Arudra Darshanam, a festival observed in the Tamil month of Margazhi, primarily during December to January. Essentially a Shaivite festival,celebrating the cosmic form of Shiva, in the Nataraja form. It takes place on the full moon night, and is also the longest night of the year. On Dec 29.1879, the festival was being celebrated in full splendor in a village called Tiruchuli, south of Madurai. Just as the deity entered the temple past midnight, at Dec 30, 1 AM, a cry was heard of a baby boy in the home of Sundaram Aiyer and his wife Alagammal. Sundaram Aiyar a pleader known for his benevolence and generosity with a deep belief in God. It is often difficult to draw the path a Saint takes towards the Supreme Self. Where human beings take a slow journey to the Supreme Self, the Saints appear to make it effortlessly towards that goal. Neither Sundaram Aiyer, nor his wife, were aware that such a boy was born in the midst of them.The baby boy born on the auspicious occasion was named Venkataraman, but in the years to come he would be more known as Sri Ramana Maharshi, one of the greatest Hindu saints of the modern era.
Venkataraman’s life was like any other average boy’s, he went to school in Tirchuli, then later Dindigul. At the age of 12, his father passed away, and so he lad to live with his paternal uncle Subbaraiyar at Madurai. Though enrolled at the American Mission High School there, he was never really interested much in studies. He loved to play games and was known for his physical strength. More often than not he liked to slip into a deep sleep often, where none could disturb him. The turning point in his life came when he was 16 years old. An elderly relative had visited the family in Madurai, and he had asked him where he was from. The relative replied “Arunachala”, and there was something in that word, that excited him. His curiosity was aroused and asked “From Arunachala, where is it?”. And then the relative explained it was the same as Tiruvannamalai. This was something he mentioned later in one his Eight Stanzas to Arunachala.
Ah! What a wonder! Arunachala stands as an insentient Hill. Its action is mysterious, past human understanding. From the age of innocence it had shone within my mind that Arunachala was something of surpassing grandeur, but even when I came to know through another that it was the same as Tiruvannamalai, I did not realise its meaning. When it drew me up to it, stilling my mind, and I came close, I saw it stand unmoving.
The curiosity on Arunachala, turned into a deeper spiritual longing, when he chanced upon Periyapuranam, a book on the lives of 63 famous Saivite Saints. The book had a deep impact on him, the fact that such love and faith for the Divine was possible. It went beyond that, a longing rising within him of renunciation and devotion. It was as if some higher spiritual calling was out there, asking him to renounced the world.
It was quite sudden. I was sitting in a room on the first floor of my uncle’s house. I seldom had any sickness and on that day there was nothing wrong with my health, but a sudden, violent fear of death overtook me. There was nothing in my state of health to account for it; and I did not try to account for it or to find out whether there was any reason for the fear.
That spiritual experience came in 1896, when he was 17, and sitting alone on the first floor of his uncle’s home. Everything was seemingly normal, but all of a sudden, a fear of death overtook him. He assumed that he indeed would be dying, but it was not a fear now. It was a curiosity, a longing to find out “Now, death has come. What does it mean? What is it that is dying? This body dies”. He lay down in a motionless state, his body stiffened, as he held his breath. And the thoughts came flooding into his mind, “Now what shall happen to me once I die? I shall be cremated, the body shall be burnt to ashes”. But what exactly is dead here, is it just the physical body? Even when the body is inert, I can feel the full force of my personality and voice of “I” within me. And this is where he realized, that while the physical body passes away, the Spirit remains eternal. As he explained later “I was something very real, and the fear of death vanished once and for all”. That realization changed him completely, his attention was more towards the spiritual side now. He lost interest in all worldly matters- school, education, friends, relations. He preferred solitude, would go to the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai every day, and sit there for hours together, just taking in the experience.
Venkataraman realized that there was no use, pretending to be interested in worldly matters, when his mind was not on it. Taking 5 rupees, he quietly left home without informing to any one, and proceeded to Tiruvanamalai. He left a note informing all in his home.
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.
Venkataraman though was unaware there was a direct route to Tiruvanamalai from Madurai, and he took a ticket to Tindivanam, which as per an old atlas, seemed the nearest station. A Maulvi who was traveling told Venkataraman, that he could travel to Arunachala from Villupuram too. With whatever money he had, Venkataraman purchased a ticket to Mambalapattu from Villupuram, and from there decided to walk to Tiruvannamalai. By evening he had reached Arayaninallur, close to Tiruvanammalai, and sat down in the huge pillared hall of the temple there. It was there that he had a vision of a huge light enveloping the entire place. However when the temple was closing, he was asked to move out by the priests. A kind temple drummer gave him some food to eat, and he slept there for the night.
