Mahakavi Bharathiar

Mahakavi Bharathiar- Poet,Writer,Revolutionist etc…
( 11th Dec 1882 – 11th Sep 1921 )

Mahakavi Subramania Bharathiar was one of the greatest Tamil poets, a prolific writer, philosopher and a great visionary of immense genius.  He was also one of the most prominent leaders of the Indian independence movement.  His national integration songs earned him the title “Desiya Kavi” (National Poet). His patriotic songs emphasize nationalism, unity of India, equality of men and the greatness of Tamil language. 

Bharathiar was born on December 11, 1882 in Ettayapuram, which is now part of Thoothukudi District.  Bharathiar was educated at a local high school where his talents as a poet were recognized even at the age of 11.   He had voracious appetite for learning ancient and contemporary Tamil literature and had gifted intellect to derive astonishing truths from ancient poems.

At the age of 22, he became a Tamil teacher at Setupati High School in Madurai and the same year he was appointed as Assistant Editor of a daily newspaper called “Swadesamitran”.   In 1906, he was editor of a weekly magazine called “India”.

By 1912, Bharathiar was already a legend in South India and his political meetings were attracting multitudes of young patriots, ready to join the non-violent movement for attaining freedom from the British rule.

Bharathiar died on September 11, 1921, at the young age of 39.

The legacy of the poet however endures forever.


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A short biography of Ramakrishna

Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
India’s Most Well-known Devotee of the Goddess Kali

Ramakrishna in meditation
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

Ramakrishna Parmahamsa is perhaps the best known saint of nineteenth century India. He was born in a poor Brahmin family in 1836, in a small town near Calcutta, West Bengal. As a young man, he was artistic and a popular storyteller and actor. His parents were religious, and prone to visions and spiritual dreams. Ramakrishna’s father had a vision of the god Gadadhara (Vishnu) while on a religious pilgrimage. In the vision, the god told him that he would be born into the family as a son. Young Ramakrishna was prone to experiences of spiritual reverie and temporary loss of consciousness. His early spiritual experiences included going into a state of rapture while watching the flight of a cranes, and loosing consciousness of the outer world while playing the role of the god Shiva in a school play.

Ramakrishna had little interest in school or practical things of the world. In 1866, he became a priest at a recently dedicated temple to the Goddess Kali located near Calcutta on the Ganges River. It was built by a pious widow, Rani Rasmani. Ramakrishna became a full-time devotee to the goddess spending increasing amounts of time giving offerings and meditating on her. He meditated in a sacred grove of five trees on the edge of the temple grounds seeking a vision of the goddess Kali.

At one point he became frustrated, feeling he could not live any longer without seeing Kali. He demanded that the goddess appear to him. He threatened to take his own life with a ritual dagger (normally held in the hand of the Kali statue). At this point, he explained how the goddess appeared to him as an ocean of light:

When I jumped up like a madman and seized [a sword], suddenly the blessed Mother revealed herself. The buildings with their different parts, the temple, and everything vanished from my sight, leaving no trace whatsoever, and in their stead I saw a limitless, infinite, effulgent Ocean of Consciousness. As far as the eye could see, the shining billows were madly rushing at me from all sides with a terrific noise, to swallow me up. I was caught in the rush and collapsed, unconscious … within me there was a steady flow of undiluted bliss, altogether new, and I felt the presence of the Divine Mother.
Mahendranath Gupta, Ramakrsna Kathamrta translated by Swami Nikhilananda as The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna (Mylapore: Sri Ramakrsna Math, 1952), Book 1, p. 15

Ramakrishna’s behavior became more erratic as time passed and began to worry his family and employer. He would take on ritual and mythical roles identifying with figures from the Puranas (medieval Indian holy books describing the adventures of gods). His parents found him a wife hoping his mental instability was a result of his celibacy.

About this time, an elderly holy woman named Bhairavi Brahmani appeared and determined that Ramakrishna’s madness was “spiritual madness” rather than ordinary madness. He was literally mad for the vision of God. She convened a group of respected religious leaders who examined Ramakrishna’s symptoms. They concluded that this was a case of divine madness similar in nature to that of other famous saints such as Caitanya (a fifteenth century Bengali saint). From this point on, people began to treat Ramakrishna with more respect though his unusual behavior in worship and meditation continued. The holy women stayed with Ramakrishna for some time teaching him yogic and tantric meditation techniques.

A yogin named Totapuri then became Ramakrishna’s mentor. Ramakrishna adopted the role of renunciant and learned a nondualist form of Vedanta philosophy from him. In this system, God is understood to be the formless unmanifest energy that supports the cosmos. Ramakrishna experienced a deep form of trance (nirvilkalpa samadhi) under the guidance of this teacher. This state can be described as complete absorption of the soul into the divine ocean of consciousness.

Disciples began to appear at this point in Ramakrishna’s life. He embarked on a long period of teaching where he gathered a group of disciples around him. This period of his life is well documented by two sets of books written by his disciples. These references are listed below.

Ramakrishna explained on different occasions that god is both formed and formless and can appear to the devotee either way. He often asked visitors whether they conceived of god as having qualities or as being beyond qualities. He then proceeded to teach the devotee according to the way he or she viewed the divine. His acceptance of different approaches to the worship of God and the validity of different religious paths, such as Christianity and Islam, is in the best tradition of the universalist approach to religion common throughout India today.

One extraordinary quality of Ramakrishna’s message was its universal appeal to a broad cross section of Indian society. In the West, religions like Christianity and Judaism tend to be exclusive, and find the contradictions that arise from a religion that is too broad to be objectionable. If one religious approach is right, the others must be wrong. But the Indian mind tends to more readily accept someone like Ramakrishna who preaches universality of religion and accepts and even promotes individuality in the seeker’s approach to God. For instance, Ramakrishna appealed to the upper classes who are likely to follow a Vedantist or philosophical approach to religion by sometimes describing God as a nondual formless essence.

