Edited by David Godman
Published in 2001 by David Godman
THIS IS THE SECOND OF THREE volumes that comprise lengthy first-person accounts by devotees whose lives were transformed by Ramana Maharshi. The narratives span the entire fifty-four year era of Bhagavan's teaching career. Some of these accounts have only appeared previously in Indian language publications, some have never been published anywhere before, and some have been taken from books and journals that are hard to find outside India. Taken together these books reveal what it was like to live with and be moulded by one of the greatest spiritual teachers that India has ever produced.
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The following devotees have contributed chapters to the second volume of The Power of the Presence.
Kunju Swami came to see Bhagavan around 1920 and stayed in Tiruvannamalai for the rest of his life. For twelve years he was Ramana Maharshi's attendant. He was also an unofficial ambassador of the ashram, visiting other ashrams and institutions to talk about Bhagavan. In his lengthy account he writes about how he discovered Bhagavan, and how Bhagavan almost immediately gave him a direct experience of the Self. In addition to narrating his own story, Kunju Swami tells many stories about life with Bhagavan in the Virupaksha Cave and Skandashram eras. His account of the death of Bhagavan's mother and the subsequent establishment of Ramanasramam is the definitive retelling of those momentous events.
Muruganar is rightly regarded as one of the foremost devotees of Ramana Maharshi. After he arrived at Ramanasramam in 1923, he began to compose devotional poetry that praised Bhagavan and thanked him for the grace that had enabled him to realise the Self shortly after his arrival at Arunachala. During the course of his life he composed over 20,000 verses on Bhagavan and his teachings.
An account of his early days with Bhagavan can be found here.
Muruganar was instrumental in getting Bhagavan to write two of his major philosophical works: Ulladu Narpadu and Upadesa Undiyar. He also recorded, in Tamil verse, many of the teachings that Bhagavan gave out. These were ultimately assembled as the anthology Guru Vachaka Kovai, the most authoritative collection of Bhagavan's spoken teachings.T. P Ramachandra Iyer was brought up in Tiruvannamalai. His grandfather was one of the first people to recognise Bhagavan's greatness in the 1890s, and the only one who managed to get Bhagavan to eat inside a private house there.
Ramachandra Iyer eventaully became a lawyer and in the 1930s and 40s acted as Ramanasramam's legal representative on a number of occasions. He also served as Bhagavan's attendant during that era. His intimate association with Bhagavan over many years gave him a ringside seat to the many events that he lovingly records here.
Chhaganlal Yogi was originally an atheist with a virulent dislike of swamis and gurus. However, his exposure to Bhagavan in the 1940s transformed his life. At that stage of his life he was running a large printing press in Bombay. After he took Bhagavan as his Guru, he was encouraged by the Ramanasramam management to sell his press there and buy another one in Bangalore so that he could print ashram books. During his many visits to the ashram he had many interesting experiences. He also managed to collect stories and record experiences of other devotees that have not been published anywhere else.
Lakshmana Swamy was one of those rare beings who was almost ready for enlightenment when he first encountered Ramana Maharshi in March 1949. On the second day of his second visit to Bhagavan in October 1949 he realised the Self in Bhagavan's presence while spontaneously doing self-enquiry. A first-person account of his days with Bhagavan can be found here.
After Bhagavan passed away in 1950, he returned to his home town in Andhra Pradesh where he spent several years in a state of near perpetual samadhi. Around 1990 he returned to Tiruvannamalai where he now lives as a complete recluse.
Viswanatha Swami was a distant relative of Ramana Maharshi who ran away from home to join Bhagavan at Ramanasramam and eventually ended up spending most of his life there. He served both Ganapati Muni and Bhagavan during his early years in Tiruvannamalai. A good Sanskrit and Tamil scholar, he ended up translating many of Bhagavan's texts. His account focuses on his early years with Bhagavan, his association with Ganapati Muni, and the culminating experience he had of Bhagavan's grace that took place in he final few hours of Sri Ramana's life.
An extract from Chhaganlal Yogi's account starts on the next page.
What does Sri Bhagavan mean to me? After many years of experiencing his grace I can now reply, ‘He is everything to me. He is my Guru and my God.’ I can say this with confidence because, had I not had the good fortune of seeing him and thereafter getting into closer contact with him, I would have been still groping in the dark. I would still have been a doubting Thomas.
