"Arunachala Siva - On the Girivalam Path" by Dr. Bharat Bhushan imagines stories at each of the Asta Lingams on the perimeter of the Girivalam Roadway around Arunachala. Those stories have been created from memories of ancestral tales, legends, folklore and the experiences of pilgrims.

Story of Esanya Lingam - Lord of the North East

Esanya Linga has the north east as its direction. It is located on the old girivalam road to town, beside the main cremation grounds.

This lingam was installed by Esanyan and has Lord Budha (Mercury) as its dominant Navagraha.

Esanya is one of the seven Rudras of Shiva. He is covered with ashes and surrounded by ghosts, he has matted locks and fierce eyes and is seated on a tiger skin. He holds the crescent moon and the river Ganga in his locks. His body is adorned by coiled serpents. In his hands he holds the mortal drum and the trident of Shiva.

Devotees are blessed with peace of mind on offering prayers to Esanya Linga

Arunachala Shiva!!!
We travel distances to return, to you...

"Arunachala!" He called out, "Why do I need to travel, if I am to return to you?"

Muniswamy heard the sadhu call out in prayer at the Esanya Lingam temple. He was almost at the end of the Girivalam path, having walked his way on the fifteen kilometer pradakshana around the sacred Arunachala. After offering his homage at the Esanya Lingam temple, he could complete the walk with prayers at the Annamalai temple. He had been here, on the Girivalam path on a number of occasions in his 65 years, and had been able to complete the entire pradakshana without any problems. He had had no troubles for today, having started from the big temple as early as 5 a.m., and walking slowly he had made it to the Esanya Lingam temple by 9 a.m., before it would get too hot and sultry.

Having come on a number of occasions earlier, he knew of the burial grounds and the cemetery that you had to cross before arriving at the Esanya Lingam temple. Very soon, they were near the cremation grounds. He would have to walk for more than 800 meters at least, bordering the burial grounds. There were two bodies on the pyre, and the smoke was coming their way. It would be better to sit outside, awhile, and go inside the temple only after some time, he felt. Where could he sit? There was a stone-ledge alongside the burial ground, and the families who had come to cremate their loved ones, were gathered nearby. Two local vendors were standing nearby selling flower garlands. He could sit near them.

The flower vendors looked at him curiously. They were not able to place him, as a devotee, or pilgrim or as a member of the families who had gathered here for their loved ones. Muniswamy sat quietly, thinking, watching and wondering. His brother at Chennai had explained about the guardians of the eight directions. He had told him that if you would start at the Indra Lingam, then you would come to a logical end at the cremation grounds near the Esanya Lingam temple. What begins, has to end. If you began on a journey, you have to end it at some point. After you concluded your journey at the Esanya Lingam temple, you walked through the cremation grounds, cleansing yourself of all your actions in this life. You would then go ahead to surrender completely to Annamalai at the big temple. On each occasion that you would enter the great temple after a pradakshana on the Girivalam path, you came out without any baggage from your previous journey.

Muniswamy sat on the edge of the cremation grounds, between the Esanya Lingam temple and the funeral pyres. He watched the families standing near the pyres, and thought, to each one present, they would all return here, one last time. This place was their real destination. Smiling at the truth, Muniswamy went to the Esanya Lingam temple. This was the only one of the Ashtalingams that was placed lower in the ground, almost underground. One had to descend a small flight of stairs to reach the Esanya Lingam. This was also supposed to be the largest and the most ancient. The priest was conducting prayers for some families who had come earlier and Muniswamy did not disturb him. He offered his prayers to Shiva who was Esanya himself at this place, and came up to the outer sanctum and sat outside the premises.

The images were extremely overwhelming. He had seen some pilgrims breaking down in tears at the Esanya Lingam temple. Today was not to be one of those days, he thought. His mind went back twosome of his earlier visits on completion of the Girivalam pradakshana. Once, there had been an oldish gentleman who had been quoting the sacred Annamalai Venba and had explained some of the verses to him. It had left a profound impact on him. He kept hearing the verses again and again inside his head. He had not understood any of the words at that time, and he did not do so, to this day. He could not even remember the words. But, he could certainly sense the references to Esanya and to the cycle of life and death.

