There was a secluded place alongside the inner sanctum, and strangely it
seemed quite peaceful. It was dark at that corner, and looked quite
inviting. Sharada went off on a quick nap, while Shyamala went exploring
around the temple. Saraswathy sat up near her elder sister, and thought
back to her childhood, when she could never go off to sleep without
curling up next to her very comfortable cushion-like elder sister. All
those years, growing up together, all those memories! All gone! That was
one of the very reasons that they had decided to come over to
Tiruvannamalai and walk on the
Girivalam path on pure impulse.
They had never done so, together, the three of them, and this seemed
like such a good idea. Shyamala returned with a bunch of bananas,
leaf-platters containing hot tamarind rice and curd rice. The three
sisters ate up contentedly and Sharada seemed to recover her energy and
enthusiasm. A large dog came walking up to them quietly, and stood
watching them, silently. Sharada gestured to the dog, and said, "Does it
look like it wants some of the rice from us? It's just standing there."
Shyamala looked at the dog and pointed, "See, it seems upset. Its tail
is not wagging. It is just watching us eat. It's alone. Perhaps this is
it's place to sleep! Maybe we are not wanted here. "Saraswathy laughed,
"Yes! As though the dog is going to speak to you and ask you to get up
from here. It is finding it strange that we are eating without giving it
any food. Perhaps the devotees here give food to this dog without it
have to beg for it. But, do look at the dog. It's just standing there,
in this darkness, not barking and not wagging its tail. It's a very
strange dog, for sure!"
"No! It's not strange at all!" said a voice from the darkness, "What is
strange about a dog that does not beg for its food and does not wag its
tail?" Startled, the three sisters looked into the darkness. There was a
large tree in the area away from the outer sanctum. On the ledge around
the large tree, sat a shadow, a tall shadow, and judging from the voice
and shape, a very tall woman. She was sitting out there, and there was
another person with her. Another woman was seated on the ground below
the ledge. They could not see them or make them out, and as they kept
peering into the darkness, the two women were beginning to be more
distinctively visible, as much as could be, at this time of the night.
The tall woman stood up from her seat on the ledge around the large tree
and came up to the dog and the three sisters. The other lady stood up
hastily, looking surprised, gathered up some food packets and came up
closer. The tall woman was indeed tall, thought Sharada, 'must be at
least six feet'. She looked somewhat 'sinister, very sinister,'
Saraswathy thought to herself. She was of a dark complexion and was
entirely dressed in black, but was not dressed in any saree. She was in
some sort of a modified shalwar or a longish querta, with a black
coloured, rich-looking shawl covering her.
The dog stood quietly, looking at the three sisters. Now that the woman
and the dog were standing next to each other, Shyamala could realize
that the dog was indeed quite tall, almost up to her waist. Watching her
measure the dog's height, the tall woman spoke to Shyamala, "Aamaa
Kanna, he is a hound. But, do not worry, for he is a good boy. He does
not do any harm, and does not mean any harm. He has been my companion
for many years, and is very loyal. Normally, nobody sits here, in the
dark areas behind the inner sanctum of the Niruthi Lingam temple. And,
since me and my companion were resting nearby under the large tree, he
came her to check you out."Having spoken thus, the two women sat along
with the three sisters in the dark corner of the outer sanctum.
Saraswathy offered their food packets and bananas, and the two women
seemed to accept graciously. The quiet woman picked out some of the rice
and pressed them into large morsels and offered them to the hound.
Introducing themselves, Saraswathy said, "We are from Chennai. I mean,
we were once in Chennai in our childhood, and now my akka is in Mumbai,
and my younger sister stays at Tirupati. We decided suddenly to come on
the Girivalam path, without any preparation. We have never been here
before. We are not as young as before but we decided to do it anyway.
Akka has been a national volleyball player in her youth, but today, she
was very tired. So we decided to take some rest here, while she recovers
her energy and strength."
The tall woman smiled, looked at Sharada and said, "You do not decide
that you are tired or you have energy while on the Girivalam path. HE
decides. You did not decide that the three of you will come here and
walk on the Girivalam route. HE decides. You are all from Chennai, and yet now, you
are older than fifty years of age, you must be more than 65, I think.
But you have never walked on the Girivalam route. Why could you not come
here? This is not some picnic spot that one fine day you decide to come
for a walk here. There are some devotees who must have gone around the
sacred Arunachala for more than a hundred times, and there are a few who
have walked around the entire path for at least a thousand times. But
those are a rare few."