How did it all begin? When I was eighteen I read a lot of books by Swami Vivekananda and Swami Rama Tirtha. This reading generated a desire in me that I should also become a sannyasin, like the authors of these books. Their writings also implanted in me the ideal of plain living, high thinking, and a life dedicated to spiritual matters. Somehow, my desire to become a sannyasin was never fulfilled, but the ideal of a dedicated life made a deeper and deeper impression on my mind. At the age of twenty I had the good fortune of contacting Mahatma Gandhi. His ideals won my heart and for several years I faithfully tried to put them into practice.
I was doing my duty to the best of my ability and leading, as best I could, a pure and dedicated life till the age of thirty-eight. Around that time scepticism began to assail me and my mind became a home for all kinds of doubts. I began to doubt the ideals of Gandhiji; I began to doubt sadhus and sannyasins; I doubted religion, and I began to doubt the existence of God.
It was in this darkest period of my life that I first heard of Sri Ramana Maharshi. At that time I seemed to be heading swiftly towards total scepticism. The world appeared to me to be full of injustice, cruelty, greed, hate and other evils, the existence of which logically led me to a strong disbelief in God. For, I argued, had He truly existed, could anything dark or evil ever have flourished? Doubt upon doubt assailed me like dark shadows that dogged my footsteps. I had, as a consequence, lost whatever little reverence I might have had for sadhus and sannyasins. I found myself slowly but surely losing my interest in religion. The very word itself eventually became a synonym in my mind for a clever ruse to delude the credulous of the world. In short, I began to live a life lacking in optimism and faith. I was not happy in my disbelief, for my mind took on the aspect of turbulent waters, and I felt that all around me there was raging a scorching fire that seemed to burn up my very entrails.
One day, while travelling as usual on the train to the office, I happened to meet a friend who had spent over a decade in Europe and America. I hadn’t met him for quite a long time and I sometimes used to wonder where he had disappeared to. In answer to a query about his recent activities he said that he had been to Sri Ramanasramam and immediately launched into a description of what went on there. While he was trying to describe to me his experience of the darshan of Sri Bhagavan he drew out from his pocket a small packet that he extended to me. I wondered what it contained. He explained that it contained something extremely precious – some vibhuti, holy ashes brought from the ashram. He insisted on my accepting them. His kind invitation did not interest me in the least. On the other hand, it amused me.
I said, scornfully, ‘Pardon me, but I think that all this sort of thing is mere sham and humbug, so I trust you will not misunderstand me if I refuse to accept.’
He then argued that by refusing his gift, I was not merely insulting him, I was also insulting the vibhuti. I thought that this was rather comical, but to placate him I replied, ‘Well, if that be so, to please you I will take a pinch of these ashes on condition that you will allow me to do whatever I like with them’.
Unsuspectingly, he nodded his head in assent and passed the packet over to me. A smile appeared on his lips as he watched me take a pinch out of it. This smile was the preface to a zealous expiation on Sri Bhagavan and his miraculous greatness. While he was lost in his missionary enthusiasm, I surreptitiously let the ashes fall onto the floor of the compartment. To be quite frank, it was a relief when my friend had concluded what I had then considered to be a puerile and unnecessary lecture.
At the end of it I remarked, ‘I have an utter contempt for these so-called saints’.
My friend refused to give up. He insisted on impressing on me that Sri Ramana Maharshi was not a ‘so-called’ saint, but an authentic sage, acknowledged as such by great savants all over the world. He suggested that for my own benefit I read about him in some of the available literature. To start me off he gave me a book entitled Sri Maharshi that had been written by Sri Kamath, the editor of The Sunday Times in Madras.
I must confess that despite my prejudices the book evoked in me an interest in Sri Bhagavan. After completing this small book I was sufficiently curious to borrow another book about him from a different friend. It was the second edition of Self-Realization, the earliest full-length biography of Sri Bhagavan. From then on, my interest grew without my being aware of it. A little later I felt compelled to write to Sri Ramanasramam to ask for all the literature on Sri Bhagavan that was available in English. As I began to study it with great avidity, I found that my outlook on life began to undergo a subtle transformation, but only a partial one. At the back of my mind there still lurked a heavy doubt, resembling a cloud, that stained the gathering illumination. My old scepticism did not wish to yield place so easily to this new faith, which was apparently being inculcated in my mind.
