Sri Ramanashram

  • Navarathri Begins

    The grand festival of Navarathri has just begun. It is a time of worshipping the Goddess Parvathi in all her different forms notably Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi. Navarathri is celebrated elaborately in the big temple of Arunachaleswara, in Ramanashram and Yogi Ram ashram as well as in a few Goddess Shakthi shrines on the girivalam. In some brahmin households, they hold a Golu which is an exhibition of statues of all the gods and goddesses of the hindu pantheon displayed according to mythological order on a range of wooden steps called the Golu padi which often number 5, 7 or 9. Children are usually on holidays at this time and take a lot of interest in this arrangement. They go about dressed as Radha or Krishna to participate in different Golus and sing bhajans in favour of the Goddess. The traditional prasad distributed is Sundal, a dish made of  many sorts of grams and pulses cooked and seasoned tastily.

    In Ramanashram, on the evening of Mahalya Amavasai, the goddess Yogambika was taken out of the Mother’s shrine and borne in procession around the shrine and the samadhi hall of Sri Ramana. Then She was borne outside to take darshan of Arunachala after which she was brought inside the Mothers shrine through the main entrance and installed in a splendidly decorated shrine right in front. Here she will stay for the next nine days and nights and be decorated differently each evening according to the legendary form that she chooses to manifest on that day. Hundreds of devotees throng the ashram already in eager anticipation of the next nine days.

    Navaratri is a festival of nine nights dedicated to the Goddess Shakthi (Parvathi or Amba) in her different manifestations. The legend of Navarathri starts with the penance of the Goddess on the slopes of Arunachala. Separated from her Lord (due to having playfully closed his eyes with her hands), the Goddess yearns to be reunited with Him. The great sage Guatama advises her to perform penance on the slopes of the holy Hill Arunachala and accordingly she comes here and sits in Tapas (penance). She follows the various scriptural injunctions and exhibits her devotion to the Lord in various ways. During the nine days of penance she manifests  herself each day in one of her different forms. On the tenth day she assumes a terrifying form of Mahishasura Mardhini, slayer of demons and vanquishes the evil demon Mahisha on the slopes of Arunachala. Thus this festival is of particular significance in Tiruvannamalai since it was here, millions of years ago that the first Navarathri actually happened.

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  • Ramana’s Advent to Arunachala

    In the year 1896, on the first of  September, Sri Ramana as a young lad of sixteen, arrived at the feet of the Holy Mountain. About a month earlier, in mid-July, he had already had his first death-experience and attained the highest truth which he called later ‘Self-Realisation’. After this he became indifferent to his boyhood life, studies, play etc and began to seek solitude. Due to this, his elder brother taunted him and the young boy Ramana understanding the truth behind his brother’s rebuke, left his parental home leaving a note that he was going in search of his father. With this farewell note he left Madurai for ever.

    Right from the time he left his house, a series of miracles took place and Arunachala mysteriously guided the youth to his final destination. It was Arunachala who delayed the train’s departure so that Ramana could board it and later on appeared in the form of a Maulvi in order to give the lad directions to reach Tiruvannamalai and then, lo and behold, actually granted divine dharshan to the boy in the form of a column of effulgence in the temple of Ariyanainallur.

    Not many people know that the doors of the Arunachaleswara temple which were closed habitually at the time of his arrival, started to open one by one of their own accord just as Sri Ramana entered. Indeed is there any doubt left that the Son had thus returned to his Father’s house?

    Who can describe what Ramana felt when he saw the Hill for the first time? In his own words: “I came up here and saw, and found thou stood as a Hill, But who then is the seer … no seer then remained. No mind survived even to say that I saw this, or even to say I didn’t.”

    Like last year, this year also, on September 1st in Ramanashram, the Madurai Ramana Kendra conducted a series of parayanams (religious chanting) at the Samadhi shrine and at the Mothers shrine, as a way of commemorating Advent. Devotees participated in the chanting and thanked the Gods for bringing them to the Abode of the great Master whose Eternal Presence continues to thrill millions…

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  • Athi Rudra Maha Yagnam 2011

    This month, an eminent devotee of  Ramanashram conducted the Athi Rudra Maha Yagnam in Tiruvannamalai. The venue of the Yagnam was the Oye Mantapam on Tiruvoodal street. Hundreds of talented brahmin priests well versed in  vedic procedures and rituals took part in and performed this Athi Rudra yagnam with great devotion and power. A tremendous wave of sacred energy was created resultantly and the Mountain Arunachala and Lord Shiva himself seemed to be present at the chantings and listening to the Rudrams with intense pleasure.

