(15) ECHAMMA’S DEMISE
29th December, 1945
On the night of Thursday, the 27th, at 2-45, Echamma, who was like a mother to Bhagavan, left her body and attained union with the Almighty at Bhagavan’s lotus feet. I feel rather gratified than sorrowful at this news. When I moved from her house to a residence near to the Ashram, she would often say, “I loved you as my child. I thought you would see me out of this world, but you have gone away to a distance. Now you will come to me only after I am dead, to see the body off to the cremation ground, won’t you?” When she said this, tears used to well up in her eyes. But it happened just as she had said. I only heard the news of her death, not of her sickness. There is a saying, “The child is firm as a rock, the mother fragile as shellac.” I am only sorry it came too true in this case.
You remember on the 25th you and your wife presented her with some clothes and she was then busy cooking for guests in the house. That same evening, she was unable to get up and so asked for water and she was given some. After drinking it, she lay quietly and so all the guests left. I am giving you the details as related by her niece who attended on her. After that drink of water she could not talk or eat, but remained bedridden. Next day this news was conveyed to Bhagavan. On the 27th her condition became serious.
Telegrams were sent to her relatives. Even though she was almost unconscious she would open her eyes slightly, when anyone called her. At about four in the afternoon one lady wanted to test how far she was really conscious. So she said, “Food does not appear to have been sent to Bhagavan today.” Immediately she heard the word “food” she opened her eyes full and, with an exclamation, cast a questioning look. So as not to disturb her peace of mind, her niece said, “We have sent it,” and she nodded her head in approval. That is real vrita deeksha (strict observance of a vow). What can one say of the great mother who would not forget her kainkarya (service) to Bhagavan, even though she was in the throes of death! That is all. At 8 o’clock that evening incoherent sounds were coming out of her mouth, her eyes were glazed and she was clearly in the pangs of death. Her niece came to Bhagavan and brought the news. The Ashram doctor went there, examined her and declared that there was no hope; and then they performed her jeevaprayaschitham (last rites).
Anyway, after the news was conveyed to Bhagavan, she had not much suffering, the breathing became easier and feebler and she passed away at 2-45 a.m. I came to know of her illness on Thursday evening and thought I could look her up the next morning but when I came to the Ashram before starting, I heard this sad news. Bhagavan said to me, “Oh, is she dead? I have been waiting to see when she would get away from all these worldly worries. So she has gone away from all these worries. All right, go there and come back.” I went there along with some devotees. I was overpowered with grief when I saw that body with the face still undimmed. She was undoubtedly a powerful personality and, when I was here alone in my early days, she was my sole support. Though much against her will, I changed my residence, she used to bring me food along with Bhagavan’s whenever I was unwell. In accordance with her previous instructions, I bathed her body in Ganges water, smeared it with vibhuti (holy ashes) and put on rudraksha beads and then saw her off on her final journey. All her relatives decided that she should be cremated, not buried.
When I prostrated before Bhagavan at 2-30 in the afternoon, he asked, “How did she die? What did they do?” I replied, “They decided on cremation. Her relatives said that she wished her ashes to be buried in her village and a samadhi erected over them with a tulsi plant for worship.” Bhagavan said, “Yes, yes, that is right. The same was done with Ganapati Sastri and others.” After I sat down, Bhagavan said in a consoling manner, “I told her quite a number of times not to worry about this food but to stop it. But no! She was adamant and refused to take food until she had served Swami. Even today food was sent to me on her account.” I said, “No more now.” “That Mudaliar old lady is still there,” said Bhagavan. When he said this I was overcome with grief and said, “Whenever Echamma gave me something to eat, she used to get angry if I did not eat it then and there.” By this time my eyes were full of tears, and saying, “Yes, yes,”Bhagavan changed the subject. The earthly life of a devotee who for thirty eight years kept this vow as her talisman and worshipped God has now come to an end.
Another interesting thing: on the evening of the 27th, after Veda Parayana and my usual pradakshina (going around the hall), when I went in to bow before Bhagavan, I saw him seated motionless in padmasana, deeply immersed in dhyana and with his hands hanging loose at his side. His eyes were glowing with radiance as if they were two celestial lights and I felt that the spiritual lustre of the universe had come down in a concentrated form in the shape of Bhagavan. I wanted to see it closer and longer but I could not stand the powerful glare and so I merely bowed and came home thinking all the while that there must be some deep significance for that deep meditative state of Bhagavan.
In the night after meals, and the subsequent short discourse with Bhagavan at his bedside, Krishna Bhikshu came to my place with a friend. When I enquired of Ashram news, he said that Bhagavan had been deeply self-absorbed with a radiant and distant look the whole evening, and that there must be something great and unusual about it. We wondered what it could be.
Subsequently when we heard the details of Echamma’s demise, we found that from 5 p.m. onwards yesterday she was in the throes of death and that at 9 p.m. when the news was communicated to Bhagavan, all her agony ceased and she had a peaceful end of her life.
Then we all thought that it was to release this great devotee from her mortal state that Bhagavan had assumed that superb radiant form the previous evening.