Brief Biography of Bhagwan Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950)


What is Bhagwan Ramana Maharshi’s uniqueness amid Hindu spiritual masters?

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).

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.

Birth and early years

Venkataraman (later Sri Ramana Maharshi) was born on December 30, 1879 at Tiruchuzhi, a small village in Tamil Nadu, some thirty miles off Madurai to  Sundaram Ayyar and Alagamma. He was the second child. He had one elder brother and one younger brother and a younger sister.

When Venkataraman was twelve, Sundaram Ayyar died.  He and his elder brother were sent to live with their paternal uncle, Subbier, at Madurai. Here, Venkataraman studied upto ninth standard. He was an average student, but had a good memory. He was much interested in sports.

In his boyhood years Venkataraman was prone to abnormally deep sleep. He could not be easily awakened from his sleep.

His Spiritual Awakening

An elderly relative who visited their house mentioned to Venkataraman about his visit to Arunachala, the sacred hill in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu. The word ‘Arunachala’ somehow had evoked in him since childhood an inexplicable awe and love. He enquired more from the relative the whereabouts of Arunachala and his inexpicable curiosity and awe over the place increased.

A little later, young Venkataraman came across a copy of the Periapuranam, which  contains stories of sixty-three Tamil saints who received Lord Siva’s grace and vision by their exemplary devotion. As Venkataraman read the book, he was overwhelmed with ecstatic wonder that such deep faith, and bhakti was ever possible in him too.

Sometime in the middle of July 1896, when he was just sixteen and a half years old, Venkataraman realized the Self in a totally unexpected and miraculous manner. Years later, he explained to his devotees what happened that day in the following words:

About six weeks before I left Madurai for good, a great change took place in my life. It was quite sudden. I was sitting alone in a room in my uncle’s house, when a sudden fear of death overtook me. There was nothing in my state of health to account for it. I just felt, ‘I am going to die’ and began thinking about it. The fear of death drove my mind inwards and I said to myself mentally, ‘Now that death has come; what does it mean? What is it that is dying? Only this body dies.’ And at once I dramatized the occurrence of death. I held my breath and kept my lips tightly closed and said to myself, ‘This body is dead. It will be carried to the cremation ground and reduced to ashes. But with the death of this body am I dead? Is this body ‘I’? I am the spirit transcending the body. and I am perceiving it now without any doubt. That means I am the deathless Atman.’

Venkataraman seemed to fall into a profound conscious trance wherein he became merged into the very source of his Self, the very essence of Being.

Venkataraman emerged from this amazing experience an utterly changed person. He lost interest in studies, sports, friends and so on. His chief interest now centered in the sublime consciousness of the true Self, which he had found so unexpectedly. He enjoyed an inward serenity and a spiritual strength, which never left him.  In his words: “Another change that came over me was that I no longer had any likes or dislikes with regard to food. Whatever was given to me, tasty or insipid, I would swallow with total indifference.”

Leaving for Arunachala – once for all

Venkataraman’s uncle and elder brother noticed the nonchalant behavior of Venkataraman and were critical about it. Then came the tangible turning point on August 29, 1896. Venkataraman was then studying in tenth standard, preparing for his public examination. His teacher had given him an exercise in English grammar to be written three times. He copied it out twice and was about to do so for the third time when the futility and meaningless of such an exercise stuck him; he pushed the notebooks aside and sitting cross-legged, abandoned himself to meditation.

His elder brother Nagaswamy who was watching this, scolded him for behaving like a yogi while still staying in the family and pretending to study. “Yes”, thought Venkataraman, “What business do I have here?” And immediately came the thought of Arunachala that had caused such a thrill in him a few months ago. He decided then and there to discover the fabulous and mystic hill Arunachala himself.

Venkataraman knew that without a little lie, he would not be allowed to escape from home.  So, he told his brother that he had to attend a special class at the school. Unintentionally providing him with funds for the journey, his brother said, “Take five rupees from the box and pay my college fees.” Venkataraman took only three rupees, no more than what he thought was necessary for reaching Tiruvannamalai. In the note he left (which fortunately is still preserved), he wrote in Tamil:

Ramana’s handwritten note when he left home for good to move to Thiruvannamalai

“ நான் என் தகப்பனாரைத் தேடிக் கொண்டு, அவருடைய உத்தரவின்படி இவ்விடத்தை விட்டுக் கிளம்பி விட்டேன். இது நல்ல காரியத்தில் தான் பிரவேசித்திருக்கிறது. ஆகையால் இதற்காக யாரொருவரும் விசனப்பட வேண்டாம். இதைப் பார்ப்பதற்காக பணமும் செலவு செய்ய வேண்டாம். உன் சம்பளத்தை இன்னும் செலுத்தவில்லை. ரூ. 2 இதோடு கூட இருக்கிறது.



