This chapter is taken from The Silent Power – Selections from The Mountain Path and The Call Divine -Part I – On Arunachala
“Arunachala! Thou art the inner Self who dances in the Heart as ‘I’. Heart is Thy name, O Lord!” (Five Stanzas to Sri Arunachala, verse 2.)
IN THE PURANAS Arunachala is referred to as the oldest Hill on earth and is regarded as the heart of the Universe. Scientists have also pointed out the eastern ghats of the Deccan plateau as the oldest land. Arunachala has many names: Arunagiri, Sonagiri, Sudarsanagiri, Annamalai, to mention but a few and is also referred to as the Tejolingam — the lingam of effulgence — which is the formless emblem of Siva.
The form of the Hill is said to resemble Sri Chakra, the emblem of the Cosmos with its substratum, and shaktas regard this Hill as Sri Chakra itself. Bhagavan took an active part in the installation of Sri Chakra in the temple dedicated to the mother.
Devotees of Siva consider this divine Hill as the form of Siva, who appeared in the midst of Brahma and Vishnu as a column of fire without beginning or end in order to dispel their ignorance. Both failed to realise his presence by their physical efforts. This signifies the inability of mind or intellect to go beyond itself. Arunachala is traditionally identified with Sudarsana (a form of the chakra or discus of Vishnu). In the form of a deity, Sudarsana appears in a fierce aspect, armed with weapons of destruction. When a seeker penetrates beyond the semblance of the terrible, while struggling to overcome what seems terrible in himself — namely, the dark downward propensities of his own psyche — grace reveals itself as love and compassion. This, according to Dr. Mees, an authority on symbolism, is the etymology of Sudarsana which aims at the destruction of these propensities, so as to reveal love and beauty.
Many saints and sages have sung and composed songs in praise of Arunachala and its import, and some have attained enlightenment here. Shankara also seems to have visited Arunachala. In one of his compositions he calls this Hill ‘Meru’ and says, like Bhagavan, that Sidddha Purushas are found here. Saint Namasivaya lived in one of the caves, which is still called by his name. His disciple has written the well-known Annamalai Venba, a hymn in praise of Arunachala. Another well-known Saiva saint, Virupaksha, also lived in a cave higher up on the slope. It is said to be in the shape of OM — and some devotees have heard there, the sound of OM in silent meditation. The saint’s tomb is also there and this cave bears his name. Bhagavan spent seventeen years in it and later moved up to Skandashram where a trickle of water changed overnight to a perennial stream whose water, like that of the Ganges, does not deteriorate with time. Arunagirinathar, another notable saint, is also celebrated for his songs of praise after he received illumination through the grace of Muruga in the Arunachala temple.
When mention was made one day of the tank adjoining the Ashram being called Agastya Thirtam, the Maharshi was asked if that sage ever visited the Hill. Bhagavan remarked “Yes, of course, everyone must come here eventually”, meaning that everyone must eventually return to the source — Arunachala.
Sages have said that one can attain salvation by being born in Tiruvarur, by dying in Benares, by worshipping in Chidambaram and by merely thinking of Arunachala. “So worship Arunachala of shining golden lustre for mere remembrance of Him ensures deliverance,”(Five Hymns on Arunachala.) Bhagavan also affirms.
Bhagavan mentioned that the Hill is one of light. Sometimes one can see manifestations of lights on the Hill. In the early years, a French devotee, Sujata Sen, once spent the night on the Hill in protest against an order of the management not allowing women devotees to remain in the Ashram after dark. This was the most wonderful time for many devotees when Bhagavan used to sit with them for an hour or so in radiant silence. Sujata dwelt on her grievance one- pointedly. Next morning she told me that she was taken inside the Hill and found a whole world in it, which she described. I did not pay much attention to this, dismissing it as a dream or imagination. Strangely enough many years later, in 1970 to be precise, another devotee, Mr. S. N. Tandon, had a similar experience which he described in detail in the April 1970 issue of The Mountain Path in 1970, that year. It is reminiscent of Dante’s inferno, leading by stages to light, in which all manifestation disappears in the feeling of pure I-Am-ness.
