Archive for August, 2009

Ramana’s Cave – Guhai Namasivaya Temple

August 20, 2009

Guhai Namasivaya Temple and cave were lived in by Ramana before he took residence in Virupaksha cave. In the map shown in the post on Alamarathu Guhai Cave you can see that this temple is just a bit up the hill from Banyan or Alamarathu Guhai Cave. Some sources say Ramana lived here in 1899, some say as late as 1901.

For devotees of Sri Ramana, there are two things of note about this place. This is where, in 1902, Ramana answered the questions on slips of paper from Sivaprakasam Pillai that was later to become the book, “Who am I?”, perhaps the most famous of Ramana’s works. Lesser known, but very significant was that while Ramana was living at this cave, he found the originals of verses inscribed in palm leaves that were written by  Guhai Namasivaya, and wrote them out on paper. When these verses were later found by a Ramana devotee, they increased the number of known writings by Guhai Namasivaya by a factor of four! So thanks to Sri Ramana’s diligent work in transcribing these verses from the 1500/1600s, much more is known of the writings of this Saivite saint.

Guhai Namasavaya is one of the holy men that came to live with Arunachala, and is one of its most famous saints.

Guhai Namasivaya is known to have been born around the year AD 1548 in Karnataka to a pious Saiva couple. According to his biography, his spiritual nature became evident at an early age. He embarked while still young upon a search that led him to Sivananda Desikar, a famous Guru who lived at Sri Sailam. He became a disciple of this Guru and began to serve him with fervent and selfless devotion.

Guhai Namasivaya practised the Siva Yoga taught by Sri Deskiar for many years. The goal of the yoga is to find Siva in everything and to discover the fundamental root of that immanent Siva manifestation in one’s heart. When Guhai Namasivaya had thoroughly mastered it, Lord Mallikarjuna, the presiding deity of Sri Sailam, appeared to Guhai Namasivaya in a dream and commanded him to go to Arunachala and remain there as a Guru, giving teachings to mature disciples who approached him. When he related this dream to his Guru, Sivananada Desikar gave him his blessings and told him to carry out the order. Shortly afterwards, Guhai Namasivaya set out on horseback for Tiruvannamalai.

Local legend says that he traveled to Tiruvannamalai with Virupaksha Deva, the man who gave his name to Virupaksha Cave.

There is good information about Guhai Namasivaya available on the net. This is from The Mountain Path, in 1990. Here is a nice article written by David Godman. This is another article from The Mountain Path, 1992. Here is an article written by Nadhia, who lived at Guhai Namasivaya for 15 years.

Here are a few verses from Guhai Namasivaya. Unnamulai is the feminine part of the pair, Annamalai and Unnamulai (Siva and Parvati), who preside at the big temple, Arunachaleswara Temple in Tiruvannamalai.

1. O Mother Unnamulai, you are the only support for me.
I, the worst sinner,  have no other support than you.
Please bear with my mistakes and sins.  Even if you decide
to punish me a little bit, how can I bear it? Is it dharma for you?

2. O Mother Unnamulai, I do not chant anything other than
Siva’s name, the god who consumed poison from the milky ocean.
I have not gone through the ways of my senses.   Why then
do you punish me, the mother, the substance of all Vedas.
Do not hate me lest I am lost.

3. O Mother Unnamulai, Who else is there excepting you as
my refuge?  How can a mother fail to take care of the child
born to her?  Who else is my mother, other than you?

4.   O Mother Unnamulai, I am also a slave, like you to Siva,
Annamalai.  Do not forsake me.  While Annamalai is the support
for the world and you are her wife and I am your son, is it not?

These remind me of verses to Arunachala written 350 years later by Sri Ramana.

The photos show the walk up the hill from Alamarathu Guhai Cave. Guhai Namasivaya Temple can also be reached from a path by the big banyan tree on the western path up to Virupaksha Cave. (The eastern path, up the paved road, is the route usually taken to Virupaksha Cave.)


Up the stone steps.



On one of the steps, from which you can first see the gopuram of Guhai Namasivaya Temple, is the carving. Saran, our guide, says that Tamil people make this gesture when they first see the gopuram.


