Sri Ramana Maharshi’s Life History from 1879 to 1949

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Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, the revered enlightened Saint (Jnani) is considered as the greatest saint of India by devotees all over the world. Sri Ramana Mahrashi had a pivotal spiritual awakening in 1896 at the age of 16. During this profound experience, he encountered a transcendent “current” or “force” that he identified as his true “I” or “self.” This realization led him to recognize this inner self as Lord Shiva, also known as Ishvara (God), a divine presence that exists within every soul. Approximately six weeks after this transformative episode, Ramana departed from his uncle’s home in Madurai and embarked on a journey to Tiruvannamalai, where the sacred Arunachala mountain is situated. He chose to remain in the vicinity of Arunachala for the entirety of his life.

Although he was originally named Venkataraman Iyer at birth, he later came to be widely known as Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. His spiritual radiance drew devotees from around the world, many of whom regarded him as an incarnation of Shiva and sought his blessings and guidance to discover the truth of the self. Starting in the 1930s, his teachings gained popularity in the Western world, leading to his global recognition as an enlightened saint. Notably, much of his teachings were imparted through silence, and he consistently advocated the path of self-inquiry, particularly through the question “Who Am I,” as the primary means to dispel ignorance and abide in the self.

Here we try to give our readers a short and true description of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi’s life history from his birth to death of his body before merging with Arunachala shiva, the supreme god of the universe and all living beings in the universe.

Birth and Childhood Of Sri Ramana Maharshi)

Venkataraman, later known as Sri Ramana Maharshi, was born in the village of Tiruchuzhi, Tamil Nadu, on December 30, 1879, which was situated around thirty miles from Madurai and eighteen miles from the nearest railway station, Virudhunagar. He was the second child among four siblings in a traditional Hindu Brahmin family. His father, Sundaram Iyer (1848–1890), and his mother, Azhagammal (1864–1922), were his parents. His mother, Alagamma, was a deeply religious and devoted individual, while his father, Sundaram Ayyar, worked as a pleader, primarily practicing law before the local magistrate. They were Brahmins by caste. Theirs was a contented, prosperous middle-class family.

In addition to him, his family consisted of two brothers, Nagaswami (1877–1900) and Nagasundaram (1886–1953), and a younger sister named Alamelu (1887–1953). When he was approximately eleven years old, his father made the decision to send him to live with his paternal uncle, Subbaiyar, in Dindigul. This choice was driven by his father’s desire to provide his sons with an education in the English language, thus making them eligible for government service opportunities. The village school in Tiruchuli, where he initially attended, offered instruction exclusively in Tamil, and he spent three years there.

In 1891, when his uncle was transferred to Madurai, Venkataraman and his elder brother Nagaswami moved with him.

However, when Venkataraman (Sri Ramana Maharshi) turned twelve, tragedy struck as his father Sundaram Ayyar passed away, shattering the family’s stability. 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. His remarkable asset at school was an exceptional memory, allowing him to grasp and recall lessons after just a single hearing.

Despite his academic prowess, Venkataraman (Sri Ramana Maharshi) was a unique student. He possessed a robust constitution that set him apart from his peers, and a spirit of independence distinguished him from the rest. Rather than being drawn to books and studies, he found school games and outdoor activities more appealing.

During his boyhood, Venkataraman (Sri Ramana Maharshi) had a peculiar habit of experiencing unusually deep sleep. Recalling these moments in his later years, he shared that when he was awake, other boys dared not disturb him. However, if they harbored any grievances against him, they would take advantage of his slumber. They would carry him to various places, sometimes subjecting him to playful pranks such as smearing charcoal on his face. Remarkably, he remained blissfully unaware of these night time escapades until his friends recounted them to him the next morning.

The Genesis Sri Ramana Maharshi’s Awakening

In November 1895, Venkataraman had a pivotal conversation with an elderly relative who had visited Arunachala, the sacred hill in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu. The mere mention of ‘Arunachala’ had always stirred deep feelings of awe and love in him since his childhood. He inquired about the location of Arunachala from this relative and found himself continuously haunted by thoughts of it.

Shortly after, he came across a copy of the Periapuranam, a scripture containing stories of sixty-three Tamil saints who had attained Lord Siva’s grace through their unwavering devotion. As Venkataraman delved into the text, he was overwhelmed by the profound faith, love, and divine fervor displayed by these saints. The stories of renunciation leading to union with the Divine left an indelible impression on him. It portrayed something beyond his wildest dreams—a reality where such spiritual heights were attainable.

From that point forward, a spiritual awakening began to stir within the young boy. This awakening intensified over time, and several months later, in the middle of July 1896, when he was just sixteen and a half years old, Venkataraman experienced a miraculous realization of the Self. 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 myself 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.”

