Ramana Maharshi was an enlightened Jnani ( Saint ) in India and at the age of 16, he had a “death-experience” where he became aware of a “current” or “force” which he recognized as his true “I” or “self” and which he later identified with God Shiva which is Ishvara.Six weeks later he left his uncle’s home in Madurai to reach Tiruvannamalai where the holy Arunachala mountain exists and remained in Arunachala for the rest of his life.
Ramana was named as Venkataraman Iyer when he was born, but later in life he was mostly known by the name Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. He attracted devotees from all over the world that regarded him as an incarnation of Shiva and came to him for blessings and seeking to know the truth of the self. Since the 1930s his teachings have been popularized in the West, resulting in his worldwide recognition as an enlightened saint.Most of his teachings were in silence.Ramana Maharshi always recommended the path of self enquiry “ Who Am I” as the principal means to remove ignorance and abide in the self.
Ramana Mahrshi Birth & Early life
Ramana was born on 30 December 1879 in Tiruchuli,Tamil Nadu,India. He was the second of four children in an orthodox Hindu Brahmin family. His father was Sundaram Iyer (1848–1890) and his mother was Azhagammal (1864–1922). He had two brothers Nagaswami (1877–1900) and Nagasundaram (1886–1953), along with a younger sister Alamelu (1887–1953). When he was about eleven his father sent him to live with his paternal uncle Subbaiyar in Dindigul as he wanted his sons to be educated in the English language so that they would be eligible to enter government service. Only Tamil was taught at the village school in Tiruchuli which he attended for three years.
In 1891, when his uncle was transferred to Madurai, Venkataraman and his elder brother Nagaswami moved with him. In Dindigul, Venkataraman attended a Hindu School where english was taught and stayed there for a year.
His father Sundaram Iyer died suddenly on 18 February 1892.After his father’s death, the family split up and Venkataraman and Nagaswami stayed with Subbaiyar in Madurai.Venkataraman first attended Scott’s Middle School and then the American Mission High School where he became acquainted with Christianity.
In July 1896 at age 16, he had a sudden fear of death. He was struck by “a flash of excitement” or “heat”, like some avesam, a “current” or “force” that seemed to possess him while his body became rigid. He initiated a process of self-enquiry, asking himself, “what it is that dies?” He concluded the body dies, but this “current” or “force” remains alive, and recognized this “current” or “force” as his Self, which he later identified with “the personal God, or Ishvara
In one of his rare written comments on this process Ramana Maharshi wrote, “inquiring within Who is the seer? I saw the seer disappear leaving That alone which stands forever. No thought arose to say I saw. How then could the thought arise to say I did not see.”
After this event, he lost interest in school studies, friends, and relations. Avoiding company, he preferred to sit alone, absorbed in concentration on this current or force and went daily to the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai.
Knowing his family would not permit him to become a sannyasin and leave home, Venkataraman slipped away, telling his brother he needed to attend a special class at school.Venkataraman boarded the train on 29 August 1896 and reached Tiruvannamalai on 1 September 1896 where he remained for the rest of his life.
When Ramana arrived in Tiruvannamalai, he went straight to the temple of Arunachaleswara. He spent the first few weeks in the thousand-pillared hall, then shifted to other spots in the temple, and eventually to the Patala-lingam vault so that he could remain undisturbed. There, he spent days absorbed in such deep samādhi that he was unaware of the bites of vermin and pests. Seshadri Swamigal a local saint discovered him in the underground vault and tried to protect him from other people who were trying to disturb Ramana. After about six weeks in the Patala-lingam vault he was carried out and cleaned up. For the next two months he stayed in the Subramanya Shrine, so unaware of his body and surroundings that food had to be placed in his mouth to keep him from starving.
In February 1897, six months after his arrival at Tiruvannamalai, Ramana Maharshi moved to Gurumurtam, a temple about a mile away.In May 1898 Ramana Maharshi moved to a mango orchard next to Gurumurtam.
While living at the Gurumurtam temple his family discovered his whereabouts. First, his uncle Nelliappa Iyer came and pleaded with him to return home, promising that the family would not disturb his ascetic life. Ramana Maharishi sat motionless and eventually his uncle gave up.
In September 1898 Ramana Maharishi moved to the Shiva-temple at Pavalakkunru, one of the eastern part of Arunachala. In those days when Ramana stayed there, it was out of the city, on the edge of the forest and fields that surrounded the city at that time. Now, as you will see from these photos, it is in the midst of the city, with houses on all sides.But at present this place is surrounded by buildings. it is there that he had his first meeting with his mother, where she tried to get him to move back home with her. His response, written on a slip of paper was,
“In accordance with the prarabdha of each, the One whose function it is to ordain makes each to act. What will not happen will never happen, whatever effort one may put forth. And what will happen will not fail to happen, however much one may seek to prevent it. This is certain. The part of wisdom therefore is to stay quiet.” He refused to return even though his mother begged him to.
