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.
They even get in a nice line. This much order seems a bit unusual for India, where so much is chaotic.
The have metal plates, or cans to fill up. For many this may be their only meal of the day.
The food is basic, rice and sambar. It is plentiful, though.
The sadhus get served.
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.
Lunchtime for Sadhus
A bit further down the road, sadhus gather each morning before 11 am for lunch.
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.
The sign in front of the temple.
Sadhus sit and wait.
This sign is in front of the feeding area.
Two big pots are ready, one with rice, the other with sambar. Today the sambar is made from bitter gourd.
Before the meal, a serving is offered to the shrine, to bless today’s food.
The sadhus walk in.
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.