Sri Ramana Maharshi and Sri Muruganar
Edited and Translated by Robert Butler, T. V. Venkatasubramanian and David Godman
Publisher: Sri Ramanasramam
IN THE 1920s and 30s MURUGANAR wrote Sri Ramana Sannidhi Murai, an anthology of devotional poems in praise of Bhagavan that was modelled on the Tiruvachakam of Manikkavachagar. While he was composing, in Bhagavan’s presence, the poem that would eventually be called Ramana Puranam, he took a break to go out and think about the title. When he returned to the hall, he was astonished to discover that Bhagavan had not only named the poem Ramana Puranam by writing this title on every page of the manuscript, he had also completed it by composing and adding about 300 extra lines. In his contribution to Ramana Puranam Bhagavan not only continued with some of Muruganar’s own devotional themes, he also expanded the range of the work by including many lines that summarised key aspects of his own teachings, particularly ideas that he had written about in Ulladu Narpadu. This work, larger than any of Bhagavan's other poetical works, has languished in an undeserved obscurity for many decades, accessible only to those few who knew enough literary Tamil to read the original.
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This is most of the introduction that appears in the print version of Ramana Puranam. The footnotes in this extract have either been removed or incorporated into the text.
MURUGANAR (1890–1973) IS WIDELY REGARDED as being one of the foremost devotees of Bhagavan. He was instrumental in getting Bhagavan to compose the verses that comprise Ulladu Narpadu and Upadesa Undiyar, two of Bhagavan’s major philosophical poems, and he composed thousands of poems of his own that either praised Bhagavan, recorded his teachings or expressed gratitude to Bhagavan for having established him in the Self.
In his earlier life he was known as C. K. Subramania Iyer, although his parents called him Sambamurthi. Before coming to Bhagavan he was a well-respected Tamil scholar who served on a prestigious committee that was compiling the definitive Tamil dictionary. He also worked as a schoolteacher and private tutor.
It was a visit by Dandapani Swami, his father-in-law, that prompted him to go to Tiruvannamalai in September 1923. When Dandapani Swami showed him Aksharamanamalai, Bhagavan’s 108 verses in praise of Arunachala, Muruganar immediately recognised that Ramana Maharshi was the Guru he had been actively seeking.
Muruganar decided to pay a visit to Tiruvannamalai and see Sri Ramana. On the way there he composed eleven verses in the Arunachaleswara Temple. Most of the verses, addressed to Bhagavan as Siva, contained pleas for grace. Muruganar has described this first visit and the background that led up to it in two of his poetical compositions:
‘Will I, an unworthy ignorant one, ever be accepted as a devotee by Lord Siva who, as the Divine Guru with the wealth of grace, showed clearly to the world the greatness of Manikkavachagar? And even if I get such a chance, will I be able to sing of the glories of his grace-showering feet in the same way as Tiruvachakam [Manikkavachagar’s most famous poetical work]?’
Like many other thoughts that arose in my mind, this thought, a long time ago, appeared and disappeared, like a flash of lightning manifesting in the sky.
Then I heard from devotees who had redeemed themselves by taking as their support the grace of the one at Tiruvannamalai, who is the embodiment of true jnana, and who shines as the flame of true tapas. When they spoke of the greatness of his grace, they melted in joy. Hearing them, I was lost in admiration and unceasing joy.… The compassionate Supreme One, who is endowed with jnana, then decided in his heart to be my Lord and Master.
There was in me a thirst, an intense longing to subside [into the Self], that was prompted by the thought of the divine feet, which abound in grace. So, like one who, suffering from thirst, comes across a Ganges of cold water, on an auspicious day, a golden day for my thirst, I went [to Ramana Maharshi] with eleven verses that began ‘Leaving Mount Kailas…’ and met the excellent sage, the jnana Guru, the ocean of mauna, the bestower of jnana.
In the same way that wax melts on encountering fire, on seeing his feet, my mind dissolved and lost its form. Like a calf finding its mother, my heart melted and rejoiced in his feet. The hairs on my body stood on end. Devotion surged in me like an ocean that has seen the full moon. Through the grace of chitshakti [the power inherent in consciousness], my soul was in ecstasy.