At this point his mother returned to Madurai, saddened.
Soon after this, in February 1899, Ramana Maharshi left the foothills to live on Arunachala itself. He stayed briefly in Satguru Cave and Guhu Namasivaya Cave before taking up residence at Virupaksha Cave for the next 17 years, using Mango Tree cave during the summers, except for a six-month period at Pachaiamman Koil during the plague epidemic.
In 1916 his mother Alagammal and younger brother Nagasundaram joined Ramana at Tiruvannamalai and followed him when he moved to the larger Skandashram Cave, where Bhagavan lived until the end of 1922. His mother took up the life of a sannyasin and Ramana Maharishi began to give her intense, personal instruction, while she took charge of the Ashram kitchen. Ramana Maharishi’s younger brother, Nagasundaram, then became a sannyasi, assuming the name Niranjanananda, becoming known as Chinnaswami (the younger Swami).
During this period, Ramana Maharshi composed The Five Hymns to Arunachala, his magnum opus in devotional lyric poetry. The first hymn is Aksharamanamalai.It was composed in Tamil in response to the request of a devotee for a song to be sung while wandering in the town for alms. The Marital Garland tells in glowing symbolism of the love and union between the human soul and God, expressing the attitude of the soul that still aspires.
Starting in 1920, his mother’s health deteriorated and Ramana tended her with utmost care and affection, sometimes spending sleepless nights sitting up with her.She died on 19 May 1922 and on the day of her passing away from early in the morning, Bhagavan sat next to her with his left hand on her head and his right hand on the right side of her chest. He remained like that for nearly eight hours. The devotees who had gathered there knew that her end had come. They observed the beauty and sanctity of a son elevating his mother’s soul to the Infinite. Kunju Swami who was present later said that the devotees observing this felt it was a physical demonstration of the soul’s journey to the Absolute; it was like heat and light spreading from a flame. When that soul and mind had merged in the Self, Bhagavan took his hands off and then said, “When the soul merges with the Self and is completely annihilated, a soft ring like that of a bell can be felt.”
As tradition demands in the case of a liberated being, Algammal’s body was not cremated but buried. Since no burial is allowed on the Hill she was interred at its foot on the southern side. It was less than an hour’s walk down from Skandasramam and Ramana Maharishi often walked from Skandashram to his mother’s tomb. In December 1922 he did not return to Skandashram, and settled at the base of the Hill. Thus Sri Ramanasramam came into being. He said: “Not of my own accord I moved from Skandasramam. Something placed me here and I obeyed.”
Final years (1940–1950)
In November 1948, a tiny cancerous lump was found on Ramana Maharshi’s arm and was removed in February 1949 by the ashram’s doctor. Soon, another growth appeared, and another operation was performed by an eminent surgeon in March 1949 with radium applied. The doctor told Ramana Maharishi that a complete amputation of the arm to the shoulder was required to save his life, but he refused. A third and fourth operation were performed in August and December 1949, but only weakened him. Other systems of medicine were then tried; all proved fruitless and were stopped by the end of March when devotees gave up all hope. To devotees who begged him to cure himself for the sake of his followers, Ramana Maharishi is said to have replied, “Why are you so attached to this body? Let it go”, and “Where can I go? I am here. By April 1950, Ramana Maharishi was too weak to go to the hall and visiting hours were limited. Visitors would file past the small room where he spent his last days to get one final glimpse. Ramana left the physical body on 14 April 1950 at 8:47 p.m to merge with Arunachala forever. There was no struggle, no spasm, none of the signs of death. At that very moment, a comet ( some called it a shooting star ) moved slowly across the sky, reached the summit, of the holy hill, Arunachala, and disappeared behind it. The light that illumined the earth as Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi had now merged with the Eternal Light, the source of all creation.
All the English and Tamil papers which arrived this morning (16th April, 1950) from Madras gave wide publicity in banner headlines to the passing of the Maharshi. They also referred to the meteor which had been seen in the sky all over the State of Madras, hundreds of thousands of square miles, at 8-47 on the night of April 14, by a large number of people in different places and reported to the Press. These eye-witnesses had been struck by its peculiar look and behaviour, which led them to ascribe the strange phenomenon to the passing of a great spiritual soul. Such a mass of evidence speaks for itself, if evidence need be.
Ramana Maharshi’s devotees regard him to be as Dakshinamurthy and as an avatar of Skanda, a divine form of Shiva.Ramana brought Jnana Marga close to the people and Bhagavan showed that the purpose of life was to surrender and abide in the Self and be liberated forever.