His description of Kali as an ocean of light had much in common with the ocean of Brahman that the Brahmins (the traditional priestly caste) seek to encounter when they are initiated into the Gayatri mantra, or the mantra of the sun. One divine ocean of consciousness may be difficult to distinguish from another.

Ramakrishna also appealed to those with an interest in yoga and esoteric practices by practicing a nondual form of meditation prescribed by Totapuri which seeks samadhi.

The most popular religious practice by far in India is bhakti, or devotion to a deity. Ramakrishna’s message was welcomed by both the rural and urban religious people who did puja to the divine mother Kali as a protective and benevolent deity (Kali also has a fierce and destructive side which she generally does not show to those who worship her). These devotees saw him as a great teacher and bhakta who sang the names of God and talked incessantly about God. They too did puja and sang Kali’s name in hopes of having healthy children, getting good jobs or marriages, or producing a plentiful harvest. The sincere devotee could even hope for a vision or dream of the divine mother.

Those who followed the Vedic prescription of religious universalism summed up in the phrase “There is but one Truth, but sages call it by different names” noted that Ramakrishna practiced the rituals of many religions, and found that they all brought him to the same divine reality in the end. For those who worshiped many different saints and deities throughout India, this universal approach echoed their own multi-faceted religious practices.

Finally, for those with a strong sense of Hindu nationalism, Ramakrishna’s chief disciple, Swami Vivekananda, entered onto the world stage by doing a keynote address at the World Parliament of Religions meeting in Chicago in 1893, and he electrified his audience. Hindus for generations could point to their indigenous traditions with pride after his exemplary speech.

Vivekananda also promoted a more activist form of Hinduism, which focused on education, feeding the poor, and developing libraries and other institutions. His works were a way of showing Hindus that it was not only the Christian missionaries that could benefit society, but that Hindu religion was also valuable with respect to improving society and combating social ills.

Ramakrishna died of cancer of the throat in 1886, leaving his wife Sarada Devi who was considered a saint in her own right to take charge of his disciples and carry on his message.

Courtesy;http://www.om-guru.com/html/saints/ramakrishna.html


This Web Site © Copyright 1999-2005, J. Denosky, All Rights Reserved

HUI-K’O

The Second Patriarch of Chinese Zen
(487-593)

The text on the painting reads: Hui-K’o, the great general, (retired), was troubled in his search for the way. Many times he beseeched Bodhidharma to teach him and to pacify his mind. Always, Bodhidharma refused. To show his utter sincerity, Hui-K’o cut off his own left hand.

“What do you seek?”, asked Bodhidharma.

“Peace of mind”, replied Hui-K’o.

“Show me this mind of yours”, said Bodhidharma, “and I will pacify it”.

“But when I seek my mind, I cannot find it”, was the reply.

“THERE!” , said Bodhidharma, “I have pacified your mind!”

“YES!”, said Hui-K’o, and laughed.

The Transmission of Light” tells the story of Hui-k’o as going to Shaolin monastery where Bodhidharma resided and standing outside in a SNOWSTORM all night because he was refused admission. At dawn Bodhidharma supposedly said to him, “How can you hope for true realization, with little virtue, little wisdom, a shallow heart, and an arrogant mind?” Hui-k’o heard this as a merciful admonition, causing him to weep and building his determination, to demonstrate which he cut off his left arm with a sword.

Hui-k’o was admitted and spent eight years with Bodhidharma. “Mystic Devices in the Room” cites that one day Hui-k’o climbed Few Houses Peak with Bodhidharma and during that climb his teacher said something that triggered the full realization of his true essence.

It is said when Bodhidharma was near death he called his four chief disciples and asked them to state their original insights. After hearing the first speaker, Bodhidharma told him that he was like Bodhidharma’s skin; to the second, that SHE was like his flesh; to the third, that he was like his bone. To Hui K’o, who spoke last, Bodhidharma said that he was like his marrow, thus conferring the Patriarch’s robe and bowl upon him.

Hui-k’o eventually passed on the bowl and robe to his successor, the Third Patriarch, Seng-ts’an, signifying the Transmission of the Dharma. Hui-k’o, who had received the seal of approval from Bodhidharma himself sometime after the above arm severing episode, then went everywhere drinking and carousing around like a wildman and partaking in the offerings of the brothel districts. When people asked how he could do such a thing, being a Patriarch of the Zen school and all, he would respond with: “What business is it of yours?” (source) In 593 Hui-K’o was executed for so-called “heretical teaching” by a misinformed imperial official, the second in the lineage of Sakyamuni to be executed (the first being the twenty-fourth Indian Patriarch, the Venerable Aryasimha whose head was cut off by King Dammira).

People eat much bigger portions today

“People aren’t realising how much they are eating,” said Jaime Schwartz, a registered dietitian and one of the authors of the study. “The larger portion size they’re eating — even if it’s healthy food — is still more calories.”

Along with the American waistline, the American plate and portion size have grown too. A study at Rutgers University supports earlier research, that people today eat bigger servings than they did 20 years ago.

“People aren’t realising how much they are eating,” said Jaime Schwartz, a registered dietitian and one of the authors of the study. “The larger portion size they’re eating — even if it’s healthy food — is still more calories.”

The research, done in 2003 and described in a recent issue of the American Dietetic Association, replicated a 1984 Penn State University study.

Both studies asked students to take food portions of various items. Diners were offered three sizes of plates, bowls and cups in a buffet-like setting. There were 177 students in the more recent study at Rutgers and 147 students in the 1984 Penn State study.

In a comparison of breakfast servings, the students in 2003 took 20 per cent more cornflakes than students took in 1984, Schwartz said. Ditto for milk.

