By David Godman
Though he had clearly arrived in a state of intense devotion, this first visit did not go smoothly. B.V. Narasimha Swami interviewed Muruganar while he was researching his biography, Self-Realization. This is what Muruganar told him in February 1930:
Two or three days after my arrival I was given some medicine. I do not know what it was, but it excited me and overpowered me. I sat in front of the Maharshi and concentrated my mind on his person. After a few minutes I had a vision of brightness. It was a suffused brightness all over his body and around it. The body was, however, distinct from the surrounding light. How long it lasted I do not know, so wholly lost was I in contemplating the vision. Kunju Swami, Dandapani Swami and Arunachala Swami were present while this was going on. Maharshi then appeared to me as Christ, for what reason I cannot say, and again as Mohammed and other great souls for similarly inexplicable reasons. I lost my former personality during this period, for it was submerged and lost in a huge ocean wave of a new state of spirituality. I was feeling that all my experience was dream-like, vague, insubstantial, and mysterious, in spite of the feeling that I was still in the waking condition. I was obsessed by this fear that my former worldly waking state was being smothered and my former self plundered of its sense of reality and individuality. I felt that as a consequence I might be perpetually held down to this strange life in Tiruvannamalai and be forever lost to my mother whose sole support I was.
So I bawled out some words to this effect: ‘Here are a band of robbers called siddhas at whose head is this Ramana Maharshi! They are all intent on capturing souls who approach them in the waking condition and rapidly charming them into this mysterious siddha’s sort of life and adding them to their group! As it would not be within the power of my mother or anyone else to see me or take me back from their iron clutch, I must start off from here at once!
I also added, looking at this bright dazzling figure of Maharshi and addressing him: ‘So here I am, unable even for a few moments to endure this light. How wonderful it is that a woman, your mother, should have carried you in her womb for nine long months.’
In this high-strung state, and in this unique strain, I went on haranguing for over an hour, punctuating my remarks by repeated prostrations to Maharshi. After that I wandered about here and there with Kunju Swami and Arunachala Swami, mostly around Pali Tirtham and the Chengam Road until about 3 a.m. I felt that all attempts to escape from the ashram were futile as the whole of Tiruvannamalai was giving me the same oppressive feeling, submerging my personality. [I felt] that Tiruvannamalai and the Maharshi were co-extensive and synonomous.3
A few days later, during the same trip to Tiruvannamalai, when I had no medicine to excite me, I again sat before the Maharshi and had a similar experience. Once again the figure of the Maharshi became brilliant, and my sense of personality was again submerged. Again my fears were roused that should I continue in his presence longer, I should be lost to my mother. So at midnight I hurried from the ashram into the town and spent the night in the house of one of my pupils.
In the succeeding months I came to visit on many occasions. I used to listen to people’s queries to the Maharshi and his replies to them. I was gradually influenced by him and my outlook on life was getting altered. After my mother died in 1924 I left my job in July 1926 and I came to Tiruvannamalai, making it my permanent residence in the middle of 1926. I have continued here ever since, and I have now written over a thousand verses about him.4
This account is so excessively self-deprecating, I can only conclude that in the final paragraph Muruganar was deliberately downplaying his experiences and accomplishments.
Muruganar made a second visit to Bhagavan about three months later and on that occasion he also had a vision of Bhagavan surrounded by light. He again had the fear that if he remained at Ramanasramam he would become a sannyasin. Since he was still very attached to his mother and feared that she would be left without anyone to support her if he abandoned his career to live in Tiruvannamalai, he fled Tiruvannamalai after only one day and returned to Madras. It was on this visit that Bhagavan encouraged him to write poetry using the same style and subject matter that Manikkavachagar had used more than 1,000 years before. Sri Ramana Sannidhi Murai, one of Muruganar’s major works, closely follows the format of the Tiruvachakam, Mannikkavachagar’s most celebrated poetry collection.
For the next three years, Muruganar was a regular visitor to Ramansramam. He would come whenever he had free time and was so attached to being in Bhagavan’s presence, on many occasions he would find it physically impossible to board the return train. He would wait on the platform in the station, watch the train leave, and then return to Ramanasramam. When he was asked about this, he would say that his body could not step onto the train. After this had happened a few times, Bhagavan would send someone to the station with him to force him to get into a carriage.
▲ Note 3. I asked Kunju Swami what he remembered of Muruganar’s first visit.
He replied, ‘We didn’t know what the problem was. He was babbling incoherently and seemed very agitated. Bhagavan asked us to keep an eye on him because he didn’t look like he was capable of looking after himself. Bhagavan’s darshan sometimes had a very dramatic effect on new visitors. We knew that nothing bad could happen to a visitor while he was under Bhagavan’s protection, so I wasn’t really alarmed by Muruganar’s behavior. He just needed someone to look after him for a few hours till he calmed down.'
It is possible that the ‘medicine’ that Muruganar was given was ganja since there were several sadhus who congregated around Bhagavan who regularly took this drug. Bhagavan frequently expressed his disapproval of this behavior, but it still continued on the fringes of the ashram.
Verse 339 of Sri Ramana Sannidhi Murai seems to refer to this dramatic first visit to Bhagavan:
To those who come to you, O Lord, Your grace is like the ocean vast. When I, on service bent, had reached Your Feet, with smiling face you glanced At me, and at that moment you Revealed to my mind’s eye Rare visions, various, wonderful, Never by man beheld before! [Return to text]
▲ Note 4. I discovered this account while I was cataloguing the Sri Ramanasramam archives in the early 1980s. The manuscript was in B. V. Narasimha Swami’s handwriting. I doubt that Muruganar himself would have described his first days in Tiruvannamalai in this way had he been prevailed upon to write an account himself. This version was published in The Mountain Path, 1981, pp. 84‒88. [Return to text]
David Godman is the author of almost twenty books about Sri Ramana Maharshi’s life, teachings, and direct disciples.
Edited by David Godman
This is the second volume in David Godman’s magisterial series of biographies of direct disciples of Sri Ramana Maharshi. David goes into considerable detail about a few selected devotees rather than touching lightly on a larger number.
This volume contains chapters on Kunju Swami, Muruganar, T.P. Ramachandra Iyer, Chhaganlal V. Yogi, Lakshmana Swamy, and Viswanatha Swami.
This page was published on October 15, 2001 and last revised on June 12, 2017.