    As one is told, the Lord himself is a great fan of the Rudram chantings and this is one sure way to draw his interest and attention. Sage Satapatha in his treatise “Maharnava Karma Vipaka” listed four types of Abhisheka procedures compatible with Vedic and scriptural lore. They are Rudram, Ekadasa Rudram, Maha Rudram and Athi Rudram – each being more potent than the preceding one. Of these, the most potent form of Athi Rudram. It involves 14641 Rudrams (Rudram is a combination of Namakam and Chamakam given in Rudradhyayam in the 5th Prapathakam of the 4th Kanda of Krishna Yajur Veda Samhita). Namaka recited once along with recital of Chamaka once constitutes one Rudram. Recital of 11 Namakas along with one Anuvaka of Chamaka at the end of each Namaka, thus completing one Chamaka constitutes Ekadasa Rudram. Recital of 11 Ekadasa Rudrams is Laghu Rudram or Rudraikadasini. Recital of 11 Laghu Rudrams is one Maha Rudram. Recital of 11 Maha Rudrams is one Athi Rudram. Therefore, in Athi Rudram 14641 Rudrams include 14641 Namakams and 1331 Chamakams.

    On the final day, at the culmination of the yagnam, the Pooranahruthi was performed and the sacred waters from the yagnam were transported in pots to the Ramanashram premises. Here an elaborate Abhishekam was performed over the Samadhis of Sri Ramana and his mother with the sacred waters. Devotees were caught in a surge of spiritual energy as the waters came cascading down the Lingams to the accompaniment of the resounding chantings of the Rudrams. This is indeed a rare spectacle and we are fortunate to live in Tiruvannamalai and witness such an ancient and sacred ritual being performed so beautifully according to the vedic tradition and in the holy presence of the Divine Mountain and Bhagavan Ramana.

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  • Aaradhana of Sri Ramana

    The death anniversary of  Sri Ramana Maharshi when he attained Brahma Nirvana is celebrated as Aaradhana festival in Ramanasramam. This year this day fell on Saturday, 30th April and it was celebrated with many beautiful rituals and ceremonies and music programmes in the Ashram. In the morning there took place the grand puja called the ‘Ekadasa Mahanyasa Maha Rudrabhishekam’ performed over the Samadhi of Bhagavan which the brahmin priests did with utmost devotion and expertise. In the evening, Smt.Ambika Kameshwar rendered a vocal music concert, singing her usual repertoire of Ramana songs. Hundreds of devotees participated in all the events and partook of all the free meals with great enthusiasm.

    Sri Bhagavan Himself considered both life and death in this body as mere thought forms. In this regard, an old devotee S.S. Cohen recalls this from the master’s teaching in his book Guru Ramana: “Life is miserable because it consists of nothing but thoughts. When death strikes down the body, the dreamless, thought-free state prevails for a brief period, but soon thinking starts again in the dream – ‘astral’ – world, and continues till a full ‘waking’ takes place in a new body, after another dreamless lull. This daily cycle of waking and sleeping is a miniature of the cycle of life and death in man and the universe, of alternation of activity and rest. The substance of the former is thoughts and sensations, and of the latter the peaceful being from which these arise. To transcend birth and death we have, therefore, to transcend the processes of thought and abide in the Eternal Being… But the Jnani, the Self-Realised man, whose mind has already ceased to act, remains unaffected by death; it has dropped never to rise again to cause births and deaths. The chain of illusion has snapped forever for him… It is now clear that there is neither real birth nor real death. It is the mind which creates and maintains the illusion of reality in this process, till it is destroyed by Self-Realisation.”

