21 May 2018

Living on Arunachala

Sacred mountains are central to certain religions and are the subjects of many legends. For many, the most symbolic aspect of a mountain is the peak because it is believed that it is closest to heaven or other religious worlds. Some believe that the higher one goes up a mountain, the greater the speed of vibration and rarefied purity. This is the reason that saints and sadhus often choose caves and hermitages near a mountain’s summit.

Enjoy the peaceful and meditative 12 minute video montage "Climbing to the Summit of Arunachala". 

However in the case of Arunachala the great sage Sri Ramana Maharshi declared that there no difference in the power of Arunachala between the first, second or third part of the Hill. Notwithstanding, throughout the recorded history of Arunachala; Gods, saints, sages and the pious have made ashrams, retreats and homes on the slopes of the Hill. In the Skanda Purana, the Goddess Parvathi joins with Sage Gautama in an ashrama believed to be the current location of Pavala Kundru on the Coral Hill spur of Arunachala.

Residing on the Hill itself such ancient notables include: Guhai Namashivaya and Guru Namashivaya. And in relatively contemporary times saints living on the Hill have included Ramana Maharshi, Swami Ramdas, Yogi Ramsuratkumar and Swami Abhishekananda. 

There is little information available on lady saints who have come and performed intense sadhana at Arunachala. In the 40s and 50s several eminent ladies occupied hermitages and caves on the South East slope of Arunachala. Amongst these women was the revered and highly respected Lakshmi Devi who dressed in saffron and lived on the mountain. Lakshmi Devi kept a vow of silence for 12 years and responded by making signs in answer to questions from a constant stream of visiting devotees and pilgrims. At the end of a 12 year vow of silence she returned to her native place near Mysore. However her love of the peace she experienced at Arunachala drew her back and she returned to the caves and hermitages of the mountain.

Another sadhaka who lived on the Hill during the same time period was Srimati Radhabai Ammeyar, who was known as Ammal of Vadalur. Ammal was a faithful disciple of Ramalinga Swamigal and originally she and Lakshmi Devi shared a cave but Ammal eventually moved to a small rocky cleft higher up the hill. The little cave was so low and narrow one had to remain seated, and even then ones head practically touched the roof.

Ammal of Vadalur, always wore white, and lived in the rocky cleft for three years in perfect silence, her only possessions being an oil lamp and a book of the hymns of her Master Ramalinga. She took a daily meal during the afternoon which consisted of a few handfuls of rice-flour, roasted and mixed with curd. After three years she moved into a small nearby hut with a women disciple. Ammal of Vadalur was also much revered and visited during her time at Arunachala.

In more recent times, Swami Narayana, also known as Hill Swami, lived continuously on the top of Arunachala for some 16 years. On April 19th, 2005 he was asked to shift from Arunachala summit (with his devotees). This he did and relocated to the grounds of the Ganesha Polytechnic some 5-6 kms from the base of the Hill. Public opinion ensured Swami was awarded special dispensation by the Authorities to recommence his vigil on the Hill summit and within a week of his enforced departure, Swami returned to his spot on the top of Arunachala.

However on July 17th, 2005 Swami Narayana became ill and had to be helped down Arunachala Hill by devotees. He was admitted to Rangammal Hospital, Tiruvannamalai. Whilst at the hospital Swami received treatment and physiotherapy for arthritic knee joints, a condition brought about by his intense tapas over his sixteen years at the summit of Arunachala Hill. Swami, who was attended by several devotees, and accommodated in a private Bungalow at the Hospital, maintained almost total silence during his stay and took no food, choosing to subsist entirely on milk.

Before his departure from Rangammal Hospital on 29th July, 2005, Swami remarked: 

I have been sitting on Arunachala Hill for all these years allowing people to serve me, now it is time for me to stand up and serve others.

8 May 2018

Arunachala Animal Sanctuary and Rescue Shelter: 2018 Global Giving Report

I have often written about the Arunachala AnimalSanctuary and Rescue Shelter here at Tiruvannamalai, and about the excellent, life saving and transforming changes they are making to many animals in these parts.

When asked what organisation is most worth supporting at Arunachala . . . I always put the Arunachala Animal Sanctuary at the top of the list.

