Arunachalam and Sri Ramana Ashram

The moment my bus crossed the border and entered Tamil Nadu I started feeling at home! The weather never suits me, but I manage so that I get to be in my land. Mr. Dream was supposed to be accompanying me, but I decided to be not fooled. There are certain journeys that are meant to be undertaken in solitude. After a long wait of almost 6yrs I was on way to Tiruvannamalai (Tamil Nadu, India). Is it a crime to mix love and pilgrimage? Well if it is, I must say that I was knowingly committing the crime and feel no apologetic about it! On the other hand I was overwhelmed that this trip was to do my first ever “Girivalam” ( a walk around the mountain). The path around the Mountain Arunachalam is challenging and considered to be sacred. I wanted Mr. Dream (my better half) to be part of this, or at least wanted him to walk up to me (as it happens in movies) from the crowd and hold my hand while we do the Girivalam together! One has to walk 14kms to finish one round and only if the mind and body are ready this would happen. Well, the Master Plan and Permission has to be there! What was equally attractive for me in this journey was the visit to Ramana Ashram. Since the day I had seen His photograph and read about his abode, I had started planning a visit. And it took 6 yrs for me to be ready…

A fresh coat of white paint made this small temple by the roadside strike a contrast with the evening sky…

The bus journey had by then got me baptised into a Tamil. I could start speaking the local slang though the listeners were not fully convinced. I had eaten an early lunch and bought guavas to keep hunger away during the bus journey. Fruits are any day an eco-friendly option than confectionaries packed in plastic wrappers! People also sold boiled corn and sweet potatoes which I consumed happily. Flower vendors were busy making jasmine garlands. I bought so much of them that they actually made me look like a bride! If In Kerala I would have made a fool out of my looks. But “at home”, nobody was bothered about my madness. Mr. Dream would have got me my favourite garland (a mix of tiny red roses and jasmine buds) from the shop. But I had to compromise for jasmine alone since the vendor brought only that into the bus. A man getting jasmine garland for his woman (to be worn on her long hair) is a very common act of love. This gesture has several meanings and promises hidden in it. In Tamil Nadu it is practised religiously and in the most subtle manner. I love the way the fragrance of flowers, be it Jasmine or Roses or Sugandharajan, that soak the streets in Tamil Nadu every evening.

The Evening “Flower show”!

As it grew dark I could clearly make out the silhouette of Arunachalam. This Mountain certainly has divine attributes. The clouds above did not speak about rains, but the winds blew very strongly.

Rain-bearing clouds above Arunachalam…

Dhanalakshmi and her husband were waiting for me at the bus stop. I met them around 8:15pm. Dhanam, a smart woman in her 50s took me to my room. It was a house with three floors. The old woman, the owner of the house greeted me with a friendly smile. She appeared to be least interested to know about me. She demanded advance payment of room rent and I got away with her in no time. Dhanam was more mother-like. She promised to return with some rice and curd for me. I was very hungry and tired of the bus journey. I found that the room was extremely warm and had no ventilation. I was thirsty and emptied one litre of water in a few seconds before I took a shower. Water in was not as good as it was in Kerala. Later in Dhanam told me that they had only bore wells in the locality and the water was hard. Curd, freshly cooked rice, salt and mango pickle- that was my recipe for a sound sleep for the night.

Dhanam had promised to take me around the next morning. But 10am was too late for me to start a day especially when I had to visit an Ashram. So I decided to leave by 6. I cannot compromise my meals, therefore I went in search of a reputed restaurant to have breakfast. I paid more money to the auto guy than the cost of food I ate! Again I paid a fortune to reach the Periya Kovil (Big Temple). The huge Gopurams quickly made me forget about money and soon I got engrossed in taking pictures and adoring the temple architecture.

The main deity, Lord Shiva was surrounded by devotees. I found very different sculptures on the walls. I took as much time looking at them, trying to understand the art and the artist. Gopurams, I have noticed, allow plenty of wind to enter the temple compound. For the same reason I love to spend time at Gopurams. I love the way my saree would dance in the gentle breeze if not winds.

