Gurumurtam Temple, where Ramana stayed before Virupaksha Cave

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Gurumurtam Temple is the samadhi of Daivasikamani Desikar, 1291 – 1348, who lived in Tiruvannamalai and demonstrated his yogic powers by bringing back to life the dead horse of a certain Chola King. He started an important math (monastery, referred to as adheehams in South India), the Tiruvannamalai Adheenam. It had several branches throughout India.

The samadhi of Daivasikamani was built in Kilnathur, a suburb of Tiruvannamalai. The temple that came to be known as Gurumurtam was built over the samadhi.

Old photo of Gurumurtam

In Ramana’s days this temple seemed far away (about one mile) from the big temple at Arunachaleswara. It was peaceful and surrounded by open space and a mango orchard.

About six months after his arrival in Tiruvannamalai, Ramana was living under the iluppai tree in Arunachaleswara. During this time he was known as “Brahmana Swami.” He had moved there, when, during the Deepam festival, the Vahana Mantapam (Vehicle Hall) became too busy. Winter had set in by then. It was 1897, January-February. He had nothing to cover himself with. It was quite chilly. The only place where he could stay was the base of a tree with the sky above and the dusty ground below, wet with dew. It is said that rishis of yore did their tapas in the middle of water. This tapasof Ramana was no less severe!

Uddandi Nayanar visited Arunachala in December 1896, and during Arunachala girivalam noticed the young swami in deep tapas, lost to the world. Nayanar had studied numerous Tamil philosophic texts but could experience neither peace nor the Self. Nayanar was deeply impressed and thought: “This is tapas. This is abidance. If such a one does not experience the Self who else will? By serving him I may also experience the Self.” He firmly believed in this. Nayanar decided to stay under another nearby tree in that chill weather and devote himself to the service of the young tapasvi: Nayanar was thus the first attendant of the Swami (Ramana).

Annamalai Tambiran spent his time singing thevarams (the Saivite hymns composed by Appar, Sundaramurti and Jnana Sambandar), performing pooja at the Samadhi, going out and collecting alms of which he distributed some to the poor. He led a very principled and austere life.

Tambiran happened to see the Swami in tapas under the iluppai tree. He was astonished and made it a point to have his darshanas frequently as possible. He thought that it would be good to take the Swami to Gurumurtam — it would benefit him personally and be better for the Swami too. So he broached the matter with Nayanar. Both of them pleaded with the Swami saying, “Gurumurtam will be convenient for Swami, there will be no nuisance from the crowds. Yet it is close to Arunachala. Swami must consent to come there.” Swami consented. In February 1897, he moved to Gurumurtam and then became known as the “Swami of Gurumurtam.”

The tapascontinued uninterrupted at Gurumurtam. The austerity became more severe, indifference towards physical comfort increased. The Swami never bathed or cleaned himself, his hair became matted, his nails grew long and curved, his hands fell into disuse.

Gurumurtam was full of ants but the Swami cared nothing about it. He was in their midst unmindful of them. He was immersed in the Self. To protect the Swami from ants someone provided a stool with the legs immersed in water. But since the Swami leaned against a wall, the ants continued to infest the body. The wall which touched the Swami’s back got darkened — this patch could be seen for a very long time even after the Swami left Gurumurtam.

Many people began coming to Gurumurtam hoping that their desires for health, wealth, progeny would be fulfilled by him. They came with offerings. Starting with mere darshan, soon people began composing various hymns in his praise! Those attending to the Swami erected temporary barricades to prevent people from coming too near him. But the people would not agree to leave without the Swami partaking of the food brought by them as offerings. Everyone wanted the punya(spiritual merit) of offering something to the Swami — this led to quarrels among them also. To solve this, it was decided that only one devotee could offer food on any given day — there were only seven days in a week but those who wanted to serve ran into hundreds. This did not work out well. What Ramana took was very little, and even that only once a day. Finally all the offerings would be mixed up and since milk formed the major part of the offerings the mixture became fluid. The Swami would open his eyes only once around midday, when a tumblerful of this liquid would be offered to him. That was all that the Swami took before resuming his meditation.