I have set out in quest of my Father in accordance with His command. It is on a virtuous enterprise that ‘this’ has embarked, therefore let none grieve over this act and let no money be spent in search of ‘this’. Your college fees have not been paid. Two rupees are enclosed.” The note ended with the word ‘Thus’, and a dash — in place of his signature.

The way this letter had been written has its own significance –  opening sentence in the note began with ‘I’, but later Venkataraman used ‘this’ in reference to himself. Thus, what left Madurai for Tiruvannamalai was not the spirit, which had already got absorbed in the Lord, but the body, now viewed as distinct from the spirit. The personality which began with ‘I’, got merged into ‘this’, and at the end there was no person left to sign.

Venkataraman reached  Tiruvannamalai in a journey involving two trains, a long walk and a couple of trials and tribulations en route on the early morning of September 1, 1896. He went straight to the great Arunachaleswara temple and stood before his Father. His cup of bliss was now full to the brim with inexplicable surge of bliss. The journey’s end, and his homecoming at last.

Immersed in the trance of divine bliss

Coming out of the temple, the youth got his head shaven and threw away all his belongings and clothes except for a strip he tore off his dhoti to serve as a loincloth. Thus renouncing everything, he went back to the temple complex and got immersed in the Bliss of Being, sitting motionless, day after day, night after night without any concern about his body, the need for food or drinking.

Local urchins thought he was a madman and started throwing stones at him wherever he was in the temple complex. To escape from their teasing, the young ascetic took shelter in the Patala Lingam, an underground small Siva shrine within the enormous temple complex, where ants and vermin fed on his flesh during the weeks he spent there. But the young Swami, absorbed in bliss, remained unmoved.

Seshadri Swamigal who was a well known saint and a resident of Thiruvannamalai recognized the young ascetic’s spiritual status and soon words spread about the missing young brahmin Swamy. Some devotees discovered the Swami in the vault, oblivious of the dreadful condition he was in, with worm-infested wounds and oozing pus. they removed him to a nearby shrine within the temple complex. From then on, he continued to move within the complex to various other shrines and groves away from curious onlookers. In all these places, he was looked after by mendicants, devotees from the town, temple functionaries and others. He continued to remain absorbed in the Self and was forcefully fed with a glass of milk obtained after doing abhishekam to the divine Mother’s  deity or a few morsels of cooked rice.

In February 1897, the young Swami was removed to the Gurumurtam – a math, some distance away from the town, where he lived for about nineteen months. He continued to remain Self-absorbed and was looked after mainly by a sadhu named Uddandi Nayanar and his friend Annamalai Thambiran.

About this time, a Malayalee sadhu named Palaniswami, living in great austerity, was devoting his life to the worship of Lord Vinayaka. He came to know of the Brahmin ascetic and as he saw the Swami for the first time, he was stirred to his depths and had discovered his saviour. He devoted the remaining twenty-one years of his life serving the  Maharshi as his attendant.

Very slowly and unwillingly, Venkataraman started responding to the prodding of his devotees and aftair their persistent efforts, he wrote his name  ‘Venkataraman, Tiruchuzhi’ in English. His knowledge of English came as a surprise. He became well known as Brahmana Swamy in Thiruvannamalai town.

In search of the missing Boy

In the meantime, Venkataraman’s relatives were making anxious enquiries and searches at various places, but he could not be traced in the next couple of years. Finally, hearing about a famous young brahmin Swamy at Thiruvannamalai, his paternal Uncle Nelliappa Iyer came to Thiruvannamalai. At first he could not identify him, as the young Swami was with long matted hair, beard and totally unkempt remaining with just a loin cloth.  But later, confirming with his birth marks, he pleaded in vain for the Swami’s return and then left for Madurai empty-handed.

After sometime, the young Swami began to reside at the Pavalakunru shrine on the Arunachala hill, his mother Alagamma came and met her son.  With a mother’s love and concern, she lamented over his condition and pressed him to go back with her, but he sat unmoved despite her repeated entreaties. Based on repeated appeals by devotees to communicate something to his mother, Brahmana swami  wrote in Tamil:

“அவரவர் பிராரப்தப் பிரகாரம் அதற்கானவன் ஆங்காங்கிருந்து ஆட்டுவிப்பன். என்றும் நடவாதது என் முயற்சிக்கினும் நடவாது; நடப்பது என் தடை செய்யினும் நில்லாது. இதுவே திண்ணம். ஆதலின் மெளனமாயிருக்கை நன்று.”

The Ordainer controls the fate of souls in accordance with their prarabdha-karma.Whatever is destined not to happen will not happen, try hard as you may. Whatever is destined to happen will happen, do what you may to prevent it.This is certain. The best course, therefore, is to remain silent.

His mother too had to return dejected, but she was later quite determined to live with her saintly son. Future events unfolded towards her will.

Shifting to Virupaksha cave

Early in 1899, the young ascetic, accompanied by his attendant Palaniswami took up his residence in the Virupaksha Cave, a cave situated behind a solid rock en route to the top of Arunachala hill.  He stayed in this cave for the next seventeen years.