He described this event in his own 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. That means I am the deathless atman”.’

What transpired next is challenging to grasp but easy to articulate. Venkataraman appeared to enter a profound conscious trance in which he merged with the very source of selfhood, the essence of Being. He distinctly realized that the body was distinct from the atman, the eternal Self that remains untouched by death.

This extraordinary experience transformed Venkataraman completely. He lost interest in his studies, sports, and friendships, redirecting his focus towards the profound consciousness of the true Self that he had unexpectedly discovered. He exuded an inner serenity and spiritual strength that remained with him.

Following this experience, his enthusiasm for school studies, friends, and family waned. He chose solitude over companionship, dedicating himself to solitary contemplation of this current or force. Each day, he made a visit to the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai.

Leaving the House for Arunachala

Venkataraman’s change in lifestyle did not go unnoticed by his uncle and elder brother, who viewed it as impractical. The decisive moment arrived on August 29, 1896, while Venkataraman was in the midst of preparing for his public examination in the tenth standard. His teacher had assigned him an English grammar exercise to write three times. After completing it twice, he abruptly pushed the papers aside and, sitting cross-legged, entered into meditation. His elder brother, observing this behavior, scolded him for acting like a yogi while still living in the family and pretending to study.

Such comments had been made before, but this time they struck a chord. Venkataraman thought, “Yes, why am I here?” Immediately, thoughts of Arunachala, which had stirred him months earlier, flooded his mind. He resolved then and there to embark on a quest to find the legendary Arunachala of his dreams.

Venkataraman knew he needed a clever plan because his family would never willingly let him go. So, he informed his brother that he had a special class at school to attend. Unknowingly providing him with funds for the journey, his brother instructed him to take five rupees from the box to pay his college fees. Venkataraman only took three rupees, what he believed was necessary for reaching Tiruvannamalai. In a note he left behind, written in Tamil, he explained:

“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 concluded with the word ‘Thus,’ followed by a dash instead of a signature.

It’s worth noting that the note began with “I,” but later, Venkataraman referred to himself as ‘this.’ This transformation revealed that what left Madurai for Tiruvannamalai was not the spirit, which had already merged with the Divine, but the body, now perceived as distinct from the spirit. The personality that began with “I” had merged into ‘this,’ and ultimately, there was no individual left to sign the note. The note made it clear that he was acting in obedience to a Divine command.

Venkataraman boarded the train on 29 August 1896 and reached Tiruvannamalai on 1 September 1896 after facing several trials and tribulations where he remained for the rest of his life. He headed straight to the revered Arunachaleswara temple and stood before his Father. His heart was filled to the brim with bliss, and it marked the culmination of his journey—an arrival at his true home.

Years of Deep Trance and New Beginnings – 1896–1897

He spent the first few weeks in the thousand-pillared hall of the temple, then shifted to other spots in the temple, and eventually to the underground Patala lingam room, so that he could remain undisturbed. Some curious schoolboys, intrigued by this young man who sat so still, began throwing stones at him to test his reality. To avoid this unwanted attention, Brahmana Swami sought refuge in the Patala Lingam, an underground shrine within the temple complex.

There, he spent six weeks absorbed in such deep samādhi that he was unaware of the bites of vermin and pests. Seshadri Swamigal a local saint discovered Brahmana Swami ( Ramana was now called Bharmana Swami) in the underground room and tried to protect him from other people who were trying to disturb Ramana. Seshadri swamigal and the devotees eventually discovered him in this under ground vault, suffering from worm-infested wounds and oozing pus. He was carried out and cleaned up. They moved him to a nearby shrine within the temple complex. For the next two months he stayed in the Subramanya Shrine, so unaware of his body and surroundings that people had to feed food into his mouth to keep him from starving.

After leaving the temple, the young boy ( Sri Ramana Maharshi now called as Brahmana Swamy) decided to renounce worldly possessions and comforts. He had his head shaved and discarded all his belongings and clothes, keeping only a strip torn from his dhoti to use as a loincloth. In this state of renunciation, he immersed himself in the bliss of being. Day after day and night after night, he remained motionless, lost in deep meditation.

From that point onward, he shifted to various other shrines and groves away from prying eyes. In all these places, mendicants, town devotees, temple staff, and others took care of him. Brahmana Swami remained absorbed in the Self, seemingly detached from the world. He had to be physically shaken to accept food or water, which some devotees brought to him.

