Papaji’s cave – half way to the top of Arunachala: By Richard Clarke

We explore Arunachala frequently. We walk from ‘yenga veedu’ (our house) to the mountain. I wanted to live on the SW side of the mountain because the forested area at the base of the hill interested me, as does this side of Arunachala.

The pictures here are from a walk we took this week from our house up to Papaji’s cave. It takes about 30 minutes to get to the side path off the inner pradakshina path, then another 30 minutes up the hill.

Nandi by road Carol on path Take path to left Carol on path, Arunachala in background

To get to the path from where we live, we walk out to Bangalore Road and then walk in towards Tiruvannamalai. Just before where the pradakshina road turns off of Bangalore Road there is a Nandi, shown above, pointing to Arunachala. On the other side of the road is where the path starts. Follow the trail to the left.

Everywhere here, Arunachala dominates the horizon. Carol, my wife, is shown above walking up the path with Arunachala in the background. Notice the trees by the path here. They were planted long ago, I guess as shelter for this access path. This path is marked with ‘trail markers’ for the pradakshina path (A white ‘cup’ holding a red ‘flame’).

Here is inner path, turn right Walking inner path

Look for the OM Or the Om Amma and Arrow Up the path to the mountain

When we get to the inner path, we turn right and go against the usual clockwise pradakshina direction for a few hundred feet until we see the Om marker on a rock. We then turn left towards the mountain. Where this path starts there is another Om Amma mark with an arrow.

Om Amma is a local woman, quite old now, who lived in a cave on the hill close to the cave where Papaji stayed for some time. She is said to have a natural Om symbol on her forehead. People would climb up this path in order to get to her for her darshan. Now some people have moved her down the hill to a location near AHAM’s ashram. She is still available at least once a week at her “new place.” It is said that she does not respond in any normal kind of way, and often does not take any notice of other people. Locals feel that she is somehow ‘touched by God.’

Sometimes the path is steep Arunachala from path

From here the trail gets more difficult, but is still pretty easy to walk and climb up. As always, Arunachala forms the background (and the foreground and is Reality itself).

We made  it! (this far anyway) Note about Aum Amma

UP the path Another view  of Arunachala

About half way to Papaji’s cave starts one of several sections where you walk up over big rocks. On the first of these, where Carol is signifying, “I did it” there is more painting on a rock about Aum Amma. And as always Arunachala stands as the substrate to all.

Over rocks we go Looking from the mountain, SW C;imbing over more rocks We are very close, now past Aum Amma's cave

Up the hill we go. You can see from the hill back into area West of Tiruvannamalai around Perimpakkam Road. Now we are getting close to Papaji’s “cave.”

Here is Papaji's cave Altar

Meditating at Papji's cave Meditating at Papji's cave

We climb over one more big rock and there, past two small pools of water that are labeled in white paint, ‘drinking water’, we can see the ‘cave.’ It is small, not really what most people would call a cave, just a sheltered space beneath a rock.

An altar has been created there out of rocks from the hillside. There are a few things on the alter, as well as a ghee lamp and a burnt out candle. Sometimes you see flowers draped over the altar. Not today though.

This is a very good place to sit and meditate. Carol and I both take advantage of this.

Arunachala from Papaji's cave

Here is Arunachala from Papaji’s cave.

Looking back to Perimbakkam Road See our house? Yenga veedu

Looking down from here, one can see the surrounding area. And in the red circle is ‘yenga veedu’, our house.

Arunachala from Papaji's cave area

One last look at Arunachala, and we make our way down the path.

Walking home we usually stop at ‘The three star hotel’ (Aruna Annai??) and have a cup of Indian Coffee ). Often there are other Westerners here and we will chat with them a bit. Then the short walk home.

To Nanagaru’s Ashram: By Richard Clarke

This is from my wife, Carol Johnson. This is from an email she sent her adult children. Carol Johnson

Ho hum, just another ordinary day in Tiru. We got up really early, 5am, to walk to see Nanagaru, one of the spiritual teachers who maintains an ashram here and comes several times a year. We have a friend who is a devotee of Nanagaru, and was certain that we would find his darshan meaningful. Now, Nome has been my teacher for many years, and after coming to Tiruvannamalai I realize that Arunachala is the Guru of us all. But, they say that it is good for an aspirant to keep company with jnanis, Self-realized beings, so I’ll always want to sit with masters like Nanagaru.

