SWAMI RAMDAS was born in 1884 at Hosdrug, Kerala, India, and named Vittal Rao by his parents, Sri Balakrishna Rao and Smt. Lalita Bai, a devout Saraswat couple. He lived the ordinary life of a householder in and around his community until age thirty-six. During that time he experienced a variety of trials and tribulations from the worldly point of view, but in his case they caused him to enquire deeply into the true meaning of life. An intense spritual transformation occured in him basically out of nowhere and suddenly he was filled with an overwhelming wave of dispassion. In the process he came to realize the futility of worldly pursuits, and the need for real, everlasting peace and happiness. Inspired by the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda and Swami Ram Tirtha, he became convinced that God alone can give one eternal peace and happiness. The path of pure devotion and self-surrender shone forth for him with an irresistible appeal. All attachments to family, friends and business dropped away just as a fully ripened fruit falls from the tree. He was inwardly ready to give himself up wholly and unreservedly to God.
At that critical time, his father, noticing his son's waning interest in secular pursuits and his waxing love for and devotion to God, initiated him into the Ram mantram and assured him that by repeating it unstintingly he would, in due time, find the true peace and happiness he was thirsting for. As the mantram took hold of him, he found his life filled with Ram. It was then that he renounced the samsaric life and went forth in quest of God as a mendicant sadhu. This first year of his new life is described by him in his autobiography, In Quest of God.
It was thus that on one morning in December 1922 he left home by train. He did not know where he was going, nor was he anxious about it. He only knew that he was obeying the divine command of his beloved Ram, and was therefore sure that He would guide him unerringly. The mantram "OM SRI RAM JAI RAM JAI JAI RAM" was ever on his lips and in his heart. Besides chanting the divine Name, his practice was to look upon everything in the world as forms of Ram--God--and to accept everything that happened as happening by the will of Ram alone.
Eventually he was directed to Srirangam. Here he bathed in the holy Cauvery and, after offering up his old white clothes to the sacred river, donned the ochre robes of a sannyasin and underwent spiritual rebirth. It was at this time, prompted by Ram Himself, Vittal Rao assumed the new name of Ramdas (servant of Ram) and took the inviolable vows of sannyasa, renunciation. Ramdas never referred to himself in the first person again.
With the name of God constantly on his lips, he continued his travels in the company of itinerant sadhus. The journey took him to Tiruvannamalai, where he met with Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi and prayed for his grace.
Sri Ramana had just moved out of the caves he had spent twenty-two years in on the holy mountain Arunachala and taken up residency at his newly constructed ashram at the base of the mountain along with his longtime attendant Palaniswami. In those days the ashram was not much more than a thatched shed or hut and, as Ramdas entered the ashram, seeing the saint for the first time, fell prostrate at his feet. Ramdas was told that the young swami knew English, so he addressed him thus: "Maharaj, here stands before thee a humble slave. Have pity on him. His only prayer to thee is to give him thy blessing."
About this experience Ramdas has said, "The Maharshi, turning his beautiful eyes towards Ramdas, and looking intently for a few minutes into his eyes as though he was pouring into Ramdas his blessings through those orbs, nodded his head to say he had blessed. A thrill of inexpressible joy coursed through the frame of Ramdas, his whole body quivering like a leaf in the breeze."
In that ecstatic state he left Maharshi's presence and went to spend nearly a month in a cave on the slopes of Arunachala in constant chanting of Ramnam. This was the first occasion that he went into solitude and during this period of solitude he never bathed, shaved, or cut his hair. When he ate, he only ate very little. After twenty-one days, when he came out of the cave he saw a strange, all-pervasive light: everything was Ram and only Ram.
"And it came one morning apocalyptically - when, lo, the entire landscape changed: All was Rama, nothing but Rama - wherever Ramdas looked! Everything was ensouled by Rama - vivid, marvellous, rapturous - the trees, the shrubs, the ants, the cows, the cats, the dogs - even inanimate things pulsated with the marvellous presence of the one Rama. And Ramdas danced in joy, like a boy who, when given a lovely present, can't help breaking out into a dance. And so it was with Ramdas: he danced with joy and rushed at a tree in front, which he embraced because it was not a tree but Rama Himself! A man was passing by, Ramdas ran towards him and embraced him, calling out: 'Rama, O Rama!' The man got scared and bolted. But Ramdas gave him chase and dragged him back to his cave. The man noted that Ramdas had not a tooth in his head and so felt a little reassured: at least the loony would not be able to bite him!"
