Sadhus give their lives to God. Renouncing family, home, and possessions, they live only on what is given to them. When they are healthy, this life has many hardships; when they are old, infirm, and disabled, it is nearly impossible. Continue reading
This post continues the series that show Arunachala’s Inner Path, used by devotees of Sri Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi for the sacred walk around this holy hill. This walking is called pradakshina, or in Tamil, girivalam.
Part One shows the path from Ramanasramam. Part Two shows the walk around the southwest side of the hill. Part Three details the section of the path around Parvati Hill, at the west end of Arunachala. This post is Part Four of the series.
A map is below. The Elephant section of the Inner Path is shown in orange.
Note from the map that this section of the Path has many small streams that cross it. The terrain here features small ‘hills’ as you enter into and out of the creek bed. These creeks are all pretty small, and only have water when it rains.
It is in one of these that Sri Ramana found the banyan leaf, and followed the stream upstream, only to be stung by hornets, and then abandoned his search for the banyan tree.
Starting from the Frog Pond
The Frog Pond is dry by mid March when these pictures were taken. The season is getting hot, so we started early and were here by 7 AM, before the sun rises over Arunachala. The bright sun can be seen behind the ‘trunk’ of The Elephant. We will have sunlight in a few minutes.
The Path starts off across an area pretty dry and flat.
Looking to the right side, first you see the gap between Arunachala and a small hill. There is a path over this gap that is shown in A Path Across Arunachala.
Looking behind is Parvati Hill, and the pass at the other end of the hill. This is where the original Path was. This is shown in the postings: Kattu Siva Path Renewal – Part 1 and Kattu Siva Path Renewal – Part 2 .
Next the Path crosses the first of many creek beds …
Then rises up to the Northside Catchment Basin. Notice that there is a path across the basin that is usable much of the year. Some people take this path here.
The main route of the Path goes to the left, and follows along the dirt berm that makes up the retaining wall for the catchment basin.
Walking across this berm, farmers’ fields come right up to the path. This is the only place where this occurs.
In the photo below, looking over the basin, a big rock can just barely be seen rising through the trees. On the other side of the basin here is a trail nexus where a number of paths go towards and along the mountain side. This is shown better in Under the loving gaze of The Elephant.
There is an old small trail next to the mountain in this area that we call ‘The Inner-Inner Path.’ This will be detailed in subsequent postings. Easy exploration can be done here.
Between the Path and the fields, the farmer has made ‘fences’ of dry thorny branches. This keeps cattle from entering the fields.
At the end of the basin the Path crosses another dry stream bed …
Then goes off across the gentle hills.
In this section a power line crosses the Path. This is the only place where this happens.
Now the sun is starting to rise above the Holy Hill, and there is better light for photography.
The Path lights up …
And crosses yet another creek bed. We walk down and up the little hill.
Looking to the left, the gopuram of Adi Annamalai Temple rises through the trees.
Often this man will be seen, asking for coins. Sometimes it looks like he is working, clearing rocks off the Path and doing other work to improve the Path.
Looking to the left of the Path, not a house can be seen. More mountains rise up on the horizon. There is no motor noise here; all we hear are bird songs.
The Path proceeds across the hillside.
Looking towards Arunachala, a rocky hill can be seen in the foreground, rising from below. More places to explore. I have seen a group here, up on one of the rocks. It seems they were with a teacher and meditating.
Past another creek bed. This on has a stone wall to prevent erosion. These are seen in other places as well. This is all a part of the task of protecting the hillside and bringing as much water into the water table as possible.
The Elephant is in the background. A face of the hill rises in the foreground. Water can be seen flowing down rock faces during the rainy season.
The Path winds on.
We are getting close to the face of the hill that rises here.
Reminding us of the desert-like environment, here is another cactus, well protected from the heat that is soon to come.
Just barely visible here on the hill face is a small white box. This once housed an idol. This idol has been taken by vandals. You can walk up to this spot and get a great overlook of the surrounding area.
On the other side is a steeper area of the rock face. Back towards this hill it is greener, a sign of better water. There is a trail that leads into this greener area. Sometimes village women can be seen carrying bundles of dried grasses down this trail. The local people know the plants that can be used here, and make good use of everything.