The glass of orange juice grew by more than 40 per cent compared to 20 years ago. That translates into 50 additional calories, or a weight gain of five pounds over the course of a year, if consumed on a daily basis. Dinner and lunch servings grew, too — 50 per cent more fruit salad wound up on the plates of the Rutgers students.

“People are eating with their eyes and not their stomachs,” Schwartz said. “They’re not listening to their bodies to tell them when to put the fork down.”

Helen Guthrie did the original Penn State study when she couldn’t get accurate self-reported data on how much food people ate, because they wrongly estimated portions. That’s when she set out to see if diners could visualise portion size.

Most people still lack that skill, but the portion size is getting larger, said Guthrie, a professor emeritus now living in Florida.

The frame of reference for the serving size is increasing,” she said. “They still don’t have an ability to translate to amounts that are easily quantifiable if you ask people how much they’ve eaten. That has not changed.”

Other studies have shown that people eat more when they are served more. Schwartz believes larger portions at restaurants and larger plate size and packaging all play a role.

Carol Byrd-Bredbenner, a professor of nutrition at Rutgers and a co-author of the study, said portion size is only one factor feeding the national problem of obesity.

However, people may not realise that they are eating more when they take larger plates and bowls.

“Plate size, bowl size, cup size are very deceptive,” she said. “They can’t estimate the amount of food in a dish and it makes it even more difficult when the dish is deeper or bigger.”

A 1994 informal survey found that the standard plate size in the restaurant industry grew in the early 1990s, from 10 inches to 12.

“That holds 25 per cent more food,” Schwartz said. “That really makes a difference in how much our plates can hold and how much we eat from them.”

Obesity expert Barry Popkin at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said the idea of “value pricing” in fast food restaurants, which sells much larger portions for a minor cost increase, has also changed perceptions at home.

“The most surprising result is the larger portion size increases for food consumed at home — a shift that indicates marked changes in eating behavior in general,” he wrote in a study published in 2003.

Photographs of Ramana Maharshi

The Life of Sri Ramana Maharshi

Bhagavan Ramana

Sri Ramana Maharshi

The Life of Sri Ramana Maharshi

A Life Time-line

 

THE Scriptures tell us that it is as difficult to trace the path a sage pursues, as it is to draw a line marking the course a bird takes in the air while on its wings. Most humans must be content with a slow and laborious journey towards the goal. But a few are born adepts, flying non-stop to the common home of all beings: The Supreme Self. Mankind takes heart when such a sage appears, and though unable to keep pace with him, feels uplifted by his presence and has a foretaste of the felicity before which worldly pleasures pale into nothing. Countless people who went to Tiruvannamalai during the lifetime of Maharshi Sri Ramana had this experience. They saw in him a sage without the least touch of worldliness, a saint of matchless purity, a witness to the eternal truth of Vedanta. It is not often that a spiritual genius of Sri Ramana.s magnitude visits this earth. But when such an event occurs, all humanity benefits and a new era of hope opens before it.

Birth

About thirty miles south of Madurai is a village–Tiruchuli by name–with an ancient Siva temple about which two great Tamil saints, Sundaramurti and Manikkavacakar, have sung. In this sacred village there lived in the latter part of the nineteenth century an uncertified pleader, Sundaram Aiyar with his wife Alagammal. Piety, devotion and charity characterised this ideal couple. Sundaram Aiyar was generous even beyond his means. Alagammal was an ideal Hindu wife. On the 30th of December 1879, to them was born Venkataraman–who later came to be known to the world as Ramana Maharshi.

It was an auspicious day for Hindus, the Ardradarsanam day. On this day every year the image of the Dancing Siva, Nataraja, is taken out of the temples in procession to celebrate the divine grace of the Lord who made His appearance before such saints as Gautama, Patanjali, Vyaghrapada, and Manikkavacaka. In the year 1879, on the Ardra day, the Nataraja Image of the temple at Tiruchuli was taken out with all the attendant ceremonies–and just as it was about to re-enter, Venkataraman was born.

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Early Years

There was nothing markedly distinctive about Venkataraman.s early life. He grew up just an average boy. He was sent to an elementary school in Tiruchuli, and then for a year.s education to a school in Dindigul. His father died when he was twelve years old. This necessitated moving to Madurai with the family to live with his paternal uncle, Subbaiyar. There he was sent to Scott.s Middle School and then to the American Mission High School. He was not at all serious about his studies, an indifferent student. But as he was a healthy and strong lad, his schoolmates and other companions were afraid of his strength. Any time some of them had any grievance against him, they would dare play pranks with him only when he was asleep. In this extremely deep sleep, he was rather unusual: he would not know of anything that happened to him during sleep. He would be carried away or even beaten without his waking up in the process.

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Arunachala

It was apparently by accident that Venkataraman heard about Arunachala when he was sixteen years of age. One day an elderly relative called on the family in Madurai. The boy asked him where he had come from. The relative replied ‘From Arunachala’. The very name ‘Arunachala’ acted as a magic spell on Venkataraman, and with evident excitement he put his next question, ‘What! From Arunachala! Where is it?’ And he got the reply that Tiruvannamalai was Arunachala.

Referring to this incident later, the Sage says in one of his hymns to Arunachala:

‘Oh, great wonder! As an insentient hill it stands.
Its action is difficult for anyone to understand.
From my childhood it appeared to my intelligence that Arunachala was something very great.
But even when I came to know through another that it was the same as Tiruvannamalai I did not understand its meaning.
When, stilling my mind, it drew me up to it,
and I came close, I found that it was the Immovable.’

Quickly following the incident, which attracted Venkataraman.s attention to Arunachala, there was another happening that also contributed to the turning of the boy’s mind to the deeper values of spirituality. He chanced to lay his hands on a copy of Sekkilar.s Periyapuranam, which relates the lives of the Saiva saints. He read the book and was enthralled by it. This was the first piece of religious literature he read. The example of the saints fascinated him; and in the inner recesses of his heart, something responded favourably. Without any apparent preparation, a longing arose in him to emulate the spirit of renunciation and devotion that constituted the essence of saintly life.

