Viswanatha Swami


Viswanatha Swami


MY first darshan of Bhagavan Sri Ramana was in January, 1921 at Skandashram, which is on the eastern slope of Arunachala and looks like the very heart of the majestic Hill. It is a beautiful quiet spot with a few coconut and other trees and a perennial crystal-clear spring. Bhagavan was there as the very core of such natural beauty. I saw in him something quite arresting which clearly distinguished him from all others I had seen. He seemed to live apart from the physical frame, quite detached from it. His look and smile had remarkable spiritual charm. When he spoke, the words seemed to come out of an abyss. One could see immaculate purity and non-attachment in him and his movements. I sensed something very refined, lofty and sacred about him. In his vicinity the mind’s distractions were overpowered by an austere and potent calmness and the unique bliss of peace was directly experienced. This I would call Ramana Lahari, ‘the blissful atmosphere of Ramana’. In this ecstasy of grace one loses one’s sense of separate individuality and there remains something grand and all-pervading, all-devouring. This indeed is the spirit of Arunachala which swallows up the whole universe by its gracious effulgence.

There were about ten devotees living with him there, including his mother and younger brother. One of them was Vallimalai Murugar, who for a while every morning sang the Tamil songs of the Tirupugazh with great fervour. These well-known songs, the remarkable outpourings of the famous devotee, Sri Arunagirinathar, are songs in praise of Subrahmanya. When he sang, Bhagavan used to keep time (tala) by tapping with two small sticks on the two rings of an iron brazier of live coal kept in front of him. Fumes of incense spread out in rolls from the brazier, suffused with the subtle holy atmosphere of Bhagavan. While Bhagavan’s hands were tapping at the brazier thus, his unfathomable look of grace gave one a glimpse of the ‘beyond’ in silence. It was an unforgettable experience.

There was also a devotee from Chidambaram, Subrahmanya Iyer, who often sang with great fervour Tiruvachakam, hymns in praise of Arunachala by Bhagavan, and songs in praise of Bhagavan also. One morning when he began a song with the refrain “Ramana Sadguru, Ramana Sadguru, Ramana Sadguru Rayane,” Bhagavan also joined in the singing. The devotee was amused and began to laugh at Bhagavan himself singing his own praise. He expressed his amusement, and Bhagavan replied, “What is extraordinary about it? Why should one limit Ramana to a form of six feet? Is it not the all-pervading Divinity that you adore when you sing ‘Ramana Sadguru, Ramana Sadguru’? Why should I not also join in the singing?’’ We all felt lifted to Bhagavan’s standpoint. The inmates of the Ashram used to get up at dawn and sing some devotional songs in praise of Arunachala and Bhagavan Ramana before beginning their day’s work. Niranjanananda Swami told Bhagavan that I could recite hymns in Sanskrit, and Bhagavan looked at me expectantly. Seeing that it was impossible to avoid it, I recited a few verses in Sanskrit. When I had finished, Bhagavan gently looked at me and said, “You have learned all this. Not so in my case. I knew nothing, had learned nothing before I came here. Some mysterious power took possession of me and effected a thorough transformation. Whoever knew then what was happening to me? Your father, who was intending in his boyhood to go to the Himalayas for tapas, has become the head of a big family. And I, who knew nothing and planned nothing, have been drawn and kept down here for good! When I left home (in my seventeenth year), I was like a speck swept on by a tremendous flood. I knew not my body or the world, whether it was day or night. It was difficult even to open my eyes; the eyelids seemed to be glued down. My body became a mere skeleton. Visitors pitied my plight as they were not aware how blissful I was. It was after years that I came across the term ‘Brahman’ when I happened to look into some books on Vedanta brought to me. Amused, I said to myself, ‘Is this known as Brahman’!”

