SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI was born on 30th December, 1879 near Madurai, Tamil Nadu. In the year 1896, at the age of 16, he left home for Arunachala, a sacred mountain at Tiruvannamalai. He spent ten years living in temples and caves meditating and pursuing spiritual purification, keeping the disciplines of Silence and Non-attachment. In the year 1899, young Maharshi moved up onto the Arunachala, and stayed in Virupaksha Cave. He used to ask the fundamental questions about identity, such as “ Who am I ”. The great sage mostly sat in silence, giving darshan with a piercing, yet loving gaze.
Venkata Ramana was ..born on 30th December, 1879, near Madurai, Tamil Nadu.
His father was a farmer. He was second of the three sons.
Ramana had a marked inclination towards introspection and self analysis.
He used to ask fundamental questions about identity, such as the question “ who am I ? ” He was always seeking to find the answer to the mystery of his own identity and origins.
Summer of 1896, he had a profoundly transformative experience that left him, and many who would meet him subsequently, changed forever.
Ramana went into an altered state of consciousness which had a profound effect on him. He experienced what he understood to be his own ‘ death ’, and later returned to life.
He had spontaneous flashes of insight where he perceived himself as an essence,independent of the body. During these events, he felt himself to be an eternal entity, existing without reliance on the physical body, or material world.
Having fully realized the Self, he was now compelled by a mysterious inner call to leave his school, family and child-hood home to take up residence at the feet of Holy Annamalai, never to leave its presence again for the rest of his earthly life.
Ramana heard the name “ Arunachala ” in his early child-hood. He came to have a fascination with the word “ Arunachala ” which carried associations of deep reverence and a sense that his destiny was closely intertwined with this unique sound.
In the year 1896, at the age of 16, he went in search of it. He went to “ Arunachala ” at “ Tiruvannamalai ” .. and this brought him great happiness.
Ramana was nearing the end of high school when a careless criticism describing him as a person not fit to be a student jerked him into making a final decision to leave school.
He had been reading a book on famous Tamil Saints and resolved to leave home and lead the life of a religious seeker. Naturally, he planned to go to Arunachala, the place which was the focal point of all his religious ideals.
Ramana left for Arunachala, arriving after four days of train travel. He went directly to the central shrine at the temple and addressed Lord Shiva .. stating he had given away everything and come to Arunachala in response to his call.
Ramana spent ten years living in temples and caves meditating, and pursuing spiritual purification, keeping the disciplines of silence and non-attachment.
In the year 1899, young Bhagavan moved up onto the hill, staying at “ Virupaksha Cave ”, situated beneath an immense megalithic rock on the eastern slope .. this cave takes the shape of the sacred OM.
Virupaksha Cave is the epicenter of Arunachala’s glory and, over the centuries, great yogis and rishis have come to do sadhana within its hallowed walls. Like them, refused to speak. As time passed, he ceased his ascetic phase and began to live a more normal life in an ashram setting. Many people,from all over India and other countries, used to go to visit him with a variety of problems.
In the year 1911, the first Westerner ever to visit Ramana had a profound experience and made an equally profound observation : “ For half an hour I looked into the Maharshi’s eyes, which never changed their expression of deep contemplation. I began to realize somewhat that the body is the Temple of the Holy Ghost. I could only feel his body was not the man, it was the instrument of God merely a sitting motionless corpse from which God was radiating terrifically .. ”
But the silent power which attracted them also had its effect on other creatures living on the mountain. Many animals of the hill such as squirrels, pigeons, parrots, wild cats, deers as well as the numerous monkey tribes that lived in the area were all drawn to him.
Once, devotees got a fright when a leopard and a tiger approached and played together in front of the cave.
The young sage mostly sat in silence, giving darshan with a piercing, penetrating, yet loving, gaze in these early days he was known as “Brahmana Swami ”.
Around this time, a devotee named Kandaswami began construction of a small ashram. It was situated in a hollow a little way up from Virupaksha at a place where Bhagavan Ramana had earlier discovered a perennial spring. “ Skhandashram ”, as it came to be called, would serve as Bhagavan’s home for the next six years.
Skhandashram was the centre of life on the hill. Like the garden at Virupaksha, Skhandashram provided a place of refuge sustenance and serenity.
One Friday in May 1922, Mother Alagammal attained mahanirvana at Skhandashram and was buried at the foot of the mountain’s southern slope. In time, a thatched roof was erected over her Samadhi and Bhagavan regularly came down from Skhandashram to visit.
Six months later, a week before his birthday celebrations, Bhagavan came down for his regular visit to the Samadhi but didn’t return to Skhandashram ! No one knew the reason at the time but later Bhagavan revealed that on that morning when he came out of Skhandashram, an irresistible power dragged him down the hill. He even forgot that the residents were waiting for him back at Skhandashram to have their meal.
This day marked the birth of “ Sri Ramana Ashram ”.
In due course, Ramana’s well-wishers constructed the a full-fledged ashram, a temple, and space to accommodate many visitors. All took part of the same food and Ramana sat with the rest of the people during meals and did not expect special treatment.
Many sheds were constructed and devotees began to come and stay. Sri Bhagavan was now more accessible for the towns-people and they took full advantage of the opportunity to have his darshan.
Ramana was able to demonstrate his stand on non-attachment when thieves broke into the ashram and he counselled the disciples and visitors to let them have anything they wanted. He remained calm during the incident even when struck by one of the thieves.
Bhagavan gave human devotees a potent sadhana : to practice compassion and empathy for all creatures. He spoke about how one could discover the intelligence in animals if one was patient enough to get to know them.
Bhagavan said : “ Animals are endowed with the same atman .. same divinity .. that dwells in human beings.
Bhagavan spoke on behalf of his animal friends and demanded the same rights for them as were enjoyed by his human devotees. He drove home the idea that no one, regardless of what “ skin they might be wearing ”, should be deprived of his darshan.
Slowly, the disciples began to understand that Bhagavan’s animal friends were also his devotees and as dear to him as anyone else.
At the end of the year 1948, doctors discovered a peanut-sized growth on Bhagavan’s left elbow. By the spring of 1949, it had grown into a tumour the size of a small lemon. By and by the doctors realized that they were not able to do much.
One day two devotees sitting behind the stone sofa in the New Hall were sobbing in anguish as they had come to know that the tumour on Bhagavan’s arm was malignant. Sri Bhagavan responded gently, saying :
“ Where can I go ? Where is it possible for me to go ? ”
“ The body is like a banana-leaf on which all kinds of delicious food have been served. After we have eaten the food from it do we take the leaf and preserve it ? Do we not throw it away now that it has served its purpose ?
Who is to carry this load of a body even after it needs assistance in everything ? Do you expect me to carry this load that it would take four men to carry ?
“ Suppose you go to a firewood depot and buy a bundle of fire-wood and engage a coolie to carry it to your house. As you walk along with him he will be anxiously looking forward to his destination so that he can throw off his burden and get relief. In the same way the jnani is anxious to throw off his mortal body. ”
Ramana Maharshi vacated the physical garment on 14th April, 1950, sitting in lotus position !
The final word that passed from his lips was the sacred syllable ‘ OM ’.
Source : “ Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self Knowledge ” by Arthur Osborne