Letter 36

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5th February, 1946
You know, off and on, Bhagavan has been going through Sri Ramana Leela, which has recently been received from the printers. In that connection, Rangaswami asked yesterday, “Has the story about the towel been written in it?” As it was not in the book, Bhagavan told us as follows: “About forty years back -- perhaps in 1906 -- when I was in Pachiamman Koil, I had with me only one Malayalam towel. It was given to me by somebody. As the material was flimsy it became worn out within two months and was torn in several places. Palaniswami was not in town. I had therefore to look after the cooking and all other domestic work. As I used to dry my feet and hands with the towel every now and then, it got all sorts of colours. Its condition would be seen if I used it as a cover for the body. So I used to roll it and keep it near at hand. What did it matter to me? It was enough if the required work gets done with its help. After bathing, I used to dry myself with the towel, and then put it out to dry. I used to guard it carefully so that no one else would know about it.

One day a mischievous little boy saw when I was drying it, and said, ‘Swami, Swami, this towel is required by the Governor. He has asked me to get it from you. Please give it to me.’ So saying he mischievously stretched out his hand.

‘Oh, dear! This towel! No, I cannot give it. Go away!’ I said.

“As that towel gradually got torn more and more with a thousand holes in it, I ceased to keep it with me lest it should be seen by Sesha Iyer and others. I used it after my bath, and then after drying it, hid it in a hole in the trunk of a tree within the temple precincts. One day, when I went out somewhere, Sesha Iyer and others, while searching for something else, happened to search that hole in the tree trunk, and found the towel. Seeing its condition and blaming themselves for their neglect, they began offering profuse apologies when I returned. ‘What is the matter?’ I asked. ‘Is it this towel with a thousand holes that you are daily drying your body with after your bath? Shame on our devotion to you! We could not find out even this.’ So saying, they brought several bundles of towels.

“Something else also happened before this. My kowpinam (small piece of cloth, usually a small strip, worn over the privities) got torn. I do not usually ask anyone for anything.

Bodily privacy has however to be maintained. Where could I get a needle and thread available to mend the kowpinam? At last, I got hold of a thorn, made a hole in it, took out a thread from the kowpinam itself, put it into the hole and thus mended the cloth, and, so as to hide the place where it was mended, I used to fold it suitably before putting it on. Time passed like that. What do we need? Such were those days!” said Bhagavan.

It was quite natural for him to tell us all this but we who heard him felt deeply grieved. Having heard this incident from Bhagavan some time back, Muruganar is reported to have written a verse. The purport of that verse is: “Oh, Venkata Ramana, who wore a kowpinam mended by a thorn, and who was served by Indra as a towel with a thousand eyes.”