Sri Ramana Leela is a Biography of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi by Sri Krishna Bhikshu Edited and Translated by Pingali Surya Sundaram
Chapter-XXVI, The Dravidian Poet
Spoken word, song and written word have an ascending order of stability. Spoken word and song are sustained by the memory of people but nowadays such people are decreasing in numbers. Even for the written word there is danger if it is not in print. Such a work can always be plagiarised. Further, one can incorporate one’s own ideas in it. Anyway, with printed books being available in plenty who will bother to read unprinted books?
Though from ancient times song, verse poetry, and prose work formed a literary hierarchy Bhagavan adopted the universally accepted Silence. Hence his literary activity did not follow the aforementioned order. At the instance of Gambhiram Seshayya Vichara Sangraham and Viveka Choodamani, two prose works, came first.
In Bhagavan’s view silence was the pre- eminent method of imparting instruction. Yet, he wrote for the sake of those devotees who could not absorb his silent teaching. Hence the pattern of his writings doesn’t reveal his nature but reflects the mental capacity and maturity of those who sought his instructions. Among those who asked him, his disciples were the foremost-they were Ayyaswami, Palaniswami and Perumalswami. It will be no exaggeration to say that Bhagavan wrote because of these disciples.
Ayyaswami, who was from Kerala, began his service of the Maharshi in 1918. Everyone agreed that his devotion and service-mindedness were unequalled. In 1910, there was a great function at Sringeri math, the math established by AdiSankara. On that occasion books of various teachers were exhibited and sold. Ayyaswami bought some of Sankara’s works and later requested the Maharshi to render them into Malayalam. The Maharshi translated some parts of Sankara Vijayam. At Palaniswami’s request the Maharshi translated Gurusthuthi and Hastamalakam into Tamil.
Gurusthuthi contains the message of Padmapada and other disciples to Sankara who entered the body of the King Amaruka and forgot to get out of it. The message was a repetition of Sankara’s teaching itself. Hastamalakam contains the reply of Hastamalaka to the question of Sankara as to who he was.
At the time he wrote these poems the Maharshi was not acquainted with Tamil prosody but he was familiar with the rhythm of song due to constant listening. The Maharshi wrote them in that pattern but they conformed to the prosody required of verses.
The next work was Aksharamanamalai. Among the works of Bhagavan this is to be regarded as the foremost. The title means “marital garland” Akshara means imperishable, it also means alphabet. This song has couplets each of which commences with a letter in the alphabetical sequence of the Tamil language.
In his early days of service to the Swami, Perumalswami used to fetch food for him from a choultry. After some time the authorities of the choultry demanded service from him in exchange for food. As Perumalswami was not inclined to do so he began begging for food. Even if some devotees brought food for the Maharshi and his disciples it was not always sufficient. So some devotees had to go into the town begging. To begin with, Perumalswami and others would sing songs with which people were already familiar. As the Maharshi’s disciples they received alms aplenty. Noticing this, some others began imitating them and they also began wearing ochre robes. In order to be marked out as the Maharshi’s disciples Palaniswami and others wished to have a special song for them to sing when they went begging.
Normally those going out for begging sang a song with the refrain “SambaSadaSiva, SambaSadaSiva, SambaSadaSiva Hara Hara” At first, the Maharshi composed a few similar lines with the refrain “Arunachala” and stopped. Perumal was awaiting the next lines but was disappointed. One day, the Maharshi went for giri pradakshina alone. That day some more lines of the song were composed.
The very name of the song reveals its import (bhava); the bride was the Jiva (Maharshi himself ) the bridegroom was Lord Arunachala. The Maharshi created situations where the bride pined for the bridegroom and thus composed the song.