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The Great Awakening

The spiritual experience that Venkataraman was now wishing devoutly for came to him soon, and quite unexpectedly. It was about the middle of the year 1896; Venkataraman was seventeen then. One day he was sitting up alone on the first floor of his uncle’s house. He was in his usual health — there was nothing wrong with him. But a sudden and unmistakable fear of death took hold — he felt he was going to die. Why this feeling should have come to him he did not know. The feeling of impending death, however, did not unnerve him. He calmly thought about what he should do. He said to himself, ‘Now, death has come. What does it mean? What is it that is dying? This body dies’. Immediately thereafter he lay down, stretching his limbs out and holding them stiff as though rigor mortis had set in. He held his breath and kept his lips tightly closed, so that to all outward appearance his body resembled a corpse. Now, what would happen? This was what he thought: “Well, this body is now dead. It will be carried to the burning ground and there burnt and reduced to ashes. But with the death, of this body am I dead? Is the body I? This body is silent and inert. But I feel the full force of my personality and even the voice of the ‘I’ within me, apart from it. So I am the Spirit transcending the body. The body dies but the Spirit that transcends it cannot be touched by death. That means I am the deathless Spirit”. As Bhagavan Sri Ramana narrated this experience later on for the benefit of his devotees it seemed as though this was a process of reasoning. But he took care to explain that this was not so. The realization came to him in a flash. He perceived the truth directly. ‘I’ was something very real, the only real thing. Fear of death vanished once and for all. From then on, ‘I’ continued like the fundamental sruti note that underlies and blends with all the other notes. Thus young Venkataraman found himself on the peak of spirituality without any arduous or prolonged sadhana. The ego was lost in the flood of Self-awareness. All of a sudden the boy that used to be called Venkataraman had flowered into a sage and saint.

There was noticed a complete change in the young man’s life. The things that he had cared for earlier completely lost their value. The spiritual values, which he had ignored till then, became the only objects of attention. School-studies, friends, relations — none of these had now any significance for him. He grew utterly indifferent to his surroundings. Humility, meekness, non-resistance and other virtues became his adornment. Avoiding company, he preferred to sit alone, all absorbed in concentration on the Self. He went to the Minakshi temple every day and experienced exaltation every time he stood before the images of the gods and saints. Tears flowed from his eyes profusely. The new vision was constantly with him. His was the transfigured life.

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Leaving Home

Venkataraman.s elder brother observed the great change that had come upon him. On several occasions he rebuked the boy for his indifferent and yogi-like behaviour. About six weeks after the great experience came the crisis. It was the 29th of August 1896. Venkataraman.s English teacher had asked him, as a punishment for indifference in studies, to copy out a lesson from Bain’s Grammar three times. The boy copied it out twice, but stopped there, realizing the utter futility of that task. Throwing aside the book and the papers, he sat up, closed his eyes, and turned inward in meditation. The elder brother who was watching Venkataraman’s behaviour all the while went up to him and said: “What use is all this to one who is like this?” This was obviously meant as a rebuke for Venkataraman.s unworldly ways including neglect of studies.

Venkataraman did not give any reply. He admitted to himself that there was no use pretending to study and be his old self. He decided to leave his home, and he remembered that there was a place to go to, viz. Tiruvannamalai. But if he were to express his intention to his elders, they would not let him go. So guile had to be used. He told his brother that he was going to school to attend a special class that noon. The brother thereupon asked him to take five rupees from the box below and pay it as his fee at the college where he was studying. Venkataraman went downstairs; his aunt served him a meal and gave him the five rupees. He took out an atlas, which was in the house and noted that the nearest railway station to Tiruvannamalai mentioned there was Tindivanam. Actually, however, a branch line had been laid to Tiruvannamalai itself. The atlas was an old one. Calculating that three rupees would be enough for the journey, Venkataraman took that much and left the balance with a letter at a place in the house where his brother could easily find them, and made his departure for Tiruvannamalai. This was what he wrote in that letter:

“I have set out in quest of my Father in accordance with his command. This (meaning his person) has only embarked on a virtuous enterprise. Therefore, no one need grieve over this act. And no money need be spent in search of this. Your college fee has not been paid. Herewith rupees two..

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The Journey

There was a curse on Venkataraman’s family — in truth, it was a blessing — that one out of every generation should turn out to be a mendicant. This curse was administered by a wandering ascetic who, it is said, begged alms at the house of one of Venkataraman’s forbears, and was refused. A paternal uncle of Sundaram Aiyar’s became a sannyasin; so did Sundaram Aiyar’s elder brother. Now, it was the turn of Venkataraman, although no one could have foreseen that the curse would work out in this manner. Dispassion found lodging in Venkataraman’s heart, and he became a parivrajaka.

It was an epic journey that Venkataraman made from Madurai to Tiruvannamalai. About noon he left his uncle’s house. He walked to the railway station which was half a mile way. Fortunately the train was running late that day; otherwise he would have missed it. He looked up the table of fares and came to know that the third-class fare to Tindivanam was two rupees and thirteen annas. He bought a ticket and kept with him the balance of three annas. Had he known that there was a rail-track to Tiruvannamalai itself, and had he consulted the table of fares, he would have found that the fare was exactly three rupees. When the train arrived, he boarded it quietly and took his seat. A Maulvi, also travelling, entered into conversation with Venkataraman. From him Venkataraman learnt that there was train service to Tiruvannamalai, and that one need not go to Tindivanam, but could change trains at Viluppuram. This was a useful piece of information. It was dusk when the train reached Tiruchirappalli. Venkataraman was hungry; he bought two country pears for half an anna; and strangely enough even with the first bite his hunger was appeased. About three o’clock in the morning the train arrived at Viluppuram. Venkataraman got off the train there with the intention of completing the rest of the journey to Tiruvannamalai on foot.

