Life of the master
Ramana maharshi was born as Venkataraman Iyer in 1879, in a village called Tiruchuzhi, near Madurai in Tamil Nadu.
He was born into an orthodox Brahmin family, him being the second of four children, and his father was a court pleader. Both a paternal uncle of his father and his father’s brother had become sannyasins. At the age of 7 he had his thread ceremony (upanayana). He had a very good memory, being able to memorise and recall Tamil poems just having read once.
At the age of 11(circa 1890), his father sent him to Dindigul to live with his paternal uncle Subbaiyar, to study in a government school where English was taught. Prior to that he had completed his elementary education in his village school where the medium of instruction was Tamil.
His uncle got transferred to Madurai in 1891, and he moved there with him as well. In 1892, Venkataraman’s father Sundaram Iyer passed away, and his younger brother joined him in Madurai, leaving the mother and two younger children at home.
In Madurai, Venkataraman first attended Scott’s Middle School and then the American Mission High School. Sometime later he read the Periyapuranam, the life stories of the sixty-three Nayanar saints. He was overwhelmed with wonder and ecstacy and he also wanted to be like those saints.
He began visiting the Meenakshi temple in Madurai where he experienced higher states of awareness.
In July 1896 (age 16), he experienced a phenomenon in which his body became rigid, with a strong fear of death and he was struck with a strong current, avesam. He started inquiring why this happened and what was going on. Later on he concluded that the current that he experienced was the Ishvara. He later described his experience as akrama mukti (sudden liberation).
After this event he lost interest in school, family, friends and relations. He visited the Meenakshi temple daily, devoted to the 63 nayanmars and Nataraja. He spent a lot of time alone, absorbed in concentration. As his longing grew, he secretly left home one day. He told his brother he was going to attend a special class in school, and boarded a train for Tiruvannamalai. He reached Tiruvannamalai on 1 September 1896 and he lived there for the rest of his life.
After arriving in Tiruvannamalai, he went to the Arunachaleshwara temple and stayed there. He spent time at different regions of the temple then moved to the patala lingam vault. He meditated undisturbed in patala lingam vault for days, without having any awareness of the surroundings. His body was bitten by insects and vermin but he continued unaware of the bites. After about 6 weeks in the underground vault he was taken outside and cleaned.
After 6 months from arrival to Tirunnamalai, he moved to the Gurumurtam temple. Seeing his condition, he was helped by a well wisher Palaniswamy who prepared food for him.
In 1899, he left the temple at foothills and moved to the Arunachala hill itself. He stayed at a cave in the hill, Virupaksha cave for the next 17 years.
In 1902, a govt official Sivaprakasam visited the swami with a set of 14 questions on self inquiry. Ramana answered them, which became his first teaching and it’s now published as “Who am I?“
He was visited by many people in the cave. Kavyakantha Sri Ganapati Sastri, a Vedic scholar of repute in his age, had deep knowledge of the Srutis, Sastras, Tantras, Yoga, and Agama systems, but lacked the personal darshan of Shiva,. He came to visit Ramana in 1907. After receiving upadesa from him on self-enquiry, he proclaimed him as Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi.
Ramana was known by this name from then on.
In 1916, his mother and brother came to join him in the life of sannyas. They all moved to another cave in Arunachala hill, Skandashram cave. Ramana personally instructed them in sanyas. Between 1916 to 1922 Ramana wrote the anthology “Arunachala Stuti Panchakam (Five Hymns to Arunachala)”.
His mother passed away in 1922, and she was buried at the southern foothill of Arunachala. The sage initially visited the samadhi site for a few times, until settling in.
An ashram eventually began building around the samadhi, which became known as “Sri Ramanasramam”.
The ashram had begun as a shed of bamboo poles and a roof of palm leaves. As time passed, devotees gathered around, and proper facilities were built – office, bookstore, dispensary, guest houses, meditation halls and so on. A temple was built above his mother’s samadhi called Matrubhuteshwara temple, and daily pooja of the feminine form continues there.
At first, there was only one hut at the samadhi, but slowly the ashram grew to include library, post office, hospital and other facilities. Ramana was actively involved in the building activities.
As his fame grew wide, he was visited by many great personalities like Somerset Maugham, Swami Sivananda and Paramahamsa Yogananda.
In 1949 it was found that Ramana had cancer in his left arm, and he left his body on April 14, 1950.
Sri Ramana Ashram or Sri Ramanasramam, is the ashram where Ramana Maharshi lived from 1922 till 1950. It is situated at the foot of the Arunachala hill, to the west of Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu.
It began as a tomb of his mother. As maharshi started spending more time in the area, an ashram developed. He himself didn’t try to establish any ashram in a mission mode, rather, it just grew around where he lived. This ashram holds a shrine of Ramana Maharshi and his mother Alagammal.
Various kinds of activities are undertaken by the ashram. There are daily rituals, annual observances and festivals. The ashram publishes Ramana’s teachings in form of books, audio, video both online and offline. To connect with the devotees, the ashram communicates via email, publishes newsletters, holds local satsanghs, provides volunteering opportunities for ashram’s activities and related charities.
