Note: Swami Viswanatha’s father was Bhagavan Ramana’s elder cousin. Swami Viswanatha came to Bhagavan Ramana at a young age and shortly after decided to dedicate his life to spiritual practices.
MY FIRST darshan of Bhagavan Sri Ramana was in January, 1921 at Skandashram, which is on the eastern slope of Arunachala and looks like the very heart of the majestic hill. It is a beautiful quiet spot with a few coconut and other trees and a perennial crystal-clear spring. Bhagavan was there as the very core of such natural beauty.
Bhagavan Ramana as a young person
I saw in him something quite arresting which clearly distinguished him from all others I had seen. He seemed to live apart from the physical frame, quite detached from it. His look and smile had remarkable spiritual charm. When he spoke, the words seemed to come out of an abyss. One could see immaculate purity and non-attachment in him and his movements. I sensed something very refined, lofty and sacred about him. In his vicinity the mind’s distractions were overpowered by an austere and potent calmness and the unique bliss of peace was directly experienced.
This I would call Ramana lahari, ‘the blissful atmosphere of Ramana.’ In this ecstasy of grace one loses one’s sense of separate individuality and there remains something grand and all-pervading, all-devouring. This indeed is the spirit of Arunachala which swallows up the whole universe by its gracious effulgence.
There were about ten devotees living with him there, including his mother and younger brother. One of them was Vallimalai Murugar, who for a while every morning sang the Tamil songs of the Tirupugazh with great fervour. These well-known songs, the remarkable outpourings of the famous devotee, Sri Arunagirinatha, are songs in praise of Subrahmanya. When he sang, Bhagavan used to keep time (tala) by tapping with two small sticks on the two rings of an iron brazier of live coal kept in front of him.
Fumes of incense spread out in rolls from the brazier, suffused with the subtle holy atmosphere of Bhagavan. While Bhagavan’s hands were tapping at the brazier thus, his unfathomable look of grace gave one a glimpse of the Beyond in silence. It was an unforgettable experience.
There was also a devotee from Chidambaram, Subrahmanya Iyer, who often sang with great fervour Tiruvachagam, hymns in praise of Arunachala by Bhagavan, and songs in praise of Bhagavan also. One morning when he began a song with the refrain, “Ramana Satguru, Ramana Satguru, Ramana Satguru Rayane,” Bhagavan also joined in the singing. The devotee got amused and began to laugh at Bhagavan himself singing his own praise. He expressed his amusement and Bhagavan replied, “What is extraordinary about it? Why should one limit Ramana to a form of six feet? Is it not the all-pervading Divinity that you adore when you sing ‘Ramana Satguru, Ramana Satguru?’ Why should I not also join in the singing?” We all felt lifted to Bhagavan’s standpoint.
Bhagavan Sri Ramana in relative youth
The inmates of the Ashrama used to get up at dawn and sing some devotional songs in praise of Arunachala and Bhagavan Ramana before beginning their day’s work. Niranjanananda Swami told Bhagavan that I could recite hymns in Sanskrit, and Bhagavan looked at me expectantly. Seeing that it was impossible to avoid it, I recited a few verses in Sanskrit.
When I had finished, Bhagavan gently looked at me and said, “You have learned all this. Not so, my case. I knew nothing, had learned nothing before I came here. Some mysterious power took possession of me and effected a thorough transformation. Whoever knew then what was happening to me? Your father, who was intending in his boyhood to go to the Himalayas for tapas, has become the head of a big family. And I, who knew nothing and planned nothing, have been drawn and kept down here for good! When I left home (in my seventeenth year), I was like a speck swept on by a tremendous flood. I knew not my body or the world, whether it was day or night. It was difficult even to open my eyes – the eyelids seemed to be glued down. My body became a mere skeleton. Visitors pitied my plight as they were not aware how blissful I was. It was after years that I came across the term ‘Brahman‘ when I happened to look into some books on Vedanta brought to me. Amused, I said to myself, ‘Is this known as Brahman’!”
As advised by Bhagavan, I engaged myself in non-stop japa, day and night, except during hours of sleep. And I studied Sri Ramana Gita in the immediate presence of Bhagavan, drinking in the import of every sloka in it. Bhagavan explained to me his own Hymn in Praise of Arunachala. Even during his morning and evening walks I used to follow him, hearing his explanations of his inspired words.
I shall not pretend that I understood everything that Bhagavan said but there was the spiritual exhilaration of his company in solitude and that was enough for me.
Source: Maharshi Newsletter, Sep / Oct 1991. Vol.1 No.5. Please note that I edited and reduced in size the original article to make it more readable. I also added Bhagavan’s pictures.