Friday, May 30, 2008

Giri pradakshina

I am going to start today by giving a rendering of Sri Arunachala Pradakshina Manbu, a ten-verse poem in praise of giri-pradakshina (walking around the mountain of Arunachala) composed by Sadhu Om. Like his Guru Ramana Maharshi, Sadhu Om was a great believer and proponent of giri-pradakshina. And not just a proponent. He ‘walked the walk’ as well, doing giri-pradakshina several times a week. In the tenth verse of the poem there is a reference to King Vajrangada. By way of an explanation, I have added the whole story of this king, as it is narrated in Arunachala Mahatmyam [The Greatness of Arunachala], a Sanskrit text, probably about seven or eight hundred years old, that appears in the Skanda Purana.


If those who, because of fickle-mindedness, feel too incapable to practise Self-abidance, self surrender or ashtanga yoga, want to do a worthy tapas, equally effective but very easy, let them go round this Hill [Arunachala] more and more.


Though you are so weak-minded that you are unable to resist the attraction towards the false worldly pleasures, your mind will automatically be made strong and ripe to the extent to which you humbly and lovingly associate with Sat-purushas [those who abide in Sat].


How? Just as even a banana tress will become dry and will catch fire when it is caught in a big forest fire, so the minds of those who associate with Sat will achieve great love [bhakti] for Self, even without their knowing it.


Sadhus [i.e. jnanis] are verily Sat. Those pure ones are not different from Self, sat-chit-ananda. Know that the peerless gross form of Sat is the hill, Arunachala, which is shining here. Therefore, be always here.

[Note by Sadhu Om: there is no more powerful satsang than to live near Arunachala and to do giri-pradakshina, that is, to walk barefooted around Arunachala, keeping it to one’s right.]


Going round the Hill, a dual activity, is quite contrary to all other dual activities, which are casting us away from the centre [the Self]. It is the only dual activity which never casts us away from the Centre, the sun [of the Self]. Therefore, do this.


A cow grazing round and round its peg does not know that the length of its rope is thereby decreasing. Similarly, when you go round and round Arunachala, how can your mind know that it is thereby subsiding [i.e. that its vrittis are thereby shrinking]? Tell me!


When the cow goes round more and more, at one point it will be bound tightly to its peg. Similarly, when the mind lovingly goes more and more around Annamalai [Arunachala] which is Self, it will finally stand in Self-abidance, having lost all its movements [vrittis].


It is a well-proven truth that the minds of those devotees who ever go round Annamalai achieve great love to turn within towards Self. Annamalai is the blazing wild Hill of Fire [the fire of knowledge, jnanagni] which burns all our worldly desires to ashes.


When iron is rubbed against a magnet, the magnet turns all the multifaceted and scattered atoms of iron to face only north-south, and hence the ordinary iron is transformed into a magnet. Likewise when the devotee goes around Annamalai, the supreme and divine magnet, it turns his mind, which is scattered and made multi-faceted by desire, towards Self and thereby transforms it into Self.


The story of how King Vajrangada finally lost all attachments and desires and achieved purity of mind and asked the Lord only for the boon of liberation [moksha], even though he had begun doing Arunagiri-pradakshina with a petty desire to be fulfilled, is an apt illustration of this [that is, all that has been said in the above verses].

The following account of the story of King Vajrangada is taken from Arunachala Mahatmyam. It is translated by M. C. Subramanian and first appeared in the July 1977 issue of The Mountain Path.

Chapter twenty-two

‘The benefits of circumambulating the Aruna Hill and the story of Vajrangada’

Markandeya said:

‘Sivananda! Lord Nandikesvara! I have listened with great joy to your narration of the glory of the Red Hill. But how did Vajrangada, the Pandya King, show his indifference to this Hill, and how did he regain with difficulty his prosperity through Its grace?

‘Again how were the Vidyadharas named Kantisali and Kaladhara saved by the Lord of Arunachala from the curse of Durvasa?’

Nandikesvara replied:

‘Son of Mrikandu! It is on account of your steadfast devotion to the Lord of the Bhutas [Siva] that you have become immortal [chiranjivi]. Listen, I shall describe to you …the events connected with the Red Hill about which you have asked me. In days of yore there lived a Pandya King named Vajrangada. This earth was like a puppet in his hands. He always followed the dharma and was just, dignified, skillful, patient, calm, humble and intelligent. He was an observer of the vow of monogamy, a worshipper of Siva, a lucky person and a man of virtuous conduct. After conquering his enemies, he ruled over all the kingdoms from Kedara [in the Himalayas] to Setu [in the extreme south].

