“People do not know
what the Name of God can do.
Those who repeat it constantly
alone know its power.
It can purify our mind completely.
The Name can take us to the summit
of spiritual experience.”
‘Papa Ramdas’, as his devotees lovingly called him, was originally named Vittal Rao. He lived between 1884 and 1963 in Kerala, on the west coast of India. He owned a factory, which dyed saris and printed them in fashionable colours and patterns. Vittal was not a skilful businessman and therefore was always indebted, paying salaries to his workers which were too high.
When his wife became seriously ill, he prayed intensely for her recovery and she soon got well. This impressed her husband and stimulated his growing interest in finding an authentic spiritual path.
Having read the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, he was now looking for a practical way to apply them in his life. Later he related in one of his books:
It was about two years ago (in 1920) that Ram first kindled in the heart of His humble slave, Ramdas, a keen desire to realize His
infinite Love. To strive to approach, and understand Ram is to recede from the world of vanishing forms, because Ram is the only Truth the only Reality. Ram is a subtle and mysterious power that pervades and sustains t the whole universe. Birthless and deathless is He. He is present in all things and in all creatures that only appear as separate entities, due their ever-changing forms. To wake up from this illusion of forms is to realise at once the Unity or Love of Ram. Love of Ram means Love of all beings, all creatures, all things in this world; because Ram is in all and all is in Ram, and Ram is all in all. To realize this great Truth we, who, through ignorance, feel as separate individuals, should submit ourselves to the will and working of that
Infinite Power - that Infinite Love - Ram – who is one and
For nearly a year, Ramdas struggled on in a world full of cares, anxieties and pains. It was a period of terrible stress and restlessness
- all of his own making. In this utterly helpless condition, full of misery “Where is relief? Where is rest?”- this was the heart’s cry of Ramdas. The cry was heard, and from the Great Void
came the voice:
“Despair not! Trust Me and thou shalt be free!“
-and this was the voice of Ram.
‘Das’ means servant or slave. Ramdas is therefore the slave of God,
someone who has totally surrendered all of his self-will. This was the name Ramdas assumed for his new life. His meditations on Ram took up more and more of his time and interest and his love grew ever more intense. Even when walking in the streets he kept on repeating, “Ram, Ram” and reduced his sleeping-time to one or two hours a day in order to have more time for Ram. His only meal consisted of bananas and potatoes. During this time, in 1920, his father paid him a visit and initiated him into the mantra:
’Sri Ram Jai Ram, Jai Jai Ram’ which was supplemented by Ramdas with ‘Om’ later on.
As his love deepened, Ramdas felt the call of God to leave his home and family even though he loved his daughter very much, in order to surrender completely to the guidance of Ram without any means of outer support. He opened three books and immediately found confirmation in the words of Buddha, the sayings of Christ and in the words of Krishna that the impulse to make this great change in the conduct of his life was truly guidance from God.
A few days after his departure, Ramdas was led to the great sage Sri Ramana Maharshi and asked him for his blessings. Sri Ramana gazed at him for some moments in blessing. This blessing was what Ramdas later regarded as his awakening. Immediately after having had this darshan, Ramdas went into retreat in a cave on the hillside of Arunachala, where he sang his mantra uninterruptedly for about a month. When he came out of the cave, he experienced for the first time a cosmic vision when Ram revealed himself as all creation. Ramdas embraced trees and shrubs as a manifestation of God.
It was such complete dedication to the presence of God in the form of his mantra, which kindled the power of love in him more and more. He cared for lepers, and had no trace of fear either in meeting snakes or a mob of angry Muslims that wanted to kill him. When he met them, smiling like a child, they retreated and made way for him to pass by. Very often his intense joy was contagious to other people and he would walk in joy at great speed, filled with divine power or shakti. He walked through the Himalayas for 500 km, without shoes and with very scanty clothing, often with greater resilience than the local mountaineers.
In his books, ‘In the Quest of God’ and ‘In the Vision of God’, his impressive tales are told with great humour and we can get an idea how much strength can be generated through a life of genuine devotion.
In 1931 Anandashram was opened near Kanhangad in Kerala. His greatest disciple, Mother Krishnabai, who tells in her autobiography how she found enlightenment under the care and guidance of Ramdas, was the mother of the ashram. They established there orchards and rice-fields and kept cattle; they also opened a primary school and a workshop for apprentices. Later the fields and animals were mostly donated to the workers.
Between 1936 and 1938 and from 1949 to 1957, Ramdas travelled throughout India in order to visit his countless devotees. In 1954 he undertook a world-tour in response to the ardent wishes of many European and American devotees. He travelled with a few companions to Rome, Geneva, Frankfurt, Munich, Paris, as well as to places in Belgium and England. He then travelled on to New York, Los Angeles and Hawaii. The group returned through Asia, taking in Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore and Sri Lanka.
In his final years, Ramdas suffered from rheumatic pains as well as from diabetes and asthma. In spite of these ailments, he always remained completely childlike - he was a living example of true joy and wisdom resulting from his constant sense of oneness with Ram.