Each moment, each step and breath is precious in my travels but the days in Tiruvannamalai were way more special I must say. This is the place where a remarkable revolution had manifested itself in my spiritual path. The significance of what I have come across here is priceless, it is beyond words. Without really knowing what a wise spirit it is, an energy somehow leaded me to here. I didn’t question at all, with no hesitation, with no doubt I came here. It was totally intuitive. Then I understood it was the call of Ramana and Arunachala. It was a pure blessing to be in this powerful place for a month and complete my beloved India journey here.
I am now welcoming you to one of the most precious jewels on earth.
Tiruvannamalai is a temple town and a major pilgrimage center in Tamil Nadu state in southeast India. Therefore the town hosts some important ashrams and attracts ever-growing numbers of spiritual-minded travellers. Annamalaiyar Temple (above) is one of the most prominent landmarks of Tiruvannamalai. The temple complex is one of the largest Hindu temples in India. Its oldest parts date back to the 9th century.
The most remarkable reason that makes Tiruvannamalai so holy to Hindus is that it hosts mount Arunachala. It is a 800m high volcano that is the heart of Tiru or even the heart of the whole world for some people due to the immense magnetic energy it holds. Hindus believe that Arunachala is Lord Shiva himself whereas holy places like Mount Kailash, Varanasi, Rishikesh are just residences of him. Arunachala means ‘Hill of Fire’. Fire stands for Jnana (self-knowledge / wisdom).
Shiva is one of the 3 principal Gods of Hinduism. He is an aspect of God’s nature, named as the destroyer that shapes everything accordingly through the will of infinite pure consciousness. Shiva destroys our imperfections to ensure our spiritual progress. He destroys our illusions, desires, ignorance, attachments, impurities and many things that stand between us and God (pure consciousness/absolute reality) as obstacles to our progress and inner transformation. Shiva’s destruction is nourishing and in fact constructive. It is like fire, first devours life and then prepares the ground for its renewal.
During my whole journey in Nepal and India, from the very beginning, the destructive energy what Shiva represents has been beside me, bringing into being what I seek for. Ahh, all this inner fire in me which put my ego amidst the flames and burned and burned and burned it. Now I was truely knowing what this was meant to be. Now I was totally understanding why I was pulled here.
Apart from immersing into the great energy of Arunachala, the other profound gift of coming here was to meet Ramana Maharshi and his teachings. Sri Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) is a South Indian sage who awakened mankind to the practice of self-enquiry as the principal means to remove ignorance and abide in Self-awareness.
So soon I would realize that he was my Root Guru. Guru is the Sanskrit word meaning teacher. In spirituality a Guru is the one who introduce us to the fundamental wisdom. But the Root Guru distinguishes from a Guru through the special connection, an irresistable attraction we feel toward them. When the student is ready, the master appears.
His ashram was the place that set up the suitable environment for me to get to know about him and his teachings. For one month, from early morning till 7 in the evening I was all in the ashram apart from some breaks. Pictures above show the peaceful environment and the accommodations that the ashram provides for you. I stayed in one of these spaces for 10 days then left my place for other devotees and rented a room in the neighborhood.
Ashram’s environment was really so peaceful, neat and clean. Its soft energy welcomed me from the very beginning. I immediately felt home. In the office, dining hall, library or shrines, everywhere, all the people around were so welcoming, helpful, loving and gentle.
I guess we were around 300 people staying in the ashram those days. The picture above shows some of the places at the ashram. First is the common space in front of the shrine that has a well in the center. The second one is the dining hall where the ashram generously serves food and many volunteers offer their selfless service. And the third one is the place of the cows. The deep relationship between Ramana Maharshi and the cow Lakshmi is well-known and since then many cows had been the residents of the ashram.
The building above is the heart of the ashram, it is the shrine of Ramana. It is open all day long and many rituals and ceremonies like pujas (prayers), milk offerings, chantings take place here during the day. How devotional were those evening chants where many women and men were chanting in turns in Tamil language, expressing their devotion and love to Ramana.
People’s clean and elaborate dresses, the offerings with colourful, fragrant, fresh flowers, the incenses used to clean the energies, all were showing the deep respect people have for Ramana and for the space. There was deep peace on each devotee’s face. I was so impressed to see meditation as the core practice amongst each and everyone, women, men, the young ones, the elders. Everyone was introverted. Because the greatest teaching of Ramana is to abide in silence within.