‘Once he set out hunting, mounted on a noble horse, and entered into a forest which extended as far as Arunachala. Seeing a fine civet cat, he desired to capture it and urged his horse towards it. The cat fled round [the whole circumference] of the Sona Hill [Arunachala] clockwise, with the speed of the mind. After the horse he was riding also did so, the king fell down, overpowered by weariness. Like a person who is thrown out of Svarga [Heaven] after enjoying the fruits of his good deeds, the king fell down and lost his senses.

‘He said to himself: “How did I, for no reason, lose my strength? Where is the horse which carried me? It is not to be seen.”

‘Pondering thus, he became confused and bewildered. At that moment there appeared a light in the sky like a flash of lightning. Even as he looked at it, the cat and the horse left their bodies on the earth and rose into the sky [in the form of celestial beings] wearing crowns, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and upper and nether garments of yellow silk. The king stood looking at them in wonder.

‘They showed their bright forms as if to remove the darkness of his confusion and said, “O King, do not grieve. Know that we have both been thus transformed by the glory [grace] of the Sona Mountain [Arunachala].”

‘At this the king became cheerful and asked them humbly with clasped hands: “Who are you? How did the three of us become connected to one another? Please tell me. Is it not the nature of great souls to protect those who are helpless?”

‘Upon this Kaladhara, at the command of Kantisali, turned to the king and said: “O King, in our previous lives we were friends. Once both of us went to the wood on the Meru Mountain on which Durvasa was practising austerities. It cannot [ordinarily] even be thought about by the mind. But we penetrated a long distance into it. Flowers were blooming everywhere.

‘“Although humble, we were ignorant. Kantisali proudly roamed about noisily hither and thither in a garden of flowers. I was attracted by the scent of the blossoms and began to pick them. At that moment, the sage Durvasa who was seated on a tiger skin under a tree and glowing by virtue of his austerities, like a blazing fire, looked at us with quivering lips and knitted brows as if he would scorch all those who were before him. We trembled.

‘He said: “Who are you unmannerly fellows? How have you come to be so arrogant? You have become moths in the blazing fire of my anger. Even the sun and the moon dare not set foot in this sacred wood, which is meant for my austerities. It is reserved for the worship of Siva alone. The wind shall not blow in it, nor shall bees enter it. The sinner who desecrated this place by walking through this sacred place shall be born as a horse and carry others. The other who was enamoured of sweet scent shall become a civet cat at the foot of a hill.”

‘In this way he cursed us.

‘On seeing the rishi who had hurled the thunderbolt of a curse, we were alarmed and humbly surrendered ourselves to him.

‘We prostrated ourselves before him and, holding his feet with our hands, said: “Your curse is terrible. It will not go in vain. Kindly tell us when and how it will come to an end.”

‘Seeing our distress that king of sages took pity upon us and mercifully became calm.

‘Turning to us he said: “Fools! The curse cannot be lifted by any act except that of circumambulating the Aruna Hill. Once upon a time, when Mahadeva was sitting in state with Indra, Upendra, the Dikpalas and others adoring him, a wood nymph named Nandana offered him a fine fruit. Gajanana [the elephant‑faced god] and Shadanana [the six‑faced god], being boys, both desired to have it. But their father kept it concealed in his hand and said, ‘I shall give it to him who goes round the world first’.

‘“Hearing this, Skanda hastily started going round the world. Vinayaka, on the other hand, went round the Aruna Hill, and quickly came and stood before [his father]. The latter appreciated Vinayaka’s intelligence and, after smelling the top of his head [as a mark of affection], gave him the fruit. He also conferred upon him a boon which made him thereafter competent to fulfill all the wishes of his devotees.”

‘Turning next to the devas and others in the assembly Siva said: “He who circumambulates with devotion the Sona Hill, which is my form, attains a form like mine [saroopya]. He becomes the Lord of the entire world and reaches the highest state.”

‘Having fallen into the ocean of anger of the extremely irate sage and being tormented by the black [kalakuta] poison of his curse, we took birth as a horse and a civet cat on the earth.’

Chapter twenty-three

‘The story of Kaladhara and Kantisali’

Kaladhara continued:

‘This Kantisali was born as a horse and became your mount. I became a civet cat and roamed about the foot of this Hill. We were fortunate enough to circumambulate it as a result of your desire to hunt. You are a great soul. But, as you circumambulated on a mount, you met with this misfortune. As we went on foot we regained our old state. O Indra among Kings! Although we were born of animal wombs, we were liberated in this manner as we came into contact with you. We shall now go to our region. May you be fortunate.’

