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  1. Greetings ! I wanted to write this for a long time, that is ever since I came back on a pilgrimage to see a holy man in the mountain of Tiruvannamalai. Tiruvannamalai is a holy place (the town was the residence of the Maharishi Ramana) where Lord Shiva is present in the form of "Fire". I will try to tell you all that happened right from the time (one of) my Guru (spiritual guide) called me up and said he is visiting Tiruvannamalai to pay obeisance to a sage there on top of the mountain. It was on Saturday morning that my guru called me to say that he is intending to pay a visit. And whether I was interested to go with him. I wanted very much to accompany him but it seemed that I would not be in a position to go since at that time I had a lot of work to do at office (or so it seemed). But I told him that I will also go and that I will call later and confirm (I was doubtful, not very sure if I could make it) He told me that they (he and two others) will be starting by about 3pm from Madras. And he told me to be there (@ the bus terminus). Later I called him up at his residence and told him that I may not be able to accompany them in the journey and that I will start later and meet them at our destination. It so happened that they had a delayed start (after 5 in the evening) and it seemed the work had been taken care of (they either got solved or the work got postponed) and I was able to go home and start by about 5:30. I took an auto-rickshaw to the nearest bus stand (that is Guindy). And got a bus by about 6pm. It was a point-to-point service (Route number 122PP, a bus that stops only at one or two places, almost nonstop) [the travel time is about three and half hours, the distance about 170 kilometers]. I didn't get a seat to sit and had to stand all through the journey. The bus took the Villupuram Highway (took a right at Tindivanam, towards Gingee. Tiruvannamalai comes after Gingee). The journey took about 4 hours and I was at Tiruvannamalai when it was nearing 10 in the night. After I got down from the bus, I went to the nearest telephone center, called home and told mom that I had reached safely :-). I then enquired at the telephone center (which also had a small eatery, where they gave you hot dosai, parotta etc. I was feeling hungry but the agenda was to find the other three who had already arrived) as to the whereabouts of the temple. They told me to follow the main road and that would take me to the temple. I started walking and on the way I asked an elderly man who was going that way directions to the temple. And guess what he did? He came along with me to show me the temple. When the temple was in sight, he left me. I thanked him and proceeded towards the temple. I had crossed one barrier, which was finding the temple. Now that I had the temple in my sight, I had to find out where the "Mandapam" is located, which is where my guruji told me they could be found. I asked three people who were coming from the temple as to where the "Mandapam" is. They showed me a structure being constructed (the original mandapam was destroyed in a fire and this new one was being constructed in its place. I knew it couldn't be this since it didn't have a roof). I went around the Mandapam (in construction) and tried to locate them. There was a religious speech going on by the side of the mandapam-in-construction. I went around once and couldn't find them. And I went around again (now I was beginning to get worried, what if I couldn't locate them? I consoled myself by saying if I couldn't locate them, I will visit the temple in the morning and go back to Madras). But I also invoked the blessings of the Guruji in my mind and (you wont believe it), when I looked up again my eyes went to a small mandapam (which I had missed on my first round) and I immediately knew that I had found them. And when I went in, there they were sitting on the granite floor of the mandapam. (My Guruji told me, "You are a lucky man". I smiled at him. I was happy to see them, no doubt.) Since I did not have my dinner and was feeling like I could eat an elephant (wrong example, I am a vegetarian), me and Guruji went to a nearby restaurant. Guruji stayed outside to smoke a cigarrette and I went in and ordered "Rava Idli" and then a "Dosai". In the mean time Guruji came in and we talked about things in general. I asked the waiter to give me two bottles of drinking water. (Water they provide in restaurants is usually good, but when we are travelling, we don't take the risk and consume only bottled sterilised water. If you are visiting India, I would advice you do the same.) After I finished dinner, we went back to the mandapam, and were in conversation for about an hour and then went to sleep. There was this problem of mosquitoes (real beeeeeg ones) which was taken care of (to an extent) by burning a "mosquito coil". The next day morning we woke up a little after 4am and one by one finished our morning ablutions in the temple bathroom, and were ready for our trek by 5:30am. We then went into the temple for the morning dharshan of the Lord Annamalai, and other minor and major deities inside the temple. (It is said that there are 330,000,000 devas in the universe) And we started the trek to have the dharshan of the sage. Right from the beginning, we found that it was not going to be easy. The mountain is rocky with a few shrubs here and there. The other two in our group found it easy, because they were stuntmen in films and were very fit people. They just breezed ahead of us, stopping once in a while so that we didn't lose sight of them. The going was rough, we were walking barefoot, and the sharp stones were hurting our feet. After a stage, my guruji felt very tired [he also has a breathing problem, he has a spray (which he inhales thru the mouth) always with him that helps him breathe easily] It was then we noticed a young boy ahead of us slowing down, asked us whether we were going up for the first time and all that. He kept saying encouraging words like "We have almost reached there", "You see that big rock over there, our destination is just a little ahead of that" and so on. He showed us a plant whose leaves which when chewed prevented you from feeling thirsty. I don't recollect the name of the plant now, though. He was with us until we reached the top (the trek had taken us almost 3 and 1/2 hours). It was puja time there. The disciples of the Swami (sage) were performing the puja ceremony and we were given herbal tea as prasadam. Then the Swami's disciples performed puja on the "Lord Arunachaleswara's Feet" which is a big impression of a pair of footprints on a rock at the top of the mountain. We stayed on for another hour and meditated. Then it was time to go back. Everyone of us except the Swami, started trekking down the mountain (The Swami will stay alone at the mountain top until the disciples go back the next day morning) The climb down was really hard (since our feet had become soft after the trek up and the stones were hurting much more than they had on our way up). We were left behind (faaaaaar behind in fact). I and my Guruji were the only people on the mountain at one time. It took us more time than it had taken us to climb up. [ All time we were praying inside, the route was a treacherous one and we didnt have any protective gear, we were at the mercy of the Lord ]. When we were nearing the base of the mountain, I excused myself from Guruji and went ahead to get some cool drinks and brought them back (by the time I went back with the drinks, they were all at the base, including the two stuntmen [who had reached the base a good two hours before us. In fact, they were having a nap when I found them]) We were all thirsty (and hungry too, but we wanted to only drink and quench our thirst) And then went straight to the bus stand, and caught the next bus to Madras. GOD BLESS ! Peace & Love ======= Glossary ======= Auto-Rickshaw = a three-wheeled motor driven contraption that has the driver in front and space for three passengers at the back. (also called tuk-tuk, tuctuc, trishaw, auto, rickshaw, autorick, bajaj, rick, tricycle, mototaxi, or baby taxi) Rishi = Sage/ Holy Man Maha = Great Guindy = Part of Madras city, uptown. Tindivanam = A small town about 15 kilometers from Villupuram Gingee = [Pronounced Senjee] Gingee is known for its famous fort, build by its King Desingu. Beautifully built fort. You can see it from the road. I believe it has a museum inside that has old artefacts. Dosai = Flat pan cake made out of liquid rice flour (cooked on a hot plate) Parotta = Flat pan cake made out of wheat flour [dough] Guru = spiritual guide Guruji = "ji" is added to "Guru" as a mark of respect Mandapam = Structures usually built of granite with pillars (at the four corners) to support the roof, do not have doors, windows etc, open from all sides usually. For the benefit of travellers, to stay in the night, take rest etc Dharshan = To see Deva = Divine being (Angel!?) (at a much more evolved stage than the human, usually without form) Prasadam = Offering made to God and then taken by the devotee with respect. If it is edible then it is consumed, or if it is flowers , it is either worn on the head (women) or placed behind ears (men), if it is holy-ash it is applied (rubbed) on the forehead using your ring finger (where eye-brows meet) Arunachaleswara = Lord Shiva in one of his various forms at Tiruvannamalai Note: This is a reproduction of an essay written many years ago, during the last part of the 20th century.
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