FROM: The Mountain Path
THE MEENAKSHI TEMPLE IN MADURA
(please click image)
In the late 1920s a young traveler from America inadvertently bumped into Swami Ramdas one night in the Meenakshi Temple in Madura after the two of them met previously in the caves of Elephanta three years earlier. The young American would eventually gain fame in a sort of oxymoron sort of way, i.e., anonymously, in The Razor's Edge, written by the astute British playwright and author William Somerset Maugham --- who, by the way, also met the Maharshi albeit at a later date. Given the name Larry Darrell in the book by Maugham, that same American, in real life, totally and fully following Ramdas' advice, went to see Sri Ramana. Through the grace and light of the Maharshi the anonymous American Awakened to the Absolute.
Below the anonymous American personally relates his Awakening experience as found in the source so cited. Notice the parallels to the previous quote regarding Ramdas' experience:
"After a year of studying, meditating, and working at stoop labor in and around the fields near the ashrama, he took to taking long solitary pilgrimages into the mountains. One morning high in the mountains he was waiting in his usual spot to watch the sunrise. That morning when the very first glint of light pierced the very top edge of the distant mountains the rays fell across his eyes and shot straight through his pupils directly into his brain. His mind exploded. He actually thought he had physically blown to bits in a brilliant flash of light, that the whole back of his head had been blown off and opened to eternity. The initial sensations abated in a series of bodily contractions and convulsions, leaving him shaking and trembling. Rubbing his arms he could see he was still alive and whole. Never was he so exhilerated, like walking on air, his insides bursting with pleasure. He wanted to yell to the whole world how wonderful he felt, and although there wasn't a fellow human being around for miles to hear his exuberance, he ran down the mountain path toward the forester's hut where he stayed yelling and screaming like a crazy man."
FROM: THE RAZOR'S EDGE: True or False?
Following his experience in the caves of Arunachala, Ramdas continued his travels for nearly eight years, travels which took him to many parts of India many times, including the caves of Elephanta, the southern temple city of Madura, the sacred shrines of the Himalayas, the city of Bombay, as well as Mangalore, where he spent three months in the Panch-Pandava Caves at Kadri. It was here that he had his first experience of nirvikalpa samadhi. About this experience it has been written:
"For some days his meditation consisted of only the mental repetition of the Ram-mantram. Then, the mantram having stopped automatically, he beheld a small circular light before his mental vision which yielded him thrills of delight. This experience having continued for some days, he felt a dazzling light like lightning flashing before his eyes, which ultimately permeated and absorbed him. Now an inexpressible bliss filled every pore of his physical frame. When this state was coming on, he would at the outset become oblivious of his hands and feet and gradually his entire body. Lost in this trance-state he would sit for two or three hours. Still, a subtle awareness of external objects was maintained in this state.
"For two years from the time of the significant change which had come over him, Ramdas had been prepared to enter into the very depths of his being for the realization of the immutable, calm and eternal spirit of God. Here he had to transcend name, form, thought and will--every feeling of the heart and faculty of the mind. The world had then appeared to him as a dim shadow--a dreamy nothing. The vision then was mainly internal. It was only for the glory of the Atman in His pristine purity, peace and joy as an all-pervading, immanent, immortal and glowing spirit.
"In the earlier stages this vision was occasionally lost, pulling him down to the old life of diversity with its turmoil of like and dislike, joy and grief. But he would be drawn in again into the silence and calmness of the spirit. A stage was soon reached when this dwelling in the spirit became a permanent and unvarying experience with no more failing off from it, and then the still more exalted state came on: his hither inner vision projected outwards. First a glimpse of this new vision dazzled him off and on. This was the working of divine love. He would feel as though his very soul had expanded like the blossoming of a flower and by a flash, as it were, enveloped the whole universe, embracing all in a subtle halo of love and light. This experience granted him a bliss infinitely greater than he had in the previous state. Now it was that Ramdas began to cry out, 'Ram is all. It is He as everybody and everything!' This condition was for some months coming on and vanishing. When it wore away, he would instinctively go into solitude. When it was present, he freely mixed in the world, preaching the glory of divine love and bliss. With this externalized vision Ramdas' mission began. Its fullness and magnificence was revealed to him during his stay in the Kadri cave, and here the experience became more sustained and continuous. The vision of God shone in his eyes and he would see none but Him in all objects. Now wave after wave of joy arose in him. He realized that he had attained to a consciousness full of splendour, power and bliss."
He continued his travels around the breadth and width of India the next few years, finally settling down in a small ashram built by one of his devotees at Kasaragod, Kerala. Eventually God's will caused him to leave Kasaragod and settle down in Kanhangad, where the present Anandashram was founded in the year 1931. This Ashram became a field to put into practice the universal love he gained as a result of his universal vision.