I remember the days that "animal control" in these parts meant culling dogs by strangling them with garrote wire on the streets and then tossing the carcasses in the back of a bullock cart to be taken off to be burnt in some empty field. I remember the days when mange encrusted dogs lived a life of suffering in the sewers of this town. I can recall that when the wheels of a car or auto rickshaw ran over a dog's legs that it always meant a certain death sentence for the poor creature.

The Arunachala Animal Sanctuary are controlling the numbers of street dogs in the area by offering free sterlisation operations. They participate in taking food out to feed starving homeless dogs living on the streets, bring in infested animals and board them while giving the suffering creatures mange and skin treatments.

The Sanctuary is also responsible for finding forever homes for numerous puppies and previously unwanted dogs. In addition to sterlisations on Dogs; the Shelter also performs many different types of operations on cats, monkeys, cows, horses, goats and a host of other creatures.

The Arunachala Animal Sanctuary desperately needs our financial support and in this respect please visit their page on the Global Giving website at this link here to learn more about how to help this organisation in their efforts to maintain and improve their care and service for our animals friends at Blessed Arunachala.

----- oOo -----

Leslie Robinson, Founder and Director of Arunachala Animal Sanctuary

Global Giving Report

“2,879 Emergency Rescues. Help us. Help Them.” The Arunachala Animal Sanctuary and Rescue Shelter at Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, has just posted a Global Giving Report explaining their work and how our financial support makes it all possible.

Project Report by Leslie Robinson—Founder/Director of the Arunachala Animal Sanctuary and Rescue Shelter

Good Morning Dear People,

Yes, it’s morning as I start. Actually, I’m fond of the beautiful Indian greeting, ”Namaste’”—"I bow to your Innermost Self"...So..."Namaste".

In the West we don’t have stray dogs. In India, it is an enormous problem, and they can suffer, deeply.

Early 2006, after forty years of Municipal slaughtering, we managed to stop the brutal killing of the homeless dogs in what was an unsuccessful attempt to cull the population - but with the caveat that we establish an effective population control program.

Things were really bad when we opened January 2007. There were well over 5,000 homeless dogs. Perhaps over 6,000, or 7,000. The population was out of control. Starving. Fighting. Diseased. Injured. There were 350 suffering and dying animals on the streets. Mostly puppies and dogs, but among them were stricken cows, monkeys and others, too. The relationship with the human community was terrible. There was much abuse. There were many aggressive dogs. Many bites. Rabies. There was no small animal vet within 70 km. And no facility for treatment. There was unbounded suffering. It was the worst situation I’d seen and it was awful.

Eleven years now since we opened…and this has all changed. Thru December, 2017 we have done:

Emergency Rescues         5,094
Dogs Sterilized                  6,954
Anti-rabies injections       14,422
Clinic Visits                       44,573
In-Patient Treatments     120,356
Animal Adoptions               1,041

Non Dogs Treated               4,239

(1,169 cows and calves, 1,072 goats and sheep, 635 cats, 200 monkeys, 768 birds, 150 rabbits, 23 squirrels, 30 donkeys, 19 pigs, 27 peacocks, 34 parrots, 3 eagles, 53 horses, 6 bullocks, 18 deer, 6 snakes, 6 turkeys, 2 owls, 12 ducks, 2 mongooses, 3 chameleons, 1 turtle)

Today it is different. The homeless dog population is decreasing for the first time in forty years, AND it is rabies-free. There are 10,000 fewer puppies born each year, almost all of whom would have suffered and died. There is no more widespread abuse, and thus very few aggressive dogs, and only a small fraction of dog bites.

The most important thing that has happened is that the relationship between the homeless dogs and the people amongst whom they live day in, day out has been totally transformed. Without that transformation, the impact of whatever else is done is significantly limited—the animals would be subject to the same indifference, the same absence of protection when they are in harm's way, the same unaided difficulties in their ongoing search for food and water. The same absence of affection.

One can experience the change when walking on the streets. Each year, street conditions get better and better, and Tiruvannamalai is amongst the very few municipalities of size where this has happened. In the poignant words of a longtime Tiruvannamalai resident named Dev, made at the fourth anniversary puja . . .

"Public memory is short. Few can recall the rampant stray dogs everywhere, young and aged, starving and diseased, scavenging in the garbage heaps, fighting amongst themselves, ignored and abused by the human population, while remaining a menace to all including themselves. In four short years, the roads are more peaceful, with few strays to be seen, and the naturally loving relationship between humans and animals restored to its true state."

