Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bhagavan Sri Ramana as I Knew Him

A few weeks ago I was hunting up some references in The Call Divine when I came across a long section in a 1955 issue entitled ‘Symposium: Bhagavan Sri Ramana as I knew him’. The editor, Swami Rajeswarananda, had written to many devotees who had had personal contact with Bhagavan and asked for their recollections of the time spent in his presence. Many people responded, enough to fill almost one hundred pages of the January 1955 issue. I think this was probably the first attempt to collect and publish an anthology of accounts of people who had been affected by Bhagavan.

I went though it and found many fascinating narratives, some of which I had not come across before. Many familiar names were there, along with some I had never heard of. I am presenting a selection of the accounts here.

Since the style and the language were often of a very poor quality, I have rewritten and edited almost all of the accounts. When I have the time, I will go through the rest of the contributions and post another selection here.
The order in which the accounts appear is the same as in the original anthology.

Sri Devaraja Mudaliar, Sri Ramanasramam

It was in 1900 that I first cast my eyes casually on Bhagavan. From 1914 on I began visiting him, though my visits were few and far between. It was not till 1933 when I had my first great adversity that, true to the old adage, Bhagavan, our God, got his opportunity.

From that time on I came more and more under his spell, got to know him better, and as a result have stuck to him for ever. In this long interval between 1933 and his samadhi in 1950 I am vain enough to imagine it has been given to me to know so much of him. It would be difficult to press it all into the compass of a small article, as a contribution to a symposium must necessarily be. However, I must try and do my best.

The first thing that was borne in upon me, which subsequent closer acquaintance has thoroughly confirmed, was the fact that Bhagavan was no more anxious to annex any devotee who came to him than the devotee was fit to be annexed. Even to draw me nearer his spell took him nearly twenty years. He waited for time and circumstances to make me ready for him. In my long connection with him I have discovered this is one of his traits, whether you hold to it to his credit or otherwise. Kavyakanta Ganapathi Sastri was so advanced in mantra japa, tapasya, and had great devotion to Bhagavan. Bhagavan, in return, had great respect for him and showed him great consideration. But even in a case such as this, Bhagavan did not go out of his way to ripen him before his time was due. He was content to wait for the right moment.

I have heard that when, after the Sastriar’s passing away, Bhagavan was asked whether, in his case, there was likely to be liberation from all further births. He replied, ‘How could it be? He had such a strong desire for more powers?’

However, it was well-known that this great person desired powers not for selfish purposes, but for the regeneration of the world and its betterment.

This characteristic of Bhagavan is not to be wondered at. Tagore sings, ‘Time is endless in thy hands, my Lord. Thou knowest how to wait. Thy centuries follow each other, perfecting a small wild flower.’

The reader should not, however, run away with the impression that Bhagavan does nothing. On the contrary, he does everything, each act in its own proper time, as he alone knows best. In the worst years of my domestic grief, which occurred at the same time as the end of my professional success, Bhagavan was a source of help and strength, past all description.
In that period, a devotee, well known in ashram circles as Thiruppugazh Alamelu, was singing before Bhagavan a song from Bharathi’s ‘Kannan Pattu’, but substituting the name Ramana for Kannan. I felt then, and feel even more so now, that all that is said therein of Krishna is true of Bhagavan. The poem says:
If he wants to initiate a soul in the path of perfection, he can do it in a word. He will tell us how to overcome karma and get on in life. When earnestly sought for, he will come without a moment’s delay and without pretexts for holding off. To me, he is what the umbrella is against rain and food against hunger. He will give me money whenever I ask for it. Bear and forbear even when I scoff at him. Console me with dance and song and know without my telling him what is my heart’s desire. Among all saints, where is there one so kind? If I get conceited, he will bring me to my senses by sending a severe blow. He will contemptuously turn away from anything said in hypocrisy. In times of depression his words of grace will flood our soul with light and cheer. When we have our quarrel with him and feel he has neglected us, he will do something to gladden our heart and fill it with gratitude. When we are in great peril, he will come and stand by us and avert the catastrophe. By his grace all evils will be consumed like moths in a flame.
From my experience and also the experience of some other devotees I can affirm all this of Bhagavan, though it must perhaps be added that such things happen to Bhagavan’s devotees more in the earlier stages of their affiliation with him than in the later years, after they had become seasoned followers. Has he not himself exclaimed in the first of his Five Hymns to Arunachala:
You showed your heroic prowess, but having subdued, you do nothing at all now, O Arunachala.

This is not to say that nothing bad or painful will ever happen to a devotee. There would still be cases where some calamity, disaster, sickness or pain has to come, as per one’s prarabdha, which it would not be proper even for great souls such as Bhagavan to prevent altogether. In such cases I have found Bhagavan greatly softens the blow, or at the very least grants all help and resources in various ways so as to enable the devotee concerned to tide over the crisis and bear it easily. I have seen all this happen in my own case, as well as in the case of others. Even now I am just passing through the effects of a small mishap which befell me recently. But while the mishap had to come, Bhagavan has seen to it that it came at a time and place, and under circumstances which were the best for one in my position to face.

Once when I asked Bhagavan how, in answer to our earnest prayers to him for help, we get relief, seeing that he has no mind which can desire to send us the required relief, he was pleased to say, ‘All will still happen. It will happen automatically.’

There is another trait that I have observed in Bhagavan. Though he was equally accessible and kind to all alike, and though thousands of visitors came and went over the years, there was a small coterie of followers among all this crowd whom he definitely took over for his special care. Here again it must be said that he was not making any choice, for where was there a mind in him to make a choice? Such things were happening automatically. However, to all alike he was immeasurably kind.

Now I must draw attention to another characteristic of Bhagavan. He was extremely humble, affable and accessible, and yet kept all at a distance. There was a royal dignity that clothed the naked Bhagavan, and few could ever allow themselves to forget it. Also, even in his kindest and most indulgent moods, even in dealing with children or grown-up children (which some of his disciples like me were), he would never make a concession in stating the truth or advising its pursuit. Kind and loving as he undoubtedly was, he was, unlike some saints, more the strict father than the indulgent mother. I myself used to call him my father-mother in all my letters to him. Whenever anyone used to sing a Tamil song in which that phrase occurred, Bhagavan would look at me and smile. I mention this here merely to illustrate what great attention he was always paying to his devotees.

I wrote of Alamelu Ammal and the Kannan song she used to sing. About two years before Bhagavan’s mahasamadhi, after she had passed away, somebody came and sang that song. Bhagavan said ‘Alamelu used to sing that song’. While apparently indifferent to the hordes who came and went, he was really closely attentive to all that was happening, and helping wherever he could.
Bhagavan has himself said that as soon as someone appears before him, that person was an open book for him. Nothing about us was hidden from him.

Though Bhagavan’s main teachings are well known and need no further publicity, I shall refer briefly to them here. His whole teaching was succinctly expressed in the biblical quote, ‘Be still and know that I am God’. That is to say, one should attain quiescence or real mauna and realise the Self that is within each of us as ‘I am’. To attain this state of thoughtlessness Bhagavan asked us to concentrate on the question ‘Who am I?’ He wanted us to find the source of this I-thought, which is the root of all other thoughts. Through this enquiry, he said, the individual ‘I’ will disappear and the Self will emerge.
Though Bhagavan always said this vichara method was the best, he almost always added, ‘If you say this method is too hard for you, or if you are too weak to follow it, you had better completely surrender to God. The same result will follow.’

Thus he advocated the bhakti method almost in equal measure, saying that the bhakta will eventually come to realise there is only the Self and not a dichotomy of God and devotee. I never, however, saw Bhagavan recommend either the karma yoga or raja yoga methods.

Yogi Shuddhananda Bharati, Yoga Samaj, Vadalur

November 20th: Krithikai Day. The ashram is busy with the pouring crowds. Bhagavan is sitting outside his cottage. The ashram was then just a cottage of thatched leaves. I was sitting inside. I did not stir from my perch from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Even the call for food did not shake me. My friends had come that day to take me to Pondicherry. I was rather unwilling to leave the presence of this dynamic force. I could not even open my lips for permission. For my mission and its fulfilment were clear before me. I was hanging and swinging between ‘this’ or ‘that’, ‘here’ or ‘there’. My friends sat before me putting questions to me. Silence was my answer. They went to Maharshi and rolled out their conundrums. Silence was the answer. We were in silent heart-to-heart communion as my friends pestered him.

What is the good of remaining mum like this? What is the goal of man? What is God? What is ‘I’? Why are we born? How to get swaraj [self-rule] for the country? Violence or non-violence? What is Vedanta? What is Siddhanta? What is the meaning of the Vedas? A series of serried questions and a cascade of thrilling silence followed. One self-sufficient man lost his patience; he was a follower of modern education. His brain was full with Kant and Descartes. He had very poor opinion about our Sankaras and Gaudapadas. He had more regard for hatted and booted western armchair philosophers than for realised bald heads.

He hurried up to me and remarked, ‘Swamiji, you, as a well-educated man, must not be like this. You must be more like Bergson, Berkeley, Jung, Huxley. You must go to America and London and acquire name and fame.' My reply: silence.

At this time Maharshi rose up and came inside. The crowd was melting away for supper. The evening was solemn. Maharshi sat quite near me. I touched his feet, and then caught hold of his hands. His force was flowing into me. I saw his eyes; for Maharshi to me was his vision in and out. I saw the fire of knowledge radiating from those two red binocular-like eyes that saw the world around like a cinema show. His eyes darted into me. Tears flowed from my eyes. I did not move my tongue. Maharshi was reading my heart and mind, which were being saturated with divine consciousness. Silence for five minutes.

