Donnerstag, 18. September 2008

Foreword and Intro

Ramana Maharshi: His Life

A biography by Gabriele Ebert

Foreword by Alan Adams-Jacobs

Translated by Victor Ward

Copyright c 2006
by Gabriele Ebert
ISBN 1-4116-7350-6

translated from German into English by Victor Ward

(title of the original edition:
Ramana Maharshi: Sein Leben. –
Lüchow Verlag : Stuttgart, 2003)


Foreword by Alan Adams-Jacobs


Ramana Maharshi is universally considered as the Greatest Sage that has been born, as an act of Divine grace, on this planet for a millennium. Not since Adi Shankara has any Enlightened Being made such an impact on the spiritual development of our world both in the East and in the West.

This beautifully written and most expertly translated major biography of the Great Master fully illustrates this claim, most convincingly and in no uncertain manner. It is full of anecdotal history which brings to vivid life, the teachings and example of this supreme Spiritual Master.

He lived an exemplary life, beyond any fault and blemish. He was an example of moral purity and intellectual clarity. He was an inspiring Poet and wise Philosopher, but above all he largely taught through Silence. This is the rarest gift, even amongst Great Sages, and is the hallmark of the highest, most evolved example of humanity. In his personal life he was a model of love and compassion embracing all who came to him with true equanimity, and never refused guidance to any who approached him.

He was revolutionary and radical because he made his simple unique Direct Path to Self Realization available to all men and women who were earnest in their quest. The only qualification was a strong desire for liberation from the bondage of suffering in an illusory world. His simple method of Self Enquiry and Self Surrender did away with all the complicated and confusing spiritual practices and bizarre theories which have blurred and muddled the Path to Enlightenment for thousands of years. His way is available to every householder. It is an open secret. The only qualification is sincerity, and a serious intent to make effort along the lines he suggested.

He came to the Planet prepared to bring his message at one of the darkest times for our humanity when a great light was needed to restore the Dharma of Truth and Righteousness. His Maha-yoga embraces all the traditional paths of Devotion, Work, and Knowledge. It is available, without any change in life style for the ordinary householder. There is no longer any need to follow a monastic way to live a truly religious life in the twenty-first century.

As this book and many others, amply illustrate, he brought many of his devotees to Self Realization. His influence and guidance is still experienced today, even after his death, by those who are conscientiously practising his teaching. Most importantly he is responsible for the Renaissance of the Advaita Movement which is sweeping West and East like wildfire in the dense forest of samsara, and bringing much needed spiritual help to many thousands.

This book skilfully and meticulously written by Gabriele Ebert, with famed Teutonic thoroughness, devotedly recounts his life story in a masterly and scholarly manner. She is a child of our contemporary Western culture, so her book can be readily enjoyed by the Western, as well as by the Eastern reader. It was no less a personage than C.G. Jung who wrote in his essay on the Maharshi that in India he is the whitest spot in a white space. Could there be a higher commendation?

It is a privilege to heartily recommend this beautiful book to all those who are earnest in their spiritual quest and who genuinely wish to learn more about this Great Sage, his life and his teachings. I am confident it will thrill and instruct all those who are open to the possibility of Self Realization, now, for themselves, in this God-given life. It is a second education for those who see that all their life hitherto has been merely a preparation.

Alan Adams-Jacobs
Chairman, Ramana Maharshi Foundation UK
October 2003, Hampstead, London


Sri Ramana Maharshi, who has opened up the path of advaita to all people, is one of the most remarkable Sages of the modern era. After his enlightenment at age 17 he led a simple life on the sacred Hill Arunachala, in Southern India, for over 50 years, until his death in 1950. Attracted by the power of his presence, people from all countries, cultures and religions, whether rich or poor, educated or uneducated, came in their thousands to see him. Since his death nothing has changed, on the contrary, Ramanashram and Arunachala have become a vibrant spiritual centre and more and more people are showing an interest in the teachings of Ramana Maharshi.

There was a great deal of source material available for this new biography, as, over the last 50 years, many of the Maharshi’s devotees have published their recollections and diaries. The bibliography contains a list of all the sources used. The quotes included at the beginning of each chapter are direct quotes from Sri Ramana himself, unless otherwise indicated. Sanskrit terms are printed in italics and are explained in the glossary. Photos showing places today have been taken by me.


I would like to thank Victor Ward for this excellent translation, Alan Adams-Jacobs for the wonderful foreword and Miles Wright for his help in compiling the glossary and for looking through Chapter 18. Robert Högerle’s helpful suggestions were also very much appreciated. I am also extremely grateful to the President of Ramanashram - Sri V.S. Ramanan, and the President of the Ramana Maharshi Foundation in Bangalore - Sri A.R. Natarajan, for their authorisation to use the Indian publications and photo material.

Mittwoch, 17. September 2008

1. Birth and Childhood

Sundaram-Mandiram (the house where Ramana was born)

1. Birth and Childhood

What value has this birth without knowledge born of realization?

Venkataraman, later to be known as Ramana Maharshi, was born into an old Brahmin family on 30th December 1879 in Tiruchuli, a village of approximately 500 houses some 30 miles south of Madurai in Tamil Nadu, South India. Tiruchuli is the administrative centre (Taluk) for the Ramnad District. There has been a village on this spot for many centuries and it is mentioned in several legends in the Puranas. The Bhuminatheswara temple, dedicated to Shiva as Lord of the World, is a very popular place of pilgrimage. People often bathe in the temple tank, as it is claimed that the high sulphur content of the water has healing properties.

Sri Ramana’s father, Sundaram Iyer, started his professional life at the age of twelve as a clerk for a village accountant. He later became a petition writer and ultimately worked his way up to the post of uncertified pleader (Vakil). He practised principally at the local court of arbitration and earned sufficient money to enable him to provide a comfortable life for his family. He was considered to be both extremely skilled and fair and had a reputation for dealing kindly with the poor and oppressed. He was highly respected in the local courts, so much so that on occasions both parties, plaintiff and defendant, wanted him to plead on their behalf.

Sundaram was also wellknown for his great generosity and hospitality. His spacious house in Kartikeyan Street near the temple had two separate areas with identical furnishings and fittings. One area was used by the family, the other was made available to guests. Any poor person who knocked at the door was provided with a meal.

Countless clients and visitors came to the house throughout the day. Sundaram also offered accommodation and assistance to any newly arrived officials, until they found permanent lodgings of their own.

In so far as concerns spiritual matters Sundaram was very ordinary. His spiritual life, like that of every other devout Hindu, involved occasional pilgrimages to local temples, reading the legends of Hindu Saints and performance of the daily domestic puja.

Sri Ramana’s mother, Alagammal, came from Pasalai, a village near Manamadurai. She was married to Sundaram Iyer when she was still a child. There was no formal school education for women at that time, but from the elder women in Tiruchuli she learned many vedantic hymns, from which she took the spiritual instruction for her life.

She and her husband were an ideal couple. She supported Sundaram’s hospitality in every way, even if it meant she had to prepare a meal for guests in the middle of the night. The harmony between them was further emphasized through their names - Sundaram means ‘beauty’ in Sanskrit, while Alagammal means ‘beauty’ in Tamil. Ramana wrote in one of his hymns to Arun-achala, “May Thou and I be one and inseparable like Alagu and Sundaram, Oh Arunachala.”

Ramana was born one hour after midnight on Monday, 30th December 1879, as the second of three sons and one daughter. Throughout Southern India it was the day of the Arudra Darshan, the festival of the cosmic dance of Shiva Nataraja. That year this special festival day lasted from sunrise on the 29th to sunrise on the 30th December. At dawn on the 29th the devotees of Shiva took their ritual bath in the temple tank. Afterwards the flowerbedecked statue of Nataraja was carried through the streets of the village to the sound of drums and bells and much singing. At 1 a.m. it was returned to the temple of Tiruchuli where the customary rituals were performed. Venkataraman was born at that precise moment. It is recorded that a blind woman present in the delivery room had a vision of a wondrous light and said, “He who is born today in your house must be a divine being.”

Sundaram named his second oldest son Venkataraman. Ramana is an abbreviation of Venkataraman, but nobody, with the exception of one relative, ever called him that. Later Ganapati Muni (see Chapter 8) used the name ‘Ramana Maharshi’ and it is only since this time that ‘Ramana’ has been in use.

