Sunday 3 June 2007


Sri Sundara Mandiram, Tiruchuli, where Bhagavan was born in 1879

ARUDRA DARSHAN, the day of the `Sight of Siva', is observed with great devotion by Saivites, for it commemorates the occasion when Siva manifested himself to His devotees as Nataraja, that is in the cosmic dance of creation and dissolution of the universe. On this day in 1879 it was still dusk when Siva's devotees in the little town of Tiruchuzhi in the Tamil land of South India left their houses and padded barefoot along the dusty roads to the temple tank, for tradition demands that they should bathe at daybreak. The red glow of sunrise fell upon the brown torsos of the men, clad only in a dhoti [?], a white cotton cloth wrapped round the body from the waist down, and flashed in the deep reds and golds of the women's saris as they descended the stone steps of the large square tank and immersed themselves in the water. There was a nip in the air, for the festival fell in December, but they are hardy folk. Some few changed under trees or in houses near the tank but most waited for the rising sun to dry them and proceeded, dripping as they were, to the little town's ancient temple, hymned long ago by Sundaramurthi Swami, one of the sixty-three Saivite [?] poet-saints of the Tamil land.

The image of Siva in the temple was garlanded with flowers and taken in procession throughout the day and night, with noise of drum and conch and chanting of sacred song. It was one o'clock at night when the processions ended, but still Arudra Darshan because the Hindu day stretches from dawn to dawn, not from midnight to midnight. The idol of Siva re-entered the temple just as the child Venkataraman, in whom Siva was to be manifested as Sri Ramana, entered the world in the house of Sundaram Ayyar and his wife Alagammal. A Hindu festival varies with the phase of the moon, like the Western Easter, and in this year Arudra Darshan fell on December 29th, so that the child was born a little later, both in time of day and year, than the divine child of Bethlehem nearly two thousand years before. The same coincidence marked the end of earthly life also, for Sri Ramana left his body on the evening of April 14th, a little later in time and date than Good Friday afternoon. Both times are profoundly appropriate. Midnight and the winter solstice are the time when the sun is beginning to bring back light to the world, and at the spring equinox day has equalled night and is beginning to exceed it.

After starting life as an accountant's clerk on the salary, ridiculously small even for those days, of two rupees a month, Sundaram Ayyar had set up for himself as a petition writer and then, after some years, obtained permission to practise as an uncertified pleader, that is a sort of rural lawyer. He had prospered and had built the house1 in which the child was born, making it commodious enough for one side to be reserved for guests. It was not only that he was sociable and hospitable, but also because he took it on himself to house official visitors and newcomers to the town -- which made him a person of civic importance and doubtless reacted favourably on his professional work.

1 This house has now been acquired by the Ashram. Daily puja [?] (ritualistic worship) is performed there and it is kept open as a place of pilgrimage for devotees.

Successful as he was, a strange destiny overhung the family.

It is said that a wandering ascetic once stopped to beg food at the house of one of their forebears and, on being refused, turned on him and pronounced that thenceforth one out of every generation of his descendants would wander and beg his food. Curse or blessing, the pronouncement was fulfilled. One of Sundaram Ayyar's paternal uncles had donned the ochre robe and left home with staff and water-pot; his elder brother had gone ostensibly to visit a neighbouring place and from there slipped away as a sanyasin [?], renouncing the world.

There seemed nothing strange about Sundaram Ayyar's own family. Venkataraman grew up a normal, healthy boy. He was sent for awhile to the local school and then, when he was eleven, to a school in Dindigul. He had a brother, Nagaswami two years his senior. Six years after him came a third son, Nagasundaram, and two years later a daughter, Alamelu. A happy, well-to-do middle-class family.

When Venkataraman was twelve, Sundaram Ayyar died and the family was broken up. The children went to live with their paternal uncle, Subbier, who had a house1 in the nearby city of Madura. Venkataraman was sent first to Scott's Middle School there and then to the American Mission High School. There was no sign of his ever becoming a scholar. He was the athletic, out-of-doors type of boy and it was football, wrestling and swimming, that appealed to him. His one asset, so far as school goes, was an amazingly retentive memory which covered up laziness by enabling him to repeat a lesson from hearing it once read out.

1 This is the house in which Sri Bhagavan attained realization. It has been acquired by the Ashram and a portrait of Sri Bhagavan installed there. It is kept as a place of pilgrimage for devotees.

The only unusual thing about him in his boyhood years was his abnormally deep sleep. Devaraja Mudaliar, a devotee, relates in his diary how he described it in a conversation at the Ashram many years later on seeing a relative entering the hall.

"Seeing you reminds me of something that happened in Dindigul when I was a boy. Your uncle, Periappa Seshayyar, was then living there. Some function was going on in the house and everyone attended it and then in the night went to the temple. I was left alone in the house. I was sitting reading in the front room, but after a while I locked the front door and fastened the windows and went to sleep. When they returned from the temple no amount of shouting or banging at the door or window would wake me. At last they managed to open the door with a key from the house opposite, and then they tried to wake me up by beating me. All the boys beat me to their heart's content, and your uncle did too, but without effect. I knew nothing about it till they told me in the morning. . . . The same sort of thing happened to me in Madura also. The boys didn't dare touch me when I was awake but if they had any grudge against me they would come when I was asleep and carry me wherever they liked and beat me as much as they liked and then put me back to bed and I would know nothing about it till they told me next morning."

Sri Bhagavan attributed no significance to this except sound health. Sometimes also he would lie in a sort of half-sleep at night. It may be that both states were foreshadowings of the spiritual awakening: the deep sleep as the ability, albeit still dark and negative, to abandon the mind and plunge deep beyond thought, and the half-sleep as the ability to observe oneself objectively as a witness.