Here also the young Swami maintained silence for the first few years. His radiance had already drawn a group of devotees around him and an ashram of hardly any facilities had come into being at the cave.  The young swamy gradually started speaking a few words to his devotees. Curious and sincere seekers like Palaniswamy brought spiritual books from the local library and started reading them in front of the swamy and demanding his explanations for their doubts.

It was then that the young swamy really came across formal scriptures like Upanishads and other Vedantic scripts in Tamil. It was rather surprising to them that whatever spiritual experiences he personally had  were being mentioned in the scriptures!

Some time during the year 1912, Brahmana Swamy had a second experience of confronting death. This time, it was not an imagined one, but a real death experience when his heart beat stopped totally and his skin turned blue. He remained in that state for  about 15 minutes, totally conscious of his unchangeable status as Atman.  In a way, it can be said that this second death experience confirmed his unshakable status of Sahaja Nirvikalpa Samadhi. After this experience, The Brahmana Swamy’s life became more normal and his interaction communication with his devotees became much freer and easier.

Some Early Devotees

Sivaprakasam Pillai , an officer in the Revenue Department and an intellectual, heard of the young Swami residing on the hill. At his very first visit in 1902, he was captivated by the Swami’s aura and became his life-long devotee. As the Swami was maintaining silence he answered fourteen questions of Pillai by writing in Tamil on a slate. These were later expanded and arranged in a book form “நானார்?” Who am I? This is perhaps the most concise and most widely appreciated prose exposition of the Maharshi’s philosophy, given by the Maharshi at his age of 23, which got widely published much later, in the year 1923.  Ramana’s another devotee Sri Gambhiram Seshayya too jotted down Sri Ramana’s answers to his queries sometime during 1900-02 and got it published much later as  booklet titled “விசார சங்கிரகம்” (Self inquiry) in the year 1930.

The teachings contained in these 2 small small books remained authentic, needing no future revisions by Bhagvan. In his long life spanning 71 years, Sri Ramana wrote so many other poetic works in Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Sanskrit, but this Tamil prose version still remained the basic teaching that found more exposition in those future works.

Guru (Bhargwan Ramana) at the left with Sishya (Kavyakanda Ganapathi Sastri at the right). The Sishya was elder to the Guru and the Guru called him Nayana! (Father).

Kavyakanda Ganapati Muni , a renowned Sanskrit scholar and poet, was another devotee (much elder in age to Sri Ramana) who visited the Swami from 1903 onwards and accepted him as his guru in 1907. It was who who christened the name Bhagwan Ramana Maharshi to his Guru. He sang of him as an incarnation of  Lord Subrahmanya (Muruga). The Maharishi’s answers to the questions put by the Muni and his disciples, largely constitute the well-known work Ramana Gita in Sanskrit.

The earliest Western seeker to come under the Swami’s influence (in 1911) was F.H. Humphreys.

Several householder devotees started taking care of Sri Ramana by offering food. Echammal and Alakaraththammal (Mudaliar patti) were two ardent lady devotees of Ramana who started sending food to him to Virupaksha cave and their dedicated service of offering food to Bhagwan continued uninterrupted for almost 50 years!

Evolution of Ramana, the poet

‘The knower of Self becomes the knower of all’ — so goes the saying.

It was during the years in Virupakshi cave that the hitherto unknown face of Sri Ramana — as a mystic poet, came to the fore. Some of the devotees who came to Ramana were Tamil scholars. By way of association with him and by the exposure he got into the poetic devotional works like Thevaram and Thiruvasagam and also Vedanta  Tamil texts like Kaivalya Navaneetam etc through the books brought by his devotees, Bhagwan Ramana got an irresistible inner urge to pour out his supreme knowledge in the form of poems.

Sri Ramana wrote the Tamil poetic works Arunachala Pathikam and Arunachala Ashtakam, praising the glory of the Arunachala Hill. (Related reading —>  Bhagwan Ramana’s attraction towards Arunachala Hill)

Several earnest devotees started staying with him and they used to go begging for food at the town once a day. They requested for an exclusive song to be sung by them as a sign of identification with Sri Ramana when they go around begging at the streets. During one of the Girivalam (circumambulation of Arunachala), Bhagwan composed Akshara mana Maalai song. It was a wonderful piece of poetry, written in devotional Nayaki Bhava (as if a woman expressing her love towards her sweet heart) containing the yearning of Jivatma towards Paramatma (represented by Arunachala Hill) for union. Despite being a Jyani par excellence, Sri Ramana’s tender heart brimmed with emotional bhakti too when he composed Aksharamana Malai as he revealed to his devotees in later years how he was overwhelmed with tears of divine love flowing from his eyes and his throat choking with uncontrollable emotions when he composed those songs.