Normally a pining lover’s words would be piteous but when they are accompanied by devotion the effect is perfect. The bride displays various feelings like self-pity, bashfulness, maturity and hurt at being spurned; all these make the poem exquisite with a remarkable co-mingling of bhakti and sringara. Like sugar in milk, the poem abounds in upadesa of wisdom also. In the original Tamil the words employed have more than one meaning, therefore translating the poem into another language adequately is almost impossible. Those who sing and listen to the song at the Ashram are overwhelmed with joy. When the bhava is sweet and the words are delicately balanced – this is only to be expected. This song is more delicate and melodious then the songs of Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda. It soothens the hearts of all devotees.
In the Saiva agama called Devikalottaram there is a chapter entitled “Jnanachara vichara patalam“, which details numerous regulations relating to worship. Kuppuswami Raju of Tanjavur noticed that some extracts of the agamas contained slokas which supported advaita, contrary to the constant criticism of advaita by Saiva siddanthis. He thereupon requested his friend Yagnarama Dikshit to obtain some other passages supportive of advaita. This was one of the passages thus obtained. Dikshit during one of his visits to the Maharshi spoke to him about this matter. Bhagavan told Dikshit that earlier one Ramalingam of Vriddachalam showed some manuscripts of agamas to him and that one of those was this very chapter.
Yagnarama Dikshit immediately started copying some of them. The Maharshi also took up a chapter for copying, but he put it aside somewhere. Even at the time the Maharshi composed Aksharamanamalai his knowledge of Tamil prosody was incomplete. But later when he learnt prosody he tried out the ‘Venba’ metre in a few verses. While doing so he recollected the agama chapter of Devikalottaram. Thus without having the original with him the Maharshi wrote the translation from memory. The Tamil translation follows the bhava of each sloka but it is not a literal translation.
During his stay at the Virupaksha cave (i.e. before 1916) the Maharshi collected nine of his verses on Arunachala and collectively named them Navamani-malai (Necklet of Nine gems).
The first verse has a beautiful bhava. At the Sabha (in Chidambaram) Siva danced in front of Sakti whereas at Arunachala he had Sakti within him and became immobile. In the second verse Arunachala is remembered as Sat-chit-ananda personified.
One day, while the Maharshi was seated at the Virupaksha cave the phrase “By thy Grace” (Karunai yaal) kept on recurring in his mind, and would not leave him even if he wanted to ignore it. Then he decided to compose a verse commencing with that phrase. Next, the concluding phrase of that verse began to haunt him, so he wrote another verse commencing with that phrase. Thus a series of eleven verses followed as a flow. That is how ‘Arunachala padikam’ (Eleven Verses to Sri Arunachala) was born.
This hymn is suffused with the spirit of devotion. It delineates the devotee’s yearning for God’s grace. Here are the verses:
- Now that by thy grace Thou hast claimed me, what will become of me unless Thou manifest Thyself to me, and I, yearning wistfully for Thee and harassed by the darkness of the world, and lost? Oh love, in the shape of Arunachala, can the lotus blossom without sight of the sun? Thou art the sun of suns; Thou causest grace to well up in abundance and pour forth as a stream!
- Arunachala, Thou form of grace itself! oncehaving claimed me, loveless though I be, how canst Thou let me now be lost, and fail to fill me so with love that I must pine for Thee unceasingly and melt within like wax over the fire? Oh nectar springing up in the heart of devotees! Haven of my refuge! Let Thy pleasure be mine,for that way lies my joy, Lord of my life!
- Drawing me with the cords of Thy grace, although I had not even dimly thought of Thee, Thou didst decide to kill me outright. How then has one so weak as I offended Thee that Thou dost leave the task unfinished? Why dost Thou torture me thus, keeping me suspended between life and death? Oh Arunachala! fulfil Thy wish, and long survive me all alone, Oh Lord!
- What did it profit Thee to choose out, me, from all those struggling in samsara, to rescue my helpless self from being lost and hold me at Thy feet? Lord of the ocean of grace! Even to think of Thee puts me to shame (Long) mayst Thou live! I bow my head to Thee and bless Thee!