We have no photograph of Sri Bhagavan in his boyhood years. He has told us in his usual picturesque style, full of laughter, how a group photograph was taken and he was made to hold a heavy tome to look studious, but a fly settled on him and just as the photograph was taken he raised his arm to brush it off. However, it has not been possible to find a copy of this and presumably none remains.

The first premonition of dawn was a foreglow from Arunachala. The schoolboy Venkataraman had read no religious theory. He knew only that Arunachala was a very sacred place and it must have been a presentiment of his destiny that shook him. One day he met an elderly relative whom he had known in Tiruchuzhi and asked him where he was coming from. The old man replied, "From Arunachala." And the sudden realization that the holy hill was a real, tangible place on earth that men could visit overwhelmed Venkataraman with awe so that he could only stammer out: "What! From Arunachala? Where is that?"

The relative, wondering in his turn at the ignorance of callow youth, explained that Arunachala is Tiruvannamalai.

Sri Bhagavan referred to this later in the first of his Eight Stanzas to Sri Arunachala.

"Hearken! It stands as an insentient hill. Its action is mysterious, past human understanding. From the age of innocence it had shone in my mind that Arunachala was something of surpassing grandeur, but even when I came to know through another that it was the same as Tiruvannamalai I did not realize its meaning. When it drew me up to it, stilling the mind, and I came close I saw it stand unmoving."

This took place in November 1895, shortly before his sixteenth birthday by European computation, his seventeenth by Hindu. The second premonition came soon after. This time it was provoked by a book. Again it was a wave of bewildering joy at perceiving that the Divine can be made manifest on earth. His uncle had borrowed a copy of the Periapuranam, the life stories of the sixty-three Tamil Saints. Venkataraman picked it up and, as he read, was overwhelmed with ecstatic wonder that such faith, such love, such divine fervour was possible, that there had been such beauty in human life. The tales of renunciation leading to Divine Union inspired him with awe and emulation. Something greater than all dreamlands, greater than all ambition, was here proclaimed real and possible, and the revelation thrilled him with blissful gratitude.

From this time on the current of awareness which Sri Bhagavan and his devotees designate `meditation' began to awaken in him. Not awareness of anything by any one, being beyond the duality of subject and object, but a state of blissful consciousness transcending both the physical and mental plane and yet compatible with full use of the physical and mental faculties.

Sri Bhagavan has told with a characteristic simplicity how this awareness began to awaken in him during his visits to the Meenakshi Temple at Madura. He said, "At first I thought it was some kind of fever, but I decided, if so it is a pleasant fever, so let it stay."

Referred Resources: Eight Stanzas to Sri Arunachala


Sri Ramana Mandiram, Madurai, where Bhagavan realised the Self in 1896

THIS CURRENT of awareness, fostered by continual effort, grows ever stronger and more constant until finally it leads to Self-realization, to sahaja samadhi [?], the state in which pure blissful awareness is constant and uninterrupted and yet without impeding the normal perceptions and activities of life. It is rare indeed for this communion to be attained during the life on earth. In the case of Sri Bhagavan it occurred only a few months later and with no quest, no striving, no conscious preparation. He himself has described it.

"It was about six weeks before I left Madura for good that the great change in my life took place. It was quite sudden. I was sitting alone in a room on the first floor of my uncle's house. I seldom had any sickness, and on that day there was nothing wrong with my health, but a sudden violent fear of death overtook me. There was nothing in my state of health to account for it, and I did not try to account for it or to find out whether there was any reason for the fear. I just felt `I am going to die' and began thinking what to do about it. It did not occur to me to consult a doctor or my elders or friends; I felt that I had to solve the problem myself, there and then.

"The shock of the fear of death drove my mind inwards and I said to myself mentally, without actually framing the words: `Now death has come; what does it mean? What is it that is dying? This body dies.' And I at once dramatised the occurrence of death. I lay with my limbs stretched out stiff as though rigor mortis had set in and imitated a corpse so as to give greater reality to the enquiry. I held my breath and kept my lips tightly closed so that no sound could escape, so that neither the word `I' nor any other word could be uttered. `Well then,' I said to myself, `this body is dead. It will be carried stiff to the burning ground and there burnt and reduced to ashes. But with the death of this body am I dead? Is the body `I'? It is silent and inert but I feel the full force of my personality and even the voice of the `I' within me, apart from it. So I am Spirit transcending the body. The body dies but the Spirit that transcends it cannot be touched by death. That means I am the deathless Spirit.' All this was not dull thought; it flashed through me vividly as living truth which I perceived directly, almost without thought-process. `I' was something very real, the only real thing about my present state, and all the conscious activity connected with my body was centred on that `I'. From that moment onwards the `I' or Self focused attention on itself by a powerful fascination. Fear of death had vanished once and for all. Absorption in the Self continued unbroken from that time on. Other thoughts might come and go like the various notes of music, but the `I' continued like the fundamental sruti [?] note that underlies and blends with all the other notes.1 Whether the body was engaged in talking, reading or anything else, I was still centred on `I'. Previous to that crisis I had no clear perception of my Self and was not consciously attracted to it. I felt no perceptible or direct interest in it, much less any inclination to dwell permanently in it."

Thus simply described, without pretension or verbiage, the state attained might seem no different from egotism, but that is due only to the ambiguity in the words `I' and `Self '. The difference is brought out by the attitude towards death, for one whose interest is centred in the ego, the `I' as a separate individual being, has a dread of death which threatens the dissolution of the ego, whereas here the fear of death had vanished forever in the realization that the `I' was one with the universal deathless Self which is the Spirit and the Self of every man. Even to say that he knew he was One with the Spirit is inadequate, since it suggests a separate `I' who knew this, whereas the `I' in him was itself consciously the Spirit.

