Archive for May, 2011

Path Across Arunachala Delayed by Mountain Spirits

May 28, 2011

This year’s major project to extend the Yellow Path around Arunachala is planned to be the restoration of the old path over the pass between Ganesh and Parvati Hills, at the west end of Arunachala.

This path route is shown below, in white, about 1.5 km long. 


We are trying to do everything right this year. An official plan was filed with the Department of Forestry and the Collector, through a local Trust organization, the Global Watche Trust. So this is a project that is officially being done by an Indian organization, not some bootleg project done by a Westerner. Below is the plan that was filed:


We got identity cards for the men who are going to do the work. Here is Saran, the team leader, getting his card.


This is what it looks like. Besides being able to work on Arunachala, he is a member of an anti-corruption cell!


The project construction team with their cards. Now if they are stopped and questioned by a Forest Officer, they can say they are working on an official project as a part of the group.


The work has been going on for about 4 weeks. A lot of progress has been made. Much of the new path is now covered with rocks, placed for easier going.


There are many steps that they have built. I counted more than 100 steps up the hill now.


These steps make the route easy.


Looking away from Arunachala towards the forest.


Up the hill. This stone path will be the best path on the Hill, other than the paths to Skandashram and Virupaksha Cave, when completed.


More steps up.



Around a bend. Below, Ajax and Bebe are inspecting the work.


More steps.


This is a very nice area, and the view back down the hill is quite pleasant.




This is the end of the completed path. The next section is smoothed bare dirt. There is only about 100 meters to go to get to the top.


After that is cleared dirt, still with rocks in the path.


Then there is just a rocky area where water runs down when it rains, about one foot wide. This is the route for the rest of the path. After about 4 weeks of work, this is as far as the work crew got.



Problems Begin

One day last week, Saran called us to meet with him at the base of the path. With the previous parts of the new Yellow Path, his crew had begun by holding a pooja to initiate the work. They hadn’t done that with this path segment. And with the current work, there were problems showing up. The workers’ progress was suddenly going much slower. They were feeling drained of energy. They were beginning to fight among themselves, even though they are friends. They were frequently getting injured.

With Saran, the crew concluded that these problems were happening because this spot is filled with spirits and siddhis who inhabit the valley they were working in. They were encountering resistance from these spirits  The work has been stopped for the last week because of these spirits. So Saran and his crew felt that a special pooja is needed to get their permission to proceed with the work.

Saran further told us that each day, between the hours of 11 AM and noon, there was a scream heard in the area. He said this was from the Goddess Mohini who also resided there. The night before we met, Saran had a vision of being visited by Mohini. He felt her physical presence pushing his body. She told him that the spirits were upset because the work crew had been moving all the rocks that they liked to sit on. He then had a vision of his Guru, who told him he should try conducting a pooja to placate the spirits, to ask forgiveness for disturbing their area, and to ask permission to continue. But it might be too late, and it might be necessary to abandon the work altogether.

So Saran scheduled the pooja for the next day, before sunrise. Of course, we wanted to be in attendance.


Pooja For Forgiveness and Permission

Carol and I took off early, to be up on the mountain at 6 AM for a sunrise pooja. We walked from the road near Kanappa Temple, and then ‘backward’ on the Inner Path. Here is Arunachala, about 5:45 AM.


This big flat rock is by the Inner Path, right where the path up to the West Pass begins.


Carol and I climb to the end of the new path and wait for the guys to arrive. They are late because they had to get the last special required item for the pooja they are going to perform today: fresh urine from a cow.


To one side of us is Ganesh Hill, obscuring the view  of Arunachala from this spot. Maybe this is why the spirits can thrive here? 


To the other side is Parvati Hill.


The guys have gotten here, and brought the last special pooja item, cow urine. They brought it in this bottle.


The men have gone off the path into the surrounding woods for the pooja. Saran says that they need to do a special kind of pooja, one that cannot be done by priests, since they are temple priests and are not familiar with these kinds of mountain spirits. Saran says that he was taught by his Guru, who was the sadhu that lived atop Arunachala for almost ten years until a few years ago, how to do this kind of pooja.