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  • Sri Vidya Havan in Ramanashram

    Sri Vidya Havan was celebrated in Ramanashram on Friday 18th March this year. This is a grand fire ceremony puja performed in order to re-consecrate and re-sanctify the Sri Chakra Mehru which was installed by Bhagavan Ramana himself inside the sanctum-sanctorum of His Mother’s shrine. During the Havan, Sri Vidya or Saraswathi, the goddess of knowledge and wisdom is invoked and worshipped with special rituals and chanting according to ancient vedic doctrines. Towards the culmination of the Havan, silk saris, gold ornaments, money, coconuts and lotus flowers are offered into the sacrificial fire. The fires of the homam then seem to leap up with greater vigour and engulf everyone in a tremendous wave of sacred energy.

    Here is an excerpt regarding Bhagavan’s views about the topic of Sri Vidya and Sri Chakra taken from  “Letters from Ramanasramam” on 21st May 1947:

    This afternoon, during a conversation regarding old Sankara Vijayam, Bhagavan asked one devotee whether it was not a fact amongst all books on the life of Sankara, Sankara Vijayam of Vidyaranya was the best. Bhagavan said with a smile, “Yes, his mental powers were very great. He was a great votary of Sri Vidya, you see. He therefore wanted to create a city in the shape of Sri Chakra and started doing it in Hampi but could not complete it. So he said that an emperor in future would rule the country and would be able to build a city in the shape of a Sri Chakra. When I told Nayana about this while i was on the hill, he made a peculiar comment, namely: ” Sri Chakrariti sona saila vapurusham, sri shodasarnatmakam occurs in Arunachala Ashtaka Stotram written by Sri Sankara. Besides this in Arunachala Purana, it is stated that this hill is reputed to be in the shape of Sri Chakra. Hence without searching for it, we have been lucky in getting this place which is in the shape of Sri Chakra. Bhagavan is the Chakravarthi (Emperor) ! If about ten houses are built around the hill, this itself is a great empire. Sankara must have intended this only …

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  • Bhagavan’s Jayanthi

    Bhagavan Sri Ramana’s birth anniversary is called Jayanthi day and it is celebrated every year in the Ramanashram in a very splendid way. This year it fell on 22nd December. Early in the morning after the Dhanur Maasa puja there was special chanting of Arunachala Shiva followed by chanting of Tiruvempavai and Vishnu Sahasranaamam. Then there came the breakfast interlude. After this, the grand puja  celebrating the special event was begun on the shrine of Sri Ramana’s Samadhi. This Ekadasa MahaRudra puja was performed on an elaborate scale by the priests and went on for a few hours. After the finishing Arathi, devotees were invited to partake of the sumptuous lunch Prasad meal and there was quite a scramble to get in front of the food queue. In the evening, there was a music concert by the Amritavarshini troupe from Bangalore singing their same collection of Ramana songs as they do every year.

    In Letters from Ramanasramam on 24th February 1947, Bhagavan is supposed to have narrated the following incident in connection with celebrating his birthday: “On one of my birthdays while I was in Virupaksha cave, probably in 1912, those around me insisted on cooking food and eating it there as a celebration of the occasion. I tried to dissuade them but they rebelled saying. ‘what harm does it do to Swamiji, if we cook our food and eat it here?. I therefore left it at that. Immediately after that they purchased some vessels. Those vessels are still here. What began as a small function has resulted in all this paraphernalia and pomp. Everything must take its own course and will not stop at our request. I told them at great length, but they did not listen. When the cooking and eating were over, Iswaraswamy who used to be with me in those days, said, ‘Swamiji ! this is your birthday. Please compose two verses and I too will compose two.’ It was then that I composed these two verses which I find in the notebook here. They run as follows :

    1. You who intend to celebrate the birthday, first ascertain as to whence you were born. The day that we attain a place in that everlasting life which is beyond the reach of births and deaths is our real birthday.
    2. Even on these birthdays, that occur once a year, we ought to lament that we have got this body and fallen into this world. Instead we celebrate the event with a feast. To rejoice over it is like decorating a corpse. Wisdom consists in realizing the Self and in getting absorbed therein.

    This is the purport of those verses. It appears that it is a custom amongst a certain section of people in Malabar to weep when a child is born in the house and celebrate a death with pomp. Really one should lament having left one’s real state, and taken birth again in this world, and not celebrate it as a festive occasion.”