No one knew who exactly the Swami was — they merely referred to him as “Brahmana Swami” or “Gurumurtam Swami”. After seeing that the Swami wrote on the wall for Tambiran they concluded that the Swami was a Tamilian, well-versed in Tamil. A little after this, the original name of the Swami got revealed in the following manner.

Venkatarama Iyer was an official in the local taluka office. He was free till about eleven o’clock in the morning and made it a point to visit Gurumurtam every day and spend a couple of hours there. He was determined to find out the Swami’s original name and asked Tambiran, who confessed his ignorance. Finally he told the Swami, “I won’t leave this place without knowing Swami’s real name whatever be the consequences — even if I lose my job or starve.” Saying this, he gave a piece of paper and a pencil to the Swami. As he was a good person, the Swami wrote in English “Venkataraman, Tiruchuzhi”. Venkatarama Iyer could not make out “zhi” in the spelling. The Swami had a copy of Periapuranamwhich had hymns by Sundaramurthi on Sri Bhoominateswara. As the Swami had studied it at Madurai, he picked up that portion of the book and showed it to Venkatarama Iyer and thereby cleared his doubt. At that moment Tambiran was present and thus he got to know the Swami’s original name.

After about two months, Tambiran asked Nayanar to look after the Swami as he had to leave the town for about a week. But he did not return for nearly a year. Meanwhile, a few weeks after Tambiran left, Nayanar was summoned by the management of his math. Hence he also had to leave Arunachala. The Swami was left without any attendant.

It was then that Palaniswami (sometimes referred to as Palani Swami) was called to Ramana, and began his long service to Ramana. Palaniswami worshiped the idol of Ganesh at the Vinayaka temple. Watching his devotion and service-mindedness, Srinivasa Iyer, a village official of Eraiyur, said to him, “Why do you waste your life serving this deity of stone? At Gurumurtam there is a living god. Watching his tapas we are reminded of great devotees like Dhruva of whom we read in the puranas. You serve him and lead a blissful life. Presently there is none to look after him.” Encouraged by these adulatory references to the Swami, Palaniswami went to Gurumurtam. By then, the Swami had been at that place for about five months. Palaniswami thought, “This Swami is my refuge. Devotion to him will surely help me immensely,” and began serving the Swami. To start with, he worshipped the stone Vinayaka also, but as his devotion towards the Swami increased, he thought, “It is because of my pooja of Vinayaka, that I have obtained this guru. Why continue with that pooja anymore?” From that day, he never left the Swami who was his all — father, mother, guruand God.

Ramana stayed at Gurumurtam for a year and a half. People always used to go there and disturb Ramana’s tapas. Close to Gurumurtam was a mango grove whose owner, Venkataramana Naicker, invited the Swami to stay in his mango grove so that he could be in peace. He also assured the Swami that nobody would be allowed to visit him without his permission.

At this request, Ramana, and Palaniswami also, moved in April-May of 1898. Two platforms were erected for them amidst the mango trees and there both of them lived. It was here that Ramana started reading books like Ribhu Gita, Yoga Vashishta, and Viveka Chudimani. In these books he read of his own direct experience. Palaniswami borrowed the books from Nagalingaswami Library in Tiruvannamalai. Palaniswami had trouble understanding these books, and Ramana would read them and explain them to him. Ramana has the experience of Reality and so was readily able to explain them in easy language.

This is what Bhagavan said of his stay in Gurumurtam:

“Days and nights would pass without my being aware of their passing. … When anyone thought that I should have food, I would stretch a hand and something would drop in my hand. My hands were not useful for any other purpose. I would eat and rub my hand on my head or body and drop again into my continuous mood. This was my condition for some years from the time of my arrival.”

“While at Gurumurtam, I had a fairly large number of persons calling to see me and in a sense, a reputation had been established.”

For 21 years, from Gurumurtam to Virupaksha Cave to Skandashram Cave, Palaniswami was Ramana’s attendant and protector. Ramana would be without consciousness of the body and lost in inner bliss most of the time and during those times protection was very valuable. Besides physical protection Palaniswami would beg for alms, cook and prepare meals for himself and Ramana, and care for him as needed.