Years later, he recalled how a compassionate devotee had forcibly bathed him, the first bath he had received in four months since arriving in Tiruvannamalai. It would be another twelve months before another devotee gave him a second bath. During this time, his hair grew matted and dust-filled, his face unshaven, and his nails grew long. When some people finally convinced him to shave his head, he felt incredibly light afterward, as if he had discovered a new sense of freedom.

1897–1898

In February 1897, the young Swami was relocated to the Gurumurtam, a  small temple about a mile away and in May 1898 Ramana Maharshi moved to a mango orchard next to Gurumurtam. Here, he continued his state of self-absorption and was primarily looked after by a sadhu named Uddandi Nayanar and his friend Annamalai Thambiran. Pilgrims and visitors began to flock to the hermitage, many prostrating themselves before the Swami, some seeking blessings, while others came purely out of reverence.

As the crowd grew larger, a bamboo fence was erected around the Swami’s seat to prevent public contact. Food was never an issue as numerous devotees were eager to provide meals. The greater challenge was managing the ever-increasing number of sightseers and visitors.

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.

Around this time, a Malayalee sadhu named Palaniswami, devoted to the worship of Lord Vinayaka, heard about the young Swami at Gurumurtam. His friend Srinivasa Iyer told him, “Why devote your life to a stone swami when there is a living swami at Gurumurtam, absorbed in profound tapas like the young Dhruva? By attaching yourself to him, you will fulfill your life’s purpose.” When Palaniswami arrived at the hermitage and saw the Swami, he felt he had found his savior. He dedicated the next twenty-one years of his life to serving the Maharshi as his attendant.

As the Swami’s body was neglected, it became increasingly weak. Sometimes, he lacked the strength to even rise from his seat. Venkatarama Iyer, a government office accountant in town, visited the Swami daily before going to work. One day, he placed a sheet of paper and a pencil before the Swami, pleading with him to write his name and place of origin. When the Swami did not respond, Venkatarama Iyer declared that he would neither eat nor go to work until he received the desired information. Reluctantly, Sri Ramana wrote in English, “Venkataraman, Tiruchuzhi.” His knowledge of English came as a surprise to those around him.

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 and on the edge of the forest and fields that surrounded the city at that time.But at present this place is surrounded by buildings.

Search for the Lost Boy and Mother’s Visit

During this time, Venkataraman’s relatives were growing increasingly worried and conducted searches at various places to find him, to no avail. Annamalai Thambiran, who had learned the young Swami’s name and hometown at the hermitage, happened to visit Madurai. He informed one of Venkataraman’s family friends about the well-known young saint in Tiruvannamalai who hailed from Tiruchuzhi. Promptly, Venkataraman’s uncle journeyed to Tiruvannamalai. However, his pleas for the Swami’s return were in vain, and he returned to Madurai empty-handed.

Meanwhile, the young Swami continued to reside at the Pavalakunru shrine on the Arunachala hill. He would sit there as before, lost in the bliss of being. It was at this location that his mother, Alagamma, came to take her son back, recognizing him despite his emaciated body and matted hair. With motherly love and concern, she lamented over his condition and urged him to return with her. However, he remained unmoved, despite her repeated pleas. One day, overwhelmed by grief and seeking help, she beseeched the devotees around her to intervene. One of them implored the Swami, “Your mother is weeping and praying; at least give her an answer. You don’t have to break your vow of silence, but you can write down what you want to say.”

Venkataraman took a pencil and wrote in Tamil: “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.” He refused to return even though his mother begged him to return.At this point his mother returned to Madurai, saddened.

The last sentence applied to the mother, who was asking for something that could not be granted. It also had a broader implication, advising against futile resistance to destiny. However, this did not imply a lack of sincere effort in pursuing one’s goals. Those who erroneously believed that everything was predestined and therefore made no effort were mistaken. With this response, Venkataraman remained absorbed in the Self as before.

Sri Ramana Maharshi Moves to Virupaksha Cave – 1899–1922

Soon after this, in February 1899, Ramana Maharshi left Pavalakkunru, accompanied by his attendant Palaniswami, to live on the hill of Arunachala. He stayed briefly in Satguru Cave and Guhu Namasivaya Cave before taking up residence at Virupaksha Cave named after the thirteenth-century saint Virupakshadeva 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.

During the initial years in the cave, he observed silence, and this period marked the beginning of his spiritual community as devotees gathered around him. He occasionally wrote instructions and explanations for his disciples, but his most effective means of teaching was through silent communication, which became his trademark.

Sivaprakasam Pillai, an officer in the Revenue Department, first visited the Swami in 1902 and became a lifelong devotee. Despite the Swami’s silence, he answered Pillai’s questions by writing on a slate, which later formed the basis of the book “Who am I?” This text is widely respected for its exposition of the Maharshi’s philosophy.