Years later the difference was expounded by Sri Bhagavan to Paul Brunton, a Western seeker.2

1 The monotone persisting through a Hindu piece of music, like the thread on which beads are strung, represents the Self persisting through all the forms of being.

2 This and the other quotations from Paul Brunton given in this book are based on his A Search in Secret India, published by Rider & Co., London, and reproduced by the Ashram with his permission.


What exactly is this Self of which you speak? If what you say is true there must be another self in man.


Can a man be possessed of two identities, two selves? To understand this matter it is first necessary for a man to analyse himself. Because it has long been his habit to think as others think, he has never faced his `I' in the true manner. He has not a correct picture of himself; he has too long identified himself with the body and the brain. Therefore I tell you to pursue this enquiry, `Who am I??'

You ask me to describe this true Self to you.

What can be said? It is That out of which the sense of the personal `I' arises and into which it will have to disappear.


Disappear? How can one lose the feeling of one's personality?


The first and foremost of all thoughts, the primeval thought in the mind of every man, is the thought `I'. It is only after the birth of this thought that any other thoughts can arise at all. It is only after the first personal pronoun, `I', has arisen in the mind that the second personal pronoun, `you', can make its appearance. If you could mentally follow the `I' thread until it led you back to its source you would discover that, just as it is the first thought to appear, so it is the last to disappear. This is a matter which can be experienced.


You mean that it is possible to conduct such a mental investigation into oneself?


Certainly. It is possible to go inwards until the last thought, `I', gradually vanishes.


What is then left? Will a man then become quite unconscious or will he become an idiot?


No; on the contrary, he will attain that consciousness which is immortal and he will become truly wise when he has awakened to his true Self, which is the real nature of man.


But surely the sense of `I' must also pertain to that?


The sense of `I' pertains to the person, the body and brain. When a man knows his true Self for the first time something else arises from the depths of his being and takes possession of him. That something is behind the mind; it is infinite, divine, eternal. Some people call it the Kingdom of Heaven, others call it the soul and others again Nirvana, and Hindus call it Liberation; you may give it what name you wish. When this happens a man has not really lost himself; rather he has found himself.

Unless and until a man embarks on this quest of the true Self, doubt and uncertainty will follow his footsteps through life. The greatest kings and statesmen try to rule others when in their heart of hearts they know that they cannot rule themselves. Yet the greatest power is at the command of the man who has penetrated to his inmost depth. . . . What is the use of knowing about everything else when you do not yet know who you are? Men avoid this enquiry into the true Self, but what else is there so worthy to be undertaken?

This whole sadhana [?] took barely half an hour, and yet it is of the utmost importance to us that it was a sadhana [?], a striving towards light, and not an effortless awakening; for a Guru normally guides his disciples along the path that he himself has trod. That Sri Bhagavan completed within half an hour not merely the sadhana [?] of a lifetime but, for most sadhakas, of many lifetimes, does not alter the fact that it was a striving by Self- enquiry such as he later enjoined on his followers. He warned them that the consummation towards which it leads is not normally attained quickly but only after long striving, but he also said that it is "the one infallible means, the only direct one, to realize the unconditioned, absolute Being that you really are" (Maharshi's Gospel, Part II). He said that it immediately sets up the process of transmutation, even though it may be long before this is completed. "But the moment the ego-self tries to know itself it begins to partake less and less of the body in which it is immersed and more and more of the consciousness of Self."

It is also significant that, although knowing nothing of the theory or practice of sadhana [?], Sri Bhagavan did in fact use pranayama [?] or breath-control as an aid to concentration. So also he did admit of it as a legitimate help towards attaining thought- control, although he discouraged its use except for that purpose and never actually enjoined it.

"Breath-control is also a help. It is one of the various methods that are intended to help us attain one-pointedness. Breath-control can also help to control the wandering mind and attain this one-pointedness and therefore it can be used. But one should not stop there. After obtaining control of the mind through breathing exercises one should not rest content with any experience that may accrue therefrom, but should harness the controlled mind to the question `Who am I?' till the mind merges in the Self."

This changed mode of consciousness naturally produced a change in Venkataraman's sense of values and habits of life. Things that had formerly been valued lost all attraction, conventional aims in life became unreal, what had been ignored exercised a strong compulsion. The adaptation of life to this new state of awareness cannot have been easy in one who was still a schoolboy and who lacked all theoretical training in spiritual life. He spoke to no one about it and for the time being remained in the family and continued to go to school; in fact he made as little outer change as possible. Nevertheless, it was inevitable that his family should notice his changed behaviour and resent some features of it. This also he has described.

"The consequences of this new awareness were soon noticed in my life. In the first place, I lost what little interest I had in my outer relationship with friends and relatives and went through my studies mechanically. I would hold an open book in front of me to satisfy my relatives that I was reading, when in reality my attention was far away from any such superficial matter. In my dealings with people I became meek and submissive. Formerly if I was given more work than other boys I might complain, and if any boy annoyed me I would retaliate. None of them would dare make fun of me or take liberties with me. Now all that was changed. Whatever work was given, whatever teasing or annoyance there was, I would put up with it quietly. The former ego that resented and retaliated had disappeared. I stopped going out with friends to play games and preferred solitude. I would often sit alone, especially in a posture suitable for meditation, and become absorbed in the Self, the Spirit, the force or current which constituted me. I would continue in this despite the jeers of my elder brother who would sarcastically call me `sage' or `yogi' and advise me to retire into the jungle like the ancient Rishis.

