There were (and are) many inmates of Sri Aurobindo Ashram who worked tirelessly throughout their entire lifetime to serve Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. They never busied themselves with artistic activities but worked round the clock for work was their medium of practising the Integral Yoga. Such individuals were never very popular in the Ashram community, yet, their sincerity and dedication made them radiate like jewels.
One of such individuals was Venkatarama Reddy, renamed Satyakarma by Sri Aurobindo.
Venkatarama Reddy (26 November 1904—31 December 1970) was a zamindar of Nellore in Andhra Pradesh. He visited Pondicherry in 1926 and had his first Darshan of Sri Aurobindo. He re-visited Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1930 and three years later joined it as a permanent inmate. Sri Aurobindo renamed him “Satyakarma” and he was made the Cashier of the Ashram. When the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust was formed in 1955, the Mother selected him as one of the Trustees.
An informative article on Satyakarma authored by Ms. Krishna Chakravarti has been published in the online forum of Overman Foundation.
Born in December 1943 to Justice Santosh Kumar Chakravarti and Bokul Rani, Krishna Chakravarti joined the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education as a student in 1956. After completing her education in 1966, she joined the Central Office of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. A dedicated worker and prolific writer, her published books include Sri Aurobindo Laho Pronam (2006), A Garland of Adoration (2007) and Judge Saheb O Maharanir One-Third Dozen er Kahini (2009).
With warm regards,
Satyakarma—The Yogi from Deccan Land
Venkatarama Reddy was born on 26-11-1904 in a village near Nellore, in Andhra Pradesh where the two holy rivers, Krishna and Godavari flow and fertilise the basin. The richness of the land also gives richness to its people. And Venkatarama Reddy was born with a silver spoon in his mouth in a family where richness and affluence flowed as the waters of Godavari. His father died at the age of thirty-six and the property and the mango groves were taken care of by an uncle. But before dying, his father wanted to see the new-born daughter of his sister and requested that she be his daughter-in-law—the wife of his only son. Thus Venkatarama Reddy grew up in affluence, studied at Nellore, married his first cousin, Krishnamma and settled down to look after the property left by his father. The freedom of India was a vision for most young men of that time and he joined the freedom movement inspired by Gandhi.
And vaguely through the forms of earth there looked
Something that life is not and yet must be.
For Venkatarama there was an urge, an inner need that yearned to be satisfied. He became a frequent visitor to Sri Ramana Maharshi’s Ashram. Often he had to go to Madras to consult the famous barrister, Duraiswamy, in connection with problems regarding his vast property. There, for the first time, he heard the name of Sri Aurobindo. Duraiswamy, who was aware of the young man’s urge asked him to visit Pondicherry. So Venkatarama Reddy, at the age of twenty-two, visited the Ashram and had the Darshan of Sri Aurobindo for the first time in 1926. He asked Sri Aurobindo many questions and Sri Aurobindo replied. During the conversation the Mother also came and sat down. After a while, she left and Sri Aurobindo told him “She is the Mother.”
He visited Pondicherry in 1930 with his wife, leaving behind his son—Dayakar—then two and a half years old, as children were not allowed in the Ashram at that time. They went back, but that was to sell the property before settling down in the Ashram. In 1933, the family settled down in Pondicherry. His mother was unhappy as Venkatarama was the only son and her only daughter was already married. She pleaded with Krishnamma to stay back, “Let him go if he wants to, but you can stay back here.” But the typically Hindu wife replied, “My place is by his side, I will go wherever my husband goes.” Dayakar, their only son, happened to be the first child to be admitted in the Ashram. It opened the door for other families from Andhra—Narayan Reddy, Subramanian Pantulu also settled down with their families. The Ashram was vibrant with boisterous children.
Venkatarama Reddy and his family stayed in a house near the Ashram. He was given work with Chandulal. In 1936 Venkatarama Reddy was given a room in the Ashram main building, a new name “Satyakarma” and a new work—the Cashier of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. From then onwards he was known only as Satyakarma. What immense treasure he must have gained at Their feet—the richness he was born to, the family bond and love were all negligible compared to the tiny room he spent his life in; half of it was used for his office work too. For he was the Cashier of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Their treasurer, not only of money but also of Their trust and faith in him. His life was an example of the name give to him. He passed away on 31st December 1970.