Venkataraman’s childhood was completely normal. He was a strong boy and was breastfed by his mother until he was five years old. He was friendly and open-minded by nature and was loved by everyone in the village. He attended the local primary school in Tiruchuli for three years before going to the secondary school in Dindigul when he was eleven. Whereas his elder brother, Nagaswami, was a diligent pupil, Venkataraman, although intelligent, took little delight in learning. He was far more interested in sports and games. The Bhuminatheswara temple and its surroundings were his favourite playground. He liked to meet with his friends there at the temple tank. A phenomenon which remains unexplained even today, is the change in water level in the Tamil month of Masi (mid-February to mid-March), with the waxing moon the water rises approximately 12 inches a day for ten days in a row, then subsides with the waning moon back to its original level. Ramana remembered how, fascinated, he used to watch this as a boy, “In my boyhood days, all of us used to join together and draw on the steps some signs in order to see how much the water rose each day. It used to be amusing. The rising of the water used to start 10 days earlier [before the full moon] and used to submerge the steps at the rate of one step per day and become full by the full moon day. To us, it was great fun.”1

Another of Ramana’s playgrounds was the Gaundinya river near the Kalayar temple on the outskirts of Tiruchuli. There he and his friends used to swim or play together inside the temple area.

Not a great deal is known about this period of Ramana’s life, but what is known makes it clear that he was a lively boy who liked to play pranks.

One day, when he was about six years old, he climbed up to the loft of his house along with some friends. The place was full of bundles of old papers and documents, which his father had decided to store there and which related to lawsuits longsince settled. The children took one of the bundles down and made a fleet of paper boats out of it, which they then sailed in the temple tank. When Ramana’s father came home, he was furious, so Ramana quickly made himself scarce. When he did not return for the midday meal, a search was organized. He was found sitting in the tem-ple in the shrine of goddess Sahayambal (one of Shiva’s consorts), from whom he had sought solace.

On another occasion Ramana went even further, he climbed into the house of a neighbouring lawyer and carried away some papers he found in a cupboard, unaware that they were important documents relating to a court case. He invented a game for himself, distributing the documents to passers-by on the street, as if they were advertising leaflets. When the lawyer returned home and saw what had happened, he demanded the papers back, but it proved impossible to recover many of them. Of course when he told Ramana’s father what had happened, the latter became very angry and shouted, “Undress the boy! Shave his head completely and give him only a loincloth to wear! Don’t give him any food!” How far the punishment was carried out is, unfortunately, not reported.

Ramana, however, in addition to his predilection for playing pranks, also had a compassionate heart, as is illustrated by the fol-lowing story, which he later recounted himself, “One day he [referring to a neighbouring boy three years his younger] got a sugarcane and a knife, and as he could not cut it himself, he requested his brothers to help him, but they went away without heeding his request. He began weeping. I felt sorry for him. I took the sugarcane and tried to cut it. My finger got cut and began to bleed. Even so, I felt sorry for him because he was weeping and was a little fellow, so somehow I managed to cut the cane into pieces. I tied my finger with a wet cloth; the bleeding, however did not stop.”2

The rite of Upanayama (putting on the sacred Brahmin thread) was performed when Ramana was around the age of eight, and he thus became a full member of the Brahmin caste, but still he showed no special spiritual inclination.

Although this fortunate family was no more religious than any other, there was one peculiar feature in its history. An old family legend tells how, one day, an ascetic came to the house begging for food, but, against all tradition, he was not treated with the proper respect and was not given a meal. The ascetic promptly issued a curse, stating that henceforth one member of each generation of the family would wander about begging as an ascetic like himself. This ‘curse’ had its effect, because in each generation one member renounced worldly life to become a wandering ascetic. One of Sundaram Iyer’s uncles on his father’s side had taken the ochre robe, the staff and the water jug of a sannyasin and had left to live life as a wandering renunciant and beggar. His elder brother Venkatesa also disappeared from the village one day, no doubt to embark upon the same path. He was never heard of again and since that time Sundaram had been the head of the family.

There are no indications that Sundaram Iyer ever thought that one of his sons would one day also leave home. And no doubt the thought never crossed the mind of the young Ramana either.

1 Nagamma: Letters and Recollections, p. 78
2 dto., p. 80

Dienstag, 16. September 2008

2.1 In Madurai

Ramana's home in Madurai

In February 1892 Sundaram Iyer unexpectedly died, he was in his mid-forties. He left behind him his wife Alagammal, their three sons, Nagaswami aged fourteen, Ramana aged twelve and Nagasundaram aged six and their daughter Alamelu aged four. When Ramana returned from his school at Dindigul to Tiruchuli, to see his dead father for the last time, he reflected thoughtfully, “When Father is lying here, why do they say that he has gone?” One of the elders answered him, “If this were your father, would he not receive you with love? So you see, he has gone.”

The sudden death of the head of the family was a dramatic event which resulted in the family being split up. Alagammal moved to Manamadurai with the younger children Nagasundaram and Alamelu to live with her younger brother-in-law Nelliappa Iyer, who was also working as a pleader. The two older children moved into the house of Subba Iyer, another uncle on the father’s side, who lived at number 11 Chokkappa Naicken Street near the famous Meenakshi temple.

Ramana was sent to Scott’s Middle School and later to the American Mission High School. He was an average scholar who learned easily, but was not much interested in his lessons. He would often go unprepared to class. If others recited the day’s lesson he would remember enough to enable him to keep up.

Later he told his devotees the following story with regard to his schooldays, “While the school lessons were being taught, lest I should fall asleep I used to tie a thread to the nail on the wall, and tie my hair to it. When the head nods, the thread is pulled tight and that used to wake me up. Otherwise, the teacher used to twist my ears and wake me up.”3

Wrestling, boxing, running and other sports were much more appealing to Ramana. He was stronger than most boys of his age and his strength and ability even impressed the older boys. He also liked to play football with his friends. People noticed that his team always won. This and other similar occurrences earned him the nickname ‘Thangakai’ (Golden Hand). It is a title given in Tamil Nadu to people who are always successful in their undertakings.

In his uncle’s house there was a room on the upper floor that was largely unused. Here Ramana used to play ‘throw-ball’ with his friends, with the young Ramana himself as the ‘ball’. He would curl himself up into a ball and the other playmates would throw him from one to another. Sometimes they failed to catch him and he landed on the floor, but he was never hurt by this rough play. This room in which he played is the same room in which he later had his death experience.

Sometimes Ramana and his brother would sneak out of the house at night to roam about with their playmates near the Vaigai river or the Pillaiyarpaliam tank in the outskirts of Madurai. “Every night, when the whole house was silent in sleep, Nagaswami and Ramana whose beds were in a remote corner of the house, would appropriately adjust their pillows and cover them up with their bed sheets so that it would create the impression of their presence in their beds. It was the duty of little Venkataraman [a younger friend of the same name] to bolt the door of the house when the brothers went out at about 11 p.m., and to admit them on their return at about 4 a.m.”4

Ramana did not study Sanskrit or the sacred traditions of Hinduism such as the Vedas or the Upanishads. In both the schools he attended he was taught Christianity, but Hindu boys generally showed little interest in such bible classes – and Ramana was no exception in this respect.

Although he was very much like any other boy, he did have one peculiar trait. His sleep used to be exceptionally deep. When a relative later visited him at the Ashram Ramana recalled the following incident which happened in Dindigul, “Your uncle Periappa Seshaiyar was living there then. There was some function in the house and all went to it and then in the night went to the temple. I was left alone in the house. I was sitting reading in the front room, but after a while I locked the front door and fastened the windows and went to sleep. When they returned from the temple no amount of shouting or banging at the door or window could wake me. At last they managed to open the door with a key from the opposite house and then they tried to wake me up by beating me. All the boys beat me to their heart’s content, and your uncle did too, but without effect. I knew nothing about it till they told me next morning. … The same sort of thing happened to me in Madurai too. The boys didn’t dare to touch me when I was awake, but if they had any grudge against me they would come when I was asleep and carry me wherever they liked and beat me as much as they liked and then put me back to bed, and I would know nothing about it until they told me in the morning.”5
3 Nagamma: Letters, p. 175
4 Krishnamurti Aiyer: Sri Ramana’s Boyhood in Madurai. In: Ramana Smrti, p. [58]
5 Mudaliar: Day by Day, p. 209

Sonntag, 14. September 2008

2.2 Arunachala, Arunachala

The event that heralded Ramana’s spiritual awakening was an incident in November 1895, shortly before his sixteenth birthday, according to the western calculation, his seventeenth birthday according to Indian calculation. For the first time he heard mentioned the holy mountain Arunachala, the place to which he would soon set off and where he was to live until his death.

Arunachala (transl.: the Red Mountain) on the wide plain of Southern India is geologically one of the oldest parts of the earth. For pious Hindus it is one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites. There is a well-known saying in Southern India which the young Ramana also knew, “To see Chidambaram, to be born at Tiruvarur, to die at Benares or even to think of Arunachala is to be assured of Liberation.”6

At the time Ramana only knew that Arunachala was a very holy place. He had never connected it with any real place and did not know where the mountain was located. Nevertheless, from childhood onwards, he had been aware of a kind of permanent pulsating repetition (sphurana) of “Arunachala, Arunachala”, that was both spontaneous and uninterrupted.

One day in November 1895 he met an elderly relative and when he asked him where he was coming from, the answer came back, “from Arunachala”. For the first time Ramana learned that Arunachala was a real place which one could visit. He further asked where it was situated and received the answer, “What! Do you not know Tiruvannamalai? That is Arunachalam.” Of course the town of Tiruvannamalai was well known to him.

