Ramalinga Swami had composed total 5818 poems, which convey the non-parochial, egalitarian outlook of this secular saint. He was a very compassionate person, who accepted Universal Brotherhood as his religion. The mantras of Ramalinga Swami were 'Jeevakantnvam', which means kindness and politeness towards all living beings and 'Tanipperumkarunai' that means 'supreme compassion'.
The life history of Ramalinga Swami is a very interesting one. It is said that his father Ramiah Pillai married six times. All his first five wives had died one by one in succession without bearing any child. Then Ramiah Pillai married Chinnamai and started living in Marudur, a village situated fifteen kms to the northwest of Chidambaram. She was then blessed with five children of whom Ramalinga Swami was the youngest one. It is known from the ancient storytellers that many miracles happened before and after the birth of Ramalinga Swami. But his father died soon and could not see the fame of his son.
After the death of Ramalinga Swami's father, the whole family shifted to Chennai. Then, his eldest brother Sabhapati and his wife Parvathi had to take the responsibility of the whole family. In the year 1824, when Ramalinga was five years old, his brother wanted to send him for formal education. But Ramalinga was not at all inclined towards formal studies and he preferred to go to the local Kandasamy temple instead. Realising this unwillingness of his brother in studies, Sabhapati took a tough step and asked his wife not to provide him daily meal until he decides to take formal education. But his Parvathi was a kind lady, who used to feed him secretly and asked Ramalinga tenderly to seriously pursue his studies at home. Ramalinga agreed on the condition that he will be given a separate room. He got the room and placed a mirror there and lighted a small lamp in front of it. Taking the help of this environment, Ramalinga Swami started mediating in front of the light. And it started his spiritual journey. He got the darshana of Lord Muruga as his first reward. As a result of this, Ramalinga earned a good knowledge on various subjects without any formal education.
Ramalinga Swami's elder brother Sabhapati was a traditional story-teller (upanyasaka). One day, on some occasion, Ramalinga had to substitute for his brother at a performance and he explained the 'Periyapuranam' perfectly. He explained the 63 Saiva saints so brilliantly that the audience was bewildered and he got a huge appreciation. He was liked so much that people from various places wanted him in place of his elder brother. With the passing of the days, Ramalinga Swami advanced a lot towards his spiritual journey. He was earlier an ardent devotee of Siva and later got transformed to the worship of formless and soon became a much-revered saint. He was against the caste system in Indian society. He took a remarkable mark in the history of India by spoke openly against the system and about is negative impacts. Ramalinga believed that in the eyes of God everybody is same and all these differences are only made by the human beings. In support of his belief, Ramalinga Swami set up an organisation in 1865, which was known as the 'Samarasa Suddha Sanmarga Satya Sangam' that means the society for pure truth in universal selfhood. Again in 1867, he established the 'Sathya Dharma Salai' at Vadalur, where all could eat without any distinctions whatsoever.
Ramalinga Swami was a supporter of vegetarianism. He was very generous and disliked non-vegetarianism because he was an ardent believer of non-violence and for him taking non-vegetarian food was assault to that philosophy. Therefore he was also known as Ramalinga Vallalar (generous). He started a school where students from any community could study. He also published a journal with the help of a Muslim called Kadar Sahib to show his faith in the equality of all people. But unluckily, both of his good works failed to continue due to the opposition from various sections. A defamation suit was filed against him by Arumuga Navalar and his teachings were condemned as 'marutpa'. But at the end, the truth of Ramalinga Swami won and he continued his work without being bothered by the small challenges.
Ramalinga Swami inaugurated a temple at Vidar on January 25 in 1872 and named it the 'Sadiya Gnana Sabhai' or the 'Hall of True Knowledge'. The unique nature of the temple was that no offerings in the form of fruits or flowers could be made and there was no sign of benediction also. People of all caste, creed and community could enter the temple excluding the meat-eaters. They could however worship from outside the temple. But due to defiance of his instructions hurt him deeply and in 1873 he shut down the temple.
The story of passing away of Ramalinga Swami was very extraordinary. It is reported that on 30th January 1874, he locked himself in a room and asked his students and followers not to open the room under any circumstances. He also added that even if they try to open the room they will find nothing. It created a huge stir in the society and rumour was spread. Then, the government became bound to act. The government authorities opened the door in the month of May forcefully but found it empty as said by Ramalinga. They could not find out anything suspicious. The record of his disappearance can be traced from the Madras District Gazetteer, which was published by the South Arcot district. In different parts of South India, many programmes are organised every year on Thai-Poosam to commemorate Ramalinga Swami.