Note: Much of the material above has come from Ramana Leela, from which in many places it is quoted directly. Ramana Leela spoke of Ramana’s tapas, austerities. Other writers question that choice of words, since tapas are usually part of a seeker’s practice, and Ramana had no more practice since Self-realization in Madurai in 1896. How I understand this period is that Ramana was fully absorbed in the Self, and just did not care about the body nor its care or activities.

Visiting Gurumurtam

We recently visited Gurumurtam Temple, and the photos below show what  it looks like today.

Entering through the gate.

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The temple tank is to one side. It is no longer being well cared for. Unlike the time of the old photo at the start of this post, now buildings surround the temple and tank.

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The front of the temple.

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Inside the inner sanctum is this lingam.

HPIM3809

These two plaques adorn the front wall of the temple. Translations fololw each plaque.

HPIM3810 closeup

Grace of the guru
A historical note on Thirukailaya parampara (lineage) deivasigamani desikar swami.

The acts of grace, he performed in Tiruvannamalai are inscribed in the Arunachaleswarar temple in the wall of the third round (prahara), on the south, opposite to the sthala vriksha (sacred tree).

He started this mutt (in Tiruvannamalai) in the early part of the 14th century. The present temple was constructed when he attained Jeeva samadhi. Till this day, he is in Siva yoga and continues to radiate his grace.

This lineage is currently functioning in Kundrakudi going by the name of Tiruvannamalai Aadheenam as the 45th generation (order).

Gracious Kumaraswami munivar(saint) has written a verse in praise of him as follows:

Well versed in the twenty eight Agamas and the four vedas, removing without fail the darkness, attachment
and ignorance of devotees, and conferring the true jnana, is the great Arunachala deva called as Sigamani sadhguru.

This inscription was raised during the kumbhabhisheka on 2-09-1990.

HPIM3811 closeup

Deivasigamani desikar was born in the latter half of the 13th century in the Adi Saiva tradition.

He was blessed with a divine darshan (vision) even at a young age.

He was instructed in the true jnana by his guru, the great saiva saint Arulnandi Sivachariar.

He requested his guru that God should manifest as a suyambu (self formed) linga for him to
carry out his devotional practices. The guru directed him to worship at the temple at Sri Kalahasti.

At Sri Kalahasti, the Lord manifested as a suyambu linga outside the main temple, just for him.

He then took that linga and worshipped it in Tiruvannamali as his Atmic linga.

The worship of this deity, continued for several successive generations and when the mutt was formed in Piranmalai,
it radiated grace as their main deity between the 17th and 30th order.

From the time of re-location of the mutt from Piraanmalai to Kundrakudi, the linga is radiating grace at the Kundrakudi mutt.

Desikar has performed many miracles. One of his miracles is the reviving of the dead horse of the king Veeravallala who reigned from 1291 to 1348 AD.

The temple is a small one. I don’t think it is often visited by Westerners. We had trouble finding it the first time we tried. The next time we brought a guide, Saran, to show us just where it is.

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The tower above the lingam has images that are both Saivite and of Vishnu related.  Usually it is just one or the other.

HPIM3812

The grounds of the temple are used as a plant nursery.

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These plants will  be potted and grown to larger size, then sold.

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The north side of the temple.

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Map showing where the temple is in relation to Ramanasramam and Arunachaleswara Temple. Gurumurtam is to the right.

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Close up map detail. We could not see the temple from the road, so it is hard to find, even with this map.

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Gurumurtam is a place involved with much early history of Sri Ramana Maharshi. It is not frequently visited, but seems very worthwhile to do so. Since it is a  bit hard to find, use a Mountain and Temple guide or reliable rickshaw driver to take you. You can find names of some that we recommend at this link.