6 According to the Sthalapuranam. In the inmost sanctuary of the temple at Chidambaram is the Golden Hall with the main sculpture of Shiva Natarajan. Tiruvarur belongs to the largest temple complexes in Southern India. Benares (Varanasi) on the holy Ganges is the town of Shiva and the most holy of all places of Hindu pilgrimage.

2.3 The Death-Experience

Soon thereafter, in the middle of July 1896, at the age of 16, the great change took place in his life. He was at the time a pupil in his final year at secondary school. He later described the incident which changed his life completely and irreversibly, “It was about six weeks before I left Madurai for good that the great change in my life took place. It was so sudden. One day I sat up alone on the first floor of my uncle’s house. I was in my usual health. I seldom had any illness. I was a heavy sleeper. … So, on that day as I sat alone there was nothing wrong with my health. But a sudden and unmistakable fear of death seized me. I felt I was going to die. Why I should have so felt cannot now be explained by anything felt in my body. Nor could I explain it to myself then. I did not however trouble myself to discover if the fear was well grounded. I felt ‘I was going to die,’ and at once set about thinking out what I should do. I did not care to consult doctors or elders or even friends. I felt I had to solve the problem myself then and there.

The shock of fear of death made me at once introspective, or ‘introverted’. I said to myself mentally, i.e., without uttering the words – ‘Now, death has come. What does it mean? What is it that is dying? This body dies.’ I at once dramatized the scene of death. I extended my limbs and held them rigid as though rigor-mortis had set in. I imitated a corpse to lend an air of reality to my further investigation. I held my breath and kept my mouth closed, pressing the lips tightly together so that no sound might escape. Let not the word ‘I’ or any other word be uttered! ‘Well then,’ said I to myself, ‘this body is dead. It will be carried stiff to the burning ground and there burnt and reduced to ashes. But with the death of this body, am “I” dead? Is the body “I”? This body is silent and inert. But I feel the full force of my personality and even the sound “I” within myself, - apart from the body. So “I” am a spirit, a thing tran-scending the body. The material body dies, but the spirit tran-scending it cannot be touched by death. I am therefore the death-less spirit.’

All this was not a mere intellectual process, but flashed before me vividly as living truth, something which I perceived immediately, without any argument almost. ‘I’ was something very real, the only real thing in that state, and all the conscious activity that was connected with my body was centred on that. The ‘I’ or my ‘self’ was holding the focus of attention by a powerful fascination from that time forwards. Fear of death had vanished once and forever. Absorption in the Self has continued from that moment right up to this time. Other thoughts may come and go like the various notes of a musician, but the ‘I’ continues like the basic or fundamental sruti note which accompanies and blends with all other notes. Whether the body was engaged in talking, reading or anything else, I was still centred on ‘I’.

Previous to that crisis I had no clear perception of myself and was not consciously attracted to it. I had felt no direct perceptible in-terest in it, much less any permanent disposition to dwell upon it.”7

Later it was said on more than one occasion that Ramana’s experience had lasted approximately 20 minutes or half an hour. But he himself stressed that there was no concept of time in it.

It is also remarkable that afterwards Ramana never harboured any doubts concerning his Self Realization. The experience remained with him thereafter uninterrupted and was never lost or diminished. He had absolutely no doubts about it and never searched confirmation from a spiritual teacher. He repeatedly stressed in later years, that despite the apparent changing phases of his outward life there was never any change in this experience and he always remained the same.

As a result of this death experience Ramana’s life was instantly and totally changed. He reports, “When I lay down with limbs outstretched and mentally enacted the death scene and realized that the body would be taken and cremated and yet I would live, some force, call it atmic power [power of atman] or anything else, rose within me and took possession of me. With that, I was reborn and I became a new man. I became indifferent to everything afterwards, having neither likes nor dislikes.”8

From now on he swallowed everything that was served to him, whether delicious or tasteless, good or bad, with no regard to how it tasted or smelled, or to its quality. Formerly, if he thought an injustice had been done to him or if other boys teased him, he would stand up for himself. Now he accepted everything without protest. He was also no longer interested in joining in his friends’ sporting activities, but rather sat alone and meditated with eyes closed in yogic posture. At school he started to encounter problems, because he was no longer interested in books. He remembered, “After the ‘death’ experience I was living in a different world. How could I turn my attention to books? Before that, I would at least attend to what the other boys repeated and repeat the same myself. But afterwards, I could not do even that. At school, my mind would not dwell on study at all. I would be imagining and expecting God would suddenly drop down from Heaven before me.”9

Though Ramana told nobody about his great experience and tried to appear as before, other people of course noticed the change which had come over him. His elder brother Nagaswami made fun of him and called him a jnani (enlightened being) or yogiswara (highest of all yogis) and said mockingly that he would do better to take himself off to some dense primeval forest like the seers (rishis) of old.
7 Narasimha Swami: Self Realization, pp. 20-22
8 Mudaliar: Day by Day, p. 41
9 dto., p. 279

2.4. Bhakti

The Meenakshi temple in Madurai, a free photo from

After the death experience, bhakti, the loving veneration of and devotion to God, gained in importance for Ramana. Some months before his enlightenment he had read the first spiritual book in his life, Sekkilar’s Periyapuranam, the life story of the 63 Tamil saints (nayanars). Their statues can be found in the Meenakshi temple in Madurai. Ancient legends tell how the 63 saints had obtained Shiva’s grace and had renounced everything and left home.

After his enlightenment Ramana started to visit the temple regularly. He recalled, “Formerly I would go there rarely with friends, see the images, put on sacred ashes and sacred vermilion on the forehead and return home without any perceptible emotion. After the awakening into the new life, I would go almost every evening to the temple. I would go alone and stand before Shiva, or Meenakshi or Nataraja or the sixty-three saints for long periods. I would feel waves of emotion overcoming me. The former hold on the body had been given up by my spirit, since it ceased to cherish the idea I-am-the-body. The spirit therefore longed to have a fresh hold and hence the frequent visits to the temple and the overflow of the soul in profuse tears. This was God’s (Isvara’s) play with the individual spirit. I would stand before Isvara, the Controller of the universe and the destinies of all, the Omniscient and Omnipresent, and occasionally pray for the descent of his grace upon me so that my devotion might increase and become perpetual like that of the sixty-three saints. Mostly I would not pray at all, but let the deep within flow on and into the deep without. Tears would mark this overflow of the soul and not betoken any particular feeling of pleasure or pain.”10

During his last month in Madurai, Ramana suffered from an unusual intense pain in his head and a burning sensation. But all symptoms of his profound change disappeared when he stepped into the temple at Tiruvannamalai for the first time on 1st September 1896.

10 Narasimha Swami: Self Realization, pp. 23ff

3.1 Departure for Arunachala

Ramana's farewell letter

"When I left home, I was like a speck swept on by a tremendous flood, I knew not my body or the world, whether it was day or night."

Ramana now faced a continual conflict between the demands placed upon him by his everyday life in the form of family and teachers, and absorption in the Self, which was now almost constant. This conflict could not last for ever and on 29th August 1896, approximately six weeks after his enlightenment, it finally came to a head. One day he had failed to study properly some lesson on English grammar. As punishment for this he had been given the task of copying out the lesson three times. When he came to the third copy his mind revolted against this soulless mechanical exercise. He pushed the work aside, sat upright in yoga posture, closed his eyes and started to meditate. His elder brother Nagaswami, who had been watching him all the time, cried out ill-temperedly, “Why should one, who behaves thus, retain all this?” The meaning was, that for one who behaves like a sadhu, family life and school made no sense anymore and he had no right to the comforts of domestic life. It was not the first time his brother had made such remarks and reproaches. But this time the shot went home.

Ramana saw that what his brother said was true. At the same moment the thought of Arunachala took full possession of him. He understood that the strong attraction which he felt was a call and decided there and then to set off for Arunachala. He knew, however, that his family would not let him go if he were to explain his plans to them, so he devised a scheme which would enable him to leave secretly. He told his brother that he had to attend a special class in electricity at school at 12 noon. Nagaswami, who had no idea of what was going on in his younger brother’s mind, said, “Well then, do not fail to take five rupees from the box below, and to pay my college fees.”

Ramana went downstairs, ate quickly and obtained the five rupees from his uncle’s wife. He, of course, told her nothing about his plan. He later reflected that this white lie, which was the only one he told during his life, was necessary to enable him to come to Tiruvannamalai.
In an old atlas he searched out the nearest railway station to Tiruvannamalai and saw that it was Tindivanam. Three rupees would suffice for the fare he thought. He wrote a short parting note and left it along with the remaining two rupees.

