This is an account of one of my visits to the Ramana Mandiram in Madurai in 2017 when I was travelling with a friend through Tamil Nadu, South India. It was in this building that Sri Ramana realised The Self in 1896. We had first stayed in the Sri Ramanasramam in Tiruvannamalai before making our way to Madurai to visit both the Ramana Mandiram there and the Ramana Maharshi Sundaram in Tiruchuzhi. The visit described below was made on the evening of the day we had gone to Tiruchuzhi. I was feeling tired from a day on the road in South India and we had just walked in to the building after an end of day thunderstorm, a common occurrence in that part of South India when the weather is hot.
17/21 Chockkappan Street
Madurai – 1
(opp: To Meenakshi Temple South Tower)
It was gone 8 by the time we got to the mandiram, it felt good to be able to step back inside the building again, where the evening puja on the ground floor, with men on one side of the room and women on the other side, was just coming to an end. It did not take long for Anita and I to make our way back up the stairs to the first floor, to those two virtually empty rooms, save for the large framed photograph portraits of the guru Ramana Maharshi.
I went to the front room where the scene was pretty much deserted, apart from one man who was in there meditating, sitting to the side with his back against the wall and with his eyes closed. The front room was basically comprised of bare walls, a smooth granite tiled floor, a ceiling fan pushing the warm evening city air around and a pile of thin cushions stacked up in one corner. The windows of that front room were open to the sounds of Chokkappan Street, coming in from the outside; music, beeps from motor bikes, tuk-tuks and the voices of people.
On the far wall was the Ramana Maharshi shrine; carved wood frame, black and white photograph of the guru’s face, enlarged and framed, a photograph that I had seen many times before, above the photograph a single red flower placed upon the frame and then above that, a framed picture of the holy hill Arunachala in Tiruvannamalai. There was also light coming from one low energy bulb, but otherwise apart from that the room was now in deep evening shadow. Anita was sat in the windowless back room where the large framed portrait of the guru as a young man, with eyes of burning intensity, was on another wooden altar, at the bottom of which shone the light of an oil lamp, along with the sweet smell of burning incense. Just like before there was a young Indian man sat meditating in lotus posture. Within both of the rooms there was the silence and energy of concentration, even though sounds were coming in from the street outside, those sounds which comprised the mid-Saturday evening busyness of central Madurai, ancient Indian temple city of the South.
I sat in the front room close to one of the open windows, with my back against the wall, sat on the floor with my arms resting on my drawn up knees. It was a comfortable enough position for me, as to have attempted to sit cross legged would have been a complete no-no, so I just settled like that into a mildly contemplative state and soon began to go deeper. Guess this might have been due to the power of the place, the fact this was where Ramana Maharshi, the guru, attained the complete and irreversible Enlightenment of the Self in 1896, something which was now 121 years ago. Guess it might also have had something to do with the rigours of the day, that my body now naturally felt a bit tired; the trip out to Tiruchuzhi, the walking around the sundaram, the ride back, the walk into town in the rainstorm from our hotel, the tour of the Meenakshi temple and then our return to the mandiram. Everything building up, but not so much that I felt too tired because of it, more like I just did not want to go anywhere else now, that I was perfectly happy where I was.
So I sat there with my eyes closed, half closed, concentrating on my breathing, aware there was just one other person in the room, that there were also of course the sounds of the city floating in through the windows and that there was the sound of the ceiling fan above, pushing the warm south Indian city evening air around. On top of all this there was also an inexpressible sense of a universal energy which seemed to come as if from nowhere; a feeling of great, immense light unlike anything I had ever experienced before. My body felt motionless and my eyes, half open, tried to focus on the framed face of Ramana Maharshi on the altar against the wall opposite to where I was sitting.
I focused on the face of the guru, like I had done so many times before, but now the face began to change into shapes and forms which went way beyond the human, simply being indescribable and full of the utmost power. I could not stop this face transformation of Ramana Maharshi from occurring, in fact the shape shifting, whilst I was concentrating on it, became a form of bliss for me, the deepest bliss. I realised beyond any doubt that to try to limit Ramana Maharshi and the message that he conveyed, taught, expressed, emanated, or whatever else you want to call it, by way of either words or silence, both through the waking state and the dream, was a big, big mistake. It went way beyond the mere man, way beyond the human form he took, in fact to try to limit it all to form was quite clearly ridiculous. The real energy which supported, immersed and projected his enlightenment was hugely more powerful than anything which could be contained or adequately expressed by the human body, or by way of words.
The faces and shapes which the photograph of Ramana Maharshi turned into as I sat there both seemed to be highly personal, as if relevant to only me, yet at the same time utterly beyond contrivance or anything else that I could ever really imagine. The power emanating from the constantly changing face on the altar was simply incredible, it was strange, beyond comprehension, yet absolutely real at the same time. It pounded into me, left me in a state of deepest bliss and wonder, unable to move, unable to articulate in any sensible manner what was really going on, apart from experiencing a feeling of the deepest gratitude that it was happening.
This experience, as I sat there on the floor in that front room of the mandiram, took me up to 9 in the evening which was when it was due to close. At the end of it I was not sure whether or not I was going to be able to stand up. Simple fact of the matter was the change of the face of the guru into a power, a force way beyond human, taking all the distortions which went with it, put me in a place where what I perceived by way of that photograph was the nameless, faceless. It was incredible, it was unexpected, it was simply impossible to imagine and it blew my mind as a consequence, leaving me numb, leaving me speechless.
hollow to the point of nowhere
but with an energy greater
than the sun,
no wonder it knocked me
and saw me talking to myself
through an unknown media
whilst my limbs were unable
to move me
from out of the bliss bubble
I found myself in
The header image for this article is a photograph taken by Digital Buggu as found on Pexels.