Showing posts with label Travellers Tales. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Travellers Tales. Show all posts

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Deepam Morning.


When I went to bed last night, i had no intention of stepping outside the gate of my home for another 40 hours or so.  The great annual celebration of Deepam at Arunachala in the South of India is nearing its conclusion. Many hundreds of thousands of pilgrims  poured into the Temple town of Tiruvannamalai that day, and busloads more were continuing to arrive. This would go on throughout the night and all of the following day.

However at 2.30 am my eyes opened and I found myself completely awake and alert.  It is not the first time that this has happened to me here. Arunachala Hill has extraordinary power and a strong magnetic pull.  For many years I have puzzled over the effect and hold that it has over me and countless others who are drawn to this most sacred of places.

However, the mystery of this place cannot be solved by the mind.  The power that resonates so clearly here is something that moves at a much deeper, subconscious level.

I knew exactly what I was going to do, despite my previous intentions. I would go round the Hill.  Often this feeling arises very unexpectedly, but when it comes I feel compelled and on this morning of the Holy Deepam day i washed, dressed and made my way through the various locked gates of the compound and  out into the still, night air. At the corner of our quiet little dirt road, a buzz of intense activity was astir as a small group of workers prepared rice in huge steaming cauldrons. This would be offered freely to countless pilgrims as they make their way around the pradakshina road that encircles the Hill.

When i got out onto the main road itself, despite the early hour, I found it teeming with life. Masses of barefooted people, young, old, short, fat, tall, thin.  Humanity of every shape and variety moved, in silent unison, like a vast, swift river. All of them were making their round of the Hill. I merged into this living stream and
was soon finding my own walking pace amidst the crowd.

The repetitious chant of Om unobtrusively permeated the air from speakers that had been placed every hundred meters along the road.  This was a recent innovation of the local government and did much to augment the atmosphere. This could only be India. Thousands moving along together. Amid the cacophony of sounds, one felt a palpable silence punctuated only by prayers, the occasional outburst of devotional song and the patting of multitudes of bare feet tapping against the cold, hard tar of the road.

While walking the circumambulation route that girdles the Hill, I felt as though I were in a dream. There is something distinctly surreal about it all.
Arunachalaeshwar Temple

Near the main temple, with its great towers soaring up into the dawning sky, flocks of white birds darted about on the breezes, their wings illuminated by the floodlights. I spot two monkeys crouched together among the sculptured Gods and Goddesses many hundreds of feet above, their arms firmly wrapped around one another as they sleep in peaceful oblivion of the churning masses below.

We hear so much about the discord and disharmony going on in the world today. We hear about intolerance and hatred between people, all of whom are human, all of whom breath the same air and dance to the same blood as it circles their veins and gives them life. But here is an untold story. Countless thousands moving along in quiet, peaceful harmony.
In the east, the sun begins to rise. Rays of light fan out across the sky. As I turn northwards I see more shafts of light spilling across the Hill, and a long grey plume of mist rising off its summit.

Later on this day the flame in a giant cauldron will be lit on the top of the Hill.  At that time, a vast mass of humanity will be gazing towards the summit, their hands folded in prayer. This multitude will span the entire thirteen-kilometre circuit of the Hill.  With the sun setting in the west and the full moon disk rising in the east, a fire will burst up from the summit and with it a roar from all those gathered. Their focus is supremely united.

HaroHara, HaroHara, HaroHara, sounds out, as with one voice. 'This is a Sight for the Gods to See!'

Here is the Untold Story.
Here is a Song of Hope...

Deepam Flame at Ramana Ashram

Friday, 2 December 2011

Karthikai Deepam and Lighting the Flame at Arunachala

Photo by Dev Gogoi.
"This is the holy place,
  of all Arunachala is the most sacred!
  It is the heart of the world!
  Know it to be the secret and sacred Heart-centre of  Shiva!
  In this place, He always abides as the glorious  Aruna Hill!"
  Skanda Purana.

Every year around the time of November/December the ancient festival of Karthikai Deepam is celebrated in the old temple town of Tiruvannamalai, south of Chennai in India.  The first mention of this festival dates back to 200 BC, although it may well have been celebrated long before this.

The words Arunachala and Tiruvannamalai both translate as " Holy Fire Hill" and the ancient temple at the foot of the hill houses the Agni/Fire lingam, one of five great shrines around India that represent one of the five elements.

