MOUNTAIN ARUNACHALA AND TEMPLE OF ARUNACHALESWARA IN TIRUVANNAMALAI
The great Arunachala hill on which Sri Ramana lived for more than two decades is in town Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu. The town itself is named after the mountain Annamalai, with the prefix Tiru / Thiru, which in Tamil is equivalent of Sri.
The word ‘Annamalai’ in Tamil means ‘an inaccessible mountain’. ‘Annal’ is a special name for Lord Siva, who appeared in this place in the form of a column of fire, neither the top nor root of which could be approached, hence inaccessible. The mountain thus came to be known as Annal Malai (malai in Tamil means mountain). Slowly the word got corrupted to Annamalai. Paul Brunton (no.1), in his A Message from Arunachala writes that his geologist friend from America held the view that Arunachala was thrown up by the earth under the stress of some violent volcanic eruptions in the dim ages before even the coal-bearing strata were formed.
The hill which has a circumference of around 10 kilometer rises up to 3000 feet (approx) from the sea level at its highest point. [See photograph no.1 in the book.]
Arunachala is also known as Arunagiri. Sri Ramana explained that aruna means ‘red’, ‘bright like fire’.This fire is the fire of wisdom (jnanagni). Achala or giri is hill. So, it means the Hill of Wisdom. Adi Sankara has declared it to be the legendary Mount Meru.
As noted in the life sketch of Sri Ramana at the beginning of the book, the very word ‘Arunachala’ had somehow fascinated Sri Ramana since his childhood. It was in search of Arunachala that he left his home. In the note he left behind, he stated that he was leaving in quest of his Father. To him Arunachala was no mere hill; it was a visible symbol of the Absolute Spirit. His poem, a favourite of his devotees, Arunachala Akshar-amanamalai means ‘the bridal garland of letters for Arunachala’. It is a fine example of bridal mysticism (Madhura bhakti). Here Sri Ramana employs the intimate language of love conversing with the Lord. He also pines for, cajoles, chides, and quarrels with his beloved Arunachala. The poem was composed by Sri Ramana in 1913, while he was making the 13 km circuit round the hill. This ritual known as giri-pradakshina continues to be performed with fervour by Siva devotees.
Sri Ramana once said: “Someone from abroad wants a stone from the holy part of the hill. He does not know that the whole hill is holy. The hill is Lord Siva Himself. As we identify ourselves with the body, so Siva has chosen to identify Himself with the hill.”
As the name indicates, this is the temple of Iswara (God) of Arunachala, that is, Lord Siva. This is one of the biggest temples in South India and is over a thousand years old. The temple is truly marvellous in its construction. Its eastern tower (gopuram) goes up to 217 feet. [See photograph no.2 in the book.] The huge temple has numerous shrines, mandapams, gopurams and enclosures.
According to Sri Ramana’s first biographer, B.V. Narasimha Swami, Sri Ramana after alighting at Tiruvannmalai railway station on the morning of September 1, 1896, proceeded straight to this great temple. When he marched to the innermost shrine there was not a soul beside him. He addressed Arunachaleswara (in the shape of lingam): “O God, obedient to Thy call, I have come deserting all.” He stood there for a while in ecstasy and then left the sanctuary. The first few months of Sri Ramana’s stay at Tiruvannamalai were spent in deep meditation at various places in this temple.
ANNEXURE – II
KARTHIKAI DEEPAM OR DEEPAM FESTIVAL
This grand festival, which falls during November-December each year, is attended by lakhs of people. The festival stretches over a period of ten days. On the tenth day of the festival, a huge Deepam (lamp) is lit at the top of the hill Arunachala. A large basin-like copper cauldron, kept on the summit of the hill, is filled with ghee. The light which is lit with great festivity at 6 p.m. is visible from a distance of almost 30 miles in all directions. In the early Tamil literature the phrase ‘like a beacon on the top of the hill’ was used as an illustration of widespread fame. This shows that the practice must have been in vogue from time immemorial.
The origin of this tradition can be traced Backto the legend of Ardhanareeswara. According to the legend, the Divine Mother Parvati came to Tiruvannamalai and did penance to be united with Her Lord. Lord Siva was pleased with the penance, and appearing as a column of dazzling light took Her into Himself. This merging of Sakti into Siva is represented by the Ardhanareeswara (half woman and half man) form.1 This event occurred on the full moon day in the Tamil month of Karthikai, which generally runs from mid-November to mid-December. Ever since, it has been the practice to light a lamp at the top of Arunachala hill on this day every year, and worship the Lord.