Then Maharshi spoke out in a calm, mellow, silvery voice: ‘Bharathi, take refuge in silence. You can be here or there or anywhere. Fixed in silence, established in the inner I, you can be as you are. The world will never perturb you if you are well founded upon the tranquility within. You have a sankalpa – to write out your inspirations, to bring out the Bharata shakti [power of India]. It is better to finish off sankalpas here and now and keep a clear sky within. But do it in silence. Gather your thoughts within. Find out the thought centre and discover your Self-equipoise. In storm and turmoil be calm and silent. Watch the events around as a witness. The world is a drama of gold, women, desire and envy. Be a witness, inturned and introspective.’

I wept and mumbled, ‘Do you want me to remain?’ I felt I must come back the next day. Maharshi, after a deep silence, saw my face. After his gaze had sunk into me he whispered, ‘You must come back, and you will. For every one must come to this path. Wind wanders before returning to the silence of the akasa.’

‘Are you saying that I will not return in a week?’

Maharshi smiled now and said, ‘Why a week? Even after years you must come here. Only take refuge in silence. Allow karma to work itself out and march on in faith. You will not miss the goal.’

With this he fell into trance while I fell at his feet. One hour passed. Then half an hour more. My philosophically inclined friend also stood there, struck dumb. His questions were rushed into silence. I placed a lump of dates into the hands of the Maharshi. He took a piece and returned the rest to me. I understood, ‘Today’s date is a sweet one. It is the date when I received the message of silence. I must taste in silence each date of my life by having communion with the divine.’

For two decades I was silence itself. Years later I returned. The former simple ashram had disappeared; the body of the Maharshi had disappeared. But the vibrating presence whispered into me ‘Silence, yet more silence!’

Prof. V. B. Athavale, M.Sc., F.R.G.S., Kirloskarwadi

I had the good fortune of meeting Sri Ramana Maharshi in April 1944 and observed for one week his state of supreme consciousness in which worldly knowledge appears insignificant and produces no worries.

When Paul Brunton asked, ‘Will the world soon enter a new era of friendliness and mutual help, or will it go down into chaos and war ?’ Maharshi replied, ‘There is one who governs the world. He knows how to look after it. He bears the burden of the world and not you.’

Maharshi’s reactions to my unspoken intentions were, however, very tender and marvellous. I reached his Tiruvannamalai ashram with my wife on 16th April. To investigate the relation between Gita and the Vedic literature with regard to the Vedic quotations explicitly referred to by Maharshi Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa, (the author of the Gita) I had prepared a genealogical chart of some 350 persons mentioned in the Rigveda. I intended to show this chart to Sri Ramana Maharshi and talk to him about my Gita study. But when I found that no one talked in the hall, I dropped the idea and decided not to talk about it unless the Maharshi showed some interest himself.

Next day, when I entered the hall at 8 a.m., I was surprised to find that the Maharshi had asked Mr Iyer to hand over a Gita book to me that contained 746 verses instead of the normal 700. Mr Iyer had also been asked to get my opinion on this difference. Thus I got the chance of opening the Gita topic.
To avoid disturbing the peace in the hall, Maharshi asked me to meet a pandit that afternoon to talk about the Gita. The pandit was going to relay our discussion to the Maharshi later. I ended up talking to this pandit for four days.

Maharshi eventually saw my genealogical chart and asked me, via the pandit, what I had to say about ‘tenaiva rupena chaturbhujena’, the reference to the four hands of Krishna in the 11th chapter. I explained to him that Arjuna has addressed Krishna twice as ‘Vishno’ in the 11th chapter. In the 10th chapter we are told that Krishna was Vishnu out of Adityas. Though this expression is usually interpreted to mean the sun in the twelve signs of the zodiac, it cannot be correct. Because, the next words say ‘I am the sun among the stars’. The Rigvedic expression ‘Astau putraso Aditeh’ tells that Aditi had eight sons and Adhvaryu Brahmana tells that Vishnu was one of the eight sons of Aditi. Yajurveda states, ‘Narayanaya vidmahe Vasudevaya dhimahi tanno Vishnuh prachodayat’. It means that Vishnu was called Vasudeva patronymically. Thus Krishna and Vishnu had the identical name Vasudeva patronymically.

According to old traditions Vishnu holds in his four hands (1) Shankha, (2) Chakra, (3) Gada, (4) Padma. Krishna had in his normal two hands the famous Panchajanya conch and the reins of the four horses. Arjuna first saw the four-handed form of Vishnu. Hence the 17th verse mentions only ‘Gada’ and ‘Chakra’ to be the two weapons, which were not in the hands of Krishna. The Mahabharata states that Krishna had decided not to wield any weapon in the war. In verse 44 Arjuna says, ‘I am terrified by this thousand-fold form. Please show me your original form with four hands. Verse 45 again mentions the same two weapons ‘Gada’ and ‘Chakra’. Verse 51 refers to the normal human form of Krishna.

Maharshi was pleased when he heard the explanation. He gave me his blessings for the study and suggested that I should write a commentary on the Gita.
On 23rd April I was sitting as usual in the hall. One gentleman, who was sitting near me, was reading some English passage from a book in a loud whisper. I heard the sentence, ‘A siddha is inferior to a conjuror’. I thought that the author of the sentence had committed a mistake, but didn’t intervene. On 24th April I went into the hall in the morning and informed Maharshi that I was leaving in the evening and requested him to give his autograph. The secretary told me that Maharshi never signed his name. I expressed regret for my ignorance of the rule and said that I merely wanted the handwriting of Maharshi and not his signature. The gentleman, whose sentence I had heard the previous day, was sitting near me. I was thinking of asking him the name of the author who had written that a siddha was inferior to a conjuror. I wanted to point out the mistake and demand its rectification.

Meanwhile, Maharshi took a pen and a piece of paper in his hand and asked Mr Iyer to tell me that he was writing a reply to my query. Mr Iyer told me that my wish had been fulfilled and that Maharshi was giving his handwriting to me. The verse that Maharshi wrote was a reply to my unspoken query to the gentleman, as well as to my mental comments about the sentence I had heard.

The book which the gentleman was reading was the English translation of a Tamil rendering by Maharshi of an old Sanskrit poem, called Rama Gita. The verse says, ‘A conjuror deludes others by his tricks but he himself is never deluded. A siddha who manifests his siddhis is, however, deceiving others as well as deceiving himself.’

hen Maharshi handed over the Devanagari script to me, a flash in his eye suggested that I was free to point out the mistakes of the author of the statement.

The handwritten verse that Bhagavan wrote for the professor

Dr Hafiz Syed, M.A., Ph.D., D.Litt., Allahabad

It was in March 1935 that a friend of mine, Mr. Bertram Keightly gave me a copy of A Search In Secret India by Paul Brunton. I devoured it, felt interested in Ramana Maharshi, and longed to meet him. The same year during the Christmas week I paid my first visit to Madras to attend the Theosophical Society convention. From there I went to Mysore in response to the invitation of Sir Mirza Mohd. Ismail. On my return to Bangalore I accidentally met Maurice Frydman. His ascetic life made me curious to know who he was and what made him lead an austere life. It was he who told me a great deal about Ramana Maharshi and roused my sleeping interest in him.

Through his good offices I arrived in Tiruvannamalai one morning and was ushered into Maharshi’s presence by Paul Brunton himself.
After three days’ stay there, while taking leave of the Maharshi, I begged him to give me his ashirvad [blessings] before I left him. He was gracious enough to nod his assent, which meant a great deal to me.

Next year, 1936, I visited him again during Dassara holidays. In 1937, the most momentous year in my life, I was attacked by a series of misfortunes. I had to stay in one of the rooms in the ashram itself for more than a month on account of a serious illness. It was during those days that I realised vividly his greatness as a divine man who was endowed with all spiritual and human qualities.
While I was lying ill with a high fever, Maharshi was considerate enough to visit me three times and prepared upma for me with his own hand. My eyesight was affected by the high fever. When parting with him to start for Madras for treatment, I took hold of his toes and touched my eyes with them. For me, that was a sufficient guarantee that my eyesight would not fail me. So it has not. I shall never forget the grace he gave me during my serious illness. I had no idea what it was till I returned to my place in North India and felt its purifying effect on my life. I never felt so light and free from all taint of desire as I did in those days.

In 1939 I went on a sacred pilgrimage to him during the summer vacation. As there was a big crowd in the ashram, I could not take leave of Maharshi before leaving Tiruvannamalai. The result was that, somehow or other, I was deprived of the inestimable privilege of having Maharshi’s darshan for three years. From 1943 onwards I never let a year pass without visiting him. I was present during his final illness and saw him undergoing an operation for sarcoma without any sigh, shriek or anaesthetic. The doctors were amazed at his composure and an unheard-of peace of mind.

During his serious illness he was so considerate and thoughtful of the feelings of others that, despite his intense suffering, he did not deprive any one of the privilege of having his darshan. His sense of humanity was as great as his sense of spirituality.

Once, during one of his birthday celebrations, I read out an article in the hall that contained the statement, ‘The more a person is spiritual, the more he is human’. I asked about this, and he agreed that it was true. The sight of suffering, or a mere tale of it, touched his heart.

