Tiruvanamalai - To Meet the God Himself

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September 28th 2013
Published: November 17th 2013
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Sometime I do a have a question for myself whether I really do believe in god or it was the myth which drives me to ‘bow’ in front of the Almighty. Life was playing a hard ball with me and I was traumatizing on how to deal with it. I knew that sooner or later I had to stand in front of any temple seeking blessings and pouring ‘amens’. This Southern part of India mainly Tamilnadu has a lot of Temples to offer. Almost all of them has some or the other religious ‘to do’s’. It was really a long list to chose from. Above all, to any temple, I just stand motionless and enjoy the architecture, the religious beliefs and moreover the colorful offerings. Don’t know if that makes my god a happy one. This last week of September shows the pathway to a few of the upcoming celebrations like Dussera,Diwali which makes an utterly chaotic crowd to rush to all the temples forming a ‘mini Chennai’ everywhere. So, I had a few days left to call for one of them.

It was a java session with one of my Team members in the office and Baskaran, one of my best buds spoke about Tiruvanamalai and the ‘Holy Giribalam’. Diving down the memory lane, I knew it wasn’t far from Chennai and can be covered during the weekends. I took it up and finally decided to have a ‘let’s see what is in there’. Here I had to thank my wife for becoming the ‘lone soldier’ holding my fort and asked me to move ahead, all alone. Poor lady, had to stay back to take care of the dogs.

‘Hey, isn’t Thiruvanamali close to Gingee Fort?’, it was the first reaction from my wife.

‘Yes, it is, in fact, if traveling from Chennai, one has to cross Gingee and driving further 50 odd miles, you get there’, I replied knowing that she beholds the dream to stand atop Gingee fort and on a lot of occasions, we decided and later dropped ‘Gingee Fort’ from our list for some or the other priorities.

‘what else? Head it for, but make sure you are going to visit a Temple, not on some photo tour’, I knew that this was coming from her.

‘Yeah, will try but I must take the camera along to show Tiruvanamalai to you through my eyes’, I was smart enough to convince her

‘Yeah, that’s what you say all the time’, she replied with a witty smile.

Saturday morning it was and the first hurdle came out pretty soon. I didn’t have a single lens with me. All of them were sold out recently. My secondary stand by ‘Nikon’ needed some patch work done. Oh !! ‘What would i do now’ was the first reaction and it was enough to spoil the entire plan. I knew that without a camera, I won’t hit the road even it takes all from me. Called a few friends, but they didn’t seem to be not available or had some engagements. Arvind didn’t turn me down as he did in yesteryears. He managed to get me wide angle lens which was enough for me to click at least a few.

I knew that Tiruvanamalai has a rail station too however the train services were not frequent and hence a ride would be nice enough to get me there. Since i moved in to this new house, the Chennai Central Bus Terminus has become an extinct place for me. After chasing the place through google maps, I found that a lot of buses take a pit stop at Perungulathur which is not only a place where I visit everyday for my work but also close to my house. Like all my journeys, I packed a few regular things, a pair of shirts and my best friend, ‘Canon 50D’.

It was 1:30 pm and I was anxiously waiting at the Perungulathur bus stop. I could see all the buses plying to all other places in Tamilnadu but still a ‘no show’ for a bus towards Tiruvanamalai. The watch clicked 2:00 Pm and still I was browsing for one ‘big board’ which says ‘Tiruvanamalai’.

‘Senji, Senji, waanga’, a TNSTSC bus stopped in front of me and the conductor was calling everyone.

‘Tiruvanamalai? Or last stop at Senji’, was my question.

‘Senji, last stop sir, from there take another bus’, he replied in broken English

I knew the locales call ‘Ginjee’ as ‘Senji’ and this place comes between Chennai and Tiruvanamalai. So, I hoped in however as promised my better half to not to visit ‘Gingee Fort’ without her, I decided to keep ‘Gingee’ for a separate tour.

