Sunday, November 7, 2010

New photos for Living by the Words of Bhagavan

Sometime last year I decided to give the photos in Living by the Words of Bhagavan a complete makeover. Some were taken from old scratched prints that have since been cleaned up in the ashram archives. Others were not reproducing well for technical reasons that I won't go into. I asked the President of Ramanasramam if I could take new files from the ashram archives for the next edition, and he happily gave his permission.

I picked up one batch of photos a few months ago. Yesterday I went back to have a longer look at what was available. The ashram archives is doing a great job in locating new photos and preserving the existing ones. During my search I discovered many pictures that I didn't even know existed. I ended up taking copies of several new photos that were not in any of the previous editions of the book. The new pictures mostly show the state of the ashram and the surrounding area in various periods of their development from the 1920s to the 1940s, a time when Annamalai Swami was actively involved in building projects.

As a 'preview of forthcoming attractions' I have decided to share a few of them here.

This tiny old print comes from the earliest days of Sri Ramanasramam. The thatched hut on the right of the photo was the original 'temple' over the samadhi of Bhagavan's mother. This photo is one of a pair that were taken at the same time. The other is more well known. It has Bhagavan standing near this hut, reading. The caption 'hermit and hermitage' on the other photo is in the same handwriting as the caption (Samadhi Tiruvannamalai) on the bottom of this one. Both photos were probably taken in either 1922 or 1923. On the day they were taken this small hut was the only construction that Ramanasramam had. Bhagavan lived and slept there for several years until the old hall was completed in 1928. Just to give a sense of scale, the tree on the left would have been more or less on the spot where the door to the new hall is today.

This is an interesting view that I hadn't seen before. In the foreground it looks as if work is about to start on the 'tank room' (next to the ashram well in front of the dining room) and possibly the old ashram office and bookstore block as well. The end of the old hall can be seen behind the lamp post. In the early 1930s the ashram had a tiled dining room that was located more or less on the spot where Bhagavan's samadhi is today. This was connected to the old hall by an awning that protected transiting devotees from the sun and the rain. A portion of the wall that runs round the ashram well can be seen on the right.

This follows on from the previous photo. The new dining room and kitchen have been completed. A corner of the dining room can be seen in the top right-hand corner of the photo. The old dining room was then demolished and a shady awning was constructed on the south side of the old hall. The photographer in this picture is probably standing on the spot where Bhagavan was eventually buried. In the 1930s the entrance to the old hall was on the south side of the building (the one furthest away from the mountain). To get into the hall Bhagavan and the devotees had to climb a few stairs. When Bhagavan found it difficult to climb the stairs in the 1940s (no one was allowed to help him) a new entrance was made on the Arunachala side of the hall, the same one that is still used today.

This gives an interesting insight into construction methods of the 1930s. Huge granite boulders were dumped on the lower slopes of Arunachala, behind the ashram. Stone cutters and stone masons then came and turned these huge shapeless masses into the square building stones that were used to build the cowshed, the Veda Patasala, the dining room and kitchen, and the old ashram office. All the shaping work was done by hand, with hammers and mild steel chisels that had to be sharpened at regular intervals by an onsite blacksmith who would reforge the cutting ends of the chisels over a charcoal fire that was kept hot by a bellows. This photo is dated 1935, so the stones produced by these workers probably ended up in the dining room or the kitchen.

Annamalai Swami told me that Chadwick had arranged for several photos of the two of them to be taken, but until yesterday I had never seen any of them. This one turned up in an album that comprised photos taken by Dr Mees in the 1930s. Chadwick took many photos of Annamalai Swami supervising the ashram building work, but none of these pictures seems to have survived