We are doing 40 to 100 Sterilizations
Giving 70 to 125 anti-rabies injections.
Going out on 60 to 120 emergency rescues.(Almost all of whom are “homeless dogs”, but others, too.)
The clinic is busy. We are getting 550 to 700 out-patient visits, most of whom are “owner dogs”.
Giving 1,200 to 1,600 treatments to in-patients, almost all of whom are “homeless dogs”.
Placing 6 to 15 puppies in good homes.
Treating 30 to 75 animals other than dogs.

Things are going excellently. The expanded space for the Verandah dogs is fully open. It has two to three times more room. The Precious Ones love it. They're running around chasing, wrestling, and playing games. They're finding new places to rest, and to snuggle, and to bask in the sun. They're hiding under the stone benches, cuddling in the baskets and, one of their favorites ... sitting in chairs. We purchased a dozen more chairs for them, that we occasionally use, too!

The new clinic is very, very busy and we need a third doctor. Fortunately, and this is a real blessing, there’s a young woman who was with us for six months, two years ago, who left to do her postgraduate work in Surgery at Madras Veterinary College. She’s finishing in June and is going to rejoin us. Her name is Dr. Heera. She’s a solid clinician, and her energy is like the rising sun. In the meantime, a young vet who recently finished her post graduate work and wants to teach at College needed temporary work, and she is going to be with us until June.

I want now, to take a little time to tell you about the love in which our beloved Shelter is immersed. We are all connected through the Heart. Whenever I show up I'm simply swallowed in the mutual gladness of seeing everyone .. and, blessing of blessings, our Precious Ones bask in that energy.

First and foremost, there are Dr. Raja and Vishwa. They're such incredible Beings, that I deeply feel they were yogis with significant attainment in a prior life. And yes, Elaine, our beloved veterinary nurse, is back! We're not the only ones who are happy. The Voiceless Ones, too.

She told me a nice story about two young women from Europe who volunteered for three weeks. They were a little anxious about being so close to "all the pain" when they first started ... but cried when they left ... because the Precious Ones were so happy.

The shakti inside the Shelter is simply uplifting. People visiting us, now with the expanded space, are deeply moved. Some, who are animal-lovers, get teary because they didn’t know a facility like ours existed. Wish you could come visit and experience it.

On a lighter note…Here are some Shelter Heart Stories and vignettes.

Ranjeet Maharaj
He was an awkward, gangly "teenager" in the dog world. He had yet to grow into his long legs, large paws, and oversized ears. He limped into Shivani's house with open mange sores, fleas, and smelling. He had been heavily abused on the street and, no one wanted him.

He must have sensed a kind stranger in Shivani, for he immediately laid down on one of her cushions and slept and slept.

Shivani brought him to us, where Dr. Raja treated him with medication and the Staff gave him a special bath for his skin condition. After four days, Shivani picked him up and got his medication. It seems he had found a home. He has adopted Shivani! He is now called Ranjeet Maharaj.

We got her when she was a little over a year. She'd been an "owner" dog, but was simply abandoned when they left. Vishwa got reports of her for several weeks, and finally caught her. She was scared and confused. The family probably had children whom she loved. They just dumped her and left. She lost everything that was dear to her. Without any understanding, it was just GONE.

The beauty of it is how quickly she bounced back. She was absolutely joyful, and bounded around wrestling and chasing. She adored supervisor Raja! I named her Beauty. But someone else named her Swetha, which is what stuck.

She was a joy to watch. She played so hard, that she would sometimes drink enough for a camel to make a desert crossing.

Vishwa found a good home for her locally. The two boys in the family, four and eight, were over the top at the prospect of getting her. They came to the Shelter several times (the father and the boys), it was a match made in Heaven.

I was on my Honda Activa. A guy passed me on a TVS scooter, which had a goat, legs tied, straddled across the floor board. She must have really been suffering.

I pulled him over, handing him one of my official looking Shelter visiting cards, but fiercely said I was with the Animal Welfare Board of India (he only spoke Tamil). I called Vishwa and told him to threaten the guy over the phone and say he had a choice: either sell the goat to me on the spot … or, I was bringing in the police, who would impound her because of his mistreatment. He gladly sold her to me for 3500 rupees (USD 55), which was a little more than he would have gotten through slaughter.

