The Season Starts in Tiruvannamalai

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Many people visit Tiruvannamalai. Usually Indians come for just a day or two to walk girivalam around Arunachala and maybe visit the big temple, Arunachaleswara. Westerners come for a few weeks, or a few months. For Westerners, there is definitely a ‘season’ each year, from October through February. For people who live here, like Carol and me, the season seems to start as things open up for the newly arriving visitors. Two ‘traditional’ such openings are the start of bajan singing with Upahar and Veena, and the opening of Om Cafe, the multi-cuisine vegetarian restaurant that was new last year. This year there are other things of interest, such as the opening of a bar at the Ashreya Hotel that will cater to Westerners, and wood-fired pizza on Saturday nights at Sathya’s Cafe. I have a few photos to illustrate these, and a map that shows where they’re located.

These places are all off Perumbakkam Road. This area is presently being built up with new housing and accommodations for Westerners visiting or living in Tiruvannamalai.

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The bajan singing is at Upahar and Veena’s house. It is a short block to the left off Perumbakkam Road.  A new house has been built between it and the road, so it is less visible. Bajan singing is from 10 AM to noon on Sundays. This has been a regular Sunday event for many years. Upahar and his wife, Veena, stay in Tiruvannamalai for six months each year. This year they also offer a bajan session on Wednesday afternoons.

The crowd fills their house. It is early in the season and already the room seems pretty full.

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Upahar leads the chanting. He will play either the harmonium, guitar, or drum. He also plays a flute, and each morning starts with a meditative flute improvisation. The chants are written out, and passed out the those attending.

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Other musicians come and play. Here we see a man playing a drum, and another with a rhythm instrument.

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Sometimes people bring their children. Right in front of us a young Indian girl, brought by her father, plays with a Western boy, brought by his mother.

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This Indian girl was one of three brought by a Jean, a French man. She is lying on a pillow near us.

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Now Upahar is playing the guitar and chanting. He has a good voice and clearly enjoys singing.

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This Indian boy came with his family, and he brought his drum with him.

After the singing is over people talk and enjoy one another’s company. For many this is also a social occasion, meeting friends. This post is from last year, and shows more of a typical day of bajan singing.

Down the road is the Om Cafe. It is run by two locals, Harriet, an English woman, and her Indian husband, Happy. Harriet is the head cook, and the menu is not the usual faire offered locally. There really are not many food choices available for Westerners, so the Om Cafe is a welcome addition. It opened last year. Here is a post from last year after it first opened.

Opening on October 21st will be the bar and non-veg restaurant at the Ashreya Hotel. This will be the only such place that caters to Westerners.

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We had heard that it was to open on the 17th, and went to enjoy the occasion. It was not yet open, but they let us come in, served us food, and went out and got beer for us to drink. Below, Carol, Alan and I hoist our beers!

Another food event during the season is wood-fired pizzas at Sathya’s Cafe. Right now this is offered on Saturday nights, 6 to 9 PM. As the season gets underway, they will offer one or two more nights. So far, Satya’s can only offer the pizza menu when they think there will be enough business to fire up the wood-fired pizza oven, since this is relatively expensive each time. Pizzas are also available as take-out food. We usually get an extra to take home. We reheat it in a fry pan with butter or olive oil, and they are delicious this way.

Below, standing in front of Satya’s cafe is the proprietor, Dhakshinamoorthy. He is a villager, learning to operate the cafe after being electrocuted a few years ago. He also runs a local nonprofit, Quality of Life Trust, which, among other things, cares for abandoned elders in his village. This is a real problem throughout India. The traditional Indian family expects the children (specifically the oldest son) to care for mother and father when they get old. But when the son goes off to the big city, he often seems to forget his roots, and his mother or father may end up living on someone’s porch, begging for food. Quality of Life Trust sees that they get food and medical care. They hope to build a home for the elders, too.