Sharada smiled in agreement and replied, "True, you are very true. I
could not have come here even when my college classmates came on their
trip. I had to go for a volleyball tournament in Agra. My sister has
been here once, to Tiruvannamalai, and she is indeed blessed, for she
walked on the entire path in her youth. But, Shyamala, my darling
youngest sister, she was never allowed to go for any trip to any place. I
do not know if our parents had ever come to Tiruvannamalai or ever
walked on the Girivalam path. They never told us, and we never asked.
Perhaps it was a very normal pilgrimage for them in those days. But now,
it seems like an achievement of some sorts."
The tall woman gestured for her lady companion to sit alongside. The
other lady came out of the darkness and handed over a 3-4 feet long
sword to the tall woman. It was not like any vegetable cutting knife,
thought Shyamala, but seemed like one of the swords from the movies,
like NTR's sword in one of those movies from the Mahabharata. The tall
woman seemed quite comfortable with the heavy sword, and did not seem to
be concerned that the three sisters were watching the weapon with
considerable interest. The other lady smiled at their curiosity and
laughed. Noticing her laughter, the tall woman said, "O Khadgi! Anyone
would certainly be surprised to see such a sword, and that too, with a
woman. Dear sisters, do not be frightened. This is who I am. This sword
is mine, and I carry it as the custodian of the village temple nearby.
There has never been any robbery or dacoity in this area, but I am not a
guardian against thieves. I am a guardian of a very old temple in this
region, much older than the temples in these places. Those before me
have been the carriers of the sword even before temples were built to
house the ashtalingams .
These eight aspects of Arunachala, the guardians of the eight directions
have been here around the sacred formless aspect of Rudra, from a time
before humans began to construct temples."Saraswathy nodded, "Yes. The
Ashtalingams are indeed guardians of the eight directions and it is
here, Niruthi, that we are at the southwest. What do you guard with the
sword? We are here on the Girivalam path, and everything looks so very
peaceful. The devotees are happy among themselves, and they are quite
familiar with the path and the people and the temples. I only hope that
my elder sister is able to complete the entire walk and she is not taken
unwell and there would be no problems to her."
Khadgi, the younger lady, spoke, "You are in the sanctuary of the
Niruthi Linga temple. You have come here directly from the Yama Lingam
temple. How can you not succeed? Speak in respect to Arunachala, for you
are in HIS shadow. Speak in devotion, for every step that you take on
the path, you take with HIS permission alone. There are those who rush
around, and walk by swiftly without stopping at some of the
ashtalingams. They are also those who are blessed, for their only
destination is to go back to where they began. There are these families,
who sit here and at other places in the shade of Arunachala, and they
are also blessed. Do not be worried about your ability and your
Sharada asked, "But, what about pain? O sword-carrier, what about my
pain? That is real, and I do feel my pain. I was feeling each step of
mine, as I walked from the Agni Lingam temple onwards to the Niruthi
Lingam temple. How can I be attentive to Arunachala, if I am only
attentive to my physical distress and my pain? I have so many medical
problems. Many expert doctors have told me that I have only six months
to live, and that was since the past ten years or so. I have lived many
six months since then. I have not come here on the Girivalam path to be
cured of my physical distress. I have come here only in order to seek
HIS blessings. To seek HIS blessings alone, to be at peace with myself."
"I am called Dharini, and I am not merely a sword-carrier!" The tall
woman said, as she smiled, "Through my many years, I have been called by
many names. Since I carry this sword, I am called thus, as Dharini.
Your pain is your sacrifice, for as one who carried her pain, you are
here to sacrifice what is part of you. It was your decision to walk on
the sacred Girivalam path, and you knew that it would be a very long
walk. Yet, you did not worry about all the problems with your health.
The illness of the body and the pain that you feel, are two separate
aspects. Give away your pain at this sacred place, at the temple of
Niruthi Lingam. Give away all your associated thoughts about your pain.
"Sacrifice myself? Give away my pain? How do I do that, sister?" asked
Sharada. Dharini, the tall woman, the carrier of the sword, replied,
"Think. Deep within your mind. You are here at the Girivalam path,
and now, you are here at the Niruthi Lingam temple. Close your eyes and
think. Who is the closest to you, and for whom would you sacrifice your
pain and illness, and be peaceful with yourself, and be able to think
only of Arunachala Shiva as you walk on this path? What if you committed
some of the magic of Arunachala on yourself? What if you pulled out all
the negative energy that you do know that you have? What if you were
able to cast it away, just like that, as you search for Arunachala
Shiva, within yourself?"
