Biography of Swami Ramdas 1884-1963
Vittal Rao was born in 1884 in Kerala, in the south west of the Indian peninsula, into a very pious Brahman family.
From a very early age, he was fascinated by sadhus and by anything touching on a spiritual practice. Of an independent nature, he showed no taste for school, although he liked to read and frequented the libraries of the Christian institutions he was sent to. Through his teachers, he encountered the Gospels. The Christian definition: “God is love” enchanted him. Later, he devoured Madame Blavatsky and Annie Besant’s books on religious mysteries.
However, he discovered works published by the American Rationalist Press Association, which sowed a seed of doubt in him and his faith, nurtured from childhood, wavered. It was then that he read the works of Vivekananda, a disciple of Ramakishna; his faith was reborn, now broader and with no attraction to a religion of rites and ceremonies. A very dear friend introduced him to The Bhagavad Gita, which would always occupy a particular place in his heart. He would draw from it the certainty of the power of the Bhakti way, the way of devotion.
Despite having little interest in study, he succeeded in becoming a qualified technician in the textile industry. The work he found did not interest him at all, but he had to earn a living. As tradition demanded, his family asked him to marry. He only eventually agreed because his parents had made a commitment on his behalf and, in India, one cannot withdraw from that sort of arrangement. He was twenty-four. His wife, Rukmabai, came from a conservative family. She would give him a daughter, Ramabai, for whom he felt great affection, but the arranged marriage was not a happy one.
Vittal’s professional life was unstable. He regularly found and lost jobs. Conditions for workers were deplorable, comparable to those of the West in the nineteenth century. As a foreman, Vittal sometimes had to face anger and even threats from workers when they were not paid; he often had real difficulties himself in getting paid, even if only part of his wages. When he defended the workers, he lost his job. He had to deal with domestic, financial, and social worries and multiple house moves.
Unable to find suitable work, he decided to set up a small business, which did well and even expanded, but he was not a manager and the business began to fail. A providential friend came along to take the reins at the moment that Vittal’s life took a decisive turn.
His mind turned more and more towards the Divine. He began to repeat the Name of God continually; he stopped taking a meal in the evening and imposed a monastic life on himself. Nights were “consecrated, apart from two hours’ rest, to singing Ram’s praises.” Rukmabai grew frightened at the turn that her husband’s life was now taking. However, no persuasion, no appeal, no protestation, whether from her or their daughter, changed the line of conduct he had fixed upon.
He lost all attraction to the things of this world. Meditation took up more and more of his time. One day, his father, who was himself a great bakta (worshiper) of Ram, gave him the Ram-Mantra: Sri Ram, Jai Ram, Jai Jai Ram, assuring him that if he repeated this mantra continually, Ram would give him eternal happiness. This “initiation” by his father—whom he now considered as his guru—accelerated Vittal’s spiritual progress.
By now, he was thirty-eight. He took the decision to become sannyasin, and leave his family.
From now on, he took the name of Ramdas (Das, the server, the slave, of Ram). He went to Ramana Maharshi to receive his darshan (spiritual grace). This was a crucial experience for him. Referring to this single visit, he considered that, after his father, the Maharshi was his second guru.
After a year of wandering in this way, Ramdas found himself again in Mangalore, whence he had set out. He stayed in a cave for a few weeks, during which he consecrated his time to speaking to worshipers seeking his “darshan,” writing, and meditating on Ram. It was then that he composed his first book : In quest of God.
After two years spent visiting sanctuaries and other holy places, as well as responding to the demands of devoted disciples, Ramdas decided to establish himself in his first ashram, which came into being in 1928 in Kasaragod. It was then that a young woman, Krishnabai presented herself at the newly built ashram who would become its “mother,” that is, the master’s deputy.
One evening, two men came into the ashram where Ramdas and Krishnabai were alone and attacked them. Krishnabai was injured in the struggle and Ramdas immediately decided to leave that place. A new ashram, Anandashram, was opened in 1931, near Hosdurg. Ramdas would stay there until his death in 1963.