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So things are picking up in Tiruvannamalai. More people are in town, and more are coming each day. The most Westerners are usually here in December and January. The largest crowds of Indians are here for Deepam. This year the big day of the ten-day Deepam celebration is November 25th. Maybe two million Indians will be in town for that day. The merchants, vendors, and rickshaw and taxi drivers all depend on business from visitors for their living. So please be willing to shop at their stores and stalls, and use their services. I know many of the rickshaw drivers from around Ramanasramam, and they will do everything they can to help you have a good visit in Tiruvannamalai.

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26 Responses to “The Season Starts in Tiruvannamalai”

  1. cspacenz Says:

    Interesting debate, very very interesting and timely for me.

    Soon to visit Arunachala I had already decided my 40 odd days there should be largely in silence for this very reason. As many different ones of us as there are there are just as many viewpoints it would seem. Then this sort of debate arises, which to me looks from the outside looking in is a great big load of nonsensical dribble. Pardon the expression but it really comes across as more of a pissing contest, it comes down to who has the most skill with the written word.

    Both of the main writers have their points of view, clearly both have very different frames of reference. Is one right and the other wrong ? Does one express more truth than the other ? Who knows, really ?

    I was initially drawn to Sri Ramana Maharshi firstly because of the simplicity of his teaching, secondly because of the “silence”. When I read this sort of thing or find myself drawn into these ludicrous sorts of conversations I am reminded of the importance of silence as this sort of thing is a road to nowhere, the need to be right serving only the egos of those involved.

    Funny thing though, it’s as if one writer has 25-30 friends who all signed in and gave their support.

    Love your blog Richard, it’s most excellent, thoroughly enjoy all the photos.

    Oh and if wood fired pizza is not acceptable what on earth is ???

    • richardclarke Says:

      Many people find different things here. I suspect it has to do with the reality that they project. For us this is a place of peace and happiness. We come here looking for nothing, just to be with Arunachala. We know that we already have all that is needed. (One of the real ‘answers’ from the inquiry, “Who am I?”)

  2. twopaisa Says:

    Dear Richard, yes indeed it is a warning not to mistake the finger for the moon. And when one makes that discrimination, the finger becomes a distraction from observing the moon. However, it is incorrect to state that Ramana read and absorbed Viveka Chudamani before offering spiritual instruction. No genuine self realized person gets to that state by reading books. Bhagwan has also made that abundantly clear on several occasions. His first instructions to Sivaprakasam Pillai and others were given long before people brought religious books to him seeking clarifications.

  3. twopaisa Says:

    Dear Richard, how can any genuine enquiry start with a conclusion, since it is our mind that absorbs convenient conclusions and rejects uncomfortable ones. Self enquiry would still beg the question ‘who is it that came to the conclusion that I am the unknown knower of all the known?’. Unless one is actually self realized and living in that state, it seems just another idea conceived by the mind.

    Even as raw beginners (in my case anyway) we begin to use self realized beings like Rama, Krishna, Buddha etc to justify our behavior. There are many examples in similar situations where Bhagawan has asked people who made such comparisons ‘Are you Rama/Krishna/etc?’. This is most pertinent for beginners. By all means, if we depend entirely on Bhiksha for food like the Buddha, we may have to eat whatever is offered. It is altogether different from the fullfillment of sensory cravings of taste.

    My apologies in advance if I am offending anyone here, since that is hardly my intention.

    • richardclarke Says:

      “The unknown knower of all the known” is ancient Upanishadic teaching. Rather than a conclusion it is an aide to discrimination, what the Zen Buddhists might call ‘a finger pointing at the moon.’ They warn to not mistake the finger for the moon. That is good advise with spiritual teachings. Discrimination is a matter of distinguishing the ‘real’ what is unchanging) from the ‘unreal’, that which comes and goes. If you want to know more about discrimination, please read Adi Sankara’s “Crest Jewel of Discrimination.” this was one of the books that Ramana read and absorbed before he started providing any spiritual instruction.

      Inquiry for most starts in the mind. Discrimination starts in the mind. It does not end up as any mental process however.