It was dark when we started out, a little difficult to walk up our dirt-and-rock road, but we made it to the paved “main” road with no difficulty, not even having to negotiate the barks of the four dogs who live between our house and the road. Soon after we arrived on the road, a bullock cart stopped and asked if we wanted a ride. The cart was piled with large, stuffed burlap bags, so simply hopping on wasn’t possible. The driver pulled me up to his level “at the helm,” and I climbed over the sacks from there. Richard followed me. I made my way to the back of the cart and dangled my legs over, but the driver said something that meant that wasn’t safe. I climbed back to the center of the pile of lumpy sacks.

So here we are at 5:45 in the morning, dawn breaking, and we’re riding down the road pulled by two bony male cattle who had to be constantly prodded by the driver, who talked to them, made clicking sounds, touched a stick to them, and, oddly, kept cupping his hands under their anuses, goosing them on.

Typical Bullock Cart

When he let us off he said “Arunachalam,” which is code around here for “give me some money.” Richard gave him a 10-rupee note, worth about a quarter, which is a lot to give for an Arunachalam request. We walked down the side road that our driver, Rajan, told us to take, but got stymied by an apparent dead end near a brick “factory.” (The way bricks are made is that the clay is molded and dried, then the pieces are stacked up into an eight-foot cube. Pieces of wood are inserted into the center of the cube, set on fire, and the bricks are fired from the inside.) Some people saw us and waved us toward the right direction. After crossing a ditch and a field, we found Nanagaru’s ashram.

We were pointed to the rooftop meeting space, where we joined a group of about 60, mostly older Indian women, seated on the floor. Nanagaru was just being seated on a plastic chair in front of the group.

He’s quite old, and looked slightly shaky. He sat in silence, looking towards the mountain, which seemed very close. He said something to a young man sitting at his feet, and the man started to shake and cry, I thought, although his back was to me. This guy is pretty powerful, I thought, to cause the young man to react like that. Reminded me of those “Christian” spiritual teachers on TV in the States, where they approach a follower and the follower falls down in a swoon. Then Nanna Garu seemed to be shaking slightly. Turns out the man at his feet was giving Nanna Garu a foot massage, and the shaking was from the  vigorous effort.


The massage stopped, and a woman up front stood and gestured to a certain western woman to come forward and sit at Nanagaru’s feet. The woman seemed surprised, but she went there. No fainting or swooning for her, but she sat silently facing the Master. The Master, meanwhile, stayed silent, looked around the group several times, and then said to the woman, in English, that she should go around the mountain at 3 o’clock today. She didn’t reply, and he said no more to her.

More silence, more looking at the mountain, and I could see clearly that Nanagaru had forgotten to put his teeth in. We sat like this for a while, then he stood up, gestured a pranam to the group, and was escorted down the stairs. It was a very peaceful session. Richard remarked that he was surprised that we had been sitting for an hour, a phenomenon that happens when one’s meditation is deep. I agreed that the time went by quickly, but I suspect that I would have been way more rapt sitting on a chair on MY rooftop looking at my real guru, Arunachala.

Down in the courtyard of the ashram they had metal dispensers for coffee and chai. Having the ever-scrumptious sweetened Indian milk coffee did give me a taste of nirvana, though, and it completed the peaceful experience of being with a Master. We walked back home, pleasantly spiritual, as always. And, as I write, the day is still young!

Indian Village 13-day ceremony: By Richard Clarke

The ceremony – Shraddha

After a death in India, the body is cremated or buried usually within one day of the death. Then a few days later an elaborate ceremony is performed, called shraddha. The details of this vary by location and caste. In Tamil Nadu the number of days after the death that this is done depends on the age of the person. The idea is that the atma (soul) takes longer to free itself from the home and family the longer the person lives. During the time between the death and this ceremony, the household where the person died is considered unclean. The residents cannot cook food, etc. In part these ceremonies are seen as contributing to the merit of the deceased, but they also pacify the soul so that it will not linger in this world as a ghost but will pass through the realm of Yama, the god of death.

