Why move to Tiruvannamalai and Arunachala? – Part Two

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Tiruvannamalai and Arunachala

We arrived late in the day after the drive from Bangalore. There was a great sense of excitement and anticipation as we neared Arunachala. Then we turned into a driveway and saw the Ramanasramam sign.

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We parked for a few minutes while the group was being given information about where they were staying. During this time I went to look around. I went into the Old Hall. I was just filled  with emotion and fell to the floor, tears streaming from my face. This did not surprise me. Then I went to cow Lakshmi’s samadhi, and had the same reaction. Now this surprised me. I had not felt any particular connection with Lakshmi before.

We then drove a short distance to new Ramanasramam rooms across from the post office, a few hundred meters from Ramanasramam.  The whole group – except for Carol and I – were being housed together in nice new accommodations.  I had heard from someone who stayed in the old rooms at Ramanasramam about problems he had had with moneys getting into his room and trashing it, and imaging rooms like poor quality camp rooms, I thought I would try to find someplace to stay outside the ashram. I found hotel names on the Internet, but was unable to reach any of them. Then I heard on the Internet that there were ‘guest houses’, smaller places that rent out rooms, and that there were a number of these near Ramanasramam and that I should be able to find a room, even in January in the busy season. So I felt  like I could trust Ramana to take care of us. This seemed a good approach!  

Then came the only point of tension in the trip for Carol and me. It was sundown, starting to get dark. All our friends and travel companions from the sangha were going to their nice rooms. But we were loading our bags into a rickshaw, going who knows where,entirely into the unknown. Carol was not convinced this was such a good idea, but there were no rooms at Ramanasramam for us. We drove around a bit, and stopped one place. No room. Drove and stopped at another place. We waited a bout half an hour for the husband of the house to return. He knew about the rooms. He did not show up, so back in the rickshaw and more driving. the third place was the charm. We found a room! We were hungry, and thought that we would like to have a beer after the long day. We walked up the hill and found Usha’s, a western restaurant serving from a buffet line. We were not sure of this, having heard many stories about getting sick from contaminated food,, so were concerned about the food in the buffet line that was left out and open. So we got into another rickshaw a tried to find some place to eat (and maybe get a beer). What a laugh! Tamil Nadu has been opposed to alcohol for the last 1000 years. It is now legal, but hard to find and usually NOT served in restaurants. We finally stopped at some place (it turns out it was Hotel Ramakrishna, a place were we now regularly eat breakfast after walking around Arunachala). They had some Chinese (style) food on the menu that we ordered. Someone sat on the other side  of the table that hated George Bush, and was on our case about him. We got a rickshaw back to the guest house, put up the mosquito net (not an easy task, either) than went to sleep, Our first night in Tiruvannamalai was not so good.

At about 5 AM, as usual, I awoke. When I awoke, I had my foot and leg next to the net and they were covered with mosquito bites. Carol was sleeping and I went up to the roof. There was a chair there so I just sat and meditated with Arunachala, beautiful and full from this roof, as the day began. I  watched the local people starting their day. There was a woman on the street, make a white powder drawing, a kolam, in front of her doorway. This is a tradition here. Another woman across the street leaned against her doorway, just watching and sharing the moment. It seemed to me that Tiruvannamalai has been a city for the last 1000 years or so, and that maybe people had learned how to live together.

Here is a photo of Arunachala from the Guest House, Daya Dharma.

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I felt a good sense of peace after the morning with Arunachala and went to get Carol and go to Ramanasramam for breakfast with the group and to see what we were going to be doing this day.   

The days would follow a pattern. We would meet at Ramanasramam for breakfast. After breakfast, we would find out from Nome what we were going to do next. Usually we would take a walk somewhere to a Ramana site, have lunch at the ashram, then meet at 1 PM for a private group talk with Nome. Before we got here Nome said that he would  not be offering satsang here, there is only one guru here, he said, that that is Sri Ramana. So he would meet with us privately and talk about what we had experienced in the morning and previous day, and answer any questions. He regularly showed us the nondual meaning of what we were seeing. This was so important, turning strange (to most Americans) images into ‘friends.’ Is it easy to see Ganesh as a helper when you understand that the obstacles he removes are those obstacles to practice. It is also easy to appreciate Dakshinamurti’s foot on the demon of forgetfulness (of our Identity with the Self), who is looking up with gratitude at Dakshinamurti.

