Tiruvannamalai Chronicles- Ramana in the heart

Last month, I was at Ramanashramam, Tiruvannamalai (195 km from Chennai and 202 km from Bangalore) for 8 days of stay at the world-renowned Ashram. It was a highly inspiring spiritual journey that pieced together elements of Karma, Bhakti, Jnana and Raja Yoga for me.

Bhagavan Ramana still lives here, for at the time of his Mahanirvana in April 1950, he had laughingly told his distraught, grieving devotees, “Where can I go? Ramana will always be here.” Here was a person who struggled bravely with debilitating cancer (sarcoma of the arm) and preferred passing away rather than undergo amputation. He was fearless in the face of suffering and death, because he had transcended body consciousness long before, at the time his Self Realization at the age of 16. Death to him was an inconsequential as a common cold, because his central teaching, to which I subscribe wholeheartedly, is,” You are not the body. You are not the mind. You are not the senses. You are not the latent tendencies (vasanas). You are The Self (Sat-Chit- Anandam , i.e. Existence- Consciousness-Bliss) above everything else.” Everything else passes away with time. He exemplified this by his life and his work. Here is a guru who walked the talk, even in the face of disease and death.

And he is indeed here even today. His spirit pervades. No garish guru- pushing /guru- selling, no self- promotions, no loud “religious” music, a non commercial attitude and a disciplined, peaceful atmosphere pervades, along with the best of Hindu and South Indian traditions.

Not to mention that it is a haven for humans and animals alike. Imagine a peacock standing within one feet of you, absolutely unafraid, eating nuts from your hand. Monkeys, squirrels, dogs, cats, cows abound, like the vedic ashrams of yore. Ramana was an animal and nature lover much before environmentalism became a fashion.

Situated on the southern slope of the holy Arunachala hill that inspired Ramana and is taken as a living form of Lord Shiva, this is the most authentic Ashram I have seen in my little 5 years’ spiritual journey. Ramana sits in the hearts of all those who love him.This place draws people from all over the world and of all ages, including infants brought by their parents. Japanese interact with Malayalis, and the French brush shoulders with rural Tamilians, knowing little of each others’ native cultures, sometimes limited in language, but always united in their love and appreciation for Ramana and the Advaitic spirituality that he taught and lived by.

A Yogi of the highest order and a Jivanmukta, Ramana can be felt, understood and loved at the same time.Whether you are a rationalist, a philosopher, a karmayogi or a devoted worshipper (and you can be a bit of each), Ramana appeals to anyone who takes the pain to understand him and love him.

Ramana says, “Be in the Self. Know yourself. Your true nature is Sat Chit Anandam which is a state of absolute happiness and you deserve no less.” His books “Who am I (Nan Yar)” and “Upadesha Saram (Summary of teachings)” give a concise form of all his teachings.

He did not proselytize, but just let people be. No thundering from the top of a dais for Ramana. No extended lectures. No archaic rules and scriptural teachings. He was known as the  “Silent Swami”, who had spent 17 years in a cave called Virupaksha Cave (near the Ashram), in total silence, communicating only by writing on scraps of paper. Like Dakshinamoorthy Shiva of yore, he taught in silence. And it was the type of silence that drew spiritual giants like Swami Shivanand, Paramahamsa Yogananda and eminent personalities like Babu Rajendra Prasad, Jamnalal Bajaj, W.Somerset Maugham and others to his Ashram, which was (and still is) never easy to reach physically but always within reach for the serious , silent spiritual seeker.

Most of all, Bhagavan Ramana is Love and Knowledge personified, a rare synthesis of both. And I am happy to see that the Ashram has been maintained with the same spirit with which it would have started off in 1923.

I am grateful to my friend Dr.Pallavi Kwatra for introducing me to Bhagavan Ramana  a few months back, Sunanda Ogeti for taking me around the Ashram and Tiruvannamalai, Dr. Sreenivas Moorthy (Ashram Sarvadhikari) and Mr.Kannan and Ms.Lakshmi at the Ashram office for allowing me to have a nice stay and giving me the opportunity to work at the Ramanashramam office.

Dr. Moorthy summed it up nicely at the end, “You can come here once or twice a year, but most important is, Bhagavan and his Ashram should be in your heart and in your actions .”

Om Namo Bhagavate Ramanayah. Salutations to the lotus feet of my spiritual father.


Matribhuteswara Temple, dedicated to Bhagavan’s mother Azhagammal,  at sunset. I arrive in Tiruvannamalai


The young Venkataramana Iyer becomes Bhagavan Ramana
Inside the main prayer hall which is also Bhagavan’s samadhi shrine


Bhagavan’s samadhi
Peacock at sunset
The room where Bhagavan attained Mahasamadhi on April 14th, 1950


The dining room , which is of immense heritage value
The lady selling flowers outside Ramanashramam


Entrance to Ramanashramam. Unassuming for a world famous place ? Well, this is not one of those five star “ashrams” ; it’s an abode of spirituality.
Matrubhuteswara Temple from outside


Samadhi of Cow Lakshmi, who was close to Bhagavan Ramana and actually supposed to be a reincarnation of one of his disciples, Echammal
The formidable dining room which can accomodate more than 200 people at one time
Entrance to the Bhagavan memorial, where he had spent some time recuperating after his surgery


Monkey play at Ramanashramam. Bhagavan loved animals and vice versa.
Bhagavan in his later days


At  Ramanashramam, with Arunachala hill in the backdrop


Peacock on a scooty. You soon get used to seeing them roam around and cry about all around you. What is novel in other settings, becomes routine here.


One proud peacock- this one refused to eat nuts from my hand like the others- I had to throw it on the ground !!


At the base of the Arunachala Hill
Tasty meal for a monkey !! They  are mostly well-behaved unless you show them too much of food.


At the Gaushala


Sunanda at the Gaushala
A peacock standing tall


Samadhi of one of the Ashram inmates, Jagadish Swami. There are several such samadhis inside the Ashram.


Inside the dining room, which is  a heritage warehouse of sorts


Inside the kitchen. Bhagavan used to be actively engaged in the kitchen and was the defacto kitchen head till the 1940s , so this is a special place.


Sunanda with his  (instant) friends. He is one hell of a friendly guy !
The Vedic School, which produces scholars steeped in the vedic traditions
Entrance to the Vedic School


Boys will be boys,with all of their restlessness, but they are Vedic scholars. Captivating combination of seriousness and frivolousness.

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