14 November 2009

Arunachala’s True Shape

“From every angle Arunachala presents a different aspect. But the Sivalinga, representing the Hill, symbolises its true shape, that of the formless including all forms.

I approach Arunachala generally by bus from the east as I come to Tiruvannamalai from Madras. Arunachala becomes visible from about ten miles away. At first it is only a vague cloudlike shape but as I come nearer it becomes clearer. It assumes the form of an irregular cone somewhat longish at the base with a curved spur on its northern side. This shape lasts only until I come to the temple of Arunachaleswara. It changes gradually when I proceed to the Ashram and finally when I reach the Ashram it assumes a familiar beautiful shape. It reminds me of Mount Kailas as it looks in the familiar photographs of that sacred mountain. Others have also noticed this resemblance.

I have seen Arunachala not only from these two angles but also from numerous other angles too. While going round the Hill on the holy circuit it looks different from each spot. Names like the ‘five-faced Arunachala’ and the ‘four-faced Arunachala’ have been given to those aspects in which it appears to possess five peaks or four peaks. When one comes to the northern side the appearance changes completely. It becomes more rugged and massive. Arunachala has many faces and many shapes. From every angle it presents a different aspect, reminding us of the ever changing flux of creation, the motionless dance of Arunachala-Siva whose unity penetrates all diversity!

Photograph from around 1950

Some devotees of Siva believe that Arunachala, the Hill, is Siva himself or a huge Siva linga in the form of the Hill. The puranas elaborate this. That is why one walks round it barefoot reverently all the eight miles of the way. Siva linga is simply an emblem of Siva, in its manifest form as the Hill and the linga of fire without beginning or end, as mentioned in the well known story of its first appearance, symbolises its unmanifest transcendence. Thus Siva is rupa (with form) and arupa (without form). He has many forms and at the same time can reveal himself as formless:

“When I approach regarding Thee as having form, Thou standest as a Hill on earth. If (with the mind) the seeker looks for Thy (essential) form as formless, he is like one who travels the earth to see the (ever-present) ether. To dwell without thought upon Thy (boundless) nature is to lose one’s (separate) identity like a doll of sugar when it comes in contact with the ocean (of nectar) and when I come to realize who I am, what else is this identity of mine (but Thee), O Thou Who standest as the towering Aruna Hill?”

[By Aquarius]

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