Now the angle between the trunk and head of The Elephant has become more acute. This means we are nearing the end this section of the Inner Path. I think of this as the ‘Elephant Compass’ and use the angle as a way to know where I am on the Path.
The Path continues to wind through the countryside.
The ‘Elephant Compass’ gets yet more acute. Getting closer to the end the of the section.
Now, through the trees, houses can be seen far away. Road noise is also sometimes heard.
The Path continues through the dry brush.
Look at the ‘Elephant Compass’ now. Where are we? We’re reaching the end of this section.
Looking back, we can see the hill face rising behind us. There is a big area on this side of the hill that needs to be explored. This will be done in other posting, later.
Down a bit more of the Path.
A stone post with a painted Inner Path marker defines the end of The Elephant section of the path. Sometimes camphor will be seen burning in a pit on the top of this post. Notice that there are paths that lead both to the right and the left here. One set goes towards the road, the other towards the mountain. The Inner Path goes straight, past the post.
The next section of the path, we call ‘Trees.’ We will post this soon.
This post continues the series of posts that show Arunachala’s Inner Path, used by devotees of Sri Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi for the sacred walk around this holy hill. This walking is called pradakshina, or, in Tamil, girivalam.
Inner Girivalam Path around Arunachala:
Parvati Hill section
A map is below. The Parvati Hill section of the Inner Path is shown in purple.
Another way to visualize this is by the look of Arunachala from this location. From the correct place on this side of Arunachala, one can see Arunachala rising behind the twin peaks of Parvati Hill. Parvati Hill is in the foreground, with Arunachala behind.
Approaching the Inner Path
We started from our house on the southwest side of the mountain. The day we walked was after more than one week of rain, after ‘a cyclone’ hit Tamil Nadu. As you will see, much of the path was under water, and the catchment basins and tanks were filled with water.
It is a cloudy day, and Arunachala is behind a cloud.
Parvati Hill is to the left. Arunachala goes off to the right.
Sadhus are bathing at Kattu Siva tank.
The trees at the Arunachala Kattu Siva Plantation are gone, a sign of the changes this organization is going through as it tries to deal with new people in the local Forestry Department. I hate it that they felt they had to move away from the mountain. See this link for more information about the important work being done by this organization.
The deep water pump and beautiful water lilies remain.
Now we start on this section of the Inner Path. Follow the path, generally north.
Across a creek, full of water now, the path that goes to the Kattu Siva Meditation Perch branches off to the right.
Carol is taking the main path. The east end of the peak of Parvati Hill is in the background.
Here are both peaks. These also carry the names of Siva and Parvati. These two peaks are the only part of Arunachala hill that have the same look from both sides of the hill. I will show the other side in a photo later in this article.
After all the rain, the path, in many places, seemed more like a creek than a path.
After a bit of walking, you will come to this tank. Today it is very full. There is a path on the other side, too, but now it is under water.
There is a sadhu’s hut by this tank. The winds during the cyclone have torn his plastic ‘door’ to shreds.
On the other side of this tank, we see some statues.
We come closer to these statues. Investigating, we have found that they represent a tribal God, Vediyappan (god of wilderness, or forest). These horses are seen near many temples is this area.
This shrine is located in a spot considered very sacred by the local tribal people. They say that you can hear the gods’ footsteps in this area. That is why the shrine is located here.
I have talked to other local people about these horses, and while they may not know about Vediyappan, they know that these horses stand ready for the god to ride out whenever someone needs protection.
Here is a closer photo of the horses, the god, I guess, and the dogs that are the escorts.
At the side of the statues is the “primitive” forest temple, with natural rocks worshiped as lingams, etc. These kinds of shrines are in many places in South India. I think one can see the progression from natural shrine, to outside altar, to small holy building, to temple, to temple complex.
Below, a close-up of the watchman. You can see a shield in one hand. The other hand, though empty now, once held a sword. These figures are the protectors of the forest from predators, standing ready.