An elderly lady, silver-haired, dressed in a much wrinkled, well-worn saree, with a very largish circular crimson red kumkum bindi, came walking leisurely and sat next to Muniswamy. He greeted her respectfully, as one pilgrim to another, and sat quietly. He did not want to end up talking to her about anything, for he dearly wanted to get back to the big temple and conclude his Girivalam walk with prayers to Annamalai. He looked up at Annamalai and gestured to himself, almost in gratitude. The elderly lady watched his gesture and smiled.

As he feared, she began to speak, "Swamy, you seem to have been here on a number of occasions. Do you come here often? Do you sit here often?" Muniswamy hated when it happened in such a manner. He hated to talk to people when he could be better placed by walking on the Girivalam path. However, he replied, "I have to get back on the pradakshana. But yes, I do come here often. I usually sit here for sometime before going forward to the big temple. Why do you ask?"

She did not reply. She was watching a new family enter the cremation grounds. It was a very small group. Four men carried an old lady and placed the body near an empty pyre-site. The moment they placed the body, they stood away from it and walked away to stand under the shade of a large tree at a distance. Two women had accompanied then, and they stood near the compound wall of the cremation grounds. They did not enter the grounds. They just waited in the shade of another tree. Soon enough, an elderly gentleman came running behind them, with a young boy accompanying him. They stood near the two women. They were all silent. They did not go near the old lady's body that had been placed on the ground. This went on for a while, as Muniswamy watched quietly.

The elderly lady smiled and pointed and said, "O Swamy! Do you see that! They are all alone. Now, perhaps, they understand. As a family, they are all alone at this moment. A member of their family has passed away, and they have just about done their duty. Both those women are sisters, and that elderly man is their brother. They are standing there silently, waiting. Do you know, O Swamy, what is it that they are waiting for? They are waiting for people to come to help them to untie the lady and place her on the funeral pyre. Do you know why they are waiting? Because their caste does not permit them to go near the funeral pyre or to touch the dead body when it is inside the cremation ground. That is why the four who brought the old lady here, placed her on the ground and rushed away. Little do they realise, that they will also come here on their final journey and this is their fate. Yet, they cling on to their caste and pride."

Muniswamy looked at the people and agreed with her. The brother and the two sisters seemed to be waiting for some help to come along. There were similar help at one of the other pyres. They were placing the firewood and dung cakes on the body over there. It looked like it would be well over an hour before they would move over from their task to help out with the old lady who had been placed next to an empty pyre-site. He spoke to the elderly lady, "Who are those two sisters? Are they related to the old lady? Do you know them?"

"Yes! They are related!" exclaimed the elderly lady, "That old lady is my elder sister and those two ladies are her daughters and that elderly man is her son. She had passed away in her sleep and they rushed her here within two hours. They did not inform me, though I am her only sister. They fear that I will claim a share in her property. They did not even bother to take her to a good hospital to see if they could revive her. The medical doctor who gave them the death certificate in ten minutes, remembered me and informed me. That's why I have come here and I sit here.

"It was too bad and depressing, thought Muniswamy. This was very unwise. When would people learn? She was their mother, and they made her wait, thus, in her final journey! He sat next to the elderly lady. The final part of the walk on the Girivalam path could wait, he thought. This lady needed his companionship now. She looked so courageous, but could lose control at any moment. They sat together, watching. It was almost high noon now, and the men from the other funeral had completed their tasks.

They received some money from the family and came up to the body of the old lady. There was no conversation or instructions. They went about their job silently and without any discussion from the family. The sisters and brother left the cremation ground by the time the pyre was burning fiercely. They would probably return tomorrow, Muniswamy thought. Or, if there were more bodies coming in, the pyre-helpers would sweep up the bones and ashes and retain them in a mud urn and hand them over to the family if and when someone would come to claim it. The elderly lady stood up as the family left the ground and took Muniswamy's hand for support. He walked with her silently to the funeral pyre and stood while she wept and circled around the burning pyre. She called out to a cremation priest sitting nearly and gave him some money to recite prayers.