Saran is clearing a patch of dirt next to a small tree.


While he clears the pooja spot, the other men get pooja items ready. They have brought several bags full of pooja items.


After the spot is cleared, Saran washes it with water.

Then Little Mani sprinkles turmeric powder on it. The pooja is conducted mainly by Little Mani, whose Guru is the same as Saran’s, and who has also learned the ways of the forest. (The crew has two men named Mani, so they are called Big Mani and Little Mani. Little Mani is taller than Big Mani, but Big Mani is stockier.)

Little Mani then takes turmeric powder, mixes in a little water to make a thick paste, and starts to form something that almost looks like a lingam, a conical shape.


He puts this to one side, then lays out five platforms made from cow dung.

On the central platform, he sets the turmeric cone.


He then sets two additional cones, made, I think, of earth, on both sides of the turmeric cone. These three cones represent the gods to whom this pooja is given today. Then he sets deepam lamps, small oil lamps, on the others four platforms.


He adds oil to the lamps and wicks, then lights each lamp.


Saran stands and prays quietly. This kind of pooja, says Saran, does not have chanting, just quiet inward prayer.


Little  Mani applies red kum kum, first to the tree, then to all the pooja items in place now.



Vibhuti, sacred ash, is then sprinkled into several piles.


Flowers are added to the tree, and to the three conical ‘gods.’



Then other pooja items are added–food and drink for the Gods. These include betel leaf and paan, a pot of water sweetened with jaggery (sugar from the Sugar Palm), and bananas.


They are adding lemons, cut in half and rubbed with kum kum. Notice that the two men acting in the role of priests for the pooja today both are wearing dhotis, no shirts, and a cloth wrapped around their heads, turban-style. This is their ‘priestly garb.’

Here is the colorful pooja layout so far. Nice. I am sure the gods and spirits are happy.


Now a melon is dotted with kum kum and added to the pooja. I think these kinds of melons are used only for poojas.


A pile of puffed rice is added. More treats for the gods.


Several items are added to the puffed rice, to make it a special savory dish.


Now Little Mani is taking puffed rice and setting it out a few meters away from the main pooja area. I guess some of the spirits are shy, and will not come to the main area, since there are so many people around.


More betel leaves and paan have been added. More treats.


Another view of the pooja layout.


Little Mani is doing something in the nearby area, I am not sure what. It looks like he is calling to the spirits.


Now more treats are added, special ones bought in town. These are the kinds of treats you might bring to a friend as a gift when you visit.


These treats are also offered to the spirits nearby.


Cloths are pulled from a bag, and torn into two pieces. The white one is first.


Then yellow, red and green cloths are torn.


One cloth of each color is tied into a knot at one end.


These are laid, one at a time, above the pooja area, next to the tree. Maybe they are representative of the spirits?


All four are laid out now. Our old doggie friend, Tigger, has accompanied us today. She stays with us throughout the ceremony, most of the time just lying quietly next to the pooja area.


Then the remaining cloths are thrown out into the adjoining area being used for the pooja.


Now flowers are thrown onto the four cloth ‘spirits.’


Naturally the adjoining area needs flower offerings, too.


Now Saran is near the end part of the completed, cleared path, making a fire from twigs and sticks that he has gathered. Saran and his crew, having spent their lives on the Hill, are very conscientious about handling fire here. But the pooja ritual requires these steps. Also there has been more rain in May this year. All the plants are growing new green leaves and everything is not as dry as usual for this season.


Little Mani has lit a bunch of incense sticks.


The incense is waved to the gods and spirits.


Then added to the pooja.


Saran’s fire is making a lot of smoke. Since this month has had more rain than usual, maybe the smoke is due to wood that is not completely dry.


Now Little Mani sprinkles the cow urine onto the pooja area. You can see drops of the urine in a circle above his head.

He gives each of us (including Carol and me) a handful of the cow urine. We are to sprinkle it on our heads, as Big Mani is doing in the photo below.


