In India, one should make gifts on his or her birthday. What seems good to me is to give food to sadhus that frequent Arunachala’s Girivalam Road (also known as Hill Round Road, or Pradakshina Road). This has now become one of our birthday traditions.
This post shows photos of sadhu feeding from December 27 of last year. We do this riding in Rajan’s rickshaw with his two children, Janani and Raam, giving out the food.
The breakfasts are prepared at Sathya’s Cafe on Perumbakkam Road. We will pick up 125 meals at 7 in the morning. To make all of them, Dhakshinamoorty and his wife, Lakshmi, (and, I think, her mother) get up about 4 am and start cooking.
The meal has 5 idlies, so 625 idlies have to be made that day. Idli rice will be ground, made into idlies and steamed. Each pan load makes about 20. So 33 pans of idlies are made.
The meal also includes one vada, wrapped up with the idlies together in newspaper and tied with string, and a separate plastic bag of sambar.
Three crates of food are loaded into Rajan’s rickshaw. Bapu, Dhakshinamoorthy’s oldest son, is loading them. He also works during the morning to ready the meals.
Rajan’s daughter, Janani, is wearing new clothes for this, an orange colored salwar kameeze. She is 10 years old now. This is about when the girls start dressing like the older girls, and start wearing this kind of outfit that features the shawl. So wearing these clothes is a kind of coming of age for a Tamil girl. This starts a life-time of ‘fiddling’ with the shawl (or later with the saree) to keep it properly adjusted. You can see that she is doing just this in the photo below.
So we are off.
We will give out the meals along about 4 km of the road. This is the greatest concentration of sadhus along the ‘Outer Path’ (for walking around the holy mountain, Arunachala. This is along the route taken by more than 10 million people each year). Our route is shown below.
One of the first stops is at a small Ganesh temple across the road. This is on a busy road, so Rajan makes sure it is safe for his son, Raam, to cross.
Janani gives a meal to a very old woman sitting by the road. Really we feed the sadhus and some elderly women along the road, and who stay at various temple and shrines, cleaning, sweeping, etc., living off whatever is given to them. In India, an old woman should be taken care of by her son. But what if she has no son, or he dies, or he (or his wife) refuses to help her?
Raam gives a meal to a sadhu in front of Yama Lingam. Usually there are half a dozen here.
The woman below lives in a makeshift tent pitched beside the road. You can’t see in this photo, but she had a tiny puppy tied on a short leash by her tent.
We are still on Bangalore Road.
Now we have turned onto Girivalam Road.
Both these sadhus have good smiles for us.
Sometimes Janani or Raam have to walk a bit to give the meal.
I was not sure if this was a sadhu or not. He is attendant to one of the minor shrines.
More breakfasts in the hands of sadhus.
After a doing sadhu feedings for a while I figured out that if there is any spiritual gain to be made from this feeding, it would be best for the kids to get it. Once I thought this, Carol and I stay in the rickshaw and give the packages to the kids, who give them out to the sadhus.
The man below can barely walk. In earlier feedings, other sadhus would make sure that I had found him so that he could get his meal. Now I know to look for him.
This sadhu has a perfect white beard, clean and well-combed. His whole forehead is covered with ash (vibhuti). To get this good a covering, the ash is mixed with water to make a paste, and the paste is wiped on the forehead to dry. He has a red tilak (made of kum kum) in the center of his forehead.
It is cold, so this sadhu is wearing a shawl like a coat.
Is he asking for another meal, maybe for the man sitting on the bench?
This sadhu is also dressed for the cold.
We stop at the Niruthi lingam. Devotees worshipping this Niruthi lingam are freed of their problems. This is a popular place with many visitors and many sadhus for whom this is their usual location.
The sadhus form a queue. One by one, each receives the meal.
These sadhus are renunciates. They have given up their family, friends, home, jobs and possessions. They survive on what is given. Some only rely on what is given without asking and don’t ever have their hand out begging. I think that maybe some others are just ‘orange beggars,’ but most have given up much of the worldly life for their spiritual journey, and are to be given great credit for this.
Some are filled with light, and you see this when you make eye contact with them.
After serving the line, Raam and Janani search out those who have not come for their meals. Maybe these meals are the most important to give out.
There is something about this sadhu below that seems particularly warm and gentle as he receives his breakfast from Raam.
Dressed for the cold, with a woollen cap.
The sadhu gives thanks for the food.
I don’t think the child in the photo below is that of the sadhu. He stays around a chai stall, and I think the girl is the daughter of the woman who runs the stall. He seems to spend some effort helping take care of the child. Perhaps this sadhu has not fully given up ‘family.’ Not surprising if so. This is SO deep in most of us.
The sadhu on the left is a Vaishnavite who follows Vishnu rather than Siva. Followers of Siva have the forehead stripe going across rather and up and down. Although Arunachala is a Siva mountain and Tiruvannamalai is mainly a Siva area, there are still many Vishnu temples and shrines here, and many Vaishnavites.
Warmth from this sadhu.
This woman is glad to get the meal. Many people who feed sadhus do not give anything to these woman. They are renunciates, too, though most not by their choice.
I like the beard on this white-bearded sadhu. This is near the area of the Unnamalai Amman Shrine and the Hanuman Shrine. This is another area frequented by many sadhus.
The little girl is seeing if there is anything for her too. Sometimes we give food to these children, too.
Raam goes after sadhus that don’t come to the rickshaw.
This sadhu has a walker. In the US he might be in a nursing home. Here he lives his life, I think as he would have it, living with few possessions from day to day, with his eyes always on God.
Delivering more meals.
Raam brought this meal to a sadhu worshiping at a shrine to the nine planets.
Next to a chai stand, food is given to two sadhus.
This sadhu has a nice white beard.
As does this one, dressed for the cold weather. Nice smile from him.
I like his wild hair and beard, the wild man of Girivalam Road. He also has a big medallion on his chest (not seen in the photo), and a great smile for us.
Another meal for another sadhu.
Meals for two women, happy to get them. Not sure if the woman on the right is that much in need, however.
This sadhu seems to have a quiet dignity.
This sadhu is unable to walk. Other sadhus nearby see that he is taken care of. This is the place of his ‘senior years.’
These sadhus have made a nice home behind this wall, with a good roof, and dry when it rains.
Another meal is given.
This old woman lives next to a Nandi shine. A man, not quite as old, lives with her. I think he is her son, taking care of her as best he can. Both live on the street on what is given to them. Though neither are sadhus, we give food to both.
This person who looks like a sadhu sits near a food stall. Is that a cell phone in his ear? I think so. We give him a meal anyway.
Raam gives another meal to a sadhu sitting on a bench.
Monkeys are along the way. They do not seem to notice us, since we are not giving food to monkeys. If they had seen this, they would be coming after us. This monkey has two sticks. I don’t know what he is doing.
This sadhu is wearing his full set of Siva stripes, on his forehead, arms, chest, etc.
Another sadhu who seems to have an air of dignity.
This sadhu has twisted curls in his beard. Quite distinctive.
We have given all the meals out, and as we drive back, we see sadhus by the road, sitting and eating.
I am grateful to be able to do these sadhu feedings. I feel like Arunachala has given us so much. It is very good to give something back. I have had unusual good luck since I have been here. Rajan says that it is because of the sadhu feedings.
Thank you Arunachala.
Om Arunachaleswaraya Namah.