The sisters and brother left the cremation ground by the time the pyre was burning fiercely. They would probably return tomorrow, Muniswamy thought. Or, if there were more bodies coming in, the pyre-helpers would sweep up the bones and ashes and retain them in a mud urn and hand them over to the family if and when someone would come to claim it. The elderly lady stood up as the family left the ground and took Muniswamy's hand for support. He walked with her silently to the funeral pyre and stood while she wept and circled around the burning pyre. She called out to a cremation priest sitting nearly and gave him some money to recite prayers. The sisters and brother had not conducted any prayers for their mother. Muniswamy stood, listening to the prayers, watching, his eyes lost in the leaping flames.

The flames made him weep. He was standing too close. He thought of his father and mother. He had done good by them. He had been able to carry them to their cremation, along with his brother, and his uncles. They had had no second thoughts about bathing them by themselves, dressing them up and conducting althea rites with the help of a regular cremation ground priest. His uncle had been close to his father. He had sat at the cremation grounds at their village near Satyavedu in Andhra Pradesh, holding on the ash-urn for eleven days, without returning home. They had gone to the cremation grounds to ask him to return, but head refused. some said that his uncle had been talking strangely during those days.

Death was strange, funny and abrupt, thought Muniswamy. The only definite aspect of it was that it was final. It was complete. It got over and there was no way that you could change it. You had to accept it. Perhaps, those two sisters and the brother were more pragmatic. They had come to terms with the passing of their mother immediately. He stood quietly, as the elderly lady completed her prayers. She sat down in the shade of a tree nearby and said, "O Swamy, thank you for your help. I am ok now. I will sit here till the flames go down. You go ahead on the Girivalam and complete your walk. Later, if you feel good about it, please bring me some flower garlands from Annamalai himself so that I can offer them to my sister here, at the Esanya Lingam."

Nodding in agreement, Muniswamy bowed low with folded hands and went back to the Esanya Lingam temple. There was a water tap nearby. He removed all his clothes, right down to his loincloth, and had a quick bath in the cold water. Without drying himself, and with only a dhoti around his waist, he walked in to the outer sanctum. Nobody thought his appearance to be strange. He worshipped at the Esanya Lingam and sat on the stairs, at the last step. The priest had closed the doors to the inner sanctum. Muniswamy could sit silently, contemplating the aspect of Shiva as Esanya. What was this circle of life, he wondered, and why enforce the aspect so vigorously at this temple?

Muniswamy felt his question, being asked directly to Shiva. What could Maheshwara reply to the most profound of questions of humanity, he thought. Why should we be reminded of death when it is futile, for we cannot prevent death? Death was certain. Should one think about it or should one fear death? Is it just a moment in one's life like any other? If so, then one would have to remember that there would be nothing after death. The death of a loved person led to sorrow, but the death of a person in pain and sorrow should mean liberation. Would they take their pain and sorrow with them in their onward journey? Or, was one free of their misery? If one would get free from one's misery, then perhaps, one should look forward to death.

"Questions, questions, O Maheshwara! Who would give me answers?" thought Muniswamy, looking at the peaceful image of Shiva as Esanya. These were questions that nobody could answer, he knew. A family of pilgrims, having come from their walk on the Girivalam, came in to worship at the closed doors of the inner sanctum. There seemed to be three generations, grandparents, parents and a grandson and grand-daughter. The grandson was helping his grandmother down the stairs while the grandfather preferred to sit and crouch on the top step to get a glimpse of the Esanya Lingam. The grand-daughter sat alongside her grandfather. The parents came to sit alongside Muniswamy at the lowest step. Silently, they went about organizing the items for the prayer that they conducted themselves without waiting for the priest.