According to another legend, the big cauldron is lit in commemoration of the episode of Lord Siva quelling the pride of Brahma and Vishnu by Himself appearing before them as a huge column of fire, which got consolidated as mountain Arunachala. According to a story in the Sivapuranam, once Brahma and Vishnu were arguing about their respective superiority. Suddenly they saw an endless column of fire beside them. They decided to find the limit of the column, agreeing that whoever reached the end of it would be superior to the other. Vishnu started to dig the earth to find the root, and Brahma flew in the sky to find the top. In due course of time, having failed in their mission, both returned to the earth. While Vishnu accepted his defeat, Brahma told a lie that he had reached the top and showed a flower, which he claimed he had got from Siva’s head. Lord Siva appeared on the scene and rebuked Brahma for telling a lie. The huge column of fire, the form of Siva, eventually got frozen as mountain.
1. In this manifestation, the left half represents Sakti in the form of Parvati and the right half Siva. The image ofArdhanareeswara gives a mistaken impression that it represents a being, which is half female and half male. In reality there is no such being. The symbolic representation of Ardhanareeswara is to be seen as a metaphor, which represents a being the whole of which is Siva and the whole of which is Sakti at the same time. Siva and Sakti are two beings only by connotation. They in fact denote one and the same being Siva. It is only when Siva is united with Sakti that He acquires the capability of becoming the Lord of the Universe. (Who is greater – Siva or Sakti ? Refer pp. 351-2.)
ANNEXURE – III
THE PERIAPURANAM’S STORY OF GREAT SIVA BHAKTA – KANNAPPAN NAAYANAAR
Periapuranam was the first religious book gone through by Sri Ramana. The book gives a moving account of the deep love, utter self-sacrifice and sublime communion with the Lord, which marked the lives of sixty-three Tamil saints. As he read on, says B.V. Narasimha Swami, the first biographer of Sri Ramana, “surprise, admiration, awe, reverence, sympathy and emulation swept over his soul in succession, thus paying a momentary homage to the grand ideals and ideas that had charmed the hearts and engaged the minds of his countrymen for centuries.” The famous story of Kannappan Naayanaar from this book is summarized below.
The tribe to which Kannappan belonged engaged itself in hunting and practising cruelty on animals. The tribe had a chieftain named Naaga. He married a lady from another hill tribe. Their great and long-standing desire to have a child was fulfilled through worship at the shrine of Lord Muruga – son of Lord Siva. The child being heavy to bear in hands was hailed as ‘the doughty one’ [Thinnan], which eventually became his name.
He was such a daring and strong boy that one day he thrust his hands into the jaws of a tiger and came out unhurt. He also became a great expert in archery. As the chief of the tribe grew weak with the passage of years, Thinnan, a dedicated Siva bhakta, became the next chief. He and his tribesmen engaged themselves in fierce hunting. Once they had to face a roaring bear with sharp teeth. Thinnan decided to pursue it. The bear fled far away and stood at the base of a hill. Thinnan strode towards the hill where he found a Siva temple, which was being maintained by a local Brahmin.
Thinnan wanted to offer food and water to Lord Siva, but the only water he had was his saliva and the food was the animal flesh. Next day, the priest on his arrival was shocked to find meat scattered over the Lingam and he cursed the person who was responsible for the defilement. He cleaned the Lingam, went to take bath and came back. He worshipped the Lord in his usual way and went home. After he left, Thinnan worshipped the Lord again in his way.
The priest hid himself to find the ‘culprit’. He saw Thinnan doing his usual worship with great fervour and devotion. In order to show the depth of Thinnan’s worship to the priest, the Lord made blood come out of His eye. As Thinnan could not bear the sight of his beloved Lord suffering such pain, he pulled out one of his eyes and put it in Siva’s image. Now the bleeding started from the other eye of the Lord’s image. After losing his one eye Thinnan could see only with the other eye and so he put his left leg to mark the place of the eye in the image and then was about to pull out his second eye as well to put it in the place of the bleeding eye of the Lord, he heard the Lord’s voice calling him to stop. And then as the Lord appeared Himself, both the priest and Thinnan fell at His feet. The Lord blessed them and restored Thinnan’s eye.
Thinnan came to be known as Kannappan, which means one who gave his eyes to the Lord, and Naayanaars are great Siva bhaktas of yore.
(T.K. Sundaresa Iyer records how Sri Ramana became sentimental and emotional and brokedown while enacting this story before the devotees in the hall, Referpp. 286-7.)
THE COW LAKSHMI
The cow donated to the Ashram in 1926 was named Lakshmi by Sri Ramana himself. She died in 1948. She had nine deliveries in all, four of which were on the jayanti days of Sri Ramana. At the time of one such delivery, Sri Ramana’s attendant Kunju Swami (no. 52) remarked, “It is auspicious that the cow has delivered the calf on Sri Ramana’s birthday.” Sri Ramana interrupted him to say, “Correct yourself Kunju, my birthday celebrations are taking place on the day Lakshmi has calved.”
