In one of the early posts on this website - http://arunachala-girivalam.blogspot.com/2009/09/karthikeyan-for-money-go-to-tirupati-to.html - the contributor had said that those who want wealth should go to Tirupati and those who want mukti should go to Tiruvannamalai. Providence had it that I visited both Tirupati (on November 28th) and Tiruvannamalai (on December 1). We went to Tirupati because my younger daughter wanted to go. I did not ask Lord Balaji for wealth and I did not exactly ask Lord Arunachaleshwar for mukti, either. On both these occasions, I did not ask for anything in particular. I was simply prayerful. I only want the Lord to keep me in his protective fold forever. .
The visit to Tiruvannamalai was long awaited and hence there was an air of expectancy and nervousness. We had to make extensive travel arrangements because there were a number of travel restrictions in place for entering the town of Tiruvannamalai and the temple. My wife, her sister and husband, who accompany us every year, joined us this time too. I invited a friend of mine also to come with us since the car we had rented for this purpose was big enough to accommodate more people. I managed to secure an entry pass for the car and five passes to enter the temple, where the puja prior to the lighting of the karthigai deepam was held.
Due to unavoidable reasons, we could not leave Chennai early in the morning as we had planned. We left only around 1 pm on December 1, 2009 and raced to reach Tiruvannamalai before the police deadline of 4.30 pm.
Ceremonies inside the Temple
As we entered the barricaded town limits, it was 4.30 pm sharp. Our driver was very smart. He was able to drive us straight to the eastern gate of the temple. As we entered the "Kili Mandapam" (The Hall of Parrot) inside the temple premises, the hall was full of expectant devotees. We squeezed past them to our seats. The State Minister-in-charge of affairs of Hindu Temples and the Chief Minister of the neighbouring State of Pondicherry as well as a motley crowd of politicians were seated on a raised platform. Many television channels were already capturing the scene live.
The 'urchava murtis' (the idols meant for display during procession) were being brought on mini-palanquins from inside the temple to the Mandapam, as bhajans appropriate to the deity in procession were being sung. The deities were being tossed about during the procession and placed in a row on the platform facing the sactum sanctorum and the holy hill on the northern side. The devotees were literally in a frenzy. We could no longer remain seated as we had to pave way for the deities coming in procession. I could not withstand the jostling crowd and came out and stood outside.
As I was standing in the sidelines, I enjoyed the vibrant chanting of bhajans by Veeramanidasan, a celebrated singer of devotional songs. My wife and sister-in-law, who braved the crowd, witnessed the appearance of Ardha Nareeswara dancing. I missed it and regret it.
It was 6 p.m when the aarti and fireworks commenced. The entire temple premises erupted in light from fireworks outside. Soon, the flames of the deepam atop the hill was visible. The air was asunder with the cry of "annamalai yarukku arohara! annamalai yarukku arohara!!"
The Mountain appeared in flames
I came out of the hall and waited for our group to re-assemble and relax after the extreme jostling inside the temple. We could still see the holy Arunachala hill from where we were, when suddenly, the hill was engulfed with a mysterious darkness so as to accentuate the brightness of the deepam. The entire stretch of the hill appeared to be burnished in flames; this I used to feel every time I visit for the deepam and I felt the same this time too. I had fasted in the day and I broke the fast with some temple prasad.
Then, we proceeded to go on girivalam. We started to go towards the south gopuram from where we had planned to commence our girivalam. My God! It was an unimaginable crowd all the way. It took about an hour for us to reach Ramanashram from the temple. We had no time for Ramana Ashram or for that matter for any of the lingams or temples on the way. We were literally carried in the sea of humanity. I must mention my earlier post - http://arunachala-girivalam.blogspot.com/2009/09/picture-of-arunachalam-posted-here-is.html - that the conduct of all those who do girivalam is not wholly prayerful and it leaves much to be desired. Petty road side shops and the stalls indulging in sham charity and 'anna dhanam' added to the woes of the devotees. Many Police vehicles were coming in rounds, with the ostensible purpose of picking-up those in distress. But, I found them picking-up hardly any one in distress. On the other hand, these vehicles created more nuisance and a number of unruly elements were found piggy-riding on the slow-moving vehicles for fun.