- Lord! Thou didst capture me by stealth and all these days hast held me at Thy feet! Lord! Thou hast made me (to stand) with hanging head, (dumb) like an image when asked what is Thy nature. Lord! deign to ease me in my weariness, struggling like a deer that is trapped. Lord Arunachala! what can be Thy will? (Yet) who am I to comprehend Thee?
- Lord of my life! I am ever at Thy feet, like a frog (which clings) to the stem of the lotus; make me instead a honey-bee which (from the blossom of the Heart) sucks the sweet honey of pure consciousness; then shall I have deliverance. If I am lost while clinging to Thy lotus feet, it will be for Thee a standing column of ignominy, Oh blazing pillar of light called Arunachala! Oh (wide) expanse of grace, more subtle than ether!
- Oh pure one! If the five elements, the living beings and every manifest thing is nothing but Thy all – embracing Light, how then can I (alone) be separate from Thee? Since Thou shinest in the Heart, a single expanse without duality, how then can I come forth distinct therefrom? Show Thyself planting Thy lotus feet upon the head of the ego as it emerges!
- Thou hast withheld from me all knowledge of gradual attainment while living in the world, and set me at peace; such a care indeed is blissful and not painful to anyone, for death in life is in truth glorious! Grant me, wasteful and mad (for Thee), the sovereign remedy of clinging to Thy Feet!
- Oh Transcendent! I am the first of those who have not the supreme wisdom to clasp Thy feet in freedom from attachment. Ordain Thou that my burden be transferred to Thee and my free will effaced, for what indeed can be a burden to the sustainer (of the universe)? Lord supreme! I have had enough (of the fruits) of carrying (the burden of ) this world upon my head, parted from Thee, Arunachala, supreme Self! think no more to keep me at a distance from Thy feet!
- I have discovered a new thing! This hill, the lodestone of lives, arrests the movements of anyone who so much as thinks of it, draws him face to face with it, and fixes him motionless like itself, to feed upon his soul thus ripened. What (a wonder) is this! Oh souls! beware of It and live! Such a destroyer of lives is this magnificent Arunachala, which shines within the Heart!
- How many are there who have been ruined like me for thinking this hill to be the Supreme? Oh men who, disgusted with this life of intense misery, seek a means of giving up the body there is on earth a rare drug which, without killing him, will annihilate anyone who so much as thinks of it. Know that it is none other than this Arunachala! – Tr. K. Swaminathan
In 1916, at Skandasramam, Bhagavan translated into simple Tamil Dakshinamurti Stotram and Gurusthuthi. By then there was already another translation in long complicated verses, but Bhagavan thought of writing one in simple language to be easily understood by all. (In the chapter entitled “Miracles’ below will be seen several instances where the Maharshi showed himself in the form of Dakshinamurti, to several devotees)
The next work was Arunachala ashtakam (Eight stanzas to Arunachala). One day as the Maharshi was about to start for giripradakshina, Palaniswami gave a piece of paper and a pencil to Ayyaswami who was accompanying Bhagavan and asked him to note down if the Maharshi were to compose anything. On that occasion, six verses were composed, which were noted down. That very day or on the following day a devotee by name Narayana Reddi, visited Bhagavan and offered to get the verses printed. The Maharshi added two more verses to make it an ashtakam and gave it to Narayana Reddi.
In the ashtakam the Maharshi spelt out his philosophy and the way he came to it in detail. From this poem one may discern the opinions held by the Maharshi during that period. In the verses, the Maharshi indicated the reasons for his leaving his home ,what he saw thereafter and what he ultimately learnt. The poem is a succinct statement of his upadesa and its nature. Here are the verses:
- Hearken, It stands as an insentient hill. Its action is mysterious, past human understanding. From the age of innocence it had shone within 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 realise its meaning. When it drew me up to it, stilling my mind, and I came close, I saw it (stand) unmoving.