With an unsteady and quivering voice, I read the eleven verses and placed them at his feet. At that very moment he graciously looked at me with his lotus eyes. From that day on, the praises given out by my impartial tongue belonged only to him.
From the way he bestowed his grace, becoming my Lord and Master, I was completely convinced that he was Siva himself. As my new ‘owner’, he made my ‘I’ and ‘mine’ his own.
Even if I get submerged in the miry mud [of this world], I will not forget the mighty nobility of the bountiful bestower of grace. (Sri Ramana Sannidhi Murai, ‘Origin of the work’, lines 1-16, and Sri Ramana Sannidhi Murai, ‘Tiruvandappahudi’, lines 49-80.)
In September 1923 Bhagavan was still living in a small thatched hut that had been erected over his mother’s samadhi. Muruganar felt unsure of the correct way of approaching him, so he remained for some time outside the hut. Bhagavan solved the problem by coming outside and saying ‘Enna?’ [‘What?’]. In Tamil Nadu, this is a standard way of ascertaining what business a new visitor has.
In response to this query Muruganar began to sing the verses that had been composed by him in the temple, but emotion got the better of him. Tears welled up in his eyes and he was unable to proceed.
‘Can’t you read?’ asked Bhagavan. ‘Give it to me. I shall read it myself.’
Bhagavan then read out the poem. Up till this time Muruganar had been very particular about annotating his poems with a specific raga or melody, since it was traditional that metres or themes had to be sung in a particular way. After this first encounter with Bhagavan, he was never able to sing his poems again.
Muruganar stayed for several days on this first visit, and during this period he had several ecstatic and visionary experiences. These experiences were so intense, Muruganar felt that if he stayed in the ashram any longer, he might abandon his family life and stay with Bhagavan full-time. Not wanting to leave his mother without any means of support, he went back to his job in Madras.
He returned three months later, in December 1923, with more poems for Bhagavan. One of them was entitled ‘Tiruvembavai’, which is the name of a very famous poem that Manikkavachagar composed in Adi-annamalai, on the Arunachala pradakshina road, more than a thousand years ago. Muruganar’s version began with the words, ‘Let us bathe in and sing the glories of Annamalai Ramana who bestows his grace through his eyes…’.
Siva had appeared before Manikkavachagar in the form of a human Guru to grant him liberation from bondage. As an expression of his love and gratitude, Manikkavachagar praised the grace and greatness of Siva, his Guru, in Tiruvachakam, one of the great classics of Tamil devotional literature. Muruganar had long hoped that Siva would fulfil this same role for him, and that he too would be allowed to sing the praises of Siva in the form of his own Guru. Muruganar had decided that Bhagavan was Siva in the form of his Guru even before he first met him in September 1923. This is clear from the first verse that Muruganar composed in the Arunachaleswara Temple while he was on his way to meet Bhagavan:
‘Vachagar’ is Manikkavachagar, and Perunturai was the coastal port in Tamil Nadu where Siva chose to manifest in a human form for him.
Guru Ramana, Siva, as once you left
Mount Kailas and the company of the gods
And came to cool Perunturai to drink in
The sparkling words of Vachagar,
Now again you have come to fair Aruna town
Wishing to hearken to this fellow’s puerile words.
(Homage to the Presence of Sri Ramana, verse 184 of Sri Ramana Sannidhi Murai, tr. K. Swaminathan)
When Muruganar showed up at Ramanasramam with a poem in praise of Bhagavan that had the name of one of Manikkavachagar’s most famous works, it was clear that Muruganar had begun to fulfil his long-held desire of having a relationship with Bhagavan that was similar to that which Manikkavachagar enjoyed with Siva. Sadhu Om has described what happened next:
He [Muruganar] one day composed his ‘Tiruvembavai’ beginning with the words ‘Annamalai Ramanan’. Seeing that the verses of that song were replete with many sublime features similar to Manikkavachagar’s Tiruvachakam, Sri Bhagavan playfully asked, ‘Can you sing like Manikkavachagar?’ Though Sri Muruganar took these words to be a divine command from his Guru, he prayed to him, ‘Where is Manikkavachagar’s divine experience of true jnana, and where is my state of ajnana? Only if Bhagavan removes my ajnana by his grace will it be possible for me to sing like Manikkavachagar; by the mere talent of this ego, how is it possible to sing like him?’