The route was straight, 80 miles hovering through the newly tarred GST road up to Tindivanam which took just over than 2 hours and then the ‘Green Rider’ took a right towards ‘Senji’ or ‘Ginjee’.We had been cruising through the GST road and then after switched to hit the NH 66 which connects between Pondicherry and Krishnagiri. It was muddy and dusty because of some patch work was on. Soon after crossing the market streets and the bustles of Tindivanam, the hills started showing up at the backdrop. I was enjoying every bit of the ride.

‘Senji’ has a strong historical connection to The Legendary Marathas since the Shivaji Era and the fort was constructed by no other than him. I heard that people here in ‘Senji’ still speak Marathi dialects and traders,army personals from ‘The Maratha Empire’ visited this place on deputation and finally grew their roots. Though I didn’t notice any bit of Maharashtra anywhere. However, it was a scenic drive for another 1 hour covering 18 miles and the bus reached ‘Senji’. I was in the middle of a busy bus stand of a tinsel town with a few daily dwellers rushing here and there. The bus stand itself had some views to offer, small hills surrounds the zone and a few ancient artillery establishments were also visible atop. I was feeling hungry as the lunch got settled somewhere in between. After grabbing a quick bite, I was at the ‘Senji’ bus stop again and in 5 minutes I saw another ‘Green Rider’ with a ‘Tiruvanamalai’ written in big and bold. I saw a few people dressed in all saffrons marching through the road and later I saw them in Tiruvanamali as well.

‘Senji’ to Tiruvanamalai’ was merely an hours drive however this bus took almost 90 minutes to reach. We crossed small villages in between. All of them look pretty similar with a big bus stop, a few shops and smiling local people. We crossed Malampundi, Killpenathur, Kadambai and then finally reached Tiruvanamalai Bus Stand at 6:00 PM.

‘Oh ! Fantastic’, that’s what I could say after a first glance at the ‘Arunachalam Hill’. The moment you get down at the bus stop, the first mighty monolithic hill will greet you and that’s Arunachalam, the almighty himself, Lord Arunachaleshwara.

‘The spiritual heart of the world’ that’s what Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi described Arunachala Hill in one of his preachings. ‘Aruna’ means ‘red’, like a fire and this is ‘Gyanagni’ or the ‘Knowledge of wisdom’. ‘Achala’ means ‘Immovable’ and hence The Arunachala Hill is the ‘Hill of Wisdom’ The column of Engulfness.

I had to find a place to stay. Hence, I deiced to stay close to the main ‘Arunachaleshwara Temple’ which is just a mile away from the Main bus stand. Unlike other Temple Towns like Varanasi, Ujjain, Puri Tiruvanamalai is a small one one if compared and maintains the tidiness from all aspects. I found most of the lodges and the hotels next to the main entrance of the Arunachalashwera Temple. I found myself settled in one of them. Clean rooms with attached toilet was offered for Rs.300 @day and before the Hotel guy changes his mind, I took the offer. It was almost 7:00 Pm and I knew I had to complete the ‘Giribalam’ or ‘Giripradakshina’ tomorrow early in the morning.

Most of the devotees who visit Tiruvanamalai do this ‘‘Giripradakshina’ which is walking through the circumference of the Arunachala Hill which is about 9 Miles/14 Kms.

The ‘Giripradakshina’ has two routes, ‘The Outer route’ is a paved one however ‘The Inner Route is through the dense forest and requires permission from the forest dept,Tiruvanamalai well in advance. Myths say that during the ‘Giripradakshina’, one actually goes through the path which has a lot of medicinal plants around the hill whose scents,wafted by the breeze are beneficial to health.

Myths apart, I woke up at 5:00 am early in the morning and after a nice hot water bath, I stepped my feet on the ‘Giripradakshina’ route. I got the necessary ‘do’s and don’ts’ from my hotel folks and accordingly i decided to go barefoot which actually everyone supposed to go while doing the ‘Giripradakshina’. All they said was,’walk slowly’ and keep ample of water with you which was a great help to me later part of the day. I started from the main Arunchalashwara Temple, as a part of the ‘Giripradakshina’ route flows through the streets of Tiruvanamali and my first stop was at ‘Indra Lingam’. To my readers, during ‘Giripradakshina’ one has to visit 9 lingams and they are in as per the following order if started from the ‘Main Entrance of the Arunchalashewara Temple’

