16 September 2011

Arunachala Girivalam

To those who have contacted me recently using the ‘contact me’ facility at the left top of this page, I can only respond to you personally if you include your email address.

In this respect in reply to a nice email from a Malaysian Arunachala devotee (who gave no return address) requesting information on girivalam, I am heretofore answering some of the questions raised in that email. If more particular recommendations or suggestions are required regarding accommodation please get in touch using the ‘contact me’ at the top of the page:-

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The practice of pradakshina consists in making a circuit on foot of a sacred place, a temple, a statue or of some person who is the object of reverence. The circuit is always clockwise, starting from the east towards the south, so that what is thus venerated is always on one’s right hand. People sometimes take a vow to carry out pradakshina of Arunachala or Arunachaleswarar Temple for forty-eight consecutive days, with a view to obtaining certain blessings or else in thankfulness to God.

Specific instructions for Arunachala girivalam are outlined in the Skanda Purana thus:-

38. The learned devotee should put on a clean dress after bath. He should apply sacred ash over his body and adorn himself with Rudraksha beads. Remembering Siva he should take steps slowly.

39-40. He should think about the likelihood of collision with thousands of Devas, invisible Siddhas and other of gaseous forms as well as Manus who walk ahead. He must think about the consequent rush and obstruction to the path. He should be a true devotee and go ahead slowly putting down his step along the path.

41. Or the devotee should circumambulate along with other devotees chanting the names of Siva, singing excellent songs and dancing like Siva.

42. Or he should, with his mind not dwelling on anything else, listen respectfully to my greatness and circumambulate slowly feeling the thrill of the bliss.

43. He must offer different kinds of charitable gifts. He must perform meritorious deeds. He should render assistance to suppliants. He should be pious and merciful in a manner he things best. Thus he should move round.

[Chapter 9, Verses 35-43 inc. Skanda Purana]

The length of the outer girivalam roadway is 14 kms and ideally circumbulation starts in the east at Arunachaleswarar Temple. However nowadays with large crowds thronging the girivalam pathway during full moon, its probably more suitable to start from the place you are at, whether it’s a Temple, Ashram or Hotel with the only essential being (for proper girivalam) is that you should complete the full 14 kms, thus ending up at the original starting place.

Its essential to pay attention to the realities of our time and for this reason I often suggest to first time visitors performing girivalam to have a pair of slippers in their bag in the case of pain or difficulties. Its particularly important for overweight people, diabetics and/or elderly people to protect their feet. Please be gentle with yourself and understand there are NO regulations against wearing shoes on girivalam. Be assured you will not be the only person with shoes performing pradakshina. This is the age of tarred roads, gravel chips and juggernaut lorries hurtling along at 60 kph, so for devotees unused to walking in difficult conditions its best to take it easy.

The importance of Girivalam is not to mortify the body, but to slow the mind. In this respect I would suggest that the most essential aspect of girivalam is DON’T TALK to your companions whilst walking or when stopping at Temples etc.

Another reality in this age of Kali is to be aware that as well as many wonderful Arunachala devotees travelling the Girivalam and visiting Shrines and Temples (including Arunachaleswarar Temple), there will also be a number of male and female expert thieves and pickpockets. Pay attention to your belongings and if its necessary for you to carry large sums of money and/or documents, please make sure to keep such items secreted in hidden pouches or compartments.

A quiet, leisurely walk of the Hillround will take approximately 4-5 hours. But many prefer to go slower and stop at Temples, Tanks and Lingams. My own most enjoyable girivalam took nearly 14 hours to perform, stopping at Temples, and for quiet sitting and also twice at hotels for meals.

When Sri Ramana Maharshi used to perform Girivalam with his devotees it would sometimes take his group up to three days to walk the 14 kms; sleeping at various Temples and often stopping for bhajans, to cook food and rest.

During the 24 hours of Full Moon, the Arunachaleswarar Temple Sannidhis remain open. At each entrance to the Temple visitors will be checked at metal detectors and have their bags examined, so remember to leave your shoes at designated booths located at numerous spots outside the various Temple Gates. No matter one’s condition, the wearing of shoes are not allowed inside the Temple Compound. However, one may wear socks. So to visitors who need to be gentle with their feet, it is advisable to keep a clean pair of socks in one’s bag and after passing into the compound to put them on.

There are many Hotels, Choultries, Ashrams and Rooms available for visiting pilgrims. If one wishes to stay near the Temple, the two largest and most comfortable Lodges are the Trishul Hotel (vegetarians should be aware that the Trishul Hotel restaurant also serves non vegetarian food) and the Ramakrishna Hotel. In the Ramana Nagar area (which is about 2 kms West of the Temple there are a number of Ashrams such as Ramana Ashram, Seshadri Ashram, Andhra Ashram, Siva Sannidhi etc., that offer accommodation to pilgrims – visitors need to make reservations in advance at all of these places.

Virtues of Pradakshina by Sri Ramana Maharshi

"What is there superior to pradakshina? That alone is sufficient. Even if you sit and do japa, the mind will wander, but if you do pradakshina that mind will remain one-pointed even though the limbs and the body are moving. Doing japa or meditation with a one-pointed mind, while moving about, without having any thought other than the japa, is known as absorption while moving (sanchara samadhi). That is why in the olden days pilgrimage on foot, without using any other conveyance, had so much importance.

