Every year, Tiruvannamalai gets many visitors during the winter months, November through February. There have been a few things changing and I wanted to give visitors a quick update.
First, work on the highway-widening project on NH66, the national road between Tindivinam and the Bangalore connector roads, has stopped. Add an extra hour getting here from Chennai or Pondicherry. Add two hours to get here from Bangalore. See this post:
Along Pradakshina Road
Below is an example of the new trash receptacles along the Pradakshina road, thanks to Shanthimalai Trust. This organization has been taking care of Pradakshina Road, by doing good cleanings after full moon days. Now they have installed many new trash receptacles, hopefully much more monkey-proof than the last ones. Here are their web pages: http://www.arunapartnership.org/ and http://www.smhds.org/.
It is reported that Nithyananda will move from his “home” ashram outside of Bangalore and be established here in Tiruvannamalai. They have started work on his ashram, setting in posts for a bigger concrete and brick fence. I imagine that he will do some teaching here. It is said that Nithyananda is a gifted teacher, with many people reporting deep experiences with him. Many of us felt that the old version of the ashram was not properly respectful to Arunachala. We will see what the new version brings. There was much controversy about him earlier with his extensive promotional program, not to mention the well-known sex scandal. Let’s see what he does this time. Maybe he has learned, and can continue with teaching that leads to spiritual growth.
New Shirdi Sai Baba Shrine
Shirdi Sai Baba devotees have opened a very nice new shrine on Pradakshina Road. Shirdi Sai Baba, who left the body in 1918, is very popular in India. From Wikipedia:
Shirdi Sai Baba was a spiritual master who was and is regarded by his devotees as a saint, fakir, avatar (an incarnation of God), or sadguru, according to their individual proclivities and beliefs. He was revered by both his Muslim and Hindu devotees, and during, as well as after, his life on earth it remained uncertain if he was a Muslim or Hindu himself. This however was of no consequence to Sai Baba himself. Sai Baba stressed the importance of surrender to the guidance of the true Sadguru or Murshad, who, having gone the path to divine consciousness himself, will lead the disciple through the jungle of spiritual training.
Below is pictured the newest of the shrines dedicated to Shirdi Sai Baba. There is at least one more of his temples on Pradakshina Road.
Valallar (also known as Ramalinga Swami)
Vallalar is very popular among the Tamils. His original ashram is south of Pondicherry near Chidambaram. You will see images that almost look like a ghost, wrapped in a cloth with a white face. This is Vallalar.
It is said that he could transform his body into light or energy or anything. He was born on 5 Oct 1823 but he never died. On 30 Jan 1874, he entered a room after telling his disciples not to look for him or his body anymore. When the room was later opened on the ruling British Government’s orders, nothing was found!
He was one of the most famous Tamil saints and also one of the greatest Tamil poets of the 19th century. He belongs to a line of Tamil saints known as "gnana siddhars" (gnana means higher wisdom). One thing that he tried to do was to eliminate the caste system in India. Here is a Wikipedia page with more on this. He is known, not only for his miracles, but because British witnesses reported on them. Here is his web site: http://www.vallalar.org/english.
Below is the exterior of the shrine to Vallalar that has been being built for a long time. Vallalar is seen in the center of the group of figures across the entry gate. The shrine is quite large. It looks like it is nearly complete. There is another Vallalar temple on Pradakshina Road, and you can see pictures of Vallalar all over Tiruvannamalai.
Mahavatar Babaji is another revered figure in India. Per Wikipedia:
Mahāvatār Bābājī is the name given to an Indian saint by Shyāmacharan Lahirī and several of his disciples who met Mahavatar Babaji between 1861 and 1935. Some of these meetings were described by Paramahansa Yogananda in his book Autobiography of a Yogi, including a first hand telling of Yogananda’s own meeting with Mahavatar Babaji. Another first hand account was given by Yukteswar Giri in his book The Holy Science.
In his book The Second Coming of Christ, Yogananda states that Jesus Christ went to India and conferred with Mahavatar Babaji.
Babaji is very much associated with Kriya Yoga. The Babaji center here also offers initiation and practice of Kriya.
The building features Babaji in his cave.
Popular Eating Places
Shanti Café, above Shanti Internet. This is a great coffee house, and place to sit and talk. Breakfast and lunch are the main meals served, but I think it’s also open for dinner. They have the best croissants and baguettes in town, brought in fresh each day from Pondicherry. For lunch Carol gets a croissant with cream cheese and a salad. I get a chewy baguette with egg. They also have the best “Iced Lemon Mint” drink. Here is their web site: http://www.shanticafe.com/ (I could not get the page to load)
The Dreaming Tree
The Dreaming Tree is the most popular (mostly) organic restaurant in Tiruvannamalai. They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
This photo is from their website: http://dreamingtree.in/ It hasn’t been this crowded recently, but when “the season” is in full swing it can be hard to find a table .
Sathya Café on Perumbakkam Road serves really good wood-fired pizza during the season on Saturday and Wednesday nights. Right now it is Saturday nights only. They have great “Pizza to-go” boxes. We get two pizzas when we go, one to eat there and one to take home and reheat. Carol adds more cheese and other goodies, and reheats on a flat dosa plan with a little olive oil with a lid on to melt the cheese on top.
Other Ideas for your Trip
On this blog I have written many posts about what to do in Tiruvannamalai. Here are a few. Maybe you can read and get ready for your trip.