Sri Ramana Maharshi was born near Madurai. His famous Self-Realization occurred in a house in Madurai. Recently we traveled from Tiruvannamalai, where Sri Ramanasramam is located, to Madurai to visit these sites. Our experience of them is that they are holy places, and very conducive to deep meditation and Self-inquiry.
This posting gives some details on the trip, and shows photos of the main Ramana sites in and near Madurai.
Travel from Tiruvannamalai
One of the best ways to get to Madurai is by train. My wife Carol and I had never yet been on Indian trains, so this seemed like a good opportunity to take our first Indian train ride.
We talked to the people at Ramanasramam, and they we happy to get the train reservations for us, and to contact Sri Somasundaram of Sri Ramana Mandiram, Madurai, to arrange for lodging in Madurai, and other trip details. This made the trip pretty easy.
Unfortunately, for now (until new tracks are finished being built), there is not a good train connection from Tiruvannamalai to Madurai. Instead we have to get to Viluppuram, and take the train from there. We hired a car and driver (locally called a ‘taxi’) to get us to Viluppuram. If we were more adventurous, we could have taken a bus. It is about 80 km. The roads are in poor repair, so this took about one and a half hours.
The map below shows the main points of the trip: Tiruvannamalai to Viluppuram by taxi, then to Madurai by train.
The train station in Viluppuram is not a big one. We parked on the other side of the track, and Rajan, our rickshaw driver and Indian aide, is pulling a bag. Carol, in a pink saree, walks beside him. Carol now has really changed her approach to dress for India, and does not feel dressed in most public circumstances unless wearing a saree.
The train depot has many small vendors. What is not shown here is all the vendors who walk by with chai, coffee, water, and various things to eat. Many of these vendors will get on the train and travel with it, selling their wares to the passengers.
While we wait, we are surprised at just how many trains we see. It seems like there is one every ten or fifteen minutes. The train comes in, and we need to find our car and get aboard. We are traveling “Second Class – Air conditioned.”
The train is pretty full, but the seats a good and spacious, with plenty of leg room.
The train leaves Viluppuram about 3 PM and arrives in Madurai about 8 PM. Madurai’s train station is a big one, and a bit confusing at first. We find our way out, and at the foot of the stairs are rickshaw drivers. We tell one where we want to go and agree on a price (Rs 50). He loads the bags and we are off to Hotel Aarathy. This hotel has been used by the Ramana people in Madurai for a number of years. It is clean, well attended, with western toilets and air conditioning. It also has a good restaurant. The a/c room was Rs 825 per night. We liked this hotel enough that we may use it again when we return to Madurai.
The hotel looked down on a big Vishnu temple, and you could see the main temple in Madurai, Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple, from the hotel balcony.
Sri Ramana Mandiram, Madurai
The next morning we wanted to go the the Sri Ramana Self-realization house. We did not know directions, but knew from Ramana stories that it must be close to the Meenakshi Temple. We got a rickshaw, who drove us towards the big temple, but he did not seem to know where the Ramana site was. He asked several people on the street, and finally got directions that worked.
This house is where Ramana moved after the death of his father. This was his uncle’s house.
The building is clearly marked. It is near the south gate of the Temple. Knowing this makes it easy to get here the next time we need to.
There are several places for meditation in this house. There is a big room downstairs where it looks like most people stop and sit and meditate. Upstairs, though, is the actual room of Ramana’s famous 20-minute ‘death experience.’
Carol found it first, and by the time I came in she had started to meditate. When I sit and meditate here, it seems to get very deep pretty quickly.
When we left, we would go to Meenakshi Temple, here shown just up the street. This temple visit will be shown in another blog entry.
Other Ramana Sites in Madurai
The next morning, Sri Somasundaram, the attendant of Sri Ramana Mandiram, met with us to show us some other Ramana sites in Madurai. He had arranged our hotel, and also the taxi that we were to use this day to go to Sri Ramana’s birthplace.
Kudal Azhagar Koil
From our hotel, we took a short walk to Kudal Azhagar Koil, the Vishnu temple that we looked out upon from our hotel balcony.
Here is Sri Somasundaram and Carol at the temple entrance.
We were not allowed to take any photos inside. Below is a photo of the back of the main tower taken from our hotel room.
There is mention of this temple in literature dating back over 2000 years.
This temple is one of the places where Venkataraman (Sri Ramana as a child) would come and play.
Vishnu is found in three postures in three levels in the temple:
1) In the lower portion of the temple, the lord appears as “Viyooga soundararajan” in sitting posture called veetriruntha thirukolam under Aadhiseshan
2) In the middle portion the lord appears as Sooriya Narayanan in nindra tirukolam or standing posture.
3) In the top portion the lord is in sleeping posture and known as Andhara Vaanathu Empiraan, It is said that He is not sleeping, but rather in samadhi.
This is one of the few Vishnu temple built in three levels.
Below is a photo of the other side, taken from the Madurai Tourism site. Looking closely you can see stairways up the side. We climbed these, first to see the standing posture, then higher to see the sitting posture. In both these rooms the walls are painted with sacred images, using colors that were available before the onset of modern dyes. The wall paintings are said to be about 300 years old. Since they never see sunlight, they are still quite brightly colored.
One other thing I noticed was a big balance scale. I was told that this represented how the gods would weigh, upon each persons death, their life’s merits and sins (punya and papa).
The American Mission School
Not far from the Vishnu temple was the school attended by Sri Ramana from 1892 to 1896.
It now carries another name, ownership being transferred in 1925.
Looking into the grounds, it looks much as it did in Sri Ramana’s day, except the trees are much bigger.
We really enjoyed Madurai, and the Ramana sites there are truly special. We will go back again. And now we will be more willing to take Indian trains.