Five Hymns to Arunachala
The Five Hymns to Arunachala are the earliest poems of the Maharshi except for a few short verses. They were written about 1914, that is when he was about thirty-five years old (he was born in December 1879). He was still living in Virupaksha Cave on the hill. Some of his followers who were sadhus used to go into the town of Tiruvannamalai daily to beg for food. One day they asked the Maharshi to compose a song for them to sing as they went. At first he refused, saying that there were already plenty of songs by the ancient Saivite saints. They continued to press him, however, and he began to compose a song with a refrain at the end of each and every stanza.
One day he started to go round the hill, with Palaniswami walking behind him. After he had gone some way Aiyaswami seems to have called Palaniswami Backand given him a pencil and paper, saying, “For some days now Swami has been composing stanzas everyday. He may do so today as well, so you had better take this paper and pencil with you. ” That day Sri Bhagavan practically completed the Marital Garland of Letters, the first of the five hymns. It tells in glowing symbolism of the love and union between the human soul and God, and is among the most profound and moving poems in any language. Although he who wrote it was established in the bliss of indissoluble Union, it was written for the sake of devotees and expresses the attitude of devotion and aspiration.
The second, third and fourth poems (hymns) were written at about the same time, and they also adopt the same attitude. Whereas the later poems of the Maharshi are more doctrinal, these hymns are more emotional, expressing more the attitude of devotion and aspiration.
The Eleven Verses and the Eight Stanzas are among the very few poems of the Maharshi that were written quite spontaneously without any request, as he himself said when speaking of them:
The only poems that came to me spontaneously and compelled me, as it were, to write them without any one urging me to do so are the Eleven Verses to Sri Arunachala and the Eight Stanzas to Sri Arunachala. The opening words of the Eleven Stanzas came to me one morning and even though I tried to suppress them saying, “What have I to do with these words?” they would not be suppressed till I composed a song bringing them in; and all the words flowed easily, without any effort. The remaining stanzas except two were also composed in the same way.
Shortly afterwards Narayana Reddi came. He was at that time living in Vellore as an agent of Singer & Co., and he used to come from time to time. Aiyasami and Palani told him about the poems and he said, ‘Give them to me at once and I will go and get them printed. ‘ He had already published some books. When he insisted on taking the poems I told him he could do so and could publish the first eleven as one form of poem and the rest, which were in a different metre, as another. To make up the required quota
I at once composed two more stanzas and he took all the nineteen stanzas with him to get them published1
1 Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self-knowledge, by Arthur Osborne.
The fifth hymn, Arunachala Pancharatna, is of a different nature to the first four. The great Sanskrit poet and devotee Ganapati Sastri, who was a follower of Bhagavan, begged him to write a poem in Sanskrit. Bhagavan replied, laughing, that he scarcely knew any Sanskrit and no Sanskrit metres. Sastri, however, explained a metre to him and repeated his request. Bhagavan then composed a poem of five stanzas, two on one day and three on the following day. They were all in perfect, flawless Sanskrit. It is a cryptic account of the different paths to Realization and therefore a commentary has been included with the translation. This hymn is chanted daily at the time of Veda Parayana.
It is to be understood that in all these hymns the word ‘Arunachala’ means God and nothing less. It also, however, means the physical hill of Arunachala in South India where God is peculiarly manifested for the Maharshi and his disciples. From ancient times various spiritual centres in India have represented various paths and modes of doctrine, and Arunachala among them the doctrine of advaita and the path of Self-enquiry. Although the ultimate doctrine and the supreme and most direct path, this, throughout the ages, has not been the most popular, because for most people it seemed too austere and difficult. The Maharshi attained Realization through a spontaneous act of Self-enquiry, with no human guru. There is no place to do more than touch upon the mystery of this here. It is sufficient to note that the Maharshi agreed with all other masters that a guru is necessary, adding however that the guru need not necessarily take human form. When he left home as a youth who was already a Sage, Arunachala drew him like a powerful magnet. He went straight there and stayed there for the rest of his life. It was Arunachala that he regarded as his guru, and these hymns are written to Arunachala, to the Guru, to God manifested, to the Absolute.