My wife, who had been already weak due to some recent ailment, was in distress even before we completed half the journey; she insisted on my walking close to her for I have the tendency to break loose from the group, since I become engrossed in myself on such occasions. My sister-in-law, who is normally a resolute walker of girivalam also felt the pressure. Thrice they stopped to refresh themselves; I told them to take heart by looking at the Deepam on the hill as often as possible. I tried to divert them by chanting aloud 'Arunachala siva, arunachala siva, arunachala siva, arunachala!'.
My wife tried to dissuade me from doing this. She said, "you will become dehydrated." Suddenly, I saw my friend silently doing mala. He and I had been initiated in the same mantra and by the same guru. He would not have chanted 'Arunachala siva' mantra but I guess he chanted the guru mantra, which possibly is Lord Siva's. I got the cue from him and started quietly chanting the arunachala siva mantra, which I hitherto did loudly. The mala, I continued in silence, even as I was tending to my wife. Past the half-way mark, I could see them walking with more heart. But, as we reached the shrine of Idukku Pillaiyar, the bad news was that my sister-in-law's husband had difficulty in walking. He rested on the way; that surprised me for he is known for being physically strong. The enormous stress due to the huge turn-out of the devotees had really taken a toll on him too. I did not have the heart to ask them to sit and have the pancha mukha darshan of Lord Arunachala - http://arunachala-girivalam.blogspot.com/2009/09/panjamukha-darshanam.html. As we passed that spot, I looked up in earnest for the darshan and I had it for a fleeting moment.
As we reached the town again, I could see many people lighting camphor on the path, as a token of completion of the girivalam. As I said in my earlier post, a beginner has to complete girivalam at the Bootha Narayanan temple and others may do it at least at the Eesanya Lingam. As we were proceeding to the Eesanya lingam, the gathering clouds which also appeared to be doing girivalam that day, gave way into a mild spell of rain. My wife and others, excepting my friend, went in search of the car which we had arranged to be parked near the last lingam. My friend and I quenched our thirst with tender coconut. As the mild drizzle grew into a vigorous spell, my wife called me from her mobile. We sprinted into the milling crowd and reached the car half-drenched.
Transcending Physical Tiredness
Both in Tirupati and Tiruvannamalai, one uniform feature was, crowd. It was oppressively overwhelming at Tiruvannamalai. Every time, when we suffer due to the crowd, we say to ourselves that the next time, we should choose a time when there is less crowd. My wife in fact wanted to complete girivalam, before we witnessed the deepam, as had been the case, during her previous visits. But, I insisted that we did it appropriately, after witnessing the Deepam from inside the temple premises. I took some pains in organising certain passes for this purpose. But, my arrangement had not saved us from the physical suffering that we had to endure. None of the human efforts really matter in the scheme of things of God. We ought not to seek physical comfort from Him. We need to transcend the physical barrier which stands between Him and us. And we are not this body, that is subjected to the jostling and pushing around in the sea of humanity. In reality, the "I" is deeply embedded within the body and several other layers of consciousness. Ramana Maharishi said that one will find the 'I' as one goes on enquiring who is the one does or feels what one does and feels. For example, you suffer the physical pain in the crowd; Ask yourself who feels the pain. It is the body. Is the body 'you'? No. There is some thing deep within the body and mind consciousness and that is the real "I". I remained quiet throughout the ardous girivalam. It is not as if I did not feel the pain. I consciously developed an attitude that the body is not me. The object that suffers the pain and pushing is not me. It is our karma to suffer it. With this resolve, I shielded myself from the travails of this particularly 'painful' girivalam. Although, I did not witness and enjoy the darshan of Arunachala on the hills this time, I felt that He remained embedded within myself.
Hopefully, He will remain so for ever.