The 62nd aradhana of Ramana Maharishi falls on May 7.
His simplicity, compassion and divine attributes get enough attention; but how many are aware of the culinary skills of Bhagavan Ramana? An exemplary cook, he taught fellow kitchen mates how to undertake the small tasks of daily life with a song on their lips. The very thought that what they prepared was going to reach hundreds of hungry stomachs would bring them peace and happiness. It was sadhana of sorts!
Up and about at 3 a.m., Bhagavan would get busy cutting vegetables and helping other cooks. He insisted that whatever had come to the ashram was a gift from God and so it should be properly utilised and accounted for. He would deftly pick up stray mustard seeds or grains of rice that he found on the kitchen floor and carefully deposit them into their tins. He considered them the property of Father Arunachala. He did not waste even those parts of vegetables that others usually ignored. He even admitted to the fanaticism in waste management and jocularly remarked, “It's a good thing that I never got married. No woman would have put up with my habits.” And he was an expert at suggesting remedies whenever a dish was not up to expectations.
He took mundane duties upon himself in return for the food that he got at the ashram, even when he was not well. Finding Bhagavan with a blistered hand, his disciple Viswanatha Swami sat down to grind the chutney, a chore the guru had reserved for himself. Bhagavan requested him to give his dhoti so that He could wash it for him. “These days I don’t go for bhiksha. But I cannot take free ashram food sitting idle. Now that you have taken upon yourself the grinding work, let me wash your dhoti.” Viswanatha was in tears.
And again, the kitchen provided him with an opportunity to share anecdotes from his life, stories from scriptures, even to mock at false notions perceived by them in the name of religion. For example, no item was a taboo in his kitchen, be it garlic, onion or drumstick. When his orthodox mother frowned upon the items arriving from the market, he would tease her: “Mother, what are you going to eat? Today they have brought drumsticks and onions. If you eat them, will you not encounter a forest of drumsticks and onions on the way to moksha?” Gradually she came to see that moderation in food was all that was required for sadhana.
It is another matter that once the cooking was over and he sat along with others to eat, he would mix all the items that he found on his leaf and consume it as if it were some medicine.
The Tamil ‘Appalam Song’, that Bhagavan composed for his mother around 1915, echoes his mastery over the preparation of this edible item. Superficially the verse is a page from a cook book, but on a second look, it is a spiritual recipe.
In a couple of verses in a dasakam that Kavya Ganta Ganapathi wrote hailing Bhagavan, he calls him a Lord among sanyasins serving in the divine non-vegetarian kitchen of Lord Siva, slaughtering the human animals and ridding them of their king sized ego.
Bhagavan, commenting on the verses in a lighter vein, said Lord Arunachaleswara was gulping down raw human flesh before he found an expert cook in Bhagavan.