Arunachala Pradakshina – June 2008 Full Moon – Part One: By Richard Clarke

After walking ’round Arunachala in April in the moonlight, amidst a crowd said to be 1.5 million people, we celebrated THIS month’s full moon by walking around in the morning. We found this to be much more harmonious, and easier to take pictures than during the crowded night walk.

Shown below are photos taken June 18, 2008. They are all on the ‘Pradakshina road,’ from the junction with Bangalore (Chengam) Road to where this road meets the main road back into Tiruvannamalai, so from the viewpoint of Arunachala, from the South West, to the North West sides of Arunachala.

I have tried to put in names of temples, shrines, etc. I am unsure of the spelling of some of them, so if there are errors, let me know and I will correct them.

Carol Getting Ready – Removing her shoes

It is the tradition that Arunachala is a temple, and the path around the temple, for good punya (merit) should always be walked barefoot. IF you look closely you will see that most Indians do this. Carol frequently walks barefoot, as she can. I still hold more to shoes or sandals. Even with this, I have had several blisters and foot sores that caused restricted activity for a while as they healed.

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Jyoti Vinayaka Shrine

This shrine is right at the intersection of Bangalore Road and Pradakshina road.

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Carol is getting blessed by the priest.

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Along the way

Much of the road is lined with vendors and stalls. There were still many people making pradakshina this morning. In the photo below there is a group of young women walking. You can tell they they are young because they are wearing ‘punjabi’ or ‘salwar’ suits, instead of saris, which is what are worn by most Indian women.

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Here is Richard. Note the vibuthi, placed on my forehead by the same priest that blessed Carol.

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Another Temple

I am not sure of the name of this shrine. To its left is a big building that says it is a ‘Free marriage hall.’ I believe they let sadhus sleep there overnight.

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Om Namo Sivaya

We often meet this sadhu in the morning when we go up the trail to get to the Inner Path. This goes past what we call the Sadhu Tank. I think this is called “Kattu Shiva Hermitage” on some maps. Usually he gives a big smile and says “Om namo Sivaya” as we pass on the trail. This morning he was out on the road, on his way back to “the tank.” We walked together for a bit.

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Here he is with Carol. He put on his Siva dhoti for the picture instead of the plain saffron one.

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Chalk figure of Hanuman

Note that the artist put cloth boundaries on the pavement, trying to prevent walk-overs.

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Selling Hammocks

It took some time before we know what the red and green strings were, hanging in this photo. They are hammocks!

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Dourvaas Nama Siva Shrine

Here they usually used to ask us for ’20 Rupees’ for a “wish bag” to tie on a tree behind the shrine. These wish bags are a common feature in a temple. For example, when a woman wants a child, she will tie a bag onto a tree at a nearby temple.

This is right across the road from where we usually go onto the trail to the Inner Path. This is described in the posting

.

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One of many Nandis

There are many Nandis along the road. Nandi the Bull is Siva’s attendant and gate keeper. In a temple, Nandi will face the lingam. Around Arunachala, most face the mountain.

Women visit images of Nandi, bringing floral offerings, and touch the stone. Their prayers are usually for fertility.

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Clean-up after Full Moon night

Empty coconuts, after a night of drinking coconut juice. Cleaning up after the full moon night is an issue. Some vendors do this with care. Many do not. And many of the people will throw trash anywhere.

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Supplies from a drink stand, going back on a bullock cart.

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Another Nandi, by Soma Tirtam (Soma Tank)

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CD and DVD stand

Across from Soma Tirtam. There are a number of these stands, usually blasting out some Siva chant or song.

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Mahashakti Shrine, covered with ‘wish bags’

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Sadhus

Sadhu with begging bowl

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Sitting on bench

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Elderly Sadhu. Just walking seems like a big task.

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Vendors

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Man whispering secrets into Nandi’s ear

He spent some time whispering to Nandi. Must have had a lot of wishes.

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Babies

Young couple with babe in arms. Mother says proudly, “38 days old.” They were very pleased to be taking their new baby on pradakshina around Arunachala.

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Another baby watching the first baby. You see many babies in the arms of their parents, being carried around the mountain.