    • richardclarke Says:

      Twenty years ago when I first started a self-inquiry practice, I thought that I was a smart person, and so I could ‘figure it out.’ This approach lead me to some good insights and more peace of mind, but nothing more. After a few years I started using my mind in another way, to compare my experience with what the great teachers have taught. I assumed that the teachers were telling the truth about their actual experiences, and if my experiences were somehow short of this, then to look more deeply at the assumptions I make about my own identity, and then to see if they are real (that is, permanent). I fell that this was really where the inquiry practice started. Certainly this was where the inquiry started getting past the mental level. I also had the support of one the the most gifted of teachers of Inquiry, Nome, who was Self-realized in his teens, and who then took the time to study the classics (Ramana, Sankara, the Upanishads, Yoga Vasistha, etc.) to inform his teaching. Inquiry involves moving past the mental assumptions that you believe to constitute reality. As long as you use the mind to determine reality, then you need to deepen your practice.

      Practice starts in the mind, that is why Sankara (and others) said of practice, “Listen (or read), reflect (a mental process), then deeply meditate (Moving deeper than the mind).” Practice ends in that which knows the mind. What is that? The mind is always known, so the mind is objective. Who knows the mind? Who am I? This is the direction of practice.

  4. venkym Says:

    Richard – I enjoy your blog and love for Ramana.

    The awareness of Ramana’s teaching and vedanta in general is not high among us indians. I appreciate the westerners who come to arunachala. It must be an inner calling.

    As to how many are mature enough for genuine self enquiry i dont know. Its a simple matter of how consistent the inquiry is. I dont think the outer actions matter much if the inquiry continues.

    Regarding diet, Buddha was a meat eater, so was Nisargadatta Maharaj and im sure many other enlightened souls.

    But i do think a sattvic diet will help.

    • richardclarke Says:

      Thank you for your comment. What really helps inquiry the most is actually inquiring. My teacher Nome says, “Let your inquiry be nonobjective.” You are ‘the unknown knower of all the known.” If the inquiry is on ANYTHING that can be perceived (through the senses) or conceived (with the mind), then it is not who you are. Now, who is that? Who am I?

  5. seethag Says:

    well,lot has been written and replies have been flying across.I have something to say it is not that westerners should not come or they are a menace obviously. however i still feel in a country like india where anyone can do anything “most democratic” some people take advantage . Dear richard i felt a bit worried to read there were two children with a french man .He may be totally innocent, but having read so much about goa , puri and the international issues on exploitation of children i am worried that children walk around with strangers if they are given toffees or pens etc.Secondly last year in tiruvannamalai due to circumstances i stepped inside a gated compound belonging to a white man(i am not going to say gentleman coz i dont think he was).I stepped in to see what happened to the western woman who came with me.Next thing i heard was this western man ordering me out of” his”property . The reason being he does not like indians!!!then why stay here?i almost went to the local press on two grounds ,one racism and the other illegal means of owning a property.As far as my knowledge goes westerners cannt own property directly.

    There is a huge difference in westerners living in india and indians living in the west.May be it is not obvious to you hariharan.

    I ,as a resident have mixed feeling about tiruvannamalai being one of the spiritual shopping centres for westerners .I respect the agencies that do good, but i also detest the recolonisation .It is a social phenomenon which is having various effects on the place.

    We all have many layers of identity and so long as we keep thinking’ i belong to this counrty or that , so i am superior to the lesser mortals around me ‘,i dont think we will even get a whiff of any self realisation.

  6. ghariharan Says:

    Please let us all get on with our lives. No need to comment on what others should do, or what standards other mortals should meet, or aspire to. Be generous, though. And be broad-minded, too. It helps overlook the shortcomings of other apparent body-mind entities.

  7. twopaisa Says:

    Dear Richard, the implication of the earlier statement (Ramana’s not mine) is that a pure mind is required to start self enquiry, not many years of book reading, analysis, etc. There is no way around it; according to Ramana, a pure mind does not coexist with an indulgent body. And for those of us (myself in any case) who have yet to start on the path of real self enquiry, the question of ‘conversion’ to another faith or system is moot in any case. After self realization no restrictions need apply, says Ramana. So his position is clear, whether one agrees with him or not. I am sure you know all this. It is in this context that I find Ramana devotees practising self enquiry without restrictions to be an oxymoron. Best wishes.