At daybreak, he went into the town and was looking out for the signpost to Tiruvannamalai. He saw a signboard reading ‘Mambalappattu’ but did not know then that Mambalappattu was a place en route to Tiruvannamalai. Before making further efforts to find out which road he was to take, he wanted to refresh himself, as he was tired and hungry. He went up to a hotel and asked for food. He had to wait till noon for the food to be ready. After eating his meal, he proffered two annas in payment. The hotel proprietor asked him how much money he had. When told by Venkataraman that he had only two and a half annas, he declined to accept payment. It was from him that Venkataraman came to know that Mambalappattu was a place, on the way to Tiruvannamalai. Venkataraman went back to Viluppuram station and bought a ticket to Mambalappattu for which the money he had was just enough.

It was sometime in the afternoon when Venkataraman arrived at Mambalappattu by train. From there he set out on foot for Tiruvannamalai. About ten miles he walked, and it was late in the evening. There was the temple of Arayaninallur nearby, built on a large rock. He went there waited for the doors to be opened, entered and sat down in the pillared hall. He had a vision there – a vision of brilliant light enveloping the entire place. It was no physical light. It shone for some time and then disappeared. Venkataraman continued sitting in a mood of deep meditation, till he was roused by the temple priests who were wanting to lock the doors and go to another temple three quarters of a mile away at Kilur for service. Venkataraman followed them, and while inside the temple he got lost in samadhi again. After finishing their duties the priests woke him up, but would not give him any food. The temple drummer who had been watching the rude behaviour of the priests implored them to hand over his share of the temple food to the strange youth. When Venkataraman asked for some drinking water, he was directed to a Sastri.s house, which was at some distance. While in that house he fainted and fell down. A few minutes later he rallied round and saw a small crowd looking at him curiously. He drank the water, ate some food, and lay down and slept.

Next morning he woke up. It was the 31st of August 1896, the Gokulastami day, the day of Sri Krishna.s birth. Venkataraman resumed his journey and walked for quite a while. He felt tired and hungry. So he wished for some food first, and then he would go to Tiruvannamalai, by train if that was possible. The thought occurred to him that he could dispose of the pair of gold earrings he was wearing and raise the money that was required. But how was this to be accomplished? He went and stood outside a house, which happened to belong to one Muthukrishna Bhagavatar. He asked the Bhagavatar for food and was directed to the housewife. The good lady was pleased to receive the young sadhu and feed him on the auspicious day of Sri Krisna.s birth. After the meal, Venkataraman went to the Bhagavatar again and told him that he wanted to pledge his earrings for four rupees in order that he may complete his pilgrimage. The rings were worth about twenty rupees, but Venkataraman had no need for that much money. The Bhagavatar examined the ear-rings, gave Venkataraman the money he had asked for, took down the youth.s address, wrote out his own on a piece of paper for him, and told him that he could redeem the rings at any time. Venkataraman had his lunch at the Bhagavatar’s house. The pious lady gave him a packet of sweets that she had prepared for Gokulastami. Venkataraman took leave of the couple, tore up the address the Bhagavatar had given him–for he had no intention of redeeming the earrings–and went to the railway station. As there was no train till the next morning, he spent the night there.

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Advent At Arunachala

On the morning of the 1st of September, 1896, he boarded the train to Tiruvannamalai. The travel took, only a short time. Alighting from the train, he hastened to the great temple of Arunacalesvara. All the gates stood open – even the doors of the inner shrine. The temple was then empty of all people – even the priests. Venkataraman entered the sanctum sanctorum, and as he stood before his Father Arunacalesvara he experienced great ecstasy and unspeakable joy. The epic journey had ended. The ship had come safely to port.

The rest of what we regard as Ramana’s life – this is how we shall call him hereafter – was spent in Tiruvannamalai. Ramana was not formally initiated into sannyasa. As he came out of the temple and was walking along the streets of the town, someone called out and asked whether he wanted his tuft removed. He consented readily, and was conducted to the Ayyankulam tank where a barber shaved his head. Then he stood on the steps of the tank and threw away into the water his remaining money. He also discarded the packet of sweets given by the Bhagavatar’s wife. The next to go was the sacred thread he was wearing. As he was returning to the temple he was just wondering why he should give his body the luxury of a bath, when there was a downpour which drenched him.

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Life in Tiruvannamalai

The first place of Ramana’s residence in Tiruvannamalai was the great temple. For a few weeks he remained in the thousand-pillared hall. But he was troubled by urchins who pelted stones at him as he sat in meditation. He shifted himself to obscure corners and even to an underground vault known as Patala-lingam. Undisturbed he used to spend several days in deep absorption. Without moving he sat in samadhi, not being aware of even the bites of vermin and pests. But the mischievous boys soon discovered the retreat and indulged in their pastime of throwing potsherds at the young Swami. There was at the time in Tiruvannamalai a senior Swami by name Seshadri. Those who did not know him took him for a madman. He sometimes stood guard over the young Swami, and drove away the urchins. At long last he was removed from the pit by devotees without his being aware of it and deposited in the vicinity of a shrine of Subrahmanya. From then on there was some one or other to take care of Ramana. The seat of residence had to be changed frequently. Gardens, groves, shrines – these were chosen to keep the Swami. The Swami himself never spoke. Not that he took any vow of silence; he had no inclination to talk. At times the texts like Vasistham and Kaivalyanavanitam used to be read out to him.

