Ramana Maharshi (December 30, 1879 - April 14, 1950), also known as Maharshi Sri Ramana, Bhagavan Raman or the sage of Arunachala, was probably one of the most famous Indian sage of the twentieth century. He primarily advocated Self-Enquiry (Who am I) to attain self-realization. Ramana Maharshi differ markedly from other Indian saints in that he was not formally initiated into sanyasa; not that he had a vow of silence but he hardly had any inclination to talk; he answered questions of many people but never considered himself to be anyone's Guru (spiritual teacher), and he never tried to make anyone his disciple. Sri Ramana was renowned for his saintly life, his convincingly supreme thought-practice of self-inquiry, and an amazingly simple and down-to-earth personality.
Sri Ramana was the second of four children of Sundaram Iyer and Azhahammal, and was named Venkataraman at birth. He was born in a village called Tiruchuzhi near Madurai in Tamil Nadu, South India. Venkataraman's father died when he was twelve, so he moved to his uncle's house in Madurai. There, he had a strange experience. In the middle of 1896, at age 16, he had a feeling that he was about to die. Then he felt 'I am not this perishable body. I and it [the body] are different. I am the indestructible'.
Venkataraman stayed at his uncle's house in Madurai for two months after this experience. He heard somebody mention 'Arunachalam' (name of a hill associated with Lord Shiva). Although he didn't know what the word meant, he was attracted to it. Nagging by his elder brother about his changed behavior led him to leave the house secretly and travel to Tiruvannamalai at the foothills of Arunachal. He lived there for the rest of his life. Sri Ramana did not make anyone Guru but he often said that Arunachal was his guru.
Several people visited him and many became his disciples. Ganapati Shastri, a Vedic scholar of repute, visited Ramana in 1907 at Virupakshi Cave, and was enlightened by Ramana's utterances 'If one watches whence the notion 'I' arises, the mind gets absorbed there.' To Ganapati Shastri, this was a revelation, and he felt special affection for Ramana and proclaimed him as Bhagvana. Sri Ramana became known henceforth by this name for the rest of his life.
People from all walks of life, who flocked Tiruvannamalai during the lifetime of Maharshi, experienced deep peace and felt uplifted in his presence. Maharshi's fame crossed the boundaries of his small ashram and reached western shores. Well-known western followers of Maharshi includes Arthur Osborne, Robert Adams, Paul Brunton, David Godman etc. In Sri Ramana, they found a saint of matchless purity without the least touch of worldliness.
Sri Ramana taught a method of self-inquiry in which the seeker focuses continuous attention on the I-thought in order to find its source. In the beginning this requires effort, but eventually something deeper than the ego takes over and the mind dissolves in the heart center. Sri Ramana's teachings about Self-Enquiry can be classified as the Path of Knowledge (Jnana marga).
Sri Ramana seldom wrote; and what little he did write in prose or verse was written to meet the specific demands of his devotees. His primary teachings are documented in the book Nan Yar (Who am I), originally written in Tamil. Sri Ramana led a modest life and depended on visitors and devotees for the barest necessities. His disciples established an Ashram (Ramanashram) in Thiruvanamallai to propagate his message; the Ashram now has several branches throughout India and abroad.
Shri Yogeshwarji, great Gujarati saint and literate of modern times, had a very special affection and reveration for Raman Maharshi. During Yogeshwarji's years of penance in the holy Himalayas, Sri Ramana blessed him many times with his darshan, wherein once Ramana Maharshi revealed about time of leaving his physical body. Later, filled with utmost admiration, Yogeshwarji decided to write a book highlighting Sri Ramana's life, works and message in Gujarati. During the writing of that book too, Yogeshwarji had many experiences of Sri Ramana's grace.
For the information of readers, besides 'Raman Maharshi : Jivan ane karya' (biography) Yogeshwarji's other books 'રમણ મહર્ષિની સુખદ સંનિધિમાં' (Gujarati translation of Mauni sadhu's 'In days of great peace') and 'Bharat na adhyatmik rahasya ni khoj ma' (Gujarati translation of Paul Brunton's 'In search of secret India') highlight Sri Ramana's life and works.