The ceremony marks the time when the atma is released to what comes next.

This posting shows the 13 day ceremony for a village woman who was 55 years old, widowed, with two sons and a daughter. The funeral was shown in an earlier posting.

The mother’s house – the location

The awning set up in front of Mother's house 2A house in the village

In the village street, a canopy is set up in front of Mother’s house (to the right). Another village house is shown in the picture on the right.

Village women gather and cook

Village women

Cooking area in the villageWomen cooking

Village women are gathered to cook. These will not be residents of the household of the dead mother, since these are considered as still ‘unclean,’ so cannot be involved with food preparation.

Views from the village

Arunachala from village

Here is Arunachala from the village

View from village - haystack and cowsView from village

Surrounding the village are fields where rice, coconuts and ‘groundnuts’ (peanuts) are grown, and cows and goats forage.

Puja in Mother’s house

Preparing items for puja at village templePreparing for mother's pjuaMother's pjua - casting flowers on the altarMother's puja started

Mother's puja - offering camphor to picture of motherPriest blessing the crowd

First a puja is offered for Mother inside her house. The Brahmin priest builds an altar, starting with a banana leaf, then a bed of uncooked rice. He prepares a pot by winding string around it, then placing water in it. Leave are put in the pot, then a coconut. The coconut is decorated with flowers. The first son, “Anna,” and another male relative start the puja. They will offer flowers by tossing them to the altar, and then Anna offers camphor to the altar, then to his mother.

When this is concluded the priest will take the water in the pot, which has now been consecrated by the puja and so is holy water, and ‘bless’ the people with the water.

Procession to village temple

Drum and reed getting ready to walk to village templeOldest son leading the walk to the vaillage templeWalking through the villageCarrying puja items to village templeApproaching village temple At village temple

This ceremony requires different music than the drumming of the first day. A horn and drum create different sounds and rhythms than previously. The the musicians start playing and the village men, with male relatives of Mother, go in procession to the village temple, carrying the puja items that will be used there. Anna carries young plants that will be planted at the site of Mother’s ashes.

This is a small village with no walled temple. Rather there is an outside shrine, not shown here, with the tree and platform next two it. These ceremonies are usually preformed under a tree, in a special place in Hindu temples.

This simple temple and tree-temple are hundreds of years old.

Preparing for the Tree-Temple puja

Setting up for puja at templeEldest son getting shavedSetting up for puja at temple 2Setting up for puja at temple 4

Now preparations for the puja begins. Anna is shaved of all facial hair. He has not shaved since the death of his mother. The priest and a villager work together to lay out the puja items. The specific items used depend first on whether it was a man or a woman, and if a woman, depending on whether her husband survives her, or she is a widow. This is a puja is for a widow.

Preparation of puja altar with shrines for two gods

Set up of puja altarSet up of puja altar 2Set up of puja altar 3Set up of puja altar 4

The priest builds the puja alter. As before, it starts with banana leaves and a bed of rice. Water again is put into pots, then leaves and a coconut. The ‘gods’ symbolized by coconuts are also decorated with flowers.

Preparing eldest son for puja

Working on the cloth strip for eldest sonPreparing string for eldest son

Now since these were not to top two castes (who do not wear the Sacred Thread) then the priest makes one for Anna and puts it over his right shoulder.

There are different methods of wearing the Sacred Thread at different occasions. While performing an auspicious ceremony one should be Upaviti, that is, the Sacred Thread should hang from one’s left shoulder. At the performance of some inauspicious ceremony one should be Prachnaviti, that is, the Sacred Thread should hang from the right shoulder; and at times it is called Niviti when the Sacred Thread is worn around the neck like a garland.

The Puja

Offering flowers to altarTemple puja 1Dressing the altar gods with dhotisOffering camphor to altarGods fully dressed

Now Anna performs the puja, again offering flowers and camphor. The the ‘gods’ are dressed up in dhotis.