During this whole month I stayed here, I had many chances to speak with the devotees and hear about their experiences. I really loved the way how lovingly they speak about Ramana, how their eyes shine when they feel him. They said each person whose path eventually came here are special souls. Apart from Indians there are also many Westeners here who stay long term. I was so lucky that I met quite a few beautiful people with whom we built sincere friendships.
Each day starts at 6.45 with the milk offering ceremony at the shrine of Ramana. Milk is believed to have purifying qualities and it is a common ritual to offer milk to the lingam that is the symbol of Lord Shiva. During and after this ceremony little Brahmins chant Vedas. Vedas are among the oldest sacred texts in the world that originated in ancient India and have been carefully preserved since then. They are seen as revelations of ancient sages after intense meditation and are considered to be the direct word of the Divine. The underlying teaching of the Vedas is the concept that the individual is not an independent entity but rather a part of the Universal Consciousness.
Brahmins in Hinduism specialise as priests, teachers and protectors of sacred learning across generations. There is a school of these little Brahmins at the ashram. I was preferring to meditate near the shrine at the times of their chantings. They chant in such a powerful way that always enabled me to abide in my silence lightly and concentrate in an intense way.
The place shown on the picture above (up, left) is the room used just for meditation. Ramana’s coach is preserved at its original spot here. And the cow statue we see above is located at the entrance of Ramana’s mother’s shrine which is right next to his. To me mother’s shrine was as precious as Ramana’s. Whenever I entered there, I was shedding tears simultaneously. There is a special mother energy here, a wise feminine energy that is so compassionate, healing, nourishing, protecting, forgiving, loving, embracing. I cherish in it so deeply.
I was sitting here everyday for meditation. One day I experienced something special here. That day through a special vibration in my womb, there arised the sense of motherhood and great compassion in me. Connecting with the feminine source within, I felt the deep and pure need to embrace all the children of the world, comfort them and say ‘It’s ok’. It was so powerful indeed. Then next morning my cousin sent me a text message saying she saw me in her dream last night in which I was pregnant and extremely happy. Yes indeed! A great force had made love with me that day and as a result compassion germinated inside my womb.
Everyday at 10.30 in the morning it was the ‘Seva’ time at the ashram. Seva is a Sanskrit word meaning selfless service and it is considered as perhaps the most important part of any spiritual practice. It is performed to benefit other human beings or society. So every morning ashram offers food to every one that comes. Many Sadhus in the town be ready here for the offering. Sadhus are the religious devotees who travels around living a simple lifestyle, practicing abstinence from worldly pleasures to focus more on spiritual practice. With one of them (above) I had a great connection through the heart. When we were coming across one another in the ashram or on the streets, we were smiling at eachother like two children with pure energies. He had been one of the dear souls I connected there. May him be always happy and free from his suffering.
It was such a pleasure to share the ashram with some beautiful peacocks, many monkeys, cows and dogs. They were bringing diversity to this heaven on earth. Walking barefoot not just in the ashram but also in the town was strengthening my connection with the earth, with Arunachala. The ashram is located on the foothills on this holy mountain. As you see on the picture (above, right) it is clearly visible from the ashram.
Everyday in the afternoon there were readings from the teachings of Ramana accompanied with the explanations to make them more clear to the people. And in the mornings after the breakfast there was a satsang (spiritual teaching) given by dear elder Ganesha who is a devotee and the nephew of Ramana. He was telling so purely about Ramana’s life, his teachings and sometimes about his personal memories with him. Every satsang became like a blessing with his calm, pure and wise way of telling.
One day while he was speaking, a tremendous energy of love arised in me. I started to cry with the instincts, with the senses of a higher consciousness. As the satsang finished, people started to leave the hall. But I wasn’t really able to stand up or stop my silent tears. People seeing me like that, approached me. I remember a woman embraced me from my back, a man held my hand and cried with me. An old man kneeled down in front of me and expressed his adoration to the sacredness of these tears. Ahh it was an unforgettable moment where we shared the profound light and love in the company of each other.
The ashram has an incredibly well organized rich library. I spent many times in between the books, trying to understand the teachings of Ramana. I must say I received the highest understanding of the most fundamental teaching of Ramana, the ‘Self-inquiry’ at the satsangs of Cesar Teruel (above). Satsang can be translated from Sanskrit as ‘to be in the company of true people’. It is an environment where you listen to the teachings of the Guru (teacher), meditate and contemplate together. This allows an individual to elevate the mind from one that is worldly towards a higher level of consciousness. Meeting Cesar here was another blessing and gift of being in Tiruvannamalai.
