Sometime in 1926, four years after Sri Bhagavan came to live at the foot of the holy hill beside the samadhi of the mother, Arunachalam Pillai of Kumaramangalam, near Gudiyatham, entered the ashram with a cow and her young female calf and offered them to Sri Bhagavan in token of his devotion. Bhagavan tried to dissuade him, pointing out that there were no proper facilities at the ashram for looking after the cow and the calf. He told him that since he had already presented them to Bhagavan, that was enough, and he could now take them back with him and look after them not as his but as Bhagavan’s. Seeing his insistence and the devotion behind it, Ramanatha Brahmachari, who was then living near Bhagavan and who passed away a few years before him after many years of his gracious company, declared energetically, ‘I will look after the cow and the calf’. As the calf came on a Friday, she was named Lakshmi.
Ramanatha somehow tended the cow and the calf for two or three months. Lakshmi was very playful, jumping about as she pleased, and while so doing, she ruined all the vegetable plants that were growing. If anyone chided her, she used to come to bhagavan for protection. he used to tell the ashramites that if they so desired they could put up a fence to protect their plants. Poor chap! Ramanatha could not put up with all these troubles from the other inmates of the ashram and so handed over the cow and the calf to a keeper of cattle downtown.When she was pregnant for the third time, one evening she was unwilling to leave Bhagavan and go home. Like Nandini of Vasishta, she was shedding tears and lay close to the couch.
Bhagavan was visibly affected. Softly passing his hand over her face he said, ‘What! You say you can’t go away. You only want to stay here? What am I to do?’Looking at the others, he said, ‘Look, Lakshmi is weeping, saying she cannot go away. She is pregnant and may have confinement at any moment. She must go a long distance and again come here in the morning. She cannot refrain from coming here. What is she to do?’At last Bhagavan somehow coaxed her and sent her away. That very night she delivered. At about the same time Pashupati had some domestic difficulties. Unable to bear the burden of this Lakshmi with all her vagaries, he brought her and her three calves and presented them to Bhagavan. Lakshmi lay at Bhagavan’s feet and would not rise. Placing his right hand on her head and pressing it, he asked if she would like to stay here permanently. She closed her eyes and lay still as if in a trance. Noticing that, Bhagavan pointed out to the others that she appeared as though her responsibility for her calves was over, for they had been placed in Bhagavan’s charge.
Subsequently, for three or four years Lakshmi was presenting with a calf every year on Jayanti day. Afterwards, that practice stopped. Altogether she had nine deliveries. Bhagavan did not give Lakshmi special treatment simply because he regarded her as a favored pet. He allowed her the freedom of the ashram because he recognized that she was a highly advanced devotee who had taken the form of a cow in order to be with him.
Once, when Lakshmi was pregnant for the third time, she came into the hall after lunch. Bhagavan was reading a newspaper at the time. Lakshmi came near him and started licking the papers. Bhagavan looked up and said, ‘Wait a little, Lakshmi,’ but Lakshmi went on licking. Bhagavan laid his paper aside, put his hands behind Lakshmi’s horns and rested his head against hers. They stayed like this for quite a long time. After about ten minutes, Bhagavan turned to nagamma and said, ‘Do you know what Lakshmi is doing? She is in samadhi.’ it was then noticed that tears were flowing in streams down her broad cheeks. Her breathing had stopped and her eyes were fixed on Bhagavan.
One morning in January 1947 Lakshmi the cow entered the hall hurriedly with her legs, body and tail full of mud, with blood oozing out of her nose and with a half-severed rope around her neck. She went straight to the sofa where Bhagavan sat. The attendants began saying with some disgust that she had come in with mud on her body. Bhagavan, however, said with affection, ‘Let her come. Let her come. What does it matter how she comes?’Addressing the cow, he said, ‘Come, my dear. Please come near.’ So saying, he passed his hand over the body lightly, patted her on the neck and looking at the face said, ‘What is this? Some blood is oozing!’One of the attendants said, ‘Recently they put a rope through her nose’.‘Oho! Is that the reason? That is why she has come here to complain about it. Is it not very painful for her? Unable to bear the pain, she has come running to complain to me even without washing her body. What to do? Give her some iddlies or something,’ said Bhagavan, evincing great solicitude for her predicament.The attendants gave her some plantains and thus managed to send her out. After all of us returned to the hall and sat down, Bhagavan remarked, looking at the attendants, ‘Do not all of you come to me to relate your troubles? She too has done the same thing. Why, then, are you vexed with her for coming here with mud on her? When we have troubles, do we consider whether our clothes are all right or our hair is properly brushed?’
