Sonntag, 14. September 2008

7.3. Circumambulation of the Holy Hill (Pradakshina)

On the Pradakshina-road in 2003

One of the favourite means of expressing devotion to the hill is by walking round it - giri-pradakshina (giri = mountain; pradakshina = circumambulation). The ritual circuit round an object, a person or a temple is a customary act of worship in Hinduism. As Arunachala is the manifestation of Lord Shiva himself and therefore a holy mountain, its circuit has always been regarded as a most important spiritual exercise which sets the mind to rest, helps to attain liberation and the forgiveness of sins and even grants worldly wishes. In the Arunachala Puranam there are several instructions for carrying out the circumambulation on foot, which is recommended to all pilgrims. The traditional circuit is approximately 8 miles long and leads clockwise round the hill.

Milestones, some of them 700 years old, mark the way. Part of the path passes through the town of Tiruvannamalai and on the way one comes across numerous water tanks (teerthams), lingams, shrines and temples such as the Adi Annamalai temple, the shrine of Manikkavasagar and the Durga temple. The Arunachaleswara temple, Esanya math and the Ashram of Seshadri Swami are also on the path. There is also a shorter inner circuit of about 6 miles.

According to tradition the pilgrim moves barefoot and as slowly as a pregnant queen would walk. He/she walks in silence or sings pious songs or recites a mantra. Some days are more popular for pradakshina and on these days devotees flock to Arunachala in great numbers. Deepam, the night during Kartikai when the sacred flame is lit on the top of the hill, is the most popular. Thousands go round the hill that night. Full moon nights are also popular for pradakshina.

Sri Ramana often practised this form of devotion and recommended it to his devotees. He gave the following interpretation for this form of meditation, “Pradakshina (the Hindu rite of going round the object of worship) is ‘All is within me.’ The true significance of the act of going round Arunachala is said to be as effective as circuit round the world. That means that the whole world is condensed into this Hill. The circuit round the temple of Arunachala is equally good; and self-circuit (i.e., turning round and round) is as good as the last. So all are contained in the Self. Says the Ribhu Gita: ‘I remain fixed, whereas innumerable universes becoming concepts within my mind, rotate within me. This meditation is the highest circuit (pradakshina).”27

Usually Sri Ramana and his companions would go around the hill at night, returning in the early hours of the morning. Later it became customary for visitors to assume responsibility for the food (bhiksha) for the day for the small number of Ashram occupants that there were at the time, five rupees being more than enough. Afterwards they would go with Ramana round the hill at night.

The following day everyone took a nap to make up for the sleep they had missed, everyone except Ramana that is. He was not allowed to sleep, as visitors were constantly dropping in. If a new visitor came and spent his bhiksha and asked Maharshi to go round the mountain with him in the evening, he would say to his companions, “Poor man! He had come all the way from a long distance to do giri pradakshina with me. That is why he offered bhiksha. If you told him that I had gone round the hill for three days, he would definitely not allow me to do so tonight. Yet, in his heart of hearts he would be disappointed.” So it happened, that Ramana did not sleep for two or three nights. If he was asked, if the sleepless nights did not affect him, he would reply, “What is sleep? It means resting the mind. But it is only when you have a mind that you need to rest it. However, to be awake all night will bring eye-strain and eye-ache, naturally. But, if you close the eyes and remain quiet for some time, the eye-strain will go; that is all! Then, where is the problem?”28

When people from town learned that Sri Ramana had again started out on pradakshina and would be passing by the town, they would come out to bring him something to eat or to express their feelings of veneration for him. So if he came near Esanya math and the town, he would send his companions ahead. Kunju Swami reports, “So, after sending all the others off, he would cover himself with a shawl and reach the Ashram by a by-path. … If we went round the hill at night, he would, on nearing the town, ask us not to sing or talk loudly as that might disturb the people in their sleep.”29

In 1926 Ramana suddenly stopped going round the hill, although he continued with his regular walks. The cause was a dispute between his younger brother Nagasundaram, who had by now come to live with Ramana, and Narayana Rao, one of the Ashram occupants. Narayana Rao had to stay behind to deal with the kitchen work, while all the others went around the hill, which was not to his liking. When Ramana heard about the argument, he said, “There is a controversy because I go round the hill. You please go round the hill without me.” He said these words calmly but firmly. After this incident he never again went round the hill.

Another reason why Ramana gave up the circumambulation of the hill may also be the fact that the number of visitors had increased enormously. He wanted to be available to all who came to him and he could not accept that newcomers should be forced to wait for his return. He was always keen to avoid troubling or disappointing people. So he now restricted himself to his simple walks.

Sri Ramana encouraged everyone to do pradakshina, even people who did not believe in the effectiveness of this long walk. He once said to his devotee Devaraja Mudaliar, “For everybody it is good to make circuit of the hill. It does not even matter whether one has faith in this pradakshina or not just as fire will burn all who touch it whether they believe it will or not, so the hill will do good to all those who go round it. … Go round the hill once. You will see that it will attract you.”30

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