On page 173 of Living by the Words of Bhagavan (second edition) Annamalai Swami described how he constructed a house for Chadwick inside the ashram, and how Bhagavan attended the grihapravesam (opening and consecration) ceremonies. I didn't know the event had been recorded until I serendipitously came across this photo yesterday. I was looking for a copy of the photo of Chadwick's house that has appeared in past editions of Living by the Words of Bhagavan. The archives didn't seem to have one, but half an hour later, when I was searching for something else, I found this file. The head of Bhagavan (he is the one with a stick and a water pot) is obscured by the shade of the overhanging thatch; Chadwick's head (two to Bhagavan's left) is also obscured for the same reason. However, out in front, on the right there is S. S. Cohen (shading his eyes) and Paul Brunton, wearing a western jacket. I have played with the brightness and contrast on the original scan, and studied all the faces at a high resolution, but I could not see anyone I thought might be Annamalai Swami.

I love this photo! A gloriously sunlit Bhagavan is slowly walking to the steps that lead to the path to Skandashram. On his left is a thatched building that was later demolished to make way for the ashram dispensary that Annamalai Swami built.

This is an idyllic early 1930s shot of Arunachala, with the Palakottu tank in the foreground. The house peeping between the trees is the one that was started by B. V. Narasimha Swami in the late 1920s. Its most famous tenant, though, was Paul Brunton, who lived there in the mid-1930s.

Here is another lovely shot of the Palakottu tank, taken in an era when it was much better maintained than it is now. For many decades the sadhus who lived on its banks used it only for drinking water. In the early days of Ramanasramam devotees would carry buckets of water from this tank to the ashram since it did not have enough water of its own. The shrine visible on the top right is the original Ganapati temple that accommodated both Ganapati Muni and Viswanatha Swami in the 1920s. I say 'original' because it fell down (or was demolished) in the 1960s. The current temple was reassembled from bits of the original that had ended up on the properties of several local people who had used the old temple as a source of building material. The man on the rock is Dr Mees.

This is the original wall-less entrance to Sri Ramanasramam. The arch seems to be the same one that is still there today. I am including this photo in the new edition because it illustrates one of the incidents in which Perumal Swami tried to take over the ashram. The ashram heard that Perumal Swami was planning to come to the ashram in the middle of the night to build a hut next to the iluppai tree that still exists by the ashram entrance. He apparently planned to move into it to wage his campaign to take over the ashram from inside the ashram itself (Living by the Words of Bhagavan pp. 134-5). On the advice of a local police inspector, the ashram built a barricade of bamboo and rope on either side of the gate to demarcate the ashram's boundaries. This was the first fence around the ashram. Prior to that night it looked as it does in this photo. The inspector whom the ashram consulted also agreed to post two policemen at the gate to prevent Perumal Swami from entering. The temporary barricade was not converted into a permanent wall until the late 1940s. I would guess that this photo dates from the early 1930s.

This is the kumbhabhishekam of the Mother's Temple that took place long after Annamalai Swami left the ashram. I am including the photo in the new edition because the steps in the foreground are the ones that Annamalai Swami built at Bhagavan's behest. Bhagavan insisted that he work late into the night to finish the work. Within hours of the work being completed, there was a torrential downpour that filled Pali Tirtham in hours. It collects run-off from the mountain, and when Annamalai Swami was planning to stop work for the day at the usual time, the tank was completely empty. If the work had stopped at that time, it could not have been resumed until the tank emptied, several months later.


Clemens Vargas Ramos said...

It's great to see more fotos here. "Living by the words of Bhagavan" is one of my favourite books and will remain unforgetable to me. I mean it is not so easy to find that kind of profound personal guidance (Ramana's to Annamalai Swami).

Every time when I look at this pictures of peace I have to think of the thirties here in Europe when the hatred and sadism of the ego rises its head.

Ravi said...