I invariably noticed during my close contact with him that he was indifferent to his body, as he believed that it was transitory. The real in him, and in others, was beyond any change.

One of the plainest teachings he gave to seekers of truth was self-surrender to God or Guru. He recommended it because he himself had surrendered himself to the divine and reaped its fruit. This method of approach to truth, he said, was the easiest and the safest if one had an earnest desire to attain liberation. I have often felt strongly that his method of approaching truth was so definite, clear and direct, it must appeal to the modern mind because it is essentially scientific. Maharshi never expected anyone to pin his faith in any particular scripture, or practise any sadhana, or repeat any mantra. All he expected of us was to closely and critically analyse the content of our own being, to discover what we really were to see if there was any thing in us which survived the decay of our bodily frame. His words went straight into our heart because he lived what he taught. His grace was ready for those who were ready for it; in other words, those who had made themselves fit recipients of his grace.

The dominating feature of his philosophy was the unity of life, the oneness of the divine essence which is the indwelling Self of all. In view of this deep-seated conviction of his, we noticed that he made no distinction in everyday life between great and small, rich or poor, holy or profane. He treated all alike. He habitually saw the one life vibrant in all. Another remarkable and distinguishing feature of his life was that he showered grace on every one whom he considered eligible for it, whether they were frequent visitors to his ashram and attached to him or not. Those who came from other ashrams and were the disciples of other Gurus received the same transmissions of grace, if they were ready.

I heard him repeatedly say that there is one who governs the world and that it is his task to look after the world. He who has given life to the world knows how to look after it also. It is he and not us who bears the burden of the world. He would also say that each was helped according to his nature, in proportion to his understanding and devotion.

Yogi Ranganathan, Madurai

[This account is by Rangan, one of Bhagavan’s childhood friends. I included a chapter about him in The Power of the Presence (part one, pp. 1-38). I took the first few pages of my account from a chapter in one of Chalam’s books. Going through this 'Call Divine' account, which I was not aware of when I compiled The Power of the Presence, I can see that Chalam himself used it extensively in his Telugu version.]

My father, an Inspector of Police, was transferred to Tiruchuzhi in 1885. Bhagavan’s father Sundaram Aiyar was then practising there as a vakil. The two became close and intimate friends. I was a classmate of Bhagavan. My elder brother was in the same class as Bhagavan’s elder brother. Our two families moved on the friendliest terms, almost as close relations.

Around the middle of 1888 my father was transferred to another place and we left Tiruchuzhi. Bhagavan and his brother went to Dindigul for education and from there came to Madurai to continue their education. By that time we had also come to Madurai for our education.
Bhagavan was first reading in the Mission School, whereas I was attending the Native College. However, the institutions were adjacent to each other. If my school closed earlier I would wait for Bhagavan; and if his school closed earlier, he would wait for me. I and my brother, along with Bhagavan and his brother, would go to the Vaigai River, play on the sands and return home. Other boys would join us. I was just one year older than Bhagavan. Bhagavan left Madurai in August 1896. After that, I didn’t see him again for a long time.

When I saw him for the first time in Tiruvannamalai, I was accompanied by my wife, mother and daughter. I asked Bhagavan whether he recognised me. His reply sounded as if he was speaking from the back of his throat.

‘Rangan,’ he croaked.

In those days Bhagavan spoke rarely, and he had almost lost speech through lack of practice.

Turning to Palaniswami, he pointed out my mother and asked him ‘Do yon recognise this lady?’

‘Yes,’ he replied.

She had visited Bhagavan when he had been living at Pavalakundru in the 1890s.
I spoke to Bhagavan for some time.

As I was taking leave of him I remarked, ‘You have attained a great stage’.

His reply was, ‘Distance lends enchantment to the view’.

I learned later from the many teachings that he gave to me directly, and from advice given to other people that I overheard, that he was implying ‘A householder’s life was as good as that of an ascetic, and could equally lead one to jnana’.

On my next visit, when I was still ten or fifteen steps from Skandasramam, Bhagavan, who was then cleaning his teeth near the parapet wall, observed my coming and told his mother, ‘Mother, Rangan is coming’.

She said, ‘Let him come. Let him come.’

When I got up after prostrating before Bhagavan, he said, ‘It is a rare privilege to get the darshan of saints. It is good to go and visit them frequently. They will weave the cloth and give it to you.’

From this I gathered that if one had Bhagavan’s grace one could gain jnana, even without any effort on one’s own part.

During my next visit, when Bhagavan, his mother and I were alone together, I told Bhagavan’s mother, ‘I have also a right to a share in all that Bhagavan has gained’.

Mother asked Bhagavan, ‘Did you hear what Rangan said?’
Bhagavan laughed and said, ‘Is he not also one of us? He has also a share.’

On another occasion I came to Bhagavan on my way to Madras where I wanted to try for a job.

When I got up after prostrating, Bhagavan asked me, ‘Men can go anywhere and somehow eke out a livelihood. But what arrangements have you made for your wife and children?'

I replied, ‘I have provided for them’.

I stayed for a few days with Bhagavan and then went away to Madras. A few days later my elder brother visited Bhagavan. Bhagavan made kind enquiries of him whether my wife and children were getting on well, without any hardship.

My brother had to tell him, ‘He left some money when he started for Madras. All that has been exhausted and they are now suffering great hardship.’

Then he continued his journey to Madurai.

When, after making some efforts for a job at Madras, I returned to Bhagavan, he asked me, ‘You told me you had provided for your wife and children. Your elder brother told me they are undergoing hardship.’

I did not make any reply. Why? Because Bhagavan knows all and is also all-powerful. I again went to Madras and, finding my efforts for a job there were in vain, returned to Bhagavan and stayed with him for some time.

During that time, one night, when I was sleeping outside on a double cot that was lying there, Bhagavan suddenly came and sat near my feet. Seeing this I got up.

Bhagavan asked me, ‘What is the matter with you? Are you restless and not getting sleep because of your family troubles? Would it he enough for you if you get Rs 10,000?’

I kept silent.
Once when Bhagavan and I were going round the hill he said, ‘There are herbs on this hill which can transmute base metals into gold’.

That time too I kept silent.
Bhagavan used to often joke with me and laugh, asking, ‘Oh, are you suffering very much?’

He then told me, ‘When a man sleeps, he dreams he is being beaten and that he is suffering terribly. All that would be quite real at the time. But when he wakes up, he knows it was only a dream. Similarly, when jnana dawns, all the miseries of this world will appear to be mere dream.’

A few days later I returned to Madurai and through a friend got a manager’s job in a motor company. Later, I was also appointed as agent for the sale of buses in Ramnad and Madurai by another company, with a commission of 5% on all sales effected by me. From this and in other ways I got Rs 10,000, which I spent on clearing off my debts and marrying two of my daughters.

I never used to mention my family troubles to Bhagavan, nor ask him for anything. He was himself looking after me and my family. Why, then, should I make any requests for this or that particular thing? I left everything to him. It never occurred to me to ask him for any wealth.

I frequently used to tell Bhagavan, ‘I have entrusted my body, possessions, soul, all to you. The entire burden of my family is hereafter yours. From now on I am only your servant, doing only what you ask me to do. I am a puppet moved by your strings.’

Bhagavan would just laugh.

Once, at Skandasramam, when Bhagavan was standing, I felt his legs from the knee downwards, running my hands over them.

I remarked, ‘When in the old days we played together, I used to feel as if I was pricked with thorns whenever your legs came in contact with my body. Your skin in those days was rough and scaly. Now I find your legs are soft, like velvet.’

Bhagavan responded by saying, ‘My body has completely changed. This is not the old body.’

One day Bhagavan told me, ‘Let us go to Pandava Tirtham and swim in it. Can you still swim?’

I told him I had not forgotten and that I would be happy to go with him. The next morning, at 3 a.m., we went and swam there, playing as we did in the old days. We returned before people came there for their early bath.

Bhagavan said, ‘Let us do it again tomorrow. But we have to go early and return before people come there for their morning baths.’

I agreed and we went swimming there every morning for the next few days.

One day, before dawn, when I was restless in my bed, rolling from one side to another, Bhagavan came to me and asked, ‘Are you not getting sleep? What are you worried about?’

I told him, ‘I am thinking of taking up sannyasa. If I do it here my people would discover it. So, I want to go away to a distant place like Banaras and become a sannyasi there.’

Bhagavan went away and came back with a copy of Bhaktha Vijayam. He read from it the portion dealing with Vithoba’s determination to remain a sannyasi in a forest, along with the advice from his son Jnandev that the same mind goes with a man whether he stays at house or retires into a forest. He told me I could attain jnana while continuing to be a householder.

I asked Bhagavan, ‘Why then did you become a sannyasi?’

He replied, ‘That was my destiny’.

Then he added, ‘Though it is irksome to remain a householder, it is easy to attain jnana that way.’

Once at Skandasramam, after Bhagavan and I had taken a bath and he was drying his body with a towel, I noticed that from his knee to his ankle the skin had peeled off and blood was oozing. I asked him what the matter was with his leg. He said he didn’t know.

I asked, ‘Is it not your legs that blood is oozing from? You seem to know nothing about it!’

He replied very casually, ‘When I was sitting down, the fire from the charcoal brazier in which incense powder was being burnt might have burnt my skin and caused this sore’.

I at once sent for some ointment and applied it to his legs. From this I learnt how completely detached from the body Bhagavan was. He lived only in the Self.

