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’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.
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)
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
Now let is go on a photo tour around Ramanashramam:
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.