There are multiple satsangh centres all over the world in India, Europe, Americas, Australia, Mauritius, Israel and Malaysia. Devotees can begin a new satsangh group and can ask for its location to be included in their website.
Accomodation is provided for the visitors of the ashram and arunachala hill.
The Arunachala hill, which the Maharshi chose as his place for meditation, was an already renowned place in Tamil Shaivite culture. There are 96 shrines around the hill, and it is mentioned in 52 ancient texts like the Rig Veda and the Skanda Purana. Ramana called it the spiritual center of the world. He would always go around the hill, and would also advise the visitors to have a Giri pradakshina (Walk around the hill). Like fire burns wood, the hill would elevate the person, even if he didnt believe in it. The greatness of the hill was described in Arunachala Puranam. Ramana maharshi himself recounted incidents of miracles in places around the hill.
Swami Sivananda, in his book “Hindu fasts and festivals”, explains that Arunachala hill represents the fire element,(there are other sites in India for the other 4 elements) and gives a Puranic explanation for that.
Ramana gave teachings adapted differently for different devotees. When he was asked if he initiated disciples, he never said yes directly. Devotees experienced the initiation of maharshi sometimes with a gaze, sometimes while sitting in silence, sometimes in a dream, even sometimes during a class.
Like Sri Aurobindo’s teachings, there is no fixed yoga asana or kriya for the ashram as well. To start learning from him, the devotee needs to start reading the book “Who am I?” and allow Ramana’s will to function through him.
The first set of instructions ever given by Ramana to a disciple are compiled in the booklet “Who am I?”, and it starts as the starting point for devotees interested to learn from the Maharshi. And the book is available to be downloaded for free in their website.
Ramana insists that among the various kinds of initiations, silence is the highest form of initiation.
The publications of the ashram can be divided into three types – The works composed by Ramana himself, the works composed by the devotees and other advaitic scriptures which Bhagvan referred to n his teachings.
Ramana composed the Arunachala Panchakam (Five hymns to Arunachala) sometime around 1917. He also composed Atma Vidya, on the persuasion of his devotee Muruganar. But before that he had translated two works of Adi Shankara – Vivekachudamani and Drk Drsya Vivekam into Tamil prose, for his disciple Palani Swamy. Bhagavan would also keep different scriptures with him in handwritten notes – Skandopanishad, Kaivalyopanishad etc, though they were not his original works.
Ramana composed a 30 verse philosophical poem Upadesa saram(Sanskrit) or Upadesa undiyar (Tamil) in 1927, on the persuasion of Muruganar. He also composed his most important work Ulladu Narpadu (Sad vidya in Sanskrit) in 1928 when he was asked by Muruganar about the nature of reality. His last composition was Ekanma panchakam, written at the request of a devotee Suri Naganna.
Nayana, Sadhu Om, Suri Naganna, Muruganar, Sivaprakasam Pillai were some of the well known disciples of Ramana, who themselves composed texts. Sivaprakasam Pillai was the devotee who wrote
Who am I ?. Kavyakantha Sri Ganapathy Muni, whom Bhagvan lovingly called Nayana, was one such disciple who created a lot of original works – Ramana Gita, Uma Sahashram, Sri Ramana Catvarimsat. Nayana also had written on a variety of other topics like Mahabharata and Vastu shashtra.
Muruganar also wrote thousands of verses on Ramana which were in the forms of Stotram (prayers), Sastram (philosophy or Teaching) and Anubhavam (personal spiritual experiences), or even combining all three.
The ashram also publishes other scriptures which were used by Ramana for giving his teachings – Arunachala Puranam, Siva Bhakta Vilasam, Geeta Saara Talattu, Tiruvaachakam, Maha Bhakta Vijayam and many more.
The ashram publishes 2 periodicals – Saranagathi (a monthly e-newsletter) and The Mountain Path (a quarterly journal) whose issues are available for free in the official ashram’s website. Call divine was another monthly magazine published from 1952 to 1962, and was discontinued later on.
The ashram publishes Ramana’s teachings in form of books, magazines, audio and video recordings. Many ebooks are available for downloading for free from the ashram’s website. Following are some of their famous publications:
As spiritual organisations are adapting to the modern world, the ashram also has followed suit and has a presence in YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.
Official website – https://www.sriramanamaharshi.org/
Instagram handle- https://www.instagram.com/sriramanasramam/
Youtube channel – https://www.youtube.com/user/SriRamanaDevotee
Online publications – https://www.sriramanamaharshi.org/resource_centre/publications/
Online bookstore – https://bookstore.sriramanamaharshi.org/
World bookstore – https://worldstore.sriramanamaharshi.org/
The Mountain path, all issues – https://realization.org/p/ramana/index.mountain-path.html
Hinduism today’s article on Ramana maharshi – https://www.hinduismtoday.com/modules/smartsection/item.php?itemid=5875
Guide to Arunachala hill pradakshina – http://www.sriramana.org/eguide/index.html
Timeline of the sage’s life – https://www.sriramanamaharshi.org/timeline/swf/timeline.html
A devotees’s website – https://ramanacentre.com/ramana/compositions/