- ‘Who is the seer?’ When I sought within, I watched the disappearance of the seer and what survived him. No thought of ‘I saw’ arose; how then could the thought ‘I did not see’ arise? Who has the power to convey this in word when even Thou (appearing as Dakshinamurti) couldst do so in ancient days by silence only? Only to convey by silence Thy (transcendent) state Thou standest as a hill, shining from heaven to earth.
- When I approach regarding Thee as having form, Thou standest as a hill on earth. If (with the mind the seeker) looks for Thy (essential) form as formless, he is like one who travels the earth to see the (ever-present) ether. To dwell without thought upon Thy (boundless) nature is to lose one’s (separate) identity like a doll of sugar when it comes in contact with the ocean (of nectar; and) when I come to realise who I am, what else is this identity of mine (but Thee), Oh Thou who standest as the towering Aruna Hill?
- To look for God while ignoring Thee who art Being and Consciousness is like going with a lamp to look for darkness. Only to make Thyself known as Being and Consciousness, Thou dwellest in different religions under different (names and) forms. If (yet) men do not (come to) know Thee, they are indeed blind who do not know the sun, Oh Arunachala the great, Thou peerless gem, abide and shine Thou as my Self, one without a second!
- As the string in (a necklet of ) gems, it is Thou in Thy unity who penetratest all the diversity of beings and religions. If, like a gem when it is cut and polished, the (impure) mind is worked against the wheel of the (pure) mind to free it of its flaws, it will take on the light of Thy grace (and shine) like a ruby, whose fire is unaffected by any outward object. When a sensitive plate has been exposed to the sun, can it receive impressions afterwards? Oh benign and dazzling Aruna Hill! is there anything apart from Thee?
- Thou art Thyself the one being, ever aware as the Self-luminous Heart! In Thee there is a mysterious power (sakti) which without Thee is nothing. From it proceeds the phantom of the mind emitting its latent subtle dark mists, which illumined by Thy light (of consciousness) reflected on them, appear within as thoughts whirling in the vortices of prarabdha, later developing into the psychic worlds and projected outwardly as the material world transformed into concrete objects which are magnified by the out-going senses and move about like pictures in a cinema show. Visible or invisible, oh hill of grace, without Thee they are nothing!
- Until there is the I-thought, there will be no other thought. Until other thoughts arise, (asking) ‘To whom?’ (will call forth the reply) ‘To me’. He who pursues this closely, questioning ‘What is the origin of the I?’ and diving inwards reaches the seat of the mind (within) the Heart becomes (there) the sovereign Lord of the Universe. Oh boundless ocean of grace and effulgence called Arunachala, dancing motionless within the court of the Heart! there is no (longer any) dream there of such dualities as in and out, right and wrong, birth and death, pleasure and pain, or light and darkness.
- The waters rise up from the sea as clouds, then fall as rain and run back to the sea in streams; nothing can keep them from returning to their source. Likewise the soul rising up from Thee cannot be kept from joining Thee again, although it turns in many eddies on its way. A bird which rises from the earth and soars into the sky can find no place of rest in mid-air, but must return again to earth. So indeed must all retrace their path, and when the soul finds the way back to its source, it will sink and be merged in Thee, oh Arunachala, Thou ocean of bliss! – Tr. K. Swaminathan
Scholars of Tamil extol Sri Ramana’s poetic style as one of surpassing excellence. The language employed is the ordinary day to day one but the style has lilting beauty. The words used have various meanings some of them have exalted concepts hidden beneath the surface. The words are simple but with profound and vast connotations. The meaning of the poems can be grasped according to the capacity of the reader. Elaborate commentaries have been written on Bhagavan’s works. Bhagavan’s devotional hymns have a beautiful cadence and convey emotions which can overwhelm anyone. They have an attractive brevity too.
By his poetic works also Bhagavan can be considered as an avatar of Jnana Sambandar who suckled the breast of the Divine Mother herself.