His letter read, “I have, in search of my Father and in obedience to his command, started from here. THIS is only embarking on a virtuous enterprise. Therefore none need grieve over THIS affair. To trace THIS out, no money need be spent. Your College fee has not yet been paid. Rupees two are enclosed herewith. Thus, _______”11

The letter changes from the personal “I” to the impersonal “THIS” and ends with a long line instead of a signature. From this day on he never signed with his name again. When he was asked later why he did not sign his letter, he answered, “There was nothing deliberate or conscious about it. Simply that the ego did not rise up to sign it.”

11 Narasimha Swami: Self Realization, p. 28

3.2 The Journey

Route to Tiruvannamalai

So, at around twelve noon on this fateful Saturday, Ramana left his family and Madurai and set off to take the train to Tiruvannamalai which was approximately 250 miles away. He was never to return. The railway station was almost one mile away. According to the timetable, the train to Tindivanam left at 11.45. Though he hurried as fast as he could, he expected, of course, to be too late, but fortunately the train was also late. He bought a ticket to Tindivanam for 2 rupees 13 annas, boarded the train, and lost himself in thoughts on Arunachala. He paid no attention to either his fellow passengers or to the beautiful and varied landscape through which he travelled. A Moulavi (a Muslim wellversed in religious lore), who was sitting in his compartment, finally asked him where he was travelling. A short conversation ensued, in which he learned that there was also a railway station at Tiruvannamalai and that he needed to change trains at Villupuram.

The train reached Tiruchiappalli at sunset, and as he felt hungry he bought two of the big country pears which grow in the hilly regions of Southern India, but after the first mouthful he felt full and had no desire to eat any more. As he had always had a healthy appetite this was something quite new to him. Again he sank into a kind of waking sleep (samadhi) and in this way he arrived at Villupuram at around 3 a.m., where he alighted.

Having hardly any money left he decided to walk the remaining distance. At daybreak he started out to town to search for the road to Tiruvannamalai. He was too shy to ask the way, so, tired and hungry from his search, he finally entered a hotel for food. He had to wait until noon however to receive a meal. The hotel-keeper told him that Mambalapattu was a railway station on the way to Tiruvannamalai.

Ramana went back to the railway station and purchased a third-class ticked to Mambalapattu, for which he had just enough money. He arrived there that same afternoon at 3 p.m.There were still approximately 30 miles remaining, which he had to cover on foot. Under the burning August sun he presumably followed the railway track so as not to lose his way. In the evening he had covered about 10 miles and reached the temple of Arayaninallur, which is situated on a big rocky plateau. From here Arunachala is visible in the distance.

Exhausted, Ramana rested at the outer temple gate. The temple was soon opened for worship (puja). Ramana took his seat in the open pillared hall and sank again into samadhi, while the priest and the faithful celebrated the puja. As he sat like this a dazzling light suddenly appeared to him, flooding the whole temple. At first he thought this must be the appearance of the deity there. He rose to look in the inner sanctuary, where the image of God was situated, but all was dark there. So he found that the light had no natural origin, but, as suddenly as it had appeared, it vanished. Ramana sank back into samadhi. He had no idea that he was sitting next to the statue of Jnana Sambandar, one of the 63 Tamil saints. It is written that this saint, who lived in the early 7th century A.D., once saw a similar light at the same place.

Soon he was disturbed by the temple cook who wanted to lock the temple doors. Ramana asked for some food and to be allowed to spend the night there. Both were refused. The other visitors suggested that he should come with them to Kilur, a place approximately six furlongs away, where they were going to celebrate the puja again. There he could be given something to eat. So Ramana accompanied the group.

At the Viratteswara temple in Kilur the priest celebrated the second service of the evening together with the faithful and Ramana again sank into samadhi. By the time the ceremony came to an end it was already about 9 p.m. Again he asked the priest for something to eat from the offered food (prasad) and again his request was refused. The temple drummer, who had been watching the young Brahmin, felt sorry for him and said to the priest, “Sir, give him my share.”

There was no drinking water available in the temple, so Ramana was sent to the house of a neighbouring scholar (sastri). He was totally exhausted and while he was waiting there for water, holding his leaf full of cooked rice, he either fell asleep on his feet or fainted and fell to the ground. Some minutes later, when he awoke, a crowd of curious onlookers had gathered round him. The rice was scattered on the dirty road. Because nothing of the blessed prasad was allowed to be spoiled Ramana collected each grain of it, ate, drank the water which had been brought to him and laid down on the bare ground to sleep.

The next morning, Monday 31st August 1896, Gokulashtami, Sri Krishna’s birthday, one of the main Hindu festivals throughout India, was celebrated in the temples and houses of the believers. Tiruvannamalai was still around 20 miles away. Again Ramana could not find the right road and being exhausted and hungry he felt that he just would not be able to get to Tiruvannamalai on foot. He needed something to eat and some money for the train. He reflected that his gold earrings set with rubies (such earrings are worn by Brahmins) must have been worth about 20 rupees. The idea arose that he could pawn them. But how and where? Finally he went at random to the house of a man named Muthukrishna Bhagavatar and there begged for food. The dame of the house was taken with the appearance of the young Brahmin and as it was Sri Krishna’s birthday she warmly welcomed the guest and served him a copious meal. Although he felt full after the first mouthful she pressed him with motherly care to eat everything.

Then Ramana asked the head of the household if he would give him four rupees in exchange for his earrings. To prevent all suspicion he found himself forced to tell him the following story - he said he was on a pilgrimage and had lost all his luggage on the way and in order to be able to continue on his travels he now needed to pawn his earrings. Muthukrishna Bhagavatar examined the earrings and finding them to be genuine gave the youth the four rupees. He noted his address on a slip of paper and asked for his address in return, then the couple asked him to stay for lunch. Ramana agreed and stayed with them until midday. The housewife gave him a packet of sweetmeats for his journey, which had been originally prepared for Sri Krishna as a food offering, but which had not yet been offered. He had to promise to come back and redeem the earrings. But as soon as he left their house he tore to pieces the slip of the paper with the address. Of whatever value the earrings might have been, there was no question of him returning for them.

3.3: Arrival at Arunachala

As there was no train to Tiruvannamalai that day, he spent the following night at the Tirukoilur railway station near Kilur. He slept on the platform with the untouched packet of sweetmeats in his pocket. Early in the morning of the 1st September he bought a ticket to his final destination at a cost of four annas and a few hours later arrived at Tiruvannamalai railway station from where he walked to the holy mountain of Arunachala. He was to remain there for the rest of his life.

4.1. In the Arunachaleswara Temple

When Arunachala drew me up to it, stilling my mind, and I came close, I saw it stand unmoving.

Tiruvannamalai means ‘holy mountain’ (from the Tamil words tiru, meaning ‘holy’, and Annamalai, which is the Tamil name for Arunachala). In 1901, a few years after Ramana’s arrival there, the town had a population of about 17,000. This has since grown to over 110,000.

The famous Arunachaleswara temple at the foot of the hill is 1,550 feet long and 750 feet wide and is, therefore, one of the largest temple complexes in Southern India. It dates back to the early Chola dynasty of Aditya I. and Parantaka I. (871-953 AD). It represents fire, one of the five elements, and is one of the most sacred places in Southern India.12 It is dedicated to Arunachaleswara, God (Iswara), who manifested himself as Shiva’s column of fire in the form of the hill Arunachala (see Chapter 7).

The temple complex has three compound walls with nine gate-towers (gopurams) and three inner courtyards. The eastern tower, which houses the main entrance, has eleven storeys and is 216 feet high and is the second highest temple tower in Southern India. Inside the temple compound there are numerous shrines to the various gods, the impressive thousand-pillared hall with exactly 1,000 richly decorated pillars, numerous open pillared halls (mantapas), gardens, inner courtyards and two temple ponds.

The oldest part of the temple, the inner sanctum (cella), lies inside the third wall, it is square in shape and is lit only with oil lamps. This room, which only Hindus are allowed to enter, contains the holy lingam of Arunachaleswara. The third courtyard also contains the sanctum of the mother-goddess Unnamalaiyamma, shortened to Uma, another name for Shiva’s consort Parvati.

4.2: Arrival

Ramana had to pass the 3 temple-towers for entering the inmost shrine.