As a group we went to Skandashram, Virupaksha Cave, Pavala Kundru, Pachiaimman Koil, Adi Anamalai, walked the Inner Path and had a great time seeing and meditating at all these places frequented by Ramana. Since we were not living with the group Carol and I had time to ourselves in the afternoon and after dinner. We used this time to explore Tiruvannamalai in a way not shared by others in our group. I suspect that this ‘India time’ that Carol and I shared was an important part of the background of the final decision to come live in India.

Here are some photos from these trips and our days in Tiruvannamalai:

Skandashram

The next morning after breakfast we walked to Skandashram. We were towards the back of the group. We heard from another group member that Nome had said that we should go barefoot. So we took off our shoes and went barefoot up and down the path. Up was  OK, but going down, I did not have much control and I bruised the bottoms of both feet so bad that they hurt for the next month any time I stood on them. Afterward we found out that Nome had not said any such things about the shoes. 

It was still a wonderful walk, surrounded by green with good views of the mountain and surrounding area.

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When we got near the top of the path we had this wonderful view of the big temple, Arunachaleswara. It is one of the largest in area at 24 acres, and with one of this tallest towers (gopuram) in Tamil Nadu. 

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Here is the entrance to Skandashram. 

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Jim Clark, who took most of these photos and kindly agreed to let me use them for this post, climbed up the rock face near Skandashram to take this photo of it from above. Mainly what is seen in all the green trees. Skandashram is hidden by them. Since there is a spring here and year round water, maybe there were trees here during Ramana’s days.   

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Going back down this hill there is a sadhu that may greet you. He has a rock a bit less than two meters high, covered with yellow turmeric that is like a small Arunachala. I have seen him with children and he is very sweet with them. 

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Pavala  Kundru

The next day we went to Pavala Kundru. As I remember, I think we took rickshaws to the big temple, and then walked from there.

On the street used to approach Pavala Kundru, there is this gateway. Then up the street to a LONG stairway.

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They let Jim photograph the murti in the inner sanctum, This is not usual. 

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Looking out from the main shrine you see Nandi and a sadhu sitting on the steps of the temple. 

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There is a great view of the big temple. The air was hazy, too much smoke from burning wood and auto exhausts I guess.  

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Here is the group sitting on the temple steps. 

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Nome is saying something to us. 

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Behind us is the Arunachala hillside and Skandashram. 

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That is Carol to the left of Nome, in a punjabi suit that she had made in Bangalore. 

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And there I am, hat and moustache. 

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That morning, before we went to breakfast at Ramanasramam, after my third day of sitting with Arunachala, meditating (inquiring) and watching the day begin below me, I  came down stairs and told Carol, “We could  live here.” She said that I was crazy — probably true. The sense  of peace that I had felt with Arunachala was something special, like that I felt meditating with Nome. I had also been seeing children as we walked around the city. The children really struck me as happy healthy kids, and I feel any place that grows happy healthy children has something that is fundamentally right.

Virupaksha Cave

That same day, I think, we went up to Virupaksha Cave after Pavala Kundru. 

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It was hot going up the hill.

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There is the big temple again. Hazy day. 

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The entrance to Virupaksha Cave. There were quite a few people there that day. It is dark inside, and pretty warm. Good meditating though. 

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Leaving from the gate there is a big rock to the left, and the big temple before you.

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Music at Ramanasramam

That night, as is often the case, there were musicians playing in the New Hall.

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There was a pretty good audience. 

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Ramana watched the whole thing, unmoving. 

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In the main hall Ramana’s samadhi is so nicely decorated.  New ones are done each day.

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Arunachaleswara Temple

Arunachaleswara is next. The only problem I had was that my feet hurt like crazy.

One of the big gopurams. I think there are nine altogether.

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They say these were build in the 13th century. Just think what was happening in Europe in the 13th century. 

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The view through the gates. I love this kind of view, leading somewhere. There is a kind of mystery to me. It makes we want to go see what is there. 

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Here is Nome during this walk, with Arunachala behind him.           

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Here is a stone elephant. Such clean lines in the sculpture!