Ramana’s later poetic works in Tamil covered உபதேச உந்தியார், உள்ளது நாற்பது, உள்ளது நாற்பது அனுபந்தம், தக்ஷிணாமூர்த்தி ஸ்தோத்ரம், பகவத் கீதா சாரம், அத்தாமலகம், அருணாசல நவமணி மாலை, ஆன்ம வித்தை, அப்பளப்பாட்டு (Upadesa Undhiyaar, Ullathu Narpathu, Ullathu narpathu anubhandam, Dhakshinamoorthy sthothram, Bhagavad Gita saaram, Hasthamalakam, Arunachala nava mani malai, Anma vidyai, Appala paattu etc) etc. Ramana’s ardent devotee and a great Tamil Scholar Muruganar was in a way instrumental in goading Bhagwan Ramana to write many of the later poetic works in Tamil.

Through the association with Ganapathi Sasthri, Ramana picked up sanskrit. Likewise by the association with Telugu and Malayalam devotees, Ramana quickly mastered the nuances of these languages and became adept in even writing poetry in these languages.  Yielding to appeal of these devotees, Bhabwan Ramana translated many of his Tamil works to corresponding poetic works in Telugu and Malayalam too.

His mother’s arrival and stay

During 1914, Alagammal, Ramana’s mother came again to see her son, on her way back from a pilgrimage to Tirupathi. Alagammal fell seriously ill at that time and Ramana took care of her; he fervently prayed to Arunachala for mother’s recovery and composed 4 songs of prayer. His mother soon recovered and went back to live with her other sons.

Two years later, in 1916, Alagammal, battered by the woes of worldly life, decided to come and settle with her saintly saint son permanently. Being an orthodox Brahmin lady, Alagammal had to go through lots of adjustments and sacrifice  even bare minimum comforts  in order be with her son who lived an exemplary life of total renunciation. Ramana was constantly chastising her and teasing her for her brahminical tendencies of following excessive austerities and physical purity demands, her likes and dislikes on “eatable” foodstuff and so on.

Sri Ramana with his mother (at middle) and brother Nagasundaram (Swami Niranjanananda) at left.

A little later after his mother’s arrival, Ramana’s younger brother Nagasundaram, who lost his wife at early age took up renunciation (with a monostic name Niranjanananda) and he too arrived at Thiruvannamalai to live with his saint brother. With a few sadhus already staying with Ramana permanently and with the arrival of the mother and brother, Virupaksha cave which was very small in size became rather over-crowded and there came a need for a bigger ashram.

Shifting to Skandashram

Further up in the hill from Virupaksha cave, there was a natural spring that gave water perennially right throughout the year. Ramana’s ardent devotee Kandasamy took up a great task of levelling a small plot of land in the hilly slopes adjacent to the spring, planted several trees and then with herculean efforts built a small tiled brick building to serve as the new ashram. To acknowledge Kandaswamy’s efforts, Ramana named the ashram “Skandashram” and shifted to that place along with all his companions in the year 1916.



Sri Ramana during his Skandashram days.

Niranjanananda gradually took up the responsibility of coordinating the activities of the ashram and over the following years when the Ashram permanently shifted to the foothills and took shape as Ramanashramam, he became the “Sarvadhikari” (Administrative head) of the Ashram.

Sri Ramama with his mother Alagammal (Skandasram days)

During 1922 after leading a life of strict austerity under her son for 6 years in Skandashram, mother Alagammal became seriously ill with no signs of recovery in the year 1922. Ramana nursed her with utmost care but he was resigned to the fact that her life was nearing end. During her final hours when she was breathing heavily, Ramana sat next to her, put one hand on her chest and another hand on her head. Ramana was determined to grant her moksha and  he subdued all her vasanas that ebbed from her heart as her prana was attempting to get released from her body. Finally Ramana ensured that her soul dissolved in her heart without the scope of escaping through any of the openings of her body and granted her samadhi.

He stood up and declared the fact that there was no need to follow the customary acharas (like not eating food when there is a dead body) as his mother had attained liberation from birth/ death cycle and asked everyone to take their food.

Alagammal’s body was taken down hills and was buried at the foot hills and a Shiva Linga (Matrubhuteswar) was established at the place of burial (adjacent to a water tank called pali thirtham) as per norms followed for those who attained samadhi. Minimal ritualistic worship of the Matrubhuteswar lingam was getting carried out by Niranjananantha for a while by visiting from Skandasram daily.

A few months later, one early morning Sri Ramana visited mother’s samadhi down hills and he opted to remain there without returning to Skandasram. It happened by the end of December 1922.


The establishment of Ramanashramam adjacent to the mother’s samadhi began in the form of a thatched hut. (See picture).

This hut is indeed the early beginning of Ramanashramam. Sri Ramana (with a book in hand) is standing in front of the Iluppai tree which is still alive in Ramanashramam today.

Ramanashramam was growing slowly and steadily as more and more spiritually earnest people started coming to meet Sri Ramana and many of them started staying in and around the ashram. One of Ramana’s prime disciples Sri Muruganar, a great Tamil Scholar came and met Bhagwan in the year 1923. He was overwhelmed by Bhagwan’s divinity and within the next few years he came and stayed permanently at Thiruvannamalai.