The grandmother watched everything patiently and turned to her grandson and said, "Muruga, you are a good boy unlike your father who is now lost in rituals. He has walked on the Girivalam path with me and his father on so many occasions but has yet to understand the ONE with no form. What prayer can you render to the ONE who is beyond everything? With which ritual can you bind HIM, who is impossible to contain? Your father will also die as surely I would. Muruga, ask your father to lead his remaining days in being a good teacher to you and your sister."

Muniswamy was amazed. He had asked a single question to Shiva as Esanya and had wondered if he would get an answer. Immediately, here was this lady, who explained that even such questions and rituals were only mundane in our surrender to the great ONE without form. Perhaps, he could be selfish and ask his questions, maybe one question, just one question, to the grandmother. And maybe he would get his answer.

Taking courage, with a silent prayer to Shiva as Esanya, he asked, "Amma, I heard you speak the truth to your grandson. I am sitting here in front of Esanyan, and I had asked him a question. Perhaps, you could help me with the answer. Here, at this ashtalingam, why should we be reminded of death, if death was certain, and we need not fear it. Is it not an actual liberation of our soul, and should we not look forward to it? Pray, help me with this answer, for it may benefit this boy and his parents also."

The grandmother smiled with true happiness, and without any surprise, replied, "Thambi, I see that your clothes and your feet are wet. No wonder you ask these questions as you sit here. You must have come from the cremation grounds and your mind is troubled about death. You sit here, without being able to get your feet to take you to the big temple, to complete your pradakshana. There are lines on your palms, and even palmists can predict your life. So, why worry about death? Just go to a palmist. There are people you meet, who are not related to you, and they go to their homes after work. You lose them for some part of the day. But, they come back. You board a bus to go to Chennai. You do not get the same driver. Yet, in both cases, your friend at work comes back to you and you do your work as usual. Your bus driver is not the same, but you go where you wanted and you arrived correctly.

So, what is important? The journey or the destination?" She asked, "Your relatives or your friends? Your work that got done or the work that you could not do? Nothing matters. Bhakti and faith are also not real. Accept your tasks, go on completing them. Accept your successes. Go on with your work. Accept your faults. Begin a new journey. Death is certain. That much is certain. Do not go about seeking answers to the riddle of death. It is there. That's all. Seeking death is of no purpose. Not seeking work or your responsibilities is not going to help you avoid death."

Muniswamy stood up happy. He was not certain that he understood it entirely and that he now knew what to do about death or life. He was extremely happy, that he had just sat here, asked questions to Esanyan himself, at his sanctum, and a person came to give him some answers. You had to ask and you had to push. "O Arunachala!" He exclaimed, turning to the grandmother, "Your ways are not at all mysterious. I have seen you and I now know that you hear everyone in this magical path. Give me strength, for I would now run to complete this journey, for I know that you will bless me with new life and a new journey, that will bring me back, to you..."

Story of Indra Lingam - King of Heaven

The Indra Lingam has east as its direction. It is associated with the celestial Lord Indra. This Lingam is situated on Car Street close to the eastern tower of Arunachaleswarar Temple.

Lord Indra is the king of Heaven according to Hindu mythology. His consort is Indrani. His vehicle is the celebrated four-tusked white elephant Iravathi. Indra manifests seated on his elephant wielding in his hand the weapon Vajra with which he destroys ignorance and bestows spiritual knowledge on his deserving devotees.

The Indra Lingam is dominated by the Navagrahas, Lord Surya and Lord Shukra (Venus). Devotees are blessed with long life and with prosperity, on worshipping Indra lingam.

Arunachala Shiva!!!
We give away, ourselves, to you...

"Arunachala!" He worshipped, "take away all my worries and problems. Help me!"

The rich man went hurrying inside the long corridor to present his prayers at the Indra Lingam temple. It was a long and narrow corridor. He had asked his car driver to go ahead and park at the Sri Ramanashram and wait for him as he would come around on his Girivalam walk. "Arunachala!" He thought "This is your Girivalam, and I definitely want to walk all around the sacred place again. To offer my prayers, please, let me complete the pradakshana with your permission. You are my ultimate protector and you are my entire world. I surrender to you, my beloved Arunachala!"

