When my daughter and I returned from Girivalam, my wife wanted to go on one. She hadn't accompanied me on earlier pilgrimages to Tiruvannamalai because she was doubtful if she had the strength to undertake such a gruelling trip and being the lovely, traditional South Indian wife that she is, she wanted to remain at home to light the Karthigai lamps during the three days of the festival - the day of Karthigai deepam, the day before and the day after.
Preparations at home
In Tamil Nadu, lighting lamps for Karthigai Deepam is a big ritual that women really look forward to and treasure. A day or two before the festival, my wife will climb up on to the high shelf and remove tiny earthen lamps that she had used in previous years, and wash and dry them thoroughly in the sun. In the evening, she will draw kolam in front of our house, near the gate and at the main door. 'Kolam' is an intricate artistic design of lines and dots made with rice flour - the rice flour being an offering to ants who are considered an important part of God's universe.
The day before Karthigai, my wife will fill all the earthern lamps with sesame oil or ghee and light them at dusk. She will place the lamps at strategic points on the beautiful kolam she had drawn. It would add to the sanctity of the festival. For me, watching the lights lining the outer walls of our home was irresistable, something I had cherished since I was a child in my village. Even though I loved watching the lamps being lit at home, I always wanted to be in Tiruvannamalai to see the big Karthigai Deepam being lit.
Three-fold purpose of Karthigai Deepam
As you can see, all our festivals have both a domestic and social context to them. If lighting of the Karthigai Deepam at Tiruvannamalai is a social event, lighting our houses is a part of the domestic dharma. I would say that we have an individual obligation to ourself to light the lamp within our own self. Our ultimate goal is the lighting of the inner jyoti, for which the Annamalai Deepam is an ideal and the domestic lamps are aids.
This time, my wife wanted to come with me on girivalam. She made alternate arrangements for lighting the deepam at home and was ready to go.
We start on her first Girivalam
My wife asked her sister, who is more gutsy and daring than her, to accompany us to Tiruvannamalai. We rented a car from Chennai and got the necessary permits for the car to enter the town of Tiruvannamalai on Karthigai Deepam day. After parking it near the Railway Station, we started the girivalam in the afternoon itself. It was very hot. We carried sufficient quantity of bottled water and my wife purchased glucose packets in case she is overcome by exhaustion on the way.
In front of the eastern gopuram, there was a confluence of people where many started their girivalam after burning the camphor. After throwing our share of camphor into the already burning camphor, we moved on. The crowd was already heavy and it was difficult to wade through the sea of humanity in front of us. We stopped at Ramana Ashram. After doing pradakshina of the two samadhis of the mother and Ramana, we resumed our Girivalam.
The Girivalam went off reasonably well for her. She tread the path, chatting with her sister and without pausing at any of the famous lingams en route. It was difficult for me to accompany them. I often found myself ahead of them and had to wait at some point for them to join me. As it was going to be dusk, when the deepam would be lit on hills, we hastened our pace to reach the point near the Esanya Lingam, the last lingam in the girivalam path, where we had decided we would like to witness the lighting of the deepam.
Bathing in the Lake
A huge crowd had lined up along the banks of a small lake separating us from the town and the Arunai Hills, in eager anticipation of the deepam being lit. The lake was brimming with fresh water from the recent rains. Suddenly, I could not resist the temptation to have a dip in the lake before witnessing the deepam. Brushing aside protests from my wife, who is particular about maintaining decorum in public places, I jumped into the lake and had a hearty dip. I dried myself with the only dhoti I was wearing and smeared on my fore-head, the holy-ashes(bhasma), I borrowed from some stranger nearby.
With the wet dhoti covering my loins, I was ready for the darshan of the Annamalai Deepam. I felt very light at heart, pleased to be with the bare minimum of clothes on. My joy felt no bounds, when I witnessed the deepam, in this state of simplicity. It is a paradox that I practised vairagya and austerity, when I was accompanying my wife, my life partner. The Karthigai deepam was lit. I was so happy that I wanted to remain with Arunachala Siva. I didn't want to leave Tiruvannamalai but we had to get in the car and go back to Chennai
My wife has accompanied me on several girivalams since then. But this first Girivalam of hers is the one I cherish the most.