Preparing the coconut frond

weaving coconut frond

While the puja is going on, a man takes a half of a coconut frond and starts weaving it together to make the triangular structure that will later be used to offer favorites foods to Mother.

Ashes and Booma, Earth Mother

Getting ready for cremationCremation with both sons attendingCarrying ashesCarrying ashes to tank

Then a small symbolic white cloth, set into a wooden frame, is placed on a bed of dry plant material on the ground, and burnt. This invokes Booma, Earth Mother. These ashes resulting from this burning are mixed with other holy materials, and carried by Anna to a nearby tank.

PUtting ashes into waterElsest son fully submerged

Anna then enters the tank and disperses the ashes into the water. He then submerges himself fully into the water to wash away the impurity that has been his since he lit his mother’s cremation pyre. The second son stands by.

Rice Balls – Pindas

Back from the tankPreparing rice ballsEldest son doing circle pranams Taking rice balls to the crows

The sons returned to the priest. Balls of rice and Mother’s favorite foods have been prepared. One ball represents mother. It is broken, and merged it into the ancestors. This process, known as Sapindikarana marks the end of mother’s journey. After this, the anna makes a pranam and turns in a circle (honoring the world). Both sons are led into the nearby field by a village elder, who yells “kaa kaa,” to call the crows. The rice is left in the field for the crows.

The village women join the ceremony

After the sons went into the field with the rice for the crows, the village women joined the men at the tree temple. A different ‘altar’ was set up with small inverted ceramic pots holding up a bowl. There were two pots, containing honey and milk, with sticks in them. Some men and women would dip sticks into the pots and then offer these into the bowl. When this was finished, the sons and the priest came over to the bowl for further puja. The sons sat, and the priest placed their outreached hands, with the younger son’s hand above the elder son’s, which was in turn above the bowl. The priest then poured various things, such as water, milk, turmeric, and kum kum, through their hands into the bowl.

Ceremonial meal for the deceased mother

Then it seemed like a ceremonial meal was offered to the mother. While the puja was going on, a man was weaving a coconut fronds. He formed these into a triangular structure, and put it on the ground in front of the tree-temple. Puja items were put into it, and about six banana leaf plates loaded with food were put in front of this. The sons offered camphor to it, and then they (and a few others) walked pradakshina, circling this structure three times.

Rice flour balls

Then the priest formed a roll of flour dough and cut it into six pieces. He put dabs of turmeric and kum kum on top of 3 balls, and the sons combined each of these with the other three, forming three larger balls. Then there was the final trip to the water tank. This time both sons, as well as the daughter and another woman, got into the tank and immersed themselves, and the dough balls were offered and dissolved in the water. The ‘celebrants’ climbed out the steep rock walls of the tank, and then returned to the area under the tree temple.

Gifts for the family

The last act was gift giving by the relatives and villagers. This is needed since the children are not, per custom, allowed to buy any new clothes for themselves for the next year, the period of mourning. Nor will they celebrate the normal festivals, etc. during this period. People offered gifts of clothing and money to the sons and daughter. They gave them to the priest, stating their names, and the priest in turn blessed them by dabbing them with kum kum and then giving them to the sons and daughter. While the sons and the daughter were taking off their old clothes on putting on the new, gifts were being offered in turn to other family members.

Everyone is given a special meal

After this, everyone walked back to the village and sat under the canopy and ate the meal that had been prepared all morning by the village women. It was a pretty typical South India lunch, served on a banana leaf. Rice and sambar, fritters, rasam and buttermilk, with a small serving of sour lemon pickle. Since this was a special occasion several side dishes were also given, none of which I could identify.

The men were seated and fed first. Since my wife is a westerner she was allowed to eat with me and the men. After the men finished eating, the tables were cleared of the banana leaves and the women were able to sit and eat.

Indian Village Funeral: By Richard Clarke

Last week in the village in which we live a woman died. She was the mother of a man we work with Ramesh, in the Quality of Life Trust. That afternoon we heard the drums, typical of such funerals, and Ramesh called us and asked us to join him. We walked about two hundred meters to the village and spent the next few hours there. We asked for permission to take photos, and some of these are in this article.

