Tiruvanamalai a small town 185 km off Chennai nestling under the 2682 feet Arunachala mountain , known for its magnificient Arunachala temple and for Ramanamaharshi.
The great yogi attained his enlightment in the divine hill where he took abode as 12 year old venkatramanna with an urge to seek the ultimate truth and the quest for divinity in its caves.
The young boy unmindful of material comforts lived in a permanent state of bliss oblivious to his increasing followers who built the Ramanashram at the foot of the mountain .
The incinerating heat of tamilnadu disappears as one enters the serene ashram gates full of tall trees ,
.Even the hot four hour bus ride from Chennai is wiped from memory.
Neat spartan rooms, meditation hall full of spiritual strength ,tasty vegetarian food on green plantain leaves all unwind the visitor .
Colourful peacocks flutter open their ruffling feathers and frisky monkeys are everywhere.
Manicured gardens and green foliage make it an eden
The mountain looms behind the ashram its brown hulk nudgingly close ,known for a strong magnetic field it is described in mythology as being in the centre of the earth.and as mount Meru by Sri Adi Sankara.
A trek up the hill following the path laid out is invigorating as cool winds blow a welcome
.Convenient perches on ledges give rest and wonderful views of the toy town below , , halfway up the mountain one reaches Skandasram ,where Ramanamaharshi lived for a great many years ,Skandan was the worker who discovered water in the place for the swami to move in from a cave below called virupaksha cave and thus the name .
The cave has now been converted by the ashram into a small cottage and is a heritage site , a small hose brings pure water from high up,there are small chambers where one could get lost in meditation in the very place the maharshi did.
The climb up after this is not easy as there is no path and it is steep but many dare the hardy climb to reach the top and get the blessings of a saint living there for the past 14 years meditating scarcely having any food ,
The top another three hours from skandashram was also well known for the karhtika villaku which ,the huge lamp lit every year during karhtika deepam by the temple authorities which could be seen for at least 30 km around ,it is well known as Tiruvanamalai jyothi.
legend goes that once Vishnu and Bramha were arguing on their relative superiority when Siva who wanted to show them that there was yet another superior being appeared as a huge column of fire ,Brahma assumed the form of a swan and flew up to find the top of the column and Vishnu became a boar (varaha) burrowing down the earth to find the base ,both failed and this column of fire turned into Arunachala mountain and the kartika jyothi symbolises this pillar of fire
for the less adventureous the return from Skandasram could be either by the gentle path they went up or by a steeper craggy descent to the Virupaksha cave another abode of Ramamnamaharshi for several years ,here too one could meditate or just laze in the ledge watching the temple below. ,climbing down would get one back to the hot and busy town just behind the temple .
The bustling market and its noises are a stark contrast to the serenity of the hill but also a welcome back to our kind of civilisation .
The age old Arunachaleswar temple itself magfnificient with its stone frescoes brought to life by the skilled craftsmen ,the cavernous hall echoed history in its wondrous depths and divintiy lurking in every corner ,the vast courtyard with the sentinel nine gopuras held hordes of devotees milling around ,some involved in commerce others gazing and lazing many studiously religious , an anthropologists delight to sit back and watch this multitude of human variety in divine precints.Its linga represented jyothir linga the fire incarnation of God
Pradakshina in Hindu religion has great significance and is a form of worship so is the going around the mountain (giriparadakshina) preferably by walk or by vehicle ,it is 14 km and there are well laid roads all around ,for the first seven km it is the main road to Gingee ,which then turns away at a junction with a crumbling historical edifice remnant of a fort and then a quite tree lined mountain road .
A map from the ashram gives the route and details its many temples and lingas ,this is siva land for sure .
Foot weary and tired but happy to finish the trek one would trudge back to the comforts of the ashram for a well earned rest.
Souls sojourn indeed.