Sharada replied, "O Sister! I would sacrifice all my pain and all my
illnesses for my sisters, who are with me today. I do not know when we
will be together again. I may not even be alive for any longer after
this pilgrimage. I can feel it all over me. HE is calling me. While I am
alive, I know that I am to suffer with my ill health. But for this
short period of time, in this precious time when we walk on the
Girivalam path together, I would like to sacrifice my pain so that I
walk with them in happiness and enjoyment, and that my sisters would
remember this day forever, and would only remember my happiness."
Saraswathy and Shyamala hugged their elder sister and seemed to be about
Dharini spoke in anger, cautioning them, "Do not cry, for she wants you
to remember her in happiness. Do you want her to carry a sorrowful
memory? Niruthi Lingam is a place of magic, of transformation, as you
turn around and cross a primordial direction. There is no corruption in
the faith here, for even in death, you leave behind memories for others
to carry. Remember that. You give off from yourself, you sacrifice from
your pain, all the happiness that you can give others."
"I am also known as Dharini, the Black One, for usually the people at my
village are keen to allow me to depart quickly from their homes. It is
thus in death also. Those who want you to be with them, are keen that
you depart, when they are seeking corruption in their relationship with
you. In the shadow of Arunachala, there is no corruption of your faith,
and it is only an aspect within your mind. Give away your pain to
Arunachala, for as Niruthi, as Rudra, that is his sacrificial share."
Story of Varuna Lingam - Lord of Rain and Water
The Varuna lingam is situated on the outer girivalam pathway about one
kilometre before the village of Adi Annamalai and has the west as its
direction. Varuna's vehicle is Makara (that lives both on land and
water) and is an animal with the head and front legs of an antelope and
the body and tail of a fish.
This Lingam has Lord Shani as its dominant Navagraha. Legend has it that
the eye of Varuna is Surya and when Surya appears in the constellation
of Makara, the special event is observed as Makara Sankarathi. This day
falls each year in mid-January and is celebrated as Pongal Festival in
Varuna is the King of appreciation and enjoyment. He governs the whole
world. He is the God of rain and God of all the waters in the three
worlds. He surveys the deeds of man according to his karma and keeps
them under his control. Placating Varuna is believed to wash away
Devotees believe that a visit to this Lingam (Varuna Theertham is also
located at this place) protects one from illness, particularly
My loved ones journey back, to you...
The family of four from Chennai and the six ladies from Andhra Pradesh
were seated at a corner. They were sharing some bananas and lemon rice
among themselves. One of the ladies offered some rice and a banana to
Kalpana who accepted it thankfully. She had been feeling hungry and had
been wondering if she would have to sit up at any of the 'tiffin kadai'
along the Girivalam path. Was it allowed? Perhaps it was okay to eat
while on the Girivalam path. She would survive the entire path and
complete the pradakshana, now, with some food within her, she smiled to
As she sat content, Kalpana became aware of someone sitting close to
her, staring at her and watching her intently. Disturbed, she turned
away from her newly found friends to look for the intruder. An oldish
bald man sitting nearby was watching her silently. Instinctively, she
thought, who was this ugly looking bald guy? Why was this short and fat
man staring at her? Kalpana looked at him curiously, while eating her
lemon rice. The man seemed to have got encouraged, for he stood up and
walked up to her. She could barely stop herself from breaking out in
laughter, for he looked absolutely out of sorts, and was out of breath
from the very effort of standing up and sitting down.
The dysfunctional looking man spoke to Kalpana, "You seem to be very
happy with yourself, smiling and thinking. My apologies for disturbing
you like this. Your happiness is very obvious. You seem to have been
seeing Arunachala, again and again!" She was surprised. Why was this
strange man talking to her, as though he knew her from a long time? He
did not seem to be embarrassed at all. Back at home in New Delhi, at her
school or college or in her south Delhi neighbourhood, boys would not
have had the guts to talk to her or any girl without proper
introductions. Especially not oldish, fat, balding, ugly uncles! They
would never have had the courage to talk to younger women.
One of the ladies from Andhra Pradesh replied to the strange bald man,
"Seeing Arunachala again and again? How do you say that, Prabhuji?"
startled. Why was this lady replying to him and encouraging him? Why was
she treating him with respect? Why was she giving him an honorific, as
'Prabhuji'? Who was he? Was he some sort of a Swami or a Sage? She
looked at him more closely. For all his unpleasant appearance, he seemed
very different. He had several Tulasi-malas around his neck, diamond
ear-rings that were designed like crocodiles and turmeric and crimson
coloured thick cords of twine around his wrists. Must be a holy man, of
some sort, thought Kalpana.