He lifted her from his TVS and laid her on the ground. She was very, very weak. I gently stroked her, and said, “Everything is going to be okay now. We’re very good people and we’re going to take care of you, and you’ll have a full life.” The goat was beautiful, a golden color, with long ears that just hung.

I had the man untie her legs. She had a big wound on one of her hoofs. Vishwa showed up. He talked to the man, who said he had already hired someone to slaughter her who would have been there in ten minutes. Vishwa took her to the Shelter. Dr. Raja said the hoof wound was not serious, but it was slightly infected and would take time to heal. He cleaned and dressed it. Gave her pain killer and antibiotic injections. She was very weak, and she was given an I.V. for some nutrition. Dr. Raja said she had less than a fifty-fifty chance of living.

Vishwa took her home with him. He gave her grass, oil cakes with water, and several other things. She ate voraciously. He lives outside of town and there are nice, grassy patches out there. He carried her to one (she was too weak to walk), and she foraged for six straight hours. He slept outside with her. (In the back he has a long open shed for cows that is empty). The next day he took her to one of the fields and she ate all day long. On the third day, she started standing and then walking and running a little . . . 

Vishwa named her Amu. We were sure that she was going to live. But, sadly, there was too much damage to her organs, and three weeks later, she quietly died. Those three weeks though, were filled with love, joy, and happiness. We put her on the Red Tara prayer list, and protective, guiding energy was sent to her soul for 49 days.

Vishwa got a call at his house from some villagers 40 kms away. A cow had been bitten by a snake. He told them to bring her to the Shelter and called Dr. Raja to let him know.

They called back fifteen minutes later. The cow had died. She had a baby calf just nine days old. They were going to sell it for slaughter for 4,500 rupees. Vishwa told them he would buy it and shot out there with the car.

Bewildered, scared, hungry, and not knowing what happened to his mom, the calf returned in the car with Vishwa, who took him to his house. (Vishwa lives in the country). For the first several days, just like he did with Amu the goat, Vishwa slept outside with the calf.

When I first saw the calf, it was hard to believe he was only nine days old. He was black and white. Tall. And absolutely the most beautiful calf I’ve ever seen. Vishwa is going to keep him. He's named him Google. Google loves Vishwa and Vishwa loves him. Possibly Google is the most joyful calf I’ve ever seen. He’s free most of the time. While I was there, he went galloping off about 100 meters into the field. Then out of sight. And came charging back. Happy! Happy!

As I’m writing this, Google is now 2½ months old. I haven’t seen him since he was three weeks old. Vishwa tells me he’s big, strong, handsome, and happy.

Baby Owl
Recently, Vishwa called me, late night. Someone had found a baby owl on Pradakshina Road. Alone. In trouble. They tried to find the mother. But the poor thing, about a month old, was really alone.

Owls are very difficult to help. It's a long time before they can fly. Maybe three, possibly four months. They're carnivores, and hunters. And it's the mother that teaches them to hunt. So unless you can teach them to hunt, you can't release them. We've had a few in the last several years.

After many, many calls I found someone in Delhi who was an expert in the rehabilitation of predator birds. But Delhi was too far away. Fortunately, they knew of one other expert who, was in Bangalore, which is only six hours away by car. And blessing of blessings, the Bangalore lady said she would take him.

Vishwa called the Bangalore lady, and she will take him into her sanctuary. Prem Kumar just took the baby owl to her the very day I’m writing this Report.

Mani found Mira lying on the side of the road near the Shelter. The poor dog was only four years old. She was post-distemper. Twitching. Couldn’t open her mouth. Starving. And near death. She was an “owner dog” who had probably been abandoned. Lying there alone. Having lost everything. Not understanding. Miserable. Frightened.

Dr.Raja started giving her I.V’s with neurobion for nutrition, a liver booster to stimulate the liver, plus antibiotics (for the first three days). Vishwa had the Staff give her a lot of loving. On the second day by attaching a thin rubber tube to an I.V. syringe, he was able to start getting a little milk on her tongue in increasing amounts, which she swallowed.

We had her in a large retaining cage that didn’t have a lot of direct sunlight, and with only one other post-distemper dog. Neither of them could walk and they were both almost “mutedly conscious”. On the fourth day we decided both should be moved into the clinic where there was a lot of light and affection from puppies.