More flowers for the pooja.


This time they are thrown on by each of us. Each of us also offered rupee notes and coins to the spirits.


Saran bows after his flower offering.


He returns to his fire, guarded in his absence by another friend. The fire is well inflamed now.

Little Mani goes up the new path, scattering flowers as he goes.



The pooja altar now.


Saran takes his fire, blows it out by fanning it very fast with a piece of cardboard, then uses the cardboard to transfer the smoking embers to a flat rock. 


He takes the flat rock with now flaming embers to the pooja altar.


Then drops something onto the embers that gives off smoke, another offering to the gods and spirits.


It smokes a lot!


He reaches into the smoke to add more offering to the embers.


Pieces of camphor are added to items in the pooja, like the coconut and melon.


Little Mani takes the smoking rock, picks it up and waves it at the pooja, and at the mountain spirits that surround us.


We salute the gods and spirits here today.


Then each of us tosses a lemon onto the pooja.


Little Mani continues to offer the smoking embers to the gods and spirits.



Then offers the fire from the now flaming embers to the pooja.

And to the mountains.

Then places the fire back onto the pooja altar. Once on the altar, the boys make sure the flames are extinguished, leaving only smoke.


The crew continues to say prayers to the spirits.


Saran tosses his lemon onto the pooja.


Now Little Mani takes a lemon that is split and rubbed with red kum kum, and has a piece of camphor wedged into it. He lights the camphor.


Then offers the flame to the mountains and spirits.


Then to the pooja.


And finally to the new path. He drops the camphor flame onto the cleared area of the path.


After the lemon comes a coconut, topped with a camphor flame. After offering the coconut to the mountains, spirits and pooja, it is broken on the new path.


Big Mani is now throwing more flowers onto the pooja, especially onto the four colored cloth spirits.


Little Mani takes more flowers to the nearby area while Saran gets ready to throw more flowers onto the colored spirits.


He does this with great care.


Now the last step. Little Mani takes the melon and lights the camphor on its top.


He offers this flame to the spirits.


And to the mountain, Parvati Hill.


Then gives it to Saran, who takes it to the path. He offers it to the path.


Then walks down the hill, to a big rock, that, in their minds, marks the beginning of this troubled spirit area.


He then smashes the melon on the rock. And the pooja is almost over.

Turmeric and kum kum are collected from the pooja.


And used to make tilaks on each of our foreheads. I am getting mine now.


Carol is marked.


The pooja, at the end.


We all bow to the pooja and honor the spirits and gods who have gathered here today.


Saran gives the last bow.


We thank you spirits, and apologize for any disruption to your peace, and for the use of your stones in the path, and ask that we be allowed to continue the work on the path. May all who come here be safe and unharmed.


We then gather our things and head down the path.


The silent, empty path remains.


This is the start of the path, from the Inner Path. I had planned to make it special, so people would notice it.  Now I am not sure what I will do.


After the pooja, we sat with Saran and the crew on the big rock at the beginning of the path and talked. I told them what a good pooja I thought it was, and said that I think the gods and spirits were pleased by the offerings. They went on to tell us more of their troubles with the spirits, and the dreams in which the spirits had come to each of them. They all related incidents when they were working and they felt they were physically pushed down by Mohini and the other spirits.

The work crew emphasized that they are afraid that the spirits might cause harm to some of the people who come to Arunachala, those who are particularly ‘weak minded.’ They are sure that no harm will be done to those people who are genuinely spiritual, and focused on meditation. They feel this area of the pooja will be very good as a place to meditate, but if a ‘non-spiritual tourist’ goes through, they do not know what will happen to him, especially between 11 am and 12 noon, when Mohini cries.

By the end of our debriefing conversation, they go on to tell us that even with the pooja, they do not feel  like they can continue the work and bother the spirits any more. We are quite disappointed with this outcome, since we had hoped that a successful pooja would gain the permission of the spirits to finish the path. I have meditated much on this, and feel that the path work should continue. I am looking now for another crew.

Om Arunachaleswaraya Namah.


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