This festival, which has been taking place annually for many thousands of years, culminates in the lighting of a huge lamp on top of Arunachala Hill. During the following ten days, it is relit each evening and burns brightly throughout the night. Thousands of pilgrims make the arduous climb to the summit with offerings of ghee and oil to keep the lamp aflame, and countless thousands circle around the base of the Hill on Deepam night, most of them walking barefoot for the entire thirteen kilometres.

"Look there it stands as if insentient.  
 Mysterious is the way it works,
 beyond all human understanding...
 When it stilled my mind and drew me near, 
 I saw that it was Stillness absolute." Sri Ramana Maharshi.

After Ramana Maharshi achieved Self Realisation at the very tender age of 16 years, He was drawn to Arunachala as if by a magnet. From that time onwards he never left the place, not even for a single day. Outwardly a simple Sadhu, He was the, in fact, the Supreme Sat-Guru, a living embodiment of the power of the Hill, which is, in fact, the power of the Self! To his humble feet were drawn people of all castes and creeds, people from all over the world. Ramana Maharshi revealed the glory of Arunachala and made its power known to the world.

However few have spoken more eloquently about the special qualities of Arunachala than Annamalai Swami, a close disciple of the Maharshi. Below I have taken the liberty of quoting several passages from his "Final Talks" compiled by David Godman.

"This is not an ordinary hill.  It is not like other hills in the world. It is a Spiritual Hill.  Those who associate with it feel a magnetic pull towards the Self.  Though it is in the form of a hill, it has the full energy of the Self.  Seekers who come to this place with the intention of realising the Self can be much benefited by going around the Hill."

"There is water everywhere under the ground, but there are some places where it is easier to get at.  Likewise, the Self is everywhere.  There is no place that is without it, but it is also true that there are certain places, certain people, around which and around whom the presence of the Self can be easily felt.  In the proximity of this Hill, the presence of the Self is more powerful and more self-evident than anywhere else.  However, the great glory of this Hill cannot be explained in words.  One has to experience it for oneself."

"There are other holy, powerful places in the world, but none has the power of Arunachala.  There is a huge amount of shakti, spiritual energy, here. We can take as much as we want, but no matter how much we take, the original amount is never diminished.  It is an inexhaustible source. Even before the Maharshi came and lived here, there were innumerable sages who had discovered the power of Arunachala for themselves.  Many came here, realised the Self and attributed their realisation to the power and grace of this mountain."

"The Maharshi always maintained that the power of this mountain was not a matter of belief.  He said that if you sit in the shade of a tree, you will feel the cool shade.  This is a physical fact, not a matter of belief.  Then He went on to say that Arunachala worked in the same way.  It affects the people who are here, whether they believe in it or not."

"He once said, 'Arunachala is like a fire.  If you go near it you will feel the heat whether you believe in it or not."

"I also heard him say once, 'If you go round this Hill, it will give you its grace, even if you don't want it.'"  

During Karthikai Deepam there is an intense focusing of the power of the Hill.  Many thousands of people are drawn in from far and wide to witness the lighting of the lamp on the summit of the Hill.

Kartikai Deepam
Kartikai Deepam
This is a very moving moment, when all the town folk living around the base of the hill, are out on their rooftops with tiny offering lamps that mirror the event which is about to take place on the summit of Arunachala. Pilgrims come from far and wide to share in the witnessing of this magnificent event. Many are praying and singing hymns to the 'Holy Fire Hill'.  With the sun setting in the west and the full moon rising in the east, a fire in the huge cauldron atop the Hill bursts into flame.  As the light flares up towards the heavens, a sound rends the air from all directions. It rises like one continuous roar and as if with a single voice; Harohara, harohara, harohara!  which roughly translates as 'this is a sight for the Gods to see!'

In this day and age of high technology and fast, distracted living, here is a place, and here is a moment, when time stands still.  When in fact, time as we know it, is without meaning.  A moment when the most fundamental instincts of our spiritual inheritance shine forth to bless to the world.

Arunachala with the Karthikai Flame from Adi Annamalai

Friday, 11 November 2011

Hidden Valleys of the Himalayas

Mountains shrouded in mist
Hidden Valleys.
Throughout the Himalayas there are pockets, valleys, hidden oases and refuge places.  The trails which lead to them are known only to a few.  These places are said to be blessed and consecrated by 'holy beings', guarded by invisible forces and carefully protected in order to preserve their sanctity and usefulness as sanctuaries and refuges in times of human and planetary strife.

They are scattered along the Himalayan belt, from the fabled land of Pemako in Arunachal Pradesh, in the far east to the western reaches of this enormous range of mountains.