Her second day in the clinic, Mira started standing (she had been lying on her side and not moving around). Her twitching decreased in intensity. And Vishwa very gently was massaging her jaws. She was able to open them a little and started drinking a few ounces of milk from a bowl. And he started giving her little bits of food.

Also on the second day, she got her first bath and Vishwa gave her a haircut. She looked a zillion percent better. And it was as though vanity precipitated a change in her personality; she started to move in a totally different manner.

Now, this sweet girl moves around with the others ... is affectionate. But she is so fierce around food and milk if any of the other guys get near her bowl, that we feed her in closet with the door closed!

So good to have you back, dear Mira. Welcome to Life.

This brings us to the end of this Report.



Recurring donations, even quite modest ones, are best for us...

With love, blessings, and wishes for all things good... May we all be blessed with more compassionate understanding,

Leslie Robison: The Ageing Expatriate Warrior

Mural on compound wall of Arunachala Animal Shelter

Vishwa, Manager of Shelter

The Arunachala Animal Sanctuary desperately needs our financial support and in this respect please visit their page on the Global Giving website at this link here to learn more about how to help this organisation in their efforts to maintain and improve their care and service for our animals friends at Blessed Arunachala.

5 May 2018

Story of Yama Lingam—the Lord of Death

“Arunachala Siva—On the Girivalam Path” by Dr. Bharat Bhushan imagines stories at each of the Asta Lingams situated on the perimeter of the Girivalam Roadway around Arunachala. The stories have been created from memories of ancestral tales and legends and experiences of pilgrims.

The first chapter “Kubera Lingam—Lord of Wealth and Auspiciousness”, can be  read at this link here.

The second chapter “Varuna Lingam—Lord of Rain and Water” at this link here.

The third chapter “Agni Lingam—Lord of Light” at this link here.

The fourth chapter narrated in its entirety below is of “Yama Lingam—Lord of Death”.

Yama Lingam (South)

In Hindu mythology, Lord Yama or Yamraj is referred to as the god of death. The word Yama stands for twin brother and Lord Yama is Son of Lord Surya and Sanjana. Yama is also known as the lord of justice and is sometimes referred to as Dharma, in reference to his commitment to sustain order.

In the Upanishad, Lord Yama is depicted as a teacher and is father of Yudhisthira, the eldest brother of the five Pandavas. It is believed that lord Yama incarnated as Vidura in the Mahabharata period. Lord Yama is the definitive controller of lord Shiva and lord Vishnu. He is supposed to carry a huge lasso with which he drags each being at the time of death to face heaven or hell according to the being’s karma.

The Vahana of Lord Yama is a black water buffalo and guardian of the south direction. As one of the Arunachala girivalam asta Lingams, Yama Lingam is situated beside cremation grounds on Chengam road.

The dominant Navagraha of this Lingam is, Mangala (Mars). Yama is portrayed sitting on his mount, a powerful black buffalo named Mahishan with two  monstrous dogs by his side. Devotees get rid of their financial constraints worshipping the Yama Lingam. Worshipping at this Lingam is also conducive for addressing karmic constraints and ensuring longevity of life span.

Arunachala Shiva!!!

Let death return everyone, to you …

“Arunachala!” He called out, “pray, give me strength, to seek you, again and again!”

Dinesh was tired and called out, in his mind, to the sacred Arunachala, to give him strength while on the Girivalam. He smiled at the priest at the Yama Lingam temple and thanked him as he received blessings from the sacred camphor fire. Why did he call out in such a manner, he wondered, for this was only the second of the ashtalingams on the Girivalam route, and he had to visit the other six, not including the Surya and Chandra Lingams. Upon completion, he would also go to visit Shiva at the Tiruvannamalai temple, one of the five pancha-bhoota-lingams.

The elderly priest of the Yama Lingam temple smiled at Dinesh, and began to close the doors to the inner sanctum. It was almost noon and it was time to get some rest. He would find it difficult to keep walking on the Girivalam route, and it would be sensible to rest it out in the outer sanctum of the Yama Lingam temple, Dinesh thought. This was his first attempt to take the sacred walk around the holy Arunachala at Tiruvannamalai. Against all advice, he had started his walk on the Girivalam route at 9.00 am. After a prayer at the Agni Lingam temple and a brief stop and visit to Sri Ramanashram, he had barely made it in time for the prayers at the Yama Lingam temple.

