"How many girivalams do the people in Tiruvannamalai do?" I wondered.
Westerners said they do girivalam thrice a week. Devout Indians I met said they do girivalam everyday. Other Indians said they do girivalam every Monday and still others said they do girivalam on Pournami, Pradosham and Karthigai Deepam days. Some others don't do girivalam at all. They live in Tiruvannamalai but don't do girivalam. "So, it is all kinds of people that get to live near Arunachala," I thought.
My second Girivalam
Mindful of my own limited time in Tiruvannamalai, I prayed to Arunachala Siva to let me do more girivalam. He let me rest for a few days and then do my second girivalam, totally on foot. This time there were only a handful of people with me and we completed the Girivalam in 3 hours and 45 minutes. It was very quiet, very serene. Nothing major happened, except that I realized I loved doing Girivalam.
Full-moon day was two days away. I prayed once again to be allowed to do my first Pournami Girivalam. Gracious as Arunachala was, he let me, and made it an amazing Indian experience to remember.
Tiruvannamalai on a full-moon day
Tiruvannamalai is usually a sleepy town, where everyone knows everyone else, but 24 hours before the full-moon day, it was transformed into a crowded, busy, and noiser town. There was fun and festivity (and business) in the air, that wasn't there before. Shop owners started stocking up on goods, workers on the Girivalam path talked about how they would get home because all traffic would be stopped by evening, and the police were out in full force. All the hotels and ashrams around town began to fill up and people often stopped me on the way to ask if I knew of places to stay.
I prepared for the big day by taking a lot of rest. I had completed two full girivalams on foot, and another girivalam on the inner path where I had walked two-thirds of the way on difficult terrain. In total, I must have walked about 40-45 kms. I felt refreshed, rejuvenated and ready for my first pournami girivalam.
From early in the morning on pournami day, I could hear the buzz of people talking and shuffle of people walking. The Dakshinamoorthy temple, where I used to start my girivalams, had a long line of people waiting to light a lamp and have darshanam of the Lord. I had seen such a long line only on Thursdays. Thursday being the day of the Guru.
My third Girivalam
Bowing to Lord Dakshinamoorthy, I began my third Girivalam. All the temples on the way were open and brightly lit. Some had devotional music playing on loud speakers. People started setting up road side stalls selling everything from deep-fried Indian food, to children's toys, to cool drinks. Overnight a lot of bill boards had come up announcing everything from new gurus to new condos to new movies.
Most men were walking bare-chested, in South Indian vesti, rudraksha malas and vibuti smeared all over them. Some women were decked out in all their finery. Heavy Canjeevaram saris, gold and glass bangles upto the elbow, and gold necklesses down their neck. Distracting as all these would have been to me prior to coming to Tiruvannamalai, I was amazed at how I could now keep my awareness on Arunachala Siva as I walked.
As I turned the corner, a temple that I used to love going to, was serving large quantities of sambar rice on banana leaves and a really large crowd was milling around eating and trying to get more. "O Arunachala," I told myself and walked on. I was told later that this temple was trying to get ahead of all the other temples by offering the first annadanam of the day.
Charity is big business in Tiruvannamalai
Several ashrams had opened their large gates and for the first time, I could see inside. One had a number of shiva lingas in its backyard. I wondered what that was about. May be they ship them out to temples around the world from here. May be.
Another ashram had b.e.a.u.t.i.f.u.l. plants and herbs in pots in the driveway. A man at a third ashram was very respectfully inviting all the sadhus to come in and eat.
Then there was one that had put up its entire ashram schedule, its guru's travel itinerary and all its charitable projects up on several h.u.g.e. billboards along the road that it obstructed my view of Arunachala. They were literally in my face.
Did I mention, charity is big business in Tiruvannamalai. Be naive and you will get ripped off big time. An elder told me that we are karmically responsible for how our donations are really used. If our support, knowingly or unknowingly, causes distress to Mother Earth and other living beings - the consequences to us can be devastating.
Ouch! I prayed to Arunachala to forgive me for the donations I may have given carelessly in the past and to guide me in the future.
Further up the girivalam path, the Agasthiar Ashram gates had not yet opened but as I passed it I bowed to Saint Agasthiar for the wisdom he has shared with the world.
There were more people on the road than there normally would have been. It wasn't crowded to bother me but at the same time, there were enough people to make the Grivalam comfortable and fun.
I stopped and rested at all the ashta lingas, the nandis and finished the Girivalam in 3.5 hours. What amazed me on this pournami Girivalam was that I was completely still inside, totally one with Arunachala. I took-in all the action around me, observed them, but was not perturbed by them. Arunachala Siva had made it an experience for me to remember.