I took my mother on Girivalam on March 10, 2009. The weather in Tiruvannamalai was slightly warm and very pleasant.
Backtracking a bit, in September 2008, I did a Girivalam all by myself and the weather was hot. When I shared the experience with my parents, my mother (a cancer patient) wondered if she too could achieve this unique feat of offering her respects to the FATHER. I had planned to go to Sabari Malai which is the Abode of Lord Ayyappan in Kerala. For the past three years I have been going to Sabari Malai twice every year -in March and in September. I always visit other temples, either before or after I have darshan of Lord Ayyappan. This time, since my parents were coming with me, I decided to take them via Chennai where my cousin lives.
My father has been a long time devotee of Sri Ramana Maharishi and has visited Sri Ramana Ashram several times in the past. My mother was eager to visit Sri Ramana Ashram and seek his blessings too.
Ramana Ashram Contact Information
I sent an e-mail to Ramana Ashram at - firstname.lastname@example.org - to book a room. Room bookings are done only via email and atleast three weeks in advance but in case of an emergency the ashram telephone numbers are +91-4175-237491 and +91-4175-237200.
We arrived in Tiruvannamalai
It was March 10, 2009. We arrived in Tiruvannamalai at around 11.00 am. We were allotted a room in a nearby guest house – outside the ashram – some ten minutes away, in a newly built structure. My father bought two books at the Ashram bookstore. We arrived at the guest house where the authorities had very graciously arranged a separate room for the driver. He was provided lunch and bed. Since it was nearing lunch time, and our stomachs were growling with hunger, my mother and I decided to go look for some food. We reached the bazaar in Tiruvannamalai and found a hotel called Santosh where they were doling out packets of rice dishes such as lemon-rice, vettha-kozhambu rice, tamarind rice and curd-rice. We took two packets each and also picked up some fresh wafers as an accompaniment along with two bottles of mineral-water and drove back to the Guest house.
After lunch and a brief nap, we got ready for the Girivalam in the evening. The weather was very pleasant. When my mother and I reached the main road all we could see was a sea of humanity!!! The road was full of people, all with the same intention...to walk around the Holy Mountain. Women were in their finest, beautiful saris, some carrying babies, some carrying plastic bags with water bottles. Girls in skirts, salwar suits or western dresses -holding hands, laughing and giggling as they walked the 14 kilometer path around the Arunachala mountain! Boys were walking together, talking loud....walking fast. Men were in dhoti's, western pants, lungi's, shirtless or with shirts, vibhuthi across their foreheads from the temples they had visited. Brahmins with their Sacred Strings across their naked chests. Sadhu's in orange, sitting by the road with their begging bowls in front of them. People were chanting, talking, and laughing. All were walking barefoot… in full Gaze of the Mountain... No caste or creed here… old or young.... dark skin or light skin....all were walking together...all with the same intent! It was Amazing!!!
Start of Girivalam
We entered the main road and immediately got swept up in the moving crowd! Barefoot... walking on the road in front of the Ramana Ashram of the holy saint of Arunachala, Sri Ramana Maharshi. The road was basically closed to all vehicles but bicycles. Cylists were at most places forced to walk, holding the cycle instead of pedaling them. The roads were so full that you could hardly see the road. The air was full of celebration. Everyone was walking, walking in the same direction... a wave of energy.
We too started walking. The authorities had taken care of all human needs on this 14 km walk. There were make-shift stalls selling snacks, bajjies made of bananas, onions, potatoes, chillies, wadais, etc., stalls selling water, soft drinks, tea, fruit juice, tender coconuts, etc. There were tables with spiritual books, mostly in Tamil, there was music... bright lights, loud speakers... blasting songs about Shiva and Arunachala, sadhus in orange... white beards or no beards....seeking alms and playing their hand drums.. trying to get money. And there were some quiet moments where there were no lights or music. Complete silence. There were many temples – including the temples of Lord Siva… These were Lingams in Eight Cardinal Points. There were small and big temples... with people lined up for Darshan of the Lord! All in this 14 kilometer walk around!
Massaging my mother's feet
The road started getting rougher and tougher to walk on barefoot... There were times when my mother kept asking me, “Is the Lord with us”?
I would respond “Yes, without a doubt. Or else would it be possible for us to walk for such a long time and so many kilometers?” and she would nod in agreement and continue.
There were also benches on the way, where we would sit down for a while to take a rest. At a number of places I sat down to massage my mother’s feet to push the pain out so that she could complete the Girivalam with as little trouble as possible. It was getting late. I bought my mother some dates to munch on and some lemon juice with salt and sugar to make up for the loss of fluids and salts from her body during the journey.
Arunachaleswarar, the Lord of this Hill, helped us by getting people to vacate the benches whenever my mother felt severe pain in her legs and felt the need to rest for a while. After almost six hours of walking, we came back to the Main Temple of the Lord. Here the crowd was tremendous.... We decided not to go into the temple this time and offered our salutations to the Lord from outside the temple and returned back to the Guest House.
My mind was filled with joy that I could serve my mother during this Girivalam. My mother experienced a lot of pain in her feet and I used to request her to take a break and do some massaging to her tired feet for a while and then nudge her to restart the journey saying that the Lord would definitely help her.
My mother on her return back to the room thanked the Lord profusely for His Grace in letting her complete the Girivalam and this has infused some energy into my father - who wants to do this Girivalam at least once, if not more, (despite his age and health problems).
I do not see an opportunity this March when I undertake my next visit to Sabari Malai – but do plan to do so in September, 2010… After all, I cannot turn down the Lord’s call.
Changes needed on the Girivalam path
Distribution of annadanam
I do need to share some problems that one faces during the Girivalam. Some changes are necessary and would like the concerned authorities to take note of this. The distribution of prasadam (Puliyogarai), panaham, etc at every nook and corner around the Arunachala Hills needs to be stopped or at least done in sealed packets. People receiving the annadanam should be asked to sit down, consume it fully and only then move on. What happens is that in the bid to complete the girivalam as fast as possible, people keep eating as they walk and spill most of what has been received on the road, thus forcing the people following to walk over these spilled rice-grains. I feel guilty of having committed a crime unknowingly /unwillingly... I am praying that the authorities will do something about this.
Transport facilities for the elderly and infirm
One other area that requires attention is provision of transport facilities such as auto rickshaws etc. for the old and feeble who venture out to do the girivalam but don't have the energy to complete it. These people become sacrificial goats before the auto rickshaw drivers who fleece them demanding a sum of over Rs. 100 for a drive of less than 2 kms... And when they turn to the police for help, the police choose to remain deaf, dumb and blind... all put together... maybe they have received in advance, a percentage, from the possible earnings these auto drivers would make that night.
Do not walk close to the mountain
One other thing that I would request all those who undertake this Girivalam is NOT to walk close to the mountains since "Siddhar Purushas" are known to walk in that area - but people give a damn to these beliefs saying that the "Siddha Purushas" should choose other days when the Girivalam is not undertaken... I have heard such a statement myself.
Keep your mind on Arunachala as you walk
I will urge the people who undertake Girivalam to keep your thoughts on the Lord instead of indulging in unwanted worldly talk. Chant silently or do japam, as you walk.
Arunachala Siva… Arunachala Siva… Arunachala Siva… Arunachala
Arunachala Siva… Arunachala Siva… Arunachala Siva… Arunachala…
Glory to Lord Arunachala…