Arunachala is immortal light. A column of fine that existed before time began, the light shone in order that all those lost in worldly forgetfulness might remember their true home. Arunachala is a lingam-a sign or symbol of the divine-and by tradition is considered to be Lord Siva Himself. But as an icon to the undying presence, the original light of consciousness that undergirds and illumines all of reality, Arunachala is the paradigmatic symbol of the Self, the fine of wisdom that promises to burn away the veils of illusion and ignorance.
The present edition blends images of the Holy Hill, Guru Ramana, Arunachala Temple and Sri Ramanasramam, with the saying of the saints and scriptures including Bhagagan's own verses written in praise of the Mountain. In essence the book probes the question, What is Arunachala if not one's own Self? This is Bhagavan's teaching and to pay homage to one of the faces of Holy Aruna Hill is verity to venerate Sri Ramana's own truest form.
For millennia Arunachala Mountain has attracted saints, sages, seekers and pilgrims. Many who came felt compelled to return again; others founds they were unable to leave once having arrived; still others came and stayed on for long years pursuing meditation and taps around the Hill. Even today Arunachala attracts a swelling stream of adherents who come to be renewed on festival days, and indeed, Annamalaui is ever gracious in granting His blessings to all who would make the journey in earnest.
The present edition is a tribute to the Holy Hill. As devotees of Sri Bhagavan never tire of beholding images of the Hill and photos of Bhagavan himself, or for that matter, perusing the sayings of the saints, the scriptures and Bhagavan's poems in praise of Arunachala, the Ashram is pleased to bring out the present collection. A foray into the teaching, Aruna of the Golden Fire blends scenes of the Mountain, the big Temple, Sri Ramanasramam and portraits of Guru Ramana on the Hill, with the testimonies written by its beneficiaries over the centuries. In essence the book probes the question, What is Arunachala if not our own Self? What is it to behold the lingam of the Lord if not to see the Absolute that dwells as the Atman within each of us? This Bhagavan' Teaching and to pay homage to one of the Facets of Aruna Hill is eerily to venerate Sri Ramana's own truest form.
The repertoire of photographs consists of archival and historical images taken during Bhagavan's time along with contemporary photos. These together with lively selections from the Ashram literature combine to elicit some of that timeless presence that invariably accompanies any sincere endeavour in this holy kshetra. To enable the reader a more contemplative reading, excerpts have been freely adapted with only minor editorial intrusion. Bhagavan's verses which appear in English in the body of the text have been supplied in the original at the back of the book for comparison.
Arunachala is immortal light. A column of fire that existed before began, the light shone in order that all those lost in worldly forgetfulness might remember their home. If saints and sages of every land throughout the ages have maintained that a meaningful life cannot be built on the transient things of this world-money, status, material possessions, worldly knowledge and pleasures-, Arunachala stands as the embodiment of that which gives true and lasting life. Arunachala is a lingam-a sign or symbol of the divine-and by tradition is considered to be the very form of Siva. But as an icon to the undying presence that undergirds all of reality, the original light of consciousness that illumines all that is seen and known, Arunachala is paradigmatic symbol of the Self, the fire of wisdom that promises to burn away the veils of illusion and ignorance.
The Puranic attestation that Arunachala is the oldest hill on earth has some resonance with modern science: the Deccan plateau of which Arunachala is a part, geologists tell us, is the oldest geological feature of the Indian subcontinent, dating to the early Archaean Era some 2.6 billion years ago. Achala (lit, 'unmoving') and giri both mean 'hill' or 'mpuntain'; Aruna, means 'red-coloured', hence, the Red Mountain or Hill of Fire.
The theme of Lord Siva in the form light (tejo linga) comes ancient times when Vishnu and Brahma quarrelled as to who was the greater. Lord Siva stepped in to the dispute, arranging a contest. Manifesting as a great column of fire, a voice from the flame challenged the two to find either the top or bottom of the pillar of light; the one that could do so deemed the greater. So Vishnu took the form of a boar and dug down deep into the earth in search of the bottom while Brahma, taking the form of a swan, flew high up towards the stars seeking its apex. Long centuries passed until Vishnu, stopping deep in earth to sit in meditation, humbled himself and began to realise that the mighty pillar was the very light of Awareness Itself and thus transcended the three worlds and the three times, its limits beyond any comprehension. Brahma all the while flew beyond the stars and, as his pride grew he devised a plan to deceive Lord Siva. Taking hold of a screw pine flower (thazhambu) that had dropped down from above, he presented it to the Lord, claiming to have retrieved it from the top of the column. But the Lord saw through the ruse and chastened Brahma for his deceit, decreeing that temples should no longer be dedicated in his name. But Vishnu as well as Brahma had failed the test, and the two, now humbled, bowed before the Lord begging forgiveness. Meanwhile, as the light shone with such splendour that all who beheld it were compelled to shield their eyes, Vishnu and Brahma entreated Mahadeva to cool his brightness so that celestial and earthly beings might be able to worship him and thus be delivered from the darkness of illusion. The Lord heeded the request and gradually allowed the column to cool, becoming in successive yugas a lingam of diamond (in Treta yuga) , of gold (in Duapara yuga) and finally, a lingam of stone (in Kali yuga) , the 2600 ft hill we see today.
