Life of a Librarian

J Jayaraman, a resident of Sri Ramana Ashram has been documenting his own life as part of Project 365 – the PUBLIC PHOTO ART project initiated by EtP. JJ is born in a South Indian Brahmin family. JJ is passionate about music and art right from his childhood. He fondly recollects his mother singing the catchy songs of Tayumanavar, Pattinathar, Arunagirinathar, which used to be a common practice in every family in our culture. He didn’t learn music but was initiated into the world through a direct exploration of the Octave. He plays several instruments, all of them palm-holdable and single-pitched, like the mouth-harp, didgeridoo, gopichand ektar, tambourine, taal, shakers. He is a ready enthusiast of any music, and chants. Jayaraman did his B.Tech from IIT, Chennai. Immediately after his graduation he joined IBM. Part of his working-life also took him to nearby Baroda. A voracious reader ‘JJ’ was a frequent visitor to an East West Book House. That’s when he read about Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi in the book ‘Talks with Maharshi’ written by Osborne. After that he visited the ashram and since 1975 he started visiting Tiruvannamalai and the Ashram every year. In the year 1985 he quit his fancy job and became an inmate of the ashram, given the responsibility of being Librarian to its archivally unique Sri Ramana Centenary Library now [shifted into ashram area,] named Ramana Granthalayam. He had an early interest in observing photos. The long processing delay between Karma and Phala prevented him from exploring photography. In the year 2008, he started using smart phone to capture images of his daily life. When he discovered Facebook, it became his ‘real-time extension to share his mundane life images, unedited. To him, photography opened his eyes to light and to help him explore the connection with the sublime and eternal through the romance between darkness and light. JJ expressed his interest to be part project 365 and EtP was equally keen to have him part of the team. As an inmate of the ashram, JJ had more access to the ashram and was bound to bring out interesting visuals of the ashram and its surrounding.

J Jayaraman / Project 365 photographer / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives
J Jayaraman / Project 365 photographer / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives

In this project 365, JJ has sharing images of his own life in the ashram. He understands photography to be a two dimensional capture of a three-dimensional ‘frame’ flying past in pixels of 5-quanta [=sense-organ flow] then by adding metrical text ‘on the go’ to it, he adds a ‘third’ dimension to his unconventional images. And unconventional they tend to be, given his obsessive compulsive pattern-recognition. This autobiographical project brings us the protean maverick life of JJ to the light. It is appropriate to quote his words, “I entered my professional ‘ride’ when Woodstock was upon all. The ‘opting out’ was a strategy successfully demonstrated to himself by Henry David Thoreau, but would not suit a social movement like Hippyism, that need to find a structure so as not to be labeled parasite. It took time for me to realize that our own tradition allowed such a practice derived from the roots of individual temperament, and the universally present process of spiritual maturing. It has been a round trip for the Tenth Bull.”

Life of a librarian - Image (C) J Jayaraman - Project 365 public archives
Life of a librarian – Image (C) J Jayaraman – Project 365 public archives
Life of a librarian - Image (C) J Jayaraman - Project 365 public archives
Life of a librarian – Image (C) J Jayaraman – Project 365 public archives
Life of a librarian - Image (C) J Jayaraman - Project 365 public archives
Life of a librarian – Image (C) J Jayaraman – Project 365 public archives

JJ says, “The mind of a librarian who is primarily an engineer and a musician tends to gravitate towards super sets in classification and accommodation of knowledge within wholesome experience. So, much of the content of a library, its spectrum of knowledge, in some way reflects the persona of the librarian. There has been an openness in accepting all and any points of view. This fits in with Ramana Maharishi’s approach saying that, if the knower is apprehended, all else is known and if that is not done, no amount of knowledge is useful. And in the style of living accorded through him, which he called athyasrama (meaning beyond conventional human classifications), his followers and devotees are accorded a wide field for them to engage upon, should destiny move things that way for them. In my case, the invitation from Ekalokam Trust to be one of the photographers recording an aspect of Project 365 for the Arunachala, namely my life in the ashram, as a librarian, has indeed given me immense scope to capture in the visual and document the events in verse, that usually demands a revisit. The never tiring scenes of Nature’s beauty, manifest through its beings, moving and the unmoving, flying, creeping, and swimming and seeking through the verticals and the horizontals have been available to me in plenty day after day. There is an unchanging that connects all in any given theme that is captured. Put in reverse, any thing or any series that is captured can, contemplated upon sufficiently, reveal a theme. I daresay I find the subject practically inexhaustible in detail, but capable of manifesting a sturdy monotone of reality as it is, reality as it is suggested and reality as it is desired. Asti. Bhati. Priyam.”

