Trip to Sri Ramana Ashram ( Ramanashramam )
Recently we (me & my father), went to a pilgrimage to “Thiruvannamalai Ramanasramam” hoping to cover “Kanchipuram” after the 3 days stay in the ashram. We travelled through train. As we were on the waiting list No 2 & 3, sleeper was not allotted to us. Getting rejected after pleading to a hot-headed T.T.R, we had to flatten our suitcase opposite the wash basin near the train door and sit on it for an entire night. It was not as bad as I thought and we survived the night.
The Ramanashram route we took was Palakkad -> Kalpady Jn or ( Arakkonam ) -> Thiruvannamalai -> Sri Ramanashram.
You have to reach Tiruvannamalai. If you are arriving through train, reaching Kalpady or Arakkonam, and getting connection train to Tiruvannamalai is a good idea. But it depends on where you are coming from. You can use “Indiarailinfo.com ” or “Redbus.in” for planning your journey.
Kalpady Jn -> Tiruvannamalai -> Train No – 56881 / Katpadi-Villupuram Passenger.
Thiruvannamalai -> Ramanashram -> Local Bus ( 10-15 Min ) | 3.5 Km.
We reached Tiruvannamalai Station (TNM) on 07:15 am. TNM is a very small station with around 2 platforms. There is a main bus-stand near the station. Walkable distance. Bus to Ramanashram is available from there. We should ask for bus going to “Chengam“. At least some regular people there don’t know about the ashram. Bus Conductors will recognize if you ask for “Ramanashramam”. Most of the daily travellers didn’t knew about the ashram which is just 4 Km away. As it is Tamilnadu, people are loud, friendly and casual. Not many people knew about the route to ashram, and gave contradictory recommendations to us. So, We had to roam around there for a bit.
In Tiruvannamalai the local working class daily food is called “Koozhu” ( a type of porridge), which is served with spiced vegetables, fries and pickles. We could see hand carriages serving this everywhere. There is also famous “Idly-Vadai”, which is a Tamilnadu special. Idly is cooked from roadside, sitting on the floor. Stoves are assembled on the road side, with red-bricks. Usually entire family, with mother and children do the business. Mother / Sister cooks while son / husband serve the food. The cost of idly is mind-bogglingly low. We ate 3 Idly and 2 small vadai from road side for 15 Rs each. May be it was because we were starving, sambar and coconut chutney served along with it was really delicious. Then we took a bus to Sri Ramanashram.
Tip – Easy way to reach ramanashram from TNM is by AutoRikshaw. But by local information, autowallas are cut throat, especially from bus stand or from railway station. For tourists they charge 150+ Rs for a 3.5 km ride. Bus charge is less than 10 Rs. Bus charges are variable by bus types. Green coloured buses are government buses.
Biggest problem in Tamilnadu is that everything is in Tamil language. From bus plates to flux boards, even shop signs are all in Tamil. It’s because most local people don’t know any other language than Tamil. It would be hard to communicate for non-tamil speakers. Another problem is beggars. There are baggers everywhere. The ones who are not beggars also stretch their hands, if they knew you were a tourist. If you stayed in a temple junction for more than a few minutes, you will encounter a begger zerg rush. Avoiding them is a challenge. Also, mind your wallets and shoes. I lost my sandals from Tiruvannamalai temple, and had to buy a new one.
Sri Ramana Ashram ( Ramanashramam )
Around 8:30 AM, we reached “Sri Ramanashram”. My Ramanashramam experience was really wonderful. It’s a peaceful ashram, neat and clean. Ashram was not particularly crowded at that time. Temperature was around 37ºC. April is not the most popular season for visiting the ashram. People prefer December, as the climate is good for climbing the Arunachala hill, as well as they can see the peacock dance. Ashram has a few dozens of peacocks & few more dozens of monkeys and dogs. Peacocks screams freely and sometimes walk past you. While monkeys might sit near you. I was sitting on a veranda and shortly a monkey family came and sat near me. Animals were peaceful. Kids were having a good time. Ashram authorities were pleasant.