  8. twopaisa Says:

    Dear Hariharan, I had replied to you yesterday, but it has not been posted by the moderator.

    Richard, it is unfortunate you take things personally and get upset. More so when you clearly know the approach is to ask ‘who is it that is angry?’. The whole issue was only about those who distort the teachings of Ramana and think they have instantly gone beyond all restrictions meant only for ‘lesser mortals’. All the best.

    • richardclarke Says:

      Dear twopaisa, excuse my sarcasm. I was just pointing out the implications of your statements.

  9. ghariharan Says:

    Ok. Now that it is clear that the westerners living in TVMalai are unfit to do self-enquiry, just let them be who they are. Let them lead their lives as they want to, so long as they are not doing anything illegal, or are a nuisance to the general public.

  10. twopaisa Says:

    The following extract from David Godman’s blog on the qualifications for self enquiry is self explanatory. It should put to rest all claims that restrictions on food etc are not needed for some people.

    Question: Who is considered fit for this enquiry? Can one by oneself know one’s own fitness?

    Bhagavan: He whose mind has been purified through upasana [worship] and other means or by merit acquired in past lives, who perceives the imperfections of the body and sense-objects, and feels utter distaste whenever his mind has to function among sense-objects and who realises that the body is impermanent, he is said to be a fit person for self-enquiry.

    By these two signs, that is by a sense of the transitoriness of the body and by non-attachment to sense-objects, one’s own fitness for self-enquiry can be known. (Sri Ramana Gita, chapter 7, verses 8, 9, 10, 11)

    • richardclarke Says:

      No one denies that Sri Ramana recommended a vegetarian (and satvic) lifestyle.

      I guess this negates my 20 years of Self-inquiry. I guess I should convert to Christianity of become a moslem. I guess I should leave Tirvunnamalai and India too.

      I guess this also negates the Bhagavad Gita, since in it, Krishna tells Arjuna that action does not lead to liberation, only Self-knowledge does.

  11. marunachala Says:

    Twopaisa,

    Take a chill-pill. And, please, don’t consider your opinions as ‘facts’. It is best not to judge, anybody.

    Richard:

    I enjoy reading your blog. Thanks.

  12. ghariharan Says:

    Lighten up, twopaisa. There are Indian restaurants, stores and other outfits catering to the Indian immigrants in all parts of the world. I would guess at least 300 Hindu temples have been built all over the USA in the last 20 years. So, where people go, the services they need also moves in.

    Anyway, what grudge do you have against these westerners. Yes, they prefer to live in TVMalai (What’s wrong with that?). It is only you who assume that they are spiritual seekers, that they want to become teachers, and so on. And it is you who expect them to conform to your ideals of vegetarianism, teetotalling, and so on. As it is, we too have several fake gurus among the Indian population.

    As for drinking alcohol, etc. Srirudram extols Shiva as the leader of thieves, etc. (Taskaranam pathi). Cool down, it is all an appearance. You appear to be a good man only because others are not as good. There is nothing other than you, the atma.

  13. twopaisa Says:

    Facts are always unpleasant. Shooting the messenger does not in any way invalidate the message. No doubt there have been a few serious seekers from the west. But let us not kid ourselves here. There is a marked change in the atmosphere of tvmalai in the past two decades. And one does not have to meet every single westerner to understand this. The proliferation of businesses catering almost exclusively to western seekers that you have mentioned in this article is itself sufficient. Unless you want us to believe that suddenly the local peanut farmers and shepherds have developed an irresistible craving for wood fired pizza and beer. A far cry indeed from the times of Ramana when genuine seekers from the west were content with whatever local vegetarian food was provided at the ashram.

  14. ghariharan Says:

    twopaisa is being unnecessarily harsh. Perhaps he comes from a religious, vegetarian family, and is perhaps is pious, too.

    I am a vegetarian, but vegetarianism is almost resrricted to certain classes of people in south India, unknown to most of the world. I would guess that 2 percent of the world’s population is strictly vegetarian. If vegetarianism is a pre-requisite for attaining “enlightenment” it is clear that it is not meant for the majority of humankind. It rules out sages hailing from any part of the world other than India.

