(102) MOTHER ALAGAMMA
3rd April, 1947
The other day there was a talk in Sri Bhagavan’s presence about old songs. Bhagavan said, “Mother used to sing ‘Dakshinamurthy Stotra’ and other Vedantic songs. They used to be full of meaning. Nobody cares about them nowadays but it would be very good if they were edited and published.” On hearing that, I remembered about the old philosophic songs in Telugu also and felt that it would be beneficial spiritually to our ladies if those songs also could be edited and published, and wrote an article about it. In it I mentioned the “Appalam Song”[*] which assumed much prominence in Bhagavan’s teachings to Mother Alagamma, and which is considered to be one of the best of songs. When I told Bhagavan that I wanted to send the article to the Telugu magazine Griha Lakshmi, he asked me to read it out to him.
[*Appalam in Tamil, Poppadam in Malayalam, Appadam in Telugu, is a very thin, round cake made of black gram flour fried crisp.]
On hearing it, Bhagavan said, “There is a big story about this song,” and at my request he was pleased to narrate it.
“In the early days when Mother came to stay with me in Virupaksha Cave, there was no cooking. If Echamma or anybody else brought her any food she used to eat it, clean the vessels and then go to bed. That was all. One day she thought I had nothing special to eat and as I was fond of the twin appalams, she thought it would be a good idea to make some for me. Being well experienced, she could not refrain from making them. Without my knowledge she asked the Mudaliar old lady, Echamma and some others to get everything ready and one evening she set out, saying that she was going to the village. I wanted to see where she was really going, and so when she left, I waited silently under the tree outside. She thought I did not know anything. She went to several houses, collected all the required things in a big vessel and returned. I closed my eyes and pretended complete ignorance. She put them away carefully in the cave till all the visitors left.
After nightfall, I had my usual meal and lay down pretending to sleep. Leisurely, she took out the wooden roller, wooden seat, loose flour and the balls of paste and commenced making appalams. There were about two to three hundred to be made. She could not prepare them all single-handed. I knew the job. So she quietly began telling me, ‘My boy, please help me with it.’ I got the opportunity I was waiting for. If I were lenient in this, she would start something else. I wanted to put a timely stop to it. I said, ‘You have renounced everything and have come here, haven’t you? Why all this? You should rest content with whatever is available. I won’t help you. I won’t eat them if you prepare them. Make them all for yourself, and eat them yourself.’
She was silent for a while and again started saying, ‘What, my dear son, please help me a little.’ I was adamant. She continued to call me again and again. Feeling it was no use arguing any more, I said, ‘All right. You make these appalams; I will make another kind’, and I started singing this ‘Appalam Song’. She used to sing a rice song, soup song and other such songs, all with Vedantic meanings.
None appears to have written an appalam song. So I felt I should compose one. She was very fond of songs. So she felt that she could learn another song. By the time the preparation of the appalams was over, my song also was finished. ‘I will eat this appalam (the song about the appalams), and you eat those that you have made,’ I told her. That happened sometime in 1914 or 1915.” “What a big story! I wrote it in brief in this essay. This won’t do,” I said. “Why all this in that essay?” asked Bhagavan.
I said I would write all this in my “Letters” (to my brother) and Bhagavan agreed to it. He was then reminded of some other incident, and said, “Some time after the ‘Appalam Song’ was composed, we all set out one day on giri pradakshina.
Someone said, ‘Swamiji! Please tell us the meaning of the “Appalam Song”’. I started explaining thus: ‘Take the words ‘thanugani pancha kosa kshetramunnada (in the body with the five elements)’ — there are many authorities about the ‘pancha kosa kshetra’ in the Bhagavad Gita and other Vedantic texts. I quoted them all. Similarly for every word there are many authorities. I gave them all, explaining their meanings and significance. We finished our round of the hill, returned to the Virupaksha Cave and sat down. I was still explaining. All the essence of the Vedanta is incorporated in that one song. If properly commented upon, it would make a big volume by itself.”
I said, “It would have been good if somebody had recorded all that when Bhagavan explained. Who can comment upon the song as Bhagavan does! Why not somebody record it even now?” “That is all very well!” he said laughing. After hearing all the commentary, I said, “I am not satisfied with this article and so I will not send it to Griha Lakshmi.”
Bhagavan said, “Just as you please,” and resumed his talk, “Though I was remonstrating with my mother, she slowly started cooking, first a vegetable, then soup, and so on. We went to Skandasramam afterwards. She used to wander all over the hill, gather something or other, and say, ‘He likes this vegetable and that fruit’. She took no notice of my remonstrations. Once, while she was coming to the jungle at this side, her saree got in a thorny bush. It was only then that this path was cleared of all bushes and the like. She said she would not leave me and go anywhere else. If she went anywhere, she was afraid that she might die there. She was particular that she should die in my arms. When Alamelu (Bhagavan’s younger sister) built a new house in their village near Manamadurai, she begged mother just to go over there and see the house. She said it was enough if she (mother) just set her foot in it. But she never went. She declined because she was afraid that in case she fell ill there, there might not be trains running properly at that time to bring her back here and in that case, she might not die in her son’s arms.
She used to say, ‘Even if you were to throw away my dead body in these thorny bushes I do not mind but I must end this life in your arms.’” As he was saying that, his voice began to falter through emotion. My eyes got moist. I said, “Renunciation should be as firm as that with everybody.” “Yes, yes!” he said and was silent.
Because she said, “Even if you were to throw away my body in these thorny bushes,” we now see that the place of her burial is adorned by a temple fit to be worshipped by kings and emperors.
See Appalam Song, and Dakshinamurthy Stotra.