Great Gurus are born in various places, cultures and religions across the world from time to time to illuminate our life and to lead us to the right path – the path of self discovery. Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi was one such great guru born in 1879 December 30th to the blessed parents, Sundaram Iyer and Alagammal. Sri Ramana Maharshi whose childhood name was “Venkataramanan” was born in “Thiruchuzhi” village, about 30 Kilometers away from Madhura, which is known as the “Sri Kashi” of South India.
Venkataramanan’s father was a lawyer and his mother a homemaker. As a young boy, Venkataramanan was not at all interested in formal education, rather he enjoyed sports and spent most of his time with his friends. He did his elementary education in the school in his village – Thiruchuzi. After which, he continued his studies in Dindigul, one of the ancient settlement situated about 420 kilometers from Chennai. He then went to Scotts Mid School and American Mission High School for further studies.
Venkataramanan’s father passed away when he was 12 years old. After the death of his father, he and his elder brother moved to their paternal uncle’s house in Madurai. There is a story that once a Sannyasi (a monk) visited their house, begging for food. However, the Sannyasi was asked to leave without offering him any food. He left the house, cursing the family that, “One person from your family in each generation shall become a Sannyasi and beg for food.”
Little Venkataramanan showed no interest in education, religion or spirituality until something happened in him when he was 16, in November 1895. One of his relatives went to Tiruvannamalai for a pilgrimage. One his way back, he met Venkataramanan in Madurai and the boy asked him, “Where are you coming from?” His relative answered, “From Arunachala”. Mesmerized by the word “Arunachala”, the boy exclaimed with excitement, “What..? From Arunachala!!? Where is that..!?” The relative explained to him wondering about the boy’s ignorance that Arunachala and Tiruvannamalai are same place. The word, “Arunachala” was stuck in the boy’s head and started to draw him towards it!
Almost at this same period, Venkataramanan had started reading “Periya Puranam” (Great Purana / Great Epic), a Tamil poetic account of sixty three Nayanars – the saints of Tamil Shaivism. The boy started to find the stories of devotees depicted in the “Periya Puranam” very interesting and gradually started expressing keen interest in reading more about spirituality and religion.
After the death of his father, Venkataramanan continued his higher education by staying in his uncle’s house. However, he showed no interest in his studies. One day, in July 1896, while he was sitting alone in the house, he had an exceptional feeling of death even though he was healthy. His upper body, hands and limbs went numb and still. He did not try to call for help, instead he let the feeling encapsulate himself and said to himself:
“Yes, death has come, I am going to die. But what is the meaning of death? My whole body is becoming still, is this death? My body is now insensible and still…Yes, I am dead! My body can now be moved to the cremation ground…and will be burnt into ashes. As my body burns and turns into ashes, will “I” die too? Am “I” this body? Is my real “self” this body? “I” am different from this insensible and dead body of mine…”I” is an eternal, divine light that lives inside my body and let the body function…this physical body is dead. But, even this death cannot kill the “I” that lived inside this body all these while…because, “I” is indestructible and eternal..!”
This is whole experience of death lasted for about 30 minutes and the little boy was devastated by it! However, the question of “Who am I” started haunting him since then.
Later on, Sri Ramana Maharshi recalled this incident and said, “since this experience of death, I had no interest in studies at all! I felt distanced from my loved ones…I would open and hold a book, as if I am reading it, but immersed myself in the thoughts of God. I noticed that the sense of peace, equality and reverence started growing in me day after day. I spent most of my time meditating…sometimes my brother who noticed me meditating would make fun of me by calling names like “genius” or “sannyasi” (saint), etc. I ate any food that was given to me. The taste of the food did not matter to me anymore. In the past [before the death experience], I went to the temple for leisure, but then on I started going to temple with more awareness and spirituality. I did not know much about what life really was…neither did I know what was “brahman” or “worldliness”. However, gradually this incident helped me to think deeper about spirituality, God, the universe and the Self, etc.”
Become conscious of being conscious. Say or think “I am”, and add nothing to it. Be aware of the stillness that follows the “I am”. Sense your presence, the naked unveiled, unclothed beingness. It is untouched by young or old, rich or poor, good or bad, or any other attributes. It is the spacious womb of all creation, all form. – Sri Ramana Maharshi
The boy’s disinterest in his studies only increased over time that got him into troubles with his teachers, leading to more homework and punishments. One day, he put away his books out of extreme boredom from doing homework, he started to meditate. Seeing this, his brother exclaimed, “why do people who are disinterested in studies and family affairs accept such work at the first place!”. Welcoming his brothers comment, Venkataramanan told himself, “yes, what my brother says is very right, what job do I have in this house?!” As he said this to himself, the mesmerizing memories of Arunachala started dancing in his mind and told himself, “this should be the call from my father, Arunachalam..!”
He got out from his meditation and told his brother that he has a special class on Electricity and he is heading out to the school. His brother replied, “if you are going to school, help me pay my school fees…you can take 5 Rupees from the box downstairs…” Venkataramanan quickly had his food, looked through an old map and studied the way to mount Arunachala through Tindivanam (about 120 Kilometers southwest from Chennai) and took just enough money for his travel. He kept the remaining 3 Rupees and a note informing his brother: “I am leaving this place to seek out my father as he commanded. This is a virtuous thing, so please do not grieve over me. Please do not also spend any money to trace me out…your school fees has not been paid. I am taking 2 Rupees and the remaining money is enclosed herewith…” and left the house and headed out to the railway station. Thus the boy left Madurai forever in 1896 Aug 29.
Credit: This series of posts on Sri Ramana Maharshi’s life are inspired by the book “Sri Ramana Maharshi” written by V.K. Shankaran in 1938, in Malayalam. The sole purpose of this series is to bring this great book about Sri Ramana Maharshi’s life to non-Malayalam speaking audience. If it violates any copyrights, it was unintentional and the posts will be removed upon valid requests. Thank you!
To be continued in Part 2…