A little less than six months after his arrival at Tiruvannamalai Ramana shifted his residence to a shrine called Gurumurtam at the earnest request of its keeper, a Tambiranswami. As days passed and as Ramana’s fame spread, increasing numbers of pilgrims and sight-seers came to visit him. After about a year’s stay at Gurumurtam, the Swami – locally he was known as Brahmana-swami – moved to a neighbouring mango orchard. It was here that one of his uncles, Nelliyappa Aiyar traced him out. Nelliyappa Aiyar was a second-grade pleader at Manamadurai. Having learnt from a friend that Venkataraman was then a revered Sadhu at Tiruvannamalai, he went there to see him. He tried his best to take Ramana along with him to Manamadurai. But the young sage would not respond. He did not show any sign of interest in the visitor. So, Nelliyappa Aiyar went back disappointed to Manamadurai. However, he conveyed the news to Alagammal, Ramana’s mother.

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Mother’s Plea

The mother went to Tiruvannamalai accompanied by her eldest son. Ramana was then living at Pavalakkunru, one of the eastern spurs of Arunachala. With tears in her eyes Alagammal entreated Ramana to go back with her. But, for the sage there was no going back. Nothing moved him — not even the wailings and weepings of his mother. He kept silent giving no reply. A devotee who had been observing the struggle of the mother for several days requested Ramana to write out at least what he had to say. The sage wrote on a piece of paper quite in an impersonal way thus : “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.”

Disappointed and with a heavy heart, the mother went back to Manamadurai. Sometime after this event Ramana went up the hill Arunachala, and started living in a cave called Virupaksa after a saint who dwelt and was buried there. Here also the crowds came, and among them were a few earnest seekers. These latter used to put him questions regarding spiritual experience or bring sacred books for having some points explained. Ramana sometimes wrote out his answers and explanations. One of the books that was brought to him during this period was Sankara’s Vivekacudamani which later on he rendered into Tamil prose. There were also some simple unlettered folk that came to him for solace and spiritual guidance. One of them was Echammal who having lost her husband, son, and daughter, was disconsolate till the Fates guided her to Ramana’s presence. She made it a point to visit the Swami every day and took upon herself the task of bringing food for him as well as for those who lived with him.

After her return to Manamadurai, Alagammal lost her eldest son. Two years later, her youngest son, Nagasundaram paid a brief visit to Tiruvannamalai. She herself went there once on her return from a pilgrimage to Varanasi, and again during a visit to Tirupati. On this occasion she fell ill and suffered for several weeks with symptoms of typhoid. Ramana showed great solicitude in nursing her and restoring her to health. He even composed a hymn in Tamil beseeching Lord Arunachala to cure her of her disease. The first verse of the hymn runs as follows : ‘Oh Medicine in the form of a Hill that arose to cure the disease of all the births that come in succession like waves! Oh Lord! It is Thy duty to save my mother who regards Thy feet alone as her refuge, by curing her fever.’ He also prayed that his mother should be granted the vision divine and be weaned from worldliness. It is needless to say that both the prayers were answered. Alagammal recovered, and went back to Manamadurai.

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Mother’s Return

But not long after she returned to Tiruvannamalai; a little later followed her youngest son, Nagasundaram who had in the meanwhile lost his wife leaving a son. It was in the beginning of 1916 that the mother came, resolved to spend the rest of her life with Ramana. Soon after his mother’s arrival, Ramana moved from Virupaksa to Skandasramam, a little higher up the hill. The mother received training in intense spiritual life. She donned the ochre robe, and took charge of the Ashrama kitchen. Nagasundaram too became a sannyasin, assuming the name Niranjanananda. Among Ramana’s devotees he came to be popularly known as Chinnaswami (the Younger Swami). In 1920 the mother grew weak in health and ailments incidental to old age came to her. Ramana tended her with care and affection, and spent even sleepless nights sitting up with her. The end came on May 19, 1922, which was the Bahulanawami day, in the month of Vaisakha. The mother’s body was taken down the hill to be interred. The spot chosen was at the southernmost point, between Palitirtham Tank and the Daksinamurti Mantapam. While the ceremonies were being performed, Ramana himself stood silently looking on. Niranjanananda Swami took his residence near the tomb. Ramana who continued to remain at Skandasramam visited the tomb every day. After about six months he came to stay there, as he said later on, not out of his own volition but in obedience to the Divine Will. Thus was founded the Ramanasramam. A temple was raised over the tomb and was consecrated in 1949. As the years rolled by the Ashrama grew steadily, and people not only from India but from every continent of the world came to see the sage and receive help from him in their spiritual pursuits.

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Early Disciples

In 1903 there came to Tiruvannamalai a great Samskrit scholar and savant, Ganapati Sastri known also as Ganapati Muni because of the austerities he had been observing. He had the title Kavya-kantha (one who had poetry at his throat), and his disciples addressed him as nayana (father). He was a specialist in the worship of the Divine Mother. He visited Ramana in the Virupaksa cave quite a few times. Once in 1907 he was assailed by doubts regarding his own spiritual practices. He went up the hill, saw Ramana sitting alone in the cave, and expressed himself thus : “All that has to be read I have read; even Vedanta sastra I have fully understood; I have done japa to my heart’s content; yet I have not up to this time understood what tapas is. Therefore I have sought refuge at your feet. Pray enlighten me as to the nature of tapas.” Ramana replied, now speaking, “If one watches whence the notion ‘I’ arises, the mind gets absorbed there; that is tapas. When a mantra is repeated, if one watches whence that mantra sound arises, the mind gets absorbed there; that is tapas.” To the scholar this came as a revelation; he felt the grace of the sage enveloping him. He it was that proclaimed Ramana to be Maharshi and Bhagavan. He composed hymns in Samskrit in praise of the sage, and also wrote the Ramana-Gita explaining his teachings.

