South India: A Walk Around A Holy Mountain
Updated: Jul 10, 2021
During this period of the pandemic, there has been time to sort out images pertaining to travels through the years. I realized that I am sitting on stories that I have not shared with my audience. Join me as I bring back memories of a walk around a holy mountain.
Mt Arunachala, an extinct volcano dominates the pilgrim city of Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, India. Devout barefoot pilgrims make a 14km circumambulation of the mountain on full-moon and festival days.
I was directed to especially visit the Sri Pachaiamman Temple. This is believed to be the oldest temple on the mountain. The revered deity inside the temple is called Pachamama (green mother). She is about 12 inches high, so ancient no-one can really get a handle on the history but it seems she has presided on the sacred Arunachala forever. She is quite clearly a figurehead for nature.
All twelve giant statues were, in fact, in very ancient times actual giants. They each represent characters of devotion loyalty and strength. They are the guardians of Paccamma.
On the grounds of the temple is a ghat where I sat for a while to catch my breath after wondering around the holy grounds, awestruck and exhausted from the heat.
As is true to her nature, India presents the traveler with the most amazing sights. On this day my delight was watching pilgrims squeeze through a tiny cavity with two pillars at odd angles. It is said that if you can successfully make your way through this tiny confined maze, your sins will be washed away and you will be reborn!
Over the centuries, many saints and sages have been drawn to Arunachala. As I walk I am palpably aware of the reverence shown by the devotees.
Although I am not a devotee myself, it does not take away the awe and admiration I have when visiting the shrines along the way. Each shrine being attended to by the resident priest. I have no knowledge of the Tamil language, but that does not seem to get in the way of being embraced into deep conversation about the philosophy and meaning behind the devotion I am witnessing.
"By way of Pradakshina if you walk one step it gives happiness in this world, two steps, it gives happiness in heaven, three steps, it gives bliss which can be attained. One should go round either in silence or meditation or repetition of the Lord's name and thereby think of God all the time. One should walk slowly like a woman who is in the ninth month of pregnancy."
To my mind, no walk of exploration in India is ever complete without a cup of chai. I find a place to sit at a chai stall and watch the local folk pass me by and once again engage in conversations with devotees and pilgrims from all corners of the world.
After a long day of walking, talking, and experiencing life with devotees of Mt Aranuchala I head back to the Sri Ramana Maharshi Ashram to join in the daily serving of meals to hundreds of pilgrims and Sadhus.
This was rather a serious day of devotion, fascination and philosophical discussion but in India's true nature, she will always throw something your way to take you off course... As I finished my delicious serving of Dhal and Rice, I venture into the Ashram bookstore which, by the way, stocks an incredible selection of books. As I step out of the bookstore - WHAM BAM it hits me, one of the funniest scenes I have ever seen. Two people sitting on the steps of the Ashram, the man is talking to the women through a funnel stuck to a plastic tube which is inserted into the woman's ear. THAT'S INDIA ..... FULL OF SURPRISES