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  • Sama Veda chanting

    The Sāmaveda, (in sanskrit sāman means melody and veda means knowledge), is the second of the four Vedas. Its earliest parts are believed to date from 1700 BC and it ranks next in sanctity and liturgical importance to the Rig veda. It consists of a collection of hymns, portions of hymns, and detached verses, all but 75 taken from the Sakala Sakha of the Rigveda, the other 75 belong to the Bashkala Sakha, which are to be sung, using specifically indicated melodies called Samagana, by Udgatar priests at special Homas and Yagnas, in which the juice of the Soma plant, clarified and mixed with milk and other ingredients, is offered as propitiation to various deities.

    The Sama Veda is the Yoga of Song. It consists of various hymns of the Rig Veda put to a different and more musical chant. Its secret lies in its musical annotation and rendering. The Sama Veda represents the ecstasy of spiritual knowledge and the power of devotion. If the Rig Veda is the knowledge, then the Sama Veda is its realization.

    Lord Shiva is believed to be a great fan of the Sama Veda chanting and in the epic Ramayana, Ravana gains the special favour of Lord Shiva by singing the Samaveda ganas to him while playing on his veena. This is how he was able to have so much power and create havoc in the life of Lord Rama.

    During the recent Karthigai Brahmotsavam, the Ramanashram hosted a group of Samaveda Udgatar priests from Kerala who rendered an excellent chanting of selections from the Samaveda, every afternoon, for all the ten days of the Utsavam. Devotees both indian and western listened to this chanting and found that the sounds were most conducive to their mediative practices.

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  • Deepam in Ramanashram

    People may wonder how Deepam was celebrated when Bhagavan was alive. Here is an account of it by Suri Nagamma in Letters from Ramanasramam:

    In the afternoon from 3 o clock onwards the devotees started making preparations for the festival. At the Asramam the floor was decorated with lime and rice powder, floral designs and mango leaf festoons. On such occasions the crowds which come to town for this festival usually visit the asramam in the morning as they go round the Hill, whereas in the evening it is mostly the Asramites who are present at the Asramam celebrations…

    On this evening when Bhagavan went out the attendant placed his couch in the open space facing the summit. Opposite the couch a large shallow iron pan was placed on a high stool, ghee poured into it and a wick placed in the centre. We then sat in rows, the men on Bhagavan’s right and the women on His left. The space in front of Bhagavan was filled not only with baskets of flowers but also with vessels of all sorts of sweetmeats and other preparations. When the ghee brought by the devotees was poured into the pan for kindling the light, the pan was overflowing. Camphor was then placed on the wick. The fragrance from the lighted incense sticks spread on all sides and created a holy atmosphere. Bhagavan sat lovingly looking at all the devotees and related to those near Him the significance of the festival of Light. He also pointed out the exact place where the light was to be kindled at the top. Everyone was eagerly awaiting the lighting of the sacred beacon on the Hill top. While His gaze was concentrated on the summit of the hill, ours was concentrated on His divine face, for it was just a reflection of Arunachala. With the firing of  crackers at the temple, the light on the Hill top appeared. Immediately the Akhanda Jyothi (perennial light) opposite Bhagavan was lit. The brahmins rose and chanted the mantra, “Na karmana na prajaya dhanena” and lit the camphor. After Bhagavan had partaken of a little fruit and some sweetmeats, the rest were distributed amongst the devotees. Immediately after that the devotees divided themselves into two groups, singing the hymn Aksharamanamalai. After that, the five stanzas beginning with “Karunapurana Sudhaabhde” in Sanskrit and its equivalent in Tamil were recited. Bhagavan sat resting His cheek on His hand, His characteristic pose. His face appeared as though mirroring His Self-Illumination, what with His silence and His profound thought reflected on it. The moon rose in the East and cast its light on Him as though seeking its light from Him…

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  • Navaratri

    Navaratri is a festival of nine nights dedicated to the Goddess Shakthi (Parvathi or Amba) in her different manifestations. The legend of Navarathri starts with the penance of the Goddess on the slopes of Arunachala. Separated from her Lord (due to having playfully closed his eyes with her hands), the Goddess yearns to be reunited with Him. The great sage Guatama advises her to perform penance on the slopes of the holy Hill Arunachala and accordingly she comes here and sits in Tapas (penance). She follows the various scriptural injunctions and exhibits her devotion to the Lord in various ways. During the nine days of penance she manifests  herself each day in one of her different forms.