[Note: there is a prohibition on doing pradakshina in a vehicle. The civet and the horse lifted their curse by doing their respective pradakshinas on foot as the king chased them round the hill, but the king himself derived no merit from his own pradakshina since he was using a vehicle. Instead, he met with an accident.]

‘Thereupon, with clasped hands, the king made his obeisance to Kaladhara and Kantisali, who were on the point of returning to their own region, and said, “You have been rescued from the sea of your curse. What about my release? When I think about it, I feel miserable. My life breath seems to be departing from me. The might of fate is clear.”

‘When he spoke thus, Kaladhara and Kantisali said: “Listen carefully to what we say about the manner of your release. Make the mind pure, control it and surrender it to Siva, who is the cause of the creation, sustenance and destruction [of the world]. You have clearly realised from what happened to us that the Lord of the Aruna Hill is a repository of compassion and that His glory is great. Circumambulate the Aruna Hill on foot. Worship the Lord of Aruna (who is fond of civet) with flowers smeared with civet. Build quadrangles and towers according to your ability. You will gain your object. You will become superior to Puru, Mandhata, Nabhaga, Bhagiratha and others.

‘After speaking these words they rose up [into the sky]. Vajrangada who had listened to their words no longer had any doubt. He became devoted to the Lord of the Aruna Hill.’

Markandeya said:

‘Bhagavan! I have listened to your nectar-like story. I have also listened to the story of the Vidyadharas [Kaladhara and Kantisali]. How long and in what manner did Vajrangada worship Siva? How did the Lord of Aruna bless him?’

‘When he asked this Nandisa replied, “Vajrangada abandoned the idea of returning to his kingdom and erected a dwelling place for himself at the foot of the Aruna Hill. His army, consisting of elephants, cavalry, chariots and infantry and his spiritual advisers, ministers, commander-in-chief, friends, relatives and servants came to see him. He received them with a steadfast mind, stopped them outside the city and dedicated the entire wealth of his kingdom to the Lord of the Sona Hill [Arunachala] for his service.

‘He built a hut of leaves for himself near Gautama's ashram and, along with his spiritual advisers, engaged himself in devout worship of Siva. He crowned his son Ratnangada king. He worshipped the Lord of Sona with the numerous articles sent by the latter. He dug ponds round the hill, founded villages for brahmins, planted gardens and made gifts to brahmins. As the country round the Aruna Hill, the column of fire, was a dry area, he dug hundreds of ponds and built numerous reservoirs. He ordered the beautiful ladies in his retinue to render service to the Lord of Sona.

‘He took delight in worshipping the Lord of the Aruna Hill in the company of Agastya who had arrived with Lopamudra. Every day he bathed in the Navanithatirtha, bowed devoutly to the Lord of Papanasapravala, worshipped Durga, the slayer of Mahishasura and the destroyer of evil, and collected the articles required for the worship of the Primal Lord who is constantly adored by Brahma and Vishnu. He went round the hill on foot twice daily, repeating the mantra of five letters [Nama Sivaya] all the time. He celebrated on the full moon day of the month of Kartik the great festival of the beacon famous in all the three worlds.

‘He had the three-eyed Lord [Siva] bathed with water kept in golden pots and scented with fragrant flowers and camphor. Every month he raised the flag and celebrated festivals like Teerthavari and the festival of chariots to the delight of the three worlds. He levelled the three-yojana-long road round the Aruna Hill and made it fit for even rolling round the Hill [anga-pradakshina]. Every now and then he cried “Lord of the Aruna Hill! Ocean of the Nectar of Compassion! Lord of the goddess Aruna!” and became immersed in an ocean of bliss. In this manner he pleased the great Lord.

‘He anointed the Lord of Aruna every day with various unguents, poured panchamrita [a mixture of five sweet ingredients] over him, offered camphor and other fragrant substances to him, worshipped him with fragrant flowers, adorned him with garlands and anointed him with civet. In this manner he worshipped him the whole day for three years. The Lord of Aruna thereupon appeared before him.