Sri Muruganar, seated at the feet of his Guru.

By the divine influence of Bhagwan, pristine Tamil poetry flowed ceaselessly from the heart of Muruganar.   He wrote “Guru Vachaka Kovai” (குரு வாசகக் கோவை) containing the teachings of his guru in poetry form. Inspired by Thiruvachagam, he wrote “Ramana Sannidhi Murai” (ரமண சன்னதி முறை). He had written more than 30,000 Tamil verses in his life.

The disciple in turn, considerably influenced the guru to write more works in Tamil. Bhagwan Ramana wrote Upadesa Saram (உபதேச சாரம்/ உபதேச உந்தியார்) that contained in a nutshell all his teachings, as an extension to a poetic work on a story based on Lord Shiva’s divine play wrote half way by Muruganar,  in the year 1927. Later  Bhagwan himself translated this work into Malayalam and Telugu. Kavyakanta Ganapathi Shashtri wrote the translation of Upadesa saram in Sanskrit.

Arrival of Paul Brunton & Other western devotees

Paul Brunton (Raphael Hurst) was a curious seeker of Indian mysticism who met Bhagwan Ramana in 1930. He stayed in Ramanashramam for a few days and practiced Self-Inquiry based on Ramana’s teachings and he could get a glimpse of his Self by the grace of Bhagwan. He wrote about Bhagwn in his famous book A Search in Secret India. In a way, this book paved the way for many western and earnest seekers of spirituality to visit Bhagwan.

Major Chadwick (Sadhu Arunachala with Ramana

Arthur Osborne

In later years Major Chadwick (Sadhu Arunachala), Arthur Osborne, SS Cohen, Maurice Frydman, Robert Adams and such westerners became devotees of Ramana and practiced Ramana’s Self-inquiry as a spiritual method for self-realization.

Golden Jubilee

Like a beacon in the sea shore, Bhagwan Ramana stayed put in Thiruvannamalai al through his life (since his arrival to the holy town in the year 1896). Bhagwan’s ardent devotees decided to celebrate the 50th year (Golden Jubilee) of Bhagwan’s arrival to Arunachala on 1st September 1946).  Ramana’s devotees from across the country including several dignitaries participated in the grand function.

Bhagwan’s unconditional love was not limited to human beings. Monkeys, squirrels, dogs, peacocks and so on received Bhagwan’s love and enjoyed his company freely.

The cow Lakshmi expressed her devotion and love to Bhagwan like human beings and received his attention and care abundantly for more than 20 years in Ramanashramam.

Matrubhuteswar temple

The ashram grew gradually into brick and mortar buildings. In the year 1939, Bhagwan laid the foundation stone for constructing Matrubuteshwar Temple at the samadhi of his mother. It took 10 years of yeomen efforts by Swami Niranjanananda to bring the temple to a compact and yet beautiful shape. The consecration ceremony (Maha Kumbhabishekam) of the temple took place in a grand scale in the year 1949. A granite Shree Chakra Meru was established behind the Lingam in the temple as per Sri Vidya Tantra shatras and Sri Bhagwan sanctified it by touching it by his hand before consecration.

Shri Bhagwan’s blessings sought on the occasion of Mahakubhabishekam.

The cancerous Tumor and the End — “Where can I go? I will be here”

By the end of year 1948, a small tumor appeared at the left elbow of Bhagwan Ramana. The Ashram doctor decided to cut and remove it. After a few days, the tumor appeared again. Surgeons from Madras were called and it was removed by operation again. But as the tumor resurfaced, every one got alarmed. It was causing considerable pain but Bhagwan did not seem to mind it. Soon it was diagnosed as Sarcoma. A couple of operations were followed and Bhagwan remained just a witness to all the suffering allowing the doctors to do their duty in their own limited judgement. The malignant tumor at one stage grew and looked like a small cauliflower and oozed lot of blood. Bhagwan’s body was going weaker by the day. Bhagwan allowed other types of treatment like Ayurveda, Unani, Homeopathy and so on done onto him by experts from the respective fields but to no avail.

Devotees shed tears to see Ramana’s physical body suffering but they were at a loss  what to do further. Bhagwan stoutly refused a suggestion to amputate his left arm. He said, ” “They take this body for Bhagavan and attribute suffering to him. What a pity! They are despondent the Bhagavan is going to leave them and go away — where can he go, and how?”

Despite all the physical suffering and the efforts of his associates to give him seclusion from the disturbances of visiting devotees , Bhagwan insisted that all those  who are thronging to see him  be allowed to have his darshan. Bhagwan’s eyes were glowing like powerful lamps while his body was undergoing pain and suffering beyond measure. He continued to glance and bless his devotees as they queued up and passed one by one by having a last glimpse outside the entrance of his room.