Cesar Teruel is a Venezuelan spiritual teacher of Advaita Vedanta (non-dualistic existence). After meeting him, I attended his satsangs every day that was somewhere outside the ashram. He was an extremely clear interpreter of the teaching of self-inquiry. He was like a translator to what I wanted to realize about non-duality. He had a great impact on me that deepened my awareness and knowledge. He is not only a self realized person but also a very cheerful one. I loved his immaculate speeches and his laughters. I am so much in gratitude for his heart and intention to spread the wisdom.
Although reading teachings or attending satsangs help the person greatly to get to know about the reality but the real realization unfolds only in the direct experience of the person which always manifests itself in silence (of the mind).
As the ashram was located at the foothills of Arunachala, there was a path starting from the ashram that takes you either to the summit of the mountain or to the Virupaksha cave that is a significant point in Ramana’s life. After attaining realization of the Self at the age of sixteen, Ramana Maharshi came to Tiruvannamalai and didn’t leave it in the following 54 years of his life. He stayed in the Virupaksha cave for 17 years, mostly keeping silence. He gave his teachings ‘Self-Inquiry’ and ‘Who am I?’ here.
At some of the days I was walking to Virupaksha cave and meditating there. In each breath I could feel Ramana’s presence. The space inside this little cave had such an immense energy that I could feel it in my whole body, especially in between my eyebrows and on top of my crown chakra. It was even making me dizzy. Because of this great energy people get kind of addicted to Tiruvannamalai and can not leave here. But Ramana was always orienting the people to go out back in the world.
Tiruvannamalai has a continuous lineage of enlightened souls so it hosts shrines and ashrams of different sages. For instance there is the shrine of Sai Baba of Shirdi (above, left) here. Sai Baba of Shirdi (1838-1918) was an Indian spiritual master and ascetic whose teachings combined elements of Hinduism and Islam in the spirit of Advaita Vedanta. He advised his followers to lead a moral life, help others, love and forgive every living being without any discrimination. He emphasised the importance of performing one’s duties without attachment to earthly matters and of being content regardless of the situation.
And also there is highly respected Yogi Ramsuratkumar Ashram here. (above, right) Yogi Ramsuratkumar (1918-2001) was an Indian saint and mystic. He was once a beggar but a “hidden” Saint during his early periods. After attaining enlightenment he spent most of his time in Tiruvannamalai where eventually his followers built up his ashram. His ashram was holding such a pure all-inclusive energy where I was paying visits and attending some chantings at least 3-4 times a week.
Due to the holy and unfathomable energies here, many unusual souls reside here and many extraordinary stories, miracles take place. One day I lived such a strange and powerful experience here that if I had listened it from someone else, I guess I wouldn’t really get interested, believing that it would the production of that person’s mind. That day when I was passing by another ashram in the town, interestingly a type of an energy pulled me inside, first to the gardens then to a hall full of sculptures of many Hindu deities. In the middle of the hall there was a strange looking man -like an ascetic- laying on the floor. I immediately remembered that I saw this man couple of days ago somewhere else, when he was again laying on the ground surrounded by many Hindus gazing at him. They were calling him ‘The living Shiva’. At that moment it didn’t make any sense. Now he was in front of me just laying on the floor, sometimes rising his head up, sometimes grumbling ungraspable words. Again many people were around him, some looking at him, some praying near him, some prostrating to him.
I approached and sat a couple of meters beside him. Without judging I silently closed my eyes and opened myself. We can access mystical experiences by uniting our minds with the minds of enlightened beings. At that very moment I came across with such a powerful energy that my eyelids started to tremble forcefully. My body turned into a sack, ready to fall. Fear arised, my heart started beat so fast. Then I remembered to open myself only to the wise and healing energies not the destructive ones. It was so strong beyond all the perceptions that I’ve ever experienced till that moment. I barely sat there for 15 minutes beside that unexplainable force. Then I went back to the garden and hold the nearest tree not to fall down. I wished that this was a blessing that immersed in my consciousness. It took some time to come back to my senses again. I directly went to Ramana’s mother’s shrine to balance myself with the compassionate, loving and soothing energies there. That energy kept on being with me for some days. I believe it is still with me after all these years now.
Coming to the end of this essay now, I would like to invite you to the second one regarding my last days in Tiruvannamalai and in India. There you will also find some introductions to the teachings of Ramana Maharshi.