End part of a trip I made to the holy South Indian pilgrimage town of Tiruvannamalai in the state of Tamil Nadu where I stayed at the Athithi Ashram which is run by devotees of the great twentieth century spiritual master Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. Once my time at the ashram was done it was just a question of taking a taxi ride back to the city of Bengaluru in the state of Karnataka.
So the interstate swing back from 19/2 went something like this. First of all I knew that was it, my week in Tiruvannamalai at the Athithi Ashram was over and now there was to be no lookin’ back. I had done all that I could do and really in all honesty it had gone better than I could have ever expected – the meditation, the talks with Swami Hamsananda, the mesmeric shrine times at the end of the day in the dual temples of Ramanasramam, staying fit, staying healthy, no bad stomachs or stuff like that – which had meant that I was happy, more than happy as a matter of fact. Turned out to be a bit of a rush after my parting talk with Swami as my taxi was already waiting outside the ashram gates and I still had a bit of this and that to do with regards to packing my case and clearing up which meant I would have to get my skates on. Before going back up to my room I told my driver who was sitting in the car on the other side of the gates that I would be about 10 minutes or so and bounded back up the stairs to my room in order to get myself together.
The ride from Tiruvannamalai to Bangalore turned out to be a bit of a fast one as once we got to the town of Krishnagiri we joined the main highway which more or less runs the length of the country, with more than one or two pinch points in between, and where signs to Varanasi indicate it is over 1700 km away in a direction which was pretty much due north. So it was speedy, a Grand Prix shakedown on a four lane highway where weaving in and out of the traffic in front of you whilst travelling at high velocity was very much the order of the day. It was one of those rides where I sat in the car with the back windows wide open instead of in a nicely chilled a/c bubble, and the reason for this was that my driver had a stinkin’ cold which I most definitely wouldn’t have minded not picking up in any way whatsoever. In fact, although I’m somewhat ashamed to admit it, paranoid thoughts that he might have Coronavirus passed through my mind, making me wonder if it was worth asking him if he’d driven any or many people from the Chinese part of the world recently. Glad to say I managed to resist the temptation, mainly because I knew that with his very limited English and my non-existent Tamil, it would have been too damn complicated for me to break on through and get him to understand what the fuck I was talking about. So anyway, we rocked on through the Tamil countryside with the warm air blasting through the open windows of the car from any direction you might care to choose, no problem with that really, sure the air was warm but it wasn’t hot and within that lies a very big difference.
Memories of a trip I made to the holy South Indian pilgrimage town of Tiruvannamalai in the state of Tamil Nadu where I stayed at the Athithi Ashram which is run by devotees of the great twentieth century spiritual master Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. The resident teacher of Athithi Ashram is Swami Hamsananda, with whom it is possible to sit and meditate with each morning as well as engage in conversation about the life of Bhagavan, the practice of meditation, and the spiritual paths of bhakti (devotion) and Jnana (self-enquiry) in the form of asking the question – Who Am I?
When I arrived at the Athithi Ashram after my taxi ride from Chennai I opened the gates, took off my shoes and put them on the shoe stand as no footwear was allowed to be worn in the ashram grounds. Then I went to the small ashram office on the left hand side within the ashram compound and which had a couple of desks and computers in it as well as some chairs for people to sit on. A gentle mannered man dressed in white cotton clothes checked me in after I’d filled out all the necessary forms, given him my passport details and taken a photograph of myself with my mobile phone which I then emailed to him on the spot. The room I was given was in the block above the office and I guess that block must have had nine or ten rooms which were spread over three floors. Mine was on the top floor where there were three other rooms, all of which seemed to be occupied. Stepping inside my room for the first time I saw it had a single bed with a very firm mattress and a pillow with a thin sheet on top of it, so I guess it was just as well the weather was hot and that I would not be needing a blanket. There was a table and chair in the corner of the room next to the window and some shelves built into the wall upon which I could put my clothes once I’d unpacked my case and stashed it under my bed. On the wall opposite to the side of the room my bed was on there was a framed and mounted colour portrait of Ramana Maharshi and also one of the holy hill Mount Arunachala. There was a door at the end of my bed which opened up into a bathroom where there was a toilet and shower along with a small basin and mirror. The window in my room had shutters rather than glass with a wire mesh tightly strung across it so as to keep the mosquitoes out, although with my room being on the top floor hopefully their presence would be minimal. I opened the shutters for some airflow and soon realised the street outside was quite noisy with plenty of sounds rising up from it, primarily sounds of auto rickshaws and honking motorbikes. Later on I was to discover the block my room was in overlooked the entrance to a much larger ashram close by, the ashram of Yogi Ramsuratkumar, which attracted large numbers of people each day from early morning onwards.
This piece was written during a trip made to Ramanasramam in the holy temple town of Tiruvannamalai in the state of Tamil Nadu in South India. It is specifically about a couple of walks made up to Skandasramam, the cave behind on the holy hill of Arunachala and where Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi stayed for 7 years from 1915 – 1922. Towards the end of the piece reference is made to the red flame vision described in my previous blog entry, Honey Valley.
My early morning meditation began later than usual due to my late night struggles to get back on track, but I was in the meditation hall by 6 am where I had a solid hour of sitting whilst feeling in a good state of recovery. Concentration good, body pacified and back to the breath! Skipped breakfast as I wanted a couple more hours for my stomach to feel fully settled, instead I went and had a large glass of coffee from the tea bar across the road from the ashram entrance. Cost me 20 rupees which was a bit of a rip off price, but it was good to sit there for a while and watch the early morning street life pass on by outside the ashram. I realised the sound of the lorries had not bothered me half as much the night before, maybe that was because I had other things on my mind such as my guts. Probably would be the case that if I stayed round the ashram long enough I would not even notice those lorries were there as everything would eventually blend into one.
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.
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.
It wasn’t for a couple of years before I retrieved my Ramana Maharshi book from John, not until after he had died in fact. This was in 2011 which meant I would have lent him my copy of Talks With Ramana Maharshi in 2008 or something like that. I was in his bungalow in Clayhall, East London, clearing out his bedroom with Leigh, his son and my work colleague in the small company we ran together, first in Walthamstow and then in Ilford, going all the way back to 1989. By 2011 the company was entering its last phase of existence which on a business level meant five years of pain before we finally pulled the plug in 2016. We did this by way of going into voluntary liquidation, after which things changed overnight, seemingly rendering the previous 27 years’ work if not completely redundant then something pretty close. Anyway, all that lay in the future, so back to 2011. Continue reading “Face of the Guru”→
The shrine of the master Ramana Maharshi was to the back of the ashram main temple whose doors opened to the faithful each and every day at six in the morning. My favourite time to go there was in the evening at around 8 pm when it was still warm, very warm more often than not. I would walk around the shrine as one of the crowd, barefoot, in silence, as an act of meditation. Sounds mainly came in the form of the rows of fans rotating high above, suspended from the temple ceiling. There were odd coughs from those dusty pilgrims who appeared each evening, seemingly out of nowhere from other parts of the ashram and further beyond and there were also the slowly encroaching sounds of the oncoming Indian night, sounds of heat, sounds of mystery. Continue reading “Shrine”→