Finally, Bhagvan breathed his last at 8:47 PM on 14th of April 1950. At that very moment, a comet moved slowly across the sky, reached the summit, of the holy hill, Arunachala, and disappeared behind it.


Bhagwan Ramana – 1950 – his end approaching. His left arm bandaged after a series of operations to remove sarcoma.

Ramana attains Mahasamadhi.

A   Documentary film on Bhagwan Ramanamahasrhi from the Archives of Ramanashramam



Thiruvannamalai (Arunachala) and Bhagwan Ramana Maharshi’s attraction for it – Part 2

(Click here for Ramana’s attraction for Arunachala hill – Part 1)

Ramana Maharshi reached Thiruvannamalai at the age of 17. In the early couple of years after arrival at Thiruvannamalai, he remained mostly in deep Samadhi, totally drawn inwards, with little inclination for communicating with others. To avoid disturbance from eager beavers and young boys who made pranks at him, he hid himself away from the crowd in the Pathala Lingam cave situated in the thousand pillared hall at the temple. He was absorbed in deep Samadhi for several days without food and drink. His body became food for insects.

Thanks to the efforts of Seshadri Swamigal, another famous Gyani of Thiruvannamalai, Ramana was forcefully brought out of Pathala Lingam enclosure and he was taken care of by some sadhus residing in the temple complex.

After staying at a few places in and around the temple and then at a place called Gurumurtham for a period of about one and a half years, Ramana gradually became a little more communicative with the eager spiritual seekers who could grasp the greatness of this young Brahmin saint. From the year 1898 onwards, Ramana shifted his stay to the hill of Thiruvannamalai. A sadhu by name Palaiswami, who was much older to Ramana, became a self-appointed attendant to Ramana and he started staying permanently with Ramana right from the days at Gurumurtham .

Ramana stays at the Hill

From the year 1899 to 1915, for 17 years , Ramana stayed in the Virupaksha cave, up in the hills. Ramana was in his prime youth and after the first couple of years of extreme austerities and silence came to an end, his health and fitness became better; he roamed around all over the hill, sometimes alone and sometimes with his companions.

In later years Ramana recalled “I used to roam around all through the hills; there is virtually no place in the hill that I have not set foot on. There are innumerable medicinal plants in these hills; it is said that this hill is the residence for so many Siddhas (saints who attained oneness with God).”

The ageless hill

Scriptures related to Arunachala claim that the hill was existing from time immemorial and its ancientness is beyond comprehension. Ramana was in agreement to these scriptural statements. He once said “A few years back, geologists from abroad, who visited this place, wanted to scientifically cross check whether the statements found in the scripture about the ancientness of the hill could be true. He wanted the locals to send him some samples of the stones from Arunachala and it was done. After subjecting them to scientific tests, he had declared that the stones of Arunachala were older than those of Himalayas; he had written this fact to our ashram too”.

While the above statements of Ramana were to do with the gross aspects of the hill, he shared his experiences of having a few super-natural visions about the “hidden treasures” of the hill too, that he had experienced in meditative state. While Ramana, as a typical gnyani, would not attach too much significance to such visions and he would never confirm whether such existences are true or dream-like, he had nevertheless shared these details in his conversations with his devotees. They have been recorded by Suri Nagamma, a devotee of Ramana, in her “Letters from Ramanasramam”

The mystical and hidden secrets of Arunachala

He said “One day, may be during the period when I was residing at the Virupaksha cave, I was sitting with closed eyes and I had a vision as though I was walking up the hills in north –easterly direction. Suddenly I saw a beautiful flower garden at one place; there was also a big temple, beautiful prakara (space around the temple for circumambulation) and a large Nandi (bull). The whole place shown with an extraordinary aura. Very beautiful. As I was looking at them, a bell rang, indicating that formal worship was about to begin; I immediately opened my eyes”.

Siddha Purusha – Arunagiri Yogi

Ramana also mentioned about a large cave that he saw one day as he was roaming around the hills aimlessly one day. He said “In a meditative state, I saw myself entering into the cave and I saw deep canals, beautiful gardens, tanks, wide streets and so on; they all glowed with a wonderful brightness. As I walked further, I saw a forest and a tank. Under one tree there, I saw a Sidda Purusha (a realized sage) sitting, surrounded by a few disciples and it looked as though I was seeing Lord Dakshinamoorthi. I felt as though all those places were known to me for long; then I opened my eyes”

Ramana did not share these mystical experiences with his devotees in earlier years. During the year 1915, In the Adiannamalai temple situated at the western side of Arunachala at the foot hills, temple renovation work was undertaken. At that time, workers engaged in some digging work discovered the existence of a tunnel at the eastern side of the temple that led into the Arunachala hill. The news about the discovery of the tunnel was brought to the attention of Ramana. Bhagwan, on his Giripradakshnam the next day, visited Adiannamalai temple to inspect the tunnel. He was very surprised to see that the exterior side of the tunnel resembled what he saw in his divine vision a couple of years ago. He did not reveal it to anybody at that time too. When the temple authorities asked him what to do with that tunnel, Ramana advised them “This has some divine association. It is not right on our part to explore this tunnel. Better close it permanently” . The tunnel was closed as per his advice and the temple renovation was completed.

