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I found this lovely old photo of Mulaipal Tirtham a few weeks ago in an old album of photos that had been donated to the Ramanasramam archives. They had been collected or taken by Dr Mees, a Dutch devotee of Bhagavan who stayed with Bhagavan in the early and middle 1940s. His house, located opposite to where the Ramanasramam Post Office is now situated, was one of the first to be built by a devotee in what has now become Ramana Nagar.

Left: Dr Mees and his pug Bonzo standing in front of his house.


Right: his house in Tiruvannamalai. The back wall of the Pali Mantapam, located on the other side of the road from the Ramanasramam entrance, can be seen on the right.

The photo of Mulaipal Tirtham probably dates from the 1930s. It is so unlike the tirtham that appears there today I made a special trip there a couple of days ago to make sure this old photo really was of Mulaipal Tirtham. I stood on the hill where I could see the temple gopurams as they appear in this photo and found myself right on the edge of the tirtham. It had to be the same place.


I posted the photo to a Ramana Maharshi Facebook page this morning, and then decided to make a longer post here. The next two paragraphs have been copied from my earlier (3rd July 2014) post on that page:


The siting of sadhu accommodation on the eastern slopes of Arunachala (including the places where Bhagavan stayed) has always been contingent on the availability of water. Skandashram was started after water was discovered there, and Virupaksha Cave was occasionally abandoned when its water supply ran out.  Mulaipal Tirtham, with its perennial supply of water, has always been a place where sadhus congregate. This is the account in Arunachala Ramana, volume one page 125, of how Mango Tree Cave became Bhagavan’s summer home when the water ran out at Virupaksha Cave.


The Virupakshi Cave was very suitable for winter residence, but not so for summer, when the adjoining streamlet would dry up, and no breeze would get into the cave. There was a crude cave near Mulaipal Thirtham at the foot of a mango tree (whence the cave received its name, the Mango Tree Cave) which was unfit for occupation when Swami first went up the Hill. But one Srirangachar soon came up there, and busied himself with Siddhars’ works on medicine, alchemy and religion. He lived near the cave; his brother Ramanujachar had the overhanging rock blasted, constructed a small front wall with a very small hole and door – and made the cave tenantable. The brothers invited the Brahmana Swami [Bhagavan] to occupy the Mango Tree Cave. Accordingly the young Swami would spend some of the summer months there, as the adjoining tank (Mulaipal Thirtham) yielded an unfailing supply of sweet, pure, and potable water.


Virupaksha Cave had a very poor water supply when Bhagavan moved in. It improved slightly when a thunderstorm caused a rockslide behind the cave. After the storm subsided, a new spring started to run from the scar on the hill where the rocks had formerly been. Devotees told Bhagavan that Arunachala himself had arranged a new supply of water for them. Bhagavan did not dispute the claim.


Mango Tree Cave was where the first photo of Bhagavan was taken around 1901. The grandson of the photographer turned up at Ramanasramam a few years ago. He said that his grandfather had actually been commissioned by the government to take photos of prisoners in various parts of the Madras Presidency, but he combined that with his hobby of taking photos of sadhus everywhere he went.


Left: the earliest known photo of Bhagavan, taken outside Mango Tree Cave around 1901. Mulaipal Tirtham is about twenty yards from where he is sitting.


Right: the entrance to the first building that was erected in front of Mango Tree Cave. The branches of the original mango tree can be seen in the top third of the photo. It blew over in a big storm in the 1980s.

Mulaipal Tirtham, and swimming with Bhagavan

David Godman Books


Books by David Godman on Ramana Maharshi, his devotees and his teachings

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