"Sri Gnanananda Thapovanam" is a quiet place, situated on the northern banks of Pennar river, near Thirukovilur in Tamil Nadu. Thapovanam meaning "forest of penance" is today a place of pilgrimage. It is situated within a couple of miles from a sacred town called "Tirukovilur", meaning a town of sacred temples. Swami Gnananandagiri Swamigal, established his modest ashram at Thapovanam, a place which was identified by Swami himself for its spiritual potency. It is known that Maharishi Mrigndu, centuries ago, undertook penance at this holy place, having cluster of five old mango trees. Swami finally made this Ashram his regular living place, until he attained Mahasamadhi in the year 1974. A shrine of grace has been constructed over his "Samadhi". Swami did not appoint or nominate any spiritual successor. Even today, every grain of sand at Thapovanam is pulsating with his life and message, and vibrating with his Divine Presence. As he mentioned, that his Samadhi is one of a "Jeeva Samadhi", meaning that Swami is omnipresent, though not present in physical form among us. The Ashram was established by Swami as a place of organised living, prayer and yoga. Swami built temples for the deities of GnanaGanesa, GnanaSkanda, GnanaPurisa, GnanaAmbika, GnanaMahalakshmi, GnanaVenugopala, GnanaAnjayeya, GnanaBairava, Durga, Navagraha and Chandikeshwara. The deities were given chaitanya (power) by Swami through his graceful look and sankalpa, and the deities today shower their "anugraha" to all those devotees who pray and surrender. The Ashram today attracts devotees and disciples from far and near, where one immerses into "Guru bhakti". Prayer and worship, through singing of hymns and stress on "guru bhakti" have been the marked features of life at Thapovanam.
There were many aspects of swami's young being (purvashram) which is surrounded by mystery. Any attempt to writing about him is bound to be incomplete, as Swami has always discouraged any inquisitiveness about knowing his life prior to renunciation. Based on utterances gathered by inmates of Thapovanam now and then during conversation with Swami, it is know that Swami was born at Mangalapuri near Gokarna on the west coast in Karnataka to an orthodox Brahmin couple. At his young age, he was driven to Pandharpur with an urge to know the "self". It is in this historic place, that swami was guided to meet his Guru, Swami Sivaratna Giri of Jyotirmutt, one of the four mutts established by His holiness Adi Sankara himself. Swami Sivaratna Giri accepted this young boy as his disciple and swami then followed his Guru like a shadow and derived great delight in serving him. After swami attained proficiency in "Ashtanga Yoga, Hindu scriptures, upanishadic truths etc., swami was given holy order of "Sanyasa" by his Guru and was named "Sri Gnanananda Giri" into the "Giri" order of Jyotir Mutt. Later, after Mahasamadhi of his Guru, Swami adorned the peetam of Jyotir Mutt for some time before relinquishing the same for undertaking intense penance at Himalayas. After long period of seclusion, swami traveled extensively on foot , spanning the whole of India, Tibet, Nepal, Burma and Sir Lanka. Finally, swami is believed to have returned to Southern India and from around 1966, swami permanently stayed at Thapovanam. Before that, swami established ashrams at Attyampatti, Siddhilingamadam, Dalmiapuram and also one at Yercaud (established later) known as "Pranavanilayam".