My scepticism tried to challenge my new faith by arguing, ‘So many books are wonderful to read, but their authors, more often than not, are not as wonderful to know. It is possible for men to teach truths that they are unable to live themselves. What, then, is the use of books, however wonderful?’
To counter this doubt I decided to correspond directly with Sri Bhagavan. Over the next few months I wrote several letters to him, all of which were answered by his ashram with a rare punctuality. However, although they breathed the teachings of the Master, they hardly gave me a glimpse into the nature of the daily life lived by him. Because of this I began to be haunted by a desire to visit the ashram to see for myself what went on there.
To fulfil that desire I paid my first visit to Sri Ramanasramam in the Christmas holiday of 1939. At first I was terribly disappointed because nothing seemed to strike me in the way I had expected. I found Sri Bhagavan seated on a couch, as quiet and unmoving as a statue. His presence did not seem to emanate anything unusual, and I was very disappointed to discover that he displayed no interest in me at all. I had expected warmth and intimacy, but unfortunately I seemed to be in the presence of someone who lacked both. From morning till evening I sat waiting to catch a glimpse of his grace, of his interest in me, a stranger who had come all the way from Bombay, but I evoked no response. Sri Bhagavan merely seemed cold and unaffected. After pinning such hopes on him, his apparent lack of interest nearly broke my heart. Eventually, I decided to leave the ashram, knowing full well that if I did so, I would be more sceptical and hard-headed than before.
The Veda parayana was chanted every evening in Sri Bhagavan’s presence. It was considered to be one of the most attractive items in the daily programme of the ashram, but in my depressed state it fell flat on my ears. It was the evening of the day I had decided to leave. The sun was setting like a sad farewell, spreading a darkness over both the hill and my heart. The gloom deepened until the neighbourhood disappeared into the blackness of the night. In my sensitive state the electric light that was switched on in the hall seemed like a living wound on the body of the darkness. My mind, which was deeply tormented, felt that the psychic atmosphere in the hall was stuffy and choking. Unable to bear it any longer, I walked outside to get a breath of fresh air.
A young man called Gopalan came up to me and asked me where I had come from.
‘Bombay,’ I replied.
He asked me if I had been introduced to the Master, and when I replied that I had not, he was most surprised. He immediately led me to the office, introduced me to the sarvadhikari [manager] and then proceeded with me to the hall where he introduced me to Sri Bhagavan. When he heard my name Sri Bhagavan’s eyes turned to me, looked straight into mine and twinkled like stars. With a smile beaming with grace he asked me if I were a Gujarati. I replied that I was. Immediately he sent for a copy of the Gujarati translation by Sri Kishorelal Mashruwala of Upadesa Saram, a few copies of which had only just arrived. He then asked me to chant the Gujarati verses from the book.
‘But I am not a singer,’ I answered, hesitating to begin. But when it became clear that I was expected to perform, I got over my initial hesitation and began to chant verses from the book. I had sung about fifteen when the bell for the evening meal rang. All the time I was chanting I could feel Sri Bhagavan keenly observing me. It seemed that the light of his eyes was suffusing my consciousness, even without my being aware of it. His silent gaze brought about a subtle but definite transformation in me. The darkness, which a few minutes before had seemed heavy and unbearable, gradually lightened and melted into a glow of well being. My erstwhile sadness completely disappeared, leaving in my heart an inexplicable emotion of joy. My limbs appeared to have been washed in an ocean-tide of freedom.
That evening I sat close to Sri Bhagavan in the dining room. In my exalted state the food I ate seemed to have an unusual and unearthly taste. I quite literally felt that I was participating in some heavenly meal in the direct presence of God. After having such an experience I of course abandoned all thought of leaving the ashram that night. I stayed on for three days longer in order to widen the sacred and extraordinary experience that had already begun, an experience of divine grace that I felt would lead me in the direction of spiritual liberation.
During the three days of my stay in the proximity of the Divine Master, I found my whole outlook entirely changed. After that short period I could find little evidence of my old self, a self that had been tied down with all kinds of preconceptions and prejudices. I felt that I had lost the chains that bind the eyes of true vision. I became aware that the whole texture of my mind had undergone a change. The colours of the world seemed different, and even the ordinary daylight took on an ethereal aspect. I began to see the foolishness and the futility of turning my gaze only on the dark side of life.