(Letters from and Recollections of Sri Ramanasramam, by Suri Nagamma pp. 74-5)
Whenever Lakshmi came for darshan she would walk very fast, not caring about anyone who stood in the way. It was left to the devotees to decide whether they wanted to get out of the way or be trampled on. When she reached Bhagavan’s couch, she would often stand in front of Bhagavan and put her head on his feet. If she came a little closer, he would gently caress her head and neck. Often, they would be so close together, Lakshmi’s saliva would fall on Bhagavan’s body. If any special food was served in the ashram, Bhagavan would serve some to Lakshmi in the hall itself.
Chinnaswami had made an arrangement with a local mason to build a small cowshed that would cost not more than Rs 500. Bhagavan wanted a bigger cowshed…At about 10 a.m. one morning, before the construction began, Chinnaswami organised a small inauguration ceremony on the site of his small cowshed. [This was the function that Lakshmi brought Bhagavan to attend.] After everyone had left Bhagavan suggested that the plan must be changed.
‘Many cows will come here in the next few years,’ he said. ‘Even if we build a big cowshed, there will be so many cows that some of them will have to be kept outside. We must make a larger cowshed and you, rather than this mason, must supervise its construction.’ Bhagavan changed the venue for the cow shed and insisted that he wanted all four walls to be forty-eight feet long…Bhagavan often came to the cowshed to give instructions and to see what progress had been made. He even used to visit the site during the night. Once, as we were supervising the work together, Bhagavan said; ‘If you build this cowshed for Lakshmi, we will get all the necessary punya [merit or good karma that accrues from performing virtuous acts] to build a bookstore, a dining room and a shrine for the mother. All this will happen in due course. This will eventually become a town.’
Bhagavan had a frugal, thrifty personality that made him complain about any kind of waste. He would, for example, pick up mustard seeds from the kitchen floor and ask that they be stored for later use; he made Annamalai Swami straighten out rusty, bent nails and reuse them In the light of these lifelong habits it was quite remarkable that Bhagavan went over Chinnaswami’s head and ordered a massive cowshed to be built out of expensive materials. Bhagavan rarely interfered in the management of the ashram, but in this particular instance he took complete control of the cowshed project.
The ashram buildings that existed in the year that Bhagavan ordered this new cowshed had all been made out of cheap or free materials. These primitive buildings were a direct consequence of the ashram’s strained finances and Bhagavan’s known preference for cheap or free materials. However, when Bhagavan spoke to Annamalai Swami about the new cowshed, he declared that he wanted the building to be constructed out of dressed-granite blocks. The roof of the inner courtyard, he added, was to be supported with teak beams. This is an extremely expensive way of building, and Bhagavan must have been aware that the ashram was not in a position to finance such a project. The scale of the building, as well as its materials, was astounding. When it was finally built, it dwarfed every other building in the ashram, being at least twice the size of the hall that Bhagavan himself received visitors in. All this was for Lakshmi. There were, it is true, a few other cows in the ashram at the time, but Bhagavan made it quite clear on several occasions that he was doing this for Lakshmi.
Bhagavan’s prophecy turned out to be true. Though there were no funds for the project when the foundations were dug, by the time the building was finished the ashram was receiving so many donations for buildings, surplus funds were available to begin work on other projects such as a bookstore and an office. I should mention that constructing a building to get punyafor future projects was also a major departure for Bhagavan. His general attitude to finance was, ‘Arunachala gives us everything we need’.
The construction of the cowshed marked a turning point in the ashram’s history. Prior to its construction, ashram buildings were generally small and primitive. In the years that followed many new granite buildings were constructed: the ashram office, the Veda Patasala, the kitchen and dining room, and finally the magnificent temple erected over the samadhi of Bhagavan’s mother. Along with the growth of these physical structures there was a corresponding increase in the flow of visitors to the ashram. Was there really a connection between Bhagavan’s decision to build this cowshed and the huge growth that followed? It may appear to be a strange claim, but when Lakshmi passed away in 1948, Bhagavan himself commented, ‘Because of her our family has grown to this extent’. When the cowshed was finally completed, Lakshmi herself brought Bhagavan to the opening ceremony.