Referring to the grace which Sri Bhagavan bestowed on him the moment he prayed thus, Sri Muruganar sings in the ‘Nul Varalaru’ of Sri Ramana Sannidhi Murai:
…I said, ‘Where is my ignorant mind, which is like an owl blind to the bright sunlight, and which is darker than even the darkest darkness, and where is his experience of Self [atmanubhuti] which surges as true jnana devoid of dark delusion? To compare me with him is like comparing a firefly with the sun!’ As I said thus I languished, and as I languished that Lord who shines in my heart stirred my mind and made it blossom by his grace, and thus without my doing, he composed the work Sri Ramana Sannidhi Murai so that his true glory should flourish and shine exalted.
Thus, becoming a target of Sri Bhagavan’s divine love, Sri Muruganar was transformed into an exalted divine poet. Just as Lord Siva made Manikkavachagar sing Tiruvachakam, having bestowed upon him atmanubhuti, so Sri Bhagavan made Muruganar sing Sri Ramana Sannidhi Murai like Tiruvachakam having in a single moment stirred his mind by his grace and having thereby bestowed upon him that same anubhuti. (Ramana’s Muruganar, pp. 57-8)
The first edition of Sri Ramana Sannidhi Murai was published in January 1933. Though it contained over 1,200 verses, there was an important omission. Tiruvachakam begins with a ninety-five-line poem entitled ‘Siva Puranam’ in which Manikkavachagar praises Siva, but Sri Ramana Sannidhi Murai had no equivalent poem as an introduction. Kanakamma has described how this lacuna was remedied:
In the first edition of Ramana Sannidhi Murai there was no poem corresponding to ‘Siva Puranam’ of Tiruvachakam. Since this work was patterned on Tiruvachakam, it seemed incomplete to that extent. So Muruganar started composing a poem on the same lines. His inspired pen quickly wrote two hundred lines. At this stage a doubt arose in his mind as to what would be the appropriate title for this [work]. The obvious title could be ‘Siva Puranam’, since Siva’s name is dear to his devotees and Ramana was the embodiment of Lord Siva. But the verses were extolling the glory of the Lord as Ramana. So why not call it ‘Ramana Puranam’? Thus tossed by doubt Muruganar left the place, leaving the lines at Ramana’s feet.
When he returned in the evening Ramana handed back the poems. A great surprise was in store for Muruganar. Ramana had distinctly written ‘Ramana Puranam’ not only at the top of the work but also at the top of each and every page. He had not stopped with that. He had himself composed three hundred more lines and completed the work….
When the second edition of Sri Ramana Sannidhi Murai was [about to be] published these verses were also added. Muruganar had included a footnote to indicate that the first two hundred lines had been composed by him and the remaining three hundred by Bhagavan. After correcting the proof he handed over the matter to Ramana. While going through it Ramana saw the footnote and remarked, ‘Are only these [lines] written by Bhagavan?’ Muruganar at once saw his error. Were not the earlier ones too a product of Ramana’s grace? He at once prostrated to Bhagavan and with profuse tears said ‘Nothing is written by me. Everything flows from your grace.’ He then promptly deleted the footnote. (Ramana’s Muruganar, pp. 12-13)
‘Ramana Puranam’ was completed in early 1938, and it was included in the second edition of Sri Ramana Sannidhi Murai that was published in April 1939 by Ramanapadananda, a devotee who undertook the responsibility of publishing most of the poetry that Muruganar wrote during Bhagavan’s lifetime.
The concluding portion of ‘Ramana Puranam’, a section that runs approximately from line 233 to 540, contains teachings, written by Bhagavan himself, that have never before been published in English. A partial translation of Sri Ramana Sannidhi Murai was published by Sri Ramanasramam several years ago, but it did not contain either ‘Ramana Puranam’ or some of the other longer poems that appeared in the original work.