John, the archivist at Ramanasramam, asked me if I was familiar with Seven Springs, knowing that I was actively exploring the Holy Hill. He had recently read of this location in a book about Ramana and his days at Skandashram. Ramana had asked where a particular devotee was, and was told he was at “Seven Springs.” John wondered where this is on the hill. I became interested in Seven Springs because of John’s question.
I did some talking with locals and also talked to David Godman. David told me that this is the highest location on the hill with year-round water. He also related that he had lived here in his early days in Tiruvannamalai in the mid 1970’s.
I also heard that when Sri Ramana and others in the ashram were climbing on the hill, Ramana sent the others to the top and waited for them in one of the caves at Seven Springs. This and other mentions of Seven Springs can be found in The Power of the Presence, Part One by David Godman.
Wanting to take this climb, I arranged for a hill guide, and set up a trip with John and some others. Here are photos from that day.
We arranged to meet the the Guide, Jagan, as Skandashram. We would walk from there. We started up the hill at 6 AM.
Here is a satellite photo from Google Maps TM, marked with key locations.
S is Skandashram
V is Virupaksha Cave
7 is Seven Springs
If you look closely you can see a path that goes up the hill (straight up on this photo) from Skandashram to Seven Springs. You also might notice another path that starts from the Virupaksha Cave level, in the center of the map. These paths continue to the top of Arunachala.
During the days just before Deepam, you will see thousands of people climbing the hill on these paths, bringing the needed ghee to the top to keep the lamp burning for 10 days and nights. Here is a short write-up of the Deepam festival.
Arunachala is about 580 meters high. Seven Springs is about 60% of the way up the hill. I think the vertical climb from Skandashram is about 200 meters. Even though this may not seem like much of a climb, I caution that it is steep and over very rough terrain. I would advise taking it only with a guide, good shoes, plenty of drinking water, and only if you are in good physical condition. Also, you should start early in the day – it gets hot, and this is on the East side of the mountain in full sun. Some recommend to bring a lunch and plan to stay several hours, then to go back down the hill in mid-afternoon, when rested, and when this side of the hill is in the shade.
Below is a view of Seven Springs from just south of the main temple, Arunachalaswara. Seven Springs is the hillock to the right of the peak that projects up on the extreme right of the photo. The rock wall shown in this posting is to the left of this hillock. Skandashram is in the dark tree-covered area to the left of the photo, about where the light pole crosses these trees. On the walk, we traversed the rocky slopes to the right of Skandashram, then a grassy slope and up to Seven Springs and the caves associated with it.
Up the Hill
We met John at Ramanasramam. We also met Sushuma, a western woman living in Vellore, and Jo, a half-Indian from Australia on her first trip to India who was staying in Vellore with Sushuma. This was only Sushuma’s second trip to Tiruvannamalai. We met her on her first visit and took her to see Papaji’s cave. She called us when she came to town again to see if we would take her somewhere on Arunachala. We suggested the walk up to Seven Springs.
We started from Ramanasramam and walked up to Skandashram. To see more of this walk, click on this link. We met Bobbi at Skandashram. She is also from Australia. She has been coming here for some time, and stays maybe six months each visit.
Looking down the path to Virupaksha Cave, to the left you can see the trail up to Seven Springs (and the top of the mountain). Again, I would advise you to take this path only if you are properly prepared.
Starting up the path, first we have to traverse a big rock face.
Sitting part of the way up. We stopped and rested frequently on the way up.
Here is our trusty mountain guide, Jagan. We knew him from several years ago. He was also highly recommended by another friend. We had met him one day near Skandashram and set up this trip. If you are in Tiruvannamalai and need an Arunachala mountain guide, call Jagan at 9380 621 091. He seems to know the mountain quite well, and knows many stories about the mountain. (I am not sure if all are true, but they all are good stories.)
Here is John. He has two walking sticks with him. We had forgotten ours, and I needed to use one of his, particularly on the way down. Walking sticks are quite good when going up and down the mountain.
In the photo below are, from the left, Bobbi, John, Carol, Jagan, Jo and Sushuma.
Looking down the hill from here you can see the top of Skandashram in the center of the photo, and the city below.
Here is Carol, climbing up and over a rock face. Notice the white arrow painted on the rock.
