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.