    Were Rama and Krishna vegetarians? Were the pandavas vegetarians? Was Arjuna, to whom Krishna imparted the supreme knowledge on the battlefield, vegetarian?

    Ramana might have preferred vegetarianism since that was his family background. He might himself have been biassed while saying sattvic food is a must to realize the supreme truth. (Dont make Ramana into a God, please)

    In Bhagavatham there is an instance of a Brahmin being sent to a housewife, and thence to a professional butcher, who gave him Brahma Vidya.

    Anyway, when the realization has taken place and it is seen that there is no person doing anything, perhaps the previous restrictions would appear meaningless.

    And, in another direction, what is wrong if westerners come to India and live here? Lakhs of Indians have migrated in the opposite direction, and that too for money!

  15. twopaisa Says:

    As stated previously, it is not my intention to criticise anybody in particular. Though many have indeed become a nuisance to the locals. I think you could observe the functioning of the ashram, instead of being dismissive about it as ‘the details of maya’. Is it the Self effulgent Being that gets excited about non veg food and beer? How easy it is to preach Self enquiry to somebody who questions our behavior. Spare a thought as to why the ashram serves saatvic food, no meat and no drinks. People land in tvmalai by the plane load considering themselves as practitioners of self enquiry. Supposedly beyond any restrictions already. Unfortunately as Ramana himself admonished ‘self enquiry is only for the advanced seekers’. I guess this statement is not so popular in the west. Most indulge themselves in the name of self enquiry and avoid real self reflection even when this is pointed out. They further preach a hodge podge of Ramana’s statements to the gullible and soon morph as teachers. Just food for thought.

    • richardclarke Says:

      I know many people who are here, westerners, and among them I know many that are sincere aspirants. I can understand what you say, but I strongly suspect that you generalize too much, and about people you do not actually know. How easy it is to criticize those who one does not know.

  16. twopaisa Says:

    Dear Richard, my comments are not directed at you or any individual in particular. I am seeing the proliferation of such people in tvmalai first hand during the past decade or two. And I am talking about self professed sadhakas, not passing tourists. It is interesting you have quoted Ramana’s comment to remember why people come there in the first place. That is precisely the issue. Unless you also agree they come there for pizza, non veg food, generous amounts of beer, and to have a good time for a reasonable price. That would at least be honest though it does not have to be cloaked in spirituality. It is revealing that ‘some’ do not require restrictions for their practice (whatever that means). Ramana clearly mentioned a ‘saatvic’ diet as a requirement and in Hinduism this is a pre requisite before any practice. Neither meat eating nor beer drinking qualify as saatvic food. Apparently the modern sadhakas from the west already know what restrictions they need and what they can disdain even as beginners. However I am thankful to hear that not all of these folks intend to become teachers. Some have gone back on their promise in the past and we have yet to recover from their teachings.

    • richardclarke Says:

      I suggest that you may have missed the point in Ramana’s instruction, “Remember why you came here.” As I understand it, this instruction tells one to focus on their own practice, and to not concern themselves with others. Clearly it is not intended to be used to criticize others.

      If I were upset about the behavior of others, I would inquire, “Who is it that is upset?” The resolution is found in Self-effulgent Being, not in concern with the details of maya.

  17. twopaisa Says:

    A very honest appraisal of the needs for many western ‘sadhakas’. Let us see, pizzas and non veg food during the day, a few gulps of beer at night. Bhajans and advaita discussions during spare time. There is no better way to recover from a hangover. All at a fraction of the cost in the West. And after a few years of this seasonal practice, one is qualified to be a teacher. Bravo. No wonder no other country can churn out more spiritual people in such a short time.

    • richardclarke Says:

      Many people come here for many different reasons. For some the Hindu restrictions are important, others find that they may not be needed to have a deep practice. Most who are here do not feel that they are qualified to be teachers. I think you are getting carried away with your comments here. You assume much about people that you have never met. When people would come to Bhagavan Sri Ramana and talk about their criticisms of others, Ramana would tell them to “remember why they came here” (that is, to focus on their own practice). Perhaps that is useful advice for you.

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