Smt.Padma Swaminathan, fondly called Padma Paatti (grandma) was our eldest volunteer at age 102. We were extremely blessed to share time and space with her.
This is an attempt to recount her inspiring life based on a couple of articles in newsletters from Brindhavan Hill View (where she stayed) and Ramana ashram in Tiruvannamalai which she considered home.
Padma was born on December 1, 1917 at Tiruchi, a small town in South India, to Sri.F.G.Natesa Iyer and Smt.Rajarajeswari.
Her father, a freedom fighter, was also fond of arts and established a space in Trichy (that still stands today) to promote meaningful entertainment. He himself was quite talented and earned the title “Father of Modern Tamil Drama”. He discovered many everyday people with talent and shone the spotlight on them. M.S.Subbulakshmi, the nightingale of Indian classical music, had a concert hosted by him when she was just 11 years old. Being of the same age, little Padma became lifelong friends with her.
Spirituality was the backbone of the family and trips to Ramanashram in Tiruvannamalai were looked forward to. She first came to Ramana Maharishi in 1925 as a 7-year-old girl. And she recalls a vivid experience.
“In the dining hall, I sat opposite Bhagavan. By chance when I lifted my head, I saw that he was looking directly and intently at me. I started to feel shy as his gaze fell steadily upon me. Once my glance was locked on his, I did not lower my gaze. Time passed. All the others had gotten up and gone out of the dining hall. My hand had dried up completely. Yet neither of us moved from our seats. He was still sitting there and looking at me and I became conscious of this only later when Bhagavan shifted his gaze and got up. How can I explain this?”
As was normal in those times, she was married at age 18. Her husband Swaminathan was a man of values and their meaningful partnership was a long one that lasted 72 years. They had six children.
The family lived mostly in Mumbai. Her husband, a progressive thinker and freedom fighter, stood by her wholeheartedly when she wanted to pursue education and music.
She became a student of Nature Cure when her younger sister got married to Ganesa Sharma, a revolutionary Nature Cure educator. She also learnt from Ganesa Sharma’s father, Acharya Lakshmana Sharma of Pudukottai, considered the father of Nature Cure in India and the author of the magnum opus “Practical Nature Cure”.
She also shared forward her knowledge of Nature Cure. It was lived wisdom and came effortlessly to her. Whenever a student came to her for an autograph, she would write the core tenets of Nature Cure before signing off.
She joined the Central College of Carnatic Music in Chennai in 1955 and secured the Sangeetha Vidvan degree. In addition to Carnatic classical music, she learnt Hindustani music in 1958 and Rabindra music in 1963. She was excellent as a vocalist and a Veena player. For more than 40 years, she was a performer for All India Radio.
She trained all her children in fine arts, dance, and music. Her growing family had a renowned dancer, a famous playback singer and a classical violinist as daughters in-law.
When INA of Subash Chandra Bose opened a unit in Chennai, she was selected to lead a corps of 200 women. During the freedom struggle, her husband Swaminthan was imprisoned in the Multan Jail. Naturally, she donated her jewels for the cause, started spinning the charka and wearing khadi, a lifelong habit. In 1948, with a heavy heart, she carried the ashes of Gandhiji for immersion.
In April 1950, two days before Ramana Maharishi moved on, she would come home to him for what would be her last darshan. Two days later in Chennai, something prompted her to look up at the nighttime sky and she beheld a shooting star, large and luminous, that arched across the sky. And she knew.
Her quest for learning and sharing never sagged. She was an active leader of Indian Congress Conference held in Chennai (Avadi) in 1955. She and her elder daughter appeared for the examination together and she came out, with flying colors. At age 50, Padma, already a grandmother, got her B.A Degree from SNDT University,Bombay.
She read passages from Ramana Maharishi’s works and wrote a journal every day. She had also handcrafted designs for a dedicated Nature Cure Education space.
Many participants who come for Nature Cure camps would come by to talk to her and leave the room, a little more inspired. This is a conversation recalled by Britman, the Tech volunteer at aKarma Life.
“Padma Paatti: What is your Name ?
Me : Britman
She : Oh, Christian …?
Me : Yes..
She : I Love Jesus Christ. I love him so much..Do you love him ?
I was speechless. Seeking love from god is normal but here she was.. “
When she turned 101, a slight lack of clarity in her speech set in and sometimes, she would meander. She remained in good health otherwise. At age 102, her hair was dark, her vision was great and so was her memory. She insisted on washing her own clothes every day. Her blessing heart was as wide as her smile. Her eyes shone as bright as they could. Her hands were ready to give out a gift any moment.
On the night of August 14th 2019, the passing away of her body was effortless, conscious and predictable. With her 2 sons and a trusted helper near her, clad in a Khadi saree, her entire body was relaxed and face, serene as her eyes stood still. On August 15th, which happens to be India’s independence day, her body turned to ashes midst chants of Arunachala Siva..
In the tradition of the microcosm merging with the macrocosm, these ashes merged with river Bhavani in her long journey to the ocean.
She continues to flow with us. Thank you Padma Paatti, for shining your light so bright.