Giripradakshina is unique. As there are many types of herbs on the hill, the breeze that blows over them is good for the body. Even today there are many siddhas and great souls on the hill. They too go around the hill, but we cannot see them. Because of this, when we do pradakshina we should keep to the left of the road. If we do this, we do pradakshina without causing any inconvenience to them. We also get the merit of walking round these great souls, thereby receiving their blessings. As we do pradakshina, the body becomes healthy and the mind attains the peace of the Self. Because of all these things, pradakshina is an extraordinary sadhana."
[Ramana Maharshi]

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To get more specific guidance regarding the more rarely walked inner path go to this link here. And to this link here for more information on the more commonly walked outer pradakshina pathway.


Rani S said...

Thanks for the information. I'm sure it will keep in planning our Tiruvannamalai visit.

Bani vs pillay said...

Very interesting information that i have read here. I visited Tiruannamalai in 2015 and did the Girivalam. The hunger to be with THE LORD is never ending. I have the urge to come back again. This is how i feel all the time.

Last year, when i walked around Arunachala Hill, i did it it barefoot and being a diabetic, i had a deep wound on my big toe, which took 2 months to heal. it has not fully healed till today.

How am I going to do it again. Will the LORD ARUNACHALA protect me this time. I am worried that I will not be able to complete the Girivalam. Will the LORD accept me if were to wear socks and walk around the Hill.

Please help me to clear my conscience.

Meenakshi Ammal said...

Please don't feel you have to comply to certain regulations to perform girivalam. It is better to do girivalam wearing shoes and/or socks then not to perform girivalam.

Nowadays conditions are different. We are not living in an idyllic world with grass coverings and clean, natural pathways. The girivalam road is covered with gravel chips and heavy transport vehicles go by at high speed throwing dust and dirt on pedestrians. The area sadly is heavily polluted with trash and rubbish lining the edges of the pathway.

Many old and infirm people perform girivalam in vehicles. Many (even young people) do giripradkashina wearing shoes and/or socks. THERE ARE NO REGULATIONS.

If you feel guilty about wearing protection on your feet then before performing girivalam please dedicate your actions to the Divine. You will receive his Blessings.

On a personal note I have had very serious problems with leg ulcers over the years that necessitate protection on my feet at all times. When I perform girivalam I start off barefoot but have slippers in my bag. As soon as my feet feel uncomfortable I put on my shoes. This is being responsible maintaining your own good health -- which is a Divine act.

Please return soon to Arunachala and experience joy performing girivalam dedicated to the Lord. And feel blessed and confident wearing whatever protection necessary on your feet.

Arunachala Love and Light

nagaraja babu m s said...

I had blisters on both feet when I walked barefoot for first time as tarred road was emanating heat. It took minimum 45 days to heal and come to normal.this time I wore cotton thick socks and did girivslam with Swamy blessings

srinivas b said...

Are horses or palkis available For elderly people?

Meenakshi Ammal said...

One only sees horses around Tiruvannamalai in connection with wedding processions.

For girivalam many choose to go round in an auto-rickshaw and stop off at whatever spots they are most interested in. Some years back bicycle rickshaws were plying (don't know if still available). The hill-round was more pleasant in a bicycle rickshaw as the vehicle was more open than that of an auto-rickshaw.

Another alternative way to perform hill-round is to go via bullock cart. I've done it myself about 8 times and its a big favourite. However as you specifically mention you want comfort for elderly people, suggest you go by auto-rickshaw.

Agree a fixed charge before setting off. You will definitely want to stop at lots of places, so you should factor that into the time.

If you are not happy with the price quoted, negotiate with another rickshaw. Remember rickshaws are very expensive if based outside Ramana Ashram. Don't let them cheat you. Best Wishes.

Dinesh Sankar said...

I love lord shiva . I am his devotee for past 3 to 4 years. Recently I did girivalam. After that I am getting more problems than before. Iam very much disturbed .i doubt that god feels that I am not a good devotee of Siva I am getting this much problems .some one pls help me to clear my thoughts

Meenakshi Ammal said...

We all have karma to complete in this lifetime, some good and some bad. We cannot avoid this. But we do know if we hold to God, he will help us get through the difficulties and problems we must face. It is very good that you are performing girivalam and even though you may not be aware of its affect, it most surely helps. Spend as much time as possible in holy places and with uplifting spiritual thoughts and visit Arunachala as often as you can. Wishing Arunachala Grace and Love upon you.

Ravi Kiran said...

Can we get bus for Girivalam

Meenakshi Ammal said...

There are no buses that follow the Arunachala girivalam route. However many take an auto rickshaw for the girivalam. Make sure to fix a rate which includes waiting time and the cost of going around the 14 km roadway. Most pilgrims book a rickshaw for 3 hours and then stop at the asta lingams and favourite temples like Adi Annamalai and the Arunachaleswarar Temple etc.

An autorickshaw works better than going round in a car, as its more open with a vastly better view and darshan.

Hope it works out.

Anonymous said...

I just did my very first Girivalam...and as much as I wanted to try to walk it, I felt that due to health issues I’d not be able to complete it..a.so I rode on the back of a motorcycle and stopped at every holy place and lingam temple and it was the most amazing thing ever and super powerful...
You will still get enormous blessings even if you take a motorcycle..we left at 2 and I returned at 7:30...and that was with a motorcycle..
I cannot wait to do it again..
It’s amazing that some people who live here do it everyday!!!