Yesterday September 1st, marked the anniversary of the arrival of Sri Ramana Maharshi to Tiruvannamalai. In commemoration of that event, below is an abridged extract from Volume One of the very excellent biography of Sri Ramana, entitled “Arunachala’s Ramana—Boundless Ocean of Grace,” which describes his arrival to Tiruvannamalai and the great Arunachaleswarar Temple. [The below narrative is abridged].
"Alighting at Tiruvannamalai station on the morning of 1st September, 1896, Venkataraman beheld his “promised land” in the “starry-pointing” towers (gopurams) of Arunachaleswarar’s Temple from afar.
|Modern Greeting Sign at Tiruvannamalai Station|
As with the Saint Nanda, the very sight of the towers filled his soul with joy, arising not merely from the sense of achievement but also from the close proximity to Bliss itself. With quick steps and a pounding heart, he proceeded straight to the great Temple.
|Vintage Temple photograph from 1890's|
The gates of the three high compound walls and all the inner doors were open. There was not a soul beside him; and it looked as though the Father was thus preparing to welcome his “beloved son” who marched straight to the innermost shrine, the Holy of Holies (garbha-griha), without any hindrance and addressed Arunachaleswarar (in the shape of a Lingam) thus:
O God, obedient to They call, Here I have come, deserting all.
That moment, all physical and mental excitement disappeared; he felt a soothing sensation; and his cup of bliss was full to the brim.
This was the supreme moment of his life, the point at which the old and false worldly life may be said to be “rung out”. He stood awhile there in ecstasy, prostrated himself, and left the sanctuary. He had sealed his future and delivered it over to God; and henceforward he was but a baby in the arms of his Father to be tossed about, or played with, as the latter choose. . .
According to the scriptures, the proper residence for an anchorite (parivrajaka) is a Temple, a Hill, a cave, the foot of a tree or the banks of holy waters; and the young Swami found the Temple (as large numbers of parivrajakas before and after him found it) to be the most convenient. The very atmosphere there is pure and laden with spiritual power. The constant peals of the Temple bells, the frequent streams of pious visitors approaching their God, with Thevaram, Thiruppugazh and other songs, the procession of the sacred images followed by a band of youths chanting aloud the sacred Vedas with the very accent and intonation which the Rishis, the seers of the forest employed thousands of years ago, and many other phases of religious life that one constantly meets within these precincts, fully justified the selection so far as impulses to virtue and piety were concerned.
|Some Gardens in Temple Compound|
If however one wishes to get away even from these external contacts and to commune in solitude with himself or his God, even then the precincts were particularly suited to the parivrajakas’ needs. There were the nandavanam (the flower garden), the vazhai thottam (plantain garden), the higher chambers of the numerous towers (gopurams), especially the big eastern one of the thirteen storeys which appears to be over 216 feet above ground level and many a nook and corner of this vast Temple: all these provide adequate solitude. . . . .
|Temple Gopurams with Arunachala background|
|Rare Photograph inside the top of the Raja Gopuram|
On the very day of his arrival, he had aimlessly waked on to the Ayyankulam Tank and thrown away the bundle of sweetmeats given to him at the Kilur Bhagavatar’s house, saying to himself, “To this block (i.e. the body) why give any sweetmeats?”
|1949 Photograph Ayyankulam Tank with Raja Gopuram and Arunachala|
He then tore his clothes to shreds, and wearing one of them as a cod-piece (kaupina) cast away the rest along with the balance of money, the three rupees and half with him. He also removed the sacred thread from his body and threw it away. He was not going to touch, and never after did touch money. These vows of austerity, of “holy poverty,” were essential details of the good part he had chose, and they served to set off and support his high tapas . . . . .
As he walked back from the tank, and came near the Temple, someone accosted him and asked, “You want your tuft of hair to be removed, eh?” “Yes,” replied the young Swami, who was immediately thereupon taken to a barber and had the entire hair on his removed. . . .
Apparently Venkataraman ate nothing at all on the first day i.e. on 1st September. The next day he was walking up and down the sixteen pillared mandapam in front of the Temple when a Mouna Swami who used to live in the Kampathu Ilayanar’s Temple arrived.
|Kampathu Ilayanar Temple|
Another well built man with long matted hair called Pazhaniswami, who used to do a lot of service by learning and cleaning the Temple premises with the help of a band of sannyasins, also came to the sixteen pillared mandapam from the town. He was a Mouna Swami and so was Venkataraman. There was no talk; no greetings. It was soon mid-day. Thereupon Pazhaniswami brought some cold rice which was all black with a little salt strewn on top in a tin vessel, “That was the first bhiksha which Arunachaleswarar gave me. Actually there is not an iota of pleasure in what I eat now. All the meals and sweets are nothing compared to that food”, very fondly Venkataraman said later."