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.

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