Sunday, January 23, 2011

Feeding time at Ramanashramam

I know that sounds a bit like feeding time at the zoo (and being India there are more than a few similarities) but there are thousands of meals supplied free of charge every day here. Firstly they feed all visitors, guests and invitees (I’m not sure exactly where the lines are drawn between those three) and at specific times they open the doors to the dining hall then apparently close them again pretty smartly. Everything at the ashram is run to a very tight and disciplined schedule during the day and the meal times seem to be no different. There is a substantial kitchen area staffed by those who choose to stay at the ashram and serve as a part of their time there, serving very simple meals served on banana leaf plates. Then aside from all of that, there is a time where they “feed the poor”, whatever that means in India. The following photos are taken during the serving of those meals. I am interested to know how more about how this works and who exactly “qualifies” to be fed at this time. From what I could see there was a very long line of the orange-clothed swamis, but they seemed to be a completely different kind of Baba to some of the others I have been photographing out on the roads. Then there were a few children as well as a line of poorly dressed women at the end of the queue. I will investigate more about this and how it’s all paid for. The ashram charges absolutely nothing for anything you do, including the meals they serve. There are no donation boxes anywhere and I know that even though they have a substantial area for accommodation it is probably the cheapest place in town to stay, just a few dollars a night and that is, as mentioned, for those who are there to help and serve as they can. There is a bookshop, but again, all books available must be at “cost plus 10%” without the 10% the books are so cheap. So I see no hint of money making, which follows along with the absolute purity of intent that Ramana Maharshi himself had. I am guessing the ashram is funded by donations somewhere along the line.
There is an interesting story coming from the early days of Ramana Maharshi when he was first on the hill. As with these things there are always a few who see an opportunity to cash in. He was in one particular spot on the hill, and as is the way, men take it upon themselves to act as guardian over anyone considered a ”holy man”. With Ramana throughout the early years this was very much the case as he had such a remarkable presence that many people wanted to visit him.  So these particular men decided that people should pay a small fee to visit the Maharshi. As soon as Ramana found out this was happening he left that place saying that if people had to pay then he himself would also have to pay. Seeing as he had no money that would be impossible so he would have to leave. They begged him to return promising to never charge people again. Since his arrival in Tiruvannamalai until his death he never touched money, only ever ate what everybody else ate, would allow no special treatment of any kind and continued to live a very simple life even as the ashram grew around him. You can see this still in the way things are managed at the ashram and has always been a great inspiration to me personally.