Sadhu Ananadanam on Arunachala Pradakshina Road

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Sadhus have been drawn to Arunachala for perhaps three thousand years. With 200 or so of these sadhus living along Pradakshina  Road (as well as perhaps 200 more living in the rest of Tiruvannamalai), feeding and care of the holy men is always a problem. In Tiruvannamalai, Ramanasramam serves a big meal to all who come each day (shown in this post about narayana seva at Ramanasramam). This meal serves many of the Tiruvannamalai sadhus.

Along Pradakshina Road it is different. Until the couple of years it was mainly done on a small scale with different people offering Anandanam occasionally, and with alms-giving enabling sadhus to buy a meal at one of the many food vendors along the road. One small ongoing effort has been the daily feeding of about 20 aged and disabled sadhus done by Quality of Life Trust (shown here). More recently there are two larger daily efforts that have started, one for breakfast, the other for lunch. There may be others, too, that I don’t know about. Below are photos from two feedings that go on every day now. This is in addition to the other feedings that occur occasionally, done by various organizations and individuals.

The idea of giving food, Anandanam, is an ancient one in India. Giving food to others brings spiritual merit, punya. In the feeding of these sadhus, you can see the idea of Anandanam in action. Here is something on Anandanam from Tirumala.org:

Annadanam is a sacred activity. It is said that the sacred works done by the people with the energy acquired by food bestows half of its effect to the donor of food and the rest is to that person. Many positive results like this can acquire from the Annadanam .

Service to human is service to God. Serving food to the people who are in hungry is equal to effect of performing Ritual Yagna. Human beings can only be satisfied with food but not with gold, dress and other things, as they desire to have them more and more. But in case of food a man wholeheartedly says that the food is ‘ enough ‘ for him.

Daily Breakfast for sadhus

An organization from Tiruvannamalai sends a truck out each morning, loaded with food. They serve about 150 meals every morning. Their last stop is near us, at a small Murugan temple near Nityananda’s ashram at the west end of Arunachala on Pradakshina Road.

They get going early. This last stop is about 6:15 am now.

As the truck stops, sadhus start to assemble.

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They even get in a nice line. This much order seems a bit unusual for India, where so much is chaotic.

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The have metal plates, or cans to fill up. For many this may be their only meal of the day.

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The food is basic, rice and sambar. It is plentiful, though.

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The sadhus get served.

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There is enough for everyone. In fact, one sadhu I know gets an extra can full of rice each day, and takes it to nearby Kattu Siva Tank, and spreads it out for the local monkeys to eat.

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Lunchtime for Sadhus

A bit further down the road, sadhus gather each morning before 11 am for lunch.

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This meal is provided by the Trust that supports the Gowthama Maharshi Temple, pictured below.

They started in early 2012, so they could obtain the spiritual merit needed for a successful kumbabishsekam (the final day of which is shown in this post). This daily feeding continues to this day.

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The sign in front of the temple.

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Sadhus sit and wait.

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This sign is in front of the feeding area.

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Two big pots are ready, one with rice, the other with sambar. Today the sambar is made from bitter gourd.

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Before the meal, a serving is offered to the shrine, to bless today’s food.

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The sadhus walk in.

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I am not allowed to take photos of them eating. Instead, they invited me to eat with them, so I got to join them for lunch. There were about 40 sadhus eating here today.

These sadhus are part of what makes Arunachala and Tiruvannamalai such a special place. Some might be just “orange beggars,” I don’t know. There are many that I see that I know are as deep as the ocean.

One thing that is wonderful about India is that ideas like Anandanam allow sadhus to exist and to be supported, and that this support is seen as deeply beneficial for the giver. There is a Zen story about a rich man who kept giving gifts to the master. He was upset that the master never thanked him. One day, angry about this, he spoke to the master, “Why don’t you ever thank me?” Said the master, “It is the giver who should be grateful.” Thus it is with Anandanam.

If Anandanam for sadhus of Arunachala is ever something that you want to help with, so the merit from it comes to you, let me know.

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14 Responses to “Sadhu Ananadanam on Arunachala Pradakshina Road”

  1. marilynsandperl Says:

    Such a wonderful post, Richard. As always, I love reading your posts. India seems to allow for innumerable things to be grateful for (and I loved the Zen story!) Thank you for sharing this.

  2. maryjoma Says:

    Hi Richard: I did some investigating some time ago and found out that there is no dearth of free food in Tiruvannmalai as everyone wants to offer annadanam in this town.