One day, Bhagavan and I went round the hill by the forest foot path close to the foot of the hill. After I had gone a little distance on that path, which was full of thorns and sharp stones, I stepped on a thorn.

As I was lagging behind, Bhagavan observed me, came back to me, removed my thorn, and said ‘Now, we can continue’.

We carried on together but after a few yards he too stepped on a thorn. Noticing this, I ran up to him, lifted up his foot and saw the marks of several thorns there. I then examined his other foot and found several marks there too.

Bhagavan said, ‘Are you going to remove the new thorn or the old thorns?’

Then, with the greatest indifference, he pressed his foot on the ground, pushed it forward, and the thorn broke off. We then continued with our walk. It confirmed for me that he was living completely detached from his body. I further imagined that both of these incidents were somehow staged by Bhagavan to impress on me that he was not his body.

On another occasion Bhagavan said to me, ‘You think you are undergoing great troubles. Hear some of mine. I was once climbing the hill up a precipitous track and when I caught hold of a rock above me. The rock dislodged itself and I fell on my back. The moving rock dislodged others, all of which fell on top of me while I was lying on the ground. I managed to remove the rocks that were covering me and climb out. I found my left thumb was dislocated and hanging loose. I forcibly brought it back to its place and reattached it there.’

At that stage in the narration Bhagavan’s mother appeared and remarked, ‘Don’t ask for that horrid story. He came home with blood all over his body. It was too heart-rending a spectacle.’

I cannot understand who came and removed the rock, treated his wounds and fixed up the thumb. Who was that doctor?

One day Bhagavan’s mother told me in his presence that once, while he was standing, she saw various kinds of snakes all over his body, round his neck, chest, waist, legs. She became very afraid, but after some time the snakes all went back to their places. I believe that this was one of the visions vouchsafed by Bhagavan to his mother to wean her from the belief that Bhagavan was her son and to impress on her that he was God Himself.

Once, at Skandasramam, when Bhagavan, his mother and I were the only people there, mother told the following story: ‘About ten days ago, at about this time, ten in the morning, I was looking at Bhagavan. His body disappeared gradually and transformed into a lingam like the one in Tiruchuzhi Temple. The lingam was lustrous. At first I could not believe my eyes. I rubbed them, looked again, and still saw the same sight. I became afraid because I thought he might be leaving us. But slowly and gradually his body reappeared in place of the lingam.’

After hearing this account I looked at Bhagavan, who smiled at me. From this I gathered he was confirming his mother’s account. When I returned home I mentioned this to the members of my family. My eldest son, who was writing an account of what he called ‘Bhagavan’s marriage with his bride jnana’, included this incident in it.

Later, when that work was being read out before Bhagavan by my son and this incident came up, Bhagavan asked ‘Who told you this?’

My son, of course, replied ‘My father’.

Then Bhagavan said, ‘Oh, that fellow came and told you everything, did he?’

Some of the devotees who were listening to the work being read out asked what exactly was the incident referred to. Bhagavan dismissed it, saying it was nothing.
I myself gathered from this vision of Bhagavan’s mother that Bhagavan was God himself, and that the vision was granted to mother to impress on her that she was no longer to think of him as her son, but as God Supreme.

One day, when Bhagavan and I were climbing the hill, I told him that because I have had the good fortune to have Bhagavan’s darshan, all my sanchita and agami karma had been burnt away like a bale of cotton by a spark of fire, and that only my prarabdha karma was left.

He replied, ‘Even prarabdha will remain only so long as the mind remains. If the mind is destroyed, to whom does the prarabdha belong? Think over that deeply.’

From that I understood that once the mind is killed and jnana is attained, there is no such thing as prarabdha.

Once a devotee who had behaved improperly towards Bhagavan asked me what he might do to expiate his offence. I advised him to do pradakshina round Bhagavan three times.

He walked around him three times, prostrated before him and said, ‘Bhagavan should not keep in his mind the mistake I have committed’.

Bhagavan replied, ‘Where do I have a mind? Only if I have a mind can I keep something there’.

It is clear from this that Bhagavan has attained mano nasa, extinction of the mind.

When Bhagavan was in Skandasramam, a gentleman from Malabar, greatly learned, and an expert in yoga sastras, came and lectured for four hours on yoga.

After he had finished, Bhagavan said, ‘Now, you have finished, I hope, everything that you wanted to say. The end of all your yoga is seeing lights and hearing sounds. The mind will be in laya (a suspension of mental activity) while the sound or light is there. When they disappear, the mind will again emerge. The real thing is to achieve mano nasa or extinction of the mind. That is what is called jnana.’

The other man said, ‘What you say is the truth,’ and took leave of Bhagavan.

Sri Mouni Sadhu, Australia

Those who ‘knew’ Sri Bhagavan Ramana know him forever. This is because even a single encounter with the great rishi on our life’s path is an event that can never be forgotten or dimmed in our consciousness by the passage of time. For some of us, it meant a complete change in the course of our present and future lives, and this could never have happened otherwise.

The scope of the subject is far too broad to be described in detail within the framework of such a short article. I am therefore compelled to condense it as much as possible.

The first time I met him I had come directly from the cart that had brought me from the Tiruvannamalai railway station. Before visiting the ashram, I had been conversant with Sri Maharshi’s teachings for some four years and the many photographs I had seen had made his features quite familiar to me. When I was ushered into the dimly lit dining hall, I was therefore able to recognise him immediately, even though at that time his figure was much more meagre than in the pictures I had seen. He was sitting close to a wall, eating his evening meal. I bowed in greeting, and with an incomparable expression of kindness on his face, he asked me where the other devotee was who had come with me. I wondered at his very sharp memory because the letter announcing my proposed visit had been written many months before. My friend’s absence was explained; he had not been in a position to come. Sri Bhagavan then asked that supper be brought to me.

When I became conscious that at last I had found what I had been seeking all my life, this knowledge did not come through conscious deliberation but via an intuitive flash. I immediately became absorbed into the presence of the Master. At first I was worried about his precarious physical state, but my grief quickly became dissolved in his spiritual radiation. The outer appearance soon merged into that mysterious inner link with him that has remained unbroken from that moment up to the present time. While I was at his feet, I learned to stop the thought-current in my mind, a thing that formerly had devoured long years of effort, and which had never been completely successful, despite the many exercises of various occult systems. I never returned to those exercises; they were quite inadequate in the sublime spiritual atmosphere surrounding the Master, which in itself permitted much faster development.

The key to it – concentration – came of itself. Firstly, and most importantly, I became aware that there is a thing above all things that I had never known before. This cannot be adequately described in words, but nevertheless, perhaps some direct hints will give an idea about it. The eyes of the Master conveyed in silence that there is a state which is beyond and untouched by all human troubles, a state which is certainty and peace in itself, in which we know everything. For in that state everything is in us. This mysterious process in consciousness was induced by Sri Bhagavan, or rather by his presence, for he was himself all harmony and peace.

I tried to analyse the changes that arose in me when I meditated at his feet. I found that the mind was easily freed from thoughts, and that memory – in the usual meaning of the word – was no more. Also absent was the concomitant subdivision of time into past, present and future. Instead, there appeared something that cannot be properly described in words. Perhaps a conception of living eternity would be best. There were no visions but, strangely enough, one knew that there could be nothing unknown to him, for by completely directing the attention, one could know everything. These experiences have been more explicitly described in the book In Days of Great Peace.

In some wonderful way the Maharshi seemed to supervise these inner processes in us, just as an operator watches the work of complicated machinery that he knows thoroughly. Moreover, he mysteriously helped in these inner experiences, but how he did it still remains a mystery to me. At the same time, without any deliberation from my side, a potent love for him was created in my heart, simply because it could not be otherwise. Altogether, a man emerged from these experiences greatly changed and quite often with a totally different idea about everything in this world. I myself called it ‘the spiritual alchemy of the Master’.
As time passed, I ceased to consider Sri Bhagavan as a being of flesh and blood. This was the most wonderful experience and conquest. From that time on the Master could never be lost to me, although I was only too well aware that his days on this earth were numbered and few remained. I saw the spiritual essence of the man, the indestructible core instead of just the mortal frame. This was the chief factor that enabled me to bear his physical departure without any inner catastrophe.

The word ‘spirit’ is plainly misused by a world that cannot connect the term with anything real, often confusing it with emotional and mental impressions, creating from them an idea of something indefinite and dim. All his long life Sri Maharshi taught that the true reality is beyond all forms, no matter to which plane of existence they belong. And yet, for many people this remains merely a myth or theory. After the Master left this earth, I tried to analyse what it was in his manifestation amongst us that was the most important thing for future generations to remember him for. I reached the conclusion that it was that he himself showed the example of what final attainment is, thereby making it accessible to everyone else.
An eternal wisdom lies in all his utterances. He confirmed the truth of them by being that wisdom himself. For example, Maharshi demonstrated that he was not the body and that his true Self never suffered when that body was attacked by a painful disease, one that would be terrifying for an average person to undergo. However, we all felt that, though he was detached from his bodily pains, he could have overcome the disease if such an outcome had been necessary.

When such a sage testifies to the immaterial truth of being, and daily pointed us all towards it, how could I ever seek something apart from it?
The Maharshi himself knew very well the decisive role he played in the lives of those who were fortunate enough in their karmas to come to him from all sides of the world.