The priest at the inner sanctum welcomed him, for he had been coming on the Girivalam regularly and he was well known at all the ashtalingams. The priests were friendly to him. He always offered his prayers at each of the ashtalingams. He would walk only when the inner sanctums were open and the priest permitted prayers. He would wait at the ashtalingams for 3-4 hours if the inner sanctum was closed. He would not move ahead on the Girivalam path without offering prayers at the ashtalingams.

Dressed in his suit and tie, Mr. Alavandar, the rich man, was looking very different from all the other pilgrims at the Indra Lingam temple. He had rushed out of a meeting that he had at his bankers and local business partners. His office assistant who accompanied him was very familiar with his strange schedule. His boss would remove his suit, tie and trousers at the outer sanctum and don a very simple veshti, a white cotton dhoti, and a very thin linen towel that he would place over his shoulders as a shawl. He would sprinkle water from the century old traditional well at the outer sanctum and present himself at the Indra Lingam. His boss would change completely, the assistant thought, proud of his boss. This was his routine, every three months, driving in from Srirangam, and placing his total surrender to Arunachala.

Three elderly brothers, fellow pilgrims, seated nearby in the outer sanctum watched the rich man's changeover with extreme interest. They noted that the simple Dhoti and the white towel that he had now worn, were very old, looked shabby and absolutely worn out. They waited until the rich man went up to the inner sanctum. They asked his assistant, "Who is this man whom you are helping? He seems to be a very rich man, and he has now dressed up as a very simple person. Is he going to go on the Girivalam path like this? Does he walk alone?" The assistant simply nodded in agreement, but he did not reply. He rushed after his boss to be of service.

Mr. Alavandar stood in front of the inner sanctum, and prayed silently. His assistant seemed to anticipate his moves and needs completely. He handed over flowers, coconut, garlands, camphor, incense sticks and ash in a small plastic bag to his boss. The rich man emptied every item reverentially on a stainless steel plate offered by the priest, carefully folded the plastic bag and handed it back. From a small sandalwood box, the assistant picked out a rudraksha necklace and passed it on to the rich man who placed it on the plate with the other offerings. The priest took everything inside the sanctum, conducted the prayers and brought them back. The rich man took out only the rudraksha necklace and wore it around his neck, placed some ash on his forehead and went about walking around the inner sanctum.

Having completed his rounds, he went over to a corner of the outer sanctum and sat on the bare floor, closed his eyes and went into a meditative trance, almost in an instant. The assistant walked over to the farthest corner opposite his boss and sat down peacefully. He knew that it would be more than an hour for his boss to continue in his meditation. The three elderly brothers watched Mr. Alavandar in fascination. They were extremely impressed in the manner of his devotion and dedication. They went over to where the assistant sat, and settled themselves around him. One of the brothers asked the assistant, "Your boss looks so focused and so determined in his worship. Its absolutely amazing. If someone would not have seen him in his costly suit, tie and trousers, they would not know that he is the same man from his appearance now, so simple and so traditional."

The assistant smiled at the appreciation for his boss and replied, "I have known him for the past ten years now, and I am blessed because of him. I travel with him all through the year and we visit many temples around the country. He combines his work and business with his devotion. Because of him, I get to visit so many temples and participate in all prayers and ceremonies. Just imagine, I have a job where I am paid to go to temples and visit the best of places. I have stopped questioning his methods and intent."

The eldest brother heard him peacefully and nodded wisely, and said, "Who knows how Arunachala calls us to HIM? Your boss comes in search of HIM, but for you, HE creates this opportunity. Why should one argue? Do you not meditate, then? Have you not learnt how to meditate? You are so lucky to be with him. But, does he not teach you about meditation? Do you know his prayers or do you know if he chants some quiet mantra to help him in his meditation?"