In those few days Sri Bhagavan, the divine magician, opened up for me a strange new world of illumination, hope and joy. I felt that his presence on earth alone constituted sufficient proof that humanity, suffering and wounded because of its obstinate ignorance, could be uplifted and saved. For the first time I fully understood the significance of darshan.
While I lay in bed in the guest room of the ashram, the encounter that had taken place on the train in Bombay replayed itself in my mind. I recalled the blind audacity that had prompted me to drop the thrice-holy vibhuti in contempt onto the floor of the railway carriage. Today, even one speck of such vibhuti is treasure to me, for prasad received from the Master is a form of grace that no wealth on earth may buy. Sometimes I even feel that I am not worthy enough to raise it to my eyelids and streak my forehead with it.
‘O Master,’ I thought to myself, ‘what a miracle of transformation! Why did it take half a lifetime before I could meet you? Half a lifetime of blundering, of failing and falling. But I suppose, my Master, that you would say that time is a mental concept. For I feel that in your sight your bhaktas [devotees] have, throughout all time, always been with you and near you.’
As these thoughts were passing through my mind, I slowly fell into a deep sleep. The next morning I arose in a rejuvenated state. There was a new vigour in my limbs and an awareness that my heart was permeated with light. On the third day of my visit I sadly took leave of Sri Bhagavan. I was still human enough, still caught in the sense of time and space, for the parting to leave me with a feeling of aching and emptiness in the heart. But there was no despair. Something assured me that I would be returning to the feet of the Master sooner than I could imagine.
My intuition turned out to be correct. In the following years repeated visits seemed to be miraculously and easily arranged by the Master. He seemed to know that I felt an occasional need to be close to him physically. In the years that followed each succeeding visit deepened the light within, toned up my nerves and suffused my senses with an increasing experience of exhilaration.
The subtle and subconscious manner with which the Master toils at his children is amazing. There were times without number when I distinctly saw his hand, his mighty hand, extended to me when I stood in need of guidance. These occasions continually reminded me of his famous comment in Who am I?
He that has earned the grace of the Guru shall undoubtedly be saved and never forsaken, just as the prey that has fallen into the tiger’s jaws will never be allowed to escape.
In 1945 I decided to wind up my printing press in Bombay in order to go and settle at Sri Ramanasramam. I had no pre-arranged plan for closing down my business; I merely relied on Sri Bhagavan. And he in turn responded to my devout prayer.
In the early hours of the morning, while I was still in my bed and only half awake, I saw a vision in which Sri Bhagavan appeared before me. By his side stood a gentleman whom I recognised as a friend of mine. He had neither been to the ashram nor had he ever exhibited any faith in Sri Bhagavan. The following conversation then took place between Sri Bhagavan and myself:
Bhagavan: You want to sell your press, don’t you?
Me: Yes, Bhagavan, but I must find a buyer.
Bhagavan: (showing my friend standing by his side) Here is the buyer. He will buy your press, so sell it to him.
Me: Since Sri Bhagavan has been kind enough to show me the buyer, may he also favour me by stating the amount at which I should execute the sale?
Sri Bhagavan then showed me five figures on the opposite wall that were shining like a neon sign. The amount indicated to me was quite reasonable, neither low nor exorbitant.
Sri Bhagavan and my friend then disappeared from my sight and the vision ended. By itself the vision was astonishing enough, but there was more to come. When I entered my press that day at 11 a.m., my friend from the vision was waiting there for me. Of course, he had come to see me about some other work and had no idea that he had been singled out as a prospective buyer. Feeling that Sri Bhagavan had sent him to me, I told him about the vision that had come to me a few hours before. He listened to me very attentively.
When I had finished my tale he simply commented, ‘I will buy your press at the price indicated by your Guru’.
There was no limit to my joy. My desire to sell was fulfilled by his grace and the sale was completed in less than a minute.