"Another change was that I no longer had any likes or dislikes with regard to food. Whatever was given to me, tasty or insipid, good or bad, I would swallow with like indifference.

"One of the features of my new state was my changed attitude to the Minakshi Temple.1

Formerly I used to go there very occasionally with friends to look at the images and put the sacred ash and vermilion on my brow and would return home almost unmoved. But after the Awakening I went there almost every evening. I used to go alone and stand motionless for a long time before an image of Siva or Minakshi or Nataraja and the sixty-three Saints, and as I stood there waves of emotion overwhelmed me. The soul had given up its hold on the body when it renounced the `I-am- the-body' idea and it was seeking some fresh anchorage; hence the frequent visits to the temple and the outpouring of the soul in tears. This was God's play with the soul. I would stand before Iswara, the Controller of the universe and of the destinies of all, the Omniscient and Omnipresent, and sometimes pray for the descent of His Grace upon me so that my devotion might increase and become perpetual like that of the sixty-three Saints. More often I would not pray at all but silently allow the deep within to flow on and into the deep beyond. The tears that marked this overflow of the soul did not betoken any particular pleasure or pain. I was not a pessimist; I knew nothing of life and had not learnt that it was full of sorrow. I was not actuated by any desire to avoid rebirth or seek Liberation or even to obtain dispassion or salvation. I had read no books except the Periapuranam, the Bible and bits of Thayumanavar and Thevaram. My conception of Iswara1 was similar to that found in the Puranas; I had never heard of Brahman,2 samsara [?]3 and so forth. I did not yet know that there was an Essence or Impersonal Real underlying everything and that Iswara and I were both identical with it. Later, at Tiruvannamalai, as I listened to the Ribhu Gita and other sacred books, I learnt all this and found that the books were analysing and naming what I had felt intuitively without analysis or name. In the language of the books I should describe the state I was in after the awakening as Suddha Manas or Vijnana [?] or the intuition of the Illumined."

1 The great temple at Madura.

It was quite different from the state of the mystic who is transported into ecstasy for a brief unaccountable while, after which the gloomy walls of the mind close round him again. Sri Bhagavan was already in constant, unbroken awareness of the Self and he has said explicitly that there was no more sadhana [?], no more spiritual effort, after this. There was no more striving towards abidance in the Self because the ego, whose opposition it is that causes strife, had been dissolved and there was none left with whom to strive. Further progress towards continuous, fully conscious Identity with the Self, established in fully normal outer life and radiating Grace upon those who approached him, was henceforth natural and effortless; and yet that there was such progress is indicated by Sri Bhagavan's saying that the soul was still seeking a fresh anchorage. Things such as emulation of the Saints and concern as to what his elders would think still show a remnant of practical acceptance of duality which was later to disappear. There was also a physical sign of the continuing process. A constant burning sensation was felt in the body from the time of the Awakening until the moment when he entered the inner shrine of the temple at Tiruvannamalai.

1 Iswara, the Supreme Being, corresponds to the Western conception of a Personal God.
2 Brahman is the Impersonal Reality underlying Personal God, universe and man.
3 Samsara [?] is the succession of births and deaths terminated only by the Liberation of Self-realization.

Referred Resources: Who am I?


Arunachala as seen from the railway bridge mentioned by Bhagavan, where the Big Temple appears in line with the Mountain Peak

VENKATARAMAN'S changed mode of life caused friction.

Schoolwork was more neglected than ever and, even though it was not now for games but for prayer and meditation, his uncle and elder brother became increasingly critical of what seemed to them an unpractical attitude. From their point of view, Venkataraman was simply the adolescent son of a middle class family who should pull his weight and equip himself to earn money and help the others.

The crisis came on August 29th, some two months after the Awakening. Venkataraman had been given an exercise in Bain's English Grammar to copy out three times for not learning it. It was the forenoon and he was sitting upstairs in the same

room with his elder brother. He had copied it out twice and was about to do so for the third time when the futility of it struck him so forcibly that he pushed the papers away and, sitting cross- legged, abandoned himself to meditation.1

Annoyed at the sight, Nagaswami remarked caustically,

"What use is all this to such a one?" The meaning was obvious: that one who wished to live like a sadhu had no right to enjoy the amenities of home life. Venkataraman recognised the truth of the remark and, with that ruthless acceptance of truth (or justice, which is applied truth) that characterised him, he rose to his feet to leave the house there and then and go forth, renouncing everything. For him that meant Tiruvannamalai and the holy hill, Arunachala.

However, he knew that it was necessary to use guile, because authority is very strong in a Hindu household and his uncle and brother would not let him go if they knew. So he said he had to go back to school to attend a special class on electricity.

Unconsciously providing him with funds for the journey, his brother said, "Then take five rupees from the box downstairs and pay my college fees on the way."

It was no spiritual blindness in Venkataraman's family that prevented them from recognising his attainment. Nobody did. The glory, the power, the divinity of his state was still concealed. A school friend, Ranga Aiyar, visiting him some years later at Tiruvannamalai, was so struck with awe that he fell prostrate at

his feet, but now he also saw only the Venkataraman he knew. He asked later why this was and Sri Bhagavan replied merely that none of them perceived the change.

1 The word `meditation' may be misleading as this normally implies thought and reflection. Its use by Sri Bhagavan has already been remarked upon. It may be added here that he used it for samadhi [?], for which there is no exact English equivalent but which means rather thought-free contemplation or immersion in the Spirit. He also used it to mean the effort to attain samadhi [?] by Self-enquiry, which is not so much thought as the shutting off of thought.

Ranga Aiyar also asked, "Why did you not tell at least me that you were leaving home?"

