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Ramana Maharshi - The Inspiration for 'Nirvriti Panchakam'

A compilation of the background and incidents around Sree Narayana Guru's visit to Thiruvannamalai in 1916 to meet Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi. A discussion of the poem Nirvriti Panchakam by Sree Narayana Guru, written as a testimony of their meeting.

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Ramana Maharshi - The Inspiration for 'Nirvriti Panchakam'

  1. 1. Compiled by Sujit Sivanand For NPHIL Canada July 2013 Ramana Maharshi The Inspiration for ‘Nirvriti Panchakam’
  2. 2. Background Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) was a younger contemporary of Sree Narayana Guru (1856-1928). An unplanned meeting of these two self-realized sages and Advaitins of South India occurred at Thiruvannamalai in 1916. This document congregates the recordings of Narayana Guru’s visit to Ramana Maharshi’s ashram at Thiruvannamalai and the resulting composition of the philosophical Sanskrit poem ‘Nirvriti Panchakam’ by Narayana Guru. The poem, also discussed here, was largely inspired by the life of Ramana Maharshi at that time - an emancipated existence in a state of inward bliss. As an instantaneous recognition of a common Self, neither Ramana Maharshi nor Narayana Guru had anything to ask or say to each other; as the poem itself explains the reasoning.
  3. 3. Ramana’s Early Life Born on 30th December 1879, Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi’s childhood name was Venkataraman (Ramana). He was one of four children of his parents that lived in Tiruchuli village, south of Madurai, India. Ramana’s father Sundaram Iyer was an uncertified pleader who practiced at the local court, living a comfortable life. Ramana’s mother Alagammal was from Pasalai village near Manamadurai. Ramana had a normal childhood until 1892 when his father suddenly died, changing his life. Ramana and a brother moved to live with an uncle Subba Iyer in Madurai, while his mother and younger siblings moved to live in Manamadurai. The death of his father had a profound disturbing effect on Ramana’s emotions and thoughts about life, the self and existence. At the age of 17, Ramana went though near death experiences beginning an enlightened phase. An inner voice prompted him to leave home for the sacred hill Thiruvannamalai. Living there in austerity and with no identity, Ramana’s peculiarity was noticed by Palaniswami, an older ascetic. Very soon Ramana Maharshi was to become the renowned Jnanin of Thiruvannamalai.
  4. 4. Palaniswami’s Invitation The year 1916 was Narayana Guru’s Shastiapthapoorthi, marking the sixtieth year of Narayana Guru’s remarkable life. It was a year filled with formal receptions and celebrations across Travancore, Kochi, Malabar and in the larger cities of Madras, Calcutta, Bombay, Coimbatore, Bangalore and Mangalapuram, as well as outside of India in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Singapore and Burma. In September, Narayana Guru and his entourage of monastic disciples had visited Madras, after which they were in the city of Kancheepuram in connection with establishing the Sree Narayana Sevashram there. On hearing about Narayana Guru’s presence at Kancheepuram, Palaniswami the closest disciple and caretaker of Ramana Maharshi left from Thiruvannamalai to meet Narayana Guru.
  5. 5. Palaniswami’s Invitation Palaniswami was a Malayalee, originally from Vadvanur, Palakkad in Malabar (now Kerala). About twenty years older than Ramana Maharshi, Palaniswami was closer in age to Narayana Guru. In the initial years of young Ramana’s austere life in Thiruvannamalai, Palaniswami was the one who compassionately cared for the reclusive Ramana, who was often a subject of tormenting by village urchins. Recognizing the self-realized and hermetic life of Ramana, Palaniswami took over the responsibilities of attending and caring for the young Ramana. Their bondage was one of a kind, with Palaniswami as physical guardian and Ramana as ward; and Ramana as the spiritual guru and Palaniswami as the foremost disciple.