The assistant thought for a while, trying to recollect, and answered, "How would you learn meditation? I guess you would start and make mistakes. My boss always said that you need a teacher, for one to learn meditation. You cannot start just by watching him or anyone else. The most peaceful looking clerk in a government office may be thinking about a million problems. The busiest housewife, working at wedding meals for more persons than she has ever cooked for, may be very peaceful in her mind. Similarly, as my boss says, he has never been able to perfect his skills in meditation. He says that he fails each time and loses his concentration. I never have been able to figure out about the moment when he actually loses his concentration. He always looks like he is in a trance."

The three elderly brothers and Mr. Alavandar's assistant watched him quietly, in reverence and awe. They were impressed by the manner in which he had just gone to the corner, sat down, and immediately withdrawn into himself. There were many other pilgrims nearby, with families talking loudly. The priest was making some sound in pulling up water from the deep well. An electrician and a painter were dragging a long aluminium ladder around. Mr. Alavandar did not seem to get disturbed by all the sound and chatter.

One of the brothers, probably the youngest, asked Mr. Alavandar's assistant, "How can your boss not get disturbed by all that sound? I know that I would. How can he meditate so peacefully? So much sound and so much disturbance. The sound of that ladder as it is dragged. Even if I am not in meditation, I am irritated and angry by that sound. How can he not become angry and scold them for not noticing his meditation?"

The assistant laughed. He said, "Once, 5-6 years ago, at one of the ashtalingams, I forget which one, a man scolded his children for making too much noise when my boss was meditating. That man's two children began to speak in whispers. My boss got disturbed by the children speaking in whispers. He spoke to the man and his children and apologised for disturbing them. He went out of the temple and sat under a tree, even as it was raining, and sat there quietly. Later, when the family went on ahead on their Girivalam, my boss came back to his earlier spot and continued with his meditation."The three elderly brothers also laughed in appreciation.

The eldest brother asked, "Who taught him meditation, then? Was there some well known guru? Did he have to learn for a long time? I have also tried to learn meditation, and that is why I ask this question. I have learnt different types of meditation but I am not able to commit myself properly. Something or the other always prevents me from sitting down to meditation. I have many problems in my life. I have lost my job on several occasions. Sometimes there is no money, actual money, even for day to day expenses. My mind goes crazy and tells me to do crazy things. All those meditation classes did not help. My two brothers also face similar problems. That is why we have come here to Arunachala. To search for our future path and direction."

The assistant replied, "Better that you ask him. He is not a businessman in those clothes. He becomes a complete pilgrim and a devotee. He talks to everyone. If anyone asks him any personal questions, he knows how to avoid them without being rude. After he comes out of his meditation, he will sit here, at the Indra Lingam temple for some time. He is happy here, because this is the beginning of the Girivalam for him. He will go slowly from here, to the Agni Lingam and later, again, he will spend more time at Sri Ramanashram . He does the Girivalam walk by taking more than a day and night. He goes very slowly."

"A day and a night? Wow!" The eldest brother remarked, "We have usually done our slowest Girivalam in five hours, and that was also because it was raining very heavily and I had slipped on the path. It would be a blessing indeed to talk to him here at the Indra Lingam and accompany him for some time on the path. Let us wait for him to get back to this world, for I think, he must have gone away somewhere else, otherwise how can someone not get disturbed by all those sounds and activities?"

The three elderly brothers and Mr. Alavandar's assistant sat quietly, busy in their own contemplation of their lives, and waited. One of the brothers went out of the temple and filled up tea in an used mineral water bottle and fetched it inside, with plastic cups. Without any query, along with the priest, they shared the tea among themselves. It felt nice. It was just the right thing for that moment.

After a while, Mr. Alavandar began to move about at his seat and stood up and walked around, stretching his hands and began doing some simple calisthenics. He went back to the well and washed up and came up to the inner sanctum and offered prayers. His assistant sat calmly, behind the inner sanctum, waiting, for he knew that his boss would not require him at this moment. Soon enough, Mr. Alavandar walked up to his assistant and sat down on the ground with him, resting his back on the temple walls, and relaxed. He seemed quite content about his day, and did not look like a man with any agenda or in any hurry.

