I always make it a point to visit Ramana Maharshi Ashram at Tiruvannamalai whenever I am in Pondicherry. This time too (December 26, 2007), I was keen to spend two days there. There are regular bus services to Tiruvannamalai from Pondicherry via Villipuram. It takes about 3 hours 15 minutes to reach there. From the bus stand you can hire an auto and if you do not have any luggage you can take a walk in the morning and by half an hour you will reach the Ashram.
I first read a book by Paul Brunton, ‘In search of Secret India’. What impressed me about the book is the sincerity with which it was written. Of course, the language is superb. I have rarely come across such beautiful writings. I would recommend my friends to read this book. It is really wonderful. In later years I studied almost all the books by devotees and by Ramana Maharshi. His life was so simple and the great austerity that he had undergone, that can easily be comparable with The Enlightened one – The Buddha. My admiration for Ramana Maharashi stems from his life and teaching – life so unique, teaching so simple that one feels being one with him. How I wish I could meet him in person, had he been alive. But nonetheless, the whole atmosphere at the Ashram and the Arunachal hill is saturated with his presence.
I reached the Ashram by 9.30 in the morning. Although I had no reservation. I was gracefully allotted a single bed room across the road. The meditation hall where Ramana Maharshi used to sit on a sofa and give Darshan to the devotees, has a big picture of the Maharshi placed. This is one of the most important wings of the Ashram. As you sit quietly in this room, you feel the presence of Maharshi as if he were present there. During his life time when someone asked him what would happen when he would not be present in physical form. Maharshi replied, “ Where could I go, I will be here only.” This candid reply emboldens devotees to think of him being present in the Ashram. This Ashram continues with traditional mode of worship and dining facilities. Visitors are to sit on the floor and eat with hands without use of spoons. For breakfast at 7 a.m., lunch at 11.30 a.m., Tea/Coffee at 4 p.m. and dinner at 7.30 p.m. you have to be in the queue to gain entry into the dinning hall.
There are two important places on Arunachal hill where Maharshi did his tapas during the period 1899 to 1916 and 1916 to 1922. The first one is called Virupaksha Cave and the second one is Skandashramam. It takes about 40 minutes walk up the hill to reach these two places. These places are perfect for a session of Meditation or you can sit quietly looking at the vegetation on the hill or look at the town of Tiruvannumalai below. I went up the hill and visited the Skandashramam and went up further. As it was getting dark I had to come down, but I wish to complete this journey next time when I visit Ramana Maharshi Ashram.
Next day I planned to take a round around the hill which I was told about 14 kilometers. So next morning after finishing my breakfast at the dinning hall, I took the path laid out for Giripradakshina. As you come out from the Ashram you take a right turn along the main road. After about 25 minutes of walk you find the road gets divided, one goes straight that is called Chengam Road and on the right is the Pradakshina route. I came across many water bodies, temples and Ashram on the way. It took about 3 hours time to complete the circumambulation. I once again had a bath and went for lunch at 11.30 a.m. I took every opportunity to sit in the meditation hall because that is the main hall where Ramana Maharshi’s presence is felt. The Nirvana Room displays some of the articles used by Maharshi.
There are many books available on Ramana and by Ramana. One of the most important one is, I suppose, “Talks with Ramana Maharshi” and the other one is Self Realization by B.V. Narasimha Swami. His principle teaching is to find out, “Who am I” This enquiry into self is all that one needs to realize the Self. Ramana Maharshi lived about 70 years of earthly life. He was in the world but not of the world.
I submitted the key of the room and gave a token donation for my stay at the office.. With a heavy heart I had to take leave of this beautiful place around 2.30 p.m. with a desire to come many more times in future.
How to reach Maharshi Ramana Ashram: There are buses from Chennai or from Poducherry. There are some train services as well. See their website at : www.sriramanamaharshi.org/