He says, ‘Association with the sages who have realised the truth removes material attachments. These attachments being removed, the attachments of the mind are also destroyed. Those for whom attachments of the mind are destroyed become one with That which is ever motionless. They attain liberation while yet alive. Cherish, therefore, the association with such Sages.’

Such a sage was and is Sri Ramana, and there are many of us who used to know and revere him.

M. K. S., Karachi

No man can be happy without the knowledge of God. Scriptures are our guides in the path to the Godhead. It is said in the Bible, ‘Many are called but few are chosen’. Religion is essential for all. Man needs spiritual bread for his sustenance in the struggle of life. A stage arrives in the evolution of a human soul when man is not satisfied with mere teachings and promises of a life hereafter. He longs for God. He thirsts for God. He gets intoxicated in his love of God. He sets aside his Bible, his Koran, his Gita, his Gathas. He wants to see God face to face. He yearns and pines for his visual revelation. He discards everything in life. He is prepared to go through all the trials, tests and ordeals that may be necessary for attaining the object of his heart. He starts on the journey in the quest of truth. He yearns to unravel the secrets of the universe and be merged in God.

In July 1947 I was ordered by my Spirit Master to pay a visit to Tiruvannamalai and sit at the feet of the Sage of Arunachala, Bhagavan Sri Ramana. The journey was long but the longing to see the sage was greater. Accompanied by my wife, we embarked upon the journey, a distance of more than two thousand miles by rail. Passing through Bombay and Madras we arrived at Sri Ramana’s ashram with hearts gladdened by the prospect of attaining spiritual enjoyment. We arrived when the moon was shining in the sky, casting its shimmering, pale, silvery light through the foliage of trees, through which we passed to reach our destination. It was all so quiet.

We stayed in a cottage, named ‘Detachment’. The very name of the cottage was enough to send thrills of delight through every nerve and fibre of our being. It appeared God was preparing in His subtle manner for the great future that was awaiting.

The next day we were in the presence of the sage in the hall. Prostrating at full length, we sat near him on the floor. My friend Doraiswami, the Honorary Secretary of the Spiritual Healing Centre, Coimbatore, had also accompanied us from Madras.
As I sat for hours and hours together without being fatigued or exhausted in that hall, with many other devotees squatting on the floor, my eyes were rivetted upon the magnetic personality of the sage. Naked, except for a loin cloth that he wore, his face kindled with the fire of the inner light, his deep, searching eyes that seemed to penetrate into the soul of every devotee gathered in that silent throng, his majestic look, his tall frame made slender by the years of abstinence and tapas practised in the forests and the caves where he communed alone with his God – all this made a deep impression upon our minds.

Sri Ramana appeared to be the very soul of India. This country has been known as a land of rishis. And it is India’s pride that in spite of the wave of materialism that is sweeping all over the world, this tradition of her spirituality has been maintained so beautifully. In fact, India’s greatest contribution to the world is her spirituality. We are living in an age of rush and crash. Passivity is decried and activity is hailed as a mark of progress in all phases of life. We do not deny the role of human activity in the economy of life. But it is incorrect to say that passivity is alien to progress and that it is tantamount to sin. The life of the sage of Arunachala is a most salient and solid rejoinder to this vile accusation. This man lived all his life in the vicinity of Arunachala. He lived a life of silence, seclusion and solitude, away from the maddening crowds, in utter renunciation, and he realised God.
God-realisation is the only real goal of life.

This is lost sight of by westerners, and passivity is wrongly criticised. By passivity, we mean, passivity of the right type, when man yearns for God and in his yearning, he is prepared to forego everything and seeks Him by the marga of silence, seclusion and deep meditation. Ramana left his home, when he was just a lad studying in a school, when the longing came to him to give himself up solely to God. He went in search of his Lord and found Him in the seclusion of his heart in the midst of surrounding quietude of nature, away from the dust and din of a skeptic world steeped in ignorance of God’s light and beauty. To sit at his feet in that silent hall vibrant with the radiance of his soul pervading the whole atmosphere was a feast for the soul.

Devotees of various classes come for his darshan. Some come in the hope of solving their difficulties. Some come for his blessings. Some come out of sheer curiosity. Some come with an understanding heart, that the sage in his invisible, subtle manner, would kindle a fire and let loose the soul from the bondage of the body. I was fully aware that this miracle would be performed by him.

On the last day, before bidding adieu to the Sage, I sat for a long time, squatting on the floor and lo! to my surprise, I fell into a sort of samadhi – the first of its kind experienced. It was like awakening in a new world. It was all rapturously divine. The sage had worked his miracle. The secret purpose of my visit was understood. He opened the inner valves and gave me freedom. My soul was free. I left the sage of undying fame and his ashram with a heart bounding with joy and bursting with gratitude.

Sri M. S. Madhava Rau, Mangalore

My claim to write is that of one who saw Him. I dare not say ‘I know Him’. Twice I and my wife had the beatific privilege of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi’s darshan, with a space of ten years intervening. A decade after the last visit I am now writing of the deep and abiding impression he made on me.

My first visit was in the company of Maurice Frydman from Bangalore. Suddenly one morning, early in 1934, he said that he was going to Tiruvannamalai that night. He asked us if we would like to accompany him. He had been there many times before but never invited us. Nor had we ever thought to ask if we could accompany him. This time, though, the question and our own wishes were beating in unison.

The offer came at an unfortunate moment since we didn’t at that time have the money required for the trip. However, almost immediately, the post brought a letter from relations in Mangalore asking us to meet that day a person to whom some of our articles had been sent. We called on her and received the parcel. Inside, among other things, was an envelope containing some currency notes. An accompanying note said that in the haste and confusion of our departure from her house a few months earlier this money had been left in a cupboard in their home. We counted it out and discovered that the newly acquired sum would be just sufficient for a trip to Tiruvannamalai and back. And so we went with Maurice.

At the ashram Maurice introduced us to the Maharshi. He welcomed us with a gracious smile and made enquiries about where we were from. When we replied ‘Mangalore’, the Maharshi said that M. S. Kamath (of the ‘Sunday Times’) was a frequent visitor to the ashram. He then told the other people in the hall a few interesting tidbits about the languages, customs and so on of that part of the country. When he learnt from us that for some years we had lived and worked in the Theosophical Society, Adyar, he smiled again and said that we would then easily make ourselves at home in the ashram. And we did, very happily too.

The Maharshi’s serene and busy life reminded us of Dr Annie Besant in several respects. In the evening a visitor arrived, a big and prosperous-looking Punjabi Sikh gentleman, dressed completely in European clothes. Noting his discomfort while he was attempting to perform the full pranam that Indian etiquette requires, the Maharshi immediately set him at rest, saying it was unnecessary. He also arranged for a chair for him to sit in. The gentleman said plaintively that he was pining for peace of mind. The Maharshi asked who it was that was pining. The visitor was puzzled. In humble and anxious tones he pleaded that he was too ignorant and busy for such deep introspection. However, he added that he would be grateful for some japa, prescribed in the Maharshi’s own words, and conveyed with his blessings. He promised to do the japa in whatever spare time he had.

The Maharshi told him that devoting the same amount of time he had to spare for his japa to enquiry instead would be more beneficial, and that, with practice, it would amply repay his efforts and could even be done at the times when he was busy at work. This was not what the Sikh visitor wanted to hear. After he had failed in his repeated attempts to persuade the Maharshi to give him some japa, he asked, sadly, whether, having come with such high hopes, the Maharshi was now going to send him away empty handed. The Maharshi assured him in a compassionate way that he should not think in this way.

The following morning the Maharshi cited some verses to the Sikh visitor that came from an edition of Yoga Vasishta that had been printed by Maurice Frydman. This appeared to revive his spirits and he left for his train in a good mood.

That evening Frydman and I took Bhagavan’s permission to return to Bangalore and come back. Bhagavan repeated the ‘come back’ part of the request in an affectionate and slightly quizzical way.
We did come back, but not for another ten years.

In 1944 my wife and I came with Mr and Mrs Sanjiva Rao. That time we put more planning and organisation into our trip. The ashram premises and the neighbourhood around it had expanded immensely in our absence. There were many more visitors, and more ashram activities had been added. The Maharshi had clearly advanced in age. He looked much older, and he had grown weak as well. We spoke to Dr K. Shiva Rao about it and he confirmed that Bhagavan’s health was in decline. We were told that he consistently refused to take any special food that might improve his condition, saying that he would only take what was offered to everyone else in the ashram.

We were introduced to him again. He looked at us and said that the introduction was superfluous since we had been introduced by Frydman many years before. He remembered us. Life in the hall was more active and varied than on our earlier visit. There were numerous visitors who had come from all over the world. Mothers frequently brought their babies for a blessing, which he bestowed on them with a tender smile. The morning and evening prayer times were silently vibrant with a power that stirred and pacified one’s innermost being. People mostly sat quietly or meditated, and as they did so Bhagavan’s eyes would impersonally scan the room, imperceptibly alighting for a moment on the people who were sitting there. Animals came and went freely and often left with food given by Bhagavan himself. One day I saw a brahmin woman, dressed in rags, come into the hall and begin to wail in a pitiful way. Bhagavan rose from his seat and met her half way. He enquired about the cause of her misery and learned that she was an ill-treated and abandoned wife who had been driven from her home. Bhagavan asked her to stop crying and invited her to sit down and have a rest. She followed his advice and shortly afterwards looked consoled and calm.