My original plan had been to sell all my property in Bombay and move directly to Sri Ramanasramam. However, when the devotees heard what I was planning to do, it was suggested to me that I could be of more use to the ashram in Bangalore. I was asked to start a printing press there that could execute all of Sri Ramanasramam’s printing work. I agreed to the idea and soon found myself in Bangalore, looking for suitable premises. I began to suspect that Sri Bhagavan had assisted the sale of my original press because he had work for me to do in Bangalore.
I was a stranger in the city but I soon located an old press that had been lying idle for the previous six months. It was for sale. I saw its proprietor and told him why I wished to buy his business. He agreed to sell it to me but we were unable to agree on a price. To break the deadlock I proposed that both of us should visit the ashram and suggested that we could talk about the deal after we had had Sri Bhagavan’s darshan. I thought that since Sri Bhagavan wanted me to do this work in Bangalore, his darshan might help to lubricate the wheels of the transaction.
The owner agreed to the idea, so we set off together for Sri Ramanasramam. On our arrival, I took him into the holy presence of Sri Bhagavan and informed him that I proposed to buy the press of the gentleman who was accompanying me, and that I planned to do all the ashram’s printing work there. Sri Bhagavan did not say anything; he just nodded his head.
Within a few hours of having had Sri Bhagavan’s darshan, there was a wonderful change in the attitude of the owner of the press. He approached me and agreed to sell his press for whatever price I was willing to pay for it. I stated a reasonable amount since I did not want to exploit him, and he happily accepted my offer. When he had agreed to come and see Sri Bhagavan with me he had made a stipulation that no business talks should take place at the ashram. However, after seeing Sri Bhagavan, he proposed that we settle our business immediately. We drafted and signed a sale agreement in the ashram itself and within a week of our visit the press came into my possession.
It was a fairly big press that enabled me to do all kinds of printing work in several languages. Because of the good facilities that were available there, I undertook to print ashram books in English, Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Gujarati and Kannada.
The press, which was given the name ‘Aruna Press’ by Sri Bhagavan himself, had been idle for six months. It needed a lot of work to get it functioning again, but by Sri Bhagavan’s grace I was soon able to take up the ashram work that had been given to me.
In 1946, the devotees of Sri Bhagavan decided to celebrate a golden jubilee to commemorate Sri Bhagavan’s fifty years at Arunachala. He had arrived on September 1st, 1896, and on that same date in 1946 the ashram proposed to mark the occasion by a number of special events, one of which was the publication of a book entitled The Golden Jubilee Souvenir. The printing of this souvenir was entrusted to my press. Up till then, the press had only printed small books for the ashram. Since this was going to be a big volume of several hundred pages, I was initially reluctant to accept the work because I felt that I would not have enough time to complete it. However, once I overcame my diffidence and accepted the commission, help and cooperation began to pour in. Since some of it was wholly unexpected, I suspected that Sri Bhagavan’s divine grace was again at work.
At first, my initial fears appeared to be justified. When only ten days remained before the publication date, I had still not managed to print more than a small part of the book. I temporarily lost my courage and rushed off to the ashram.
I prostrated before Sri Bhagavan, told him about the lack of progress and informed him, ‘Unless the help of some other press is taken, the volume will not come out on the first of September’.
I then sat before him, enjoying his darshan, waiting for his reply. After a few moments of silence he said in a low melodious tone, ‘Do your work’.
These three simple words had a magical effect on me. They fired me with fresh vim and vigour and there arose in my heart a strong belief that the volume would surely be out on the scheduled date. I had received my orders from my Master. I had simply to obey and ‘do my work’. I had faith that all the other details would be looked after by him.
I returned to Bangalore and told the story of my experience at Sri Ramanasramam to my co-workers in the press. All of them accepted Sri Bhagavan’s order in the same spirit as I had done. For the next few days all of us worked day and night with full faith, zeal and enthusiasm. The amount of work turned out in those last ten days was, in retrospect, quite astonishing. Then, when three days remained till our deadline, a party of about ten devotees came to my house on its way to the ashram. They were going there to attend the golden jubilee celebrations. Three of them turned out to be expert bookbinders. I immediately enlisted their aid and managed to complete the work of the souvenir a day early.
Between 1945 and 1947 the Aruna Press printed all the publications of Sri Ramanasramam. The work was complex and I often found myself having to argue with the official at Sri Ramanasramam who had been put in charge of the publications there. The tension between us increased to the point where both of us decided that we should go to Sri Bhagavan to get our differences resolved.
