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Published: January 19th 2010
Good-Bye Middle East - Hello India! After 3 take-offs, 3 landings and 3 hours in the back of a taxi we arrived at our first Indian destination - Tiruvannamalai or Tiru for short. It’s located three-hours south-west from Chennai on the south-eastern side of India.
If we turn back the clock six-years, that’s when my Mom and Dad told my brother and I that they were going to India. “What?” It wasn’t the first place we thought they would go for a “holiday.” As the departure date drew near, my Mom decided not to go - I think she finally realised where she was going and decided staying at home would have been better for her; but the curiosity for my Dad however was too strong and he went on his own, going to Tiru and staying with long-time friends of ours from Vancouver, Rudy and Rhonda. A lot happened to my Dad six-years ago in Tiru, and as a result of his trip his spiritual journey became focused, learning about the teachings of Baghavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, who lived in Tiru in the early-1900’s. Now, six-years later this was my Dad’s fourth time to Tiru and Cheryl’s second, and
after only hearing about this place, Kelsey and I could see it and experience it for the first time!
Tiru is a small country-town (that’s 130,000 people - small by Indian standards) that is located at the base of the sacred mountain: Arunachala. The population is made up of mostly Hindus, with Hindu Temples around every corner (some the size of an arm-chair, others with high walls occupying 10-acres) and a small Muslim quarter (the only place in town you’ll find beef on the menu). Tiru attracts spiritual seekers from all over India and the world. Some of these seekers are the homeless Indian Sadhus, who, on their quest towards enlightenment relinquish all possessions, leave their families and friends, sleep on the street with nothing but their orange sarongs covering their body and accept food from the Temples and Ashrams. The other spiritual seekers are the Westerners who occupy the ever increasing number of one- and two-storey apartments during the pleasant months of November to February. They keep the rickshaw drivers driving, local businesses busy, meditate and attend Sat-Sungs (a Q & A period with a spiritual guru) at a number of different Ashrams (spiritual centres) and climb the
sacred mountain to experience the caves where Baghavan Sri Ramana Maharshi lived for part of his life. For us, we just wanted to see the India my Dad keeps coming back to.
My Dad and Cheryl moved out of the cottage they were staying in outside of town, and found us two apartments in the same two-storey building where we could all stay, right in the heart of the action, just steps from the Sri Ramana Ashram. And by action, I mean horns honking at all hours of the night, Sadhus camped out in front of our building, mothers with babies begging outside the gate, cows lingering the streets eating at garbage piles that haven’t been set alight yet, monkeys launching out of trees at anything that looks edible and pilgrims on their way to Praductiona Road where all the Ashrams and Temples are located. When we arrived it was great to see both of them again and we were happy to be there after the long trip from Cairo. After Cheryl whipped us up some delicious Marsala (Chai) Tea, my Dad and her made us a nice spaghetti dinner (didn’t want to rock the taste buds and stomachs
Lot of Colours!
right off the bat), and we discussed a bit of a plan for the upcoming week and then went to bed for some much needed sleep.
The next day was an easy one where we just got ourselves orientated with the area, visited the Sri Ramana Ashram (this is where Ramana’s body was buried), bought veggies at the local (packed) market as well as met “the guy who gets you a cell phone”: Kumar, and our favourite Rickshaw (Tuk-Tuk) driver: Annand.
The next day was New Year’s Eve and unfortunately Kels woke up with a fever and had to submit to staying in bed and riding out the chills and sweats that came with it. She however urged me to go out with my Dad and do some of the things that were planned for this auspicious day.
Now first we have to tell you about this word auspicious… possibly the most popular word in the Hindu dictionary. In my dictionary it reads like this: “promising well for future: marked by lucky signs or good omens, and therefore by the promise of success or happiness”. But for the locals anything can be auspicious - that cow, this
Ghee Oil Lamp
coconut, that sale, this morning, that mountain - everything. It’s actually a nice outlook on life, they get so excited about everything because it will bring them success and happiness - auspicious is good if you ask me! So today was New Year’s Eve (auspicious), as well as the celebration of Ramana’s Birth Date 130-years ago (very auspicious) and if that wasn’t enough it was a full moon (extremely auspicious). During each full moon throughout the year pilgrims make their way around Praductiona Road, the 14km road that circumnavigates Mt Arunachala, to give homage to Lord Shiva and many other Hindu Gods at the Temples located along the way. So these three simultaneous events (as well as the visit by two kids from Vancouver Island) made today an incredibly auspicious day (!!!) and one not to be missed.