One of the earliest devotees, Sivaprakasam Pillai, has referred to this at the beginning of his brief biography of Bhagavan in Tamil verse (Sri Ramana Charita Ahaval) as, “One who became a knower of Brahman without knowing even the term ‘Brahman’.” Sivaprakasam Pillai used to sit in a corner in Bhagavan’s presence, as the very embodiment of humility. Finding that I knew a bit of Sanskrit, Bhagavan asked me to take down a copy of Sri Ramana Gita and give it to my father. I did so, and it was only after going through it that my father understood Bhagavan. Yet I myself had not studied its contents. It was only at the end of 1922 that I happened to go through the thrilling verses in praise of Bhagavan Ramana and, profoundly moved, I made up my mind to return to Bhagavan for good. Thus, Sri Ramana Gita served to give direction to me in a critical period of my life when I was thinking of dedicating myself solely to the spiritual pursuit.

As it was impossible to get the permission of my father, I left home unknown to anybody and reached Tiruvannamalai on the evening of the 2nd of January, 1923. Hearing that Bhagavan had left Skandashram and was then living in a cottage adjoining his mother’s samadhi on the southern side of Arunachala, I made my way straight to it, after meditating for a while at sunset time. Proceeding round the Hill, I reached the cottage where Bhagavan was then living. Entering it, I saw Bhagavan reclining peacefully on an elevated dais. As I bowed and stood before him, he asked me, “Did you take the permission of your parents to come over here?” I was caught, and I replied that he need not ask me about it since he had himself irresistibly attracted me to his feet. With a smile, Bhagavan advised me to inform my parents of my whereabouts so that they might be somewhat free from anxiety. I wrote to my father the next day and saw his letter to the Ashram enquiring about me the day after.

There was a gathering of devotees there and I came to know that it was for the forty-third birthday celebration of Bhagavan the next day. So I learned that I had come to Bhagavan on the evening of the famous Ardra Darsanam day. Early next morning there was a gathering of devotees – they were sitting before Bhagavan. But my attention was particularly gripped by a radiant personality amidst the gathering. He was, I came to know, Kavyakantha Ganapati Sastri. At once I saw that he was not merely a sastri, a learned man, but a poet and a tapaswin. His broad forehead, bright eyes, aquiline nose, charming face and beard, and the melodious ring in his voice – all these proclaimed that he was a rishi to be ranked with the foremost of the Vedic Seers. There was authority, dignity and sweetness in his talk and his eyes sparkled as he spoke. He recited the following verse (sloka) in praise of Bhagavan, which he had just then composed, and explained its import: “It is effulgent Devi Uma sparkling in your eyes dispelling the ignorance of devotees, It is Lakshmi Devi, the consort of lotus-eyed Vishnu, alive in your lotus-face, It is Para Vak Saraswati, the consort of Brahma, dancing in your talk, Great Seer, Ramana, the Teacher of the whole world, How can mortal man praise you adequately?”


AFTER THE DEVOTEES who had gathered for the birthday celebration of Bhagavan left the Ashram, I approached him with my problem: “How am I to rise above my present animal existence? My own efforts in that direction have proved futile and I am convinced that it is only a superior might that could transform me. And that is what has brought me here.” Bhagavan replied with great compassion: “Yes, you are right. It is only on the awakening of a power mightier than the senses and the mind that these can be subdued. If you awaken and nurture the growth of that power within you, everything else will be conquered. One should sustain the current of meditation uninterrupted. Moderation in food and similar restraints will be helpful in maintaining the inner poise.” It was this grace of Bhagavan that gave a start to my spiritual career. A new faith was kindled within me and I found in Bhagavan the strength and support to guide me forever.

Another day, questioned about the problem of brahmacharya, Bhagavan replied: “To live and move in Brahman is real brahmacharya; continence, of course, is very helpful and indispensable to achieve that end. But so long as you identify yourself with the body, you can never escape sex-thought and distraction. It is only when you realise that you are formless Pure Awareness that sex distinction disappears for good and that is brahmacharya, effortless and spontaneous.”

A week after I arrived, I got the permission of Bhagavan to live on madhukari, i.e., begged food. In that context, Bhagavan spoke as follows: “I have experience of it; I lived on such food during my stay at Pavalakkunru to avoid devotees bringing for me special rich food. It is altogether different from professional mendicancy. Here you feel yourself independent and indifferent to everything worldly. It has a purifying effect on the mind.”