I have researched Vediyappan and not found much. But I did find Ved Ayyappan, said to be the third son of Siva, and to have overcome a forest-thug, Udayanan. Here is a link for Ayyappan. Here is a second link. Maybe this local god is a local version of this legend? Further research makes me think that this a local name for Ayyanar. Ayyanar is definitely associated with the white horses.
Arunachala, enshrouded in clouds.
Now to follow the path onward around Parvati Hill.
Still wondering if this is the path or a creek? I see a white and red path marker ahead, so it must be the path.
One of the peaks of Parvati Hill.
Water pours over this catchment dam, with Arunachala in the background.
Looking away from the hill, one sees the forest that surrounds the path on this side of the hill.
The path slogs on through the water.
One last look at Arunachala before it is occluded by Parvati Hill.
On the other side of Parvati Hill one sees a big tree and rock to the right of the path.
Coming closer, you can see a path off to the right.
The side path leads through the bushes.
And to a nice cave, just off the Inner Path. We had walked by this spot for several months without noticing this cave.
Inside the cave is a cement floor, dry even after the last week of rain. Notice the rock and cement work to the right of the doorway.
Back on the Inner Path.
For a bit, the trees change, the general color seems a darker green, and there are the big trees like these behind Carol.
Here is a stone survey marker dated from 1904. There are several of these around the hill, all from the same approximate period.
To the left is a big intersection with another path.
Follow the path to the left.
You come to Kannapar Shrine. There is a path from Girivalam Road that takes you right to this spot.
Newly built next to Kannapar Shrine is what I think of as a ‘lingam field.’ This is one of the young Nithyananda‘s facilities. Here I think there are 1008 lingams.
Back on the path, now on the north side of Parvati Hill. The path is pretty wide here.
After a bit more walking through the trees and brush, the terrain opens up.
We walk through a wide open grassy area. The Inner Path goes to the right of this photo. We walk through the center path. It seems easier and more direct.
To the left is a field, flooded and being plowed by a man behind two bullocks.
To the right are the twin peaks of Parvati Hill. From the north side this time, though.
For a panoramic view, I stood in one place and swung the camera from left to right. Panoramic shot 1.
Panoramic shot 2
Panoramic shot 3.
Panoramic shot 4.
Below, still walking along the trail. This small house is the only one close to the path on this side of the hill. I have seen a sadhu there, accompanied by another man.
In this picture there is another stone marker of some kind. Obviously meant to mark something. But it is not associated with the property line and line of posts.
Following the path(s) around the hill.
Look, on the rock ahead is a black goat.
We pass the herd of bulls that seems to live here. They are always in this spot as we pass by in the morning.
The clouds above the hill, a spot of clearing over one of the passes over the hill.
The path goes through this open area towards Arunachala hill. From here, you usually see the structure, ‘The Elephant.’ Today the clouds obstruct The Elephant.
Looking towards the path over the hill.
A bit more through the grassy fields and clumps of trees.
I know we are getting close to the end of this section because of the palm tree to the left of this shot. The path winds through these scrubby low bushes.
We are joining the main path again here.
Or is it the main creek?
The ‘Frog Pond’ (as we call it) is over its banks. We cannot even get to where we usually sit for a rest without wading through the water. Today we don’t even try.
We usually walk to the right here. Not today.
Carol sits for a bit. So do I. This is the end of this section. We rest before we proceed to the next section, which we call, ‘The Elephant.’
Below, the east end of Parvati Hill from the Frog Pond.
Parvati Hill from a bit further on the path, reflected in the now-full northside basin.
This posting is the second in a series in which I will show some of the experience of walking Arunachala’s ‘Inner Path.’
The first posting shows the start of the walk from Sri Ramanasramam.
This posting continues with the walk where the initial posting ended, from the path near the access point where Perumpakkam Road meets Bangalore Road. This is the place where many walkers enter onto the Inner Path. This part of the Inner Path goes by the path up to Aum Amma’s and Papaji’s caves, by the Sadhu Tank, and ends at the Arunachala Reforestation station.
Previous postings show areas that can be reached while on this part of the Inner Path. Postings about Papaji’s cave can be found here and here. Aum Amma cave is shown here. A posting about the ‘Holy Feet of God’, Tiruvadi, South of the Sadhu’s Tank, can be found here.
