Ramana Maharshi was born Venkataraman Iyer on 30 December 1879 in the village Tiruchuzhi near Aruppukkottai, Madurai in Tamil Nadu, South India. His birth fell on Arudra Darshanam day, the day of the Sight of Siva Venkataraman was the second of four children in an orthodox Hindu Brahmin family. His father was Sundaram Iyer (1848–1890), from the lineage of Parashara, and his mother was Azhagammal (1864-1922). He had two brothers Nagaswami (1877–1900) and Nagasundaram (1886–1953), along with a younger sister Alamelu (1887-1953). Venkataraman's father was a court pleader.
Both a paternal uncle of his father and his father's brother had become sannyasins.According to Osborne, a wandering ascetic who came begging for food at the house of one his forebears and was refused, had once stated that "thenceforth one out of every generation of his descendants would wander and beg his food," a foreshadowing of the fate of Venkataraman.
Venkataraman's family belonged to the Smarta denomination, and regular worship of Siva, Vishnu, Ganesa, Surya and Sakti took place in their home. His mother was devotional, reciting the Dakshinamurthy Stotram, an Advaitic hymn to Shiva written by Adi Shankara, and was initiated into the sakti-panchakshari japa, the chanting of the five syllables na-maH-shi-vA-ya, meaning "not mine" (namaH) - "belongs to shiva" (shivAya). The mantra aims at negating the ego-tendencies, and instead attending to Shiva.
Venkataraman first attended Scott's Middle School and then the American Mission High School where he became acquainted with Christianity. According to Sab Jan, a muslim school friend of Venkataraman, already as a student Venkataraman was very religious:
Every Saturday and Sunday he would go to Tiruparankunram and go round the Subramania Swamy Temple with fervent religious ecstasy. He used to take me several times with him and make me go around the temple saying, ‘God’s creation is alike and there is no difference in creation. God is the same, the apparent differences in Gods are created by man’. In the company of Venkataraman I never felt any difference between a mosque and the Subramania Swamy temple.
In November 1895 Venkataraman realized that Arunachala, the sacred mountain, was a real place. He had known of its existence from an early age on, and was overwhelmed by the realisation that it really existed. During this time he also read Sekkizhar's Periyapuranam, a book that describes the lives of the 63 Nayanars, Tamil Saivite bhakti saints,[note 8] which "made a great impression" on him,and revealed to him that "Divine Union" is possible. According to Osborne, a new current of awareness started to awaken during his visits to the Meenakshi Temple at Madura, "a state of blissful consciousness transcending both the physical and mental plane and yet compatible with full use of the physical and mental faculties."
Death experience (1896) :
According to Osborne, this new current of awareness culminated in awakening. According to Narasimha Swami, in July 1896, at age 16, a sudden fear of death befell him. He was struck by "a flash of excitement" or "heat," like some avesam, a "current" or "force" that seemed to possess him, and he initiated a process of self-enquiry asking himself what it is that dies. He concluded that the body dies, but that this "current" or "force" remains alive, and recognised this "current" or "force" as his Self, which he later identified with "the personal God, or Iswara."
Various accounts of this event can be found. The best-known was published by Narasimha Swami in Self Realisation, the biography of Ramana Maharshi published in 1931.Another, somewhat different account of this event is given in the Sri Ramana Leela, the Telugu biography of Ramana that was written by Krishna Bhikshu and published in 1936.According to David Godman, yet another account is given by Ramana in Vichara Sangraham (Self-Enquiry) At 22 november 1945 he also told about his death-experience to a Bengali Swami. Two accounts of this narrative exist, which slightly differ. Devaraja Mudaliar mentions the arising of a "power" or "force:"
Later in the morning, at Rishikesananda’s request, Bhagavan recounted his first experience of the Self in his upstairs room at Madura. ‘When I lay down with limbs outstretched and mentally enacted the death scene and realised that the body would be taken and cremated and yet I would live, some force, call it atmic power or anything else, rose within me and took possession of me. With that, I was reborn and I became a new man. I became indifferent to everything afterwards, having neither likes nor dislikes.’
Another visitor also narrated this event, though she could only hear the following part, and uses the term "aham sphurana":
In the vision of death, though all the senses were benumbed, the aham sphurana (Self-awareness) was clearly evident, and so I realised that it was that awareness that we call "I", and not the body. This Self-awareness never decays. It is unrelated to anything. It is Self-luminous. Even if this body is burnt, it will not be affected. Hence, I realised on that very day so clearly that that was "I".
In one of his rare written comments on this process Ramana Maharshi himself wrote:
Enquiring within Who is the seer? I saw the seer disappear leaving That alone which stands forever. No thought arose to say I saw. How then could the thought arise to say I did not see.
Later in life, he called his death experience akrama mukti, "sudden liberation", as opposed to the krama mukti, "gradual liberation" as in the Vedanta path of jnana yoga. It resulted in a state of mind which he later described as "the state of mind of Iswara or the jnani:"
After reading the language of the sacred books, I see it may be termed suddha manas [pure mind], akhandakara vritti [unbroken experience], prajna [true knowledge] etc.; that is, the state of mind of Iswara or the jnani."
After this event, he lost interest in school studies, friends, and relations. He was absent-minded at school, "imagining and expecting God would suddenly drop down from Heaven before me." Avoiding company, he preferred to sit alone, absorbed in concentration on this current or force, and went daily to the Meenakshi Temple, ecstatically devoted to the images of the 63 Nayanars and of Nataraja, wanting "the same grace as was shown to those saints," praying that he "should have the same bhakti that they had" and "[weeping] that God should give me the same grace He gave to those saints". Venkataraman’s elder brother, Nagaswami, was aware of a great change in him and on several occasions rebuked him for his detachment from all that was going on around him. About six weeks after Venkataraman’s absorption into the current or force, on 29 August 1896, he was attempting to complete a homework assignment which had been given to him by his English teacher for indifference in his studies. Suddenly Venkataraman tossed aside the book and turned inward in meditation. His elder brother rebuked him again, asking, "What use is all this to one who is like this?", referring to his behaviour as a sadhu.