Ramana’s first Western devotee was F.H.Humphreys. He came to India in 1911 to take up a post in the Police service at Vellore. Given to the practice of occultism, he was in search of a Mahatma. He was introduced to Ganapati Sastri by his Telugu tutor; and Sastri took him to Ramana. The Englishman was greatly impressed. Writing about his first visit to the sage in the International Psychic Gazette, he said : ‘On reaching the cave we sat before him, at his feet, and said nothing. We sat thus for a long time and I felt lifted out of myself. For half an hour I looked into the Maharshi’s eyes, which never changed their expression of deep contemplation…. The Maharshi is a man beyond description in his expression of dignity, gentleness, self-control and calm strength of conviction.’ Humphry’s ideas of spirituality changed for the better as a result of the contact with Ramana. He repeated his visits to the sage. He recorded his impressions in his letters to a friend in England which were published in the Gazette mentioned above. In one of them he wrote, ‘You can imagine nothing more beautiful than his smile.’ And again, ‘It is strange what a change it makes in one to have been in his Presence!’

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Friend of Animals

It was not all good people that went to the Ashrama. Sometimes bad ones turned up also – even bad sadhus. Twice in the year 1924 thieves broke into the Ashrama in quest of loot. On the second of these occasions they even beat the Maharshi, finding that there was very little for them to take. When one of the devotees sought the sage’s permission to punish the thieves, the sage forbade him, saying : “They have their dharma, we have ours. It is for us to bear and forbear. Let us not interfere with them.” When one of the thieves gave him a blow on the left thigh, he told him : “If you are not satisfied you can strike the other leg also.” After the thieves had left, a devotee enquired about the beating. The sage remarked, “I also have received some puja,” punning on the word which means ‘worship’ but is also used to mean ‘blows’.

The spirit of harmlessness that permeated the sage and his environs made even animals and birds make friends with him. He showed them the same consideration that he did to the humans that went to him. When he referred to any of them, he used the form ‘he’ or ‘she’ and not ‘it’. Birds and squirrels built their nests around him. Cows, dogs and monkeys found asylum in the Ashrama. All of them behaved intelligently – especially the cow Laksmi. He knew their ways quite intimately. He would see to it that they were fed properly and well. And, when any of them died, the body would be buried with due ceremony.

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Sri Ramanasramam

The life in the Ashrama flowed on smoothly. With the passage of time more and more of visitors came – some of them for a short stay and others for longer periods. The dimensions of the Ashrama increased, and new features and departments were added – a home for the cattle, a school for the study of the Vedas, a department for publication, and the Mother’s temple with regular worship, etc. Ramana sat most of the time in the hall that had been constructed for the purpose as the witness to all that happened around him. It was not that he was not active. He used to stitch leaf-plates, dress vegetables, read proofs received from the press, look into newspapers and books, suggest lines of reply to letters received, etc. yet it was quite evident that he was apart from everything. There were numerous invitations for him to undertake tours. But he never moved out of Tiruvannamalai, and in the later years out of the Ashrama. Most of the time, every day, people sat before him. They sat mostly in silence. Sometimes some of them asked questions; and sometimes he answered them. It was a great experience to sit before him and to look at his beaming eyes. Many did experience time coming to a stop and a stillness and peace beyond description.

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Last Days & Mahanirvana

The golden jubilee of Ramana’s coming to stay at Tiruvannamalai was celebrated in 1946. In 1947 his health began to fail. He was not yet seventy, but looked much older. Towards the end of 1948 a small nodule appeared below the elbow of his left arm. As it grew in size, the doctor in charge of the Ashrama dispensary cut it out. But in a month’s time it reappeared. Surgeons from Madras were called, and they operated. The wound did not heal, and the tumour came again. On further examination it was diagnosed that the affection was a case of sarcoma. The doctors suggested amputating the arm above the affected part. Ramana replied with a smile : “There is no need for alarm. The body is itself a disease. Let it have its natural end. Why mutilate it? Simple dressing of the affected part will do.” Two more operations had to be performed, but the tumour appeared again. Indigenous systems of medicine were tried; and homeopathy too. The disease did not yield itself to treatment. The sage was quite unconcerned, and was supremely indifferent to suffering. He sat as a spectator watching the disease waste the body. But his eyes shone as bright as ever; and his grace flowed towards all beings. Crowds came in large numbers. Ramana insisted that they should be allowed to have his darsana. Devotees profoundly wished that the sage should cure his body through an exercise of supernormal powers. Some of them imagined that they themselves had had the benefit of these powers which they attributed to Ramana. Ramana had compassion for those who grieved over the suffering, and he sought to comfort them by reminding them of the truth that Bhagavan was not the body : “They take this body for Bhagavan and attribute suffering to him. What a pity! They are despondent the Bhagavan is going to leave them and go away – where can he go, and how?”

The end came on the 14th of April, 1950. That evening the sage gave darsana to the devotees that came. All that were present in the Ashrama knew that the end was nearing. They sat singing Ramana’s hymn to Arunachala with the refrain Arunachala-Siva. The sage asked his attendants to make him sit up. He opened his luminous and gracious eyes for a brief while; there was a smile; tear of bliss trickled down from the outer corner of his eyes; and at 8-47 the breathing stopped. There was no struggle, no spasm, none of the signs of death. At that very moment, a comet moved slowly across the sky, reached the summit, of the holy hill, Arunachala, and disappeared behind it.

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Epilogue

Ramana Maharshi seldom wrote; and what little he did write in prose or verse was written to meet the specific demands of his devotees. He himself declared once : “Somehow, it never occurs to me to write a book or compose poems. All the poems I have made were on the request of someone or other in connection with some particular event.” The most important of his work is The Forty Verses on Existence. In the Upadesa Saram which is also a poem the quintessence of Vedanta is set forth. The sage composed five hymns to Arunachala. Some of the works of Sankara like Vivekacudamani and Atma-bodha were rendered into Tamil by him. Most of what he wrote is in Tamil. But he wrote also in Sanskrit, Telugu, and Malayalam.