Having realized his oneness with the Absolute, Ramdas maintained a subtle individuality to enjoy his relationship with the Divine as a child towards its mother or a servant towards its master. He had great reverence for all saints and sages. Whenever he referred to them, he would say that he was only a child of all saints. He had great respect and reverence for Bhagavan Sri Ramana. Of him he has said:
"Sri Ramana Maharshi was in all respects a remarkable saint. After realizing the Eternal, he lived in the Eternal. His advent was a veritable blessing on this earth. By his contact thousands were saved from the clutches of doubt and sorrow. He lived what he preached and preached what he lived. He exerted a wonderful influence and created in the hearts of ignorant men and women a consciousness of their inherent Divinity. He awakened the sleeping soul to the awareness of its immortal and all-blissful nature. By his very presence he rid the hearts of people of their base and unbridled passions. The faithful derived the greatest benefit by communion with him."
As Ramdas had attained realization by taking to uninterrupted chanting of the divine name Ram, coupled with contemplation of the attributes of God, he always extolled the virtue of nama-japa in sadhana. Based upon his personal experience, Ramdas assured all seekers that nama-japa would lead them to the supreme heights of realization of one's oneness with the Almighty. On the power of the Divine Name he has this to say:
"The Divine Name is pregnant with a great power to transform the world. It can create light where there is darkness, love where there is hate, order where there is chaos, and happiness where there is misery. The Name can change the entire atmosphere of the world from one of bitterness, illwill and fear to that of mutual love, goodwill and trust. For the Name is God Himself. To bring nearer the day of human liberation from the sway of hatred and misery, the way is the recognition of the supremacy of God over all things and keeping the mind in tune with the Universal by the chanting of the Divine Name."
On and off throughout the years there has been concern expressed by some regarding the discrepancies between how Swami Ramdas is typically seen in photographs dressed in full length white dhoti and how Maugham describes the holy man Darrell met in the temple, intimating by inference that the person so suggested as being Swami Ramdas may in fact might not have been.
It should be noted that in the beginning of his book Maugham makes it clear that, "I have invented nothing. To save embarrassment to people still living I have given to the persons who play a part in this story names of my own contriving, and I have in other ways taken pains to make sure that no one should recognize them." Why Maugham did not chose to take pains in regards to Ramdas is not known. It is quite clear by Maugham's description of the holy man in the temple and how Ramdas presented himself later that he changed his apprearance quite dramatically over the years. If you remember from the above, when he went into the caves near the Ramana ashram that he went into solitude, and during that period of solitude he never bathed, shaved, or cut his hair. How long he remained like that is not known. It is not known either if the transformation remained by the time of publication of The Razor's Edge or not, and even if it were so, that Maugham would be privy to the information. 
"Two years later I was down south at a place called Madura. One night in the temple someone touched me on the arm. I turned around and saw a bearded man with long black hair, dressed in nothing but a loincloth, with the staff and the begging bowl of the holy man.
"He asked me what I'd been doing and I told him; he asked me where I was going and I said to Travancore; he told me to go and seeSri Ganesha (Sri Ramana Maharshi). "He will give you what you are looking for.'"
Ramdas attained mahasamadhi in 1963.
MAP AND HISTORY OF THE RAMANA ASHRAM
OM SRI RAM JAI RAM JAI JAI RAM
Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.
ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT IN A NUTSHELL
ON THE RAZOR'S
SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI: THE LAST AMERICAN DARSHAN
RECOUNTING A YOUNG BOY'S NEARLY INSTANT TRANSFORMATION INTO THE ABSOLUTE DURING HIS ONLY DARSHAN WITH THE MAHARSHI
THE MEETING: An Untold Story of Sri Ramana
THE RAZOR'S EDGE: TRUE OR FALSE?
WHEN INFINITIES COLLIDE
It should be noted the contents of the above Ramdas page has been recaptured from archived pages of the original that showed up on the internet as early as October 2002 under a now defunct Angelfire page, then updated and re-edited by the original author for our purposes here. Portions of this article researched from the December 1993 issue of The Mountain Path, the Ramdas autobiography In Quest of God and remembrances from a personal meeting with the Swami in 1954.(see).
For access to a complete PDF online version of the Ramdas autobiography In Quest of God as currently available please go to the following link:
LARRY DARRELL, THE HOLY MAN, AND SWAMI RAMDAS
The young American so mentioned as having met Ramdas was the same person who was to become the Wanderling's Mentor. His to-be mentor, following the war, after seeing his best friend die for no apparent reason, threw himself into a series of menial jobs during the day and studying books all night long while traveling all over Europe searching for an answer to it all. Following the suggestion of the Benedictine monk Father Ensheim he met during his quest, he traveled to India seeking the answers to life. The summer of the year 1925 found him getting off a boat in Bombay on his way to the Hemis monastery in Tibet in search of the Hemis Manuscripts, a set of ancient texts said by the good Father as indicating Jesus traveled in India and Tibet between the ages of 12 through 30. On his way to Hemis, just before leaving Bombay he went to see the caves at Elephanta and while there met Swami Ramdas.