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10 Responses to “Gurumurtam Temple, where Ramana stayed before Virupaksha Cave”

  1. Ramana Maharshi Timeline and Places – by Richard Clarke | Luthar.com Says:

    […] 1898 Gurumurtam Temple […]

  2. inchiki Says:

    thank you for this post. i have often wondered about the location or Sri Ramanas early tapas (if it is that). I will certainly visit Gurumurtam Temple next time I am in Tirruvanamalai

    • Richard Clarke Says:

      I found it worth visiting. Gurumurtan is really where the public ‘discovered’ Ramana and started flocking to him. They were so much of a problem, I think, that Ramana spent the next few years trying to get further way from the ‘public’, higher into the mountain. Even before he got to Virupaksha there were several caves lower on the hill that he stayed at. These are worth visiting, too.

  3. Ramana Maharshi Timeline | Ramana Maharshi Tours Says:

    […] Gurumurtam Temple […]

  4. sriraml Says:

    The second inscription:

    Deivasigamani desikar was born in the latter half of the 13th century in the Adi Saiva tradition.

    He was blessed with a divine darshan (vision) even at a young age.

    He was instructed in the true jnana by his guru, the great saiva saint Arulnandi Sivachariar.

    He requested his guru that God should manifest as a suyambu (self formed) linga for him to
    carry out his devotional practices. The guru directed him to worship at the temple at Sri Kalahasti.

    At Sri Kalahasti, the Lord manifested as a suyambu linga outside the main temple, just for him.

    He then took that linga and worshipped it in Tiruvannamali as his Atmic linga.

    The worship of this deity, continued for several successive generations and when the mutt was formed in Piranmalai,
    it radiated grace as their main deity between the 17th and 30th order.

    From the time of re-location of the mutt from Piraanmalai to Kundrakudi, the linga is radiating grace at the Kundrakudi mutt.

    Desikar has performed many miracles. One of his miracles is the reviving of the dead horse of the king Veeravallala who reigned from 1291 to 1348 AD.

  5. sriraml Says:

    I really love your blog. Please keep up the good work..

    As for the translation, here is an attempt at translating the tamil inscriptions.

    First Inscription:

    Grace of the guru
    A historical note on Thirukailaya parampara (lineage) deivasigamani desikar swami.

    The acts of grace, he performed in Tiruvannamalai are inscribed in the Arunachaleswarar temple in the wall of the third round(prahara), on the south, opposite to the sthala vriksha (sacred tree).

    He started this mutt (in Tiruvannamalai) in the early part of the 14th century. The present temple was constructed when he attained Jeeva samadhi. Till this day, he is in Siva yoga and continues to radiate his grace.

    This lineage is currently functioning in Kundrakudi going by the name of Tiruvannamalai Aadheenam as the 45th generation (order).

    Gracious Kumaraswami munivar(saint) has written a verse in praise of him as follows:

    Well versed in the twenty eight Agamas and the four vedas, removing without fail the darkness, attachment
    and ignorance of devotees, and conferring the true jnana, is the great Arunachala deva called as Sigamani sadhguru.

    This inscription was raised during the kumbhabhisheka on 2-09-1990.

    (For more information on Agamas please see: http://www.dlshq.org/religions/agamas.htm)

    • richardclarke Says:

      Thank you so much for the translations! I am glad you find the blog interesting.

  6. arunachalaheart Says:

    Hi Richard,

    great post.

    Though I like the posts on Ramana’s sites I really love your posts of Arunachala exploration much more.

    They are something that ordinarily are not seen by most of us.

    I am dying for a post on Arunachala.

    the caves, the hidden paths, the views.

    please do post one in the future.

  7. prasanthjvrs Says:

    Richard and Carol,

    Unbelievable work you have done.

    Thanks a ton for this work and we are very glad we have came to know about Gurumurtam Temple.

    Regards
    Prashant Jalasutram
    http://prashantaboutindia.blogspot.com/

    • richardclarke Says:

      Thank you for the kind words. This is part of our seva to Arunachala, and is a joy for my wife and I to do. As you see, recently I have been concentrating on Ramana sites. In a few more weeks, I think we will have posts and photos on all of them. And maps.

      Om Arunachala,
      Richard

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