The Mythology behind Ramana’s Thirty Verses



The material for my next Sacred India Tarot Archive post  contains a reflection on Ramana Maharshi’s Thirty Verses.  I feel it should be given on its own, then followed by the Knight and Queen of Lotuses in the Tarot archive, as originally planned.

The Sanskrit title for the 30 Verses was “Upadesa Saram“.  This means “The Quintessence of Instruction.”  It draws near to the ineffable.  At the same time, it raises the bar in a practical way, for tackling any situation where we have wined and dined out and become a little noisy.    Meditation is Life:  our body and breath are Earth’s gravity.


Ramana with Arunachala's children, including Ganesan, Sundaram and Mani

Ramana with Arunachala’s children, including his nephews Sundaram, Mani and Ganesan


The Mythology Context of Ramana’s “Thirty Verses”
first published in the Ramana Foundation UK Journal “SELF ENQUIRY” April 2001

MY EARLIER SITA post, (9 and 10 of Lotuses) includes “The Birth of Skanda” – a colourful Puranic account of Siva and Parvati’s yogic courtship and marriage, leading to the birth of their son Skanda,  who, it was fortold,  alone had the power to destroy the demon of the reactive mind, Taraka asura.  


It will be recalled that Agni, the god of sacred Fire and sacrificial offerings, had been tricked into swallowing Siva’s semen, which burned intolerably within him.   He was advised by Siva to go to a certain pine forest on the banks of the river Magha, where dwelt seven ascetic Rishis and their wives:  the wives would receive the fiery seed,  relieving Agni to return to his natural flame state,  and enable the saviour to be born.

This story, like a crystal, is retold from numerous different facets.   In one of these, it is Siva Himself who visits the unsuspecting ladies, and who, chastising their husbands for their sterile ascetic practices,  gives them the teaching on the laws of Karma which, in our day, we find in Ramana’s Thirty Verses on the Quintessence of Instruction (Upadesa Saram).    The poet Muruganar, when writing this legend in Tamil verse, on coming to the instruction given by Siva to the Rishis, asked Ramana – as Siva incarnate –  to write it for him,   Here first is the setting, and then the Thirty Verses :

CERTAIN ASCETICS in the Pine Forest had obtained great powers by their prayers and sacrifices.  In order to conserve these, their hearts had to be permanently pure, as well as the hearts of their wives.   Siva heard about the beauty of the womenfolk, and resolved to seduce them.   Taking the form of a beautiful young beggar, he invited Vishnu to dress up as a voluptuous woman and accompany him on this prank.    Vishnu went first, to arouse the ascetics.  He excited all of them out of their minds.   They abandoned their sacrifices and ran after the siren as moths fly about the light they see in the night.

Meanwhile Siva made his appearance among the resinous pine trees, half naked, dishevelled, with begging bowl.   The women abandoned their housework and ran after him, half undressed, begging him to remain there with them.   Siva slipped away into the shadows, and they followed him.

The Rishis began to notice that their rituals became less effective, and their powers were no longer what they had been.   They conferred among themselves.  They suspected the handsome beggar who disordered their wives, was none other than Siva,  and that she who seduced themselves was Vishnu in disguise.    They were enraged.   They conjured up an elephant and a tiger by magic rites, and sent them against Siva.   Siva slew the creatures easily, and took the elephant’s skin for a robe and the tiger’s for a wrap.   They tried likewise in vain, a disembodied head, a giant, a brace of writhing serpents, and fire.   Finally they sent all the waning power of their prayers and tapas against him.   These forces came forth like a mass of fire, beat against Siva’s genitals, and detached them from his body.   Siva, full of indignation, made to burn up the entire earth with his genitals, but Vishnu took shape as the female organs, receiving those of Siva,  and prevented general conflagration.

Moved by the prayers of the Rishis – for Siva is never indifferent to His devotees – he consented to hold his fire, and to give them “The Quintessence of Instruction”.


cosmic egg - Version 2


In the closed Hindu universe, described as an egg, nothing is ever lost.  Things are transferred, reborn or transmuted.   The law of karma – literally, “action” – is based on this world-view.  The sum of one’s past actions is embodied in the force of karma, which is considered a discrete, transferable quantity.   One Upanishad describes a mystic view of the sexual act, and then concludes,  “The man who practices intercourse in awareness of this view, takes to himself the good karma of the woman.   He who does it ignorantly, loses his good karma to her.”

Briefly, a host of nuances concerning the fertility of the inner life and creativity, the generative power of thoughts, and the sterility of those who cling to the letter alone, are touched on here.   In the Pine Forest, Siva had excited the women and infuriated their husbands, but he didn’t actually do anything.   He was chaste, and made others believe him to be a lecher, a false ascetic in reverse.   He served as a mirror.   He chastised the Rishis for their dishonesty and barren self-seeking rituals;  he awakened their real nature to them.

Researched from Wendy O’Flaherty’s book Siva the Erotic Ascetic


ramana with newspaper


                  THE THIRTY VERSES by Ramana Maharshi

ACTION yields fruit,  for so the Lord ordains it.
How can action be the Lord?   It is insentient.

The fruit of action passes.   But the act leaves behind the seed of further acts 
leading to an endless ocean of reaction :   not to liberation.

A disinterested act, surrendered to the Lord 
purifies the mind and points to liberation.

This is certain:  worship, praise and meditation, 
being work of body, speech and mind,  are steps for orderly ascent.

Ether,  fire,  air,  water,  earth,  Sun,  Moon  and living beings –
worship of these, regarded all  as forms of life,  is perfect worship of the Lord.

