This is an account of a trip I made in 2017 to Tiruchuzhi, birth place of Bhagawan Sri Ramana Maharshi in 1879. In the 1940s the Sri Ramanasramam in Tiruvannamalai bought the house in which Sri Ramana was born and where he grew up with his family. It is called the Ramana Maharshi Sundaram and is open to visitors. I was travelling with a friend of mine and we had based ourselves in the city of Madurai which was about 45 minutes away by car. In Madurai we had first visited the Ramana Mandarim on Chockkappan Street, close to the south tower of the Meenakshi Temple, the place where Sri Ramana realised The Self in 1896 before making his way a few weeks later to Tiruvannamalai, where he was to remain for the rest of his life.
Our arrival in Tiruchuzhi soon cleared away any preconceptions I had as to what Tiruchuzhi was going to be like, basically I thought it was going to be a small Tamil village, when in fact it turned out to be much larger, much busier. Not that it mattered, now that we had arrived it was just a question of finding the house in which Ramana Maharshi had been born in, where he had spent his childhood years. Our driver seemed to know exactly where he was going so there was no need for us to get stressed as to where it might be. We soon pulled up and parked beneath a large tree which was opposite the red and white striped front walls of what was clearly the main Hindu temple in Tiruchuzhi. From there it turned out to be just a short walk in the bright morning sun to the Ramana Maharshi Sundaram, the building which used to be the family home of Ramana Maharshi. It had been completely renovated in 2010 by the Sri Ramanasramam who had acquired the property back in the 1940s when Ramana Maharshi was still alive. No doubt it was now a lot larger than it was before and from the outside it was clear that everything looked fresh and very well maintained, in fact it all looked immaculate.
It was coming up to 11.30 when we approached the main door at the front of the building which was wide open so we walked straight inside, with no one else there as far as we could see. Felt like we were now more off the beaten track again, more than at the mandiram in Madurai even, yes, in other words it felt like we were getting back to the source. If the course of events which happened here many years ago, 138 years ago to be exact, had not happened, then all that followed with regard to the life of Ramana Maharshi might not have happened either.
We walked into the main room of the sundaram which had four pillars, a smooth and very clean granite floor, on one wall enlarged framed photographs of the parents of Ramana Maharshi and on the wall opposite to that one, a large framed photograph of Ramana Maharshi reclining on a sofa. The main room of the sundaram was spacious, light and airy, with plenty of windows, all of which were open and there a back door which was also open wide. Funny enough, sitting in the doorway with his back to us, was a grey haired old man who was looking outside, where a couple of labourers were doing some building work in the back yard. He wore a white dhoti loincloth and that was it, nothing else, in a strange way both Anita and I felt he looked like Ramana Maharshi; that if the old man turned around to face us, we would have been looking at the face of the master himself. As it was, the old man did not turn around and as far as we could work out he was oblivious to the fact that we were even there. There was just something about how he casually leaned back in the doorway, with the side of his head resting in his right palm, which from behind made him look so very much like Ramana Maharshi. I took it as an auspicious sight, Anita did as well, like it was a glimpse of the timeless essence which we were seeking.
Anita and I continued to wander through the building until she sat down and settled herself in a small front room of the sundaram in which there was a shrine to Ramana Maharshi placed on a carved wooden stand. In this room there were also bowls of grey vibhuti ash and red kum kum powder placed before it, obviously those bowls were there for devotees to take a pinch from and press against their foreheads. It was a powerful room, no doubt about that, and it was the large framed photograph of the face of the master which made it so.
As for me I stayed in the main hall and rested against a pillar close to that large Ramana Maharshi photograph, the one in which he was reclining on the sofa. I sat with my eyes closed, legs stretched out in front of me. Throughout the next hour or so Anita and I were undisturbed. I split my time between sitting in relaxed contemplation and walking slowly around the main hall, enjoying the feel of the smooth granite floor beneath my bare feet. In other words I was just taking in the peaceful atmosphere of the sundaram, appreciating the fact that we had made the effort to get there and that it had been well worth it.
Eventually a Tamil lady appeared and after handing us photographs of Ramana Maharshi she proceeded to show us the other rooms in the building. She was gentle, had a big smile on her face and seemed very happy that a couple of westerners had made it down to visit the sundaram. She might have been surprised to see us or she might not, it was difficult to tell, although I was pretty sure that at least once or twice a month some Westerners would have showed up, having made the journey to pay their respects at what was the birth place of Sri Ramana Maharshi.
All in all we stayed in the sundaram for about 90 minutes, but eventually it was lunch time and it looked like the Tamil lady was getting ready to shut the doors of the building. The old man who had been sitting with his back to us also now appeared at the entrance to the sundaram, having moved away from his sitting / sleeping position on the steps by the open back door. Needless to say, from the front he looked nothing like Ramana Maharshi, but somehow that didn’t take anything away from the initial vision that we’d both had of him when we had first arrived.
Before we finally left the building we both sat on a bench by the entrance in order to take a breath and to put on our shoes. Anita told me that whilst sitting in the small room of the sundaram by the Ramana Maharshi shrine, she had been in tears whilst meditating in front of the large framed photograph of the face of the master, such was force of compassion she felt emanating from him. I was glad she’d had such a positive experience. All in all we had timed it right, having had a good amount of time and space in the sundaram to be undisturbed, feeling very pleased that we’d had the place to ourselves. Now it was time to step back out into the bright light of the early afternoon sun and make our way by car back to Madurai.
Later that evening, back in the Madurai Residency, these words came to me, call it a rap if you like.
took a back ways track
in the land far south
of all memory undertaken
in this tribulation life
where the climb is the hill
in a cascade of resonance
too kaleidoscopic to ever
unless you’re space driven
and prepared to take a vow
until the very last day
that you spend on earth
The header image for this article is a photograph taken by Andreea Ch as found on Pexels.