Arunachala Akshara Manamaalai – the Marital Garland of Letters
– Thaayumanavar (Tamil Saivaite Saint)
“Arunachala Shiva Arunachala Shiva, Thou dost uproot and annihilate the ego of those who meditate on Thee in their hearts, O Arunachala” so begins the classic Arunachala Akshara Manamaalai hymn composed by Bhagavan Ramana in 1914 and sung almost every day by Him and devotees from then onwards right upto the last moments of his earthly manifestation. These sublime 108 verses brilliantlly combine the strengths of Jnana (knowledge) and Bhakthi (devotion) and thus appeal universally to every spiritual seeker and devotee of the Eternal Absolute Truth, call it God, call it the Self..
For what is Arunachala but the Heart of every being! The garland that weds us to the Akshara (the indestructible)is called Akshara manamaalai. There is a subtle word play on the word akshara as it means both letters and the indestructible.
Sri Muruganar composed a prelude to this hymn which says, “Getting rid of the mind that mistakes this perishable, insentient body as ‘I’ and turning it inwards to merge firmly in the Heart, realize the effulgence within as the Truth of non-dual pure awareness. This is the truth of Arunachala, the Heart-centre of the universe”.
Here is the story of how the Akshara Manamaalai came to be composed:
“During the early years of Sri Bhagavan’s abode at Virupaksha, Palaniswami and others used to go into town to beg food for the small group of devotees, and one day they asked Sri Bhagavan for a devotional song to sing as they went. He replied that there were plenty of devotional songs composed by the Saints, many of them neglected, so there was no need to compose a new one. However, they continued to urge him and some days later he set out on Pradakshina round the Hill, taking a pencil and paper with him, and, on the way, composed the hundred and eight verses. Tears of ecstasy streamed down his face as he wrote, sometimes blinding his eyes and choking his voice. This hymn then became the great devotional inspiration of the devotees. The pain of separation and the bliss of union are mirrored in its glowing symbolism. It is composed in Shringara Bhava (in the mood of a bride writing to her groom). The perfection of Knowledge is combined with the ecstasy of devotion. And yet this most heartfelt of poems was composed from the standpoint of the devotee, of one who is still seeking. It is also an acrostic, its hundred and eight verses beginning with the successive letters of the Tamil alphabet. Nevertheless, no poem could be more authentic. Some devotees asked Sri Bhagavan the interpretation of some of the verses and he replied: “You think it out and I will too. I didn’t think while I was composing it; I just wrote as it came.”
The centenary day of the Arunachala Aksharamana malai was celebrated in Ramanashram on Monday 30th December. The Arunachala Akshara Manamaalai hymn was chanted non-stop by devotees from 6 am to 6 pm in the New hall. A very special atmosphere of devotion and spiritual fervour prevailed here during the chanting and one could feel the presence of Ramana singing with us and making us realise the Truth of Arunachala in our own hearts…