When, after his three-day journey, Ramana alighted from the train in Tiruvannamalai on 1st September 1896, the holy mountain and the temple lay before him in the morning light. It is worth noting that he identified Arunachala first with the temple and only later with the mountain. Overflowing with joy he hastened to the temple, whose doors stood open as if to welcome him. He went straight to the inner shrine (cella) and stayed there some time in the ecstasy of complete surrender. He then left the inner temple compound and threw the unopened packet of sweets, which he had received from the Bhagavatar’s wife, into the Ayyankulam temple tank.A man saw him do this and approached him and asked if he would like to have his tuft of hair removed.13 Ramana agreed. One of the barbers who practised his trade at the Ayyankulam tank, cut off his beautiful black locks and shaved his head. He gave the barber some money and threw the rest of the 3 ½ rupees away. Then he tore up the dhoti he was wearing and kept only one piece as a loincloth. A loincloth (koupina) would be his only clothing from now until the end of his life. Ramana remembered an incident in his youth in Madurai concerning the wearing of a koupina. He told how at a festival the wife of his uncle Subba Iyer once asked him to help prepare some sweets. He hesitated and then finally refused outright, as the work would have forced him to remove his clothes and wear only a loincloth, which made him feel embarrassed. The uncle and his wife rebuked him. Ramana remarked jokingly, “If I refused to wear koupina once, I am now made to pay the penalty by wearing it always.”From this day on he never touched money again and never had any possessions. Whatever he received as a gift he immediately distributed to those present. Finally, he removed his Brahmin thread, the sign of his high status. After he had laid everything aside, he went back to the temple, without, however, taking the ritual bath prescribed by the Hindu scriptures after the head has been shaved. He saw no need for it. For quite some time there had been no rain, but now the heavens opened, so that he arrived back in the temple area drenched from head to toe and had received his ‘bath’ in spite of himself.

13 Cutting off the tuft of hair, which orthodox Hindus have on the back of their heads as a sign of their caste, and shaving the head are signs of renunciation. Part of the formal act of starting life as a sannyasin is to lay down the old clothes and take a ceremonial bath.

4.3. The First Bhiksha

This is the mandapam in front of the main-gopuram of Arunachaleswara-temple. I think this was where Ramana spend his first night and received his first bhiskha. The photo was taken in 2003.

His first night in Tiruvannamalai he spent freezing in the open pillared hall in front of the temple. On the day of his arrival he had nothing to eat. Only the following day did he receive his first alms (bhiksha). He reports, “The next day I was walking up and down in the sixteen-pillared mantapam in front of the temple. Then a Mauni Swami [a Swami, who had taken a vow of silence]… came there from the temple. Another Palni Swami, a well-built man with long matted hair who used to do a lot of service, by clearing and cleaning the temple precincts with the help of a band of sannyasis, also came to the sixteen-pillared mantapam from the town. Then the Mauni looking at me, a stranger here, being in a hungry and exhausted condition, made signs to the above Palni Swami that I should be given some food. Thereupon the above Palni Swami went and brought some cold rice in a tin vessel which was all black, with a little salt strewn on top of the rice. That was the first bhiksha which Arunachaleswara gave me!”

14 Mudaliar: Day by Day, p. 283

4.4. In the Thousand Pillared Hall

The thousand-pillared hall today, in the background Arunachala. When the photo was taken in 2003 the hall was closed for renovation.

In the Thousand-pillared Hall and in the Patala Lingam Ramana first settled down in the thousand-pillared hall in the temple compound, which is on the right when entering the temple through the eastern tower. The hall, with its thousand richly-carved stone pillars, is a raised stone platform, open on all sides. Here there is a constant ebb and flow of pilgrims. Exposed to the gaze of the general public in a place of pilgrimage the strange youth soon roused the curiosity of the visitors. Street urchins started to pester him. No doubt they felt provoked by a youth the same age as them, or not much older, sitting motionless like a statue in silent meditation. They used to look for him to throw stones and potsherds at him and make fun of him.

SeshadriswamiRamana was, however, not their first victim. The ascetic Seshadriswami, who had also been living in the temple for a number of years and who was considered by people to be mad because of his often unusual behaviour, had had to endure a similar fate. As a result Ramana was also called Chinna Seshadri (the young Seshadri). But Seshadriswami recognized in Ramana a kindred spirit, whose exceptional depth of absorption he valued. He named him Brahmana Swami (saint of Brahmins). Seshadriswami himself had renounced the world at the age of 19. He was now 26. Later he and Sri Ramana came to be known as ‘the two eyes of Tiruvannamalai’, whose glance sanctified the place. The bond between them lasted the whole of their lives.Seshadri tried to protect Ramana against the attacks of the urchins, but his endeavours were unsuccessful and sometimes merely served to make matters worse.

4.5. In the Patala Lingam

Patala Lingam - the rays of the sun never penetrated here.

One day, while Ramana was sitting absorbed in meditation in the thousand-pillared hall, he was pelted with stones from behind, which, fortunately, did not hit him. As a result he nevertheless decided, in order to escape such troubles in future, to withdraw to a windowless underground vault under the thousand-pillared hall, known as the Patala Lingam (patala = snakes cave, underworld, a kind of hell). There was a Shiva lingam, behind which he sat down, leaning his back against the wall. The cellar was never used or vis-ited and therefore never cleaned. The rays of the sun never penetrated here. It was also damp and overrun with vermin such as woodlice, ants, bees and wasps. Despite being bitten by mosquitoes Ramana sat unmoved in yoga posture with legs crossed, impervious to the world. His thighs, where they met the ground, were soon covered with ulcers, from which blood and pus oozed. The scars were to remain visible for the rest of his life.

Here the children left him in peace. He reported, “Children used to run after me, and when I hid myself in Patala Lingam, from the outside they would pelt me with stones and potsherds, but none of it reached me as I used to sit in the south east corner. The urchins never dared to come in because of the extreme darkness that prevailed in the pit, the broken steps of which could not even be seen from the surface.”15

A pious woman named Ratnammal found him there, she spoke to him and brought him something to eat. She urgently begged him to leave the place and come to stay at her home. But the young Swami made no reply, either through words or gestures. She laid a clean piece of cloth beside him and bade him to use it as a bed or to sit on to keep at least some of the vermin away, but he took no notice and did not even touch it. He also made no effort to obtain any food. People therefore used to place food in his mouth, but he was not aware of it. When later he was asked if he had any food during the time of his stay in the vault, he answered, “Food was forthcoming – milk, fruits – but whoever thought of food?”

Sri Ramana neither spoke nor moved. People who saw him like this thought he was practising an intense kind of spiritual exercise (tapas). Because he was silent, people were of the opinion that he had taken a vow of silence (mauna). But for him all this was no spiritual exercise at all, it was merely something that happened to him, “I have never done any sadhana. I did not even know what sadhana was. Only long afterwards I came to know what sadhana was and how many different kinds of it there were. Only if there was a goal to attain, I should have made sadhana to attain that goal. There was nothing which I wanted to obtain. I am now sitting with my eyes open. I was then sitting with my eyes closed. That was all the difference. I was not doing any sadhana even then. As I sat with my eyes closed, people said I was in samadhi. As I was not talking, they said I was in mauna. The fact is, I did nothing. Some Higher Power took hold of me and I was entirely in Its hand.”16

There is little or no information about how long Ramana stayed in samadhi in the Patala Lingam. It was probably several weeks. One Venkatachala Mudali, a visitor to the temple, finally brought him out of there, after Seshadri had drawn his attention to the alarming bodily condition of the young Swami. Venkatachala Mudali reports, “One day, going near the thousand-pillared hall, I found a group of boys, mostly Moslems, hurling stones in the direction of the pit. Enraged at the sight I seized a twig, and ran towards the young scamps who fled promptly. Suddenly from the dark recesses of the hall there issued forth the figure of Seshadri. I was taken aback, but, soon recovering myself, enquired of the Swami if the stones pelted by the boys had hurt him. ‘Oh no,’ replied the Swami, ‘but go and see the Chinnaswami there’, pointed towards the pit, and went away. Proceeding inside, I could make out nothing for a while, as I was coming from the glare into the darkness. In a few minutes, the faint outlines of a young face became discernible in that pit. Somewhat frightened, I went out to the adjoining flower-garden where a sadhu was working with his disciples. Mentioning the facts to them I took some of them with me. Even then the youthful figure sat motionless and with closed eyes, despite the noise of our footsteps. Then we lifted the Swami from the pit, carried him from the hall up a flight of steps and deposited him in front of a shrine of Subrahmanya. The Swami still remained unconscious, his eyes closed; evidently he was in deep samadhi. We noted the large number of sores on the nether side of his thighs and legs, with blood and pus flowing from some of them, and wondered how any one could remain unconscious of the body amidst such torture. Regarding it as irreverence, nay impertinence, to make any further noise in such presence, we bowed and came away.”17

15 Bhagavan Sri Ramana, p. 29
16 Mudaliar: Day by Day, p. 274 17 Narasimha Swami: Self Realization, p. 48
17 Narasimha Swami: Self Realization, p. 48

4.6. In Different Areas of the Temple Compound

In the temple compound

At the shrine of Subrahmanya there lived a Mauni Yogi and a group of mendicant ascetics, who had settled down in the nearby garden. Sri Ramana was cared for occasionally but not regularly. At noon each day the Yogi used to bring him a glass of milk collected from a stone basin after the sacrifice to the statue of Goddess Uma. This was no pure milk, but a murky mixture of various food offerings - milk, water and sugar mixed with turmeric powder, raw and ripe pieces of plantains and other sacrificial remains, which the priest had poured over the devotional image. Indifferently Ramana swallowed it all. When the temple priest who performed the service at Uma’s shrine, noticed that one day, he was dismayed. He thereafter arranged that pure milk without any additions be brought to Ramana as soon as it had been offered to the Goddess.