The interesting aspect of these visions of Ramana was that he came to know much later, when he happened to read Arunachala Purana (a holy mythological scripture related to the history of Arunachala purportedly narrated by lord Shiva) that there were indeed passages narrating about the cave, the existence of enjoyable places inside the hill and the saint sitting under the tree! Ramana felt very surprised: “Ah! What I have seen in my visions is indeed mentioned here!” He immediately made a translation of the Sanskrit sloka in to a Tamil poem. Here is the poem that Ramana translated from Arunachala Puranam:

The meaning of this song, which comes as a statement from Lord Shiva is “Though this hill, in its true form glows like fire, it stays looking like just a hill devoid of any glow, because of divine compassion to take care of the world. Here, I reside as a Siddha Purusha (Arunagiri yogi). Inside me (the hill) there are caves brimming with divine light, and there are numerous objects of beauty and enjoyment inside”.

The forbidden search for the mystic yogi and the banyan tree

Aside from “seeing” the Siddha Purusha (Realized sage) that scripture mentions as “Arunagiri yogi” in his divine vision, did Ramana have any urge to physically look for such a yogi in his wanderings around the hill? Yes. Ramana did stumble upon such a possibility, but, as though by divine dispensation, he was frustrated from going ahead with any such adventure. Ramana explained what happened:

“One early morning, with no scheme or plan in mind, I stepped down from the Virupaksha cave and went around the hill. Suddenly, I thought of taking a short cut to return to Virupaksha cave, by climbing up the hill somewhere between Pancha Mukha Darshan and Pachaiyamman Temple. It was a dense forest. There was no proper passage to take. As I was climbing, I saw a very large Banyan leaf that a wind blow brought near me. That leave was extraordinarily big, almost as large as the stitched leaf platen that we make. As I saw it, I suddenly remembered a sloka (verse) in Arunachala Purana that mentions about the banyan tree under which the Siddha Purusha sits.”

“In this sloka, it is said: ‘The tree whose shadow is widely spread, the tree which is gazed with wonder by men and celestial Gods alike, is seen at the northern peak of Arunachala. Under it resides Lord Shiva, in the guise of a Siddha Purusha’. The moment I remembered this verse, I felt an urge to travel in the direction from where the leaf came, so as check whether the Banyan leaf could be from the tree that scripture talks of.

“As I was climbing up, I had a glimpse of a massive tree at an elevated spot; I started to proceed in that direction. Then my thigh rubbed at a bush on the way. Suddenly, several bees came out of the bush and started stinging at my thigh. I thought ‘this is the punishment for my thigh for disturbing them’ and I stood standstill. The bees concentrated only on the spot of my thigh that rubbed on the bush and they came one after the other to sting there, till their stings got entrapped in my skin. They did so till their anger subdued. Once they left me, I started walking again. But, in this process, surprisingly, I totally forgot about my quest for finding that Banyan tree!

“I thought of walking towards the “Seven Spring” area, but three deep mountain streams crossed my There was pain and swelling in my thighs, but I somehow managed to reach Seven Springs and then from there walked down to reach the cave where Jatai Swami was staying, by evening. Till that time of the day, I had not eaten anything. He gave me a glass of some mixture of milk and fruit to drink and I consumed it. After taking some rest, I came down to Virupaksha cave by night. Jatai Swami did not notice the swelling in my thighs, but Palanisami noticed it and inquired what happened.

“The next day, Palaniswami applied some oil to my thigh and also carefully removed the stings that the bees had planted deeply in my thigh, one by one using a pincher . It took three to four days for the swelling to subside”.

It is all beyond human comprehension as to why a realized soul like Ramana was not allowed to go near something whose existence is explained in the scripture and was shown to him in the divine vision. Several years afterwards, a group of devotees of Ramana including Kunjuswami, Munakala Venkata Ramaiyah, Muruganar and a few others who heard of these stories, started out to explore and locate the Banyan tree, without informing Ramana. In their adventurous journey up hills, they lost their way, got trapped in a place from where they could not find their way out. They got battered and bruised and after lots of suffering, pain and wounds, they somehow managed to return to Ramanasramam.

There are indeed mysterious things hidden from the eyes of people in the wondrous divine hill Arunachala!

References: “Ramanasiramathilirunthu Kadithangal” (Suri Nagamma) – Tamil

                     “Enathu Ninaivugal”  (Kunju Swami)  – Tamil.