  6. 6. Palaniswami’s Invitation Palaniswami was known to Narayana Guru as he had previously visited the Guru on occasions at Sivagiri Mutt, Narayana Guru’s primary spiritual abode in Travancore (now Kerala). At Kancheepuram, after the ceremonies at the Sevashram, Narayana Guru was resting when Palaniswami arrived. Palaniswami invited Narayana Guru to visit Ramana Maharshi in Thiruvannamalai. Narayana Guru’s disciples also carried the desire to have a darshan of Ramana Maharshi; so Narayana Guru and others accepted the invitation and agreed to visit Thiruvannamalai on their return journey to Travancore.
  7. 7. Arrival at Thiruvannamalai Narayana Guru and disciples arrived by train at Thiruvannamalai railway station, from where their group of five travelled by ‘Judka’ (horse-carriage) to the Arunachala hill. The group included disciples Govindananda Swami of Kancheepuram Sevashram, Mambalam Vidyananda Swami and Achudananda Swamigal. In those days Ramana Maharshi lived at the Skandashramam, atop the hill, which was the intended meeting place. 1905 Railway Map. Thiruvannamalai was connected by railway to other towns since the opening of the Katpadi-Villupuram railway line in 1891.
  8. 8. ‘That Alone’ When Narayana Guru arrived at Skandashramam, the 37 year old Ramana Maharshi was in contemplation. The disciples of the Guru entered the verandah of the ashram and prostrated at Bhagavan. Narayana Guru had an initial darshan of the Bhagavan through the railings of the ashram window. Neither of them greeted or spoke. Narayana Guru moved to the shade of a tree and sat on the platform enjoying the serene ambience of Skandashramam. Note: Incidents are based on the recordings of author C. R. Mitra and others. E&OE.
  9. 9. ‘That Alone’ He also spent some time in meditation and later in dictation of notes to his disciples. At lunch time Bhagavan came out from the room and sat in the outdoor area. Speaking in Malayalam Bhagavan then asked Narayana Guru “would you please share in our lunch?”. Replying in Tamil the Guru said “surely” and then engaged in small talk about Guru’s food restrictions. Bhagavan suggested to take just rice, buttermilk, Appalam and Payasam. After meals Ramana Maharshi went out for his usual walk on the hill and returned. A group arrived from ‘Easani Ashram’ to invite Narayana Guru to visit their Ashram that afternoon. Thereafter Bhagavan and the Guru bade farewell.
  10. 10. ‘That Alone’ Some of the interesting observations about the meeting of the two Advaitins, are as follows: – There was no formal exchange of greetings or pleasantries. Perhaps as Advaitins it was the same Self and truly no cognition of two separate individuals there. – The twosome had nothing much to say to each other. It could be inferred that, as both were realized individuals, their individual backgrounds were not anymore of significance. Both inferably were living in the dimension of ‘That Alone’. – Narayana Guru could fully identify with Bhagavan’s state of tranquility. The poem Nirvriti Panchakam is testimony.
  11. 11. Nirvriti Panchakam (Five verses on Inward Release) Prologue: There are differing assertions by biographers of Narayana Guru that Nirvriti Panchakam was composed while the Guru was at Skandashramam, as well as assertions that it was composed after the Guru’s return to Sivagiri and mailed to Skandashramam. The timing or venue of the composition anyhow is not of real significance as much as the contents of the poem, so this paper does not dwell on clarifying that aspect, but moves on to the poem itself and its meanings and implication. The poem is composed in five stanzas. Besides the five stanzas, the poem also has a prelude of five lines - a separate introduction on the subject and author.
  12. 12. Nirvriti Panchakam (Five verses on Inward Release) Prologue (continued): The prelude of five lines is said to have been composed by Narayana Guru while at Thiruvannamalai, as a recording in the guest book at Skandashramam. It seems the recording is archived to this day at Ramanashram. The usage ‘Inward Release’ is the contextual transliteration of the word ‘NirvRiti’. This usage originates from Nataraja Guru (Dr. P. Natarjan) who was a Vedanta scholar and direct disciple of Narayana Guru. The Sanskrit word ‘NirvRiti’ usually translates as bliss, happiness, emancipation, extinction etc. Various authors have tried to present interpretations of the word ‘NirvRiti’ for over centuries now, as the word originates from the days of Gautama Buddha.