Great Photographs here!The one where Sri Bhagavan proceeding to climb to Skandasramam is absolutley wonderful-How Arunachala Siva is sri Bhagavan-How Arunachala should draw the lad venkataraman from Madurai to itself-how all these developments took place-how Sri Bhagavan's family now encompasses the whole world.
I love the other wonderful photograph of Annamalai Swami and Sadhu Arunachala-What a pair!Just like Azhagu(Tamil)and Sundaram(Sanskrit)mean the same-beauty,Annamalai(Tamil) and Arunachala(Sanskrit) mean the same!somehow providence brought it about-Sadhu Arunachala(chadwick),true to his Sanskrit name was instrumental in restarting Vedic Chanting and Traditional worship in the Matru Bhuteswara temple after the Mahasamadhi of Sri Bhagavan,when for sometime the practice was discontinued.
The other photograph of the Grihapravesam of Chadwick's house is also a memorable one-with so many prominent devotees featured.
All in all a Real treat.
It will be great if all the photographs are brought out in a book form(with the relevant notes(like David has done here so wonderfully)or even a DVD with a Running commentary!This in itself would be a form of Sadhana to go through it.
Thanks very much David.

David Godman said...


Bhagavan didn't actually walk to Skandashram on the day this photo was taken. When he went in 1945, it was his first visit there in more than twenty years. This photo was taken in the 1930s.

I agree it would be nice to have a sort of online exhibition of photos from the early decades of Ramanasramam. Every time I visit the archives I think it would be nice to do a project like this, with extensive captions or appropriate stories under each photo. Maybe one day I will get inspired and ask the president if I can pick fifty or so photos and put them online with background information and commentary.

Broken Yogi said...

There's some wonderful examples of the photo restoration project at this website:

They also have a very good archive of photos to check out.

Anonymous said...

Where is the need of changing anything? The mind is changing anyhow all the
time. Look at your mind dispassionately; this is enough to calm it. When it
is quiet, you can go beyond it. Do not keep it busy all the time. Stop it,
and just be. If you give it rest, it will settle down and recover its
purity and strength. Constant thinking makes it decay.
These wonderful words of Nisargadatta are in direct contrast to the new paradigm where everyone is expected to exercise the mind all day. Do crossword puzzles and challenging tasks to prevent decline and dementia.

Anonymous said...

This took me to imagining how it was then. What golden days! How lucky them! Nearly brought me to tears... Thanks yet again, David.

Subramanian. R said...

Nice restored photographs. Every
piece of information and every object like photographs, of the Asramam, really thrill a serious seeker. Once someone sold to me
for Rs 20 a piece of black stone,
as big as an pencil eraser saying
that it had been taken from some rock near the summit of the Hill.
I took it gladly. If Arunachala is
Atma every piece of the Hill is also Atma. Is there anything big and small? Similarly every news,
objects related to the Asramam is
Bhagavan Ramana. Thanks.

Sridhar Mudhan said...

Namaste David and All
Thanks for another wonderful journey back in time. The pictures and the guide's pointers made me feel a part of these great times.
I have by now seen two or three pictures of Sri. Annamalai Swami in his younger days. In this picture with Shri Chadwick too he radiates humility and surrender so much.
Shri Chadwick's picture also makes me wonder if all Bhagwan's western devotees are 6'2" plus :)
I wonder if the Ramanashram arch came up soon after Bhagwan shifted from Skandashramam permanently.
Many Pranams and Namaskarams

Mangalananda said...

Hi all of you that visit this site!

I am tremendously moved by these photos, beyond words. Ramana Maharshi is incomparable!

I wish to buy the new edition of
"Living by the Words of Bhagavan", when it is published.


Mangalananda said...

Hi everybody,

These pictures move me beyond words. Ramana Maharshi is incomparable!
I shall buy the new edition of
"Living by the Words of Bhagavan" when it is published.


Unknown said...


charly said...

Merci pour ces photos pleines de souvenirs. J'ai vos livres sur Annamalaï Swamy, je les adores, La corde et le serpent,Une vie auprès deRamana,Comme une montagne de camphre. Excellent conpte-rendu de la perpective d4annamalaï, fervent dévots qui prouve que la connaissance intellectuelle et livresque n'est pas nécessaire à la compréhension ultime, ce qui est confirmer par tous les tenants de l'advaïta lorsqu'ils répètent toute leur vie que l'on ne pêut devenir ce que l'on est déjà. Jésus-Christ à dit aussi,"Ne cherchez plus. Tout est déjà là."
Félicitations pour votre qavoir faire, Mr Godman, nul doute que la grâce de Ramana, nectar de tous les Sages et Saoints libérés,coule à travers vous et vos oeuvres. Merci.