‘He was mounted on a bull, majestic like the Himalaya mountain, was accompanied by the Goddess Uma and rishis and followers [Siva ganas] shouting “Jai! Jai!” [Hail! Victory!]. The nectar of compassion which flowed from the glances of his lotus-eyes rose like an ocean of rolling waves. They relieved the distress of the world. On seeing the God of Gods Vajrangada fell at his feet on the ground and prostrated with all the eight limbs touching the ground [ashtanga vandanam]. Overcome by joy, he clasped his hands respectfully and spoke as if he would make the darkness [ignorance] of the world vanish by the light of his words.

‘He said, “Lord of the Devas! Kindly forgive the offences committed by me, an ignorant man under the influence of his great sins.”

‘When he prayed very humbly in this manner the Lord of the Aruna Hill, the embodiment of the ocean of mercy, said:

‘“Child ! Fear not! You are blessed. I assumed eight forms solely for the sake of all beings. Formerly [i.e. in your previous life] you were Purandara [Indra] on the Kailasa mountain. As you were very arrogant you, scorned me. I therefore paralysed you. Immediately you ceased to be proud; you were ashamed. You prayed for the wisdom of Siva which is the source of all kinds of glory.

‘“I said: “Indra! Bearer of the Vajra weapon! You shall be born on earth as Vajrangada and obtain my grace.

‘“Therefore you were born in this place which is sacred to me. As you were ignorant, you were instructed by the Vidyadharas and others. You are [now] my great devotee. I am pleased with your worship and service. I shall now instruct you. Listen.

‘“This world of moving and stationary beings is made up of my eight forms, namely, ether, air, fire, water, earth, sun, moon and the individuals [jivas]. I, as Time, bring together objects, individuals and the way of action [gati]. As for me I transcend the fundamentals [tattvas] ; there is nothing beside me who am Siva.

‘“Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra, Indra and other Devas are a few waves which have arisen from me, I who am an ocean of effulgent bliss. Vani, Lakshmi, Kshama, Sraddha, Prajna, Svaha, Svadha and others area few of my unlimited powers. Goddess Gauri, the Mother of the world, is my great power known as Maya. It is through her that the universe appears and disappears. Creation, sustenance and. destruction take place through her. I display, out of my free will, this wonderful world, which is like a picture. Your delusion has disappeared. You shall, by my grace, hereafter investigate [the truth]. You are not separate from me even as the waves are not different from the sea. Therefore you obtained a kingdom. You shall enjoy these luxuries as tokens of my grace. Afterwards you shall become Purandara [again] and enjoy the celestial luxuries for a long time. Finally you will certainly become united with me.”

‘Saying this Siva disappeared. King Vajrangada continued to worship the Lord of Sona and enjoy everything.

‘I have [thus] described to you the glory of Siva, the importance of devotion and the benefits of circumambulation of the Hill. What more is necessary?

‘Circumambulation of the Sona Hill is more meritorious than a hundred horse sacrifices. When it is made at auspicious times it will confer immeasurable benefit. There is no other place except Arunachala, no God except the Lord of the Aruna Hill. The circumambulation of this hill is more meritorious than all austerities.

‘On hearing Nandikesvara speak thus, the son of Mrikandu [i.e. Markandeya)] shed tears of joy and became immersed in a sea of bliss.’


Jupes said...

I love the verses by Sadhu Om and especially that giri-pradakshina "is the only dual activity which never casts us away from the Centre, the sun [of the Self]." I also love the analogy of the cow grazing around its peg. Are we all cows grazing around pegs?

David, what is your experience with giri-pradakshina? Do you walk around the hill regularly? Is there a good walking path around it? Is there also a road around it and is there much traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian? Have you had any particularly profound experiences you'd like to mention?

Also, for those of us who may never get to Arunachala, is there a way to do giri-pradakshina in a virtual way, or would that simply be doing self-enquiry?


Thiru said...

I would love to hear a comment from David as a reply to the prevoius post as I am in Canada and have never performed "Girivalam" except for the fact my children do pradakshina around the Ramana temple at the Nova Scotia ashram in Canada when they attend the summer children camp.

In Bhagawan,

Toronto, Canada.

David Godman said...

Yes, I love the analogy of the cow as well.

In Bhagavan's day people would occasionally ask what the point of pradakshina was. Bhagavan would usually rely, 'Try it yourself and see'.

Those who followed his advice would almost invariably enjoy it and do another soon afterwards. You can't put something like this under a rational microscope and scrutinise it; it's something you have to immerse yourself in. Once you do that, you can feel for yourself the pulling power of the mountain and its ability to silence the mind.