While Kels tried to sleep off her sickness, my Dad, Cheryl and I went for breakfast at the Sri Ramana Ashram. We stepped into the dining hall where there were over 200 handmade palm plates set out in rows along the ground with a metal cup with (filtered) water and another empty metal cup to complete each setting. As we filed
in, we walked past pictures of Ramana taken throughout his life, and sat down with all the others. Now for those of you who don’t know, I’m not much of a “leg crosser” and am completely hopeless when it comes to sitting cross-legged on the floor, but I managed to get my butt on the floor and then kind of wiggled my legs back and fourth uncomfortably…quite a site! (I always envy people who can sit comfortably cross-legged with straight back and great posture - I’m realizing quite quickly that it comes in handy in India!) Shirtless, barefoot men came around with buckets and ladles and served out each component of the meal - rice, dahl (a creamy kind of curry), brown sugar (to counter the heat of the curry) and milk coffee. Everything, except the coffee, was ladled onto the palm-plate on the ground and it was time to dig in. No forks, no spoons, and no way you were going to get that flimsy leaf close to your mouth; just hand to mouth (right-hand that is) all while sitting (oh so comfortably) cross-legged. I think I did alright, I watched the locals and the foreigners around me, there
Well Endowed God
Her name: Parvati
was definitely a trick to getting the mushy mix up to your mouth, but I only slopped once on myself and ate the whole thing, so I’d consider it a success. And it was good too! (It was also free - but we made a donation.)
With food in our bellies we left the Ashram and headed for the walk up Mt Arunachala to visit the two caves where Ramana lived (mostly in silence) for 23 years of his life. The hike was nice and brought us to great, but smoggy, views over the city and the big 10-acre Arunachaleswar Temple. At each cave there were people meditating inside and you could feel that there was more then just darkness inside them. We made it back down to our apartment before it got too hot and relaxed inside for a while. Later that day, as the sun began to set, things really started to get busy outside our place on Praductiona Road. More and more people, big, little, young, old, slow, fast, men, women and children were all making their way counter-clockwise for the 14km journey around Arunachala for this very auspicious occasion. My Dad, Cheryl and I left
Kels with Bindi
(the red dot on her forehead)
Kels again and went for dinner at a nice restaurant at a resort called Sparsa. After the meal (I don’t know what my Dad and I were thinking), we decided to join the masses and do the walk. Cheryl, sensibly, went home and by 9:30pm me and my Dad were in the thick of it. Although it was super crowded it was a great experience seeing all the families out stopping at each Hindu Temple along the way, most people in bare feet (usually by choice - it makes it more auspicious!), all the food that was being given away for free to all the pilgrims and of course all the vendors selling everything from cancer curing tonics to Bollywood CDs to sugar cane juice; we even saw a snake charmer with two feisty cobras trying to make a couple rupees. We managed to put in a pretty good effort and made it home just before the clock struck midnight. From an early morning breakfast on the floor, to hiking up and then around a sacred mountain, my auspicious day was over and I was pooped! Happy New Year!!! I’m sure 2010 will prove to be auspicious as well!
Over the following week we were pretty busy and took in as much as we could and spent some great time with my Dad and Cheryl. I went with them to a Sat-Sung at the AHAM Ashram (this is the one my Dad went to six years ago and has been connected to since), Kels and I went to another Sat-Sung where we saw a teacher by the name of Mooji (a Carribean-English, once incense seller in London, who now travels the world to discuss spirituality, awareness and consciousness to spiritual seekers), we did a day trip to the east coast French town of Pondicherry situated on the Bay of Bengal, we hiked the inner-praductional path (around the mountain through the forest, rather then on the street), we had fantastic home-cooked meals (even a bottle of Indian Shiraz-Cabernet), had great conversations and met their local friends Paneer and Suji and their family who invited us to their house to eat with them on two separate occasions (Suji is an amazing cook, and likes it hot! We loved it too!).
Through the beggars, the homeless Sadhus, the open grey-water ditches, the dust and the dirt, the burning garbage, the cow
shit and the honking horns; Tiru really is a beautiful place. And even though it sounds cheesy, you can really feel the Love in Tiru as a result of the mountain, Ramana, and all the people on their path to find peace within and acceptance of all. When that happens, even the cow shit looks beautiful (as it just so happens they dry the cow patties on concrete walls and stick flowers in them and use them later for fuel for fires…beautiful!). We had a great nine days in Tiru with my Dad and Cheryl and it was really cool to see “my Dad’s India.” By the time we left, Kels was back to great health and I had even managed to get over my nagging cold that was still bugging me from the Middle East. With healthy bodies, enriched hearts, auspicious outlooks and bags full of Tiru Love we said good-bye to my Dad and Cheryl and the friends we made in Tiru and headed out of town by public bus to the train station and then onwards to the beaches of Varkala…but that’s another story…
Until Next Time…
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