                      “Ramana Nootrirattu” (collected works of Ramana) – Tamil


Thiruvannamalai (Arunachala) and Bhagwan Ramana Maharshi’s attraction for it – Part 1

Thiruvannamalai is one among the the “Pancha Bhootha sthalams” of Lord Shiva. Pancha Bhootham stands for five natural elements of creation namely, earth (Prithvi) , water (Jalam) , air (Vayu) , fire (Agni) and sky (Akasam). Lord Shiva is said to be manifest in the form of fire (Agni) at Thiruvannamalai hill. The Thiruvannamalai Hill is verily the body of Shiva. The hill form is said to be the sthoola (gross) whereas its sukshma (subtle) form is nothing but effulgence (jyothi). Thiruvannamalai is also known as Arunachala, Arunagiri and Sonachala.

The young boy Venkataraman (Ramana Maharshi), who was living at Madurai with his paternal uncle’s family, was hardly 16 when he first heard of the existence of the place and the hill Arunachala from a distant relative. In fact Ramana was indeed aware of Arunachala deep in his heart that carried a sense as something larger than anything else.

Once Ramana was rekindled of his spiritual association with Arunachala like this,from that very moment the name of the hill whose physical existence was not known to him till then, consumed him like a fire. After a near death experience at the age of 17 in which Ramana attained his enlightenment, he left home for good and reached Arunachala on 1st September 1896.

Ramana’s attraction to the divine hill was instant, permanent and unwavering. This is what he explains about his attraction towards Arunachala, in the (first verse of) Tamil Song Arunachala Ashtakam that he composed in 1916 out of an irresistible inner urge:

In this song Ramana says

“Oh, great! This Arunachala stands like an insentient hill but who can ever know of its wonders! Right from my ignorant childhood days I knew Arunachala means great, but I didn’t know it’s true meaning, though someone told me that it means Thiruvannamalai. But the hill hoodwinked my mind and attracted me close to it; what I saw was this hill, unmoving.”

But was it just a hill made of stone? No. Ramana experienced clearly that Arunachala is nothing but a gross representation of the effulgent Self, the Atman. As long as one is immersed in the delusion of considering oneself as the gross body, Arunachala too appears to be a gross hill. But, once a person turns inwards and searches for his true “I”, he realizes that verily the Arunachala glows inside as the Self (Atman), inexplicable by words.

This personal experience of Ramana, not really explicable by words, has been explained by him in the 2nd song of the Arunachala Ashtakam:

Ramana says “(what I saw was this hill, unmoving). When I searched inside my self to know who is that seer that saw the hill, the seer was lost and I saw what was really standing there; There was no trace of thought to express “I saw”. (When there was no mind to interpret such experiences) who can ever say “I haven’t seen”? Who can ever express and explain this? Even you, (as lord Dakshinamoorthi) could not express this through words (but only through silence) in the past! So, in order to explain your stature without words, you are standing here from sky to earth, unmoving, in this hill form”.

The holy hill held Ramana like a magnet holding a piece of iron. Ramana explains this magnetic attraction and how this attraction annihilated his “life” in this 10thsong of his “Arunachala Pathikam”:

In the above song, Ramana says “Oh people! I saw this magnetic hill that draws life powerfully towards it! The pranks of the soul of one who thinks of Arunachala even once will get subdued; the soul will be drawn inwards and made unmoving, just like the hill. Know that it will simply consume the sweet soul and learn that it’s the way of salvation. This “killer of the soul”, that glows bright in the heart is nothing other than this Arunachala hill”.

Ramana’s attempts to explain the inexplicable may not be comprehensible to us and it is natural. What Ramana tries to convey is that we have to take hold of the “sthoola” (gross) hill in order to attain the “sukshma” (subtle) state and that’s the whole purpose of the hill’s existence there. Undoubtedly, earnest seekers of Truth have always been drawn towards the Arunachala hill from time immemorial. Thiruvannamalai is the place of Gyanis and the place for Gyanis.

Ramana who was always absorbed in the subtle state of the hill, was no doubt hooked to the gross form of the hill too. His fondness for the hill was immeasurable. Ramana never moved out of Thiruvannamalai from the day he set foot on the temple town (1st September 1896) till his passing away (14th April 1950) –for fifty four long years!

Up to his age of 43, he was residing up in the hills. He took permanent residence at the hills at Virupaksha cave (from 1899 to 1915) for 17 years and then at Skandasramam for another 7 years (1915-1922). From 1922 onwards he shifted his residence to the foot hills, to the present Ramanasramam. Every day he used to make a customary walk at least for a short distance at the hills during his Ramanasramam days, till sickness made him immobile in his last years.

At his prime youth, Ramana never felt tired of roaming around the hills always and scaling up to the peak once a while. Ramana was always joyful to narrate stories and anecdotes of his association with the hill. His love for undertaking Girivalam (circumambulation of the hill) was well known.

More of these in the following chapter.

View of Arunachala hill from Thiruvannamalai town.



Annamalaiyar Temple and the hill at the back.


Annamalaiyar Temple and the hill at the back.


Way up the hills to Virupaksha Cave



View of Annamalayar temple Gopuram from near Virupaksha cave