During this time any food had still to be put into his mouth, as he would not eat what was merely placed in front of him. Without the care of others the Swami would probably not have survived for long.

After spending some weeks at this shrine Ramana moved to the adjoining flower garden. Tall oleander plants grew in this garden, some of them ten or twelve feet high and he would sit here in their shade, deep in samadhi. At times he would sit down under one tree only to find himself, when he later opened his eyes, sitting under another tree. He also often did not know whether it was day or night, “When I closed my eyes, deeply absorbed in meditation I hardly knew whether it was day or night. If at any time I opened my eyes I used to wonder whether it was night or day. I had no food and no sleep. … If there is no movement, you do not need sleep. Very little food is enough to sustain life. That used to be my experience. Somebody or other used to offer me a tumblerful of some liquid diet whenever I opened my eyes. That was all.”18

Some people, who saw the young ascetic sitting motionless like that thought, “He is sitting like a Jada (dull-witted person); he must be a mad fellow.” Ramana later said that he found such remarks amusing and wished that everybody could be overcome by such ‘madness’.

18 Nagamma: Letters, p. 185

4.7. In the Vahana Mandapam

vehicle of the vahana mandapam today

Finally, Ramana moved to the hall where the vehicles for the temple processions were kept (vahana mantapam). Here he was again exposed to the pestering of the street urchins and therefore withdrew into the dark, inside the hall under the vehicles. Again he sometimes found himself under a different vehicle from the one he had sat down under. Somehow he had managed to clamber over all the obstacles without being hurt and without being roused from his samadhi.

After some time Ramana left the vahana mantapam and sat under the Illupai tree which was inside the outer wall of the southern temple tower. The path used for the temple processions passed nearby. At Kartikai, in particular, large numbers of pilgrims would pass by.

Here Ramana was fully exposed to the weather. Sometimes a cold wind blew and his body would be covered with dew. To protect himself against the cold he would cross his arms about the upper part of his naked body. Later he reflected that no woollen blanket could compare to the arms laid across the chest and that this was the first upper garment that he used.

He even reported that he had been naked at times. "It was not because I had a vairagya [renunciation] that I should have no clothing of any sort. The cod-piece I was wearing used to bring on sores where it touched the skin. When the sore became bad, I threw away the cod-piece. That is all. There used to be an old Gurukkal [temple priest] who for the first time arranged for some regular food for me either by supplying some from his house or by sending the abhisheka milk [sacrificed milk] from the temple to me. After I had been nude for about a month, this old Gurukkal told me one day, 'Boy, the Kartikai Deepam is approaching. People from all the 24 districts will be flocking here. Police from all the districts will also be here. They will arrest you and put you into jail if you are nude like this. So you must have a cod-piece.' So saying, he got a new piece of cloth, made four people lift me up and tied a cod-piece round me"19

At the following Kartikai festival Sri Ramana's first disciple, Uddandi Nayinar, arrived and became a permanent companion. He had a bullock cart which he used to transport people and goods from one town to another. Like so many other pilgrims he too had come to Tiruvannamalai for the Kartikai festival and saw the young Swami sitting under the Illupai tree absorbed in deep samadhi. In search of Self Realization and peace of mind he recognized in the young Swami the living embodiment of the Holy Scriptures and said to himself, 'Here indeed are Realization and peace, and here must I seek them.' From then on he did not leave his side. He took care of his bodily needs and prevented him from being disturbed or bothered. He settled down at a short distance from him, observed the crowds of visitors for hours at a time and drove away the urchins who found it amusing to cause trouble for the young ascetic. He also cooked simple meals, which he shared with him.
Uddandi was a learned man. In Sri Ramana's presence he recited sacred Yoga and Vedanta texts such as Yoga Vasistha and Kaivalya Navaneeta. He longed to hear some words of instruction from his new guru, which would help him on the way to Self Realization and help him find peace, but the Swami kept silent and he, in his turn, did not dare to speak to him.
Uddandi was unable to remain with Ramana constantly. During his lengthier absences Ramana was again pestered by street urchins or people who were curious to see him. Here there were no dark places where he could hide. Many thought him simply to be a lazy good-for-nothing and played tricks on him. One day, while he was sitting under the Illupai tree in samadhi, unaware of his body, when no-one was near, a boy poured some mud over his back to find out how deep the absorption of the young ascetic was. When Ramana later came back to body-consciousness he noticed that his loincloth was wet and stinking and that someone must have played a prank on him. He did not feel any anger, but the time was approaching when he would leave the temple area and move to a quieter place.

19 Mudaliar: Day by Day, p. 283

5. 1 In the Small Temple of Gurumurtam and in the Mango Grove


If one realizes one’s true nature within one’s heart, it is the plenitude of being-awareness-bliss without beginning or end.

It was because of Uddandi Nayinar that Annamalai Tambiran first noticed Ramana. Tambiran used to wander about accompanied by a crowd of followers singing sacred hymns from the Tevaram. He collected alms, fed the poor and served at the tomb of an adina-guru at the small temple of Gurumurtam near the village of Kilnathur, one of the eastern suburbs of Tiruvannamalai. One day, as he was walking past the Illupai tree he saw the young Swami sitting there and was deeply impressed, from that day on he accompanied Uddandi Nayinar. Finally they both suggested to Sri Ramana that he should move to Gurumurtam. There he could meditate undisturbed as the place was secluded and in addition offered better protection from the cold. Ramana agreed and in February 1897, not quite six months after his arrival at Tiruvannamalai, he left the temple area and was brought to Gurumurtam by Tambiran and Uddandi.

At times Tambiran, due to his devout but excessive veneration, became a nuisance to Sri Ramana. One day he made preparations to render homage to his new guru like to one of the idols of the goddesses in the temple (abhishekam). He obtained flowers, oil, sandal paste, milk and other ingredients and actually wanted to pour this over the head of his “living god”. To prevent this, Ramana took a piece of charcoal and the next day, before Tambiran arrived, wrote on the wall in Tamil, “This [food] alone is the service [needed] for this [body].”

When Tambiran arrived with his meal, Ramana pointed to the written words on the wall, then to the food as “this” and on himself as the (second) “this”. So Tambiran was forced to abandon his plan. Through this incident people learned that the silent Swami was educated and able to read and write.

Amongst the admirers who had started to visit Ramana regularly, was a highly-placed official called Venkataramana Iyer. When he realized that the Swami was able to write, he felt he must find out his name and where he came from. But Ramana, despite repeated questioning, remained silent. Iyer finally explained that he would not leave until his questions were answered, even if that meant that he would have to go hungry and get into trouble because of his lengthy absence from his office. This moved the young Swami and he wrote down the words, “Venkataraman, Tiruchuli”. The place, however, was unknown to the official. So Ramana reached for the Periyapuranam, which was lying at his side, and pointed out Tiruchuli as the name of a village, whose temple was honoured in the famous hymn by Sundaramurti (one of the 63 Tamil saints). Thus, not only the official but Tambiram and all those present discovered his name and his origins. From now on Ramana was no longer nameless and unknown.

5.2. Self-Absorption

Ramana was absorbed in deep samadhi most of the time unaware of his body, which he neglected, completely disregarding his outward appearance. He was filthy, his hair had grown very long and had become a dishevelled and matted mass and his fingernails had grown so long and crooked, that he was unable to use his hands for any useful purpose. Neither Tambiran nor Uddandi did anything about this and he himself felt no need to change his bodily condition. Only later, when Palaniswami took care of him, did the daily bath become a routine.

Once, however, he was forced to bathe and on another occasion to have a shave, “Even so, a lady, by name Minakshi, who used now and then to bring food to give me, one day brought a large pot and began to boil water. I thought it was for some use for herself, but, taking from a basket some oil, soapnut, etc., she said, ‘Swami, please come’. I did not move. But would she keep quiet! She pulled me by the arm, made me sit, smeared the oil all over my body and bathed me. The hair on the head which had got matted for want of care, was now spread out and hung down like the mane of a lion. … Shaving was also like that. The shave I had on the day I came here has been recorded; the second was after a year and a half. The hair had got matted and woven like a basket. Small stones and dust had settled down in it and the head used to feel heavy. I had also long nails, and a frightful appearance. So people pressed me to have a shave, and I yielded. When my head was shaven clean, I began to wonder whether I had a head or not, it felt so light. I shook my head this way and that to assure myself that it was there. That showed the amount of burden I had been carrying on my head.”20

About an unsuccessful attempt to shave him, when he was still living at the Subrahmanya-shrine, he reported, “One Nilakanta Iyer … used to come there frequently. One day, he came prepared for the purpose. Thinking that he had come as usual, I kept my eyes closed. Without saying a word to me, he stood some way off opposite me. I heard a ‘tip, tup’ behind me, so opened my eyes. I saw a barber sharpening his razor. I left the spot immediately without saying a word. Poor man, he realized that I was not willing to be shaved and so had gone off.”21

The place where Ramana sat was infested with ants, but he took no notice of them as they crawled over his body and bit him incessantly. After a while his devotees sat him on a stool against the wall. To keep the ants away they placed the legs of the stool in jugs of water, but to no avail, as the ants merely ran up the wall and bit his back. To this day the imprint of his back can be seen where he sat leaning against the wall.