In recent times a Lama from Tibet tried to open one of these valleys near Kangchendzonga, a vast mountain which dominates the horizon to the north of Darjeeling, in West Bengal.  He had several hundred followers, all of whom had sold their worldly belongings, bringing with them only the possessions they could carry.  All believed that the Lama would lead them into a sacred valley where they could begin a new life...

A number of other Lamas including Dudjom Rinpoche and my own teacher, Chadral Rinpoche, warned him that the time had not yet come for this valley to be opened and that they faced grave danger in going.  However none of their warnings or advice were heeded.

The Lama and his flock made the perilous and arduous trek into the mountains.  Right at the threshold of the entrance to the sacred valley, the Lama entered a cave where he and his attendants began to perform the opening rituals, which pacify the guardians and open the way into the protected area...

Monday, 24 October 2011

One Moonlit Night

The Hill in South India called Arunachala
Arunachala, the Hill of Fire

"Arunachala is the place ( that which deserves to be called the holy place)!  
Of all places it is the greatest!  
Know that it is the heart (center) of the earth.  
It is Siva Himself.  
It is a secret place representing the Heart.  
Lord Siva always abides there as a glorious hill called Arunachala!"
Arunachala Mahatmyam

In the year 2000, i visited the ancient and holy pilgrimage site of Arunachala. This is an old temple town which is built at the foot of a Hill that is sacred to Saivite or Siva worshippers. A hugh temple complex is built at the foot of the Hill and is said to represent the element of fire and is one of India's five sacred lingams.

The first few months of my visit were spent mostly sitting in meditation at Ramana Ashram or else walking around the Hill. Arunachala is lauded in India's most ancient texts the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Puranas.  There is an indefinable mystery about this Hill...

When i wasn't sitting in the old hall at Ramanashram or circumambulating the Hill, i could be found in the musty and well stocked library of the Ashram fingering through books on the Hill and its most prominent saint, Sri Ramana Maharshi. 

 It was high summer and frighteningly hot. Such intensity of heat, i had never known before in my life! The appearance of the Hill, made up as it is of  red rock, only served to heighten this sense of 'burning'. It was not possible to sleep soundly and only the stone floor seemed remotely cool enough to lie on, that is, after it had been doused with several buckets of cold water!

One day, i decided, come what may, that i would walk up to the top of the Hill on the day of the May full moon and spend the entire night there, alone... 

It was still several weeks before that day would arrive, so i made my plans and awaited the coming adventure with some trepidation.  I had this uncomfortable knack of pushing myself into doing things that i was not always entirely sure that i should.  Yet once the challenge had been 'taken up' so to speak, there was a sense that i would have to see it through, come what may...

Read more in Tibetan Tales and other True Stories

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Traveller Be My Friend

"Traveller, be my friend.
Tomorrow our path will be long and we may become exhausted.
Let us walk together.
Let our path be one..." 


New Era Community. Helena Roerich

In the summer of 1988 i visited the valley of Kulu, in Himachal Pradesh in Northern India. During that visit, i had the good fortune to stay very near the compound where the Russian painter and mystic Nicolas Roerich and his wife Helena lived for many years.

At that time, the Roerich's old servants were still living in the compound as care takers, and although the doors were open to the public for a few hours a day, there were long periods when no one was around, and it was possible to stroll through the lovely grounds or just sit somewhere and gaze out over the verdant Kulu valley.

By a stroke of good fortune i met a couple on my very first visit.  These two people, one an American and the other a fellow kiwi like myself, happened to be strolling down the lane arm in arm just as i was coming out from the estate, and as westerners were not often seen in this quiet nook of the Kulu Valley, we naturally stopped and began to talk. 

They had rented a house right near this estate for the summer months, both intending to write and have some quiet time in this lovely part of the valley.  When they realized that i was hoping to do something similar they immediately offered me the small furnished flat on the first floor of this building, which, at that time was not in use.

It turned out to be a perfect arrangement.  Having them both nearby meant we could often share golden evenings on their veranda in comfortable companionship.  It would have been very problematic and possibly dangerous for me to try to stay in this area, as a woman alone, at that time.

Kulu is a fascinating old valley, and Nagar, where the Roerichs' estate is situated is nestled on the hillside a few kilometers south of Manali overlooking the valley with the blue thread of the bubbling Beas River winding it way  down the centre of it all.  

It is a magical location, with sweeping views up and down the valley and vistas of snow capped peaks all along.  The air is redolent with the scent of cedar pine and incense. Dominating  this village is an old castle that has now been turned into a heritage Hotel. However in its hey day this was the princely center of the valley and the seat where the local presiding Deities for the whole area are said to reside...

Read more in Masters, Mice and Men
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