One morning when Lakshmi was seriously ill and would not survive the day; The room built for the calves was vacated, cleaned and Lakshmi was given a bed of straw to lie down on. As it was Friday she was as usual decorated with turmeric paste. She had a vermilion mark on her forehead and a garland of flowers round the neck and horns. Venkataratnam [Bhagavan’s attendant] was sitting by her side, fanning her. Lakshmi was lying down with her majestic look, spreading lustre all around.
When Bhagavan came to the cowshed at 9.45 as usual he came to Lakshmi. Bhagavan sat on the hay by her side, lifted her head with both his hands and passed one of his hands lightly over her face and throat. Then, placing his left hand on the head, he began pressing with the right hand fingers her throat right down to the heart.
After pressing like that for about a quarter of an hour he said, addressing Lakshmi, ‘What do you say, mother? Do you want me to stay here alone? I could stay but what to do? All the people would be round you as in the case of my mother. Even so, why? Shall I go?’Lakshmi remained calm, devoid of all the bonds of this world and of the pains of her body, as though she were in samadhi. Bhagavan sat there unwilling to move and with a heart full of compassion.
Turning towards Lakshmi and gently stroking her head and neck, he said, ‘What do you say? May I go?’
Subbalakshmi said, ‘She will feel happy if Bhagavan is by her side’.
‘That is so, but what to do?’
So saying and looking into the eyes of Lakshmi, Bhagavan said, ‘What? May I go? Won’t you tell me?’ Lakshmi looked at him proudly.What reply Bhagavan got we do not know but he got up and went away saying, ‘See that the flies do not get into the mouth’.
With the divine touch of Bhagavan the outer breath of Lakshmi began subsiding and the movement of the body began to decrease. When the doctor came at 10.30 and gave an injection, Lakshmi remained unaffected, as if the body was not hers. There was no death agony. Her sight was calm and clear. The doctor turned her over into the posture of Nandi, put some medicine on the boils and went away instructing us to keep some support for the head. Laxmi then got absorbed in bhagwan. Ten minutes later Bhagavan came into the shed, saying, ‘Is it all over?’ and squatted by her side. He took her face in both his hands as though she were a little child.Lifting it he said, ‘O Lakshmi, Lakshmi,’ and then to us, controlling his tears, he said, ‘Because of her our family has grown to this extent’. When all were praising Lakshmi, Bhagavan asked, ‘I suppose the doctor has not troubled her much, did he? How did her life cease?’
We told him everything that happened.
‘That is all right. Did you notice this? The right ear is uppermost now. Till yesterday she was lying down on her other side. Because of the boil she was turned over to this side. So this ear had to come up. Look, in the case of people who die in Kasi [Benares], people say Lord Siva will whisper in the right ear. Lakshmi too has her right ear up.’ Bhagavan had brought about the liberation of both his mother and Lakshmi the cow by destroying the vasanas, the mental tendencies and desires that would have otherwise resulted in a rebirth. He accomplished this by placing one of his hands on the heart centres of these devotees as their death was approaching.
There was much speculation in Ramanasramam that Lakshmi was the reincarnation of Keeraipatti, an old woman who fed Bhagavan for several years when he lived at Virupaksha Cave and Skandashram. Keerai is a Tamil term for edible leaves such as spinach and Patti, meaning grandmother, is a respectful form of address for elderly women. Bhagavan never publicly confirmed or denied that Lakshmi was the reincarnation of Keeraipatti, but he was happy to pass on this theory to visitors and devotees. One of the devotees approached Bhagwan and said, ‘We ourselves see that animals and birds are getting deliverance [moksha] in your presence; but is it not true that only human beings can get moksha?’
‘Why? It is stated that a mahapurusha [great saint] gave moksha to a thorn bush,’ said Bhagavan with a smile.
Lakshmi the cow is no longer in the cowshed. She has been freed from the bonds of the body and is now merged in the lustrous Atman of Sri Ramana.
David Godman on Cow Laksmi
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