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Here is the temple elephant. Put a rupee in its trunk and it will bless you. It blessed both Carol and me that day. And now look at what happened!

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Leaving the temple. There is a big entrance hall with many pillars between the temple and Car Street. ‘Cars’ are what they call the chariots used to bring out the gods on special holy days. Shops line the way. This is a big shopping area, making good business from the thousands of people who visit this temple every week.   

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One regular activity during these trips is shopping for sarees and fabric for punjabi suits for the ladies. There are many stores and tailors. 

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That evening, Jim took this photo of sunset from path to Skandashram

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Walking the Inner Path  

The next day, we were going to walk the Inner Path. I did not think I would be able to make it, given that painful state of my feet. But I wanted to go with Carol to ‘see her off’ on the walk. Once I was there I ended up going anyway. I am so glad I did.

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Arunachala above us.

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Near to what I now know as Kattu Siva Tank there is an arch leading to his ashram (which is now in disrepair). I love this shot of the sadhu through the arch.

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We sat on the ruins of Kattu Siva’s ashram and meditated for a bit. Nice.

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Then we kept on walking. We are rounding Parvati Hill in this photo below.

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On the other side of Parvati Hill, we came to this nice tank. We sat, ate a snack and enjoyed ourselves.

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See the happy faces!

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There is Nome.

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And me, with a flower in my hat that I had  picked along the way. During this trip, I enjoyed the flowers that I saw women put in their hair. I thought that they could do it, so why not me? So a couple of days I got flowers and wrapped them around my hat. I started getting strange looks from the Indians I passed. Finally after two days, one said, “Flowers for mother, NOT father.” then and there I removed them, knowing now why all the strange looks.

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From this view these two rocks are known are Parvati and Siva, with Parvati in the foreground. Some say that at Ramana’s Mahasamadhi, the comet that appeared came from this Parvati hillock. 

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Walking through the trees.

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Then through brush where there was barely a path. This is much better now, and since we have our trusty clippers, we keep the thorns and brush cut back. 

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After this, I could not take the pain any more, and went to the road and got a rickshaw back to Daya Dharma.

Adi Anamalai

The next day we went to Adi Anamalai, the old temple. Jim did not think he could take photos inside, so we have none from this day. When we were in the temple, to the back, on the wall outside the main shrine there is a line of murtis. Some seem ancient lingams and Ganeshas, coated it seems in a thousand years of ghee that has been poured on them. there were also other murtis (which I now know are some of the 63 Namilyar Saints, beloved by the Tamils. One of the Tamil speakers in our group was translating their names from signs in Tamil.  

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A few of the happy kids we say everywhere. They love to greet and be greeted by westerners. And to have their photos taken.

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Pachiaimann Koil   

The next outing was to Pachiaimman Koil, at the eastern end of Arunachala. There were many things I did not understand, like all these warrior-like figures outside the entrance. They sure are colorful, though.

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There were also these horses, the elephant, a dog and two attendants at the side of the temple.

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The group was going to stay three weeks in total. Because of my job, I thought we could only stay for two. So on the day that Ramanasramam had scheduled a celebratory reading of the Tamil Ribhu Gita we were on our way to the airport instead. The Ribhu Gita had been translated by Nome as Song of Ribhu (And Ramanasramam given royalty-free right to republish – at Indian costs and prices so it could be available to everyone who comes to Ramanasramam). So they had a nice event for Nome, which we missed. We felt bad about leaving our friends from the sangha and Nome. But we we on our way home.

Below, about 18 hours into the flight, we stopped at the airport in south Korea for an hour while they serviced the plane

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We had a great time, and felt very comfortable in Tiruvannamalai. And I had a deep reaction to Arunachala which I cannot really explain. I kind of see myself as a western scientific/technical type, and am not a  believer in ‘magical thinking.’ But here is this deep reaction and sense of peace while sitting with Arunachala!       

Carol and I kept talking about it. Retirement was coming up for  me pretty soon, and I was, in fact, looking for an alternative to the USA. I knew that my US Social Security pension would not go far in the US, but would give us a good life in India. The company I worked for at that time was a software company owned by an Indian NRI, employing a number of young Indian men (on H1B visas, I think). Some had experience  in Tamil Nadu. I cross checked cost estimates with them and felt that we would do fine on my Social Security pension.