He strictly followed the routine of the Ashram. He had all the three meals in the Dining Room and would not touch any other item. Much later, he started taking food in his own room. Once his mother had come and wanted him to partake of some dishes cooked by her. He refused. Krishnamma reported the incident to the Mother as his mother was greatly perturbed. The Mother asked Krishnamma to learn from Rukmini-di, sister of Duraiswamy, the preparation of a sweet which Sri Aurobindo liked very much. She asked them to prepare that sweet every Monday and bring it for Sri Aurobindo. After Sri Aurobindo had tasted it, the sweets were given to Satyakarma as Prasad and he could not refuse. His mother was satisfied and Krishnamma got the opportunity to cook for Sri Aurobindo, every Monday, a sweet that he liked.
The Mother appointed him a trustee of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust when it was formed in 1955. Till the end he remained a Trustee and the Cashier of the Ashram.
I had the opportunity of working under him just for a few months when his assistant, Manibhai, was unwell. But those few months tied a bond so strong and deep that though he is gone some thirty-four years back, it continues through his wife Krishnamma—the loving and affectionate Amma.
The first impression I had was that of a Rishi of a bygone era. The austerity and intensity of the Sadhana was reflected in his entire body. He was of medium height, of medium complexion, his body was thin but strong as he was in the habit of doing exercises early in the morning in front of his room in the courtyard. He would always be clad in a white dhoti, the upper body mostly bare, or occasionally he had a shirt on. His entire body shone with a light, his face had a serious look but his smile (which was rare) expressed an inner bliss. His tiny room was supposed to have been a room for keeping the rickshaw. There was a cot, a wall-cupboard where he kept his clothes and a big table which served him as his cashier’s table. He sat on one side on a chair, on the opposite side there was a chair for his assistant; a big safe behind him, another safe at the entrance—a movable counter, from where Ashramites took their money. The assistant and he himself had to crouch down below the counter to go out or come inside for work. The counter would be removed after working hours and there would then be space for moving freely. The only luxury he had was a small basin near the only window. He would have his meals sitting on the cot. That was Satyakarma-ji’s world—he who was the Jagirdar from Nellore. I had no idea of his antecedents when I worked with him until one day he gave me some cash to count. I was fumbling while counting. So he asked if I had not counted cash before. I replied frankly that there was no question of counting, as I had never seen so much cash before. He looked all surprised and said, “Oh, from my very young age I used to count much more cash than this.” Now was the time for me to look at him in surprise! This man with a cot, an almirah and a table was so rich before coming here! How wonderfully he had adjusted to the situation the new life offered. No sign of regret, let alone any kind of discomfort in the life he led. Like the Buddha he shunned the riches but gained the inner treasure which would remain ever in his soul.
The hardest challenge was his work. Born in a family where money flowed in abundance,—to face scarcity was daunting indeed. He would go to the Mother everyday. She would simply replace the money he had spent that day in the morning. But when She had no money to give or gave less than required, how did he face the challenge? He did face it and carried on his thin shoulders the burden of running the Ashram on nil balance.
In the difficult periods of the Ashram’s finance his faith and trust in the Master and the Mother helped us sail through the turbulent waters—the Ashramites knowing nothing, feeling no crunch. He and others like him were the torchbearers of the Ashram and no amount of remembrance or homage would suffice to acknowledge the burden they carried on to build this Ashram with their sacrifice, love, devotion and commitment to the Gurus. His daily notations in his diary which used to be sent to the Mother, Sri Aurobindo’s replies, and the Mother’s letters to him are still unpublished. What best way to describe Satyakarma—the yogi from Deccan land—than what the Mother wrote in a bold hand after his passing:
I TRUSTED HIM VERY MUCH.
Source: Krishna Chakravarti’s A Garland of Adoration.
Photographs courtesy: Ms. Tara Jauhar and Mr. Anurag Banerjee