Connecting to Arunachala’s Ancient Spirituality

By David Cosgrove

I was raised and educated in a Catholic environment. Then, nearly fifty years ago when I was in my early twenties and searching in a library for books about world religions, I remember reading one that contained an excerpt from ‘Talks With Sri Ramana Maharshi’. In this, Ramana was discussing the difference between the real ‘I’ and the ‘I-thought’. I had always believed that there was no difference between what I was and what I thought I was. This was my introduction to Ramana and Self-Inquiry. A seed had been planted.


A view of Arunachala from the pradakshina road that circles the Mountain

Indian saints and sages, ancient and modern, remained my main interest over the following years. About ten years ago, I became aware of a book entitled ‘The Power and the Presence’ by David Godman. I was already familiar with the teachings of Sri Ramana, but somehow felt that I needed to read this. What I found was a goldmine of stories that brought Ramana to life.

Ramana, “the Sage of Arunachala”, arrived in Tiruvannamalai in September 1896, at the age of 16. 

Especially in his early years at Arunachala, Ramana wandered all over the Holy Hill, considering it to be the Lord Himself. 

In this book, I found Ramana with friends and devotees, living a perfectly natural and normal life, and accounts of him bestowing his Grace, even when unasked, on a seemingly routine basis. This made me want to see for myself all that I had been reading about. It wasn’t long before I began making arrangements for a trip to India.

Ramana lived on Arunachala at Virupaksha Cave for seventeen years, from1899 to 1916, prior to moving up the hill to Skandashram. 

He remained at Skandashram for seven years before finally settling at the foot of Arunachala, where Ramanasamram grew around him.

In December of 2014, I visited Sri Ramanasramam for the first time. Until then I hadn’t been outside of the US and really didn’t know what to expect. Looking back on that first visit I can say that almost everything seemed new, but not unfamiliar. It felt like home from the start.

A 400 year old iluppai tree in the front courtyard of Sri Ramanasramam greets visitors as they enter

Arunachala from Sri Ramanasramam, where Ramana lived from 1922 until his passing in 1950

In September of 2019, I was again in Tiruvannamalai and wanted to find some incense to take back to the United States. My friend Sakthivel recommended that I go to Premayala, the Shanthimalai Handicrafts shop near Sri Ramanasramam where I was staying. Here I found a very nice assortment of tote bags and other handicrafts for sale, along with Shanthimalai Nag Champa incense sticks.

Premalay Handicrafts Society Fair Trade Shop

Courtyard at Premalay Handicrafts Society

After returning from India, I discovered what an excellent product it was and wanted to know more about the incense and how to reorder. Searching online I found only the website for the Shanthimalai Trust. It appeared that I was on the right track, though, so I read about the Trust, its history, mission, and products. There was also a section about the inspiring life of Shanthimalai’s founder, Dr. Hugo Maier.

Discovering that Shanthimalai Trust is supported by Aruna Partnership in the United States, I visited their website and made a donation. Shortly after I received a very thoughtful ‘thank you’ email from Vice President Robin Walden, who put me in touch with Dr. Andreas Bachman, the School Sponsorship Program Coordinator of Shanthimalai Trust in Tiruvannamalai.


The Arunachaleshwara (Shiva) Temple in Tiruvannamalai was completed in the 9th century. It is one of the most sacred places in all of South India. 


View of Arunachala from within the Arunachaleshwara temple 

When I returned to India the following February, Dr. Bachman was kind enough to invite me to the Sri Ramana Maharshi Matriculation School for a visit. Unfortunately, school was not in session the day that I arrived, but he took the opportunity to explain the Sponsorship Program and to give me a tour of the school, both of which were impressive. Hopefully I will get the opportunity to meet some of the students on a future visit. After returning to the States, I made a monthly pledge to Aruna Partnership, to be used where it is needed most.

Just recently I read in a collection of reminiscences that, in the years before the creation of Shanthimalai Trust, Dr. Maier lived at Sri Ramanasramam and cared for the devotees there, as well as for many local residents. He was deeply devoted to Sri Ramana and the ideal of selfless service to others.

For me, Sri Ramanasramam is a valuable link to the ancient spiritual traditions of the region. By supporting Aruna Partnership and the work begun by Dr. Maier and his wife, Mrs. Anne Maier, I have yet another way to feel connected to this sacred place.


Arunachala, as seen from the Adi Annamalai temple courtyard. It was built hundreds of years before the Arunachaleshwara Temple. Ramana frequently stopped here while on pradakshina. 


Adi Annamalai temple courtyard

Recently renovated Om Shakti (Mother’s) Temple

Pali Tirtham, sacred water tank for purification

Beautiful temple passed while making pradakshina.

Arunachala from Sri Pachaiamman temple 

Gurumurtham where Ramana stayed in 1897

Pavla Kundru where, in 1898, Ramana’s mother found him

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