The ‘Five Hymns to Arunachala’ are the earliest poems of the Maharshi
except for a few short verses. They were written about 1914, that is
when he was about thirty-five years of age (he was born in December,
1879) and while he was still living in a cave on the hill. Some of his
followers who were sadhus used to go into the town of Tiruvannamalai
daily to beg for food and one day they asked him to make a song for them
to sing as they went. At first he refused, saying that there were
plenty of songs already made by the ancient Saivite saints. They
continued to press him, however, and one day he walked round the Hill,
composing the first hymn, ‘The Marital Garland of Letters’ (Arunachala Akshara Mani Malai
as he went. Bhagavan also said that, ‘The Martial Garland of Letters’
was composed partly at the Virupaksha cave and partly on my walks around
the hill.’ It was written approximately 1914-1915, and tells in glowing
symbolism of the love and union between the human soul and God and is
among the most profound and moving poems in any language. Although he
who wrote it was established in the Bliss of indissoluble Union, it was
written for the sake of devotees and expresses the attitude of the soul
that still aspires.
The second poem, ‘The Necklet of Nine Gems’ (Arunachala Navamanimalai
), the third poem, ‘Ten Verses on Arunachala’ (Arunachala Patikam
), and the fourth poem, ‘Eight Stanzas on Sri Arunachala’ (Sri Arunachala Ashtakam
were all written at about the same time as ‘The Marital Garland of
Letters’ and they also adopt the same attitude. Whereas the later poems
of the Maharshi are more doctrinal, these hymns express a greater
attitude of devotion and aspiration. Of the third poem
The ‘Ten Verses’
(really ‘Eleven’) and the ‘Eight Verses’ are among the very few poems of
the Maharshi that were written quite spontaneously without any request.
As he himself said when speaking of them:
“The only poems that came to me spontaneously and
compelled me, as it were, to write them without any one urging me to do
so are the ‘Eleven (Ten) Stanzas to Sri Arunachala’ and the ‘Eight
Stanzas to Sri Arunachala’. The opening words of the ‘Eleven Stanzas’
came to me one morning and even though I tried to suppress them saying
‘What have I to do with these words?’ they would not be suppressed till I
composed a song bringing them in; and all the words flowed
easily, without any effort. In the same way the second stanza was made
the next day and the succeeding ones the following days, one each day.
Only the tenth and eleventh were composed the same day.”
And describing how he composed the ‘Eight Stanzas’, said:
“The next day I started out to go round the hill.
Palaniswami was not with me for a while but caught me up later. That
day, before I got back to Virupaksha, I wrote six of the eight stanzas.
Either that evening or the next day Narayana Reddi came. He was at that
time living in Vellore as an agent of Singer & Co., and he used to
come from time to time. Aiyasami and Palani told him about the poems and
he said, “Give them to be at once and I will go and get them printed.”
He had already published some books. When he insisted on taking the
poems I told him he could so and could publish the first eleven as one
poem and the rest; which were in a different metre, as another. To make
up the required quota I at once composed two more stanzas and he took
all the nineteen stanzas with him to get them published.”
The fifth hymn, ‘Five Stanzas to Sri Arunachala’ (Arunachala Pancharatna
is of a different nature to the first four. The great Sanksrit poet and
devotee Ganapati Sastri, who was a follower of Bhagavan, begged him to
write a poem in Sanksrit. Bhagavan replied, laughing, that he scarcely
knew any Sanksrit and no Sanksrit metres. Sastri, however explained a
metre to him and repeated his request. When he returned the same evening
this hymn had been written in perfect, flawless
Devotee: I have been reading the Five Hymns. I
find that the hymns are addressed to Arunachala by you. You are an
advaitin. How do you then address God as a separate Being?
Maharshi: The devotee, God and the Hymns are all the Self.
Devotee: But you are addressing God. You are specifying this Arunachala Hill as God.
Maharshi: You can identify the Self with the body. Should not the devotee identify the Self with Arunachala?
Devotee: If Arunachala be the Self why should it be
specially picked out among so many other hills? God is everywhere. Why
do you specify Him as Arunachala?
Maharshi: What has attracted you here to this place? What has attracted all these people around?
Devotee: Sri Bhagavan.
Maharshi: How was I attracted here? By Arunachala. The
Power cannot be denied. Again Arunachala is within and not without. The
Self is Arunachala.
The history of the rarely quoted ‘Sixth Hymn to Arunachala’ (Arunachala Stuti
is as follows. When Bhagavan was staying at Skandashram, Ganapati Muni
approached him, quoted a Sanskrit verse and asked him if there was any
equivalent metre in Malayalam (language of Kerala, South India).
Bhagavan replied that there was and to illustrate it he composed three
verses in Malayalam. Kunju Swami, a native Malayalam speaker memorised
the verses and noted them in his notebook. The verses then passed into
temporary oblivion and were ignored by the various compilers of
Bhagavan’s collected works. The verses appeared in print in 1980 and in
1982 were translated from Tamil into English.
In all these
hymns the word Arunachala means God and also refers to the physical hill
of Arunachala in South India. These hymns are written to Arunachala as
the Guru, to God Manifested, to the Absolute.