The philosophy of Sri Ramana – which is the same as that of Advaita-Vedanta has for its aim Self-realization. The central path taught in this philosophy is the inquiry into the nature of Self, the content of the notion ‘I’. Ordinarily the sphere of the ‘I’ varies and covers a multiplicity of factors. But these factors are not really the ‘I’. For instance, we speak of the physical body as ‘I’; we say, ‘I am fat’, ‘I am lean’ etc. It will not take long to discover that this is a wrong usage. The body itself cannot say, ‘I’ for it is inert. Even the most ignorant man understands the implication of the expression ‘my body’. It is not easy, however, to resolve the mistaken identity of the ‘I’ with egoity (ahankara). That is because the inquiring mind is the ego, and in order to remove the wrong identification it has to pass a sentence of death, as it were, on itself. This is by no means a simple thing. The offering of the ego in the fire of wisdom is the greatest form of sacrifice.

The discrimination of the Self from the ego, we said, is not easy. But it is not impossible. All of us can have this discrimination if we ponder over the implication of our sleep-experience. In sleep ‘we are’, though the ego has made its exit. The ego does not function there. Still there is the ‘I’ that witnesses the absence of the ego as well as of the objects. If the ‘I’ were not there, one would not recall on waking from one’s sleep-experience, and say; “I slept happily. I did not know anything”. We have, then, two ‘I’s’ – the ‘pseudo-I’ which is the ego and the true ‘I’ which is the Self. The identification of the ‘I’ with the ego is so strong that we seldom see the ego without its mask. Moreover, all our relative experience turns on the pivot of the ego. With the rise of the ego on waking from sleep, the entire world rises with it. The ego, therefore, looks so important and unassailable.

But this is really a fortress made of cards. Once the process of inquiry starts, it will be found to crumble and dissolve. For undertaking this inquiry, one must possess a sharp mind – much sharper than the one required for unravelling the mysteries of matter. It is with the one-pointed intellect that the truth is to be seen (drsyate tu agraya buddhya). It is true that even the intellect will have to get resolved before the final wisdom dawns. But up to that point it has to inquire – and inquire relentlessly. Wisdom, surely, is not for the indolent!

The inquiry ‘Who am I?’ is not to be regarded as a mental effort to understand the mind’s nature. Its main purpose is ‘to focus the entire mind at its source’. The source of the ‘pseudo-I’ is the Self. What one does in Self-inquiry is to run against the mental current instead of running along with it, and finally transcend the sphere of mental modifications. When the ‘pseudo-I’ is tracked down to its source, it vanishes. Then the Self shines in all its splendour – which shining is called realization and release.

The cessation or non-cessation of the body has nothing to do with release. The body may continue to exist and the world may continue to appear, as in the case of the Maharshi. That makes no difference at all to the Self that has been realized. In truth, there is neither the body nor the world for him; there is only the Self, the eternal Existence (sat), the Intelligence (cit), the unsurpassable bliss (ananda). Such an experience is not entirely foreign to us. We have it in sleep, where we are conscious neither of the external world of things nor of the inner world of dreams. But that experience lies under the cover of ignorance. So it is that we come back to the phantasies of dream and of the world of waking. Non-return to duality is possible only when nescience has been removed. To make this possible is the aim of Vedanta. To inspire even the lowliest of us with hope and help us out of the Slough of Despond, is the supreme significance of such illustrious exemplars as the Maharshi.

ALARMEL VALLI – Bharatanatyam Dancer

Alarmel Valli is a foremost exponent of the Pandanallur tradition in BharataNatyam. She is hailed as a creative artist who brings depth, intensity and naturalness to her work.

Alarmel Valli is a foremost exponent of the Pandanallur tradition in BharataNatyam. She is hailed as a creative artist who brings depth, intensity and naturalness to her work. She has won laurels several times in the major festivals in India and in almost all the cultural capitals of the world.

Born in 1957, Valli at the age of 16 was invited to perform at the International Dance Festival, of the Sarah Bernardt Theatre De La Ville in Paris. From then on she has toured widely and received acclaim for her performances in leading theatres almost all over the world. Along with the performances she has also given lecture demonstrations, classes, workshops and seminars and has helped to create an international awareness of Bharatanatyam.

Alarmel Valli was trained by renowned gurus, Shri Chokkalingam Pillai and his son Shri Subbaraya Pillai.  Valli has studied ‘ Padams’ and ‘ Javalis’ for many years under the eminent musician Smt.T.Muktha, of the renowned Veena Dhanammal style of music. She has also learned Odissi under renowned Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra and his disciple Guru Ramani Ranjan Jena. Valli has done research for around 12 years on classical Tamil anthologies of Sangam poetry (2000 years old) and she has worked to give the richness of the poems a visual and melodic dimension. Valli has evolved her own distinct style and extended her tradition within the broad framework of classical Bharatanatyam. 

Alarmel Valli has many honours and awards to her credit. She is the recipient of numerous State and National awards.  Alarmel Valli received the ‘State award of Kalaimamani’ in 1979 and was made the ‘State Artist of Tamilnadu’ between 1981 & 84. She was awarded the prestigious title of ‘Nrithya Choodamani’ in  1985 and was the youngest dancer to be conferred the President’s award of ‘Padmasri’ in 1991. In 1997, she was honoured by the City of Paris, with the ‘Grande Medaille de la Ville de Paris’ and in 2001, receive the Award of the Sangeet Natak Akademy. In 1984, Alarmel Valli founded ‘Dipashikha’ a Centre for Performing Arts which imparts training for budding talents. Alarmel married to Bhaskar Ghosh, former I&B secretary and former director general of Doordarshan and settled down abroad after marriage

Contact address

Alarmel Valli,
‘Dipashika’,
Lavanya, 236,
Kilpauk Garden Road, Chennai- 600010  
Ph: (044) – 26411348 / 26412026, Fax: (044) – 26411348,
E-mail: alarmel@hotmail.com, alarmel14@yahoo.co.uk