As soon as we got inside, we went to ashram office and showed the printout of the email they sent us, confirming the stay for the allotted days. Shortly, we were allotted in rooms at “Achalam”, a residence owned by Ramanashram outside the ashram. It is in walking distance from the ashram. They gave a map to achalam as well as room keys and schedule leaflet. Room was comfortable, equipped with hot water. Cool drinking water filter was there. We thought we could stay in the main ashram itself, but only sanyasis are allotted in the ashram rooms.
As per the schedule, breakfast, lunch, evening coffee/milk, & dinner are given to the ashram guests. Food is worth mentioning as it is different from the food available outside. Food taste resembles to traditional tambrahm food, you would know if you are familiar with it. As per Ramana Maharishi’s teachings, nutritious food is served. What we had –
- Breakfast – Pongal, Idly – Sambar
- Lunch – White Rice, Ghee, Sambar, Rasam, Butter Milk (Moru), A Vegetable Upperi, Achar, crunchies (pappadam etc), Curd Rice (as prasadam), Sometimes Payasam (maybe on sunday).
- Evening Coffee / Milk – A steel tumbler full of Coffee / Milk ( Worth 2 1/2 normal cup ). Milk might be from the ashram cows, as it tasted like pure milk.
- Dinner – vegetable Rice, Rice meal, Curd Rice, A Fruit is always provided during dinner. We got Rose apple ( Chambanga), Water Melon, Banana.
Food is served in strict schedule in food hall. Queue starts 5-10 minutes before the schedule. A bell rings on time. Every ashram guests on the queue gets food, but queue is processed only once, and the door is closed behind. People who are not punctual wont get food. Lunch is served in banana Leaf, Breakfast and Dinner are served on plates made of jack fruit tree leaves. Long term residents have there own steel plates. I loved the food there. It resembled me of my home food. Water is good. There are also stores nearby, selling packaged mineral water. Outside ashram there are plenty of street vendors selling koozhu, butter milk & achar. Also sugarcane juice and coconut water sellers. There are some hotels also.
Places inside the Ashram
What I noticed….
- Temple of Lord Shiva & co.
- Large meditation & pooja hall. [Main]
- Separate silent meditation hall with Ramanamaharishi’s couch.
- Kitchen & food quarters.
- Other sanyasi’s samadhi place.
- Nirvana Room of Ramana Maharishi.
- Pets of Ramana maharishi samadhi. [dog, crow etc…]
- Skandasramam and Virupaksha Cave Hill Climbing entrance.
- Library [ full-fledged library, all types of books from comics, magazines, novels, devotional books etc… , They allow you to take books to your room if you are ashram guest.]
- Ashram Rooms.
- Bio gas plant & Cow shed.
- Place to play volleyball. [ Saw some people playing ]
- A well full of monkeys. [ A well is provided for monkeys to bath and swim.]
- A footwear guarding room, governed by two rude keepers.
- Ganpathy hall [beneath the library.]
- Book Store. [Ramana Maharishi books in all languages.]
Skandasramam & Virupaksha Cave
Skandashramam is where Ramana Maharishi stayed before ashram was built [ details ]. There is an entrance on the rear side of the ashram which is the entrance to the hill. Hill climbing starts there. It leads to Virupaksha cave and Skandashram. Virupaksha Cave was at least discovered before 1300 AD. Ramana Maharishi lived and meditated in the cave for 16 years, from 1899 to 1916. The uphill trekking is tedious. Its 1.4 Km Uphill. Only recommended for healthy people.
Tip: Take your footwear with you while climbing the hill. We climbed bare footed and suffered. Also carry water with you. On hot season, climb early in the morning. 7:30 Am is a good time. It’s a dry hill, and trust me, you don’t want to be there at the peak of noon in summer. Ignore the guides who offer help for money.
When I did a trial climb, a guard appointed by the reforestation society was sitting there, when I just enquired about the climb, he started acting like my guide. He gave me information and took me to a small settlement where he have placed a Ramana maharishi’s picture. He lighted the lamp, gave me prasads and he told me that, he needed some money to buy oil for lighting lamp for Ramana maharishi. I clearly knew the money I gave him went for lighting his cigarettes.