It was too hot outside, in this summer month. “Take some rest here,” said the priest, “Take a small nap or chant your beads in offering to Arunachala. Do not go out in the sun.” Dinesh was thankful, and watched the old priest settle down on the running seat-ledges that were all around the open outer sanctum of the Yama Lingam temple. 25 year-old Dinesh bowed to the old priest in respect, went back to the inner sanctum gate, worshipped loudly, reciting some 4-5 stotrams that he knew, picked up the sacred ash and applied it on his forehead. Taking out some money from his wallet, he pushed it into the hundi box. The priest did not watch him, intent as he was, in arranging a small coir mattress on the seat ledge and got ready to take his nap. He gestured for Dinesh to lie down or sit at the seat-ledge alongside.

It did seem very welcoming to accept the invitation. It was too hot outside, and he could see that the road was totally deserted except for a random vehicle going towards Tiruvannamalai. Dinesh went to one of the seat-ledges, rolled out a towel that he had brought with him, placed his small handbag as a head cushion and lay down, hoping to get some rest. He was worried. This was a temple, and any which way that one would lie down, the direction of the feet may be disrespectful. Disturbed, he sat up, and quietly kept chanting, “Arunachala! Arunachala! Arunachala!” He thought it may be best to imitate the priest and keep his feet in a similar direction, pointing away from the sanctum, and away from the sacred peak of Arunachala.

Some mendicants were also resting in the open sanctum of the Yama Lingam temple. On the shaded outer areas, there were some buffaloes resting alongside the wall. They seemed content, resting in the shade, waiting it out through their noon siesta. As he watched, from the scrub forests near the temple, a huge buffalo came waddling slowly, followed by a tall cowherd, an elderly looking man, swarthy, and dressed only in his loin cloth. His head was covered in some sort of a headgear, and complete with his huge bristling handlebar moustache, he was quite a fearsome character.

The huge buffalo came to rest with the other ones, along the shaded side of the Yama Lingam temple. The fearsome looking cowherd walked into the open sanctum of the temple and chose to sit on the seat-ledge alongside of the one where Dinesh was seated. Feeling a strange sort of panic, Dinesh kept chanting silently. Up close, he could see that the fearsome looking cowherd was a very normal person, a local villager, and not at all frightening in any manner. Dinesh had seen many such cowherds in Madurai rural areas (his native place) and relaxed. The tall cowherd glanced at Dinesh, examined him closely and made him out to be a pilgrim on the Girivalam route.

Instantly, on impulse, he asked, “Enna? Why are you out on the Girivalam in this hot mid-afternoon? See, even my buffaloes have need for shade and rest at such times. Take some rest. Go to sleep. Go afterwards, in the evening. You will be able to walk easily and you can worship Arunachala with more devotion. Go to sleep, now!” It seemed almost like a command, and Dinesh immediately obeyed. The tall cowherd also did the same, and went off into a snoring slumber.

Dinesh drifted off into sleep. His dreams were floating from one perspective to the other. He kept imagining himself on the Girivalam route, walking along with the priest from the Yama Lingam temple. After a while, he dreamt that the mendicants were walking along with him, and later, they were all riding the buffaloes. The mendicants disappeared soon after, and the tall cowherd was walking along with him. This dream was followed by a vision of the tall cowherd astride the really huge buffalo. In his dreams, the tall cowherd was beginning to get larger and larger, and the buffalo was also becoming enormous. The cowherd was saying something, and since Dinesh did not answer, he was being shaken by the shoulder.

He woke up with a start, and indeed, the tall cowherd was standing alongside, and shaking him by the shoulder. Alarmed, Dinesh sat up and asked about the matter. The tall cowherd said, “Thambi, you were calling out in your sleep. You seemed to be having some fearful dream. See, your prayer beads have also slipped out from your hands and fallen on the ground. Pick them up. Drink some water.” Calmer, Dinesh picked up the prayer beads and had some water from the bottle that he carried. Wanting to share, he offered the bottle of water to the tall cowherd and also passed on a couple of small bananas. The tall cowherd accepted the water and bananas with a smile and said a word of blessing to Dinesh, and went back to sleep.

Dinesh tried to sleep, and surprisingly found that he was able to easily go back to deep slumber. The fear factor of the tall cowherd was gone and he began to dream about himself, about his family and his native Madurai. He could see events in his life in a very clear manner, and he found himself wandering into the actual happenings. He saw his childhood in Mumbai, Chennai and Madurai, and saw his relatives, friends and neighbours. He saw himself wandering through the various schools and classes where he had studied, and watched himself playing cricket with his only brother and friends.

It was strange, as he could see himself, as an elder person, 25 years old, and he could see the other aspect of himself, as a five year old, or as a ten year old. He could see his father, grandfather and aunts and uncles and similarly, he could see his brother at different ages. There were people who were no longer with him now, and they had passed on to a higher plain during the past many years. He could see them, as though they were alive, and he could watch them talking to him, when he was at a younger age. Dinesh felt very happy and content, and wanted to continue to sleep, and did not want to wake up. It was amazing, and it felt very real. Those who had passed on, were very much active and real, within his sleep and inside his dreams.

Feeling pleasant, but disturbed at the various images, Dinesh woke up. He was back in the open sanctum of the Yama Lingam temple and nothing had changed. He was as yet a 25 year old young man, and his prayer beads were with him. The tall cowherd was sitting nearby, eating the bananas, watching his buffaloes. The huge buffalo was walking about and changing its location. It seemed as though that the huge buffalo wanted to be able to see the tall cowherd from where he sat down. The elderly tall cowherd noticed the fact that Dinesh had woken up and was sitting in a disturbed manner, and he came nearby and asked him, “Enna Thambi, what’s wrong? Why are you looking sad and depressed? What happened?”

Dinesh thought to himself. What the heck! It would not harm anything by talking to this cowherd. He does not know me, and I do not know him. I can talk to him about anything and walk away on the Girivalam route, and that will be the end of this relationship. So, he replied, “Thatha, it is nothing. I was dreaming about my younger days when I slept. I dreamt about people and I dreamt about those who were no longer alive. But, in the dreams, they were all present and it seemed that they were very much alive. I was talking to them, as a younger person, but I was also present there, as an elder person. I could see that there were two images of myself. It was very strange, and I felt disturbed. I woke up, suddenly.”

The elderly tall cowherd smiled, and said, “Thambi, why do you get frightened? You should feel happy, that you were just able to go to sleep for such a short while, and spent time with your loved ones. I can only see my buffaloes in my sleep, and that huge one out there, even in my sleep, keeps pushing me and keeps asking me for something or the other. I have tried beating him up in my sleep, but he is very shameless. In real life, I have never beaten him. He is a very lovable character and very intelligent. But in my sleep, he is a big idiot. I am always very terrified of going to sleep. But, you should consider yourself to be very lucky.”

Dinesh smiled and watched the huge buffalo moving about. It was amusing to think of the buffalo as a peaceful character in real life, when it did not look like one at all, and to think of it as an unpleasant character in a dream, was really intriguing. The elderly tall cowherd was also looking at the buffalo and smiling. How would one actually dream about a buffalo? Dinesh asked the elderly tall cowherd, “You really see your buffalo in the dream? Do you talk to him? Does he talk back to you?”

The cowherd laughed loudly, and replied, “Yes. Sometimes he talks to me. I talk to him. I wonder what happens in his dreams. In mine, he comes to me and asks me to return home, and tells me that I should go back to my family. But, I have no family. For many years, I am alone. This huge buffalo is all that I have. The other buffaloes are not mine. They belong to different families in the village. I move around nearby. We get food when we get it, and there are small food cafes on the Girivalam route, and they know us, and we get our food from them. We do not have to pay them.”

Amazed, Dinesh asked, “You have nobody? What about your family? They must be somewhere. Your buffalo is your only companion? Wow. You are almost like me, then. My only close relative is my brother. I have no other brothers or sisters. But, my brother is away from me, married and settled well. He has his own life to take care of. I lost my mother when I was just an infant and my younger brother was only a toddler. I do not know what happened. Everyone tells me a different story. I have come to the stage where I do not know who to believe and what to believe. I am happy with myself.”