A map of Arunachala and the Outer Path is below. I have marked this map with a few landmarks we use, and with an approximate map of the first two sections of the Inner Path pradakshina (girivalam in Tamil) shown in this series.
The Southwest section of the path is in blue.
The path starts after you go through the stone ‘gate’ leaving the first section. There is a ditch you walk through on the other side where the path starts. If it is full of water, there is an alternate to the right.
Looking to Arunachala through the trees before we start walking on this section.
Most of these photos were taken on a Sunday, and there were a few other people walking the path, including an elderly Indian couple that have lived for the last 30 years in Saratoga California, near where I lived, and who have heard of my spiritual teacher, Nome.
Many times during the week we will not see another person walking the Inner Path.
The path start winding through an area where trees provide a canopy.
The path branches to the right here. Do no go straight here; you will go back to Bangalore road.
Arunachala, the peak enshrouded in clouds.
The path in gentle here, winding through trees towards the mountain.
Now the path has turned East. The tall trees on the right were planted I think 10 – 20 years ago. There were many of this kind of tree planted in this area, and on the Northeast side of the hill.
Winding through this countryside. The red and white paintings are trail markers painted on stones. These are found all the way around the mountain to mark the Inner Path. Following these one should not get lost – just keep Arunachala to your right and keep walking.
Now the path has turned back towards the mountain. It is more rocky here.
Carol walking ahead of me.
Arunachala from the Inner Path, clouds at the top.
Continuing along the Inner Path. Now Parvati Hill, the small hill on the East end of Arunachala, with its two small peaks, is visible.
Note the stones lining both sides of the path. These are common in this section of the path. You will see them in many of the photos.
Parvati Hill, looking of one of the several small lakes found in this section of the path. These are behind earth berms, and I think are intended to help bring water back into the underground water table. It is early monsoon season now, and there is some water in this tank, which has been dry for the summer months (starting in April).
Again Arunachala in the clouds. This is from the berm shown above. Part way up the mountain, on the left side of the photo, a big rock formation is visible. This is where Aum Amma’s and Papaji’s caves are found.
The path is pretty here, and lined with stones on both sides.
Now winding through more trees. When the sun is out, these trees are much appreciated. Any shade is welcome. White and red trail markers are visible in the distance.
Coming out of the trees, Parvati Hill is again visible.
Back into the trees.
Now to the right of the trail is a big rock. Often, in the tourist season, you will see groups, sitting on this rock.
Early in the morning, you also may see a Sadhu, meditating.
Walking through more trees.
And finally we come to the Sadhu’s tank. This tank is, I am told, spring fed. What I have seen is that it has water all through the year, while most other tanks will dry out.
It is early in the morning, and there are Sadhu’s bathing, washing their saffron cloths and spreading them out to dry.
On the other side of the tank, there is a picturesque masonry arch, and a falling-down building. This is where we saw the Sadhu bathing in the photo above.
Now we follow the path once more through some trees.
And we get to one of the Reforestation Project’s tree nurseries.
Here is another stone gate, which marks the end of this section on the Inner Path.
The next part of this series will start from here.
My wife and I moved to Tiruvannamalai in November 2007. I had recently retired and felt called to Arunachala for spiritual practice “in the embrace of Arunachala.”
I will be writing from time to time on the experiences of a Westerner in South India, and on my spiritual experiences at Ramanasramam and Tiruvannamalai.
Life in South India is filled with God. Business people perform pujas when they open business for the day. Most people have altars at home and perform daily rites there. Also God is a much more a part of daily life. In the West, God is mainly ‘kept in’ churches. temples and synagogues. In India, God is found on the streets. As one example, during religious festivals, they will put the ‘temple Gods’ on ‘chariots’ and pull or carry these around the town or village.
In this area one of the biggest events every month is the full moon night. During this night usually several hundred thousand people from around the world gather for Giri Pradakahina, where they will walk about 15 km around Arunachala. This is in a town of 100,000, so perhaps three times as many people who live in the town make pradakshina. Most do it in the moonlight, barefoot on the road. Traffic is halted for this night or redirected.
Here is a photo from our house of moonrise the January full moon night.