Raghavan said...

Thank you David for those wonderful photographs. "Living By the Words of Bhagavan" is a book that I have read many,many times - and continue to. The images make vivid some of the passages in that book - and evoke a world that was so much simpler.

I tell my friends, almost all of us at some time or the other, might have read biographies of great men and women - of wonderful writers, artists, musicians, and so on. By any conventional yardstick, Annamalai Swami will figure in no list of "achievers" - and no writer would perhaps even think of attempting to catalog his life and times: a simple, almost unlettered man ; a mason, though not by training or profession, who merely supervised construction activity in the 1930s at the Ashram, resolutely following the instructions of Bhagavan as best as he could - and in other aspects of his life,too, till the end. A man for whom the words of Bhagavan ,sometimes not even explicitly stated, was "law", even if he had to contend, from time, with resistance from others in the Ashram, including from Bhagavan's younger brother who was the Sarvadikari of the Ashram.

But there is a "power" in that book that I find irresistible. I just cannot describe it. And that, in fact, goes for all the books of David that I have read. Indeed, David's books have "brought me" to Bhagavan, somewhat like Lakshmana Swami, who missed a talk on Bhagavan by a great devotee who happened to be a professor at his college but then chanced upon the slim book "Who Am I" at a railway station soon thereafter, a book that introduced him to Bhagavan - and self-enquiry.

Before I started reading David's books, I knew of Bhagavan and his teachings but vaguely.

David I do not know how I can ever thank you enough.

- Raghavan

r.s.prabhu said...

Dear David,

I express my extreem thanks to you for the wonderfful photos, you have posted on your blog relating to Ramanashram. These photos and descriptions give a clear understanding of the Ramana days at the Ashram.

I am Ramana follower, and frequently visit Thiruvannamalai for giripradakshina and visit to

I am very much inspired by your devotion to Ramana Maharswhi.


Unknown said...

Excellent Photos David..Thanks for sharing to the world :) Arunachala!

Unknown said...

Thank you David. Please do publish more online. They are such a rare and wonderful find! Who knew they even existed....

Anonymous said...

Thank you David :)

David Godman said...

The new Tamil printing of Annamalai Swami's diary is now available. Sundaram has given copies both to the president and to the ashram bookstore but has not so far received any order for the books. Devotees who want to obtain a copy immediately should write to him directly at:

The trust has also completed the translation of a Tamil version of Final Talks and hopes to print it later this year.

I knew that Sundaram did not have sufficient funds to pay the printer's bill for the reprinting of the diary, but on the day I was due to meet him on some other business, a devotee emailed me to say that he wanted to make a donation to any of my publishing projects. I told him that Sundaram was more in need of printing funds than I was, and he agreed to put most of his donation towards that book.

It reminds me of some of Annamalai Swami's stories, the ones where Bhagavan would start a project without having funds to complete it, and then, in some unexpected way, the money would arrive at the last minute.

Ram said...

Is Annamalai swami's diary similar to Day by Day with Bhagavan or Talks?

David Godman said...

Annamalai Swami recorded many of Bhagavan's teachings in the late 1930s. Most of the material from the diary appeared in English in Living by the Words of Bhagavan, although it was not in the sequence it appeared in the diary. There are also severely edited extracts from it in Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi. The Tamil version keeps the original material in the original order that Annamalai Swami recorded it. The new edition is 77 pages long.

Ravi said...

Thanks very much David for all that you are doing in the service of Sri Bhagavan and his devotees.
You are abundantly blessed.

Unknown said...

It is indeed a great service to humanity. Bhagwan's presence everywhere, and this intensify the love...