"She is very different from you all, she has a very distinctive
appearance of peace and happiness," He said, "This lady is unlike you.
She is extremely happy at this moment. She keeps looking at Arunachala,
all the while that she has been sitting here at the Varuna Lingam
temple. Each time that she looks at Arunachala, the sacred Arunachala,
it seems like a love story, a story that seems to become better
everytime she gazes up again at our beloved Arunachala
"Kalpana was surprised. Was this strange-looking man talking about her?
How did he realize that the happiness in her face was entirely different
from the others with her? Nobody had spoken to her in this manner
before, and she knew in her heart of hearts that she had certainly not
been totally happy for some years now. Kalpana felt guilty. How could
she have been so happy about herself? So many of her loved ones, those
closest to her, had gone ahead to the great temple in the heavens. She
had stayed happy and courageous, for the sake of her sisters and
children. She had carried her emotions and sorrow within herself and
allowed herself a life that was as normal as it could be. This was the
most unusual thing that she had ever done in her life. Even her children
had been surprised at her decision to go all by herself from Delhi to
Tiruvannamalai, and to walk on the Girivalam path.
With all the weight inside her, and all those memories, how could this
stranger have seen so much happiness within her? The ladies from Andhra
Pradesh had gathered around the strange looking man and were chatting
among themselves. He pointed to the sacred peak and said, "It is said
that one must walk on the pradakshana with humility. One must exercise
devotion as one proceeds. One must be silent so as to listen to oneself.
This lady, who travels with you on the Girivalam path, is a very
different person from most other devotees. The six of you, the family
here, the other devotees, the priest and the local villagers, you are
all familiar with Arunachala, with the great Annamalai Temple and
Bhagawan Sri Ramana Maharshi. So many people come here, after they get
to know about the reason to be here. They think that they understand. We
think that we understand. We are not wrong. It is our manner of
Kalpana was fascinated. Some part of her had never questioned the reason
for travelling from New Delhi to Tiruvannamalai. Her sister had helped
her fly out to Chennai. A cousin brother had helped her get a taxi to
Tiruvannamalai. There had been no hassles at all. A decision made
suddenly had become a journey within 24 hours. It was amazing. There had
been many journeys that she had made with her parents, her sisters and
her family. They had all been perfect journeys, sometimes even to the
Himalayas. But, they had all been planned for weeks, and some had taken
months of anticipation. What had made her decide? An accidental and
unexpected mention by a cousin about the temple and the Girivalam
pradakshana, and here she was.
The strange looking man was speaking. "But, look at her. Everything that
she sees," He said, "She smiles at. She saw you eating lemon rice, and I
saw her smiling. You shared it with her, and she did not hesitate. She
accepted it happily. She looked up at Arunachala, as though it was a
miracle! That someone she did know yesterday, was sharing food with her,
and she accepted it. Each time she ate something, she looked up at the
sacred Arunachala and smiled and was happier and happier. Watching her, I
saw Arunachala in her. It was amazing."
"Kalpana was curious about the strange looking man. The family from
Chennai had begun to walk out of the Varuna Lingam temple. They would be
walking slowly. She could catch up with them. The women from Andhra
Pradesh were also getting ready to move on. Kalpana did not want to go
without talking to the strange looking man. But she did not want to give
up on her new friends. She would have to walk alone, she worried. Why
not walk alone? she thought. She had come all the way to be alone by
herself. She gestured to the six women and said, "You go ahead. I will
sit here, talk to Prabhuji for some time, and will be back on the
pradakshana after some time. God willing, we may meet again on the
Girivalam path or at the Sri Ramanashram or at the Temple"
She sat close to the strange looking man and greeting him with a
respectful Namaste and said, "Prabhuji, I do not know you at all!
Honestly, the first time that you spoke, I was in panic and frightened. I
was also angry. May I know who are you? How is it that you are able to
remark on my happiness? Is it so wrong to be happy? Is it wrong to watch
Arunachala with so much contentment and happiness? You do not know
anything about me. Barely, 2-3 days ago, I would never have believed it
if anyone would have said that I could be so much at peace just by
looking at a mountain. How can this mountain be different from any
other? I have seen so many mountains in the Himalayas."