On one afternoon there was discussion among a small group over an ignorant questioning of the Maharshi’s teaching in some British or American philosophical journal. The Maharshi joined in with a few brief remarks, and resolved the doubts of those who had raised questions about the contents of the article. He ended the discussion in a humorous way, speaking partly in English and partly in Tamil, by saying, ‘Indian philosophy begins where western philosophy ends’.

The sublime and the mundane were readily mixed. Early one morning he was making a joke about a laxative he had concocted himself. He said that one devotee, in an excess of zeal, had taken an overdose and paid for it by having no rest for several hours.

One experience impressed itself on me indelibly. Before beginning meditation in his presence, I decided that at some point during that day I should ask the Maharshi about a personal problem I had been agonising over for some time. As I sat there meditating, the answer flashed before me, and along with it I was filled with an indescribable flow of happiness. Without needing to vocalise the problem to him, I had received both an answer and the experience of his power and grace. This experience in his presence was sufficient for me to sense the truth of both his message and his silent teaching.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tattuvaraya and Sorupananda

A few years ago T. V. Venkatasubramanian, Robert Butler and myself made a translation of Sorupa Saram and had it published in The Mountain Path (2004, pp. 75-103). It turned out to be highly popular. The issue sold out almost immediately, the only time this has ever happened. Once the last copy had been sold, xeroxed copies of the Word document I submitted to the magazine were given to those who could not obtain copies of the magazine itself.

The man who composed this work, Sorupananda, had a disciple called Tattuvaraya who eventually became just as famous as his Guru. In this four-part post Venkatasubramanian, Robert and myself have collected all the known facts of Tattuvaraya’s life and translated some of his voluminous writings. The four sections cover the following topics:

Part one: The life of Tattuvaraya and the relationship he had with his Guru Sorupananda.

Part two: a full translation of Sorupa Saram. Though this has appeared both in The Mountain Path and on my site, there may be new readers here who have not seen this wonderful text before.

Part three: extracts from Amrita Saram, one of Tattuvaraya's works on Vedanta.

Part four: translations of songs from Paduturai by Tattuvaraya. The selections include advice to sadhakas, expressions of gratitude towards his Guru, and verses in which he declares his own experience of the Self.

Sorupananda and Tattuvaraya appear in several Ramanasramam publications, with their names being spelled in a variety of ways: ‘Tatvaroyar’,‘Tatva Rayar’ and ‘Swarupananda’ can all be found. I have standardised the spellings as Sorupananda and Tattuvaraya in all four parts of this post.

* * *

Tattuvaraya was a Tamil saint and poet whom scholars believe flourished in the late 15th century. He was a prolific author who wrote thousands of verses on a wide variety of spiritual topics. Bhagavan noted in Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 648, that he was ‘the first to pour forth advaita philosophy in Tamil’. Prior to his arrival on the Tamil literary scene, advaita texts in Tamil seem to have been translations of, or expositions on, texts composed in Sanskrit.

One of Tattuvaraya’s compositions was mentioned several times by Bhagavan. This is how he narrated the story in Day by Day with Bhagavan, 21st November 1945:

Tattuvaraya composed a bharani [a kind of poetical composition in Tamil that features military heroes who win great battles] in honour of his Guru Sorupananda and convened an assembly of learned pandits to hear the work and assess its value. The pandits raised the objection that a bharani was only composed in honour of great heroes capable of killing a thousand elephants, and that it was not in order to compose such a work in honour of an ascetic. Thereupon the author said, ‘Let us all go to my Guru and we shall have this matter settled there’. They went to the Guru and, after all had taken their seats, the author told his Guru the purpose of their coming there. The Guru sat silent and all the others also remained in mauna. The whole day passed, night came, and some more days and nights, and yet all sat there silently, no thought at all occurring to any of them and nobody thinking or asking why they had come there. After three or four days like this, the Guru moved his mind a bit and thereupon the assembly regained their thought activity. They then declared, ‘Conquering a thousand elephants is nothing beside this Guru’s power to conquer the rutting elephants of all our egos put together. So certainly he deserves the bharani in his honour!’

There is a very similar retelling of the bharani incident in Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 262.

Sorupananda, his Guru, was also his maternal uncle. Early on in their life they had made an arrangement whereby they would both seek Gurus in different places. Tattuvaraya travelled to the north of India from Virai, their home town, Sorupananda to the south. The agreement further stipulated that whichever of the two attained the grace of the Guru first would become the Guru of the other. Sorupananda became the disciple of Sivaprakasa Swami and realised the Self with him. Then, to fulfil the agreement with his nephew, he became his Guru.

In Letters from Sri Ramanasramam (letter dated 8th April 1948) Bhagavan gives a brief summary of how Sorupananda became Tattuvaraya’s Guru:

This afternoon when I [Suri Nagamma] went to Bhagavan, I found someone singing a song, ‘Gurupada Mahima’ [Greatness of the Guru's Feet].

After the singing was over, looking at me, Bhagavan said: ‘These songs have been written by Tattuvaraya Swami. You have heard of the sacredness of the feet of the Guru, haven’t you?’

‘Yes. I have heard the songs. As the meaning of the songs is profound I thought some great personage must have written them,’ I said.

‘Yes. There is a story behind it,’ remarked Bhagavan. When I enquired what it was, Bhagavan leisurely related to us the story as follows:

‘Both Tattuvaraya and Sorupananda decided to go in search of a Sadguru in two different directions. Before they started they came to an understanding. Whoever finds a Sadguru first should show him to the other. However much Tattuvaraya searched he could not find a Sadguru. Sorupananda, who was the uncle of Tattuvaraya, was naturally an older man. He went about for some time, got tired, and rested in a place.

Feeling he could no longer go about in search, he prayed to the Lord, ‘O Iswara! I can no longer move about. So you yourself should send me a Sadguru.’

Having placed the burden on the Lord, he sat down in silence. By God’s grace, a Sadguru came there by himself, and gave him tattva upadesa (instruction for Self-realisation).

This story was originally published in Letters from and Recollections of Sri Ramanasramam as letter number five. The letters from this volume have now been added to the enlarged and consolidated edition of Letters from Sri Ramanasramam.

Though Tattuvaraya was a prolific author, only one work has ever been attributed to Sorupananda: Sorupa Saram, a 102-verse poem about the nature of the experience of the Self. This work was so highly valued by Bhagavan, he included it on a list of six titles that he recommended to Annamalai Swami. Since the other five were Kaivalya Navaneetam, Ribhu Gita, Ashtavakra Gita, Ellam Ondre, and Yoga Vasishta, Sorupa Saram is in distinguished company.

Tattuvaraya realised the Self quickly and effortlessly in the presence of Sorupananda. The opening lines of Paduturai, one of his major works, reveal just how speedily the event took place:

The feet [of Sorupananda], they are the ones that, through grace, and assuming a divine form, arose and came into this fertile world to enlighten me in the time it takes for a black gram seed to roll over. (Tiruvadi Malai, lines 1-3)

Black gram is the variety of dhal that is one of the two principal ingredients of iddlies and dosa. It is 2-3 mm across and slightly asymmetrical, rather than spherical. This property led Tattuvaraya to write, in another verse, that Sorupananda granted him liberation in the time it took for ‘a [black] gram seed to wobble and turn over onto its side’. (Nanmanimalai verse 10)

Tattuvaraya attributed this near-instantaneous enlightenment wholly to the power and grace of his Guru, rather than to any intrinsic merit, maturity or worthiness:

It is possible to stop the wind. It is possible to flex stone. But what can be done with our furious mind? How marvellous is our Guru, he who granted that this mind should be totally transformed into the Self! My tongue, repeat this without ever forgetting.

When my Lord, who took me over by bestowing his lotus feet, glances with his look of grace, the darkness in the heart vanishes. All the things become completely clear and transform into Sivam. All the sastras are seen to point towards reality.

Most glorious Lord, if you hadn’t looked upon me with your eye of divine grace, how could I, your devotee, and the mind that enquired, experience the light that shines as the flourishing world, as many, as jnana, and as one?

To destroy me, you gave me one look in which there was no looking. You uprooted the ignorance of ‘I’ and ‘mine’. You brought to an end all the future births of this cruel one. O Lord, am I fit for the grace that you bestowed on me? (Venba Antadi, vv. 12, 14, 60, 69)

Sorupananda’s mind-silencing ability is quite evident both from the story of the bharani that Bhagavan told on several occasions and from the verses in which Tattuvaraya spoke of this transmission from his own direct experience. Tattuvaraya even stated in some places, somewhat hyperbolically, that Sorupananda, unlike the gods, bestowed instant liberation on everyone who came into his presence:

[In order to convince the devas] Brahma, [lacking the power] to make them experience directly the state of being, held the red-hot iron in his hand and declared, ‘This is the ultimate reality declared by the Vedas. There is nothing else other than this. I swear to it.’ Siva as Dakshinamurti declared, ‘In all the worlds, only the four are fit; they alone are mature for tattva jnana.’ Lord [Krishna], holding the discus, had to repeat eighteen times to ignorant Arjuna, who was seated on the wheeled chariot. But here in this world [my Guru] Sorupananda bestows jnana on all as palpably as the gem on one’s palm. (Tiruvadi Malai lines 117-126)

‘Eighteen times’ refers to the chapters of the Bhagavad Gita.