Walking over more rock faces, up the hill. It is a beautiful clear day.
More uphill trekking. Jagan is in the lead.
By now I was sweating profusely. The clear day means we are in full sun. Jagan said that on Arunachala, your sweat removes bad karma.
This is a steep part; the rocks are like stairs.
We go through a grassy stretch. the rocks ahead are Seven Springs.
Down the hill is Arunachaleshwar Temple and the surrounding city.
Looking down the grassy hill. Sushuma is in the foreground, and Jo following.
In the background is a steep high rock wall. In the foreground, Jagan says it is “Siva’s Foot,” clearly visible.
The first cave we came to is relatively new. David Godman dug this under the rock in the mid 1980s. This is a very pleasant cave, with plenty of space inside. After the walk to here we are glad to have a place out of the sun to sit and rest a bit.
Writing on the cave entrance, in Tamil script then English letters:
Ahiya Siva Siva Siva Sivaa aragara aragaraa
Siva Siva Siva Sivaa aragara aragaraa
Jo salutes the lingam in the cave with incense.
Looking out the entrance, John is outside the cave. You can see a bit from the photo how big this cave is.
Here is a particularly colorful insect, a grasshopper (?), outside the cave.
After the rest, up the hill yet again.
Jo has stopped and is looking at the big temple and city below.
Jagan is pointing to the first of the ‘springs.’ I am not sure if this is spring water or rain water. Though this is called ‘Seven Springs,’ David Godman said he never found more than about five.
To bless us, he splashes us with water from this spring.
Jagan is pouring ‘holy water from Arunachala’ over a crystal brought up the hill by Sushuma.
Jagan and Jo look into water in another rock crack. Jagan says this is spring-fed, with water all year around.
Sushuma is dipping a necklace into the spring, so that it might receive the blessings of Arunachala.
While John sits peacefully on the mountain.
Now up again, to three more caves.
This first cave has an entrance built out of stones, and has been worked on inside to make it a good place to sit and meditate, or even stay overnight.
Carol enters this cave.
And offers incense to the lingam in the altar.
Jagan puts vibhuti and kum kum on her forehead to bless Carol.
Sushuma and Bobbi make it up to this cave.
Meanwhile Jagan has taken me round the side of this cave to another cave nearby, looking like a hole in the rock.
This cave has also been improved inside to have a place to sit. Naturally there is an altar in the cave. This cave is pretty small.
Looking again down the hill at the temple and the town.
Now up the hill again to one last cave.
Carol comes into the cave through the lower entrance. She squeezes through the opening.
I tried to squeeze through and did not think I would make it. I have to say I have some reluctance, that came maybe from a recurring dream I have had about going through caves, deep underground, and squeezing through tighter and tighter spaces.
Jagan lead me up and around the cave to another entrance, seen below.
Sushuma comes easily through the lower entrance.
Here the party sits and rests and eats a snack in the cool of this upper cave. There is a nice breeze and this is a very pleasant space, out of the sun, looking out into the green of the mountain side.
I am sitting on a rock at the top of the cave where I entered. From where I sit this rock seems circular and pretty flat. There is a big white circle painted around the top surface, near the edge.
I think this was the rock on which Sri Ramana sat, when, during a trip with ashramites that is recounted in David Godman’s The Power of the Presence, Part One, he told them to go to the top of the hill and return, he would wait here.
Looking again to the rock formation in which this top cave is hidden.
The upper rock wall, from another angle. Maybe this is 50 meters high.
We sit and rest on the way down. I was so tired. I had thought that Carol and I were at a better level of fitness, since we walk round or on the mountain three or four days each week. This climb showed us both how much more work we need to do if we want to do much climbing up Arunachala. I don’t feel like I could make it to the top and back. This is only 60% of the way, and I felt like I had nothing left.
Bobbi massaged my calves and legs twice on the way down. This was a big help.
Going back we stopped at Skandashram for water and a rest. The Swami there saw how tired I was and gave me an apple to eat, and made me lie down a bit and rest.
We made it down the rest of the way just fine and went home to bathe and rest. A few hours later we were recovered from the climb. I have to keep working on the strength of my legs, though.
We were all glad to have made this trip.
Some of these photos were taken by John, who shared them with me for this posting. Thank you, John.