Sri Ramana would visit the cow shed regularly. Lakshmi also became greatly attached to the Maharshi and would, of her own accord, walk from her shed into the hall even when the hall was full of devotees. One day the cow came to the hall, put her head on the Maharshi’s shoulder and wept. He gently stroked her head and said, “Who has hurt you? Stop crying. I am here to befriend you.” Lakshmi stopped crying, gave the Maharshi a few licks and went away comforted. (Refer also p. 180.)
Lakshmi would walk into the hall from her shed a few minutes after the birth of her new calf and stand mutely before the Maharshi, who would then address her: “Lakshmi you have come to tell me that you have a new baby. I will come to the shed and see your child.”
Lakshmi continued through the years as one of the favoured devotees of Sri Ramana. Whenever she visited Sri Ramana, he would pay attention to her, stroke her and feed her with plantains, rice cakes, etc. The possessive way in which she approached Sri Ramana and the attention bestowed on her made many devotees believe that there was some special bond between them in an earlier birth. It seemed hard to explain in any other way the great solicitude and tenderness that Sri Ramana always showed in his dealings with her. [ See photograph no.12 in the book.]
Many old timers at the Ashram believed that Lakshmi was reincarnation of an old lady by the name Keeraipatti, who had known Sri Ramana from his earliest days in Tiruvannamalai and had occasionally prepared food for him almost up to her death in 1921. (Sri Ramana has also referred to the fact of reincarnation without committing himself.)
It is believed that Lakshmi brought a lot of luck and prosperity to the Ashram, a fact that was mentioned by Sri Ramana himself.
On the day of Lakshmi’s death the Maharshi sat beside her, took her head into his arms and gently stroked her neck. He fixed his gracious gaze on her. She passed away peacefully and was given a ceremonial burial in the Ashram premises. A samadhi shrine built over the grave with her true-to-life statue (though of a smaller size) is worshipped by the devotees to this day. An epitaph written by the Maharshi in Tamil verse confirms her nirvana. When a devotee asked the Maharshi whether the use of the word vimukti in the epitaph was conventional or it really meant nirvana, the Maharshi replied that it meant nirvana.
Other samadhis adjacent to that of the cow Lakshmi, are of the deer Valli (Refer p. 67 last para), the dog Jackie ( Refer p. 272, 2nd para ) and the crow ( Refer p.307 last para).
(The Great Silent Guru, an incarnation of Lord Siva)
It is said that Lord Siva manifested as Dakshinamurthi in order to instruct and enlighten four ascetics. In the traditional version of this story, He appeared in the form of a young boy sitting under a banyan tree. The four ascetics attained enlightenment as a result of receiving Dakshinamurthi’s silent transmissions. A verse from Adi Sankara’s Sri Dakshinamurthi Stotra goes on to say – “Look at the wonder under the banyan tree! While the disciples are old and grey-haired, the teacher is blooming youth. And though the Master’s speech is simple silence, the doubts of the disciples are all resolved.”
Dakshinamurthi means ‘southward facing god’, and one finds Lord Siva in this form on the outside of the southern walls of South Indian Siva temples. Sri Ramana devotees generally believe that the Maharshi was a manifestation of Dakshinamurthi. He took up residence on the southern side of Arunachala hills, identified himself with Arunachala Siva, and he always preferred to teach through silence.
The Maharshi has told the following story about Dakshinamurthi to Muruganar (no. 53).
When four aged Sanakadi rishis [Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatkumara and Sanatsujata] first saw the youthful Dakshinamurthi sitting under a banyan tree, they at once got attracted to him, and understood that he was the real sadguru.
They approached him, did three pradakshinas around him, prostrated before him, sat at his feet and began to ask very shrewd and pertinent questions about the nature of Reality and the means of attaining it. Because of the great compassion and fatherly love (vatsalya) which he felt for his aged disciples, the young Dakshinamurthi was overjoyed to see their earnestness, wisdom and maturity, and gave apt replies to each of their questions.
As he answered each consecutive question, further doubts arose in their minds and they asked further questions. Thus they continued to question Dakshinamurthi for one whole year, and he continued to clear their doubts through his compassionate answers.
Finally, Dakshinamurthi felt that if he continued to answer the questions more doubts would arise in their minds and there would never be an end to their ignorance (ajnana). Therefore, suppressing the feeling of compassion and fatherly love, which was welling up within him, he merged himself into Supreme Silence.Because of their great maturity (which had got ripened greatly due to their year-long association with the sadguru), as soon as Dakshinamurthi assumed silence, they too got merged into Supreme Silence, the true state of Self.
When Muruganar, who was hearing the story, remarked that no book has mentioned about Dakshinamurthi ever speaking anything, Sri Ramana replied curtly, “But this is what actually happened.” From the authoritative way in which Sri Ramana reacted, Muruganar realised that Sri Ramana was none other than Dakshinamurthi himself.