Here is the gopuram. You can see this from higher up on Arunachala.



Here is a photo of the gateway tower that was made many hears ago. Notice how the hill seems almost bare. This is how it was for many years, since local people would cause fires that would burn up Arunachala as a way to burn up their karma. The preservation and restoration of Arunachala is really something that has started just in the last few years.


The Temple sign. It is the Sannadhi, since this is where his remains are buried.


Looking out from the temple steps.


Arunachaleswara Temple pokes through the trees. We are not far from it.


Through the gate, the priest motions for us to enter.


The caves are located in the big rock behind the temple. If you cook carefully you can see a while Nandi atop the rock. The mandapam (pillared hall), where Nadhia lived for 15 years, is to the right, the temple to the left.


The wall is painted with a picture  of Guhai Namasivaya.


I think the image of him was taken from this bas relief that is in the rear of the mantapam.


There is much Tamil writing on the wall. I have put it all here, so perhaps one of our readers can give us either a translation, or the gist of what was written.










Saran was telling Carol what he thought was the basic story of Guhai Namasivaya. Maybe this is the story that he had heard as a child. It is not the story that was written in the Mountain Path and other articles I referenced earlier in this post.

Here is the story he told:

Once villagers were upset that a goat had died. They came to Guhai Namasivaya and asked for his help. He brought the goat back to life. Other villagers wanted to see if he was for real, so they challenged  him. They had a boy act as if dead, then asked  to bring him back to life. Guhai Namasivaya knew the boy was alive, so he could not bring him back to life. They kept insisting, and finally Guhai Namasivaya got angry, and took the boy’s life away. Then the villagers brought many people who were all angry at Guhai Namasivaya for killing the boy. This made Guhai Namasivaya even madder, so he caused a fire that burnt up the village, then he caused another fire to burn Arunachala. At this point, Siva came and told him he should not burn Arunachala. To punish him, Siva took his life. Guhai Namasivaya had so much spiritual energy, that when his spirit was released out of the body, it broke the rock that housed the cave into pieces.

The more usual ending to this story is that, since the villagers who troubled Guhai Namasivaya we weavers, he put a curse on weavers in Tiruvannamalai, and this is why no weavers have succeed there since that day. I have heard this before and read it in several places.

I don’t know if his story has anything to do with what is painted on the wall. It’s a good story, though! We will see the broken rock pieces later in this post.


Here is Nandi.


Here is the entrance to the samadhi. It was not open at the time we visited, so we have no photos inside. The statues above the entrance show Siva and Parvati on Nandi, with Guhai Namasivaya sitting in front, in the same pose as in the painting.

There a a big banyan tree here.


And stairs leading up to a cave.


The priest waits inside.


The open cave door beckons.


The priest is sitting, meditating.


There is an altar with a burning lamp. Behind the altar is a mirror. The priest talked about seeing Siva, I think meaning the reflection in the mirror. Sivo hum. Sivo hum.


Out of the cave, looking towards Tiruvannamalai. Mainly we see Temple grounds from another point of view.


The banyan tree. It is magnificent!


By the cave, there is Tamil writing carved in the rock, and a figure, Siva?, to the left. It would be great to take a rubbing of some of this, to record and translate.


Our guide, Saran, enjoys himself with one of his childhood games.


Banyan swing.


Jump out and back, maybe a turn too.


Here is the rock and the cave from another viewpoint, with hanging banyan roots in the foreground. It  looks like much construction work was done on the lower part of the rock.


Arunachala from the back of the temple grounds.


Another view of the great banyan tree.


We walked around the rock that houses the cave. Sure enough, it is broken into BIG pieces. How did this happen? Is the story true?


More Tamil writing carved into the rock below the crack. I  bet it tells the story we heard from Saran.


Guhai Namasivaya Temple is another great place to visit, and to sit and meditate. It is easy to get to. It is quiet and beautiful, with a serene spiritual feel. We will be back. It is definitely worth a visit the next time you are in Tiruvannamalai.

Also, I think this is a place were you can arrange with the priest to stay overnight in the cave. If you want a very special Arunachala experience, this might be it.

Related Posts

Go to the Ramana timeline and sites page to see other posts of all other Ramana sites.


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