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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Here is the entrance to Skandashram.
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.
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.
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.
They let Jim photograph the murti in the inner sanctum, This is not usual.
Looking out from the main shrine you see Nandi and a sadhu sitting on the steps of the temple.
There is a great view of the big temple. The air was hazy, too much smoke from burning wood and auto exhausts I guess.
Here is the group sitting on the temple steps.
Nome is saying something to us.
Behind us is the Arunachala hillside and Skandashram.
That is Carol to the left of Nome, in a punjabi suit that she had made in Bangalore.
And there I am, hat and moustache.
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.
That same day, I think, we went up to Virupaksha Cave after Pavala Kundru.
It was hot going up the hill.
There is the big temple again. Hazy day.
The entrance to Virupaksha Cave. There were quite a few people there that day. It is dark inside, and pretty warm. Good meditating though.
Leaving from the gate there is a big rock to the left, and the big temple before you.
Music at Ramanasramam
That night, as is often the case, there were musicians playing in the New Hall.
There was a pretty good audience.
Ramana watched the whole thing, unmoving.
In the main hall Ramana’s samadhi is so nicely decorated. New ones are done each day.
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.
They say these were build in the 13th century. Just think what was happening in Europe in the 13th century.
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.
Here is Nome during this walk, with Arunachala behind him.
Here is a stone elephant. Such clean lines in the sculpture!
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!
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.
One regular activity during these trips is shopping for sarees and fabric for punjabi suits for the ladies. There are many stores and tailors.
That evening, Jim took this photo of sunset from path to Skandashram
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.
Arunachala above us.
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.
We sat on the ruins of Kattu Siva’s ashram and meditated for a bit. Nice.
Then we kept on walking. We are rounding Parvati Hill in this photo below.
On the other side of Parvati Hill, we came to this nice tank. We sat, ate a snack and enjoyed ourselves.
See the happy faces!
There is Nome.
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.
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.
Walking through the trees.
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.
After this, I could not take the pain any more, and went to the road and got a rickshaw back to Daya Dharma.
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.
A few of the happy kids we say everywhere. They love to greet and be greeted by westerners. And to have their photos taken.
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.
There were also these horses, the elephant, a dog and two attendants at the side of the temple.
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
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.