Four months after my arrival at Arunachala, my parents came there to have darshan of Bhagavan and take me back home. Though they did not succeed in this latter intention they were somehow consoled by Bhagavan before they returned. He asked them if it was possible to wean one from a course one had taken with all one’s heart and soul. Parents might as a matter of duty try it if it was a wrong course that one had taken. The problem did not arise if the course taken was intrinsically good.

My father was a cousin of Bhagavan, four or five years older than he, and knew him very well as Venkataraman before he left home for Tiruvannamalai. Though he had heard from others about Bhagavan’s spiritual greatness and had also gone through his teaching in Sri Ramana Gita and verses in praise of him by his (scholar-poet) disciple, Ganapati Muni, he was not sure of what his reaction would be on seeing Bhagavan. He decided to go to him with an open mind and see for himself what he was. But the moment he sighted him in the stone mantapa (on the other side of the Ashram), he was overpowered by a sense of genuine A small hillock, a spur of Arunachala on the east. veneration, fell at his feet in adoration and said: “There is nothing of the Venkataraman whom I knew very well in what I see in front of me!” And Bhagavan replied with a smile: “It is long since that fellow disappeared once and for all.”

My father then explained that he had not visited him for so long because he did not have enough of dispassion and non-attachment to approach him. Bhagavan replied, “Is that so? You seem to be obsessed by the delusion that you are going to achieve it in some distant future. But, if you recognise your real nature, the Self, to what is it attached? Dispassion is our very nature.”

As the Ashram cottage was being repaired, Bhagavan stayed in the huge stone mantapa on the other side of the road during daytime and devotees had darshan of him there. Bhagavan used to dine with others under the shade of a huge mango tree within the Ashram premises. The cool, clear water of the Ashram well was kept in big pots at the foot of the tree. We enjoyed the shade of the tree and the grace of Bhagavan which like a cool breeze blew off man’s torments.

As advised by Bhagavan I engaged myself in nonstop japa, day and night, except during hours of sleep. And I studied Sri Ramana Gita in the immediate presence of Bhagavan drinking in the import of every sloka in it. Bhagavan explained to me his own hymns in praise of Arunachala. Even during his morning and evening walks I used to follow him, hearing his explanations of his inspired words. Early one morning there was none else near Bhagavan and he suggested that we both might go round Arunachala and return before others could notice his absence and begin to search for him. He took me by the forest path and suggested that Sankara’s “Hymn in Praise of Dakshinamurti” might be taken up for discussion on the way. And within three hours we reached Pandava Thirtham on the slopes of Arunachala, a little to the east of the Ashram, where he used to bathe on a few former occasions.

I shall not pretend that I understood everything that Bhagavan said in explaining the import of the hymn, but there was the spiritual exhilaration of his company in solitude and that was enough for me.

I had learned by heart, even before coming to Bhagavan, the three vallis of the famous Taittiriya Upanishad, which is being chanted every morning before Bhagavan at his Ashram even today. When I expressed to Bhagavan my aspiration to learn the import of the Upanishad, he directed me to Ganapathi Muni, familiarly known as Nayana, who was then living in the Mango Tree Cave on Arunachala which had been Bhagavan’s summer residence during his stay at the Virupaksha Cave. It was a cool spot under a big mango tree with a spring of crystal-clear water a little above it. I went to the cave and waited at its outer precincts. Within a few minutes Ganapati Muni came out. There was the fragrance of tapas in his presence and in the whole atmosphere. After sitting in silence before him for a few minutes, I asked him for the explanation of a passage in the Taittiriya Upanishad embodying the experience of Sage Trisanku, beginning aham vrikshasya rariva, meaning, ‘I am the Force operating behind the Tree of Existence’.