Deity adorned with Hibiscus Petals

There was a family engaged in the naming ceremony of their baby. Another, relaxing in the shadow of the Gopuram and several others roaming in search of the Almighty. I felt emotional, looked around if Mr. Dream were there looking at me from one of the corners waiting for me to find him. But, “solitude” was determined to be in my company.

An idol on Gopuram Wall

 

Goddess on Buffalo Head

When young Ramana faced fear of Death, he was a young boy of 16. What I understand from the available accounts on his life is that he took very little time to respond to the Call. Annamalaiyar Temple (this Periya Kovil) was one of the places that he had chosen to meditate. There is this Paathala Lingam (Cave-Shrine for Shiva) where he sat for several days in bliss, a Mandalpam (temple porch) was built around this cave later. His body was non-existent to him and eventually vermin started feeding on it. Ramana, who was unaware of all that, and fully aware of the Supreme, was shifted from here by his devotees. I am no experienced enough to comment on such exceptional facts, but I have experienced bliss myself at times. Falling in love is a very good, simple example. This shall not be confusing, I am not referring to superficial attraction. Sadhus like Sri. Ramana, according to me, had fallen in love with the Imperishable. Ordinary people like me fall in love with the ordinary, but the love in both the cases I am sure, are the same.

A very interesting figurine if you look at the heads.

The Cave Shrine

“Hmmm, full statue should come in the picture Macchi (friend in Tamil). You go there and take one more pic. Fast, we have a lot more to cover”, I saw a young man pose in front of the sanctum sanctorum. Temple authorities in Kerala do not entertain the use of cell phones or other electronic devices in the temple campus. A Sadhu was sitting next to a pillar and was staring at all of us. I went down to see the Shiva Lingam inside the cave, and walked out of the Mandapam to offer my prayers at the main Shrine. You can not find Shiva temples without the idol of Nandi (the Bull that Shiva rides on). Nandi can also be explained as the soul that is shall always focus on the Lord.

Hence Nandi statues are always facing the sanctum sanctorum of Shiva, that too at the same ground level to that of Shiva Lingam. How beautiful is the inner meaning if you see. In love and there is no scope for differences. True Bhaktha cannot be separated from God, they can face each other without formalities for they are essentially the same! According to practise, you can whisper your wishes to Nandi and he is supposed to get things done for you. I had a long list of things and time did not permit me to try my luck. Worshipers from far and wide were I long queue, patiently waiting for their turn to see the Lord. There were flowers everywhere, on people and idols. It is tough to recreate ambience of a temple, I somewhat succeed in doing so when we have a Pooja at home. I gave another auto guy an opportunity to ‘rob’ me.

Ramana Ashram is a place for people who seek “answers” in silence. The Kolam (powder rangoli, hand drawn) welcomes each visitor to this pristine campus. As we enter, there is a space to keep footwear, on the left. It is a service offered for free. A huge neem tree would be the next thing to catch your attention and you would want to take a photograph often showing how small you are compared to the size of the tree! The book stores d admin block can be found on your right after the neem tree. Then you walk into the main block where there is the Matrubhuteshwara temple. There are enough descriptions about the Ashram available on various sites and I want to share my experience here. I could not miss the attention given tot details in the Ashram. Everything has a place, and is curated to suit everyone. “Simplicity” would be the term that can nearly represent what I mean. There are very few instructions for the visitors. A family of peacock keep watch on the Ashram from various points- the Naga tree, neem trees, roof tops and the gate of Gaushala! They don’t mind posing for pictures either. Photographs of Maharshi Ramana are displayed with appropriate lighting to enhance the sprits of the viewer. I have two favourites among them- one in which he is with a cow and her calf, and in the other one Maharshi is seen having his meal. Like I expressed earlier, I feel close to this Master like a Nandi to Lord Shiva. If you ask me, each person who visit this place is given a chance to experience the same. There are no “rules” here, but only Supreme Silence that is sound enough to quieten the noise within…
To be continued…

Aparna Vinod

Home maker, social entrepreneur from India who believes that Sustainable tourism can equip People to achieve their personal goals, generate revenue for their sustenance and help the economy grow without harming the Planet. My focus is to help more people, especially women to pursue their vocation in Sustainable Tourism.

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