The universality of the Sivalingam and Lord Siva's association with fire no doubt have their root in Arunachala's illustrious past. The Rigveda identifies Rudra with Agni, as do subsequent scriptures. The Sleanda Purana and Linga Purana deem Aruna Mountain as Sadasiva himself and thus superior to Mandara, Meru and Kailasa. The purificatory power of pilgrimage to this sacred sthala is so considerable, they aver, that one need only catch sight of the Hill from a distance to be assured of liberation in this lifetime.' Lord Siva proclaims:
The moment you set your eyes on It, your ignorance will be destroyed! Its glory gives sight to the blind, ability to walk to the lame, progeny to the childless and speech to the dumb. Arunachala confers all siddhis, cures all diseases, destroys all sins and grants all boons. Every year, during Kartigai, I shall appear on the summit of this Hill in the form of fire [ ... ]. Those who see that fire and meditate upon it, shall realise the great light within themselves."
Once Parvati in jest crept up behind the Lord and covered his eyes. But in the short duration of her prank aeons passed on earth and countless millions perished in the absence of the Lord's beneficent guardianship. To atone for her transgression, Parvati went to Tiruvannamalai for a period of penance. She came under the guidance of Sage Gautama Muni whose ashram lay near Pavalakunru at the foot of the Hill. She pursued hertapas for long years until, one day, the demon Mahishasura suddenly appeared. Inadvertently disturbing the Divine Mother's tapas, the demon incurred her wrath. Uma, taking the form of the fierce warrior Goddess Durga, slayed the demon, cutting off his head. But when she found a bloodied Sivalinga lodged in the deceased demon's throat, she repented for having defiled the Lord. Following Gautama's instruction she struck the hillside with her sword and, splitting open the earth, formed khadga tirtha where she bathed continuously until the Lord was propitiated. Lord Siva appeared to her in the form of light on krittika nakshatra ofKartigai and offered a boon for her tapas. She prayed to be forever merged in Him so that there would never again be separation. Hence, her prayer duly granted, ardhanariswara (the Lord with half female form) became Arunachala Siva, the union of Siva and Shakti, Purusha and Prakruti, the final resolution of all opposites, the parabolic merging of the two primordial elements of creation: water, the earthly, manifest; and fire, the divine, transcendent.
In more recent history, Tiruvannamalai was ruled by great kings-the Cholas, the Hoysalas and the Vijayanagara kings-who all knew the greatness of the Mountain through the eminent poets who sang of It. They built the eminent Arunachaleswara temple (successively, from the 8th to the 17th centuries) which houses what is said to be extant since the dawn of time-the first lingam of Mahadeva. Great rishis had come and taken up residence on the Mountain-Vasishta, Agastya, Brighu, Jaimini, Vyasa, Narada, Valmiki, Parasara, Durvasa, Patanjali and Kapila to mention a few. The trend continued in the more recent past with countless saints making pilgrimage to the Hill. Manikkavasagar, Jnanasambandar, Appar, Arunagirinathar, Virupakshadevar, Guhanamasivaya, Gurunamasivaya, Isanya Gnana Desikar and finally Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi all came and wrote hymns and verses in praise of the Hill, many of which are sung even to the present day.
Sri Ramana Maharshi
By the time the young Venkataraman came in September, 1896, few were performing holy pradakshina, the traditional ritual circumambulation of the Hill. But Bhagavan's presence initiated a revival of devotion and year by year, pilgrims began to return in greater numbers. The flame of devotion had been ignited in the young boy's heart when heard the name Arunachala from an uncle who had just returned from pilgrimage there. In raptures AT THERE In raptures at discovering that the legendary city he had heard of in his youth was an actual place on earth, he made up his mind to go there one day. In fact, within less than a year, Venkataraman would strike out and make his own pilgrimage to Tiruvannamalai. There he would divest of all worldly possessions and take refuge at the feet of Annamalai, never to leave his holy presence again. Devotees then and since have proclaimed the glory of Arunachala through Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, firm in the conviction that Sri Ramana is none other than Arunachala Siva in human form.
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