Nalla Pillai Mudaliar

The photo above shows Nallapillai Studio, a photography business in Kumbakonam, India, as it exists today. The business was created in 1878 by Nalla Pillai Mudaliar, the great-great-grandfather of the present owner.

Nalla Pillai was a devotee of Sri Mouni Guru Swamigal. When I began writing this article, I thought that Sri Mouni Guru Swamigal is on the left in the following photo. Then I realized that I was probably mistaken, but it’s such a great picture that I’m keeping it here anyway.

In 1899, according to The Mountain Path, or in 1900, according to Sarangathi, or in either 1900 or 1901 according to Ramana as quoted in Day by Day With Bhagavan, Nalla Pillai was sent by the government to the vicinity of Tiruvannamalai to take pictures of prisoners. While he was there he heard about Brahmana Swami, as Ramana was known at the time, and went to visit him. He took the photo of Ramana shown below on a glass-plate negative.

Today this photo is known as CAV_32 in the ashram’s catalog. It is the earliest surviving photo of Ramana. Only one earlier photo was taken, and it has been lost.

Based on the years I cited above, Ramana could have been 19, 20, 21, or 22 years of age. He had realized the Self about 3, 4, or 5 years earlier.

According to Sarangathi, the photo was taken at Mango Tree Cave.

Check out Ramana’s fingernails. At that time he didn’t pay much attention to his body. Incidentally, there are similar pictures on the web of Shiva Bala Yogi, who also realized the Self when he was a child.

Further reading

“First Photograph of Bhagavan” by M. Sivakumar in The Mountain Path, Deepam (Oct.) 2004, p. 77

Day by Day with Bhagavan by A. Devaraja Mudaliar, 6-2-46 (night)

Photo caption in Sarangathi, Nov. 2014, p. 3

5 thoughts to “Nalla Pillai Mudaliar”

  1. Yes, Ramana’s and Shivabalayogi’s hands are very similar looking at that age. Beautiful photos.

  2. Shivabalayogi’s fingers were rigid from being in held on one position for many hours per day during his 12 year tapas. The growth of the lower part of his body was also somewhat stunted from sitting in lotus so long during that period. In some of the photographs his fingers look elongated, much like Ramana’s in this photo.

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