And he replied: "How could I? I myself did not know." Venkataraman's aunt was downstairs. She gave him the five rupees and served him a meal, which he ate hastily. There was an atlas there and he opened it and found that the nearest station it gave to Tiruvannamalai was at Tindivanam. Actually, a branch line had already been constructed to Tiruvannamalai, but the atlas was an old one and did not show it. Estimating that three rupees would be enough for the journey, he took only so much. He wrote a letter to his brother to allay anxiety and discourage pursuit and left the remaining two rupees with it. The letter ran:

"I have set out in quest of my Father in accordance with his command. It is on a virtuous enterprise that this has embarked, therefore let none grieve over this act and let no money be spent in search of this. Your college fees have not been paid. Two rupees are enclosed herewith."

This whole incident illustrates Sri Bhagavan's saying that his soul, loosened from its anchorage to the body, was still seeking permanent anchorage in the Self with which he had realized his Oneness. The subterfuge about the electricity class, harmless though it was, would not have been possible later. Neither would the idea of a quest, for he who has found does not seek. When devotees fell at his feet he was One with the Father and no longer in search of the Father. The letter itself illustrates the transition from the love and devotion of duality to the blissful serenity of Oneness. It begins with the duality of `I' and `my Father' and the statement of a command and a quest; but then in the second sentence it no longer refers to its writer as `I' but as `this'. And at the end when the time came to sign, he realized that there was no ego and therefore no name to sign and ended with a dash in place of a signature. Never again did he write a letter and never again did he sign a name, though he twice wrote what his name had been. Once also, years later, a Chinese visitor to the Ashram was given a copy of Sri Bhagavan's book Who Am I? and, in the courteous but persistent way of the Chinese, pressed Sri Bhagavan to sign it. Sri Bhagavan finally took it and wrote in it the Sanskrit symbol for OM, the sacred monosyllable representing the Primordial Sound underlying all creation.

Venkataraman took three rupees and left the remaining two. It is significant that he took no more than was necessary for the journey to Tiruvannamalai.

It was about noon when he left home. The station was half a mile away and he walked fast because the train was due to leave at twelve. However, late though he was, the train had not yet arrived when he reached the station. There was a table of fares and he looked up the third-class fare to Tindivanam and found it to be two rupees and thirteen annas. He bought a ticket, leaving himself three annas change. Had he looked a few lines lower down he would have seen the name Tiruvannamalai and that the fare to it was exactly three rupees. The events of the journey are symbolical of the arduous journey an aspirant (sadhaka [?]) makes to his goal: first there was the favour of Providence in granting the money and allowing the train to be caught, although he started out late; then the provision made was exactly what was needed to reach the destination but the heedlessness of the traveller lengthened the journey and caused hardships and adventures on the way.

Venkataraman sat silent among the passengers, lost in the exultation of his quest. Several stations passed thus. A white- bearded Maulvi [1] who had been enlarging on the lives and teachings of the Saints turned to him:

"And where are you going, Swami?" "To Tiruvannamalai." "So am I," replied the Maulvi. "What! To Tiruvannamalai?" "Not exactly but to the next station." "What is the next station?" "Tirukoilur." Then, suspecting his mistake, Venkataraman exclaimed in surprise: "What! You mean the train goes to Tiruvannamalai?"

"A strange passenger, you!" rejoined the Maulvi. "And where did you buy a ticket to?"

"To Tindivanam." "Oh dear! There is no need to go so far at all. We get out at Villupuram Junction and change there for Tiruvannamalai and Tirukoilur."

Providence having given him the needed information, Venkataraman sank once more into the bliss of samadhi [?] (absorption). By sunset the train had reached Trichinopoly (now called Tiruchirapalli) and he began to feel hungry, so he spent half an anna on two country pears, that is the huge, woody variety that grow in the hills of South India. To his surprise his appetite was sated almost at the first bite though up till then he had always eaten heartily. He continued in a blissful state of waking sleep until the train reached Villupuram at three o'clock in the morning.

He remained at the station till daybreak and then wandered out into the town to look for the road to Tiruvannamalai, deciding to walk the rest of the way. However, the name was not to be found on any signpost and he did not like to ask. Feeling tired and hungry after walking about, he entered a hotel and asked for food. The hotel-keeper told him the meal would be ready only at noon so he sat down to wait and immediately lapsed into meditation. The meal came and, after eating it, he proffered two annas in payment, but the hotel-keeper must have been struck by this fine-looking Brahmin youth with long hair and gold earrings sitting there like a sadhu. He asked how much money Venkataraman had and, on hearing that he had only two and a half annas all told, refused to accept payment. He also explained that Mambalapattu, a name that Venkataraman had seen on a signpost, was on the way to Tiruvannamalai. Venkataraman thereupon returned to the station and bought a ticket to Mambalapattu, which was as far as his remaining annas would take him.

1 Muslim pandit or theologian.

He reached Mambalapattu in the afternoon and from there set out to walk. By nightfall he had gone ten miles. Before him was the temple of Arayaninallur built on a large rock. The long walk, most of it in the heat of the day, had tired him and he sat down by the temple to rest. Shortly after, someone came along and opened it for the temple priest and others to make puja. Venkataraman entered and sat down in the pillared hall, the only part that was not yet quite dark. He immediately beheld a brilliant light pervading the whole temple. Thinking it must be an emanation from the image of the God in the inner sanctuary, he went to look but found that it was not. Nor was it any physical light. It disappeared and he sat down again in meditation.

He was soon disturbed by the cook calling out that it was time to lock up the temple as the puja was finished. Thereupon he approached the priest and asked if they had anything for him to eat but was told there was nothing. He then asked to be allowed to stay there till morning but that was also refused.