  13. 13. Nirvriti Panchakam (Five verses on Inward Release) Prologue (continued): Nataraja Guru’s usage of the term ‘Inward Release’ for ‘NirvRiti’ is adopted here based on the following reasoning: The Sanskrit word ‘vRti’ means - fencing in, surrounding, enclosing, etc. Using the pre-fix ‘nir’ qualifies a noun by implicitly neutralizing it, like adding the word 'without' or 'sans' to pre-fix the noun. Here the prefix ‘nir’ qualifies ‘vRti’, to imply and mean - freedom, openness, release etc. The term ‘inward release’ is contextually used here to encapsulate the freed self’s internal non-existence, as it is inwardly released of all attributes of life’s normal conditioning. The verses of the poem are set out in the slides that follow. The transliterations presented here combine the best of interpretations by various scholarly authors and therefore might not conform to any one author.
  14. 14. Nirvriti Panchakam (Five verses on Inward Release) Verse 1: “What’s your native-land? What caste? Trade? How old? From enquiries such, when one is free One gains Inward Release. Purport: For an ‘inwardly released’ and realized individual, who is existing in a state of bliss, any discussion or inquiry with a stranger on his personal matters are simply insignificant. Topics such as the name of the stranger’s native land, his caste, his profession, his age, etc. are all meaningless for discussion. One who lives in ‘Nirvriti’ is free from all such thoughts about others. The realized one understands that both are parts of the same ‘dynamic assemblage’, or all-pervading Consciousness in the Universe.
  15. 15. Nirvriti Panchakam (Five verses on Inward Release) Verse 2: Come! Go! Go not! Enter! Whereto art thou going? From discussions such, when one is free One gains Inward Release. Purport: This verse pertains to questioning of deeds or differentiation of other’s actions (i.e. ‘karma’ related feeling of differences, or ‘bheda’). Commanding instructions, such as ‘come!’, ‘go!’, ‘don’t go!’, ‘enter!’; or thoughts of questioning the actions of others, such as ‘where to are you going?’ etc. are not of any significance to a realized one. One who lives in ‘Nirvriti’ is free from all such thoughts, or even temptations to question the actions (‘karmas’) of others.
  16. 16. Nirvriti Panchakam (Five verses on Inward Release) Verse 3: Departest when? When arrived? Whence and even who? From enquiries such, when one is free One gains Inward Release. Purport: This verse pertains to questioning of deeds, or differentiation of an other one’s actions, origins, time and other personal matters (i.e. ‘karma’, ‘desa’, ‘kala’ and ‘vyakti’ related feelings of difference or ‘bheda’). Thoughts of questioning the actions, or timing of action, or intentions as ‘when?’ or even ‘who?’ are not of any significance to a realized one. One who lives in ‘Nirvriti’ is free from temptations to question in these respects. Time is not relevant to a realized one.
  17. 17. Nirvriti Panchakam (Five verses on Inward Release) Verse 4: I or thou, that one (he) or this one, inside or outside, absent or present; From cognitions such, when one is free One gains Inward Release. Purport: This verse extends further into cognition of personalized entities (I, you, he, she, etc. known as ‘vyakti bheda’) and cognition of their presence and absence in near space, such as inside or outside. One who lives in ‘Nirvriti’ is free from cognition of such personalized entities. Entities and their presence or absence, occupancy or vacancy in space is insignificant to a realized one. Space itself is not relevant.
