Here in Tiruvannamalai for many Westerners the focus is on Sri Ramana Maharshi and Ramanasramam. Many of these go up Arunachala to the caves where Ramana lived and taught and gave darshan.
One of these caves is Skandashram. It is perhaps one mile from Ramanasramam, up a well cared-for path, up the side of the mountain.
Ramana lived at Skandashram from 1915 to 1922. This is where his mother joined him, and started preparing meals at the ashram, rather than having prepared food carried up, as had been the case since the earliest years. After the mahasamadhi of Mother, and her subsequent interment at the base of the hill, Ramana then took residence at her samadhi, the location of the present day Ramanasramam.
I show here photos from a recent walk up the hill to Skandashram. We started about 7:15 in the morning, before it was too hot. We left out the back gate of Ramanasramam.
Going through Sri Ramanasramam
One of the several ‘hill guides’ that will offer to take you to Skandashram and other places on the hill. They will ask for money for their services.
This is the gate through the back of Ramanasramam to Skandashram and other places on the Holy Hill. This sign says that it is locked at various times during the day. After it opens at about 6 AM I have never seen it to be locked.
Starting up the hill
A woman working gathered plant materials.
Up the path we go, Arunachala above us.
The path is paved with stone, from Ramanasramam all the way to Skandashram, stones set into the dirt, forming a path about three feet wide. In steep areas there are steps. Someday these stones will be smooth, after 100,000’s of feet have passed over them. Each stone was carried to the path and set into the ground by unnamed workers.
On both sides of the path you will notice tree plantings, done as part of the Arunachala reforestation project that has been going on the the last few years. Ramanasramam has increased interest in Arunachala both around the world, and in India. It is this increased interest in Arunachala that has brought this project about.
Take the right fork. To the left is an entry into the Inner Path for pradakshina. Here is an article on the first leg of the walk on the inner path.
Up the hill
Carol is barefoot. Arunachala, the whole mountain, is considered to be a temple, and in India you take off your shoes in a temple. Many Westerners do not do this, but Carol goes barefoot on the walk to Skandashram. I do wear sandals. Carol gets more ‘punya,’ spiritual merit.
And up the hill …
Often there are people sitting on these rocks and meditating here. Not today.
Up the path
View along the way down to Tiruvannamalai.
Keep going up
A Sadhu is usually here – “Sivo Hum,” he may say.
There are stone carvers along the way. Stop and look at their work. It is good and not expensive. We have several pieces on our altar at home.
Up to the top of the path
The view from the top of the path. The main temple, Arunachaleswara, is below. This is one of the main Siva temples in India.
And now to Skandashram. Skandashram is the in clump of trees in the center of the photo.
Here we are, but the gate is locked, so we have to sit and wait a few minutes. The Swami usually gets here about 8 AM. Then he will chant shortly after he opens the ashram.
Path down to Virapakshu Cave. It is pretty steep. To the left starts one of the paths to the top. I would recommend that this be taken only with a guide, good shoes and plenty of water. And only if you are in pretty good physical shape.
Opening the gate, walking in. The Swami unlocks the gates.
And enters the ashram.
View from Skandashram
The inner chamber, with the attendant getting ready for the morning chant. This chant is wonderful to listen to. The voice is resonant, and you can hear the love for the teaching in the voice. When we go up to Skandashram, we try to get there for this morning chant. We will sit in the outer chamber, and listen to the chant and meditate, and continue the meditation after the chant is finished.
Looking out from the porch
The Mother’s Quarters
One last look around
One last look at Skandashram
Back down the path
The walk down the hill was harrowing. A tree with a bees nest had fallen, and the bees chased some people down the hill. I was one of these. A swarm of bees circled around my head, stinging the back of my head several times. I was able to brush then out of my ears and off my mouth and face without getting stung there. Finally, about halfway down the hill, they stopped following me.
This is why the photos end with the one above.