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The only word that seemed to thrill young Venkataraman was the name “Arunachala”, a name of Lord Shiva. The book that brought tears to the young man’s eyes was Periyapuranam which contained the biography of the 63 Shaivite Tamizh saints. These two compelling factors made him pray for the descent of His grace.
It was this small prayer from young Venkataramana that gifted humanity with a sage whose very name and being remain immortal.
Early Years, Day Before and the Day of Enlightenment
Venkataraman was born to Sundaram Iyer and Azhagammal on 30th December 1879 on the auspicious day of Arudra Darasanam( dedicated to the cosmic dance of Shiva) in the village Tiruchuzhi, Tamizh Nadu in South India.
In 1891, he moved to Dindigul, after completing elementary education at Tiruchuzhi. After the death of his father, Venkataraman went to Madurai, to live with his paternal uncle, Subba Iyer in 1892, at the age of 12. He pursued his studies at Scott’s Middle School and American Mission High School, Madurai.
In the early years of schooling, Venkataraman did not show any promise or excitement for a sterling future in academics. He excelled in football and swimming – spending many hours playing in the sands of Vaigai River or engaging in swimming contests in the Pillaiyarpaliam tank. He was also appreciated for his knowledge of Tamizh grammar, his handwriting was like a print, and he had photographic memory!
What would have been Ramana’s state of mind before his enlightenment? Shri Narasimha Swami, the first biographer recorded a statement from Ramana about this:-
“At that time I had no idea of the identity of that current of my personality with personal God or Ishvara as I used to term him…..I had just seen with my uncle, a copy of Vivekananda’s Chicago address but had not read it. I could not even correctly pronounce the Swami’s name but pronounced it as Vyvekananda…I had no notion of religious philosophy, except the current notion of God that he is an infinitely powerful person, present everywhere, though worshipped in special places in images representing him and other ideas which are contained in the Bible texts or in Periyapuranam which I had read”.
It, therefore, becomes evident that his scriptural knowledge and spiritual leaning were not enough to bring him enlightenment.
What was the transformational experience that enlightened Ramana on July 17, 1896?
“One day I was alone on the first floor of my Uncle’s house. I was in my usual state of health. But a sudden and unmistakable fear of death seized me….. I felt I had to solve the problem myself then and there….The actual inquiry and discovery of “Who am I?” was over on the very first day, after a short time……I felt that it was a force or current working, despite the rigidity or activity of the body, though existing in connection with it. The fear of death dropped off. I was absorbed in the contemplation of the current…So further development or activity was issuing from the new life and not from fear.”
It was this awakening that made him step onto the soil of Tiruvannamalai in September 1896, after which there was no looking back. For Ramana, it was homecoming at the command of his father Arunachala!
During his life on the Tiruvannamalai Hill, the Maharishi moved from one cave to another to absorb himself in meditation and avoid the attention of the crowd that would gather around him. Once there was a need to compose a specific devotional song for the fellow devotees to sing while asking for alms so that people could identify them and make their offerings.
Implored by the devotees and impelled by a deep inner voice “Arunachala, the sage composed the Aksharamanamalai during one of his circuits around the hill,.
Akshara means – letters, it also means indestructible
Malai – is a garland
Mana – fragrant/scented or Marital
Aksharamanamalai means a Marital/Fragrant garland of letters. There are 108 lines woven in alphabetical order. In Maharishi Ramana’s literature, Aksharamanamali is a rare jewel.
அருணாசல வரற்குஏற்ற அக்ஷரமண மாலைசாற்றக்
கருணாகர கணபதியே கரம்அருளிக் காப்பாயே.
Oh Compassionate Ganapathy, lend me a helping hand to make this garland of letters suitable for Arunachala
அருணா சலசிவ அருணா சலசிவ
அருணா சலசிவ அருணாசலா!
அருணா சலசிவ அருணா சலசிவ
அருணா சலசிவ அருணாசலா!
1. அருணா சலம்என அகமே நினைப்பவர்
அகத்தை வேர்அறுப்பாய் அருணாசலா! (அ)…….
Those who contemplate on Arunachala,
it roots out the ahankara, the individuality ….
2. அழகு சுந்தரம்போல் அகமும் நீயுமுற்று
அபின்னமாய் இருப்போம் அருணாசலா! (அ)……..
May Thou U & I be one and inseparable like Azhagu & Sundara (like the words Azhagu in Tamizh & Sundara in Samskritam mean the same), Oh Arunachala!
6. ஈன்றிடும் அன்னையிற் பெரிதருள் புரிவோய்
இதுவோ உனதருள் அருணாசலா! (அ)………..
Oh, Arunachala who is kinder than my mother,
This is indeed your great grace.
27. சகலமும் விழுங்குங் கதிரொளி யினமன
சலச மலர்த்தியி டருணாசலா (அ)……..…
Oh, Arunachala, who is the light that swallows all,
Please make the lotus of my mind open fully.
99. வேதாந்தத்தை வேரறவிளங்கும்
வேதப்பொருளருள் அருணாசல (அ)……………….
Oh Arunachala, please explain to me that,
Which is the essence of all Vedas,
And which is explained in Vedanta.
108. மாலயளித்தருணாசல ரமணவெந்
Oh Arunachala, please give me your garland of Grace and then
wear the garland composed by me Ramana
அருணாசல ஶிவ, அருணாசல ஶிவ, அருணாசல ஶிவ, அருணாசல
Arunachala Shiva, Arunachala Shiva, Arunachala Shiva, Arunachala….
Aksharamanamalai is not merely a poem on the sweetness of devotion and love for Arunachala. Upon contemplation of the song, it becomes an inquiry of the very basis of life and turns into ultimate teaching. They were not mere words of yearning for God, but sung spontaneously after Self-realisation!
Man is a constant seeker of God, consciously or unconsciously. He wants happiness because it is his intrinsic nature. Sorrow is alien just like the small stone that slips into the shoes that one wishes to throw away. The Sage was the embodiment of that happiness. He was timeless, in whose presence others lost sense of time.
For Ramana Maharshi, Arunachala was the center of his being. It remained immovable and unwavering as the hill itself. Bhagavan’s existence was to make humanity flourish and revel in the essence of Arunachala.
Arunachala is not merely a Hill in Tiruvannamalai. It is a manifestation of Shiva Himself. Bhagavan’s mind, body, and certain transactions may have been in the transient world, but he was already one with Arunachala long before.
References: Book “Timeless in Time: Sri Ramana Maharshi, A Biography” by A.R. Natarajan