotees that there was some special bond between them and that although Lakshmi now wore the form of a cow, she must have attached herself to Him and won his Grace by love and surrender in her previous birth. It seemed hard to explain in any other way the great solicitude and tenderness that Sri Ramana always showed in his dealings with her, because, although he was all love, he was normally very undemonstrative and the open expressions of his Grace that Lakshmi used to receive from him were quite exceptional. Indeed, many of those who had been for a long time in close touch with Sri Ramana, believed that Lakshmi was a reincarnation of Keeraipatti, the `Old Lady of the Greens,’ who had know Sri Ramana from his earliest days at Tiruvannamalai and had shown very great devotion to him during his early years at Virupaksha. She had served him in such ways as she could and occasionally prepared food for him almost up to the time of her death in 1921.
Sri Ramana never definitely stated that Lakshmi was this old lady; nevertheless, the belief was supported by various remarks he made spontaneously or in unguarded moments when the circumstances gave rise to them. His constant insistence that the Self is neither born nor reborn and his injunction to realise the Self behind the illusion of birth, death and rebirth explains why he would never say openly that such and such a person was reborn. It is, therefore, not surprising that no one can quote any open statement by Sri Ramana about Lakshmi and the `Old Lady of the Greens.’ Although many who heard Sri Ramana refer to the two on various occasions, felt almost certain that they were the same and that the great devotion of the old lady had caused her to return in this humble guise to work out her remaining karma at the feet of Sri Ramana.
On January 26th, Sri Ramana was in reminiscent mood and gave the following account of the old lady to his devotees:
“Keeraipatti was already living at the big temple in the town when I first went there. She stayed at the Subrahmanyam shrine in the temple and used to feed the sadhus. Later she began bringing food to me from a (kammata – blacksmith caste) lady, but after some time the kammata lady began to bring the food herself instead of sending it through Keeraipatti. At that time, Keeraipatti had matted locks. Later, when I went to live at the Virupaksha Cave, she was staying in Guha Namasivayar Temple and had shaved off her hair. She lived in the mantapam and used to worship the image of Namasivayar and other images carved on its walls and pillars. The priest would come and do puja to the image in the temple, but she used to worship the images on the walls of the mantapam where she stayed and offered food to them.
Peacocks are a familiar feature In the Ashram Grounds.
When she got up in the morning she would go out for a walk on the small hill and from there to where our ashram now is and then on to Skandashram and back to where she was staying. On the way she would collect fuel and cow-dung and carry them in a bundle on her back and hip. She would also gather all kinds of green leaves for cooking. She had only one pot and she would first boil the water for her bath in it and then cook her rice and the sauce for it. Then she would prepare some dish out of the leaves she had gathered, all in the same pot. She would offer the food to the images on the walls and pillars and then come and give it to me, and only afterwards she would go and eat some herself. In the evening, she would go into the town to beg, and there was not a house in town she did not know.
She would come to me and say: `A generous woman has given me a handful of broken rice and I have made a gruel out of it.’ But if we went to see, there would be a big pot full of broken rice and various other provisions. That was the sort of person she was. She was very much attached to me. I sometimes used to go with her and help her gather her leaves and vegetables, I also helped her in cleaning and preparing the vegetables for cooking, and then I would stay and eat with her. She died before we came here, that is before 1922. She was buried near here, under a tamarind tree opposite the Dashinamurti shrine.”
On June 17th 1948, Lakshmi fell ill and on the morning of the 18th, at around 10 o’clock in the morning, Sri Ramana went to see her. He caressed her and said, “Amma, do you want me to be near you now?” He looked into her eyes and placed his hand on her head as though giving diksha ( initiation ). He put his hand over her heart also and then caressed her, placing his cheek against her face. When he had convinced himself that her heart was pure, free from all vasanas ( desires ), entailing rebirth and centred solely on him, he took leave of her and returned to the hall.
Shortly before the end, she licked up a little sweet rice that had been placed before her. Her eyes were calm and peaceful. She left her body at 11.30 a.m., quite peacefully.
She was buried with proper funeral rites and with great ceremony, near the graves of a deer and a crow and a dog already buried there on Sri Ramana’s instructions. A stone tomb was built over her grave, surmounted by a likeness of her. Her epitaph reads: “On Friday, the 5th of Ani, in the bright fortnight, in Sukla Paksham on Dvadasi in Visaka nakshatra in Sarvadhari year, that is on 18.6.48, the cow Lakshmi attained Mukti (Liberation).”
On my next visit to the ashram after the tomb was finished, I read the stanza and asked Bhagavan whether the use of the word ‘mukti’ in it was just tradition, as when we say that some one has attained samadhi, meaning that he has died, or whether it really meant Nirvana and he replied that it meant ( liberation ) Nirvana.
Courtesy – Ashram of Sri Ramana Maharshi- The Mountain Path