By Makarand Paranjape September 1999 A far cry from the new breed of gurus, Yogi Ramsuratkumar, based at the abode of the great sage Ramana Maharshi, is a rare saint who forces you to look into your innermost being. A good half-hour away from my destination, the milestones begin to announce the town that bears the name of the hill of fire—Tiruvannamalai, the Tamil synonym for Arunachala. About 4 km by road from Chennai in southern India, it has become a happy hunting ground for those in search of the self. Seekers across the globe come here and each visit unfolds a different vision. Indeed, it is believed that, at any time, there are at least three living self-realized souls at Tiruvannamalai, one of them apparently beingRamsuratkumar, the new yogi of Arunachala. ‘The holy hill, Arunachala, calls out to all those rich in gyan tapas,’ says Guru Namasivaya, a Tamil saint. Never in India has a hill become the principal deity. The town, famous for the ashram of Ramana Maharshi, one of the greatest saints of modern times, is now also home to another big ashram—that ofYogi Ramsuratkumar. Agraharam Collai, Tiruvannamalai. 7.00 a.m. Sighting a white Ambassador, the line of pilgrims straightens out. Folded palms and bowed heads. The chant starts: ‘Yogi Ramsuratkumar, Yogi Ramsuratkumar, Jaya Guru Raya.’ The holy hill looks on serenely. From within the car, a man with a green turban, white beard and piercing eyes looks upon the assembled devotees and raises his hand. ‘My Father blesses you,’ he seems to be saying. Who is Yogi Ramsuratkumar? If anyone were to ask this question in front of him, it might provoke a peal of infectious laughter. Those who have known him for years recall several such sessions of mirth during which the most depressing and obdurate problems dissolved into harmless fun. Bhagawan, as he is fondly called by his devotees, says little: ‘This beggar has nothing to say. Whatever was needed has already been said by Sri Ramakrishna , Ramana Maharshi , Sri Aurobindo , Papa Ramdas and others.’ When prodded for a message, he declares: ‘Only my father exists, nothing else, nobody else-past, present, future-here, there, everywhere!’ Paradoxically, this assertion of utter non-dualism requires a rather dualistic, even mechanical, method of realization—japa, the continuous repetition of the Lord’s name. Ramsuratkumar remembers his initiation under Papa Ramdas, a famous yogi of Kerala: ‘At that moment, some force entered this beggar’s body, mind, soul or whatever you may call it. It began to control all the movements. Then this beggar died. Now only this force directs everything.’ Ramdas gave the mantra ‘Om Sri Ram Jaya Ram Jaya Jaya Ram’ to Ramsuratkumar. ‘Recite it for 24 hours,’ ordered his guru. Initially, Ramsuratkumar was unsuccessful. Then a sudden burst of energy brought about total transformation. The recitation became effortless. In Ramdas’ works, Ramsuratkumar has been called the ‘mad Bihari‘. In those days, Ramsurat-kumar would roll on the ground in complete ecstasy. He wanted to stay with his guru forever, but Ramdas sent him away in 1952. ‘Where will you go?’ asked Ramdas. ‘Tiruvannamalai,’ came the spontaneous answer. Ramsuratkumar arrived at the sacred precincts of Tiruvannamalai in 1959. He had wandered all over India for seven years. By this time, Arunachala was hallowed by the presence of an unbroken line of yogis, the latest being Ramana Maharshi who, teaching primarily through silence, showed a new path to self-realization through the simple method of inquiry: ‘Who am I?’ For over three decades, Ramsuratkumar traversed the streets of Tiruvannamalai, and his spiritual greatness unfolded gradually. Then some devotees asked him to shift to a house near the big Arunachaleshwar temple. Recently, in the early 1990s, he reluctantly consented to his devotees’ request for an ashram. That dream is now a reality. The Yogi Ramsuratkumar ashram is the latest attraction of this ancient pilgrim town. It houses a huge auditorium, which can accommodate over 5,000 people. There is a beautiful, circular meditation hall facing Arunachala. Ramsuratkumar has even predicted that, in the coming years, this ashram will be flooded with devotees, ‘like the Vatican’. Though recent, the ashram is well-administered by Justice T.S. Arunachalam, former Chief Justice of the Madras High Court. It holds a promise to endure the service of sadhaks (seekers) for many years to come. Only a few lucky ones are called for a private audience with Ramsuratkumar, which can be an exhilarating and memorable encounter. It starts as an ordinary conversation but ends up taking you to an absolutely different level of consciousness. If you are meeting him for the first time, Ramsuratkumar usually asks general questions. And he ends the encounter with: ‘My Father blesses you.’ The person’s name is clearly pronounced as if it is being registered in the Father’s secret register. Unlike many other spiritual guides or gurus, understanding Ramsuratkumar is difficult. His actions are inscrutable. But in his presence you experience a subtle inner transformation. You actually have to experience this alchemy to believe it. It is a higher form of love in which the soul’s detritus is washed away and the being is left cleansed. Once hooked to the sweetness of the visri swami, so named because of the visri (fan) he carries, you will long to visit the place again and again. As my taxi moved towards Bangalore, I kept looking back at Arunachala. Maybe it would keep calling me back until my dust mingled with its red soil. Maybe I would be trodden over by numerous pilgrims on their path to the ultimate reality. The reality, which is our final resting ground.
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