The pujaris (worshippers) said they were going to Kilur, about three-quarters of a mile away, to perform puja at the temple there as well and that after that he might get something to eat, so he accompanied them. As soon as they entered the temple he was again plunged in the blissful absorption called samadhi [?]. It was nine o'clock by the time the puja was finished and they sat down to supper. Again Venkataraman asked. It seemed at first that there would be nothing for him, but the temple drummer had been impressed by his appearance and devout manner and gave him his share. He wanted water to drink with it and, holding his leaf-plate with rice, was shown the way to the house of a sastri (pandit) nearby who would give him water. While standing in front of the house, waiting for it, he stumbled on a few paces and then collapsed in sleep or faint. A few minutes later he came round to find a small crowd looking on curiously. He drank the water, gathered up and ate some of the rice he had spilled, and then lay down on the ground and slept.

Next morning, Monday, August 31st, was Gokulashtami, the birth anniversary of Sri Krishna and one of the most auspicious days in the Hindu calendar. Tiruvannamalai was still twenty miles distant. Venkataraman walked about for some time looking for the road to it and again began to feel tired and hungry. Like most Brahmins at a time when ancient customs still held more sway than they do today, he wore gold earrings, and in his case they were set with rubies. He took them off in order to raise money on them and finish the journey by train, but the question was, where and with whom? He stopped at random at a house which turned out to belong to one Muthukrishna Bhagavatar and asked for food. The housewife must have been deeply impressed by the appearance at her door of a Brahmin youth of beautiful countenance and shining eyes on the day of Krishna's birth; she gave him a large

cold meal and although, as in the train two days ago, his appetite disappeared after the first mouthful, she stood over him in true motherly fashion and made him finish it.

1 A name for Siva.

There remained the question of the earrings. They must be worth some twenty rupees but he only wanted a loan of four on them to cover any more expenses he might have on his way. To avoid arousing suspicion he gave the pretext that he was on a pilgrimage and his luggage had got lost, leaving him destitute. Muthukrishna Bhagavatar examined the earrings and, judging them to be genuine, advanced the four rupees. However, he insisted on taking the youth's address and giving his own so that they could be redeemed at any time. The good couple kept him with them till noon and then gave him lunch and packed up for him a parcel of sweets that had been prepared for puja to Sri Krishna but not yet offered.

As soon as he left the house he tore up the address, having no intention of ever redeeming the earrings. Finding that there was no train to Tiruvannamalai till next morning, he slept the night at the station. No man can end his journey till the allotted time. It was the morning of September 1st, 1896, three days after leaving home, when he arrived at Tiruvannamalai station.

With quick steps, his heart throbbing with joy, he hastened straight to the great Temple. In mute sign of welcome, the gates of the three high compound walls and all the doors, even that of the inner shrine, stood open. There was no one else inside, so he entered the inner shrine alone and stood overcome before his Father Arunachaleswar.1 There, in the bliss of Union, was the quest achieved and the journey ended.

1 Iswara manifested as Arunachala.


Pathala Linga, the cellar-shrine where Bhagavan took shelter

LEAVING THE TEMPLE, Venkataraman wandered out

into the town. Someone called out to ask whether he

wanted his tuft removed.1 The question must have been inspired, for there was no outer sign that this Brahmin youth had renounced or intended to renounce the world. He immediately consented and was conducted to the Ayyankulam Tank where a number of barbers plied their trade. There he had his head completely shaved. Then, standing on the steps of the tank, he threw away his remaining money -- a little over three rupees. He never handled money again. He also threw away the packet of sweets which he was still holding. "Why give sweets to this block of a body?"

1 An orthodox caste-Hindu wears a small tuft of hair at the back of his head; removing it and shaving the head is a sign of renunciation.

He took off the sacred thread that is a sign of caste and threw it away, for he who renounces the world renounces not only home and property but caste also and all civil status.

Then he took off the dhoti [?]1 he was wearing, tore off a strip to serve him as a loincloth, and threw the rest away.

So he returned to the temple, having completed the acts of renunciation. As he approached it he recollected that the Scriptures enjoin a bath after having one's hair cut, but he said to himself, "Why give this block of a body the luxury of a bath?" Immediately there was a short, sharp shower so that before entering the temple he had his bath.

He did not re-enter the inner shrine. There was no need.

Indeed, it was three years before he went there again. He took up his abode in the thousand-pillared hall, a raised stone platform, open on all sides, the roof supported by a forest of slender, sculptured pillars, and there sat immersed in the Bliss of Being. Day after day, day and night, he sat unmoving. He no longer needed the world; its shadow existence had no interest for him as he sat absorbed in the Real. For some weeks he continued so, scarcely moving, never speaking.

So began the second phase of his life after Self-realization.

During the first, the glory had been concealed and he had accepted the same conditions of life as previously, with the same obedience to teachers and elders; during the second he was turned inwards, completely ignoring the outer world; and this, as will be shown, merged gradually into the third, lasting for half a century, during which his radiance shone like the midday sun on all who approached him. However, these phases applied only to the outer manifestation of his state: he declared explicitly and a number of times that there was absolutely no change or development in his state of consciousness or spiritual experience.

1 A white cloth wound round the body from the waist down.

A sadhu known as Seshadri Swami, who had arrived at Tiruvannamalai a few years previously, took it on himself to look after the Brahmana Swami, as Venkataraman began to be called, so far as any looking after was needed. This was not altogether an advantage, because Seshadri Swami made the impression of being slightly deranged and thereby drew on himself the persecution of schoolboys. They now extended their attentions to his prot?g? whom they called `Little Seshadri'. They began throwing stones at him, partly out of boyish cruelty, partly because they were intrigued to see one not much older than themselves sitting like a statue and, as one of them put it later, wanted to find out whether he was real or not.