Nor did Ramana react to outer events or threats. Once thieves came into the garden at Gurumurtam to steal tamarinds. When they noticed the young Swami sitting under one of the trees and not paying the least attention to them, one of them said to the others that he would trickle the caustic juice of a plant into his eyes to see if that would make him react. But Ramana remained unmoved. Finally they gave up their plans and vanished with the fruits of their labour.

Day by day Sri Ramana’s fame grew. People flocked to admire this extreme example of self-denial. Some said, “This Swami must be very old”, and pointed to his long fingernails. They thought that he had used yoga to keep his body young, but that, as his nails had grown so long, he must actually be very old. Others were convinced that with so much saintliness he could fulfil all their wishes for prosperity, health, children and, of course, salvation from the cycle of rebirth. They therefore laid offerings at his feet and sang his praises. The result of all this was increasing disturbance for him, so that eventually a bamboo fence was constructed around him for his protection.

During the first two months spent in Gurumurtam, Tambiram used to give him some of the food which had been offered at the Gurumurtam shrine. But then Tambiran went away, after first asking Uddandi to look after the Swami. He promised to be back in a week but, in fact, only returned a year later. Some weeks after he left, Uddandi also had to return to his own math. So suddenly no one was there to care for Ramana. But, as a result of his increasing fame, food was always brought to him. After the departures of both Tambiran and Uddandi the only problem was that there was no-one there to keep the crowds away. This problem was finally solved when Palaniswami joined him.

5.3 Palaniswami

The only photo which could be found of Palaniswami - a snippet from a group-photo.

Palaniswami was a Malayali from Kerala and at least 20 years older than Sri Ramana. He paid homage to the idol of God Ganesha in a temple in the town. His only food was food which had been offered to Ganesha, which consisted of a single meal a day, to which he added no spices, not even salt. Someone noticed his devotion to the Goddess and said, "What is the use of spending your lifetime with this stone Swami? There is a young Swami in flesh and blood at Gurumurtam. He is steeped in austerities (tapas) like the youthful Dhruva mentioned in the puranas. If you go and serve him, and adhere to him, your life would serve its purpose." Others also drew his attention to the fact that the Swami was without an attendant at the time and that it would be a blessing to serve such a great soul. Spurred on in this way Palaniswami went to Gurumurtam.

When he saw the young Swami, he recognized that he had found his master. He continued with his service at the Ganesha temple for a while, but after some time he gave it up. He became a devoted companion of Sri Ramana following him everywhere like a shadow. If he had to leave he used to lock the door at Gurumurtam, so that nobody could pester the Swami while he was away, and he would always return as quickly as he could. Nobody was allowed to see Ramana without his permission. He would accept the various food offerings from visitors, mix them up into a paste and at noon give Ramana a cupful of it to eat. The rest he gave back as prasad to the visitors. This single meagre meal was just enough to survive on. Ramana's body became as thin as a skeleton. In addition, as he was permanently seated and never made the slightest movement, he had barely enough strength to maintain his sitting posture and was severely constipated. If he needed to rise to relieve himself, which was sometimes after days only, he found it very difficult, repeatedly falling back in his seat. Incapable of keeping himself upright he would stagger to the door. When one day Palaniswami held him up by his arms, Sri Ramana reproachfully asked with signs, why he was holding him, and Palaniswami answered, "Swami was about to fall, and so I held him and prevented the fall." He himself had not even noticed the fact.

Some time in May 1898, after a little over one year spent at Gurumurtam, Ramana and Palaniswami moved to the adjoining mango grove. Here they spent several peaceful months undisturbed by the numerous visitors, as Venkataraman Naicker, the owner of the garden, let no-one enter who had not been asked in. There they lived in two narrow sheds under a mango tree. Ramana remembers, "Under a mango tree they erected something overhead to prevent rain from falling on me. There was, however, not enough space under it even to stretch my legs fully while sleeping. So I used to sit almost all the time like a bird in its nest. Opposite my shelter Palaniswami also had a small shed. In the huge garden, only two of us used to stay."22

Palaniswami, who had access to a library in town, brought back a number of books in Tamil on Vedanta, such as Kaivalya Navaneeta, Yoga Vasistha and Shankaras Vivekachudamani. But, as his knowledge of Tamil was not very good, he used to struggle through the scriptures word by word and often had difficulties in understanding. Ramana read each of the books, immediately grasped the meaning, remembered everything and imparted the essence of it to Palaniswami. In this way Ramana gradually learned about all the important Vedanta scriptures and discovered that his personal experience corresponded with them. The experience he had had on the upper floor of his uncle's house in Madurai was exactly the same as the experiences he found described in the scriptures.

22 Bhagavan Sri Ramana, p. 35

6.1. Sri Ramana's Steadfastness

Sri Ramana with Mother

Silence is unceasing eloquence. It is the best language.There is a state when words cease and silence prevails.

Ramana’s disappearance and his parting note were soon noticed. His family was stunned. His mother Alagammal, who was living in Manamadurai, was informed and every effort was made to try and find him. But nobody, neither friends nor neighbours, had any idea where he might be. People hoped for his return, but in vain, as weeks and months went by without any news. Alagammal’s anguish increased and she beseeched both her brothers-in-law, Subba and Nelliappa Iyer, to try and find him. It was rumoured that Ramana had joined a theatrical troupe performing religious dramas in Trivandrum. Nelliappa Iyer twice went there to look for him among the various troupes, once accompanied by Alagammal – but without success.

Almost two years went by and people started to believe that they would never see the lost son again. On 1st May 1898 Subba Iyer died. Nelliappa Iyer and the rest of the family came to the funeral in Madurai. During the funeral a young man from Tiruchuli brought the unexpected news that he had met Tambiran and had heard him talking about a young Swami, called Venkataraman, who came from Tiruchuli. The Swami was a venerated saint in Tiruvannamalai and was undoubtedly the person they were looking for.

Immediately after the funeral Nelliappa Iyer and a friend started out for Tiruvannamalai. There they learned that the young Swami was living in the mango grove. However, when they went there they were prevented from entering by the owner of the garden, who said that Ramana was a mauni, a silent saint, and should not be disturbed. Nelliappa Iyer therefore wrote the following message on a piece of paper for his nephew, “Nelliappa Iyer, pleader of Manamadurai, wishes to have your darshan”, and asked Naicker, to pass on the message.

Ramana recognized his uncle’s handwriting. The piece of paper came from a records office and had on the back some official entries in the handwriting of his older brother Nagaswami. From this he was able to conclude in addition that Nagaswami had become an employee in a records office. He agreed that his uncle should enter.

When Nelliappa Iyer saw his unwashed nephew, with his unusually long fingernails and his unkempt hair, he was seized by the contradictory feelings of pleasure at seeing him and concern about his physical condition. As he regarded him as a mauni he did not speak to him directly but said to Palaniswami and Naicker, that it was a great joy to see a family member in such a high state of development. Nevertheless the welfare of the body should not be totally neglected. His family would certainly have no desire to make him give up his vows and lifestyle, but they would like to have him near them in Manamadurai so that they could care for him. He could live there undisturbed as an ascetic and mauni at the shrine of a great saint. All his wants would be seen to. Nelliappa Iyer argued and pleaded with all the eloquence of a lawyer. But Ramana did not move and gave not the least sign of recognition.

The uncle finally had no alternative but to give up. He sent Alagammal the joyful news that he had found her son, but that he had changed a lot and sadly would not return. Nelliappa Iyer himself returned to Manamadurai after five days, unsuccessful in his mission.

About his two uncles, Nelliappa and Subba Iyer, Sri Ramana later remarked, “Subba Iyer had great courage and pride, but this man [Nelliappa] was very meek and mild. If it had been Subba Iyer, he would never have gone back home leaving me here. He would have bundled me up and carried me away. As I am destined to stay here, my whereabouts were not known so long as he was alive. … Nelliappa Iyer, being spiritually minded and mild in his ways, left me here saying, ‘Why trouble him?’”23

Later, Nelliappa Iyer visited his nephew twice while he was living in the Virupaksha cave. Ramana had by then started to give spoken answers to his disciples’ questions and to interpret the holy Advaita scriptures. Once, whilst he was in the midst of an explanation about the Dakshinamurti Stotram, his uncle unexpectedly came to visit and was astounded by his nephew’s erudition. From that day on Nelliappa knew that he need not trouble himself anymore and returned home deeply satisfied. Soon afterwards he died.

