Friday, July 4, 2008

Cleaning the eastern slopes of Arunachala

Here is a link that was sent to me this morning by Richard Clarke:

Arunachala - New Access to Ramana Sites Below Virupaksha Cave: By Richard Clarke

Posted by: Richard Clarke • Jul 3rd, 2008

A group of local Tiruvannamalai people have organized themselves and are doing wonderful work to clean up, repair and open up an area on Arunachala that is near to the popular Sri Ramana Maharshi sites of Virupaksha Cave and Skandanasram.

They have organized as a part of “Global Watch Trust.” You can see more about this organization at This site is not yet updated to include this project.

In this area, this project is cleaning trash, clearing brush, repairing and improving paths, planting, and building benches and meditation areas. It improves access to Guhai Namashivaya Shrine and an ancient Ganesh shrine, and provides a way to reach three hillside caves that are said by local villagers to have been frequented by Sri Ramana. The Trust has been given permission to do this work by The Forest Authority, Arunachaleshwar Temple and Sri Ramanasramam.

The Approach

To get to this area, start like you are going to Virupaksha Cave. Below shows where this ‘road’ meets the street, at the northeast corner of Arunachaleshwar Temple.


Walk up the road until you see, to the left, this street. Notice the blue Global Watch Trust sign on the wall.


Continue walking up the hill.


Here they have made a small shrine at the base of a tree.


Entering the area of the Project

Part of the work done is to clean up trash and clear brush away from the paths. This path is marked with stone borders and shows the effects of trash and brush removal. Keep walking up this path.


When you get the this banyan tree, this is the ‘hub’ for the improved paths that access the various caves and shrines on this part of the hill.

IF you look closely you will see a man reclining on a branch of the Banyan tree. This is one of the key people behind all the activity, a young man who grew up around this part of the hill, Saravan. I think this project is largely Saravan’s vision. Saravan guided us through this area and showed us the work that had been done.


To Guhai Namashivaya Shrine

Turn left at the Banyan tree, and take this new path just a few meters to go to Guhai Namashivaya Shrine. I am told this shrine is about 500 years old.


Here are Saravan and my wife, Carol, outside Guhai Namashiva Shrine. This shrine is an important locale in the history of Sri Ramana Maharshi. This is where he provided answers to questions on slips of paper that became the second of his small books, “Who am I?” This is probably the best known of Ramana’s works.

More information can be found about Guhai Namashivaya at


Up to the Caves

Returning to the Banyan tree, looking up the hill, to the right, outside this photo, is the stone path to Virupaksha cave. Directly up the hill is the path to the caves.

When finished, this area will have a nice stone path in the middle, surrounded by flowers and planting on both sides. There will be benches to sit and meditate and to enjoy this place.


Take the path to caves and a part of the hill that is mainly unseen by visitors.


Looking from the path, Arunachaleshwar Temple can be seen, with gopurams rising above the trees.


One of the Caves

On the path, we pass by a small cave, big enough for perhaps two or three people to sit in.


Old Ganesh Shrine

The next feature is an old Ganesh shrine, with this water tank. This shrine has been vandalized and the Ganesh idol taken. The Global Watch Trust plans to replace this idol.


Here you can see the back of the shrine and the tank.


Another small cave near the Ganesh Shrine. This cave is big enough for a person to lie down and sleep, but not big enough to stand up.


Up the hill to the best of the caves

Climbing further up the path we will get to the crown jewel (I think) of this area.

I would recommend good shoes or sandals and strong legs for the next part of the journey. The path is a bit steep in a couple of places.

Below Carol and Sarsvan are crossing a rock face. Note that they each have clippers in their hands, to work on a bit more brush cutting on the path.


As the path gets higher, the view of Arunachaleshwar Temple is breathtaking. I think the big rock in the midground is a part of Guhai Namashivaya Shrine.


The path continues up the hill. Here it is dirt and pretty easy walking. After this there is a section up through more rocks. This is the only section that I think is tricky. The biggest trick right now is that there is a place where the path goes up the hill and to the left. Take the left. This is not presently marked. Hopefully, this will be done.

Some of this path is a ‘fire road’ up the hill.


Now the cave entrance is visible.

I think this cave is a special place. The people who live on the hill below here say that Ramana stayed in this cave, I guess during what are generally known as the ‘Virupaksha days.’

We have been here just two times and already it is one of our favorite places on Arunachala.