The three elderly brothers sat nearby, and judging by the expression on their faces, and their eager vibrations that were very obvious, Mr. Alavandar looked at them, smiled, and asked, "You are very curious, are you not? What has my man, Pattabhi, been telling you about me? Are you also on the Girivalam path? You are welcome to walk with me. I enjoy the company. But, Pattabhi would have told you that I go very slowly. If you want to journey together with me, you will have to walk slowly. Is that ok?"

The eldest brother replied, "Swamy, we do not want to disturb you. We will certainly go with you because there is much to learn from you. How is it that you seem to enjoy every moment of the Girivalam and you have come here so many times, as your assistant informed, every three months, and yet, you walk so slowly, and take up so much time on the path? We had come together, for we are brothers all, myself, Kuchela, my younger brothers, Gopinath and Bhaskar. It was difficult for us to come together and travel together. Our families are very different, and we are not able to get away. But, you come here repeatedly, and you take so much time. Does it not affect your work?"

Mr. Alavandar gestured with both his hands to the heavens, in the direction of the sacred Arunachala, and replied, "Who would dare argue with HIM? I am called here, and I am here. Even if I come on the Girivalam path, every three months, there is some inner message. It pulls me here, and I come without fail. But, I have seen over these many years when I have been in his shadow, I have never felt that I have lost my time in business or with my family. Sometimes, when I walk, I think of my work, and sometimes, I think about my family. My man, Pattabhi, is always close by, in my car, or sometimes walking with me. I know that they respect my time here, and that reverence is enough for me. My family loves the fact that I walk here. And, that is good enough for me."

Gopinath, one of the elderly brothers, asked, "Swamy, you are truly an inspiration. Your family must be inspired by your devotion to the sacred Arunachala. We are curious. Your assistant, sir told us that you spend a lot of time at the Indra Lingam temple before starting on the Girivalam path. Why do you do that? Is it not OK to spend more time at the big temple to Annamalai and later be able to take rest at some of the ashtalingams when one is tired? Why do you stay here for such a long time?"

"This is the first of the ashtalingams," Mr. Alavandar said, "That much you are aware, I am sure. But, do you remember, that whenever you complete your Girivalam walk, you are at the Esanya Lingam temple, and you walk through the burial and cremation grounds. That end point signifies that you are nothing. You are over. Your life is completed. You are simply a mound of ash, burnt at the pyre. You surrender totally to Shiva as Esanyan. But, after that end point, you go back to the great temple of Annamalai and you submit to HIS blessings and instructions before going back to your family or place from where you have come from to take part in the Girivalam."

"Similarly, when you return to the Girivalam ," He continued, "You start at the Indra Lingam temple, or you start at the Annamalai temple and come to this place. When you come here, you take an oath or a promise or an affirmation, that you have left behind everything to start on this circular journey around the sacred Arunachala. You proclaim to yourself that you have left behind your family, your work, your commitments and your worries and sorrow, your happiness and joy, your burden and your friends. You come here as a mendicant, and you proclaim that you are nobody. It is only then that you are able to truly commit to the pilgrimage and to the walk on the Girivalam

The youngest of the three brothers, Bhaskar, asked, "Swamy, how can one do that? How can one simply forget all his worries and problems? How can one forget his happiness, just like that? What is the need to do so? We are here, to dedicate ourselves to the sacred Arunachala, and I understand that. Whenever we walk on the sacred Girivalam path, we are truly devoted to the divinity. We chant the mantra as we were instructed to. We follow all the precautions and the practices. Is that not enough? Why should we clean up and wash out our mind in the manner in which you explained? Pray, forgive me for my questions, but I am curious and your answers would help me."

