Tiruvannamalai, located in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, was the destination for our group of six pilgrims in February, 2011. Tiruvannamallai is the home of three active and highly visited pilgrimage sites: Arunachaleshwara Temple, the sacred mountain Arunachala, and Sri RamanaMaharshi’s Ashram.
Arunachaleswara is one of the Panchbhootamshivasthalas, one of the five Shiva temples dedicated to the five elements of air, water, fire, earth and ether. At Tiruvanamallai, Shiva is worshipped as fire. We had an opportunity to tour the large temple complex, taking in the many sights and sounds of the exuberant worship taking place there.
Watching over the town of Tiruvannamalai is “the hill” known as Arunachala. Arunachala is considered by some to be one of the oldest rock formations of the Subcontinent.
Arunachala is said to be an embodiment of Shiva as fire and light. In the mythology, Shiva is said to have manifested himself in the form of a massive column of fire, whose crown and feet Brahma (the deity ruling creation) and Vishnu (the deity ruling preservation) attempted in vain to reach. Lord Shiva, in this way, claimed victory as the one with highest knowledge.
The trip was made all the more meaningful with the presence and guidance of Swami Nityamuktakanda. She shared her knowledge and insights gleaned from many years of study and application of knowledge of the five elements.
Participants met at Chennai on 15th February. The following day after breakfast the group departed on the four hour journey by bus to Tiruvannamalai and Sri Ramana Maharshi’s Ashram, an ashram with a rich history which continues to be a regular part of the spiritual lives of the people of South India.
After his “awakening”, the 20th century enlightened sage, Sri Ramana Maharshi was drawn as if by some invisible force to the sacred mountain known as Arunachala. Here he lived for 50 years, all the while staying fully identified with the highest Self. An Ashram arose around him where countless pilgrims came to receive his unconditional love, guidance and teaching of Self-inquiry. (See: www.sriramanamaharshi.org)
Three nights were spent at the ashram where members of the group enjoyed participating in ashram activities and walks on the sacred mountain. It was a memorable experience for all to meditate and feel the silence permeating the places where Sri Ramana gave his darshan.
The trip was relatively short, but long enough to get a taste and blessings of these extraordinary places and the one sage united with them.
“lamiainpressione di un viaggioallefalde di una montagna sacra dovegrandisaggihannomeditato ,dove si rafforzail proprio sentierospirituale in amorevolecompagnia di swaminityamuktanada e compagni di viaggio.”
"My impression of a trip at the feet of a sacred mountain where great sages have meditated is that here one's own spiritual path gets strengthened in the lovely company of Swami Nityamuktananda and travel companions". (Laura, Italy)
“I loved Tiruvannamalai both the temple to Shiva and Ramana Maharishi's ashram. I was not distracted by the crowds which usually put me off. There is a beautiful aura of divinity over the whole town which one could experience everywhere. I only wish I could have spent more time at the temple and walked around studying the four massive entrance towers which were so beautifully decorated which is unusual for a Shiva temple.” (Padma, Mumbai)
“I enjoyed the visit and am glad for the way things were scheduled. For me coming from busy Singapore, there was a good amount of time spent for visiting the temple, ashram as well as some personal time, a refreshing yet different immersion of culture, environment and spirit. Thank you for organizing this trip with Swami Nityamuktananda. It was a great blend for a trip for learning, enrichment as well as an eye opener.” (Timothy, Singapore)
“Although the trip was short, all of us gained some insights into that ‘Fire within’, the fire of ‘divine love’, and the fire of ‘sacred light of knowing’. We felt blessed by Shiva, who is Arunchala Himself.” (Swami Nityamuktananda)
After three hours of Chennai rush hour traffic and two more in the hot Tamil Nadu countryside, I was starting to question my intention to visit Ramana Maharishi's ashram. I was thinking that nothing there could compensate for the draining experience of traveling there. I was about to find out how wrong I was.
Entering the gate of Ramanashramam, a freshness came over my mind and the troubles and travails of the journey began to melt away. Even waiting outside the registration office for our accommodations to be squared away, the deep waves of peace that permeate the bricks and earth there took my mind to a quiet place. I felt little inclination to do anything other than meander around the paths or sit to be present to things as they were.
Over the next few days these waves came and went, but the appreciation remained for what a profound soul Ramana must have been to create such a lasting presence. In his physical absence the mood of the ashram has been maintained through the years and it's easy to see the devotion in the ashram workers. Ramana is still present and guiding the work of the ashram through their hearts and hands. (Eric Ness)