After two days in Bengaluru and indulging into vegan food gastronomy, because what if the next town won’t have much vegan choice.. (there always is, that’s just my foodie excuse), we took a sleeper night bus with some crock roaches as a company and arrived in Tiruvannamalai at the peak of the warm southern Indian night.
Under the waxing gibbous moon light with the ritual bells and burning incenses filling the air, the pilgrims and devotees walk barefoot around the sacred Arunachala hill. From bus station to our little brightly coloured guesthouse, with the tuk tuk and through the shower into falling asleep under the running fan.
Laid by the mystical Arunachala hill, this small Hindu pilgrimage town in Tamil Nadu, has one of the largest ancient Shiva temples in India and ashram of the Indian saint Sri Ramana Maharshi who journeyed to the sacred hill Arunachala at the age of 16 and remained there till he left his body in 1950.
Arunachala is truly a magical place. The energy that it embodies as you even just think of it. Maharshi called Arunachala the spiritual heart of the world. Myths and legends tell the story that once Vishnu and Brahma began quarrelling of whom two is the greater god, brining chaos upon the earth. So Devas approaches and begged Lord Shiva to end this dispute. Shiva manifested himself as a bright column of light and issued who ever could find its beginning or end, was the greatest. Vishnu representing intellect, took the form of a boar and went down into the earth to find the bottom. But Brahma, as ego, took the form of a swan and went up to find the summit. Vishnu failed to find the base of the column and fell into meditation seeing the Supreme Light within himself which dwells in the hearts of all. But Brahma exhausted by the search, saw a flower falling though the air and returning declared that he had plucked it from the top of the column. However, none of the two gods would find the bottom or the top and the story continues that because the column of light was too dazzling to behold, Shiva manifested himself as the Arunachala hill on Earth. The embodiment of the great Lord Shiva himself. The beginning, middle and end of everything. OM.
Sri Ramana Maharshi was drawn to this sacred hill since he was a boy. Without even knowing the existence of this place, at the age of 16, after challenging death experience which drove his mind inwards and began a self enquiry, he left his uncles house and journeyed to the place his soul was yearning for. For many years he sat in meditation in the caves before coming down at the feed of his beloved hill and residing in the Arunachala’s presence till his Mahanirvana at the age of 70.
Although, physically he is no longer there, but when you enter the ashram passing the flower lady with the sweet aromas and with bare feet walking on the fine rubble, the enlightening view of the sacred Arunachala hill appears right in front of you, with the warm rays of the sun and beautiful colourful butterflies dancing around, you come into the mediation hall with those subtle smells of the wood and incense, respectful silence and dimmed lights, you are merged into his loving presence, as if Bhagavan has never left.
There is a picture that rests on his bed as a visual reminded of the guru, yet you could just keep on gazing into his eyes, full with so much light and unconditional love, the soft smile that embodies grace for every being. Devotees coming and kneeling, bowing in front of him, praying and some reaching for the touch of his bed and picture. People sitting on the floor, some in peaceful meditation, some with curving backs and eyes vide open, some for hours and hours in darsham, sharing this space and moment with his presence in the true soul merging.
5 days we too, embracing the devotion, bhakti, and simply being in this sacred place, healing and allowing the subtle transformation to appear while soaking in the spiritual blessings. As the feeling of walking barefoot arises and my taboo begins to fall. No dirt bothers me anymore but this grounding and earthing sensation, this sacredness of the ground we walk upon. And so step by step, we journey with the purpose up to the caves of Arunachala. Yet only daydreaming of being able to reach the peak, as something so powerful and mysterious embodies it, that maybe only mystical poems would be able to signify the feeling. But on the full moon day, we took upon the Giri Pradakshina, 14 something kilometre pilgrimage waking clockwise around the holy mount.
With lingams and temples all along the way, Arulmigu Arunachaleswarar temple is one of the main shaivite holy places in South India. The ancient temple represents Agni or the fire element and is dedicated to worshipping Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. It has four massive gateway towers and once you pass through one of them, it can be easy to get lost in the large temple complex. Yet finding the queue to go inside the main holy shrine, we line and slowly move closer to Shiva lingam. From enclosed room into another smaller one, where the heat is building up and the air is becoming stuffy. We step by step come towards meeting the holy statue. Yet I find something uncomfortable and rather distant about temples and the whole worship process but once we approached Shiva lingam and I stared inside the small space with pushing pilgrims from behind, there was something peculiar about it. As if some mysterious presence truly embodied the statue. But with the limited time, this feeling just rushed through me as we already were walking outside of the small room to exit the temple.
On the last early morning, as we sat in the meditation hall for one more darsham, this feeling of a true guru, dispeller of the darkness, overtook me. The past days was transformative and evolving in very subtle level, and somehow I built an expectations of how it should have felt, so it left me in this emotionless state, my mind began questioning myself and capability for feelings. Yet on that morning, I found myself with few drops of tears rolling down my cheeks and deep gratitude for this sacred life, blessings for all the lessons and the kind people we met, whom as heavenly guardians helped us to shape this soulful journey and for my sadhana that led me to this place.