Coming into the village, under the awning is mother's body

As we enter the village we see people gathered under an awning. The mother’s body is in the center of the group on her bed. People are gathered around the body grieving and paying respect.

Remesh - center

Ramesh is sitting with the men. He’s in the middle.

Village drummers

Drummers are important to the funeral. Their music announces the death to the village. After the drums start, people come from up to one km away to join in the ceremonies.

Gathered around mother - women on one side, men on the other

Often the sexes are separated. Here naturally the women and men seem to select different areas to sit.

Decorating the car - building the wood frame

Much of the activity of the afternoon was in preparing the car that would take Mother to the crematorium. First a wood frame is built.

Village boys posing for a picture

The village boys seeing the camera naturally want to pose for a picture. Here they are looking tough. We’ll make some prints of this photo and give one to each boy.

Decorating the car getting started

They have started to decorate the car. Notice in the foreground bamboo sticks covered with flowers. These are bent and inserted into the frame for decoration.

Woman joined together in mourning

The woman, grieving, would approach each other and stand and beat their chest in a gesture of mourning. Then they would get into a group hug circle and sink down into a squat. They would moan and cry together, swaying back and forth. This death was particularly painful to the village women. Mother was only in her mid fifties, young to die, even for an Indian village woman. She had had a hard life – her husband died 15 years before and she had to support the kids without much help from anyone. Somehow she was able to send at least one of her boys, Ramesh, through college. Ramesh said that she was very sad though, due to her deep poverty, and especially do to the fact than none of her children were married, and she had no grandchildren.

Decorating the car - working on the back

The villagers are working on the decorations for the car. Here they are bending the flower-sticks and inserting them into the frame on the back of the car.

Decorating the car

Now they are adding the flower malas to the central frame on the car.

decorating the car - neraly done

Decorations are nearly done.

Villager dancing to the drums as people carry puja materials

As new people join the funeral the drummers escort them in, and ‘drum them’ into the group. Here a man is dancing as people bring puja items into the funeral.

Preparing the body

Now they start to prepare Mother’s body. They will clean up the body, re-dress her in a fine sari, then perform puja, before placing her body on the decorated cart.

Ramesh helping prepare his mother's body

Ramesh (second from left) is here helping prepare his mother.

Getting puja items ready, needed to prepare the body

The men are getting some puja items ready.

Pouring water to use in preparing the body

Water for the puja is being poured. This was not only sprinkled onto mother, but onto the people in the crowd. They especially sought out Mother’s three children and made sure they got pretty wet.

Mother's body fully prepared

Now Mother is fully prepared. Such loving care was taken in this preparation. And this was something that almost everyone in the village took part in. Very much this was a village ceremony, not just something done by the family.

Carrying mother to the car

Mother was then carried to the car. I took part in this. She seemed so tiny, so light. She had been ill with cancer, supposedly, and stopped eating three months ago. Ramesh and his two siblings had taken her to several doctors for cures, and, as a last resort, took her to a “miracle shrine” when the doctors didn’t improve her health.

Going to crematorium

Now the car is off to the crematorium. The drummers will lead the way, then the car and the mourners.

Mahasivaratri with Arunachala: By Richard Clarke

The night of March 6 – when there was no moon – was Mahasivaratri this year. This night honors Siva, seen in nonduality as Being-Consciousness absolute. It is the association with Siva that makes Arunachala such a holy mountain.

Instead of going into town to a temple, or doing pradakshina – walking around Arunachala – we decided to hold a Siva Puja at our house. Here are some photos.

The Altar set up near sun down

Mahasivaratri altar

The altar has a picture of Siva, a lingam, a photo of Nome, and various puja materials.

Arunachala is is the background.

Puja Materials

Puja materials

Fruit and a coconut are common offering.

For Sivaratri it is important to have Bilva leaves as an offering.

Camphor is there for later use.

Puja at midnight

Richard at Mahasivaratri Puja

Richard is offering Puja to the Sivalingam.

Coconut milk, cows milk, ghee, bilva leaves and flower petal are offered in turn.