The rest interval between noon and 2.30 p.m. was chosen for our meeting because we wanted to be alone with him. We went to the hall at noon and waited outside for him to return from lunch. On his way back he saw both of us waiting for him. Sensing that we had some business to discuss, he took his seat on the big stone couch that stood outside the hall. My friend immediately started to present his side of the dispute. However, it soon occurred to him that Sri Bhagavan was not comfortable sitting outside on this stone bench. He stopped in the middle of his plea, folded his hands in a respectful way, and requested Sri Bhagavan to go inside the hall. He said that the business should be conducted with Sri Bhagavan seated comfortably on his sofa.
Sri Bhagavan dismissed the appeal with a smile, saying, ‘What is wrong with this seat? Was there a soft bed and a sofa when I was up there [pointing to the hill]? Up there the bare stones served as my bed as well as my seat.’
It was clear that in our unseemly haste and our anxiety to plead our respective cases we had been responsible for causing this discomfort to him. Feeling very guilty about this, I felt very embarrassed when my friend’s request was turned down. In an anguished voice I begged Sri Bhagavan to follow the advice.
‘No, Bhagavan, no. That won’t do,’ I said. ‘It is our earnest prayer that you should not sit here in the hot sun. We will resume our talk only after you go into the hall and sit comfortably on the sofa.’
This time he accepted the advice. Neither of us knew why he finally agreed after rejecting the first appeal. He got up, went inside and, as requested, sat on his sofa. Both of us then placed our cases before him. He quietly listened to us and gave his verdict in the language of silence. Smiling with great charm he maintained complete silence both during and after the presentation of the arguments. The judgement was the best possible one for both of us. Sri Bhagavan’s silence had healed the breach. As we emerged from the hall both of us had a spontaneous impulse to embrace the other. In those few minutes our hearts had changed. We separated with the resolve to bury the past and to treat each other in future with love and friendship. The silken tie with which Sri Bhagavan bound us on that day has never snapped again.
Sometimes in life there is a clash between two competing obligations, especially if both seem to be equally important. At such times it is rather difficult to arrive at the right decision. It has been my experience that at such times our gracious Master leads us to the proper decision. I will give an example from my own life.
At one time I felt that my political duty as a Gandhian demanded that I should court arrest, but my domestic duties bade me otherwise. As I was eager to go to jail as part of the Independence struggle, it pained me that, out of regard for my family, I was not able to do so. I found myself in a dilemma and I could not of my own accord see the way out. The situation was so unbearable for me that I had to turn to the Master for help and relief. I therefore set out for Tiruvannamalai.
After reaching there I went and sat in the holy presence of the Master. While I was sitting there, I began to wonder how I should place my difficulty before him because I did not feel like broaching the subject verbally. I finally decided to pour forth my prayer from my heart in silence in the form of a plea for Sri Bhagavan to extend his benign help to me. I began to pray and while I concentrated on my mental plea I watched his radiant face and his sparkling eyes that were full of love and kindness. And then, astonishingly, something like a miracle began to happen. Sri Bhagavan’s face transformed itself into that of Mahatma Gandhi, while his body remained the same. As I stared at it with awe and wonder, the two faces, those of Sri Bhagavan and Gandhiji, began to appear to me alternately in quick succession. I felt my heart filling with joy and yet at the same time I was wondering whether what I saw was real or not. I turned my eyes away from Sri Bhagavan and looked around me to see if others were seeing what I saw. Seeing no sign of wonder on their faces, I concluded that what I saw was a picture from my own imagination. I closed my eyes and sat quietly for some time. Then, as I began again to look at Sri Bhagavan’s face, the vision immediately reappeared, but this time with a slight change. In addition to the two faces of Sri Bhagavan and Gandhiji, those of Krishna, Buddha, Kabir, Ramdas and a host of other saints began to show themselves in quick succession. Now all my doubts vanished and I began to enjoy this grand and divine show. The vision lasted about five minutes. My mind dropped all its worries and I found myself able to hand over my problem to the capable hands of the Master. Though he spoke no words to me, it came to pass that the problem was solved without infringing either of my two duties. In fact, both duties were fulfilled satisfactorily.