Seshadri Swami's attempts to keep them off were not very successful; they sometimes had the opposite effect. So the Brahmana Swami sought refuge in the Patala Lingam, an underground vault in the thousand-pillared hall, dark and dank, where the sun's rays never penetrate. It was seldom that any human being entered; only ants, vermin and mosquitoes flourished there. They preyed upon him until his thighs were covered with sores that ran blood and pus. To the end of his life the marks remained. The few weeks he spent there were a descent into hell, and yet, absorbed in the Bliss of Being, he was unmoved by the torment; it was unreal to him. A pious woman, Ratnammal, entered the vault to take him food and besought him to leave the place and come to her house, but he made no sign of having heard. She left a clean cloth, begging him to sit or lie on it or use it against the insect pests, but he did not touch it.

Afraid to enter the dark vault, the youthful tormentors threw stones at its entrance or broken pots that crashed and sent splinters flying. Seshadri Swami mounted guard but this only incited them the more. At noon one day a certain Venkatachala Mudali approached the thousand-pillared hall

and, indignant at seeing boys throwing stones in the temple precincts, seized a stick and drove them away. On coming back he saw Seshadri Swami emerging from the gloomy recesses of the hall. He was startled for a moment but quickly recovered and asked Seshadri Swami whether he was hurt. "No," he replied, "but go and look at the little Swami in there," and saying this he went away.

Astonished, Mudali descended the steps into the vault.

Coming from the bright daylight to the dark, he could see nothing at first; gradually, however, his eyes grew accustomed and he made out the form of the young Swami. Aghast at what he saw, he went and told a sadhu who was working in the nearby flower garden with a few disciples. They also came to look. The young Swami neither moved nor spoke and seemed oblivious of their presence, so they lifted him up bodily and carried him out. They set him down before a shrine of Lord Subramania without his showing any consciousness of what was happening.1

For about two months the Brahmana Swami stayed at the

Lord Subramania shrine. He would sit motionless in samadhi [?] (absorption) and sometimes nourishment had to be put into his mouth as he paid no heed when it was offered him. For some weeks he did not even trouble to tie on a loincloth. He was looked after by a Mouni Swami (one who observes silence) who also lived at the shrine.

The shrine of the Goddess Uma in the temple was daily washed down with a mixture of milk, water, turmeric powder, sugar, bananas and other ingredients, and the Mouni used to take a tumbler of this strange concoction to the young Swami daily. He gulped it down, indifferent to the flavour, and it was

all the nourishment he received. After sometime the temple priest noticed this and gave orders that pure milk should be supplied to the Mouni henceforth to be given to the Brahmana Swami.

1 The Patala Lingam has been renovated in view of the sanctity it has acquired as the scene of tapas [?] of Sri Bhagavan. It is well kept now and lit with electric light, and portraits of Sri Bhagavan have been installed.

After a few weeks the Brahmana Swami moved out to the temple garden, full of tall oleander bushes, some of them ten or twelve feet high. Here also he would sit immersed in bliss (samadhi [?]). He even moved about in trance, for on waking to the world he would sometimes find himself under a different bush with no recollection of how he got there. He went next to the hall of the temple vehicles on which the images are taken in procession on holy days. Here also he would sometimes wake to the world to find his body in a different place, having avoided the various obstacles on the way without injury, though unaware.

After this he sat for sometime under a tree alongside the road that runs round the temple precincts within its outer wall and is used for temple processions. He remained for sometime here and at the Mangai Pillayar shrine. Annually large crowds of pilgrims throng to Tiruvannamalai for the festival of Kartikai, falling in November or December, when a beacon is lit on the summit of Arunachala in token of Siva's appearance as a pillar of light described in Chapter Six, and this year many came to gaze on the young Swami or prostrate themselves before him. It was at this time that the first regular devotee became attached to him. Uddandi Nayinar had engaged in spiritual studies but had not found peace therefrom. Seeing the young Swami immersed in perpetual samadhi [?] and apparently oblivious of the body, he felt that here was realization and that through him he would find peace. It made him happy to serve the Swami but there was little he could do. He kept away the crowds of sightseers and stopped the persecution by the boys. Much of his time he spent reciting Tamil works expounding the supreme doctrine of Advaita (Non- duality). His great hope was to receive upadesa [?], spiritual instruction,

from the Swami, but the Swami never spoke to him and he himself did not presume to speak first and intrude on his silence.

About this time, one Annamalai Tambiran passed by the young Swami's tree. He was so impressed by his serene beauty as he sat there in solitude, untouched by care and thought, that he fell on his face before him and thereafter went daily to bow down to him. He was a sadhu who used to walk through the town with a few companions, singing devotional songs. With the alms received he fed the poor and made puja at the tomb of his Adhina Guru (the founder of the line of his Gurus) outside the town.

After sometime it occurred to him that the young Swami would be less disturbed at Gurumurtam, as this shrine had come to be called, and also, as it was now the cool season, would be more sheltered. He hesitated to suggest it and talked the matter over first with Nayinar, since neither of them had ever spoken to the Swami. Finally he mustered up courage to make the suggestion. The Swami consented and in February 1897, less than half a year after his arrival at Tiruvannamalai, went with him to Gurumurtam.

There was no change in his mode of life when he arrived there. The floor of the shrine was infested with ants but the Swami seemed oblivious to their crawling over him and biting. After some time a stool was placed in one corner for him to sit on and its legs immersed in water to keep them away, but even then he leaned back against the wall and so made a bridge for them. From constant sitting there his back made a permanent imprint on the wall.