Through the potent grace of Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi, the path of Self-enquiry was brought within the competence of men and women of this age, was indeed fashioned into a new path that can be followed anonymously in the conditions of the modern world, with no forms or ritual, nothing to distinguish a person outwardly from the world wherein he moves. This creation of a new path to suit the needs of the age has made Arunachala the spiritual centre of the world. More than ever, now that he has shed his physical body and is one with Arunachala, the grace and guidance that emanates from him to those who turn to him and seek his aid is centred at Arunachala. It is the holy place and many are drawn there, both those who were disciples of the Maharshi in his lifetime and those who have come later.
It remains to be said that the literary Tamil in which the hymns were written can be used in an extremely cryptic manner and the first hymn especially abounds in passages which can be understood in more than one manner. In such cases the alternative readings are given.
Before coming to the Five Hymns we print first a verse that Sri Bhagavan wrote on Sri Ganesa, as being an auspicious opening to the poems. After this comes a verse that Sri Muruganar wrote on the significance of Arunachala and another one by Bhagavan on the significance of the beacon that is lit on its summit every year at the festival of Deepam. Only after this follow the Five Hymns.
To Sri Ganesa
One day in l912, a potter came to the Virupaksha Cave with a small image of Sri Ganesa that he had made and presented it to Sri Bhagavan. Easwara Swami suggested that both he and Sri Bhagavan should write a verse each to celebrate the occasion. This is what Sri Bhagavan wrote:
He who begot you as a child you made
Into a beggar; as a child yourself
You then lived everywhere just to support
Your own huge belly; I too am a child.
Oh Child God in that niche! Encountering one
Born after you, is your heart made of stone?
I pray you look at me!
Significance of Arunachala
The sudden rise of the blazing column of Annamalai1 in front of Brahma and Vishnu and their utter distress at not being able to know the same is symbolic of the sphurana of the Heart centre as the real Self of the intellect and the ego.
Significance of the Beacon
Getting rid of the ‘I am the body’ idea and merging the mind into the Heart to realize the Self as non-dual being and the light of all is the real significance of darshan of the beacon of light on Annamalai, the centre of the universe.
1. Annamalai is another name for Arunachala.
Sri Arunachala Mahatmya1
(The Glory of Sri Arunachala)
‘That is the holy place! Of all Arunachala is the most sacred! It is the heart of the world! Know it to be the secret and sacred Heart-centre of Siva! In that place he always abides as the glorious Aruna Hill!
‘That day on which the ancient and wonderful linga of Arunachala took shape is the asterism of Ardra in the month of Mrigasira. And the day on which Vishnu and the other devas worshipped the Lord who emerged from the effulgence is the day of Maha Sivaratri.’
‘Though in fact fiery, my lacklustre appearance as a hill on this spot is an act of grace and loving solicitude for the maintenance of the world. Here I always abide as the Great One (Siddha). Remember that in the interior of my Heart is transcendental glory with all the enjoyments of the world also.
‘Because they bind the beings of the worlds, know that relentless karmas become the bondage forjivas. The effulgent Arunachala is this (mountain), the mere sight of which causes them to become nonexistent.
‘What cannot be acquired without endless pains – the true import of Vedanta – is easily attained by all who can either directly sight this hill or even mentally think of it from afar.
1 Extracts from The Skanda Purana translated into Tamil by Sri Bhagavan.
2 Nandi is the foremost devotee of Siva, always remaining in front of him.
‘I ordain that residence within a radius of three yojanas3of this hill shall by itself suffice to burn off all defects and effect union with the Supreme even in the absence of initiation.’
‘This is always the abode of pious devotees. Those who do evil to others here will, after suffering ills, be destroyed. Wicked persons will be completely bereft of their powers to do evil here in the twinkling of an eye. Do not fall into the burning fire of the anger of Lord Arunachala who has assumed the form of a hill of fire.’
3 A yojana is ten miles.