  18. 18. Nirvriti Panchakam (Five verses on Inward Release) Verse 5 - The Last Verse: The known and the unknown equalized, Without differentiating one’s self from that of others: No distinctions remain. From all considerations such, one freed. Himself becomes He, the One Released”. Purport: For a realized one, what is known and unknown is the same. There is no more differentiation of oneself from another one. Once the Truth is realized, there is nothing to differentiate, as there is only one - Truth - the all pervading Supreme Consciousness. The one experiencing ‘Nirvriti’ becomes one with the very constituent Consciousness that maketh the Universe. There remains none other to experience.
  19. 19. Conclusion Nirvriti Panchakam directly records Narayana Guru’s observations of the visible signs in Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi, who was fully absorbed in Brahman and living in a state of Nirvriti. What Bhagavan had attained at a very young age was the ‘Naishkarmya-siddhi’, the ultimate achievement objective as advised by Sree Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. This was rightly recognized by Narayana Guru, who evidently had a high regard for Bhagavan, as the Guru used to often ask those visiting him from Tamil Nadu whether they had seen Ramana Maharshi. The five verses in the poem point to the types of biases that normal people carry in their first impressions of others, which are formed from superficial differentiators that we seek to question on first contact - such as their native land, education, profession, age, actions (karma), personalized existence, time and space that they occupy. These are all bias causing attributes and therefore irrelevant to a realized one. Nirvriti Panchakam will always remain as a literary testimony of one Rishi’s tribute to an other Rishi of India’s ‘Advaita Parampara’ (Advaita lineage).
  20. 20. An Epilogue In 1928, in the last stage of Narayana Guru’s life when Ramana Maharshi learnt that the Guru was seriously ill at Sivagiri, he sent Palaniswami and Kunchu Swami to look after the Guru. Narayana Guru attained Mahasamadhi on 20 August 1928. Many monks from the lineage of Narayana Guru used to regularly visit Maharshi. Govindananda Swami and Atmananda Swami used to send ayurvedic medicines for Ramana Maharshi from the Sevashram at Kancheepuram. Circa 1948 when Mangalananda Swami visited Ramana Maharshi to learn more about the Guru's visit to Thiruvannamalai in 1916, Maharshi remarked, "Guru was a great man. He had nothing to speak with me. He knew everything." Once a devotee of Ramana Maharshi, Swami Balananda, recited Narayana Guru's magnum opus poem on Advaita, the 'Atmopadesa Satakam' for Maharshi. Maharshi listened to it with great attention and was clapping his hand over his thigh as the verses progressed saying 'Appadi thaan, appadi thaan!' (exactly, exactly). When the verses relating to realization came, Maharshi exclaimed 'Ellam therinjavar.......ellam therinjavar (he knows everything). When he reached the mid portion of the poem, Ramana Maharshi stood up and exclaimed 'Periyorkal....periyorkal (great man, great man).
  21. 21. Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi 1879 - 1950
  22. 22. References and Bibliography • ‘Ramana Maharshi – His Life’ by Gabriele Ebert. • ‘Mountain Path’ journal - Volume 30. • ‘Works of Sree Narayana Guru with Complete Interpretations’ by Prof. G. Balakrishnan Nair. • ‘Life and Teachings of Narayana Guru’ by Nataraja Guru. • ‘Sree Narayana Guru and Social Revolution (A Complete Biography)’ by C. R. Mitra. • ‘The Universal Guru’ by Sachidananda Swami. • ‘Buddha and Early Buddhism’ by Arthur Lillie. • ‘The Philosophy of Narayana Guru’ by Swami Muni Narayana Prasad. • Discourses on ‘Nirvriti Panchakam’ by Prof. G. Balakrishnan Nair. • Epilogue extracted from Brother Krishna Chaitanya’s compilation using various issues of Sivagiri Mutt publications and the recordings of Mangalanda Swami and Sachidananda Swami's book - Gurudeva Charitra Kathakalile Kaanapurangal. • Photographs and map from the public domain (all past copyright periods).
  23. 23. The End. Compiled by Sujit Sivanand For NPHIL Canada July 2013 A Self-Education Network SUBSCRIBE TO NPHIL ON FACEBOOK