It was in 1908 I first contacted Sri Ramana Maharshi, then in the Virupaksha Cave, when I was a boy of twelve. Had you seen Him in those days, you would hardly have taken Him for a mere human being. His figure was a statue of burnished gold. He simply sat and sat, and rarely spoke. The words He spoke on any day could easily be counted. He was an enchanting personality, who shed a captivating lustre on all, and a life-giving current flowed from Him, charging all those nearby, while His sparkling eyes irrigated those around Him with the nectar of His Being.
Peace, peace, peace. Now you have lost your individuality in Him; He absorbs you, is your all, is the All. I remember, how well! the first song I sang before Him at that time; it was the famous Namasivayapadikam, commencing “Matrupatrenakkinri”, the gift of the great Saint Sri Sundaramurti Swamigal. From then on He had me linked inseparably to Himself. I know one and only one thing, and that is that He alone exists as the Divine, and all else has only the appearance of existence, but in reality is not.
I never had to leave Tiruvannamalai after my nineteenth year. Sri Kavyakanta Ganapati Muni was at that time in Tiruvannamalai; his Vaidika Sabha Society was very active, and he gave a series of discourses on the Vedas. His magnetic personality and exposition of the greatness of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi so deeply impressed me that I decided to study the Vedas at his feet, and was gladly accepted as a student. He was then living in the Mango-Tree Cave below the Virupaksha Cave on the Hill. Eight years I studied the Scriptures under him; daily we visited the Maharshi together and enjoyed the benefit of His presence.
After the Maharshi’s mother, Alagammal, passed away, Sri Maharshi came down the Hill, and the present Ashram came into being. Sri Kavyakanta and his pupils would come down to the Maharshi’s abode, when there would be memorable and scintillating discussions. When the Muni was in the Hall, Sri Maharshi could be seen in the full bloom of His being. The discussions ranged over various schools of thought and philosophy, and it was a period of great literary activity at the Ashram. Besides Kavyakanta, Kapali Sastry, Muruganar, Lakshmana Sarma, Arunachala Sastriar of the Madras Gita fame, Munagala Venkataramiah (the late Swami Ramanananda Saraswathi, the author of Talks with Sri Maharshi), Sivaprakasam Pillai, and a host of others, used to be in the Hall, which was open all through the hours of day and night. It was then the World of Freedom of Sri Ramana, our Lord, Guru and very Self. Our lives were based and turned upon that one central Personality. Nothing gave us greater joy than to be in His presence as often as possible and to do His bidding.
Thus did time pass till 1929 when, on leaving Tiruvannamalai for good, Sri Kavyakanta made me over to the care of Sri Maharshi, and in the very first letter he wrote asked Bhagavan to take particular care of me. I was at school when that letter was received, and the Maharshi tucked it under His cushion. He pulled it out, read it to me when I returned from school, and said: “Look here, you must not run away from here. I am answerable to Nayana; he may come at any time and claim you from me.”
Our happiness in the presence of Sri Bhagavan was comparable to the joy of the hosts of Siva on Mount Kailasa. Sri Bhagavan used to say, “Kailasa is the abode of Siva; Arunachala is Siva Himself. Even in Kailasa things are as they are with us here. Devotees go to Siva, worship Him, serve Him, and hear from Him the interpretation of the Vedas and Vedanta day in and day out.” So it was Kailasa at the foot of the Arunachala Hill, and Arunachala Paramatma in human form was Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi.
In May 1933, on my 36th birthday, after the usual bath and prayers, I sat in Sri Bhagavan’s presence in a pensive mood. I addressed a prayer in the Tamil viruttam style to Sri Bhagavan, complaining: “O Bhagavan, I have completed three and a half decades, and yet have not had the experience of the real You. Pray let me have this day the touch of Your Grace.” Handing over this slip of paper I prostrated before Him.
Bhagavan bade me sit down and gazed steadily at me; I was still in a pensive and meditative mood. All of a sudden I lost body-consciousness, and was absorbed in Sri Maharshi. I was turned inward, and the voice of Bhagavan bade me see whatever I desired, I felt that if I could have the darshan of Sri Rama my life would have been fruitful, as I was very much devoted to Sri Rama. I had then immediately a darshan of Sri Rama, with Sita, Lakshmana, Bharata, Satrughna and Hanuman. The ecstasy of the vision defied description; I simply sat on, with Maharshi perhaps gazing on me without my being aware of His gaze. Two hours may thus have passed in pin-drop silence, lost in the vision, until it vanished. I prostrated at the feet of Sri Maharshi, with tears of ecstasy in my eyes and my hair standing on end. To Bhagavan’s enquiry I replied that I of course had seen dear Rama.
Bhagavan asked me to fetch the book Dakshinamurti Ashtottara, which I had not read, and opening a page therein He gave it to me to read. ‘The fifth name from the last read “Om Sri Yoga Pattabhiramaya Namaha.” Bhagavan then said: “Sri Rama is Dakshinamurti, and Dakshinamurti is Sri Rama. Do you know where Ayodhya is? The Vedas say it is in the Sun, and describe it as ashtachakra navadwara devanam Purayodhya (the Gods’ city is Ayodhya with eight corners and nine gates). Arunachala is also astachakra puri (eight-cornered city), and Lord Arunachala is Sri Rama as well as Dakshinamurti. One has no need to go to the Sun to see Ayodhya or Sri Rama, but one may see them here and now.”
Thus did Sri Ramana once appear to me as Sri Rama, proving once again the age-old adage that Mahatmas can give darshan as any Beloved form — see Sri Ramana Gita, ch. 18 v. 26. In the Sri Krishna Avatara, did not Bhagavan grant Hanuman the vision of Sri Rama? Later I realized that the vision was given to me as painted in Sri Tyagabrahmam’s picture of Sri Rama, though not for a moment can I equate myself with Sri Tyagaraja.