Wednesday morning we headed out to Arunachala’s Inner Path: Ramesh, Muniappa, Carol and myself (accompanied by the dogs Pippi and Freckles). Muniappa carried paint and a brush. We feel some urgency since we heard that a barbed wire fence has just been put up, blocking the Inner Path.
For those of you who do not know it, the Inner Path is a dirt path, close to Arunachala. This path goes about two-thirds of the Pradakshina route around the holy mountain. It has been in use many years, perhaps since the days of Sri Ramana Maharshi. This route is not used by most people doing Pradakshina, so usually there is little traffic. Often you will be alone as you walk here. A reason that people take this route is that it is quieter and more peaceful, and more of a walk with nature and Arunachala. The Inner Path has been preserved over the years, but is in more and more danger due to encroachment and land profiteering. In the five years that my wife Carol and I have been walking this route we have seen this happening. I cannot tell you the effect of this on those who walk this path. This activity has been one of the reasons behind the Yellow Paths: to make a route further away from development.
Recently, fence posts have been put up that block a portion of the Inner path. An alternate route was found that uses a smaller path nearby, and it was cleaned up. Now it must be marked so that walkers can find it.
We start out, a bit past 6 AM. We will walk from a chai stand by Pradakshina Road (also called ‘Hill Round Road” and “Girivalam Road”) about 2 km West of Tiruvannamalai.
Ramesh and Muniappa on the berm of the new (ugly, intrusive and no good source of water to fill it) water catchment tank next to Parvati Hill.
To the north, rising out of the mist, (in the background at the right of the photo below) is Parvathamalai. Parvathamalai is called ‘The Miracle Hill’ and has an ancient ashram at the top. It is said that 2000 years ago the great yogis (Siddhas) constructed this temple at the top of the hill for meditation. This hill is said to be Arunachala’s partner. Climbing it take three hours’ work. The climb starts with 1000 steps.
As soon as we got to the new path area, Muniappa started moving big rocks. We need to paint some arrows, and he is bringing big rocks to paint. I wonder how such a small man can carry such a big stone.
He sets the rock in just the right place.
Then opens the paint and work starts. Ramesh will do the painting.
Ramesh is starting to paint the first marker…
…while Muniappa carries in another rock.
He puts it down…
…and Ramesh paints another arrow.
An arrow at the entrance to the path.
Then we start down the path. Not many markers will be needed on the path. There is nowhere else to go.
Ramesh paints, while Arunachala (in the form of “The Elephant”) watches.
On the path that connects with the old path, where the stone fence posts start, Richard has more bush cutting to do to prepare the way. Clippers are in one hand, and with the other he uses a stick to help control the branch being cut.
Ramesh paints an arrow.
Here is the start of the new fence. To the right of it there are now painted yellow arrows that lead to the new path segment.
The new fence runs on the mountain side of the Inner Path.
Here is barbed wire across the path. I have trouble believing that the owner of this land has so much disrespect for the Inner Path and people who love Arunachala. Does he know what bad karma he is creating for himself?
Back on the new path, an Om was painted on a pathside rock. A reminder that this is a holy place.
Nearing the end of the new path segment.
Nice view of The Elephant at the end of the segment.
Ramesh paints markers near the end of the segment.
We are joined by a young swami, Ramana, who has taken responsibility for the actual care of the aged and disabled sadhus that a local nonprofit trust we assist works with.
There is some detail about sadhu care he needs to talk with us about.
Here, on the right in the photo below, is the last mark in the new path segment, where it joins the existing Inner Path.
As we walked back, I stopped and looked again at the start of the new path.
Ramesh repainted this arrow to make it bigger and easier to see. Muniappa is moving rocks. Still.
Here is the view from the top of the berm so you can remember it next time you walk the inner path. The old Red Path is on the left. Follow the arrows to the right to find the new path segment.
We were happy this day when the work was done. Ramesh and Richard have a cup of coffee at the chai stand.
This new segment is about .5 kilometer long. It adds to the existing Yellow Path, which now totals about 4.5 kilometers of new paths added to Arunachala’s Inner Path. The (red) Inner Path is about 10 kilometers long, so this adds almost 50% more to the path system.
Now a week has passed and we must do the pooja to mark the opening, to ask the gods for their blessing and permission for the use of this path.
Here come Ramesh and Muniappa with the pooja materials.
We enter the area near the start of the path. Two friends are with us today, Philippe and his wife, Kiran.
Muniappa starts creating the holy space for the pooja. First is to add the main god, Siva.
He placed it in front of a Palmyra Palm. This was important to him. I still do not understand Tamil / Hindu customs enough to fully appreciate this detail. But I know these details are important.
He adds two smaller stones, one on each side. To the left is Parvati, Siva’s consort, and to the right is Arunachala.
Here they are together.
Facing them he adds one more god, Ganesh.
First is Abhishekam, bathing the gods with water.
Phillippe sits and watches. He is surrounded by gods and dogs–his two doggies and our two doggies.
Here are our dogs. They go with me every morning as I walk in the forests of Arunachala. They would rather do this than anything else.
Muniappa is readying the red kumkum and yellow turmeric. These will be used on the gods.
A paste is made from the turmeric, and three stripes (three for Siva) are added to each god.
Then kumkum dots are liberally added to each god, along each yellow stripe and at the top of the god.
More turmeric power is sprinkled on the gods, as is white vibhuti.
The tree is dotted with kumkum too. This is when I realize that the tree is part of the setup of the altar.
Flowers are added.
Then the gods are offered food. First, bananas are placed on a banana leaf plate.
Philippe and Ramesh watch the pooja.
Two coconuts are readied. Can’t have a pooja without coconuts.
Like the gods, the coconuts receive Abhishekam.
Watching Muniappa are, left to right, Kiran, Carol, Philippe and Ramesh.
The gods look so nice, with their holy decorations. In the future these gods will be at the entrance of this path. This makes me feel good.
Preparing the lemons. First slice into them.
Then fill them with kumkum.
Got to get the incense.
Now the gods are offered sweet pongal (a rice dish).
The pooja altar is almost complete.
Philippe and Kiran join in, chanting a Ganesh bajan.
Ramesh lights a deepam lamp. We wanted to see if the pooja could be done without any flames. Our Tamil friends finally said that no, there must be fire for the pooja. It has recently rained and the ground and plants are moist, so the fire danger is very low. And they are being very careful.
In the wind it is hard to light the lamp, but finally Ramesh succeeds. He puts it into a small rock shelter he made.
They then have to light the incense.
Incense is offered.
The incense is placed and a small chunk of camphor is lit and placed in front of the main gods. The gods are offered light, the key part of any pooja.
Then a coconut is broken in half.
And placed on the altar. A critical step.
The finished pooja altar.
Aarti (the flame) is offered to the gods, then each of us takes the flame and touches it to our eyes. The flame blesses us. Looking at God while performing aarti reminds the performer (and the attendees of the aarti) to keep God at the center and reminds us that routine worldly activities are secondary in importance.
A moment of silent respect.
Then prasadam is offered to each of us, so we can partake of food blessed by the gods.
Ramesh and Muniappa stand by the pooja altar.
We then take the official first walk on the new path.
The first view of The Elephant.
A grand view available from the new path.
Carol standing beneath The Elephant.
Now the path is open and available to all. This path is closer to the mountain, and shielded by thick trees and buses from the area that is being developed, so the route is peaceful and quiet. There are places to stop and sit (and meditate if you want). The path is free from obstruction.
Praise to Arunachala. Om shanti, shanti, shanti.