To cross check my feelings about Tiruvannamalai, I  went again early in 2006, this time without Carol. She and I have a good time wherever we go, and I thought it a good  idea to see if I felt the same about Arunachala and Tiruvannamalai without her. I went again and had the same good feelings.

Carol’s mother, then 88, was living with us. Carol was committed to caring for her until she died. She died in the spring of 2007. I retired a few months later. Then we spent two months where we worked amazingly hard getting rid of the lifetime of beloved possessions we both had accumulated (plus Carol’s folk’s eastern antiques, worth little on the west coast, even through there was one item, a chair, from the 1700s. As we got rid of stuff, we felt lighter and lighter. Even these beloved things are not needed and are just weight. I also noticed that I spent a year or two working to pay for things that, in the end, we just gave away.

In November of 2007 we arrived in India to stay. An Indian friend met us at the airport, so there was a familiar face. I can’t tell you how good that was. Since I thought that we would be back, I took time time to develop relationships with a couple of Indian men, since I thought that we would need help later. This turned out to be a good idea. Having their assistance to help us get started was a great help.

I also observe that since we came here as husband and wife, with a teacher, and with an established practice things were (and are) much easier. We did not come here looking for relationships, lovers, or gurus. So we can just be with Arunachala and receive what is being given (which is much, everything we need). We have found that there are many here with whom we share what is  most important. We feel that we have more friends here that we did in the US. Some of these live here full time, some are here many months each year, some just a few days or weeks at a time.  These include Indians and westerners. So many people love Ramana and Arunachala and the deep spiritual truth that they stand for. Friendships that form from the love of spiritual truth seem deeper, and are less dependent on mere personal details.

We have lived here a bit more than one and a half years now. It was the best decision that we could have made. At a higher level, though it may have seemed our decision, I am told that no one comes here that is not called by Arunachala. Thank you Arunachala!     

Om Arunachalesvaraya Namah.

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14 Responses to “Why move to Tiruvannamalai and Arunachala? – Part Two”

  1. oneno2nd Says:

    Hi Richard, thanks so much for your deep, simple, straightforward story, and way of being. I have been to Arunachala, and once nearly moved there, when in truth it was not the time, I was 40. Now 70, my partner and I spent six months in Kerala two years ago, loved it, now thinking of Arunachala as possible place to live; you help inspire us. Blessings, peace, and joy to you both,
    Michael and Amira
    oneno2nd@gmail.com

    • Richard Clarke Says:

      This has been very good for us, Arunachala has been good to us and we have a rich life here. India is not for everyone, though. I would say from my experience do not wait too long. At 70 my energy is less each year, and it takes energy to adjust to the changes and to make a life in a new place, and in India things are enough different that you may be deeply challenged. For us it was easy. Are you followers of Ramana Maharshi? This is the basis for the western community here. For us this was the best thing we could have done at this time in our lives. Wishing that you find the same.

  2. Srinivas Ranganath Says:

    Dear Richards
    I stand my self corrected, it think it is six years not 12 as mentioned in my e’mail. I have gone through your blogs “why move to Arunachala part 1 and 2 and realised your step taken and enrirely convinced by what you have written. Your reply to my email need not contain why you wanted to move to Tiruvannamalai.Wish you and Carol lots of good health in exploring Tiruvannamalai.

  3. arulraja1 Says:

    Hi Richard and Carol,

    Thanks for the wonderful sharing of your life with so many many photos… bringing arunachala and ramana into the life of readers with a very vibrant sense of energy.

    I was in Thiruvannamalai Temple on 5th June 2013, *just two days back* and it was a visit ‘forced’ on me by ‘circumstances’ – and just for a couple of hours…

    There was a shrine of parashakti inside the temple, and I stood before her for a few minutes; and now, back home, I want to see if I could get a picture of the parashakti I had the darshan of, from the web…

    The search led me to your website. My search is not over; may be not begun in earnest yet! I’m still in the first picture of the buffalo searching farmer!

    Lots of love.
    Arulraja

  4. lakkki Says:

    om namo bhagavate sri ramanaya
    Sri Richard,
    your blog is amazing with arunachaleswaras photoes.
    you are a blessed soul,so you landed in arunachala.my day begins with ur ramana mails.Ramana bhagawan is everything to me.this is nothing but ramanas grace.I read sir nomes articles through you.Ramana only showed this path to me.