1) Indra Lingam

2) Agni Lingam

3) Yama Lingam

4) Niruthi Lingam

5) Surya Lingam

6) Varuna Lingam

7) Vayu Lingam

8) Kubera Lingam

9) Essanya Lingam

Next stop was at Bhagavan Maharshi Shree Ramana Ashram.The place was so serene, calm and peaceful. Peacocks would love to pose for your clicks. A lot of foreigners were also seen at the Ashram. I wished to spend a day t the Ashram, however due to the upcoming Navratri festival, a lot of guests had expressed their wishes before me. If you are really busted and stressed out with you daily city hustles, this is the place you would be spending a few days. I was running out of time and unwillingly left the place.

After visiting first four lingams, I reached Surya Lingam and there one of the most surprising thing happened to me.

I was taking snaps at the Surya Lingam and suddenly found an old lady starring at me.

‘Look at you, why so stressed?’, she really surprised me with her question.

‘Me, stressed ? Yeah, a little bit, nothing major’, was my counter reply

‘No, my son, you look very stressed’, she smiled and asked me to follow her.

Just next to the main temple, there was a small hut and as I entered, I found a very old priest offering his daily puja. The walls were covered with the pictures of all possible god/goddess I have ever come across. The old man was merely in mid seventies or eighties, neatly dressed like a priest and with his gestures, he asked me take a seat. The room was filled with a nice aroma of sandalwood which makes the ambiance a bit smokey but more heavenly.. For a a moment my exhaustiveness were all gone and I closed my eyes and felt I was sinking deep inside of unfathomed depth. He had a nice smile on his face which was pleasing and within minutes I felt home. He asked me to do some practices everyday which would help me to gain confidence. After spending some more time and clicking a few more shots, I said good bye to his family.

I continued with my ‘Giripradakshina’ and clicking shots till 12:30 am almost and during different stages I took pit stops. If you are doing the ‘Giripradakshina’ during day hours, you would get some small shacks selling Tea, Coffee, Soda, Mineral Water and some Fritolays. Keep sufficient changes, as you will definitely meet some saints and they would love to share their experiences, blessings and story of some supernatural incidents that has been moving from mouth to mouth for years.

I reached back to my hotel room at 1:00 PM and after quick lunch, I decided to make visit to the main Arunachaleshwara Temple. The temple reopens at 3:30 pm and there were tickets available for ‘darshana’ based on the size of your pocket. The temple was huge and perhaps the 2nd largest in Tamilnadu after the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai. It has stepped tank and total 8 sanctums. Photography is not allowed inside the temple and I didn’t want to break the rule.

At 4:30 PM, I started from Tiruvanamalai and this time I got a direct fleet to Chennai, finally reached my sweet home at 10:00 PM. I don’t know what I have gained or what else could have done however if you talk about ‘Giripradakshina’ , streets of Tiruvanamalai, small decree (or degree) coffee stalls and mostly the people of Tiruvanamalai had a lot to offer which I believe creates a place for the almighty to stay there. After all it’s the human who created god.

Notes :

Chennai to Tiruvanamalai is about 190 kms, Buses ply in every 20 minutes from The CMBT Bus Stand.

Tiruvanamalai has a few basic hotels/lodges for stay.

During ‘Giripradakshina’ carry some water (must if doing after the sunset)

Try Decree coffee at any of the coffee stalls, the aroma has more to stay

Beware of the monkeys, better not be friendly or aggressive to them.

For ladies, if doing ‘Giripradakshina’ alone, it is better to do it before sunset, some isolated incidents have been reported.

If one can’t walk for 9 miles, ‘Giripradakshina’ can be done by car as well.

To do ‘Giripradakshina’ through the Inner Routes, get permission from the DFO office in Tiruvanamalai.

This is a temple town and each and every house has some or the other myths and stories, better to respect the same and not dig out the originality or root. After everything lies within yourself.

The best time to visit Tiruvanamalai is during Kartheeka Deepam, The next full moon after Deepavali.

Walk slowly during ‘Giripradakshina’, plenty of resting places, toilets have been constructed by the Temple authority.


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