Kunju Swami wrote in his reminiscences that he occasionally went into what he called 'walking samadhi' while he doing pradakshina. He would suddenly find himself a kilometre or two ahead of where he last remembered being, with no recollection of how he ended up there. I can't say that I have even had anything like that happen to me. My experience is more simple and straightforward: pradakshina quietens my mind and makes me want to do it again.

In an editorial Lucia Osborne wrote for The Mountain Path she made the interesting point that Bhagavan never pro-actively prescribed any sadhana except for giri pradakshina. That is to say, he would give you advice on other topics if you asked for it, but unasked, he would tell you to walk around the mountain.

As for the virtual pradakshina, I do believe there is a video on sale at Ramanasramam that has one person, with a camera next to his head, walking all the way around the mountain. I have never seen it, but it sounds like a good way for people who have never been here to get a feel for what it is like. If you want to enter into the spirit of the occasion, watch it on a big screen TV while walking on a treadmill.

Better still, forget the screen and just think of Arunachala while you walk. You are wherever your mind is. If you are walking down the road in Nova Scotia yearning for Arunachala, then, in my humble opinion, you are here on the pradakshina road. More so, probably, than people on the pradakshina road whose thoughts are anywhere except here.

There is an official pradakshina road that has existed for centuries. In the story of Vajrangada it was mentioned that he was a Pandyan king. One of the Pandyan kings, I don't know which one, put official marker stones on the pradakshina route many centuries ago. A few of them are still in place, but most of them have vanished. The stones have two vertical fish, side by side, heads up, tails down. That's the official emblem of the Pandyan dynasty. Above the logo there is a Tamil inscription declaring that this stone marks the official route. Nowadays it is a paved road, so you have to dodge the traffic as you walk, but in Bhagavan's day it was a little-used dirt track.

The official route passes through town, which means that the last two miles of a pradakshina on the official route are busy, urban and noisy. Tiruvannamalai now has a population of about 120,000 and its streets are noisy and congested.

There is an inner path that is well marked by painted rocks. That will take you about two-thirds of the way around the mountain. I usually take that route since it is quiet and forested, and when it rejoins the main road, I head off on a track which goes to Pachiamman Koil. That's where Bhagavan stayed when the municipal authorities forcibly evacuated the town during a bubonic plague outbreak. The temple is a few yards outside the official town limit, so Bhagavan was allowed to stay there. From there I walk through the back streets of town, which are almost traffic-free, past Pavalakundru, where Bhagavan lived in the 1890s, and eventually emerge on Pai Gopuram Street, which is the street between the Arunachaleswara Temple and the mountain. From there it is about a fifteen minute walk to Ramansramam. If I really want to avoid the noise and the crowds, I come back via Virupaksha Cave and Skandashram.

Bhagavan would often choose a route like this, primarily to avoid being mobbed in town. I do it to avoid the traffic and the noise on the last quarter of the walk.

Jupes said...

Wow, this is wonderful, David. Thanks for such a thorough response. It's almost like being there....

Anonymous said...

I've done pradakshina of Arunachala only once and like you said the last two miles were noisy, congested and my mind was hardly on Arunachala! So, thanks to you I now know there is a slightly different but a more quiet path.

Manjushree Abhinav said...

Thank you, David, for saying that yearning for the mountain is equivalent to being there. This does not stop the uearning, though, in fact, I love the mountain more with each mention, each image, each thought that comes my way.
Somehow, it is not the hill itself that comes to my mind as the nooks and corners, the streets and bends, of the temple town, the tea shops, the sand under the feet in front of the ramamnashram, the cows bells, the insence smell,
the nandi facing shiva, it is these images that come to me unbidden when I am doing my daily chores.

Anonymous said...

I've done pradakshina of Arunachala only once and like you said the last two miles were noisy, congested and my mind was hardly on Arunachala! So, thanks to you I now know there is a slightly different but a more quiet path.

Anand said...

Dear Sri David,

Kindly post a pdf version of Sri Sadhu Om's "Arunachala Pradakshina Manbu". This poem is essential for Arunachala lovers like me. But, I'll be off internet soon for a long time & it'll be only the pdf's which will sustain & feed my progress.


Anand said...

Dear Sri David,

Kindly post a pdf version of Sri Sadhu Om's "Arunachala Pradakshina Manbu". This poem is essential for Arunachala lovers like me. But, I'll be off internet soon for a long time & it'll be only the pdf's which will sustain & feed my progress.


David Godman said...

I don't have a copy. Try Michael James on his 'Happiness of Being' blog. He probably has a copy.