23 Nagamma: Letters, pp. 358 ff

6.2. Admirers

Ramana at the age of 22

A few months after Nelliappa’s first visit, Sri Ramana left the mango grove to live in a small temple in Arunagirinathar. He had decided that he should no longer be dependent upon the care of others and that from now he would look for his own daily meal. So he said to Palaniswami, “You go one way, beg your food and get on. Let me go another way, beg my food and get on. Let us not live together.” But Palaniswami, in the evening returned to the Arunagirinathar temple, saying, “Where can I go? You have the words of life.” Now Ramana felt compassion for him and Palaniswami was allowed to stay with him.

After they had spent about four weeks during August and September 1898 living in the small temple, they went to live for a week in the quiet upper rooms of the towers of the Arunachaleswara temple and in the Alari garden, one of the temple gardens. There Ramana was again tracked down by admirers. He withdrew from them and went to Pavalakkunru, one of the eastern foothills of Arunachala where there was a Shiva temple, a cave and a spring. He sat most of the time in samadhi in a tiny room in the temple, which was so small that it was impossible to stand upright. Several times, after performing the puja, the priest forgot to see if the Swami was sitting in his room and inadvertently locked him in.

His admirers also tracked him down in Pavalakkunru. Patiently they waited until he appeared from inside the temple or the cave to have his darshan.

Once the following amusing incident happened, “They bolted the door on the outside when they went into town for food, fearing that Bhagavan might slip away. He, however, knew that the door could be lifted off its hinges and opened while still bolted, so in order to avoid the crowd and the disturbance he slipped out that way while they were gone. On their return they found the door shut and bolted but the room empty. Later, when no one was about, he returned the same way. They sat telling one another in front of him how he had disappeared through a closed door and then appeared again by means of siddhis (supernatural powers), and no tremor showed on his face, though years later the whole hall were shaking with laughter when he told the story.”24

24 Bhagavan Sri Ramana, p. 39

6.3. Begging

A street of Tiruvannamalai today

In the meantime Ramana had decided to look for his own food and used to go into town to beg for his meals. About the first time he went begging he said, “The first day, when I begged from Gurukkal’s wife, I felt bashful about it as a result of habits of upbringing, but after that there was absolutely no feeling of abasement. I felt like a king and more than a king. I have sometimes received stale gruel at some house and taken it without salt or any other flavouring, in the open street, before great pandits [scholars] and other important men who used to come and prostrate themselves before me at the Ashram.”25

When Ramana went begging in the evenings he used to stand at the doors of the houses and clap his hands. He received the food in his hands and ate it standing on the street. He never took more than two or three handfuls. He also never entered a house, even if he was invited. As the young Swami was by now famous in Tiruvannamalai and people hoped that he would come to their doors, he used to choose a different street each day to avoid disappointing anyone. Later he said that he had begged in all the streets near the temple.

6.4. Mother's Visit

During the Christmas holidays of 1898 his mother came to visit him for the first time, accompanied by her eldest son Nagaswami, who had a few days off work. They had searched for him in the mango grove in vain. Now they had climbed up to Pavalakkunru. Ramana was laying on a rock in a state of neglect such that he was barely recognizable, clothed in a dirty scrap of a loincloth only. Twenty-eight months had passed since his mother had last seen him. Bitterly she complained about his neglected bodily condition and implored him to come home with her, but he did not react.

Day after day they came up to see him, brought him sweets and entreated him tirelessly, but all to no avail. Ramana remained silent. Alagammal tried everything. One day when she broke down in tears, he was unable to bear it any longer and simply went away.

Once she despairingly turned to the others present and asked for their support. Then one of them said to Ramana, “Your mother is weeping and praying. Why do you not answer her? Whether it is ‘yes’ or ‘no’, why not give her a reply? Swami need not break his vow of silence. Here are pencil and paper. Swami may at least write out what he has to say.” So Ramana wrote down, “The Ordainer controls the fate of souls in accordance with their past deeds – their prarabdhakarma. Whatever is destined not to happen will not happen, - try how hard you may. Whatever is destined to happen will happen, do what you may to stop it. This is certain. The best course, therefore, is for one to be silent.”26

Whether this message convinced his deeply religious mother or not, there was nothing left for her to do but to leave him to the life he had embarked upon. Furthermore Nagaswami’s holidays were coming to an end and he had to return to his office. Without having achieved what they had set out to achieve and with a heavy heart, they returned to Manamadurai.
26 Narasimha Swami: Self-Realization, p. 66

7.1. Sri Ramana and Arunachala

That is the holy place.
Of all, Arunachala is the most sacred.
It is the heart of the world.
Know it to be the secret and sacred Heart-centre of Shiva.

(from the Arunachala Puranam)

Arunachala, situated in the wide plain of Southern India, is considered to be a holy hill and one of the most sacred places in India. It has been venerated for many thousands of years. From time immemorial ascetics and saints have lived in the many caves on the eastern slope of the mountain.

The Sanskrit name Arunachala means red mountain (aruna = dawn, also the colour crimson; achala = hill, also the immovable). Figuratively ‘aruna’ also stands for the liberated state which is beyond the opposites, ‘achala’ stands for the immovable, for stability and silence. Arunachala is the centre where all forces are in balance, a place of harmony. It is reported that Shankara said that Arunachala is mount Meru, which, according to Indian mythology, is the axis of the world, the centre of the universe and the dwelling place of the Gods. Ramana also interpreted Arunachala as sat-chit-ananda (being-consciousness-bliss).

Geologically Arunachala is an isolated massif of volcanic rock in the Eastern Ghats. It is older than the Himalayas and therefore the oldest natural shrine on earth. Although only 2,682 feet high it dominates the landscape for miles around. Various medicinal plants grow on its slopes. During the monsoon, from July to November, violent rivers of rainwater flow down the hill, whereas from April to June everything is dry.

In the past, particularly on its northern and southern slopes, Arunachala was covered in woods and inhabited by wild animals such as tigers, panthers and snakes of all kinds. But even during the time the Maharshi was living there, little remained of this original flora and fauna. The foot of the hill retained a small jungle inhabited by various rodents, lynx, jackals, snakes and of course large numbers of monkeys.

Today Arunachala is suffering an environmental crisis, with in-creasing water pollution in the many water tanks, the unauthorized building of huts and houses, the noise of loudspeakers and increasing amounts of traffic. The wood has almost completely disappeared, with only a few bushes and shrubs remaining. Climate change has meant that the rainfall has decreased. As a result, a few years ago, a reforestation and environmental protection project was set in motion.

7.2. The Mythology

Lightening the Deepam-fire

In the Arunachala Puranam, which forms part of the Skanda Puranam, there are several legends about the origin of the holy mountain. The following is the most widely known - Vishnu (the Preserver) and Brahma (the Creator) were arguing about which of them was the greater. Their argument brought chaos on earth, so much so that the gods begged Shiva to intervene as mediator in the dispute. Consequently, Shiva manifested himself as a column of light from which his voice could be heard, saying that the one who could reach either the upper or lower end of the column, would be declared the greater. Vishnu took the shape of a boar and dug himself deep inside the earth. Brahma took the shape of a swan and soared into the air to reach the upper end. When he saw the blossom of a mountain tree floating through the air, he brought it to Shiva saying that he had found this on the summit of the column, hoping to win by deception. Vishnu, however, being unable to reach the lower end of the column, and as he recognized the highest light shining within himself, as it shines in the hearts of all creatures, lost himself in meditation. He became unconscious of his physical body and forgot himself and that he was seeking the bottom of the column of light. When he returned to Shiva, he confessed his failure and praised him with the words, “You are Selfknowledge. You are OM. You are the beginning, the middle and the end of everything. You are everything and illuminate everything.” He was thereupon recognized as the greater. Brahma, ashamed, had to admit his attempted deception and Shiva forgave him.

The story ends stating that, because the column of light was too bright, Shiva chose to manifest himself as mount Arunachala during the months of Kartikai (November/December). Arunachala therefore is regarded as adi-lingam, the first lingam, i.e. the first manifestation of Shiva, the Highest Lord, the God of all Gods and the true and absolute Self.

This legend is the basis for the annual festival of Kartikai Deepam in November/December. It is one of the oldest festivals in India and is mentioned in Tamil scriptures dating back 3,000 years. It is celebrated over ten days and culminates on the last full moon night with the festival of lights (Deepam). At six o’clock in the evening the image of Arunachaleswara is carried out of the temple in a procession. At the same moment a giant flame is lit using camphor and clarified butter (ghee) – Shiva in the form of a column of fire. For the flame nearly 1,000 kilograms of ghee are poured into an enormous vessel. The wick consists of a piece of cloth several metres long. In the dark evening sky the flame is visible in the surrounding plain over 20 miles away. For several days the flame is kept alive. Everyone who sees the flame on Arunachala considers it to be a manifestation of Shiva. It symbolizes the fact that whoever recognizes the light of all lights, which shines in his own spiritual Heart, and meditates upon it without interruption, obtains final Liberation (moksha).