Pilgrims and sightseers began to throng to Gurumurtam and many would prostrate themselves before the Swami, some with prayers for boons and some out of pure reverence. The crowd became such that it was necessary to erect a bamboo palisade round his seat so as to prevent them at least from touching him.

At first Tambiran supplied the little food that was necessary out of that offered at the shrine of his Guru, but before long he left Tiruvannamalai. He told Nayinar that he would be back in a week but as things turned out he was away for more than a year. A few weeks later Nayinar also had to leave to go to his math [?] (private temple or shrine) and the Swami was left without an attendant. There was no difficulty over food -- in fact there were several devotees by now who wished to supply food regularly. The more pressing need was to keep away the crowds of sightseers and visitors.

It was not long before another regular attendant came. A

Malayali sadhu named Palaniswami was devoting his life to the worship of God Vinayaka. He lived in great austerity, eating only one meal a day and that merely the food that had been offered to the God in puja, without even salt for seasoning. A friend of his, Srinivasa Iyer by name, said to him one day: "Why do you spend your life with this stone Swami? There is a young Swami in flesh and blood at Gurumurtam. He is steeped in tapas [?] (austerity) like the young Dhruva in the Puranas. If you go and serve him and attach yourself to him your life will attain its purpose."

About the same time others also told him about the young

Swami and that he had no attendant and what a blessing it would be to serve him. Accordingly he went to Gurumurtam to see. He was stirred to the depths at the very sight of the Swami. For sometime longer he continued his worship at the Vinayaka temple out of a sense of duty, but his heart was with the living Swami and before long his devotion to him became all absorbing. He consecrated the rest of his life to his service, remaining his attendant for twenty-one years.

There was little enough that he could do. He received food offerings from the devotees but all that the Swami would accept was a single cup of food at noon each day, the remainder being

returned to the givers as prasadam [?] (Grace in form of a gift). If he needed to go into town for any purpose -- usually to get some spiritual or devotional book from a friend -- he would lock up the shrine and on his return would find the Swami in the same position as he left him.

The Swami's body was utterly neglected. He ignored it completely. It was unwashed; his hair had grown again and was thick and matted; his finger-nails had grown long and curled over. Some took this to be a sign of great age and whispered that he had preserved his youth of body by yogic powers. Actually, his body was weakened to the limits of endurance. When he needed to go out he had barely the strength to rise. He would raise himself up a few inches and then sink back again, weak and dizzy, and would have to try several times before he could rise to his feet. On one such occasion he reached the door and was holding on to it with both hands when he perceived that Palaniswami was supporting him. Always averse to receiving help, he asked, "Why are you holding me?" and Palaniswami replied: "Swami was going to fall and I supported him to prevent him falling."

One who has attained Union with the Divine is sometimes worshipped in the same manner as a temple idol, with burning camphor, sandal-paste, flowers, libation and chanting. When Tambiran was at Gurumurtam he decided to worship the Swami in this way. The first day, the Swami was taken by surprise and he succeeded in his purpose, but the next day when Tambiran brought in his daily cup of food he saw written on the wall above the Swami with charcoal the words, in Tamil, "This is service enough for this," meaning that food was all that should be offered to this body.

It came as a surprise to his devotees that the Swami had mundane education and could read and write. One of them decided to utilise the fact to find out where he came from and

what his name had been. He was an elderly man, Venkatarama Iyer by name, head accountant at the Taluq Office in town. He used to come every morning and sit for a while in meditation in the presence of the Swami before going to his work. A vow of silence is respected and from his not speaking it was presumed that the Swami had taken such a vow, but one who does not speak occasionally writes messages, and now that he knew the Swami could write, Venkatarama Iyer was insistent. He placed before him a sheet of paper and a pencil on one of the books that Palaniswami had brought there and besought him to write his name and place of origin.

The Swami made no response to his pleading until at last he declared that he would neither eat nor go to his office until he received the information he desired. Then he wrote in English, `Venkataraman, Tiruchuzhi'. His knowing English came as a further surprise, but Venkatarama Iyer was puzzled by the name `Tiruchuzhi' in English transliteration, especially by the `zh'.

The Swami therefore took the book on which the paper had rested to see whether it was in Tamil so that he could point out the letter that is commonly transliterated as `zh', a letter midway between `r' and `l' in sound. Finding it to be the Periapuranam, the book which had had so profound an effect on him before the spiritual awakening, he looked up the passage where Tiruchuzhi is mentioned as a town honoured in song by Sundaramurti Swami and showed it to Venkatarama Iyer.

In May 1898, after a little more than a year at Gurumurtam, the Swami moved to a neighbouring mango orchard. Its owner, Venkatarama Naicker, proposed the change to Palaniswami as the orchard could be locked and would afford more privacy. The Swami and Palaniswami each occupied a watchman's shelter there, and the owner gave the gardener strict instructions that nobody was to be admitted without Palaniswami's permission.

He stayed here about six months and it was here that he began to accumulate the vast erudition he later possessed. Characteristically, it was not from any desire for learning but purely to help a devotee. Palaniswami used to bring works of spiritual philosophy to study but the only ones he had access to were in Tamil, a language of which he knew very little, so that it caused him immense labour. Seeing him struggling in this way, the Swami picked up the books, read them through and gave him a brief synopsis of their essential teaching. His prior spiritual experience enabled him to understand at a glance what was expounded and his wonderful memory retained it when read, so that he became erudite almost without effort. In the same way, he later picked up Sanskrit, Telugu and Malayalam by reading books brought to him in these languages and answering questions in them.