Nayana gave such a lucid and illuminating explanation of it that I decided that there was no need to ask him further questions; every word coming out of his mouth had scriptural clarity and sanctity. And yet he used to direct to Bhagavan those who went to him, saying: “To learn from him first-hand has a special effect.” And Bhagavan, on his part, used to send those who approached him in connection with traditional worship to Nayana, as he was the authority on the subject. Such was the relationship between the Master and his famous disciple. We have had opportunities of noticing the special regard Bhagavan had for this learned poet-disciple who from his early youth had dedicated his whole life to tapas.


SRI MURUGANAR CAME to Bhagavan during September holidays in 1923. He was then a Tamil Pandit in a Christian girls high school in Madras. He had studied Tirukural with great devotion and was following its teachings in his own life. No wonder he was held in the highest esteem by his pupils as well as by his fellow teachers.

He came to know of Bhagavan Ramana through some devotees in Madras as well as Dandapani Swami, who was his father-in-law. Conditions in his family life also favoured renunciation: yet he continued working, coming to Bhagavan during holidays. He was so keenly devoted to Bhagavan that he used to come direct from his school to Sri Ramanasramam with his coat and turban on and return to Madras only when his school reopened. He was drawn to Mahatma Gandhi, whose saintly life in the midst of worldly activities commanded his respect and esteem. He composed several poems in praise of him as well as national songs in general, which were published by Sri Ramana Padananda in 1943 with the title Sutantara Gitam.

Being a scholar, poet and devotee, he brought to Bhagavan on his first visit, a decad of verses, in Tamil, each stanza ending “...desika Ramana ma deve” (Great Lord and Teacher Ramana!).

During one of his later visits in December he composed a poem beginning, “Annamalai Ramanan...,” in praise of Bhagavan following the pattern of Tiruvembavai of Tiruvachakam. Seeing that, Bhagavan suggested to him that he could compose songs following the themes and plan of Tiruvachakam of Manikkavachakar. Muruganar felt shocked at the idea and exclaimed: “Where is Manikkavachakar and where am I?” But later, he thought it was a prompting from the Master, though gently expressed, and began following the suggestion relying on Bhagavan’s Grace. And the result is the magnificent collection of thrilling songs in Tamil, well-known as Sri Ramana Sannidhi Murai, the third edition of which was published by Sri Ramanasramam in 1974. Muruganar has also given us Bhagavan’s teachings in Tamil verse form. The work is known as GuruVachaka Kovai ( English translation by Professor K. Swaminathan as Garland of Guru’s Sayings). There are, moreover, thousands of his verses being arranged and published in several volumes under the title Ramana Jnana Bodham.

A few years after his coming to Bhagavan his mother passed away and Muruganar came and settled down at the feet of his Master. It was after this that he composed the numerous songs in Sri Ramana Sannidhi Muraias his devotional offering to Bhagavan. Scholars who had worked with Muruganar on the Tamil Lexicon Committee say that Bhagavan Ramana chose a very worthy scholar to sing his glory. Poets worship the Divine through their poetry. That alone is sufficient sadhana for them. They are moulded unawares into the likeness of the object of their worship.

We have to be grateful to Muruganar for making Bhagavan write “Upadesa Undiyar” (The Essence of all Teaching) and “Ulladu Narpadu”(Forty Verses on Existence), which are the most important of Bhagavan’s philosophical works. The beautiful song on “Atma Vidya” was also composed by Bhagavan at Muruganar’s request. Muruganar too chose like me to live independently. We have lived together on the Hill (Arunachala) near the Mango Tree Cave for some months. Ganapati Muni was then residing there. He felt an urge to see Bhagavan every evening and be with him for an hour or two. I used to accompany him. A few months later a room was found for him in the Palakothu flower garden adjoining the Ashram on the west. Bhagavan used to go alone to that side every day after lunch. Sometimes he would visit that room also.