On Gokulashtami day, he found refuge in the home of one Muthukrishna Bhagavatar, where he was fed by the lady of the house. He pledged his gold earrings to take a loan, and the lady also gave him a box of sweets. Spending the night at the station, finally on Sept 1, 1896 he boarded the train to Tiruvanamalai. Entering the massive Arunachaleswara Temple there, he entered it’s gates, went straight up to the inner sanctorum, and stood in front of the Lord. He had found his destiny in life.
Having cast away all his worldly possesions, Ramana now had fully renounced the world. He initially resided in the great temple at Tiruvanamalai, where he spent days in meditation. For some time, he even shifted to an underground vault known as the Patala Lingam, where he spent days together undisturbed. After some time, he was shifted to a nearby shrine of Subramanya, where some one or other took care of him. 6 months later, Ramana shifted his residence to a place called Gurumurtam, on the request of the temple’s keeper. It was around this time, more and more people began to flock to him, as his fame increased. Later he shifted to a nearby mango orchard, when he was traced out by his uncle Neliyappa Aiyar. Ramana however refused to go back home and his uncle returned disappointed.
Ramana’s mother Alagammal visited him along with her elder son Nagaswamy. By then he was living at Pavalakkunru on the eastern side of Arunachala. His mother wept and begged him to return home with her. He however was unmoved, and she finally had to leave with a heavy heart. Soon after Ramana now moved to a cave called Virupaksha, where crowds still thronged in large numbers. Not just priests and scholars, even children, the unlettered flocked to him. Such was his presence, that every one felt an inner peace around him. Ramana’s mother soon fell ill with typhoid, she had lost her elder son earlier. In spite of his renunciation, he nursed his mother back to health at Tiruvanamalai.
Soon his mother also came to live with him, along with her youngest son Nagasundaram, who had lost his wife earlier. From 1916 onwards, Ramana moved from Virupaksha to Skandasram, where he trained his mother in the spiritual life. Nagasundaram too joined in his brother’s footsteps,assuming the name of Niranjananda, and among his brother’s devotees was called as Chinna Swami. His mother’s health however deteriorated later, and soon in 1922, she passed away. Ramana was with his mother in the last phases of her life, sitting up all nights tending to her. She was buried at the foot of the hill on the Southern side, where Ramana used to go daily to be at her memorial.
Six months later, Ramana permanently shifted to the spot where the Ramanashram was founded. A temple was raised over the spot, and consecrated in 1949. The Ashram began in a very humble manner, just a shed with some bamboo poles and leaves. However with regular donations from visitors not just in India but abroad too, the Ashram grew. The devotees too started coming in. Among the early ones was Ganapati Sastri, a great Sanskrit scholar and sage, who visited Ramana in the Virupaksha cave. He learnt about Tapas from Ramana Maharshi, and proclaimed him to be Bhagavan. He also wrote the Ramana Gita explaining his teachings. Another was F.H.Humphrey’s, his first Western devotee, who had come to India in 1911, to take up a job as a Police officer.
The Ashram had a cowshed too, where Ramana regularly took care of the cows. It’s management was left over to his younger brother, who also formulated the rules. Ramana loved to be all by himself in the meditation Hall, which was always open for devotees. Soon the Ashram grew larger, a school for study, a library were added, a temple was built over his mother’s tomb. However age and poor health, began to take a toll on him physically from 1947 onwards. He was already 70 by then, and by 1948 it was clear he was suffering from sarcoma in his left arm. When surgeons recommended amputating the arm,he refused saying “Let my body have a natural end, why mutilate it”. However it soon spread throughout, but he never let his suffering known to all. Bearing the pain with a smile, he continued to meet his devotees, answer their questions patiently. On 14th April, 1950, the end came near, when he gave darshan to all devotees for the last time. He looked at them for one last time, and then passed away into a deep sleep forever.
Ramana Maharashi’s philosophy was aimed at Self Realization, it is centered around inquiry into the nature of Self about the notion of “I”. The self was a force or current which he felt during his near death experience. He more often than not used the term sat-chit-ananda to describe the near consciousness and bliss.
The real Self or real ‘I’ is, contrary to perceptible experience, not an experience of individuality but a non-personal, all-inclusive awareness. It is not to be confused with the individual self which (Ramana) said was essentially non-existent, being a fabrication of the mind, which obscures the true experience of the real Self. He maintained that the real Self is always present and always experienced but he emphasized that one is only consciously aware of it as it really is when the self-limiting tendencies of the mind have ceased. Permanent and continuous Self-awareness is known as Self-realization.- David Godman
He considered the self to be permanent and enduring, and he instructed his devotees to remove their ignorance by self awareness.
Silence is the true upadesa. It is the perfect upadesa. It is suited only for the most advanced seeker. The others are unable to draw full inspiration from it. Therefore, they require words to explain the truth. But truth is beyond words; it does not warrant explanation. All that is possible is to indicate It. How is that to be done?