Chapter1 of the biography “Ramana Maharshi And The Path Of Self-Knowledge” written by Arthur Osborne.
A RUDRA 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 house (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 )- 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.
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 house (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.) 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.
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 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.”