  5. psrimathi Says:

    Richard,

    Love your blog. Feels like we are in Arunachala.

    I am coming to Tiruvannamalai around 20th November for a fortnight. I wanted to know if I could join you with my husband on your morning walks on the inner path one of those days. I have done Girivalam but never walked the inner path and would love to do it.

    How do I contact you when I’m there? My email is srimathip@indiatimes.com

    Srimathi

  6. vpkumar Says:

    Dear Sir,
    I had requested you earlier, is there a way to live and retire in Arunachala
    I am an engineer and my wife is a doctor. 60yes old and Indians

    V.P.Kumar
    tovpkumar@gmail.com.

  7. smohan2403 Says:

    Dear Sri Richard Clarke,
    I was one of the first to ask you why you came to live in India. Your two blogs have beautifully answered the question. Wonderful comments and pictures. You have in fact inspired me to start a Blog myself. It is nice of you to share your intimate experiences. I am sure it will inspire countless folks as it has inspired me.
    My father-in-law, late Sri V.N. Srinivasa Rao, had the privilege of spending a day with Bhagavan in circa 1948. I will share his experience with you one of these days.
    Warm regards and God Bless
    S. Mohan

  8. sathyasaimemories Says:

    very different from the Arunachala of 15 years ago when I visited. There were so few people there then. Nice photos. thanks.

  9. prakasamkannan Says:

    simply touching.welcome to india.

  10. raju0704 Says:

    Hi Richard,
    Beautiful, in one word! Your ending notes brought tears in me. India is so peace loving and I am proud of it as an Indian. Nome, at the first look of him in the photo itself, delivers so much peace, joy and divinity. I am a person who travels to many temples and write travelogues with photos. There are many many places (temples /sacred places) in Tamilnadu which give great peace and happiness. Just the village, the temple rajagopurams and the adjacent temple tank is a beautiful sight in many temples. Padavedu, Devikapuram, Nedungunam, Vallimalai, Thennangur are few of such places. If you start enjoying the temple sculptures, there will be no end. There is a temple at Chinna Kavanam near Chennai, which has a 2500 years old tree called Ankola or Eranzhil. Its fruit ripens, falls on the ground and breaks open. Then the seeds from the fruit, move and attach themselves to the parent tree as it were by a sort of force of gravity and thereafter form part of the parent tree itself and disappear from sight. According to Sankaracharya, this signifies that “we who have become separated from Bhagwan (God) should similarly gravitate towards Him; and ultimately become one with Him.”. Like this I can go on and on…
    Hope you know about the 275 important Shiva temples that are glorified by the four great tamil saints through a hymn called Thevaram. Being a Arunachala devotee, you should try to visit them one by one and try to complete all the 275 of them.
    Hope you know about Art of Living and Sri Sri Ravishankar. You will definitely enjoy his ashram near Bangalore, wonderful one. Doing their Advanced course (one has to be in complete silence for 3 days in a 4 day course), especially in places like Thennangur, Pollachi, Coutralam, especially with a teacher called Arun Madhavan, is the ultimate one for me.
    My temple travelogues are here:
    http://shanthiraju.wordpress.com/
    My temple photos are here:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rajushanthi/
    My temple maps are here:
    http://www.platial.com/raju0704/maps
    I wish that your stay at India brings more and more joy and peace to you both and also to others around you. Enjoy your living!
    In case you need any help, you can write to me at raju0704@gmail.com
    Regards,
    Raju

  11. sriraml Says:

    Beautiful!

    “Friendships that form from the love of spiritual truth seem deeper, and are less dependent on mere personal details.”

    “no one comes here that is not called by Arunachala.”

    I have personally known this to be true.. To think that one could visit is foolishness. A deep yearning in the heart and the grace of Arunachala are essential to come near Him..

  12. Gon Says:

    29th photo shows nome— his face look like lord skanda son of arunachala himself. his life has some for purpose like david godman. who knows he may be a god appointed man

  13. prasanthjvrs Says:

    Very Inspiring Richard Sir.

    Om Namo Bhagavate Sri Ramanaya
    Prasanth Jalasutram

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