As mentioned, Ramdas was on a spiritual pilgrimage throughout India, traveling the width and breadth of the country, top to bottom, side to side, a pilgrimage that started in 1922 and not ending until 1931 and just happened to be at Elephanta at the same time as the Wanderling's mentor.
In the process of those travels, one of the many holy places Ramdas sought out and stayed was a small cave in Himalayas overlooking the upper reaches of the Ganges River called Arundhati's Cave, also called 'the Jesus Cave' because through legend it is said Jesus of Nazareth stayed there for a time in meditation during his so called 'missing years of the bible.' In the book, In The Vision of God, by Ramdas, the following is found:
"It was on the fifth day, maybe after midnight; the nights were pitch dark. Ramdas usually sat up the whole night in the cave. The cave was suddenly lit up by a strange light. Ramdas saw seated before him, on the floor about three or four feet from him, the figure of a man. His face was dazzling with a heavenly splendor. The features were fine, regular and beautiful. There was a short, black, glossy beard and moustache on the face. The lips were crimson red, revealing milk-white, lustrous teeth. Soft shining black curls flowed down his shoulders. He wore a long, dark, chocolate colored robe or gown with wide, loose sleeves. What fascinated Ramdas were his eyes. They were scintillating like twin stars. The rays they were emitting were filled with tenderness, love and compassion. Ramdas gazed on them, charmed and delighted. It struck him: 'This is Jesus Christ.' There was another beside him, but Ramdasí eyes were not for him, although he was aware of his presence. He might be a disciple. Now Christís lips moved. He was speaking. Ramdas listened, but could not make out what he said. The tongue sounded strange and unknown to him. For perhaps a minute he spoke; then the vision vanished, while the glow of light remained in the cave for some minutes more. Ramdas was completely immersed in ecstasy and only came to external consciousness after broad daylight."
My mentor, out of pure conincidence, during his travels, stayed at the 'Jesus cave' as well, although he reported no such experiences as Ramdas. If it was before or after Ramdas' visit is not known, however, to my knowledge they did not meet or bump into each other there in the classical sense.
JESUS IN INDIA: PROS AND CONS
BHARATI KRISNA TIRTHA
In the text above, regarding how Ramdas may or may not have presented himself in how he dressed Maugham writes:
"Two years later I was down south at a place called Madura. One night in the temple someone touched me on the arm. I turned around and saw a bearded man with long black hair, dressed in nothing but a loincloth, with the staff and the begging bowl of the holy man."
It should be noted that Vijayananda (Adolphe Jacques Weintrob), a French doctor who at age 37, met Swami Ramdas in the Autumn of 1952. In In the Steps of the Yogis (First Edition 1978), Part III: Sages and Yogis of Contemporary India, Chapter III, Ramdas, Vijayananda writes, from a personal conversations with Ramdas himself, says the following:
"Ramdas was once a Sannyassi (a monk) and used to wear the orange robe. "I had a beard and long hair like you," he told me one day. But now he dresses simply in a white dhoti, "like everybody else," for he has transcended the monastic state and has become an ativarnashrami (one who has risen above social castes and stages of existence)."
As well, on the cover of his book In Quest of God Ramdas is depicted in a saffron robe --- which more or less should substantiate such attire.
A reader by the name Ken Jaegers contacted the author of the above Ramdas works and reported there is as well a photo of Ramdas found in an Anandashram publication titled "With My Master," that was probably taken sometime in the early 1930's, just when the Larry Darrell character was in India and Ramdas was on his pilgrimage, clearly showing Ramdas with a full beard and long hair --- albeit gray and not black.
The dimensions of the outside wall of the Meenakshi Temple complex is 847 by 792 feet. The temple has 12 large gopurams, or gates. The main entrance is on the eastern side of the temple. There are four huge gopurams with beautifully painted colored statues on the outer wall. The southern tower, built in the 16th century, is the largest one and is 170 feet high with a 108 by 67 foot base. It has over 1,500 sculptures on it. There are two huge yalis, which are like a combined lion and elephant, on both sides of the tower.
The inner sanctums are restricted to Hindus only, but everyone can go anywhere else on the temple grounds. About the temple Maugham has Larry Darrell say, "I stayed in Madura for some time. I think it's the only temple in India in which the white man can walk about freely so long as he doesn't enter the holy of holies. At nightfall it is packed with people. Men, women, and children." It is interesting to visit the temple both during the day and at night, as the dark corridors, with lamps burning here and there, are very impressive.
Temple Map Copyright © 1990, Christopher Tadgell
The History of Architecture in India
Phaidon Press, Limited, Singapore
THE BEST OF THE MAUGHAM BIOGRAPHIES:
SPIRITUAL GUIDES, GURUS, AND TEACHERS INFLUENTIAL IN DARRELL'S LIFE OTHER THAN THE MAHARSHI: