4 January 2018

Girivalam Path Concretisation: Trees facing death as NGT rules flouted

The below important article on January 4, 2018 by Shanmughasundaram of “The Times of India” is reproduced in its entirety. Please read and circulate.


Tiruvannamalai: Hundreds of trees along the Girivalam path are facing an inevitable death as the state highways department has failed to adhere to the rules laid down by the National Green Tribunal to safeguard the premises.

The authorities from the department have covered the area around the trees with concrete, which eventually leads to degradation of the species and slow, but certain death of the centuries-old tamarind and other tree species along the 14-km stretch.

The highways department had covered areas around the trees on either side of the Girivalam path, particularly the stretch of Sonanadhi forest area while taking up work under the Rs 65 crore Girivalam path widening project, a year ago. The authorities had also cut down several trees for the project. However, it was halted following growing protest from environmentalists, social activities and youngsters, against the felling of trees.

Based on the reports submitted by the committee after two field inspections, the NGT passed a final order directing the district administration and the highways department not to fell trees, maintain 2.5 metre pavements on either side of the Chengam Road, lay 2 metre paver block pavements on the hillside from Chengam-Girivalam Road junction upto Anna Arch.

It also stated that the concrete around the trees should be removed for 1 metre radius around the tree trees. The order was passed on May 31 last year. "It is more than seven months since the NGT passed its final order. But the authorities fail to adhere to the order that also spoke about preserving the bio-diversity and mass plantation to restore the lost green cover," said an activist.

The NGT took the issue suo motu and constituted a two-member committee, comprising retired Judge J A K Sampath Kumar and former principal chief conservator of forest T Sekar, to conduct field inspections

Based on the reports submitted by the committee after two field inspections, the NGT passed a final order directing the district administration and the highways department not to fell trees, maintain 2.5 metre pavements on either side of the Chengam Road, lay 2 metre paver block pavements on the hillside from Chengam-Girivalam Road junction upto Anna Arch.

It also stated that the concrete around the trees should be removed for 1 metre radius around the tree trees. The order was passed on May 31 last year. "It is more than seven months since the NGT passed its final order. But the authorities fail to adhere to the order that also spoke about preserving the bio-diversity and mass plantation to restore the lost green cover," said an activist.

The trees for a stretch of nearly 300 metres along Griivalam path (Sonanadhi Reserve forest) are covered with concrete. "It looks like people are strangulating, squeezing the life out of each and every tree. The officials did it intentionally to get rid of the trees ," he added.

Several trees, covered with concrete or debris, have withered. "If the concrete and debris around the trees not removed at the earliest, the stretch will lose its green cover," said another.

Nearly 200 trees needed proper care. Of them, 70 to 80 trees are completely enclosed with cement. They would die soon, if the officials did not act as per the NGT order, yet another activist said.

Officials shrugged off the issue saying they would restore earth around the trees at the end of the project, alleged the activists, and added by the time they complete the project, half of the trees would wither away.

Senior official in highways department said they have taken up the work for 2.6 km on Girivalam path (Kanchi Road stretch) and they have been leaving 1 metre space around the trees. Once the work is completed, they would take up works in other areas and remove the concrete around the trees.

3 January 2018

Arunachala's Elephant Rukku off to Rejuvenation Camp 2018

Arunachala’s own female Elephant—Rukku, set off early this morning (Wednesday 3 January, 2018) from Arunachaleswarar Temple (where she is in service) on her journey to the annual Elephant rejuvenation camp at Mettupalayam (near Coimbatore).

The camp will last up to 48 days and host approximately 50 captive elephants from different parts of the State. Emphasis will be taken on monitoring and improving the health and well-being of the elephant participants.


Our precious Rukku loaded up at Arunachaleswarar Temple

Getting comfy ready for her long road trip

Nice to see a goodly supply of bananas and greenery for her trip
Rukku at the start of her trip to Camp

[Need to give a big thumbs up to our previous and now deceased Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa; as it was her love of animals that inspired the introduction of this annual captive Elephant rejuvenation camp in Tamil Nadu. 

Also well earned thanks to the current State Government for continuing with this excellent programme]. 

2 January 2018

First Arunachala 2018 Girivalam

Yesterday was a very sunny, mild day and a large number of devotees were in Tiruvannamalai to take darshan at Arunachaleswarar Temple and perform girivalam of Arunachala.

January 2018 has 2 girivalams. The second one (at the end of the month) will occur:

January Tuesday 30.01.2018 from 10.09 p.m. to January Wednesday 31.01.2018 to 7.58 p.m.

To view the complete 2018 Arunachala Poornima calendar, go to this link here.

Devotees waiting in line to take darshan of Lord Annamalaiyar at Arunachaleswarar Temple

Crowds of devotees performed January Arunachala girivalam

31 December 2017

26 December 2017

2018 Full Moon Dates and Timings: Arunachala Pradakshina—Significance of Girivalam

Sacred Power—Girivalam 
The Significance of Girivalam (Circumambulation) 

[The below narrative is taken from my website dedicated to Arunachala and available at this link]. 

One of the thousand and eight names given to Arunachala by Adi Shankara is giripradakshinapriya – the Lord who loves giripradakshina. 

'Be they of lowly birth, without the advantage of learning, unable to practise the virtue of liberality, it is of no account. Those who perform pradakshina of holy Aruna, the Supreme, submit to his rule and become his devotee, will excel even amongst the most excellent . . .' [Arunagiri Antadi] 

Arunachala photo taken from back of Samudram Eri during rainy season

At most holy places located on hills, the Deity is found at the summit of the Hill. But here at Tiruvannamalai, the Hill itself is the Deity (Lord Annamalaiyar) and one of the ways in which it is propiated and worshipped is by its circumambulation. 

In Sanskrit this going around the Hill is called 'giripradakshina' (giri=mountain and pradakshina: Prada=giver of boons; Kshi=destroyer of Karma; Na=giver of Jnana. Also, Pra-Dakshina=going around with centre kept to the right). 

'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 a 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).' 
[Ramana Maharshi: Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi] 

In the Tamil language, this process of going around, is called 'giri valam' (giri=mountain and valam=right side), inferring that one should keep the Hill to the right when circumambulating. 

The Arunachala Puranam declares that: 

'the holy Arunachala is the primal, Adi linga. The path around its base is the sacred Yoni. Pradakshina of the Hill is therefore pradakshina of the source of all lingas! So one goes round keeping to the left-edge of the path. A mere step taken, confers the benefit of a Yaga, sacrifice; two steps, the fruit of Rajasuya Yaga; and three that of Asvamedha Yaga. Going round the hill one gains in health and vigour. The hill abounds in rare herbs sought by traditional herbalists and the breeze carries the salubrious wafts from these siddha herbs to the one doing the holy round. The dust from the feet of such a person, carried and deposited in towns far away effects immeasurable purification.' 

The Asta (8) Lingams plus the additional Surya and Chandra Lingams i.e. Dasa Lingams (10) are underlined in the above map of the 14 km outer Girivalam Arunachala pathway

The circumambulation path is 14 kilometres (8½ miles). Tradition has it that even today a number of siddhars are living on the hill. 

There are eight lingams located at the eight directions, which provides an octagonal structure to the town of Tiruvannamalai. The eight lingams are: Indra Lingam, Agni Lingam, Yama Lingam, Niruthi Lingam, Varuna Lingam, Vayu Lingam, Kubera Lingam and Esanya Lingam. To find out more about the esoteric signifiance of the Asta Lingams around the octagonal perimeter of Arunachala which reflects the geometry of a Cosmogram, go to this link here

To learn more about the Dasa Lingams and their relevance to the geometry to both Arunachala and also Arunachaleswarar Temple Siva Sannidhi Shrine go to links on Surya Lingam and Chandra Lingam

There are two pathways around the Hill, the outer pathway which is the most commonly travelled and which contains Temples, the Asta Lingams, Tirthams and Shrines. And the inner pathway which winds its way through the countryside at the feet of Arunachala. 

According to scriptures, the walk around the Hill should be conducted at a slow pace either in silence, reciting mantras or chanting sacred songs. As to the ritual of the spiritual round; one should abjure all thought of the opposite sex on the day of pradakshina. After bathing one wears clean white clothes, applies vibhutti and proceeds, giving alms but without accepting any. Free from fear, anger, irritation or sorrow one walks on bare feet, without using vehicles or carrying an umbrella. Without swinging one's arms about, and with a silent soft tread, one saunters like a queen in her 'tenth-month'. One bows, first to the holy Hill from each of the eight cardinal directions, and then to the Lord of that direction enshrined in the linga there. One bows mentally to the incorporeal gods and siddhas going the rounds and keeps to the side. One could keep silence of speech and mind; or one could allow thoughts to flow on to the Hill of Fire; or one could sing and listen to songs of devotional praise. 

In the company of those of lofty character, one is able to halt here and there and enjoy a feast of fruit and milk. Otherwise, simple food free of flesh can be taken. 

Certain days are regarded as particularly auspicious for circumambulation:- 

The fruit of a Sunday pradakshina is Siva's abode (enter the solar region and attain Liberation); 

that of Monday is merger in Siva-form (live happily in a world free from senility and death); 

that of Tuesday is termination of debt and cyclic death (freed from all doubts and becomes Emperor); 

that of Wednesday is divinity through skill in philosophy and art (attain Wisdom and Omniscience); 

that of Thursday is lordship over gods and god-men (venerated by all Devas and may even become a renowned Guru); 

that of Friday is lordship of the Lotus Lady (may hope to reach Vishnu's abode). 

A Saturday pradakshina confers the astronomical benefits of a nine-planet conjunction in the Eleventh House (worldly success and protection against planetary influences). 

The above effects are magnified if circumambulation is done on Sivaratri, New-year day, or during the three months, mid-October to mid-January. The fruits are believed to increase by a factor of one crore if done on the two solstices; or on the day the moon is in the Magha asterism during February-March; or during the pre-dawn hour; or during solar eclipse or Vidhipaada Yoga. 

It is also regarded as particularly auspicious to perform "Girivalam" during every Full moon day (poornima) to coincide with siddhars' movements, and the heady perfumes of herbal plants surrounding the Hill. 

Once a sadhu who went regularly around the Hill, requested Sri Ramana for a Vedantic text. A devotee casually remarked, "He only goes round the Hill. What will he do with any Vedantic text?" To which Sri Ramana retorted, "What better sadhana can there be than going round the Hill?" 

Hindu mythology also explains the significance of circumambulation, in a narrative relating that the Goddess Parvati on the advice of Sage Gautama circumambulated the Hill everyday in order to have her desires fulfilled. 

Another legend says that Sage Durvasa, who cursed two vidyadharas stated that:- 

"The curse cannot be lifted by any act except that of circumambulating the Arunachala Hill." 

He then proceeded to relate what Siva Himself had declared in an assembly of devas and others: 

"He who circumambulates with devotion the Arunachala Hill which is my form, attains a form like mine. He becomes the Lord of the entire world and reaches the highest state". 

The two vidyadharas then advised King Vajrangada who was suffering, 

"The Lord of Aruna Hill is a repository of compassion and His glory is great. Circumambulate the Aruna Hill on foot as a means of release from suffering". 


24 December 2017

Merry Christmas, Arunachala 2017



6 December 2017

2017 Arunachala Karthigai Festival: Mahadeepam Day on Arunachala

This year certain restrictions were put in force regarding people climbing the Hill on the day of Mahadeepam (i.e. December 2, 2017). Specifically only 2,500 devotees were given ticketed access to climb the Hill in order to make their offerings of ghee directly into the Deepam Cauldron. Tickets were issued from 6 a.m. that morning and devotees were allowed access to climb Arunachala from 10 a.m. via the pathway opposite Arunchaleswarar Temple Pey Gopuram. Ticketed devotees had to return down the Hill and be back at the ingress point by 6 p.m.

To find out more about the reasons why such unique restrictions regarding climbing the Hill on Mahadeepam Day were implemented this year, go to this earlier link here.

Every year during Deepam five earthen-pot lighted lamps, representing the five elements, provide the flame for the single Bharani Deepam which fisherman carry to the top of the mountain for use as the source-light for the Karthigai Deepam. It is also they who are entrusted with carrying the Deepam Cauldron up to the top of the Hill prior to the day of Mahadeepam.

Carrying the 2017 Cauldron up Arunachala prior to the day of Mahadeepam

The Deepam cauldron is hauled up the slopes of Arunachala supported by poles inserted into the cauldron’s rings. The unique privilege for taking the flame (source-light) and cauldron up the Hill and also for the actual lighting of the Deepam Flame is always given (for as long as the Hill’s recorded history) to men of the fishing caste.

Members of the Parvatha Raja light the cauldron on the summit of Arunachala. According to local belief, the Parvatha Raja clan are descendants of a king who had been blessed by Lord Shiva to light the cauldron in order to ward off a curse. The clan has three sub-divisions: Unnamulai Priyan, Pennattu Priyan and Vathathi Priyan. The menfolk from the three sub-classes take turns every year to light the cauldron.

The clansmen are honoured with ‘Parivattam' on the morning of Karthigai Deepam Day at the temple.They use `Ezhalal' (a long bamboo stick with the wick at one end) to light the cauldron. The lamp is lit at 6pm when the idol of Arthanareswarar is taken on a procession around the sanctum of the Arunachaleswarar temple. Around 600kg of ghee, 100 metre of cloth and over 4 kg of camphor will be used each day for the 13 days of 2017 Deepam.

The reason for the extraordinary grace shown to the fishing clan is explained by a famous legend of the time the Goddess Parvati was adopted by the king of the fishermen. A version of the story appears below.

Becoming a Fisherman 

"Once, the Lord was explaining to the Goddess the secret import of the Vedas. However, the Goddess who was listening to the Lord, seemed to be beset with some anxiety and was otherwise engrossed. It was, therefore, apparent that She was listening in name only. The Lord noticed this and said that as She was not paying full attention to the important things discoursed by Him that in retribution She should be born in the fisherman’s community.

The Goddess lamented and the Lord assured Her that She would be born to the king of fishermen and that He (The Lord) would in due course come to wed her.

Ganapathi and Subrahmanya, the sons of the Lord were greatly perturbed by this and in their frenzy, considering the books of the Vedas to be the cause of the trouble, threw the offending books into the sea. The Lord took Nandikeswara to task for having allowed Vinayaka and Subrahmanya to go to Him without knowing His convenience and cursed him to become a shark in the sea. Any curse on Ganapathi would recoil on Him (the Lord) and hence the Lord did not impose any curse on the elephant God, however, Subrahmanya was cursed to become the dumb son of a merchant.

There was a place called Pakam on the eastern seashore of the Pandya Kingdom which was inhabited by fishermen and their king of the great fisherman clan of Paravar, was a great devotee of Lord Siva. The king had no children and one day, when he went to the sea for fishing, found a crying female child lying under a Pinnai tree (or Punnai, Calophyllam Inophyllam) on the seashore. He picked the child up with great joy and handed it to his wife saying that it was a gift of the Lord. His wife brought up the child very affectionately and adorned it with various jewels. The child grew to be a girl who constantly meditated on Lord Siva.

As ordained by the Lord’s curse, Nandikeswara became a shark and caused havoc to the fishermen’s boats sailing in the sea. The king of the fishermen took considerable pains to catch the shark—but all was in vain. The king therefore announced that he would give his daughter in marriage to any person who would catch the shark.

The Lord appeared in the guise of a young fisherman and the king was struck with the personality and bearing of the young newcomer. To the king’s enquiry the young man replied that he was a fishermen and could net any big fish or shark. The king told him of the prize offered for netting the shark infesting the area. The newcomer went to the sea and in no time netted the shark.

The king and his men were astonished at the feat. And happily gave to the newcomer his daughter in marriage and celebrated the wedding immediately. The bride and bridegroom immediately appeared as Siva and Parvati on their Vrishabha mount and the shark also appeared as Nandikeswara.

The king of the fishermen extolled the God for the great kindness shown to an ordinary and illiterate man. The Lord told him that as he had been yearning for a child, He sent Parvati to be his daughter and He came himself came to wed Her. The Lord also blessed the king to have all prosperity and at the end of his life to become a denizen of Sivaloka. Then the Lord instructed Parvati about the secret import of the Vedas and She eagerly and earnestly listened to the discourse."

Ticketed devotees climbing Hill

Many are carrying ghee offerings to put directly into the Cauldron

More ambitious devotees bypassing the single-file ascending the Hill

Ropes in particularly difficult areas to climb were added for this year's Deepam

Almost symbolically the soldier has his hand over the muzzle while next to the Bonnet Macque

Devotees at the top of the Hill with their ghee offerings

Medical assistance was available on the Hill

Arunachaleswarar Temple from Arunachala as dusk slowly emerges

Lighting the 2017 Arunachala Karthigai Cauldron

Some devotees were allowed to remain on the Hill summit during the lighting

Arunachala Karthigai Deepam will remain alight for 11 days this year. The last day being Wednesday, December 12, 2017.

2 December 2017

2017 Arunachala Karthigai Festival. Day Ten—Early Morning: Bharani Deepam

As these five flames loom up with red-yellow light, the famous South Indian festival of Karthigai Deepam officially begins. A single flame is then taken from the pots and kept burning in the Temple throughout the day as a symbol of the merging of manifestation back into God, the one source of all. This single flame is referred to as the Bharani Deepam.


"There is immense significance in this ceremony called Bharani Deepam. At this time, the Universal Lord manifests as the five elements, which will later fully merge to become one when the Krittika Deepam flame is lit in the evening. From one to many and many to one. This is the whole essence of Saivism and the meaning of Krittika Deepam."

1 December 2017

2017 Arunachala Karthigai Festival: Online Streaming and Live TV Coverage—December 2, 2017

Karthigai Deepam will be lit on the top of the holy mountain Arunachala at Tiruvannamalai around 6 pm on December 2, 2017 and be visible from a radius of about 35km.

Live online streaming of the 2017 Arunachala Karthigai Deepam can be viewed on the links listed below:-

Thanthi TV:        www.thanthitv.com 
Jaya TV Newswww.jayanewslive.com 
Sun News:         www.sunnewslive.in 
News7 Tamil:    www.ns7.tv
Polimer News:  www.polimernews.com 

Live coverage of the 2017 Arunachala Karthigai Deepam can also be viewed on the below Tamil TV stations:- 

Jaya TV 

DD Podhigai 
Thanthi TV 
Sun News 
Vasanth TV 
Polimer News 
News7 Tamil 
Sri Sankara TV 
Kalaignar Seithigal 
Captain News 
Makkal TV 
Mega TV 
Raj News 
Lotus News
Zee Tamil