Ganapati Muni once told Bhagavan that he had seen many other forests, but not the one at Arunachala. Bhagavan, who knew very well every inch of Arunachala, offered to take the Muni one day into the interior of the forest. Ganapati Muni could not bear even the slightest heat of the sun on account of a yogic experience he had, known as Kapalabheda (breaking of the skull), and so Bhagavan waited for a cloudy day. Such a day came soon and Bhagavan asked me if it would suit Nayana to go into the forest then. I replied that he would gladly jump at the opportunity and went ahead to his room to inform him of Bhagavan’s intention. In a few minutes Bhagavan came to our room in Palakothu and we three set out. Bhagavan took us through the third forest path. After going for more than a mile, Bhagavan chose a cool and shady spot adjoining a huge rock to rest a bit. As we were sitting there a rustling sound was heard indicating someone was approaching, and in a minute, Muruganar stood before us. Bhagavan put his finger on his nose and asked him with surprise: “How did you come here? Even a forest guard could not have found us here,”and Muruganar replied, “I knew that Bhagavan had promised Nayana to take him into the forest on some suitable day. I also wanted to join the party and was coming to the Ashram earlier than usual. But today, not finding Bhagavan at the Ashram, I proceeded to Palakothu where I found Nayana’sroom locked. I learnt from the watchman Sabhapati that Bhagavan had gone towards the forest with Nayana and Viswanathan. I made my way straight to the forest. Going along the second forest path, I found a footpath going further into the interior. I took the path and straight I arrived here.” Bhagavan replied: “Is there a short cut like that? Weshall return by it.” Nayana patted Muruganar and said: “It is an indication of how you are attuned to Bhagavan by his Grace.” And we returned to the Ashram before 4 p.m. I am thrilled when I recollect my intimate contact with Bhagavan and these two great poet-disciples of his.


ACHYUTHADASA WAS ONE of the earliest to discern Sri Bhagavan’sspiritual greatness. Hewas known as Abboy Naidu before he renounced the world, and was skilled in playing upon the mridangam.

He has composed Tamil kirtanas (songs) of great merit, which are devotional and Advaitic. Having heard about Sri Bhagavan he went to Gurumurtham, the samadhi temple of a sadhu where Sri Bhagavan was living deeply immersed in nirvikalpa samadhi, during the closing years of the Nineteenth Century. He sat in front of Sri Bhagavan and waited. As Sri Bhagavan who was then a young lad, opened his eyes, he paid his respects to him, massaged his feet and exclaimed with great devotional fervour, “One may be a great scholar, an author or composer and everything else in the world, but it is indeed very rare to come across any one actually established in the Self Supreme like you.”

He then announced to his own disciples that there was “something veryrare at Tiruvannamalai,” meaning Sri Bhagavan. Achyuthadasa’s samadhi is at Kannamangalam, a few miles north of Arni, in the North Arcot District of Madras State.

This is an instance of how spiritually-minded people were impressed with Sri Bhagavan’s greatness at the very sight of him, even in his early years at Tiruvannamalai.

Another great man who visited Sri Bhagavan and was greatly impressed was Sri Narayana Guru of Kerala. The latter is well-known in South India as a man of great tapas and a great social and religious reformer. Hevisited Sri Bhagavan when he was living at Skandashram. After paying his respects to Sri Bhagavan he sat silently watching him. People, young and old, paid their respects to him and sat or passed on, while Sri Bhagavan sat silently with unblinking, wide-open eyes. He took no particular notice of anybody. He did not enquire about the whereabouts of anybody. There was no welcome and no permission to go. But all the while he was beaming with blissful joy and the audience was partaking of it. At the invitation of Sri Bhagavan, Sri Narayana Guru took his lunch with him and his devotees, and later took leave of him, saying, “May it be the same way here also”, meaning that he might also be blessed so as to be established in the Self as Sri Bhagavan. Sri Bhagavan gave a gracious smile.

On reaching his place, Sri Narayana Guru wrote five verses in Sanskrit, known as Nivritti Panchakam, and sent it to the Ashram. The theme of the composition is that he alone enjoys the peace of release (moksha) who does not allow his mind to observe or enquire about the differences pertaining to relative (mundane) existence and has risen above all formalities of worldly life. Sri Narayana Guru used to be greatly pleased whenever any of his disciples visited Sri Bhagavan, and used to listen with delight to the details of their visits.