Ganapati Muni, a renowned Sanskrit scholar and poet, visited the Swami from 1903 onward and acknowledged him as his guru in 1907. He bestowed the title “Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi” upon the Swami and composed verses praising him as an incarnation of Subrahmanya, Lord Siva’s son. The conversations between the Muni and the Swami contributed to the well-known work “Ramana Gita.”

The First Western Devotee Arrives

The earliest Western seeker influenced by the Swami was F.H. Humphreys, who encountered him in 1911. When Humphreys asked how he could help the world, Sri Ramana responded, “Help yourself, and you will help the world. You are not different from the world, nor is the world different from you.”

The Mother & Brother Arrive at Skandashram

In 1916, as the number of resident devotees increased, Sri Ramana relocated to Skandasram, a more spacious abode built through the efforts of his devoted follower Kandaswami.

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 and personal instructions 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 hymn tells the 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 death, from early in the morning, Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi sat next to her and placed his left hand on the mother’s 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 Ramana’s mother’s life had come to a end. 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,her body was buried at the foot of the hill on the southern side. It was less than a hour’s walk down from Skandasramam and Ramana Maharishi often walked from Skandashram to his mother’s tomb.

After his mother’s passing in 1922, her body was laid to rest at the foot of the Arunachala hill, where the present Sri Ramanasramam, a large complex of buildings, developed around her samadhi called Matrubhuteswara.

In December 1922 Ramana 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.”

Sri Ramana’s teachings emphasized the path to peace through self-inquiry and abiding in the Self. He exhibited qualities of a jivanmukta, a liberated being living in a physical body, throughout his life.

His accessibility, natural behavior, and humility endeared him to all who encountered him. He treated all with equality and had deep compassion for animals.

Sri Ramana stressed the importance of silence, not as a negation of activity but as a positive force that underlies all actions. He opposed miracles and did not seek to create a religious following.

He taught that the practical path to realization is atma-vichara, self-inquiry through constant and deep meditation on the question “Who am I?” This approach is not a religion or philosophy and requires no belief or psychological doctrine.

Sri Ramana explained that our unhappiness arises from our mistaken identification with the body and that true happiness is our inherent nature found within the True Self. The constant pursuit of happiness in life is, in essence, a search for our own True Self.

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 Ramana refused.

Despite attempts at surgical intervention, including operations to remove the malignant tumor, the disease persisted and did not respond to any treatment. Remarkably, the sage remained completely indifferent to his own suffering. The records kept by the attending doctors underscore this remarkable aspect of his demeanor during this time.

Sri Ramana consented to the surgeries primarily to fulfill the wishes of his devotees. Major Chadwick recalled a poignant moment when he beseeched Sri Ramana not to undergo the last operation, recognizing that it offered no hope for improvement. Each previous attempt had only seen the tumor grow larger. Chadwick prayed that this additional suffering would be spared, but Sri Ramana, out of consideration for the efforts the doctors had put in, chose to proceed. His consistent attitude was to afford everyone a chance, ensuring that no one would be left disappointed.

A third and fourth operation were performed in August and December 1949, but only weakened him. Other systems of medicine were then tried.But everything 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.

In his profound compassion for those who felt sorrow for his apparent ‘suffering,’ Sri Ramana aimed to console them by pointing to the fundamental truth at the heart of his teachings: that we are not the body. He used a unique analogy, asking whether anyone retained a leaf-plate after finishing a meal, emphasizing the impermanence of the physical form.

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.

The culmination of this chapter in Sri Ramana’s life arrived on April 14, 1950, at 8.47 p.m. 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 Arunachala hill and disappeared behind it symbolizing the return of the great soul to its source. The light that illumined the earth as Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi had now merged with the Eternal Light which is the source of all creation.

All the English and Tamil papers from Madras in 16th April,1950 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 covering hundreds of thousands of square miles at 8-47 pm 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 behavior which led them to ascribe the strange phenomenon to the passing of a great spiritual soul. Such a mass of evidence speaks for itself even if such a evidence is required .

Ramana Maharshi’s devotees regard him to be as Dakshinamurthy and as an avatar of Skanda, a divine form of Lord Shiva. Ramana brought Jnana Marga close to the people and Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi showed that the purpose of life was to enlighten ourselves by seeking the truth of the self through self enquiry of “who am i ?” and by abiding and surrendering to the supreme truth of the self.By following this truth we can all be liberated and enlightened in this life.

Sri Ramana Maharshi is considered to date as one of the greatest saints that have appeared on earth along with Jesus Christ and Buddha previously.

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