The elderly tall cowherd looked genuinely concerned at Dinesh’s story. He commented, “Arunachala! O Arunachala! What is this? You are so young. Your life has not even begun. I have lived something that must be more than a hundred years, I think. I do not even remember when I was born. I do not need any family now. But, you! You have not even started on your life. You do not know your mother, at all? For me, I do not remember my mother, but I know that she was there sometime in my life, and I remember her in my youth, but I cannot picture her. But, I am happy for her, and for her memory, because I know that she was happy when she was alive.”

Dinesh smiled, and nodded in agreement. He wondered as to why it was so easy to talk to with strange elderly man, sitting in nothing but a loincloth, accompanied by a huge buffalo who was grazing nearby. What was it that made him talk to such a stranger on the first instance, and he could not as yet talk to his various uncles and aunts who had taken care of him and his brother through their younger days? Nobody had denied them anything. They had been made to feel as though they were part of each family that they had lived with at some period of their lives. They had been as equal to the children of their uncles and aunts and never made to feel inferior. Why was he talking to this strange man about all this?

Dinesh said, “You know, you are very correct when you said that you are only able to talk to your buffalo. I am not even that lucky. I have no memory of my mother. I do not know about my younger brother. He was smaller than me. Whenever I sleep, and when I dream, I can see my cousins, and my uncles and aunts, and they are all as pleasant in my dreams as they are when I am awake. Nobody every denied us anything. My mother’s brothers and sisters have always taken care of whatever we would want. We have attended the best schools and colleges.”

“Sometimes, I try. I try to seek out my mother in my sleep. Sometimes, I try to create an image of her. But, I fail every time. What do you do, Thatha? Can you pull back memories of your mother? At least you know that she existed,” Dinesh asked, “Once I asked my brother, but I feel that he is luckier than me. He is fortunate because he would have no impression. Now he is married, and he has a child, and he would see the relationship between the child and the mother. He will see the love and he will see the demands made by the child. He will see how the mother rushes to satisfy the child. I keep thinking about what my brother would be thinking.”

The elderly tall cowherd replied, thoughtfully, “Thambi, I know what is it that you are asking, but I have no answers. I am not an educated person. Several people had tried to put me in a school, but I would always run away and keep roaming about with my buffaloes. Through my life, the only single aspect that I remember about myself is that, I have always had a buffalo with me! I keep talking to myself, and sometimes, people think that I am mindless, but my buffalo has no problems with my behavior. I have learnt a simple trick when I get sad and depressed when asleep. I wake up very fast, and I walk around. I do not continue to sleep. If you do that, you are at the edge of terrible impulses.”

Dinesh sat quietly, thinking, and thought—why not … let’s see what this man says about my innermost fears. He asked, “There are times, sometimes when I have woken up and been scared. I am all alone, and I see everyone taking care of their families. I feel the loneliness and the pain of being alone in my thoughts. My uncles and aunts may be thinking that I have grown up and that I am a married man, and I should be left alone. But, I am indeed alone inside my mind. Sometimes, I feel that I should just go away, and sometimes, I feel that this life is not worth living. I should just put an end to it.”

The elderly tall cowherd spoke angrily, “What sort of nonsense is that? Your life is not yours. Your life belongs to Arunachala. Even death has no control over your life. Do you know that? Give yourself up, to Arunachala. You have no right to give up on yourself, by your own decisions. We will come and go, and many more generations will come and go. Before the first man was born, there was Arunachala. Talk to him, when in doubt, and talk to him, when happy. He is the cause of your happiness. He is the cause of your worries, because he wants you to see deep within yourself. There is no sadness or depression in life. It is the manner in which you see yourself.”

“Do not at any moment think that you can give up on yourself, and give up on your life,” the elderly cowherd said, standing up, and waving his hands at the sacred peak of Arunachala, “Look at the Girivalam and learn from it today. When you walk, you start at the beginning. But, what is the reason that you walk on the Girivalam? It is not in homage to Arunachala alone that you walk on this sacred path. You walk, and so do hundreds of thousands who come here, you walk, in order to return to the beginning.

Every aspect has a beginning, and the path has only purpose. It is to take you back to the beginning. When you realize that, you know the truth. You are on the path, to reach the beginning of another journey. That’s all. It is that simple. There is never any end, for Maheshwara, Arunachala, Shiva, is waiting, even in death, to return you to the beginning of another path.”