"I fail in my attempt to cleanse myself, all the time," Mr. Alavandar replied, smiling, "I understand your questions and your concern. I have never succeeded in forgetting everything. I try. Because I know that this is required, I make the attempt. If you would not know, how would you try to forget and how would you be humble in the beginning of the path? We come with our assumptions about our importance. Believe me, for I know this to be very true. We are nothing. Absolutely nothing. Nobody knows us, and nobody is interested in us, in our thoughts or in our lives. Even within our families, friends or colleagues, nobody is actually interested. They listen to our experiences when we speak about them. But, they are impatient to get on with their daily tasks and with their lives."

"Let me give you an example. You go to the Sri Ramanashram with me and let us visit the book stall. Let me explain the Ashtavakra Gita book that is available there. I will explain some of the passages in those pages to you, while we would be at the book stall. How many of the other devotees who are there, in that book stall, actually interested in that particular book, would be actually interested in hearing me trying to explain it? None. They would purchase that book, but how would they understand it? For all this, you need a teacher. Similarly, when you are on the Girivalam path, you need a teacher. And you need instructions.

"Kuchela, the eldest of the three brothers, said, "Yes, Swamy, I agree. I have never been able to read even the Bhagavad Gita, from the first page to the last, all by myself. There have been many different volumes in our house. But, none of us sat down seriously to read it from cover to cover. And, I am not able to understand that we need a teacher, and instructions when we are on the Girivalam path. How is that?"

Mr. Alavandar laughed at the example that Kuchela spoke about, and replied, "Yes, my brothers, what I say is correct. When you accept a teacher, you accept his guidance. When you come to the big temple of Annamalai, you are merely informing HIM that you are going to start on the path. When you leave the big temple and you start walking to the Indra Lingam temple, you are preparing yourself. Your thoughts are on your footwear, your clothes, the need for water, some snacks to be eaten and your fear for your money and other belongings. But, when you are at the Indra Lingam temple, you are actually beginning the walk. At that moment, when you worship, you accept Arunachala
himself, as your teacher, as your guru."

"When you accept Arunachala, within your heart and within your mind, as your teacher, you surrender totally to HIM. There is nothing left but to accept HIS instructions. HE gives you that guarantee, and also asks you to leave behind everything, for each step on this pradakshana is going to be in dedication to HIM. Nothing belongs to you during the path and every thought and every desire should be in dedication to HIM alone. If you have to think about your family, you could have brought them with you, and you could enjoy the walk together, without any attempt at immersion with Arunachala himself. For HE is happy that you are happy and that you walk along with your loved ones, even if they are friends."

"But when you are alone, and you walk on this path," Mr. Alavandar continued, totally engrossed in his own words, "you begin to allow your mind to wander. Your mind goes back to your family, to your workplace, to your problems and to your moments of happiness and achievements. You do not contemplate the sacred divinity of Arunachala.

Why do you come here, if you cannot actually be here, in mind and spirit? That is the reason I take up much time at the beginning here, at Indra Lingam, lost in my thought and deliberately washing everything away. I sit there and contemplate on my thoughts, and pick them up, one by one, and throw them away. I try to reach a point where I do not have any more thoughts. But, I have never succeeded. I try and try again. But, this most difficult struggle with myself, at the beginning of the Girivalam path, is the most tiresome. It defeats me completely."

Gopinath asked, amazed, "You never succeed? Then, if you have tried so many times, how can we succeed? Why do you try so many times when you know that it is difficult?"

Mr. Alavandar replied, "It is not the defeat that puzzles me. It is the struggle that amazes me. I know that I want to dump my thoughts. I know that I want to reach a silent place in my mind. I know that I am ready to forget and dump all my baggage. But, I fail. Why can I not empty myself? Am I so obstinate? Is my mind a very different organism? And, as I walk out of the Indra Lingam temple, I make one last attempt. I forget this struggle also. I leave the battle with my mind at the Indra Lingam temple. I go out of this temple as a happy man. I have tried. I am ready to go out there, and surrender to my beloved Arunachala. Come, let us walk out together and breathe in the amazing air that finds its way from the sacred peak and comes in search of us and blesses us."