Ramana Maharshi – A short Introduction

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Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi was an enlightened Saint (Jnani) in India.In the year 1896 at the age of 16, Ramana had a “death-experience” where he became aware of a “current” or “force” which he recognized as his true “I” or “self”, which he realized as Lord Shiva which is Ishvara(God) who exists in every soul. Six weeks after this experience, Ramana 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 Maharshi 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) and a younger sister named 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.

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.

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 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.”

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 went away to Tiruvannamalai, 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.

1896–1897

When Ramana arrived in Tiruvannamalai, he went straight to the temple of Arunachaleswara. 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. 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 Ramana in the underground room and tried to protect him from other people who were trying to disturb Ramana.

After about six weeks in the underground Patala lingam room, Ramana 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 people had to feed food into his mouth to keep him from starving.

1897–1898

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 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. It is there that he had his first meeting with his mother, where she tried to get him to return back to home with her. Ramana responded to his mother by writing to her in a paper.

The message was – “In accordance with the Prarabdha (Karma / Destiny) of each person,the Ordainer (God) controls the fate of souls in accordance with their past deeds. Whatever is destined not to happen will not happen, however hard you may try. Whatever is destined to happen will happen, however hard you may try to stop 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.

1899–1922

Soon after this, in February 1899, Ramana Maharshi left Pavalakkunru to live on the hill of Arunachala. 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 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.

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.”

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.

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.

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 Arunachala hill and disappeared behind it. 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.

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