Ramana Maharshi – a twentieth century Indian saint, Part Two

1000Hall-Meenakshi Temple

Continued from Part One. To read Part One first, click here.


After the experience of enlightenment which came upon him suddenly, at the age of seventeen, Ramana lost all interest in school, in his friends, and in his daily life.  He went every day to the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, where he spent hours lost in worship, with tears streaming from his eyes.  His older brother, Nagaswami, worried about him and, frustrated by his lack of interest in his schoolwork, spoke with him about it, saying that he was behaving like a sadhu, a Hindu holy man or wandering ascetic. He intended, with this comparison, to shake his younger brother out of a passing phase. Instead, Ramana thought to himself that there was more truth to his brother’s words than he knew, and shortly thereafter, he left home and set out on his train ride to Arunachala.

Ramana lived at several different sites near Arunachala over the years.  While he was living at Gurumurtam, a temple about a mile outside of Tiruvannamalai, his family discovered his whereabouts.  It is customary for a person who wishes to become a sannaysi (a holy man) to ask permission from his family, specifically his mother. Ramana had not done this.  His family had no idea where he was or what had become of him.  In the months after his arrival though, news spread, and people began to hear about the odd young monk who did not speak and who spent all his time in devotion.

at the foot of ArunachalaIMG_6401 2

When his family discovered his whereabouts, his uncle arrived one day to beg him to return home, saying that they would all respect his ascetic way of life.  Ramana did not reply. He sat still without moving or speaking, until after a while his uncle gave up and went away.

Asking permission from one’s mother before setting out to become a holy person isn’t just a custom, it’s an imperative.  India, historically, is a land of many saints, and so rules have grown up for becoming one. Obedience to one’s parents is taught in the earliest Hindu books, the Vedas, and it is a pillar of Indian society.  This strong thread of obedience has been the power at the root of Indian culture and civilization.

Ramana’s mother, who loved him, was not going to give him permission to leave home.  Her husband, Ramana’s father, who had died not long before, had been an attorney. Their family held a respected place in society, and if their son set out on his own, who knew where he might end up?  The young man might become a destitute wondering monk, living on the streets or in the forests.  Such a life couldn’t even be considered. She felt he must give up his wild, unrealistic dreams and settle down to lead a normal life and assume proper responsibilities.

Ramana, for his part, must have understood all too clearly that his family would oppose any request of his to leave home to embark on such an uncertain future. But, truly, his spirit had already left. He was no longer the student pouring over his lessons or the schoolboy on the sports field; his soul had been carried away and he was rapt in devotion to the Gods, for hour upon hour, day upon day. He inhabited another world, and he would never be able to turn back to occupy himself with the daily concerns of normal life. He had been called by God to live in a different world, a different universe.

For this reason, he had simply left, in silence.  Silence was to be his way for many years.  It is the chosen way of teaching by Lord Shiva in the form of Dakshinamurthy, the guru who teaches through silence.  Ramana was often likened to Dakshinamurthy.

In 1898, Ramana moved to the Shiva temple at Pavalakkunru, to the east of Arunachala.  There his mother, Alagammal and his older brother Nagaswami came to see him in December of 1898.  They stayed for several days, and every single day his mother pleaded with him to come back home.  She even appealed to his devotees, trying to enlist their help, and one of them asked Ramana to write down a reply to his mother, since he would not speak.  He wrote words to this effect:  “What will be will be, and what will not be will never be.  Therefore the wisest course is silence.”

near the slopes of ArunachalaIMG_6402 2

Saddened by this response, his mother and her older son left shortly afterwards to return home.

The next February, Ramana moved to live on the slopes of Arunachala itself, in the Virupaksha Cave where he lived for the next seventeen years.

The numbers of visitors grew and grew.  In 1911, a British visitor, who served as a policeman in India, wrote several articles about Ramana, which appeared in the International Psychic Gazette.  The numbers of western visitors and devotees increased greatly from that time on.

In 1916, both his mother, Alagammal, and his younger brother came to join him to live permanently at Arunachala. He moved to a larger cave, where he lived near them for the next six years.  His mother became a sannyasin (a holy person), and his brother a sunnayasi.  Alagammal took charge of the kitchen of the ashram, and Ramana spent many hours of his time with her, giving her spiritual instruction.

Alagammal lived only until 1920. On the day she was dying, Ramana stayed with her throughout the day, then after her death at around eight in the evening, Ramana said to everyone present that she had left to go beyond the bounds of earth, having achieved enlightenment.  She was buried in a shrine, and the word Matrbhuteshwara was written there, which means “Shiva as mother.”

The Ashram Sri Ramanasramam grew up around his mother’s tomb, and Ramana lived at that site until he died in 1950.

Sri Ramanasramam Ashram grew to include many buildings; a hospital, a library, and a post office, as well as others.  Ramana found that he had a natural talent for planning buildings; the building construction was supervised by Annamalai Swami following Ramana’s instructions.

It was there at the ashram that Ramana lived a simple life, sitting in the hall, teaching his disciples and visitors or walking along the hillsides.

To be continued in Part Three …

Top photo: Gopi Rajaseharan (Zingzoo at en.wikipedia) / Wikipedia Commons / “This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Zingzoo at the English Wikipedia project. This applies worldwide.” /1000 Pillar Hall at the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai.

Second photo: © Sharon St Joan, 2013 / At the foot of Arunachala.

Third photo: © Sharon St Joan, 2013 / Near the slopes of Arunachala.

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