The strange looking man smiled and Kalpana could see that he had very
obviously protruding teeth, and disturbingly, had strange yellowish red
eyes. He answered, "My dear girl, what do you see, when you watch me? I
can see it in your eyes. You see a fat, bald, ugly and short man, and
just now you noticed my teeth and my eyes. Do you try to measure all
these details when I mention that I noticed your happiness? Did you try
to examine me and come to any judgement about whether I was happy or
not? When the priest conducted the prayers for you, did you notice if he
was happy? When the lady gave her share of lemon rice to you, did you
wonder if she was happy?"
"Most of the time we go on with our lives, measuring people with what we
see from their appearance, clothes, manner of speech and perhaps, their
affluence or poverty." He continued, "Rarely do we notice if they are
happy. Do you know the secret to this? It is deep within us. Each time
that you see Arunachala, as you walk, as you sit, as you rest and as you
pray or chant, you pull HIM out, you take HIM within you, deep within
you. The moment HE is within you, it is then that you realize that HE is
within the other person too. Every step that you take on this Girivalam
path, you see Him within the others that you meet. You realize that the
cows that graze on the slopes of Arunachala are the most fortunate. The
birds that fly into the forests of Arunachala, and perch on the trees
there are very blessed. The wind that blows out through the clouds and
the water that flows down, brings HIS blessings to everyone."
Kalpana listened to him in fascination. Nobody had spoken to her with
such clarity before. Just by looking at Arunachala, just by that, could
Shiva be residing within her? Was HE the cause of her happiness?
Similarly, was HE within every devotee that came here? What would happen
if Shiva was within her? How would that matter? Would her life change,
suddenly? Could she tell anybody back home, at Delhi, at her workplace?
Would they not laugh at her? Her questions and doubts must have been
very obvious, for the strange looking man smiled with affection."My
daughter!" He said, "There are those who do not believe in God, and
there are those who may doubt His blessings. They are the truly
fortunate. They are more blessed than you or me. They are already
blessed and therefore they do not search for HIM in all his many forms
or manifestations. There is nothing complicated in all this. Do not
worry about it. I can sense a very dark cloud of sorry, worry and
trepidation that you keep going back to. And then, you get back to joy
and happiness. Both are true. Our memories are our most unforgiving
friends in our lives. But, without our memories, how would we remember
the most precious moments in our lives?"Kalpana nodded, and said,
"True, Prabhuji, sometimes I want to sleep for long hours, and not wake
up, so that I can be within my memories. I talk to the loved ones who
have gone ahead, and sometimes I cannot sleep. I do not want to get lost
in my memories. I know that they are not real. I have never sat in
meditation and I have never been in search of silence. But, yesterday,
when I sat with so many others in a small room to meditate, I was
amazed. I could sit silently. At first, I heard all the sounds of the
ashram, and heard the sounds of the people moving about in the
meditation room. After a while, I was silent. There were no memories. I
sat silently, wondering."
"I went back today, early morning, and sat for some more time. Again, I
found silence. Once or twice, I heard the peafowl outside the room, but
they did not seem to be disturbing. Then I realized, that the sounds of
the peafowl were not sounds. They are meant to be as they are. The noise
that people make, the sound of traffic, the sound of people talking,
all these, are not sounds. They are meant to be as they are. It is the
noise that I make within myself, that is the most frightening of all! I
am able to understand that, as I walk on the Girivalam path. And each
time that I look upon Arunachala , I do not search for Shiva. And when I
realize that I do not need to search for Shiva, I do not need to make
an effort to sit and drown myself with my memories, I see both! I see
silence! Can you see silence? Is that possible, Prabhuji?"
The strange looking man laughed and his crocodile-design diamond
ear-rings sparkled in the sunlight. He exclaimed, "Arunachala!
Arunachala! Your ways are mysterious and yet are so very child-like. O
Shiva! O Maheshwara! So many years on this path have I worshipped you, O
Rameshwara! So many years have I sought you! And you have blessed this
daughter of yours in so many magical ways? She did not even know you,
and she did not even seek you! Yet, you have pulled her to your embrace
and allowed her to gaze upon you within herself!"
He placed his hands together in reverence, and spoke to Kalpana, "My
daughter, you are truly blessed. For you have a question that none can
answer. Can one see silence? I do not know. O daughter of Shiva! Keep
walking, go slowly, and go alone, without any disturbance. Keep looking
at the sacred Arunachala. Ask HIM yourself. If HE agrees, I will meet
you somewhere, sometime. Pray, bless me with the answer. Go. Be happy as
you are. May all your loved ones journey back to HIM, and rest in HIM."