I had another vision of Sri Bhagavan in 1943. During my visit to Sri Ramanasramam that year, I visited the temple of Sri Arunachaleswara with my family and a friend who was a devotee from Madurai. This is the main temple in Tiruvannamalai, the same one that Sri Bhagavan stayed in when he first came to Arunachala.
While we were walking through the spacious courtyards I did not have any inkling of the wonderful experience I was to pass through when I finally saw the deity.
On reaching the innermost shrine we discovered that we were early, for the doors of the shrine had not been opened. We decided to wait there till someone came to unlock them. I leaned back against a pillar and began to think about Sri Bhagavan’s early life. Suddenly my thoughts began to materialise physically as scenes from his early life began to appear before my eyes as vividly as if I were watching a cinema film.
The film had the following scenes, all of which I saw very clearly: Venkataraman is writing the imposition in his uncle’s house in Madurai. Leaving it aside, he sits bolt upright, closes his eyes and becomes absorbed in the more congenial practice of meditation. His elder brother Nagaswami is watching him and rebukes him for neglecting his lessons. Venkataraman then decides to leave the house. He takes three rupees from his brother’s college fees and departs after leaving a short note. He reaches the railway station. He buys a ticket to Tindivanam, gets into the train and sits quietly in one corner. A moulvi [Muslim scholar] who is discoursing to other passengers notices him and asks him where he is going. On learning that Venkataraman has got a ticket to Tindivanam but wants to go on to Tiruvannamalai, the moulvi directs him to break his journey at Villupuram. I see Venkataraman getting down at Villupuram and walking through the town in search of food. He waits near a hotel whose meals are not yet ready. Meanwhile he loses himself in samadhi. When the meal is ready, he takes it, offers to pay for it, but the hotel owner refuses payment. He then goes to the railway station and buys a ticket to Mambalapattu. From there he walks for about ten miles and reaches the temple of Ariyanainallur. In the temple he sees a vision of dazzling light and goes into samadhi again. He then goes to Kilur, where he pledges his earrings and gets four rupees for them. With this money he goes to the railway station and buys a ticket to Tiruvannamalai.
While I was enjoying this wonderful divine vision, the doors of the shrine opened and my vision was interrupted by the loud blowing of pipes and the beating of drums. The people who were waiting with us stood up to get the Lord’s darshan. I too mechanically stood up with the others. After this short interruption, my vision continued. Though the idol of Sri Arunachaleswara was before my eyes, I could clearly see Venkataraman getting out of the train at the Tiruvannamalai station. He then ran towards the temple. As he was coming nearer and nearer, the noisy music rose to a higher and higher pitch. Venkataraman entered the temple, ran to the shrine and embraced the lingam with both his hands. My feelings were ecstatic. My whole body experienced a divine thrill and tears of joy rolled down my cheeks. This state of sublime joy lasted a long time and was both indescribable and unforgettable.
I am not the only person to have had a vision of Sri Bhagavan in the inner shrine of the temple. When I printed The Golden Jubilee Souvenir for the ashram in 1946, I discovered that a devotee from Nepal, Sardar Rudra Raj Pande, had had an equally spectacular experience there. This is how he described it:
[When I reached the centre of the temple,] all my attention was directed to the one purpose of seeing the image or lingam in the sanctum sanctorum. But, strange to say, instead of the lingam I see the image of the Maharshi, Bhagavan Sri Ramana, his smiling countenance, his brilliant eyes looking at me. And what is more strange, it is not one Maharshi that I see, nor two, nor three – in hundreds I see the same smiling countenance, those lustrous eyes. I see them wherever I may look in that sanctum sanctorum. My eyes catch not the full figure of the Maharshi, but only the smiling face from the chin above. I am in raptures and beside myself with inexpressible joy.... That bliss and calmness of mind I then felt, how can words describe [it]? Tears of joy flowed down my cheeks. I went to the temple to have darshan of Lord Arunachala and I found the living Lord as he graciously revealed himself. I can never forget the deep intimate experience I had in the ancient temple.
The vision I had of Sri Bhagavan in the temple strengthened my faith in him. The other vision I had in the hall assured me that the help of all spiritual Masters, including Sri Bhagavan, was available to me all the time. Having been blessed with these visions, I now knew that I was on the right path, and I knew that my Master was guiding me in everything I did.