Better than hymns of praise is repetition of the Name ;  better quiet than loud; 
but best of all is silent meditation – reflective in the mind.

Better than spells of meditation is one continuous current 
steady as a stream or downward flow of oil.

Better than viewing Him as Other – indeed the noblest attitude of all – 
is to hold Him as the ‘I’ within – the very ‘I’.


Ramana 7.7.13


Abidance in pure being,  transcending thought through love intense 
is the very essence of supreme devotion.

Absorbtion in the heart of being,  whence we sprang, 
is the path of action,  of devotedness,  union,  and of knowledge.

Restraint of breath controls the mind like a bird caught in the net. 
This gentle regulation helps absorbtion in the heart.

Mind and breath (as thought and action) like two branches forking out 
both spring from a single root.

Absorbtion is of two kinds:  submergence and destruction. 
Mind submerged again arises:  mind dead revives no more.

With even breath,  and thought restrained, 
the mind turned one-way inward,  fades and dies.

Mind extinct,  the mighty Seer to his natural being returns 
and has no action to perform.

Wisdom turns away the mind from outer things 
to behold its own effulgent form.

When unceasingly it scans itself,  there’s nothing there. 
For everyone this direct path is open.

Thoughts alone make up the mind,  and of all thoughts,  the ‘I’ is root. 
What we call ‘mind’ is but the notion ‘I’.

When we turn within and search whence this thought of ‘I’ arises, 
the shamed ‘I’ vanishes —  and wisdom’s quest begins.

Where this ‘I’ notion faded,  now as I,  as I,  arises here 
the One,  the very Self,  the infinite.

Of the notion ‘I’,  the permanency is That.  For even in deep sleep 
where we have no sense of ‘I’,  we do not cease to be.


Five faces of Arunachala Siva

Five faces of Arunachala Siva … the “i – i ?”


Body,  sense,  mind,  breath,  sleep – all insentient and unreal – 
cannot be I,   I, who am the Real !

For knowing That which is,  there is no other knower. 
Hence being is awareness;  and we are all awareness.

In the nature of their being,  creature, and creator are in substance One.
They differ only in adjuncts and awareness.

To free oneself of attributes is to see the Lord, 
for He shines ever as the pure Self.

To know the Self is to be the Self,  for it is non dual.
Knowing thus,  one abides as That.

That is true knowledge which transcends both knowledge and ignorance,
for in pure knowingness,  is no object known,

Our nature known,  we abide as being with no beginning and no end
in unbroken consciousness and peace.

Abiding in peace beyond bondage and release 
is steadfastness in service of the Lord.

All ego gone,  in peace as That alone 
is penance good for growth,  sings Ramana
“who sports in the Self”.


A NOTE BY ARTHUR OSBORNE:  “The Tamil poet Muruganar wanted to write 100 verses on this theme, but he could not readily proceed beyond 70 verses.  It then occurred to him that Ramana was the proper person to write the verses relating to Siva’s instruction.  He therefore begged Ramana to compose them, and Ramana accordingly composed 30 Tamil verses.  They were subsequently translated by Ramana into Telugu and into Malayalam.  He himself later translated them into Sanskrit;  the Sanskrit version known as Upadesa Saram (the Essence of Instruction) was daily chanted before him, together with the Vedas, and continues to be chanted as a scripture before his shrine.  He grades the various paths to Liberation in order of efficiency and excellence, showing that the best is Self-enquiry.”

Arthur Osborne, founder-editor of Ramanasramam journal The Mountain Path

Arthur Osborne, founder-editor of Ramanasramam journal The Mountain Path


The relationship of Siva, Lord of the Dance, and seed of fire, with Agni,  god of the sacramental fire itself,  is explored with great subtlety in various streams of the mythological delta.   In some of these stories, Agni becomes the servant, object or representation of Siva’s will.   The fire both creates and destroys.   Arunachala is primordially a “Hill of Fire”,  and the Temple there,  among those dedicated to the elements in Southern India Saivism,  represents fire.   The Deepam Festival of Lights in the winter season is the biggest of the regional festivals.   The flame is rekindled at the summit and at the root of Arunachala, amid general celebratory pilgrimage.   Siva’s ancient Vedic form was as Rudra, the Wild Hunter,  the fiery Archer, who interrupted the coitus of the Father Creator with the Dawn  (He Emerges from the Poem of Ancient Power).



Agni – Skanda

The interplay of these currents across the sleep of spacetime awakens paradoxical archetypes of awareness.   They resonate like rhythmic chants of a kind, or music.   The opposites tasting one another, in mutual annihilation give birth.   Ramana, a child of these traditions, points to the fiery heart within us:  our warmth and love of being.






My adventure invites fellow travellers.  I am a poet, an artist and a seer.  I welcome conversation among the PHILO SOFIA, the lovers of wisdom.

This blog is  a vehicle to promote also my published work – The Sacred India Tarot (with Rohit Arya, Yogi Impressions Books) and The Dreamer in the Dream – a collection of short stories (0 Books). Watch this space.

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All art and creative writing in this blog is copyright © Janeadamsart 2012. May not be used for commercial purposes. May be used and shared for non-commercial means with credit to Jane Adams and a link to the web address

5 thoughts on “The Mythology behind Ramana’s Thirty Verses

  1. This is a beautiful depiction of Arunachala Siva and of the mythology surrounding Arunachala Siva. The Upadesa Saram of Ramana Maharishi is an exquisite and succinct kernel of his philosophy of Self-Inquiry. Thanks for creating this blog. ❤

  2. Pingback: Watching Myself and Krishnamurti – Part Two | janeadamsart

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