Life of a librarian - Image (C) J Jayaraman - Project 365 public archives
Life of a librarian – Image (C) J Jayaraman – Project 365 public archives
Life of a librarian - Image (C) J Jayaraman - Project 365 public archives
Life of a librarian – Image (C) J Jayaraman – Project 365 public archives
Life of a librarian - Image (C) J Jayaraman - Project 365 public archives
Life of a librarian – Image (C) J Jayaraman – Project 365 public archives
Life of a librarian - Image (C) J Jayaraman - Project 365 public archives
Life of a librarian – Image (C) J Jayaraman – Project 365 public archives
Life of a librarian - Image (C) J Jayaraman - Project 365 public archives
Life of a librarian – Image (C) J Jayaraman – Project 365 public archives
Life of a librarian - Image (C) J Jayaraman - Project 365 public archives
Life of a librarian – Image (C) J Jayaraman – Project 365 public archives

(to be continued…)

Notes from a photographer – Part 1

Sri Ramana Maharishi / Photograph © PRS Mani / Sri Ramana Ashram Archives / Source internet
Sri Ramana Maharishi / Photograph © PRS Mani / Sri Ramana Ashram Archives / Source internet

Photography, rendered in Tamil as ‘pugai padam’, means ‘images derivated from the fumes [of mercury]’. The ancient Tamil minds have captured the essence of this innovative original scientific photographic process in which hazardous mercury fumes create images. Tamils worship visuals on an everyday basis. Probably that’s why photography easily became a part and parcel of our lifestyle.

When photography was introduced in India, word spread about the camera’s almost magical abilities to create images, something that was so far been attributed to the gods. The earlier belief and reaction was a fear factor that ‘photographs can steal a person’s soul’. Not many a saints and believers were coming forward to be photographed.

Ramana Maharishi had taken keen interest in the photography medium and would invite photographers from different parts of the country and engage in lively dialogues with them to create living images of a time gone by. The earliest known photograph of Sri Ramana Maharishi was taken by an unknown photographer in the year 1902. Sri Ramana also has been instrumental to preserving these invaluable documents and Sri Ramana Ashram photo archive has one of the rarest collections of photographic prints (1880s -1950) of eminent photographers PRS Mani, Dr. T. N. Krishnaswamy, GG. Welling, Henri-Cartier Bresson, Eliot Elisofon and many other known and unknown photographers. These images are pertinent to sage Ramana and the ashram that evolved around him. EtP wishes to make its movement comprehensive by extending this service to other areas of this ancient town.

In this series of ‘notes from the Director’, I will be presenting the known and unknown photographers and artists who have created a body of photographic / art works based on Tiruvannamalai and the holy town.

In this note, I am going to present PRS Mani, the first official photographer of Ramana Ashram. P.R.S. Mani’s most famous photo of Sage Ramana titled ‘Mani bust’ has been circulated and worshipped in South India and abroad since late 1930s. I remember looking at ‘Mani bust’ for the first time – a well framed portrait of an unusual old Indian man. Later, I found out that it was an image of Sage Ramana. I was curious to find out the photographer….. He was unknown to the world of contemporary photography. I started digging and found out that the image was taken by Sri. P.R.S. Mani Iyer. He was born at the turn of the 18th century as the first son to the couple Ramaseha Iyer and Sivasankari who hailed from Pattamadai, a village in South Tamilnadu. After his honour’s degree in Arts, Subramanian took to professional photography and joined the then famous Modern Theatre of Salem as an executive photographer. Modern Theatres Ltd. was a motion picture movie studio in Salem, Tamil Nadu India started by Thiruchengodu Ramalingam Sundaram (aka TRS) in 1935. The early South India Cinema headquarters was based in Salem and this sophisticated studio produced over more than 150 movies until 1982. Modern Theaters is situated in the outskirts of Salem – Yercaud road, which is currently in ruins. Only later the Tamil Cinema base had moved to Chennai.

During the 1930s, N.R. Krishnamurti Aiyer was asked by the ashram Sarvadhikari to send photographs of Nataraja, the majestic idol in the Meenakshi temple, in front of whom the boy Ramana stood for long spells of time, shedding copious tears of ecstasy, before he left Madurai for good. He also wanted a photograph of the house where Ramana was born in Tiruchuzhi and of some other places there. These were meant to be placed in the Tamil biography Sri Ramana Vijayam by Suddhananda Bharati . N.R.Krishnamurti Aiyer brought P.R.S.Mani who was his student and an expert photographer. Ramana used to call him Mani and he spent almost 14 years under the loving care of Ramana. Mani married the daughter of Ganapati Sastri, Tiruvannamalai. He died at the young age of 33 years.[1]
During the short span of his photographic career, he made several marvelous images of the Sage Ramana, especially during the Skandasramam days and many other historical photographs of the town as well. There is very limited information about Mani and his contributing during his time with modern theatre is unknown till now. If one starts digging they will find marvellous images of those early cinema days taken by this photographer.

PRS and I have never met in person but I am seeing him through the prolific images he has made. Salute you PRS. Mani. Your contribution to the ‘dying art’ photography is amazing. We photographers looking to the light in your images !!! Thank you…..

Abul Kalam Azad

Tiruvannamalai

Project 365 is a PUBLIC PHOTOGRAPHIC ART PROJECT initiated by EtP to photo-document the fast changing ancient culture and contemporary lifestyle of the ancient Tamilakam territory. During the first phase, forty photographers will be documenting the multi-cultural aspects of #Tiruvannamalai, South Indian heritage town over a year period (Aug 2014 – July 2015). This Project is led by contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad. FOR MORE PROJECT 365 IMAGES, see #etpproject365 In the next five years, EtP will document the Sangam period ports Muziris, Tindis and the cauvery basin culture and lifestyle.”

Disclaimer:

[1] excerpts taken from Face to Face with Ramana Maharishi, Published by Sri Ramana Kendram, AP, ISBN: 81-903538-0-2, Sri Ramana Maharishi / Photograph © PRS Mani / Sri Ramana Ashram Archives / Source internet