14 October 2011

In Search of Secret India

As is the case with many pilgrims to Arunachala, my introduction to the Hill was through the writings of Paul Brunton in his remarkable book, “In Search of Secret India.”

The book charts the course of Paul Brunton’s spiritual quest travelling throughout India in search of a Guru. His journey led him to meet extraordinary men in very unordinary circumstances. Eventually he was to understand that his guru in form was Sri Ramana Maharshi, and three chapters in the book recount Brunton’s experiences both with Arunachala and with the Sage.

When the book “In Search of Secret India”, found its way into my life I was recuperating from an illness so was able to read the book many times in a restful and contemplative manner. Like Brunton, I also fell under the spell of several saints and sages presented “In Search of Secret India,” however my true enchantment was spun by what was termed, ‘The Hill of the Holy Beacon'. And the book left me with the overpowering intention to one day visit Arunachala during Deepam Festival, and view the light on top of the Holy Hill.

There can be no better joy in life then what man proposes and God disposes are unified and it has subsequently been my great good fortune to be allowed to be at Arunachala for many Deepams.

Below is a narrative from Brunton’s book which describes his first view of Arunachala;-

“ . . . We descend at a little wayside station and the train screeches and grinds away into the silent darkness. Night’s life has not quite run out so we sit in a bare and comfortless little waiting-room, whose small kerosene lamp we light ourselves.

We wait patiently while day fights with darkness for supremacy. When a pale dawn emerges at last, creeping bit by bit through a small barred window in the back of our room, I peer out at such portion of our surroundings as becomes visible. Out of the morning haze there rises the faint outline of a solitary hill apparently some few miles distant. The base is of impressive extent and the body of ample girth, but the head is not to be seen, being yet thick-shrouded in the dawn mists.

. . . . . I judge that we have now travelled about five or six miles, when we reach the lower slopes of the hill whose vague outline I had seen from the station. It rises like a reddish-brown giant in the clear morning sunlight. The mists have now rolled away, revealing a broad skyline at the top. It is an isolated upland of red soil and brown rock, barren for the most part, with large tracts almost treeless and with masses of stone split into great boulders tossed about in chaotic disorder.

Arunachala in the 1940's

Brunton’s companion said:

“. . . . . Once a year the temple priests celebrate their central festival. Immediately that occurs within the temple, a huge fire blazes out on top of the mountain, its flame being fed with vast quantities of butter and camphor. It burns for many days and can be seen for many miles around. Whoever sees it, at once prostrates himself before it. It symbolizes the fact that this mountain is sacred ground, overshadowed by a great deity.”

The hill now towers over our heads. It is not without its rugged grandeur, this lonely peak patterned with red, brown and grey boulders, thrusting its flat head thousands of feet into the pearly sky. Whether the holy man’s words have affected me or whether for some unaccountable cause, I find a queer feeling of awe arising in me as I meditate upon the picture of the sacred mountain, as I gaze up wonderingly at the steep incline of Arunachala.

“Do you know,” whispers my companion, “That this mountain is not only esteemed holy ground, but the local traditions dare to assert that the gods placed it there to mark the spiritual centre of the world!”

[In Search of Secret India by Paul Brunton]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful Post.
Thank you.
Interesting, touching and informative.

I am just picking up the book to read now, and I also feel the awe of Arunachala, seeing this wonderful photo from the 1940s.

Somehow it looks more raw back then, more primeval, yet with all the grandeur.

Thanks again.