Visiting Ramanasramam – the holy abode of Bhagwan Ramana Maharshi at Tiruvannamalai

Where can I go? I will be here”.

This was the soothing words of assurance that Bhagwan Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) gave to his tearful devotees when he was in sickbed, with no recovery from his cancer in his arm  in sight. Ramana breathed his last and left his mortal body at Ramanasramam, at the foot hills of Thiruvannamalai on 14th April 1950 at 8:47 PM.

Ramana Maharshi was a true gyani – the knower of self. He was a jivan mukta – one who attained liberation even when he was alive. For his bhaktas who adored him as God, he was an Avatara Purusha – God descended in human form, though for Ramana, as a true Gnyani, the idea of avatar was of least significance. For him everything existing is verily the Self (atman).

It was in Ramanashramam that the sacred body of Ramana was buried and a samadhi (tomb constructed as per scriptural guidelines) built. It is Hindu belief that where a Jivan Mukta’s samadhi exists, the saint’s vibrant spiritual presence remains there that can easily be felt by earnest believers and spiritual seekers. It is very much true at Ramanashramam. Added to the common belief, Ramana had personally assured to his devotees that he would only be there.

It is no wonder that the earnest spiritual seekers from across the globe constantly stream into Ramanashramam all round the year, stay at the ashram premises under the unobtrusive hospitality of the caretakers of the Ashram and drink the bliss of peace that emanates silently in the samadhi of Ramana.

Ramana sitting on a Tiger skin, gifted by a devotee. Ramana never loved such pomp and grandeur. Photo taken from a picture adoring the New Hall in Ramanasramam.

Ramana’s philosophy reaches out to all segments of spiritual seekers irrespective of their religious moorings. Ramana attained his liberation purely by a simple self-inquiry “Who am I?” It is this simple self-inquiry technique that he preached to all spiritual seekers too. Am I the body? Am I the mind? Am I the intellect? This body perishes. This mind always seems to be wandering aimlessly. The intellect gets confused by contradictions. But behind all this, “I” exist. That “I” exists when I am awake, when I sleep with dreams and when I sleep deep without dreams. Even when I sleep like a log without any bodily conscience, this “I”, though not ascertaining its presence at that time, is very much there, it understood its natural blissful state, to declare when awake saying “I slept so blissfully”.

It is this “I” that Ramana wants everyone to identify. One who has grasped the true nature of that “I” knows Self (Atman). It is none other than the all pervasive Brahaman, that Upanishads talk of. You are that – “Tat twam asi” One who truly experienced it, states by virtue of his personal attainment, “Aham Brahmasmi” (I am Brahman). In Ramana’s scheme of things, there is really no need of any personal God for worship. No need of names and forms. No chanting of mantras. No need of worship. No need of accepting Jesus Christ and the holy trinity. No need to worship in the direction of Mecca and Madina. But Ramana acknowledges the fact that such religious and spiritual practices, widely practiced by many, have their utility in purifying the mind and aiding progress in the spiritual path, “the path of self-inquiry is straight” in his opinion and experience.

No wonder Ramana’s philosophy, which was none other than the ancient Hindu philosophy of Advaita, was lapped up by spiritually earnest seekers, who had their disinclination towards formal and institutionalized form of religions and worships.

If you visit Ramanashramam at Thiruvannamalai, you will find that virtually half of the visitors there are from the west. The climate at Thiruvannamalai is oppressively hot for most part of the year. The food served in the Ashram is downright south Indian staple food, almost the same type of food that Ramana ate there almost three forth of a century ago. Food is served in plantain leaves and people, including westerners have to squat on the floor and eat with hand. Despite all these inconveniences, people from the west throng at Ramanashramam, sit peacefully at his meditation hall and deeply engross themselves in meditation. Once the bliss of Ramana is felt, all the inconveniences become a naught.

Ramana, from his earlier abode Skandashramam up the hills, came down to live here at the foot hills by the end of year 1922. He came to stay in under a thatched roof where his mother’s samadhi had been built about 6 months earlier. Actually, Ramana’s mother Alagammal, at her later years had been staying with her saint son permanently, at Virupakshi cave and Skandasramam up the hills. She attained “moksha” at the hands of her son and her Samadhi was made at the foot hills of Arunachala. It happened in May 1922.

He was a saint without expressive motives (Sankalpa rahita). But whatever he did was in obedience to the divine will and it had only good for the mankind. By coming down the hills permanently, he became easily accessible to more and more devotees, particularly to the aged and infirm who could not climb the hill. When he came here, there was nothing more than a thatched roof for him and his close associates to stay. (See photo). That was the humble beginning of Ramanasramam.

This is the humble beginning of Sri Ramanasramam. The man in loin cloth standing at front under the Iluppai Tree, reading a book is none other than Bhagwan Ramana. That Iluppai tree is still there in the Ashram!