Here is the cave entrance. Saravan and a helper, over the last few months, have put in the concrete walls, floors and benches, and painted them. Flowing water has left stains that make the walls look older than they are.


Behind me on the path, Saravan and Carol have pruning clippers and are cutting back brush from the path.


View from the Cave

Here we are looking east from the Cave across Tiruvannamalai.


Arunachaleshwar Temple view.


Looking up from the cave, we see Arunachala. If you look closely maybe you can see about 3/4 up the photo, on the right, a coconut palm. This is Skandanasram.

If you look closely in the foreground, you will see red oleander flowers. Saravan planted these bushes three years ago. These flowers are used as puja flowers, and he wanted them to be available for those who use this cave for worship.


In the Cave

In the cave, an oil lamp has been lighted.


Carol sits in the cave, meditating.

We think this is one of the special places on this hill. Peaceful and serene, it is a great place to open your heart to Arunachala.


Working on the Mountain - Global Watch Trust

Community Development

The first part of this project was a vision from Saravan as to what could be done in this area, with encouragement from the founder of Global Watch Trust, Sathya. Together they put together a plan and a team to clean up and enhance this part of the Arunachala hill to properly respect the sacred heritage that is here.

An important part of the process has been involving the villagers who live on this part of the hill. This started with a ceremony and a ‘gifting.’ School notebooks were gifted to the children in an evening ceremony that included the local villagers. The purpose of this was to educate the villagers on the importance of this area so they might not use it as a trash dump, and to enlist their help in the work to clean up the hill.

Below is a photo of the books that were to be gifted, and the team from Global Watch Trust.


Here the gifting is being done. Many locals are gathered together here.


As work started, local officials came to the group. Each interaction was similar, starting with “What are you doing?” and “No, you cannot do this.” After some discussion, permission was granted. First were officials from Arunachaleshwar Temple, then the Forest Authority, the Sri Ramanasramam.

The Crew

One big part of the effort was done with a crew consisting of local volunteers and the Global Watch Trust team, shown below. Together they worked to do the major cleanup of the hillside.

our team

So much cleaning and clearing to do

For many years this area has been used for trash. The first thing needed was to clean up the trash.

cleaning the right side on 16th started


Brush has overgrown the paths and area around the Banyan tree. All this needs to be cut away, and cuttings disposed of.

cleaning the bush. so no more littering on here planting will be done soon by morning

While the brush cutting is going on, a part of the team gathers to discuss the details of path repair for this area.

pathway repair discussion

More trash to be cleaned.

pathway rightside cornerplastic team two on the right side

The path cleaned and cleared, ready for repair

Here is the approach path with trash cleaned and brush cleared. Now work must be done to repair the path.

before pathway repaired

Clearing around the Banyan Tree

The ancient Banyan tree is to the left, with rocks built up at its base. In the surrounding area, brush and small trees have grown up, crowding each other for space and sun. They need to be cut back so the area can be opened up and a new path built.


Here they are clearing brush from the base of the Banyan tree.


Results of the Team’s work

The path is repaired

Here is a part of the path shown above that needed repair. Now it is easy and pleasant walking.


Standing proudly by Old Tree

Saravan stands by the Banyan tree. Now it is cleaned up, brush cut back, trash picked up, etc.


What has been shown here is just a part of the job. to continue the job, Global Watch Trust has been sponsoring a small team to work with Saravan to continue with the path building, planting, and improving these areas by adding cement benches to sit and meditate, etc.

There is a need for financial support

Work has stopped for now. Global Watch Trust needs to find people who are able to provide some support for this work.

Global Watch Trust has funded the effort that you see in these pages out of their own funds. Those funds have run out, and for work to continue donations are needed. Evan small donations are a big help. Rs 1000 ($25 or 15 Euros) pays for one day’s work on the project. 40 days work have been done so far, and so much has been accomplished.

If you are able to help, donations can be made through the Global Watch Trust web site. Go to and click the ‘donate’ button. Credit Cards and PayPal are accepted. Also they ask, until their site is updated, that you also send an email to and let them know that this donation is to be used for the Arunachala Hill project.


Anonymous said...

Dear David

Thanks for sharing this wonderful work done by the Global Watch Trust Organization .I will definitely do my best to share this effort to other friends of mine and will also do the best in donating for their efforts .

Subramanian. R said...

Dear David, I read your July 4,
post (rather unexpected) about
Cleaning the eastern slopes of
Arunachala. When I went to
Tiruvannamalai on 31st May,
I saw a notice board about
"Reforestation Programme" also.
It is delightful to know that many
many people are serving in different ways the Causeless Cause.