Richard at Puja

Lingam after Puja

lingam after Puja

After the Puja here is the broken coconut.

The lingam is covered with bliva leaves and flowers.

Dawn over Arunachala after Mahasivaratri night

Arunachala Sunrise after Mahasivaratri night

Richard and Carol were up most of the night, listening to recordings of chants, and spiritual discourses from their teacher, Nome.

In quiet times we meditated. For us this is a most holy night.

Altar at dawn

Mahasivaratri altar after Pjua at dawn

Here is the altar at dawn. The lingam has been put back in its usual place, and wrapped with a flower mala.

Now we will go downstairs and go to sleep. This is along night, but spiritually fulfilling.

Why are there Ads on my WordPress Site?: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

I looked at my blog from another computer where I was not logged on. I was shocked to see ads on my wordpress blog. Really awful ads for things I would never endorse. I did not notice these before. Evidently, these ads appear at random based on some keywords.

I pay for space on So why are there ads on this space. Are there any solutions to this other than moving my blog to another host? Can I pay WordPress not to put ads on my blog?

UPDATE (August 15, 2008): I moved the blog to a private server to have more control over it. We are still using wordpress but no longer hosted on This was a tough decision because I really admire the folks at and wanted to stay there. When offers more flexibility and VIP hosting for a reasonable price, I will consider moving this blog back there. I don’t know why it is taking them so long to pick up on this obvious demand from paying customers that is out there for premium hosting.  Anyway, that is how it is.

Living in the embrace of Arunachala: By Richard Clarke

Most posts have been about the new life in India that my wife and I experience. There is so much that is new to us that this is easy to write about.

I have written less about the main reason that we are here, Arunachala, the holy mountain of South India. We live so much in its presence each day. It is like the ever present ‘background’ of life here. It is so present that one could forget about it, like the young fish that asked the queen fish, “What is water? I have heard about it all my life, but I have never seen it.”

Here is Arunachala from the rooftop of our house (Yenga Veedu in Tamil):

Arunachala from Brindavanam, Tiruvannamalai

Arunachala has been an holy mountain since the dawn of India life. It is written about in the Rig Vedas, purported to be the oldest of the Vedas, which would make it the oldest religious book there is.

That is the holy place! Of all Arunachala is most sacred. It is the heart of the world! Know it to be the secret Heart-center of Siva! In that place He always abides as the glorious Aruna Hill!

Skanda Purana

For many centuries there have been many Indian sadhus and sages associated with the “Red Mountain.” The most well known of these today is Sri Ramana Maharshi, who arrived here in 1896 and never left until the death of his body in 1950. Ramana, who had remarkably few claims of personal actions wrote:

Oh Arunachala, I have exposed your secret doings. Do not be angry. Let your grace be on me.

Necklet of Nine Gems

When we first came to Tiruvannamalai, a small city that has grown around a major Siva temple, Arunachaleswara Temple, over the last 2000 years, I would rise before dawn and go up to the rooftop and just sit and meditate with Arunachala until dawn. I would then watch for a while as the city awoke. After just a few days of this I said to Carol, “We could live here.” She did not treat me like was crazy, though she probably thought I was. Now, several years later I have retired and we have uprooted our nice life the the USA, gotten rid of almost everything we owned, and moved to South India to be with Arunachala.

In the last ten years spiritual practice has become the most important thing in our lives, and we want to use this part of our life where practice is the main focus. Now we are here, ‘living in the embrace of Arunachala.” I still rise before sunrise and go up to the roof, now of our home, named “Brindavanam” by the previous resident who put in the wonderful orchard and garden that surrounds this house. Carol and I are up on the roof with Arunachala several times each day. Even when not on the roof, Arunachala is the dominant presence for miles around. It is always present.

Here is a short poem I recently wrote:


Silent, still, unmoving.


Ancient One,

In the form of Dakshinamoorthy


Quiet this mind.


Fiery one,

Thy fire burns away ignorance.


I stand in your Silence.


Infinite light,

Knowledge of Thee is All.

Arunachala, would that I be as Thee,

Silent, still, unmoving.