    In Ramanashram, the Navaratri festival is celebrated in a grand way. On the night of Mahavalya Amavasya, the goddess Yogambika is brought out of her niche in the Mother’s shrine and taken on procession around the Samadhi of Ramana. After this, she is installed in a beautiful decorated pedestal behind the Nandi of the Mother’s shrine. Every night for nine days, the goddess is decorated splendidly in silk attire, gold jewels and flowers, depicting each day a different aspect. After the Alamkaram, arathi puja is performed by the priests in an elaborate manner. Hundreds of devotees from all over throng the new hall every evening to witness this spectacle.

    It will be interesting to see what Bhagavan Sri Ramana had to say about this celebration. In Letters from Ramanasramam, Suri Nagamma recounts to her brother in a letter dated 27th January 1946. “You have seen the decorations made in the shrine of Mathrabhutheswara on the first day of Navarathri festival last year. There was a different type of decoration every day in accordance with the puranic story that Amba went out to do Tapas as she could not bear the separation from the Shiva. So the idol of Amba was decorated suitably and was put in the shade of a tree. After the night meal was over that day, Bhagavan was taken to that place and was shown that idol. Next morning in the hall, while talking about the ornamentation in the temple and in this shrine, Bhagavan said, “Yesterday’s ornamentation was intended to show that Amba was doing Tapas. Unable to bear the separation, she goes out to do Tapas (penance) here. But Parvathi is depicted as sitting in a stylish pose under a tree to do Tapas, wearing a silk sari, gold jewels and flower garlands! What our people do is always like this. Tapas means meditation connected with the practice of self-denial or bodily mortification, does it not? Amba is reported to have closed the eyes of Shiva with both her hands for fun and to expiate that sin, Parameswara asked her to perform penance, and so she left her husband, went to a lonely place, and in self-mortification, forgot about her body, became weak and with great austerity, performed Tapas. But see the way Amba is now decorated to depict that story. She is dressed like a Maharani with diamonds and emeralds and gold ornaments and wearing a silk sari and flower garlands !”

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  • Advent

    In the western world, Advent refers to the period preceding Christmas connected to the advent of Christ but here in Arunachala, Advent always refers to the day on which the great Sage of this epoch, our very own Bhagavan Ramana entered the sacred town of Tiruvannamalai.

    In the year 1896, on the first of  September, Sri Ramana as a young lad of sixteen, arrived at the feet of the Holy Mountain. About a month earlier, in mid-July, he had already had his first death-experience and attained the highest truth which he called later as Self-Realisation. After this he became indifferent to his boyhood life, studies, play etc and began to seek solitude. For this, his elder brother taunted him and the young boy Ramana understanding the truth behind his brother’s rebuke, left his parental home leaving a note that he was going in search of his father. With this farewell note he left Madurai for ever.

    Right from the time he left his house, a series of miracles took place and Arunachala mysteriously guided the youth to his final destination. It was Arunachala who delayed the train’s departure so that Ramana could board it and later on appeared in the form of a Maulvi in order to give the lad directions to reach Tiruvannamalai and then, lo and behold, actually granted divine dharshan to the boy in the form of a column of effulgence in the temple of Ariyanainallur.

    Not many people know that the doors of the Arunachaleswara temple which were closed habitually at the time of his arrival, started to open one by one of their own accord just as Sri Ramana entered. Indeed is there any doubt left that the Son had thus returned to his Father’s house?

    Who can describe what Ramana felt when he saw the Hill for the first time? In his own words: “I came up here and saw, and found thou stood as a Hill, But who then is the seer … no seer then remained. No mind survived even to say that I saw this, or even to say I didn’t.”

    This year on September 1st in Ramanashram, the Madurai Ramana Kendra conducted a series of parayanams (religious chanting) at the Samadhi shrine and at the Mothers shrine, as a way of commemorating Advent. Devotees participated in the chanting and thanked the Gods for bringing them to the Abode of the great Master whose Eternal Presence continues to thrill millions…

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