26 March 2011

A Very Short History

Arunachala is in the Eastern Ghats of the North Arcot District. Its about fifty miles inland from the Bay of Bengal and rises into a peak some 2,268 feet above sea level, forming a conspicuous object in the landscape for miles around. Arunachala has many other names: Arunagiri, Sonagiri, Sonasaila and Sudarsanagiri are some. Sometimes it is referred to as Jothirlingam or Tejo Lingam, which means lingam of fire. Lingam being the formless (nishkala) emblem of Siva.

The Hill is referred to in the Puranas as the oldest hill on earth, and is regarded as the heart of the earth owing to its sanctity. The Deccan plateau, particularly the Eastern Ghats, has been thought to be the oldest land of the earth.

A geologist has stated about this Hill:

“Arunachala should have been thrown up by the earth under the stress of some violent volcanic eruption in the dim ages before even the coal-bearing strata were formed. This rocky mass of granite may be dated back to the earliest epoch of the history of our planet’s crust, that epoch which long preceded the vast sedimentary formations in which fossil records of plants and animals have been preserved. It existed long before the gigantic saurians of the pre-historic world moved their ungainly forms through the primeval forest that covered our early earth. It was contemporaneous with the formation of the very crust of earth itself. Arunachala was almost as hoary and as ancient as our planetary home itself.”

Even though Arunachala, is regarded as the physical embodiment of consciousness, of Shiva, and of the Divine Principle itself, it has always been explicitly associated with the androgyne (ardharnisharva) siva-sakti representation of the Divine. That aspect of the divine locked in union, with no distinction between consciousness and its contents, and no world.

As can be evidenced by the still remaining practice of fire worship and fire walking (here and here) at Shakti Temples (including Unnamalai Temple, Tiruvannamalai), of animal sacrifice in many Temples dedicated to the Goddess and the relics of a multitude of sacred groves, there have been occasions in the history of the Hill, that the primary worship in these parts were primeval veneration and Animism.

Arunachala has constantly been attracting saints, teachers, gurus and pilgrims to itself since time immemorial. As far as our own recorded history goes, it is said that the great Adi Shankaracharya himself visited Arunachala. Which is most fitting since it is believed that Sri Adi Shankara was an exponent of self-investigation or self-attentiveness (atma-vichara) which is often translated into English as ‘self-enquiry’. Atma-vichara denotes the practice of examining, inspecting or scrutinising the essential consciousness of ‘I am’.

In one of his Ashtakas, Sri Sankara calls Arunachala ‘Meru’ and says that Siddha Purushas are found here and also on the Himalayas. Shaktas regard this hill as Sri Chakra, a diagram of forty-three triangles. Some consider that the form of the hill resembles the first half of the Sri Chakra which is called Meruprastana, the emblem of the Cosmos.

Sri Ramana Maharshi’s (of more recent history) greatest legacy has been his emphasis of the practice of self-investigation and self-attentiveness to ‘Who Am I?’ A practice of attentive examination of the basic consciousness of our own being, which we always experience as ‘I am’.

A contemporary of Sri Ramana Maharshi was the great Sri Seshadri Swamigal. Seshadri who arrived at Arunachala six years earlier than Ramana, was an exponent of Sri Vidya and a tapaswi of a very high order. One result of the mantras and sadhana he practiced from his earliest years was the development of various siddhis and psychic powers.

Throughout his life and teachings Sri Seshadri continuously emphasised the glory of Arunachala:

‘This is Siva Lingam. It is enough to worship this. One can become spiritually enlightened and attain liberation’.

Nowadays many saints, holy people and spiritual teachers who regard themselves as being of the lineage of Sri Ramana Maharshi in so far as they have accepted Bhagavan as their Guru or their Guru's Guru, have thus adopted the practice of Self Enquiry as a pivotal part of their spiritual teachings. Such holy people, now deceased, include H.W.L. Poonja (Papaji) Robert Adams, and the still living Sri Nannagaru, and Laksmana Swamy and Sri Saradamma.

Some ten years ago a great change came about in these parts. Previously Arunachala seemed to be the country’s best kept spiritual secret. How was it possible that in a country where pilgrimage is a national past time, and Arunachala’s glory has been lauded in the Puranas and texts of antiquity and expounded by such great saints as Arunagirinatha, Guhai Namasivaya, Guru Namasivaya and Isanya Desikar – should still remain such a comparative secret? There was a time, not long distant, that even on full moon, the numbers of pilgrims performing girivalam around Arunachala could be numbered in the hundreds. And now the numbers are the hundreds of thousands and ever increasing.

And as to the future, read below a fascinating narrative recorded by Sri Ramana Maharshi in [Day by Day with Bhagavan Pages 116-117]:

“In those days these Rajas used to fortify their hills and live there. See Ginjee for instance. The Ginjee fort was built on three hills. They are all in ruins. Padaiveedu nearby in this District was once a great city. Hampi was a great city and the capital of an Empire. It is said that the town was built on the model of a Sri Chakra and that there has been some slight mistake somewhere, and that is why, though the Empire flourished well for a time, it did not endure but failed.

There is a rumour that a prophecy made by Vidyaranya, earlier a Dewan of Hampi Empire and later a Shankaracharya, has declared that when again a descendant of that Empire or a successor of his in the Mutt builds a city on the model of Sri Chakra, a great Empire will again flourish with that city as capital.

Some people have even thought that the present Shankaracharya (note: the now deceased Sri Chandrasekhara Saraswati) might be the person for such destiny. Our Naina used to feel that as this town is by nature itself built on Sri Chakra model, by the Gods themselves, if only we could build houses all round the Hill and make a city of it, this will become the capital of a big Empire. He used to be always thinking and speaking of swaraj (note: self-governance or home rule i.e. from the British) dreaming and planning for it and saying what he would do when swaraj is attained. People say there was a town in the old, old days somewhere here to the South of the Hill. Who knows that will happen hereafter? Did we imagine that all these houses now here were going to be built?”

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