Sri Visvanatha Swami, who from his adolescence spent many years with Bhagavan, shares with us the following account. Bhagavan said to him one day in the early twenties, “Innumerable are the visions I have had of this Hill, Arunachala. I have seen beautiful groves of trees and fine palaces inside it. Once I saw a large tank and a big congregation of rishis and yogis seated on a wide plain around it. Every face was familiar and so were the
surroundings. A dais was there and I went up and sat on it with my right hand held up in Chin-mudra. It seemed my usual place and my usual pose.” Chin-mudra is a pose in which the right hand is held up with the thumb and forefinger joined and the three remaining fingers straight up. It is the pose of Dakshinamurti. It denotes the unity of the individual with Brahman, the transcendental Reality beyond the three gunas.
It is said in the puranas that a Siddha Purusha, the ancient teacher in the form of an eternal youth, is present higher up on one of the slopes seated under an enormous banyan tree, diffusing his spiritual radiance in silence.
In the early days Bhagavan used to roam a good deal on the Hill. One day he found, in a dried up watercourse, a banyan leaf of such enormous size that it set him wondering what tree could produce such a leaf. Proceeding further he saw from a distance a huge banyan tree growing on what looked like sheer rock. Going closer, Bhagavan inadvertently put his foot in a hornet’s nest and did not withdraw it until the hornets appeased their anger for being disturbed, by badly stinging his leg.
Bhagavan did not go near the tree but returned to his abode. Subsequently he firmly discouraged devotees from trying to find the place saying that it was inaccessible and not advisable for them to do so. “It is impossible. I know it!” he told them, “For there shall no man see Me and live.” (Exodus 33, 20).
The finite ego must die before it can behold and merge with infinity. Once a whole group of devotees, obviously unaware of Bhagavan’s injunction, set out to locate the place but they found themselves in such distress that all they could pray for was to be able to return safely!
Any endeavour to write about Arunachala is like ‘painting the lily’ — to borrow an apt expression. It is impossible to present it better or more clearly than Bhagavan himself and in this case there is no distinction between them. Arunachala in the form of Bhagavan speaks about himself! Like Bhagavan, the Hill comes to life and can appear to us as the beloved of our heart as an indescribable tenderness. What could be nearer and dearer than one’s own Self, Arunachala?
“O nectar springing up in the heart of devotees …. haven of my refuge. . .” (Arunachala Padikam).
“The one Self, the sole Reality alone exists eternally. When even the youthful teacher of ancient times, Dakshinamurti, revealed it through speechless eloquence, who else could convey it by speech?” (Ekatma Panchakam).
Bhagavan explained that the Universe is like a painting on a screen, that screen being the red Hill, Arunachala. That which rises and sinks is made up only of what it rises from. The finality of the Universe is Arunachala. Meditating on Arunachala or the Self, there is a vibration ‘I’. Tracing the source of ‘I’, the primal ‘I-I’ alone remains and it is inexpressible. The very first sloka in the Marital Garland of Letters expresses this tersely: “Arunachala! Thou dost root out the ego of those who meditate on Thee in the Heart, O Arunachala!”
Bhagavan, who scarcely ever gave advice to devotees unless asked, wholeheartedly approved and encouraged their going round the Hill as conducive and very beneficial to progress in sadhana. He himself set an example by doing giripradakshina countless times. Worship is expressed by going around the object of worship in silent remembrance or singing bhajans — and not giving way to stray thoughts. One usually goes barefoot. The most auspicious times are full-moon days, Sivaratri (the night of Siva) and Kartikai, the night when the beacon is lit on
top of the Hill. It is said that the pilgrim is accompanied by an invisible host of siddhas and rishis. On festival days, the stream of pilgrims in white and brightly coloured clothes resembles garlands of flowers, strewn around Arunachala, wafting their scent in the way of bhajans.
Among the many holy places in India, representing different modes of spirituality, Arunachala stands out as the centre of the most direct path, guided by the silent influence of the guru. It is the centre and the path where physical contact with the guru is not necessary. The silent teaching acts and speaks directly to the Heart. There was something essentially immutable and rocklike in Bhagavan, although he had a thousand faces. He spoke and explained when asked, but his greatest and most inspiring teaching was, like the Hill, like Dakshinamurti, given in silence. Through Bhagavan, the immense potentiality for spiritual regeneration inherent in Arunachala, with which he identified himself, was brought to life and into focus.