The mountain journey was scenic and worth every effort. Climbing the hill might be a bit tedious for the aged. Its a dry forest hill. We just saw some monkeys and a snake. Path is pretty straight forward. From one place, you could clearly see Tiruvannamalai Temple from the hills, in birds-eye view. There are water / buttermilk sellers and stone craftsmen selling stone souvenir, crafting on stones on the side path. Buttermilk is mediocre, big bottle costs 30 Rs, small one costs 25 Rs. First you reach Virupaksha Cave then there is a path from there to Skandashramam. There are alternate paths also.
Walking around the Arunachala Hill is called “Giri Pradakshina” or “Girivalayam”. People used to do Girivalayam through mountain inner path, but as of 2012 the passage is blocked by the forest department due to increasing forest fire. People who are interested can get permission from forest department and take the inner path for Giri Pradakshinam. Currently people walk through the outer path which is 14km tar road. Some people even use auto rickshaw to circle the mountain. One evening we walked around through the outerpath for a bit. There are lot of temples nearby. Sugarcane juice and jack fruit pieces sellers, tea and bhajji stalls are around. Soon after realizing walking is pointless, we retreated back to the ashram.
Excerpt from sriramanamaharshi.org –
Pradakshina means the act of walking around any holy place in a clockwise direction, with one’s right side facing the object of adoration. ‘Giri’ means hill; so giri pradakshina refers to walking around the Arunachala Hill. Devaraja Mudaliar states in My recollections of Bhagavan:
Such, however, was my indolence and also perhaps to some extent my supercilious sense of superior wisdom which counts mental worship enough without such physical austerities as walking about eight miles barefoot, that even after coming to live in the Asrham as a permanent inmate, I did not go round the hill as most others did. Nevertheless, from all I had seen and heard, I felt there must be something really significant in this Pradakshina. So I often plied Bhagavan with questions as to whether it is important to take this trouble. …The following is the gist of what I was told as the result of my conversation with Bhagavan on this subject.
”For everybody it is good to make circuit of the hill. It does not even matter whether one has faith in this Pradakshina or not, just as fire will burn all who touch it whether they believe it will or not, so the hill will do good to all those who go round it.” Once he said to me : “Why are you so concerned with all these questions about the efficacy of going round the hill? Whatever else you may or may not get, you will at least have the benefit of the physical exercise.”
Bhagavan thought this at least would be clear to my dull intellect. On another occasion he said to me : “Go round the hill once. You will see that it will attract you. I had also seen that whoever came and told Bhagavan he was starting on Pradakshina, however old or infirm he might be, Bhagavan never even in a single case discouraged the idea, but at the most remarked : “You can go slowly”.
I am now as confirmed a believer in Giri Pradakashina as any other devotee of Bhagavan, though I regulate the frequency of my circumambulations with due regard to my age, health and strength and the strain to which they can reasonably be put.
Ashram experience was wonderful. There were a lot of foreigners from Germany at time of my visit. By standing on the ashram premises we can see foreigners, who were spiritual tourists and non dualists, wearing saffron robes, rudraksh and vibhuti going in cycles and bikes. Ashram is scenic and peaceful. For best experience, I would recommend a time when it is less crowded. At times of celebrations and festivals, I heard that ashram is pretty crowded. One guy told me 10 Lakh people came there at one occasion. I found it hard to believe, yet there is a mountain range nearby which could accommodate that many people. He might have refered to a festival called “Arunachala Deepam” in Thiruvannamalai Temple. When we went their,there might be less than 500 people in the ashram. At times even less than 50. The ashram authorities and volunteers are doing a nice job. I recommend sri ramanashram for spiritual people, who like to be in a serene environment, meditate and understand more about Advaita (Non dualism) and learn more about Shri Ramana Maharishi. You can request accommodations by emailing email@example.com and also apply online.
Maximum of 3 days are allotted as per the reservations.
For more details goto -> http://www.sriramanamaharshi.org [ Official Website ]
Wonderful blog about ramanashram with lots of pictures – http://richardarunachala.wordpress.com/