The Brahma Gita is the source of the story mentioned at the beginning of the verse. This text was translated from Sanskrit into Tamil by Tattuvaraya himself. His version of the relevant verses, taken from chapter five, is as follows:

96 The four-faced One [Brahma], he who creates all the worlds and is their Lord, said, ‘You [gods] who love me well, listen! Since it is I who declare to you that this is the meaning of the arcane Vedas, this is the reality beyond compare. If you are in any doubt, I will have the iron heated till it is red hot and hold it in my golden hands to prove myself free of any falsehood.’

97 He who sits upon the lotus blossom [Brahma] said, ‘[Gods, you who are] loving devotees [of Lord Siva], listen! The meaning of the Vedas, as I have explained it, is just so. There is nothing further. In order that you should be convinced of this in your minds, I have sworn a threefold oath, holding onto the feet of Lord [Siva].

Holding a red-hot iron in one’s hand was ancient trial-by-ordeal way of affirming the truth. If the flesh of the hand did not burn, then the statement uttered was deemed to be true.

Tattuvaraya made the claim in the Tiruvadi Malai lines that his Guru was more powerful and more capable of granting enlightenment than the trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu in the form of Krishna, and Siva. Elaborating on this theme, Tattuvaraya stated that Siva, appearing as Dakshinamurti, only managed to enlighten the four sages (Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatkumara and Sanatsujata); Brahma had to resort to holding a red-hot iron and taking an oath to persuade his deva followers that his teachings were true; whereas Krishna, despite giving out the extensive teachings that are recorded in the Bhagavad Gita, wasn’t able to enlighten even Arjuna. Though this is a somewhat harsh assessment, the inability of Krishna to enlighten Arjuna through his Gita teachings was mentioned by Bhagavan himself:

Likewise, Arjuna, though he told Sri Krishna in the Gita ‘Delusion is destroyed and knowledge is imbibed,’ confesses later that he has forgotten the Lord’s teaching and requests Him to repeat it. Sri Krishna’s reiteration in reply is the Uttara Gita. (Sri Ramana Reminiscences, p. 52)

While all this might sound slightly blasphemous, it is a long and well-established position in Saivism that, when it comes to enlightening devotees, the human Guru is more effective and has more power than the gods themselves.

Though Tattuvaraya knew that it was the immense power of his Guru that had granted him liberation, he was at a loss to understand why that power had ultimately singled him out as a worthy recipient of its liberating grace. In one of his long verses he ruminated on the mysterious nature of prarabdha – why events had unfolded the way they did in various narratives of the gods – before chronicling the circumstances of his own liberation in a stirring peroration:

When [even] the gods despair; when those who investigate the paths of every religion become confused and grow weary; when even they fail to reach the goal, they who perform great and arduous tapas, immersing themselves in water in winter, standing in the midst of fire in summer, and foregoing food, so that they experience the height of suffering, I do not know what it was [that bestowed jnana upon me]. Was it through the very greatness of the noble-minded one [Sorupananda]? Or through the nature of his compassion? Or was it the effect of his own [absolute] freedom [to choose me]? I was the lowest of the low, knowing nothing other than the objects of sense. I was lost, limited to this foul body of eight hands span, filled with putrid flesh. But he bade me ‘Come, come,’ granting me his grace by looking upon me with his lotus eyes. When he spoke that single word, placing his noble hands upon my head and crowning it with his immaculate noble feet, my eye of jnana opened. [Prior to this] I was without the eye [of jnana], suffering through births and deaths for countless ages. [But] when he commanded me ‘See!’, then, for me, there was no fate; there was no karma; there was no fiery-eyed death. All the world of differentiated forms became simply a manifestation of Sorupananda. (Nanmanimalai, v. 37, lines 28-50)

The lines that immediately precede this extract discuss destiny, karma and death, and mention a claim that it is impossible to destroy them. Tattuvaraya then disagrees, citing his Guru Sorupananda’s statement: ‘We have routed good and evil deeds in this world; we have destroyed the power of destiny; we have escaped the jaws of Yama [death].’ (Nanmanimalai v. 37, lines 24-26)

In the portion of the verse cited here Tattuvaraya emphatically backs up this claim by saying that when his own eye of jnana was opened through the look and touch of his Guru, ‘for me, there was no fate; there was no karma; there was no fiery-eyed death. All the world of differentiated forms became simply a manifestation of Sorupananda.’

There are other verses which reaffirm Tattuvaraya’s statement that after he had been liberated by Sorupananda he knew nothing other than the swarupa which had taken the form of Sorupananda to enlighten him:

All that appears is only the swarupa of Sorupan[anda]. Where are the firm earth, water and fire? Where is air? Where is the ether? Where is the mind, which is delusion? Where indeed is the great maya? Where is ‘I’?

[In greatness] there is no one equal to Sorupan. Of this there is no doubt. Similarly, there is no one equal to me [in smallness]. I did not know the difference between the two of us when, in the past, I took the form of the fleshy body nor later when he had transformed me into himself by placing his honey-like lotus feet [on my head]. Now I am incapable of knowing anything. (Nanmanimalai, vv. 38, 39)

Let some say that the Supreme is Siva. Let some say that the Supreme is Brahma or Vishnu. Let some say that Sakti and Sivam are Supreme. Let some say that it is with form. Let some say that it is formless. But we have come to know that all forms are only our Guru. (Venba Antadi, v. 8)

Tattuvaraya wrote of the consequences of his realisation in a poem entitled ‘Pangikku Uraittal’ (Paduturai, v. 64), which can be translated as ‘The Lady Telling her Maid’. The second of the five verses, which speaks of the simple, ascetic life he subsequently led, was mentioned with approval by Bhagavan in Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 648:


Our reward was that every word we heard or said was nada [divine sound].
Our reward was to have ‘remaining still’ [summa iruttal] as our profession.
Our reward was to enter the company of virtuous devotees.
My dear companion, this is the life bestowed by our Guru.


Our reward was to have the bare ground as our bed.
Our reward was to accept alms in the palms of our hands.
Our reward was to wear a loincloth as our clothing.
My dear companion, for us there is nothing lacking.

Bhagavan’s comment on this verse was:

I had no cloth spread on the floor in earlier days. I used to sit on the floor and lie on the ground. That is freedom. The sofa is a bondage. It is a gaol for me. I am not allowed to sit where and how I please. Is it not bondage? One must be free to do as one pleases, and should not be served by others.

‘No want’ is the greatest bliss. It can be realised only by experience. Even an emperor is no match for a man with no want. The emperor has got vassals under him. But the other man is not aware of anyone beside the Self. Which is better?

The poem continues:


Our reward was to be reviled by all.
Our reward was that fear of this world, and of the next, died away.
Our reward was to be crowned by the lotus feet of the Virtuous One [the Guru].
My dear companion, this is the life bestowed by our Guru.


Our reward was the pre-eminent wealth that is freedom from desire.
Our reward was that the disease called ‘desire’ was torn out by the roots. Our reward was the love in which we melted, crying, ‘Lord!’
Ah, my dear companion, tell me, what tapas did I perform for this?

There is an indirect reference in the first line to Tirukkural 363: ‘There is no pre-eminent wealth in this world like freedom from desire. Even in the next, there is nothing to compare to it.’

The final verse says:


Our reward was to wear the garment that never wears out.
Our reward was to possess as ‘I’ the one who is present everywhere.
Our reward was to have [our] false devotion become the true.
My dear companion, this is the life bestowed by our benevolent Guru.

‘The garment that never wears out’ is chid-akasa, the space of consciousness.

After his realisation Tattuvaraya subsequently spent much of his time absorbed in the Self. Sorupananda knew that his disciple had a great talent for composing Tamil verses and wanted him to utilise it. However, to bring him out of his inner absorption and to set him on the literary path, he knew he had to coax him out of his near-perpetual samadhi state.

This is how the story unfolds in the traditional version of Tattuvaraya’s life. The indented biographical details in the account that follows are all taken from an introduction to a 1953 edition of Tattuvaraya’s Paduturai, published by Chidambaram Ko. Chita. Madalayam. They appear on pages 8-16.

Sorupananda thought, ‘This Tattuvaraya is highly accomplished in composing verses in Tamil. Through him, we should get some sastras composed for the benefit of the world.’

He indicated his will through hints for a long time, but as Tattuvaraya was in nishta [Self-absorption] all the time, he could not act on the suggestions.

Sorupananda eventually decided to accomplish his objective by following a different course of action.

Pretending that he wanted to have an oil bath on a new-moon day, he turned to his attendant and asked, ‘Bring oil’.

Tattuvaraya, who was standing nearby, knew that it was amavasya [new-moon day]. He began to speak by saying ‘Am…’ and then stopped.

It is prohibited to have an oil bath on amavasya. This breach with custom was sufficient to bring Tattuvaraya out of his Self-absorption. He spontaneously uttered ‘Am…’, presumably as a prelude to saying that it was amavasya, but then he stopped because he realised that it would be improper of him to criticise any action his Guru chose to perform. This gave Sorupananda the opportunity he was looking for:

As soon as he heard Tattuvaraya speak, Sorupananda pretended to be angry with him.

He said, ‘Can there be any prohibitions for me, I who am abiding beyond time, having transcended all the sankalpas that take the form of dos and don’ts? Do not stand before me! Leave my presence!’

Tattuvaraya thought to himself, ‘Because of my misdeed of prescribing a prohibition for my Guru, who shines as the undivided fullness of being-consciousness-bliss, it is no longer proper for me to remain in this body. There can be no atonement other than drowning myself in the sea.’