The benedictory verse adopted as an auspicious introduction to the Five Hymns to Sri Arunachala was rather puzzling as it was not clear who actually wrote those words “the Paramatman, who is the same as Arunachala or Ramana.” Sri T. P. Ramachandra Iyer, one of the oldest devotees, who gave up his practice as a lawyer to serve Bhagavan, was consulted and so was Sri Visvanatha Swami. Their account of the matter is that one day, when Bhagavan went out of Virupaksha Cave for his usual morning walk, one Amritanatha Yati put on Bhagavan’s seat a piece of paper on which he told in a Malayalam verse, of his great longing to know who Bhagavan really was, “Are you the manifestation of Lord Vishnu, or Siva, or the great grammarian Vararuchi, or the greatest of yatis (renunciates)?”
His question was couched in classic form and script. When he returned a little later to the cave, he found Bhagavan already back from his walk. On the reverse of the piece of paper was Bhagavan’s reply, also in verse and Malayalam script, rendered with mastery. On reading it, Amritanatha Yati felt shaken and in all humility fell at Bhagavan’s feet “like a tall coconut tree cut even at the base”, to use his own words.
The reply was as follows: ‘In the lotus-shaped Heart of all, beginning with Vishnu, there shines as absolute Consciousness the Paramatman who is the same as Arunachala-Ramana. When the mind melts with love of Him and reaches the inmost recess of the Heart wherein He dwells as the beloved, the subtle eye pure intellect opens and He reveals Himself as pure Consciousness.”
“Through the potent grace of Bhagavan”, wrote Osborne “the path of Self-enquiry was brought within the competence of men and women of this age, was indeed fashioned into a new path that can be followed in the conditions of the modern world with no form or ritual . . . . This creation of a new path to suit the needs of the age has made Arunachala the spiritual centre of the world. More than ever, now that he has shed his physical body and is one with Arunachala, the grace and guidance that emanates from him to those who turn to him and seek his aid is centred outwardly at Arunachala, to which many are drawn, both those who were disciples of Bhagavan in his lifetime and those who have come later.”
As in the lifetime of Bhagavan, so also now one can turn and speak to Arunachala-Ramana far more effectively than in one’s own words, by repeating an appropriate verse chosen from the Five Hymns to Arunachala which Bhagavan wrote on behalf of his disciples from whom he was not separate. The individual, being only a mode of absolute Consciousness, struggles against his finitude to regain his primordial state of absolute freedom through grace. These verses come from the devotees’ own heart:
“Even when the thieves of the five senses break in upon me, art Thou not still in my Heart, O Arunachala?”
“On seeking Thy real Self with courage I lost my moorings. Have mercy on me, O Arunachala!”
“Unless Thou extend Thy hand of grace in mercy, I am lost, O Arunachala!”
“Unlovable I am to look at now, yet ornament me with Thy grace and then regard me, O Arunachala!”
“Thou hast administered the drug of confusion to me, so must I be confounded! Shine Thou as grace, the cure of all confusion, O Arunachala!”
“Lord! Who art Consciousness itself reigning over the sublime Sonagiri, forgive the grievous wrongs of this poor self, and by Thy gracious glance benignant as the rain cloud, save me from being lost once more in the dreary waste, or else I cannot ford the grim (stream of universal) manifestation.”
“Lord! Deign to ease me in my weariness struggling like a deer that is trapped. Lord Arunachala! What can be Thy will?”
“O pure One! If the five elements, the living beings and every manifest thing is nothing but Thy all-embracing light, how then can I alone be separate from Thee . . .”
Bhagavan has given many indications of his continued presence. Ever-present, all-pervading, where could he go? Outwardly manifested and visible as the Hill, he will remain here always, guiding as before. “Only the body travels the Self just is”, Bhagavan used to say. His body travelled and disappeared. He just is as he always has been and the visible support of grace is Arunachala. It is a great blessing to be able to come here, to stay here. After many years, every day still seems like a gift.
One cannot help feeling the living presence, radiation and powerful spiritual help accorded to those who seek it, and above all are humble enough to surrender to this influence of faith!
“The Hill which draws to itself those who are rich in jnana tapas (those who are ever intent on gaining wisdom) is this Arunachala” (Annamalai Venba).