Jupes said...

It is truly wonderful to see these pictures and to read about the cleanup work that's being done for the sake of the mountain and those who love it. As someone who lives halfway across the globe from Arunachala and who will probably never visit there in person, it is especially touching to see images of the path itself, of the trees and rocks and dirt, and to know that Bhagavan walked right there so many years ago. And it is heartwarming to see all the people who are working to keep this environment a pleasant one. Thank you so much for posting this, David. It is a real treat.

Arvind Lal said...


Reading your post one was a bit touched by your remark about living halfway across the globe and probably never being able to visit Arunachala. Forgive me if I am being forward, but I do feel that even if you have very compelling constraints, all you need to have is a really strong and genuine desire to visit Arunachala and Sri Ramanasramam and you would find that the Grace has unexpectedly brought you across somehow.

I dug up a few inspiring quotes -

[from David’s book “Padamalai”, Pg 344, verse 81, Muruganar writes]

“As I wandered, I know not where, fair Padam (Sri Bhagavan), Supreme Bliss, brought me here to his feet through his sweet Grace and brought me salvation”.

[from the Souvenir “Ramana Smriti”, the article ‘Eternal Bhagavan’; Shantamma, one of the grand old kitchen ladies, writes]

“It was the experience of every devotee, that he who is determined to visit him, inspite of every obstacle, finds that all obstacles somehow vanish”.

[from “Sri Ramana Reminiscences” by G. V. Subbaramayya, Pg 13]

“Then I realized as never before how Sri Bhagavan’s will and not mine own brought me here”.

[from Suri Nagamma’s “Letters”, Pg 35, “A Pair of Pigeons”]

Bhagavan: “Any living being that comes to me [comes] only to work out the balance of its Karma. So don’t prevent anyone from coming to me.”

Alaric jones said...

David the link to these photos seems to have broken

David Godman said...

Thanks for letting me know. If you go to the site that is listed on the second line of the post, you will also get an error message. However, on the right side of that page there is a listing of all the posts offered on that site. If you click on the one that says 'New access to Ramana sites below Virupaksha Cave' you should be able to get the full display. I will paste that whole post onto my own blog and see if it displays there.

You can also try:

David Godman said...

I pasted everything in again, and it seems to be displaying.

Alaric jones said...

Thanks - these fantastic photos were worth the wait too. Is it tradition to concrete up the front of holy caves?

Is this project is related in any way to the 'mountain of medicine' tree planting that was going on a few years ago? That scheme also seemed worthy of our donations.

David Godman said...

Concrete is, unfortunately, the standard material for all repairs and renovations around here. In the 1980s I used to spend a lot of time at Guhai Namasivaya Temple, then a lovely centuries-old complex of buildings. It was renovated and repaired with an excess of concrete, and now it looks depressingly ugly. The same thing happened to Pachaiamman Koil, the temple on the outskirts of town where Bhagavan spent brief periods. A series of repairs and renovations has turned it (in my opinion) into an ugly concrete bunker.

What to do? The traditional way of building with dressed granite is far too expensive for most temple repairers, and anyway, few people have the requisite skills nowadays.

About thirty years ago I gave a small donation to a man who said he was going to renovate one of the temples on the pradakshina road. A couple of weeks later he called me in and proudly showed me what he had done. One of the 'improvements' was whitewashing over a several-centuries-old ceiling painting.

The Mountain of Medicine project is not something that was going on 'a few years ago'. It is the biggest and most energetic of the private projects that is reforesting Arunachala. It plants about 30,000 new native trees on Arunachala every year. The survival rate is about 60-65% after one year. It also makes fire breaks and patrols the hill during the hot season to prevent fires from breaking out or spreading.

It is not connected with the project I posted photos of, but it is still well worth supporting.

Anonymous said...

I come to Arunachala from Chennai every 3 months or so and I have noticed these many improvements and am thankful that there those who have been inspired to put in an effort to keep this Holy Mountain clean. Behind the Ramana Ashram is a tank which also needs a clean up job. Maybe this too will happen in time.

Anonymous said...

I come to Arunachala from Chennai every 3 months or so and I have noticed these many improvements and am thankful that there those who have been inspired to put in an effort to keep this Holy Mountain clean. Behind the Ramana Ashram is a tank which also needs a clean up job. Maybe this too will happen in time.