With these thoughts in his mind, he walked backwards while still facing his Guru, shedding torrents of tears at the thought of having to leave his presence.

Other versions of this story make it clear that Tattuvaraya walked backwards away from his Guru’s presence because he felt that it was improper to turn his back on his Guru. Though it is not clear in this particular retelling, he apparently walked backwards until he reached the shore of the sea where he intended to drown himself. The narrative continues:

Through the compassion he felt for other beings and through the power of the Self-experience that possessed him, he began to compose verses as he was walking [backwards towards the ocean]. These were the eighteen works he composed in praise of both his Guru and his Paramaguru [Sivaprakasa Swami]. These were noted down by some of Sorupananda’s other disciples.

As he continued to sing these eighteen works, the disciples who were following him took down what he said, [conveyed the verses to] Sorupananda, and read them in his presence.

Sorupananda pretended not to be interested: ‘Just as a woman with hair combs and ties it, this one with a mouth is composing and sending these verses.’

Another version of Tattuvaraya’s life states that Sorupananda had sent disciples to write down the verses that Tattuvaraya was composing, so his lack of interest should not be taken to be genuine. It was all part of a ruse to get his disciple to begin his literary career.

Meanwhile, Tattuvaraya was pining and lamenting: ‘Alas, I have become unfit to have the darshan of my Guru. Henceforth, in which birth will I have his darshan?’

Like a child prevented from seeing its mother, he was weeping so much, his whole face became swollen. At this point he was singing ‘Tiruvadi Malai’ from Paduturai. He was close to the edge of the sea and was about to die.

When the disciples went to Sorupananda and updated him about these events, he [relented and] said, ‘Ask the ‘Guruvukku Veengi’ [the one whose obsessive desire for his Guru is making him ill] to come here’.

When Tattuvaraya heard about this, he was completely freed from his bodily suffering, and he also regained the power to walk [forwards].

The Pulavar Puranam, an anthology of the biographies of Tamil poet-saints, reports in verse thirteen of its Tattuvaraya chapter that he was already neck-deep in the sea when Sorupananda summoned him to return. The story continues:

He [Tattuvaraya] told the disciples [who had arrived with the message], ‘Sorupananda, the repository of grace and compassion, has ordered even me, a great offender, to return’.

Experiencing supreme bliss, he sang some more portions of Paduturai, and then returned to the presence of the Guru. He stood there, shedding tears, in ecstasy, singing the praises of his Guru.

Sorupananda merely said, ‘Iru’.
Iru is the imperative of a verb that means both ‘Be’ and ‘Stay’. In choosing this word Sorupananda was ordering him both to remain physically with him and also to continue to abide in the state of being.

Tattuvaraya lived happily there, serving his Guru.

Sorupananda went through the works that Tattuvaraya had composed and was delighted with their depth of meaning and the grandeur of their vocabulary. However, he made no sign of the joy he felt.

Then he thought to himself, ‘These sastras will be useful only for the learned and not for others’.

He told Tattuvaraya, ‘Son, you have sung all these sastras for your own benefit, but not for the benefit of the people of the world’.

The conversation was interrupted by the arrival of the cooks who informed Sorupananda, ‘Swami, you should come to have your food’.

When Sorupananda went for his meal, Tattuvaraya, who was left alone, pondered over the words of his Guru. Concurring with his remarks, he composed Sasivanna Bodham before Sorupananda had returned from eating his meal. He placed it at the feet of his Guru [when Sorupananda reappeared] and prostrated. Sorupananda was delighted at the simplicity of its style and the speed with which Tattuvaraya composed poetry.

The next incident is the story of the bharani that Bhagavan narrated and referred to. There are several sources of Tattuvaraya’s life, and the details vary from text to text. The version that appears in this narrative is slightly different from the one Bhagavan told, and it also has a few extra details:

Tattuvaraya composed some Vedanta sastras, but was mostly in samadhi. Around that time some Virasaivas, who were on a pilgrimage, along with some pandits, came before Tattuvaraya, who was sitting in the presence of Sorupananda.

[They read the bharani and complained:] ‘A bharani is [only] sung about great heroes who have killed a thousand male elephants on the battlefield. How is it that you have composed this [kind of poem] on your Guru who has not heard of or known heroic valour even in his dreams?’

To this Tattuvaraya replied, ‘As our Guru kills the ego-elephants of disciples, I sang in this way’.

They responded, ‘The ego-elephant that you mention is not visible to the eye, so it is not proper [to compose in this way]. However, even to kill one ego-elephant would take many, many days. How did he manage to kill the egos of 1,000 disciples simultaneously?’

Tattuvaraya, thinking that they should be shown through a demonstration, resumed his samadhi state, without replying to them.

Under the power and influence of Sorupananda all the pandits who came remained in paripurnam [had the full experience of the Self] for three days, without knowing either night or day. On the fourth day Tattuvaraya opened his eyes. All the pandits arose and prostrated to both Tattuvaraya and Sorupananda.

They said, ‘It was because of our ignorance that we objected. The power of your [Sorupananda’s] presence is such that even if 10,000 disciples happen to come, it [the presence] has the ability to bring them all to maturity simultaneously.’

Then they composed their own verses in praise of the bharani and departed.

It is not unreasonable or fanciful to compare the relationship of Tattuvaraya and Sorupananda with the one that existed between Muruganar and Bhagavan. Tattuvaraya and Muruganar came to their Gurus (who both liked to teach through silence) and realised the Self soon afterwards. They both subsequently composed thousands of verses that either praised their respective Gurus, or recorded some aspect of their teachings. Tattuvaraya’s poems in praise of his Guru (and Sivaprakasa Swami, his Guru’s Guru) include Venba Antadi (100 verses), Kalitturai Antadi (100 verses), Irattaimanimalai (20 verses), Nanmanimalai (40 verses), Jnana Vinodan Kalambagam (101 verses), Kali Madal (232 verses), Ula (393 verses), and many, many more. Then there was the bharani that Bhagavan mentioned: a 493-verse poem (Ajnavatai Bharani) on the annihilation of ignorance by the ‘hero’ Sorupananda. Mokavatai Bharani was another 850-verse bharani on the killing of delusion that includes in its text 110 songs in which a goddess instructs her followers in Vedanta. These 110 songs are often published independently as a Tamil primer on Vedanta under the title Sasivanna Bodham. This is the work that Tattuvaraya composed while Sorupananda was having his meal.

There are, in addition, two long anthologies of Tamil poetry that contain more of Tattuvaraya’s verses: Peruntirattu (The Great Anthology), and Kuruntirattu (The Short Anthology). Though these anthologies mostly contain works by other authors, Tattuvaraya contributed some verses to both collections, and he is also acknowledged as the compiler of both books.

Muruganar, at Bhagavan’s behest, composed Sri Ramana Sannidhi Murai, modelling it on Manikkavachagar’s Tiruvachakam. In another interesting parallel Tattuvaraya composed Paduturai, a 1,140-verse collection of verses that are derived from contemporary folk songs. This work is also loosely based on Tiruvachakam. The ‘Lady Telling her Maid’ poem that appeared earlier in this article comes from this collection of verses.

Though Tattuvaraya clearly played a Muruganar-like role in the life of Sorupananda, it is interesting and a little intriguing to note that Satyamangalam Venkataramayyar, the author of Sri Ramana Stuti Panchakam, addresses Bhagavan himself as ‘Tattuvaraya’ in the second line of verse nine of ‘Kalaippattu’. This poem is chanted every Saturday evening in Bhagavan’s samadhi hall.

In addition to the original Tamil compositions and the anthologies he compiled, Tattuvaraya also translated Brahma Gita and Iswara Gita from Sanskrit into Tamil.

Despite this prolific literary output, it is fair to assume that Tattuvaraya regarded as his greatest accomplishment the state that was bestowed on him by his Guru Sorupananda:

What if the world praises me henceforth or reviles me? What if Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, remains close to me or separate from me? What if the body assuredly exists without ever decaying or perishes? Will there be any gain or loss to me on account of them, I who have worn perfectly on my head the twin feet of immaculate Sorupananda? (Jnana Vinodan Kalambagam v. 99)

The passing of both Sorupananda and Tattuvaraya is described in the traditional story of their lives:

Sorupananda started to wander aimlessly, leaving Tattuvaraya behind. Tattuvaraya followed him. When Sorupananda reached the sea shore, the waters separated to let him enter. However, when Tattuvaraya tried to do the same [and follow him], the sea did not part.

Tattuvaraya stood on the shore, crying loudly, like a calf separated from its mother. He searched for his Guru in all directions. Finally, Sorupananda appeared to give him [a final] darshan before shining as akanda paripurna satchitananda [the undivided transcendent fullness, being-consciousness-bliss].

In the context of what follows, this is the author’s way of saying that Sorupananda took mahasamadhi.

After performing his Guru’s samadhi rites, Tattuvaraya was constantly thinking of Sorupananda. Either through the supreme love he felt for him, or through his inability to bear the separation, or because of the understanding that there was nothing for him to do apart from his Guru, he immediately attained mahasamadhi.

Tattuvaraya’s samadhi shrine is located at Irumbudur, which lies between Vriddhachalam and Chidambaram.

Tattuvaraya's samadhi shrine. The president of Sri Ramanasramam, Sri V. S. Ramanan, can be seen on the right.