    I found out that the free food that some of the organizations are providing is not fit for sadhus and poor people who are old or have health issues like diabetes and heart problems. The old sadhus need something mushy because of poor digestion or decayed teeth. So they package and sell the food that they get for free to buy the food that they need. It is pretty sad.

    Elders in India have told me that how our donations are really used is important. If they are misused that karma will rebound on us. So, if you can’t feed people yourself, look for organzations where there are elections and the trustees are rotated and there is auditing of accounts.

    I found in North India, a very successful organization (that I will not name) using the money to snuff out competition for the donations it was receiving. They were not using it to feed more people or provide better food for the poor.

    It was pretty scary to see them serve fruit that had begun to rot or food that was not of that great a quality. The servers were rude to these poor people from the ‘money power’ that donors had given them. I felt sad because annadanam is supposed to be an offering. What you offer will come back to you in some form or the other.

    I personally like to spread my donation money to a lot of Shiva and Devi temples around India, to keep them all going. As they say there is more merit in giving to a smaller organization where every rupee donated will be appreciated than to one one raking in millions and the people in power full of pride.

    Also, in so many temples, I have been invited to eat the ‘good’ annadanam. I really appreciated it because I was hungy from a morning of praying and walking around the temple and there were no good hotels in the vicinity. What I was served came with the blessings of the diety I was visiting. So on my way out I would offer money for myself and for the several people behind me. It felt good to do it as it came out as an ‘offering’ rather than ‘pity’ for poor people.

    Also, always donate through wire transfer as there will be an electronic trail. Never cash or cheque that can be put in accounts that are not audited. All this is in my opinion and from my experience

    • Richard Clarke Says:

      We all do this (support the things we care about) as we can. I know directly since I have lived on Girivalam road for more than four years and made thousands of trips along the road that these sadhus are not cared for regularly except for a few efforts, two of which I showed in the post.

      While I love Siva temples, t seems like money given to many of these never go out into the community to support efforts within the community, so I think if I want to do something like help sadhus I must find another way to do so. Every time I have done a sadhu feeding, I am reminded how good this is to do. The small trust I work with that also cares for sadhus I know is honest, and handles donations scrupulously. I have been through their accounting books with great care.

    • maryjoma Says:

      The Shiva, Vishnu, and Devi temples all spend on the communities they serve – it is their dharma to do so. It is bad karma to put down a place of worship although I know people of other religions and some foolish so-called ‘liberal’ minded Hindus do. It is fashionable to do so.

      Even if these temples do absolutely no community work, the numerous abhishekams and pujas they conduct on a daily basis is their contribution to the upliftment of people and this includes passerbys with little faith in Hinduism and those of other religions who have anathema to Hindus and the Hindu religion. All get blessed by the diety so they get a better birth next time.

      Ofcourse the wayside shrines make their own contribution to blessing people. Even they do some kind of charity – maybe it is feeding only a few people, birds and animals. It is their dharma to do so. Otherwise, the diety will flee the temple.

      It is funny how an age-old Hindu story would get appropriated as a Zen story. 🙂

  3. maryjoma Says:

    There is an ‘n’ missing. that is all. It is pronounced an-na (food) danam (giving of food). In Sanskrit it is written as one word.

  4. drsundaram Says:

    so nice of you mr richard.a great write up. thank you.om namo bhagavathe sri ramanaya

  5. Krishnamoorthy Ramachandran Says:

    Nice coverage.Annadhanam is the correct word.Those who serve food to the needy are indeed praised as life givers according to Manimekalai a Tamil literary epic poem.

  6. Asha Vuyyuru Says:

    Hi Richard,
    I would like to donate for the Annadanam which i have been thinking for long time. How much do you think it will cost. could you please help me with this.

    Thanks and Regards,
    Asha

  7. Layena Camhi Says:

    Hi Richard, I attempted to send a donationusing your given email address (richard@infinitepie.net.) and it was rejected by paypal. Please advise.

  8. Layena Camhi Says:

    Richard your blog is such a wonderful offering. Thank you

  9. miraprabhu Says:

    Richard, good post, vivid thanks to all the pics, and so easy to read. It is wonderful to see places I pass by everyday with my doggies – I would like to point out, however, that as far as I know, the word is “Annadanam”, not Anandanam — Anna = food and Danam = giving/donation/gift.

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