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One of the nine Lingams, Nirudhi Shrine

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Carol getting blessed

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Sadhu taking morning bath in Nirudhi Tank

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More vendors

Food stand with thatched roof

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Man sleeping on table after a long night

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Vallalar Temple with Sadhus

Vallalar Temple features the Nine Planets

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Sadhu in tea stand

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Brightly colored Rudraksha pendants

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For the rest of this article, go to

Walking up to Skandashram: By Richard Clarke

Here in Tiruvannamalai for many Westerners the focus is on Sri Ramana Maharshi and Ramanasramam. Many of these go up Arunachala to the caves where Ramana lived and taught and gave darshan.

One of these caves is Skandashram. It is perhaps one mile from Ramanasramam, up a well cared-for path, up the side of the mountain.

Ramana lived at Skandashram from 1915 to 1922. This is where his mother joined him, and started preparing meals at the ashram, rather than having prepared food carried up, as had been the case since the earliest years. After the mahasamadhi of Mother, and her subsequent interment at the base of the hill, Ramana then took residence at her samadhi, the location of the present day Ramanasramam.

I show here photos from a recent walk up the hill to Skandashram. We started about 7:15 in the morning, before it was too hot. We left out the back gate of Ramanasramam.

Getting started

Going through Sri Ramanasramam

Carol walking through Ramanasramam to path to Skandashram One of the guides who accompany newcomers The gate from Ramanasramam

Starting up the hill

Starting on the path

A woman working with gathered material

Village woman collecting plants

Up the path we go

Starting to climb up the path

The path is ‘paved’ with stone, from Ramanasramam all the way to Skandashram, stones set into the dirt, forming a path about three feet wide. In steep areas there are steps. Someday these stones will be smooth, after 100,000’s of feet have passed over them. Each stone was carried to the path and set into the ground by unnamed workers.

On both sides of the path you will notice tree plantings, done as part of the Arunachala reforestation project that has been going on the the last few years. Ramanasramam has increased interest in Arunachala both around the world, and in India. It is this increased interest in Arunachala that has brought this project about.

Take the right fork. To the left is an entry into the inner pradakshina path.

The path forfs, Skandashram to the right

Up the hill

Carol is barefoot. Arunachala, the whole mountain, is considered to be a temple, and in India you take off your shoes in a temple. Many Westerners do not do this, but Carol goes barefoot on the walk to Skandashram. I do wear sandals. Carol gets more ‘punya,’ spiritual merit.

Carol walks barefoot up the path

And up the hill …

Climbing stairs here

Often there are people sitting and meditating here

To the  left, a place to sit and meditate

Up the path

Up the path

View along the way down to the city

View to the right of the path

Keep going up

The path keeps going up

A Sadhu is usually here – “Sivo Hum,” he may say

Sadhu's spot

There are stone carvers along the way

Stone carver

Up to the top of the path

Up to the top

The view from the top of the path

View from the top - Aranachaleswara Temple

And now to Skandashram. Skandashram is the in clump of trees in the center of the photo.

Final leg of the path

Here we are, but the gate is locked

Skandashram Skandashram gate

Path down to Virapakshu Cave. It is pretty steep.

Aranachaleswara Temple from Skandashram

Opening the gate, walking in. The attendant unlocks the gates.

Opening the gate Entering Skandashram grounds

Skandashram

Skandashram

View from Skandashram

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Entering Skandashram

Entering Skandashram

The inner chamber, with the attendant getting ready for the morning chant. This chant is wonderful to listen to. The voice is resonant, and you can hear the love for the teaching in the voice. When we go up to Skandashram, we try to get there for this morning chant. We will sit in the outer chamber, and listen to the chant and meditate, and continue the meditation after the chant is finished.

Innter chamber

Looking out from the porch

Looking out

The Mother’s Quarters

Mother's room Altar in Mother's room

One last look around

Skandashram grounds

One last look at Skandashram

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Back down the path

Path back to Ramanasramam

The walk down the hill was harrowing. A tree with a bees nest had fallen, and the bees chased some people down the hill. I was one of these. A swarm of bees circled around my head, stinging the back of my head several times. I was able to brush then out of my ears and off my mouth and face without getting stung there. Finally, about halfway down the hill, they stopped following me.

This is why the photos end with the one above.