Then the ashram started growing gradually and steadily. Ramana’s own younger brother, Nagasundaram, after marriage and begetting a son and after the demise of his wife, renounced the world and became a Sanyasin by name Swami Niranjanananda. He had earlier come to live under the shade of his saint brother Ramana during Skandashramam days and he became the caretaker of the Ashram. He was primarily instrumental in the growth of the Ramanashramam and the all other constructions including the mother’s temple (Matrubhuteswar Temple, which was consecrated in the year 1949), Ramana’s abode and the living quarters there.

Unlike other ashrams which are normally managed by a board of trustees, Ramana gave his stamp of approval for the management of the ashram by the householder devotees of the descendants of Ramana’s family. Thus after Niranjanananda’s demise, his son Venkataraman (a householder) took charge of Ramanashramam. He too took Sanyas at his final years and presently the Ashram is being managed by the next generation of the family — Sri Sundara Ramanan and his brothers.

Places of significance at Ramanasramam

Matrubhuteswarar Temple (Mother’s samadhi)

The New Hall (The hall in front of Mother’s temple)

Ramana’s Samadhi

The Old hall (meditation room)

The Old dining hall with its wintage photos and pictures

The new dining hall

The book stall

The 400-year old “Iluppai” Tree at the entrance

Ramana’s last bedroom

Ramana Musium

Goshala

Vedic Patasala

Now let is go on a photo tour around Ramanashramam:

Entrance to Ramanasramam. Ramanasramam is located in the Tiruvannamalai-Chengam Road, about 2 km from the Arunachala Temple.

 

This “Iluppai” tree is said to be 400 years old. This tree has witnessed Ramana’s first arrival at the premises and is standing testimony to all the activities of Ramanasramam ever since.

 

Matrubhuteswarar Temple. This temple, built over the Samadhi of Ramana’s mother Alagammal, was consecrated in 1949.

 

Ashram office and Book depot. They still maintain the charm of the olden days.

 

At the left is mother temple and the next (closed door) Ramana’s samadhi. Arunachala Hill ahead; At the right (seen a little), adjacent to the tree is Ramana’s room where he breathed his last.

This is the Samadhi Hall of Bhagwan Ramana. At the far end, Ramana’s samadhi is there on which a Shiv Linga has been established and daily worship is done to it. There is a statue of Ramana in sitting posture behind the linga.

 

This is the “Old Hall” which is currently the meditation room. Ramana stayed in this hall for many years. The sofa that he used to recline is kept there with his life-size photo. Earnest seekers come here to do meditation in his serene presence.

 

This is the old dining hall of Ramanasramam. This place has its own serenity; Ramana sat and ate in this hall, surrounded by all his devotees.

 

This photo has been taken from the painting at Old dining hall. Ramana ate sparsely. He had no specific likes or dislikes on food and he always preferred simple, easy to digest, ‘satvik’ food.  Whatever varieties served to him, he would mix them all and then eat as if a single item! He was an excellent cook too!

 

The old photos that adore the old dining hall have great stories to tell. Various photos of Bhagwan, his close disciples, admirers, distinguished visitors, group photos with Bagwan are in display. Time stands still here!

 

A virtual who’s who of Bhagwan’s close devotees and admirers. Photos of Narasimha Swami, Swami Sivananda, Annamalai Swami, Ramaswami Pillai, Manavasi Ramaswamy Iyer, Kunjuswami, Swami Papa Ramdas, Mata Krishabhai, Echammal, Mudaliar patti….

Do you notice that in the picture at middle, Ramana is depicted as sitting on a peacock? yes. Ramana is considered an Avatar of Lord Muruga and Muruaga’s vehicle is peacock. Peacocks are always roaming around Ramanashramam even now.

This is the new dining hall built in recent years. As the visitors’ count keep swelling, the ashram needed more place to serve food to the visitors.

“Goshala” – The cow shed. Cows had their place in Ramanasramam always. The story of “Pasu Lakshmi”, a cow, that displayed extraordinary love and affection to Ramana and received that love in good measure from him, is a captivating history to read.

Monkeys had their attraction with Ramana right from his early days at the hills. Ramana did not distinguish them from his human visitors in extending his divine grace and hospitality to them.

A special performance by a peacock of Ramanasramam for me to click! Ramana was considered as an Avatar of Lord Muruga. Muruga’s vehicle is peacock. Peacocks always roam around Ramanasramam freely without fear of men right from early days.

 

New Auditorium cum Library building

 

Ashram museum. It houses very rare artifacts associated with Ramana and also lots of manuscripts in Ramana’s own handwriting are very carefully preserved here.

How to stay at Ramanasramam

Ramanasramam management offers free boarding and lodging facilities to devotees who wish to stay at Ramanasramam for a few days and undertake spiritual practices like meditation. Please note that this facility is offered to Ramana’s devotees and earnest spiritual seekers only and is not for casual tourists and travelers.

Please write to the Ashram at least one month in advance and get permission.

Food is served free only for the visitors who stay at the ashram. Strict timings are maintained for serving food.

As the ashram is run on donations, visitors who wish to stay are welcome to contribute as per their wish and capacity.

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