It has been said there are three major pilgrimage methods in which a true devotee can achieve liberation from the cycle of life, death and rebirth. One is to meditate within the Virupaksha Cave on Mount Arunachala where the venerated sage Sri Ramana Maharshi lived from 1899 to 1916 in silence and solitude (he later moved to the Skandasraman cave, a few minutes more up the hill, where he lived from 1916 to 1922, but it is not considered as holy). The second is by making the climb to the top of Arunachala’s holy peak (where it is reported a yogi lives who has not eaten since 1990. See Haadi Vidya Siddhi). And the third is the custom of Giri Valam, circumambulating the base of Mount Arunachala.
The custom of Giri Valam, Giri Pradakshina, or Pradakshina Giki-Dakshina, has been in use since times immemorial. For the Enlightened Indian holy man Bhagavan Shri Ramana Maharshi, the Sage of Arunachala, this was a regular and enjoyable thing. He used to say that the red sores caused by the sharp pebbles on the soles, while doing Giri Valam on barefoot, will be the rubies for the crown of the Lord.
The word Pradakshina itself has profound meaning.
- PRA – Expels sins
- DA – Grants ones wishes
- KSHI – Destroys karma
- NA – Liberation /Self Realization/Death of the Ego.
The word Giri Valam translates thus:
- GIRI – Hill
- VALAM – Circumambulation
Giri Valam should be undertaken after having a bath, on bare foot, with a pure and meditative mind. It is better to do it alone or at least the group should be small. It is better to observe silence or silent chanting of Arunachala.
At each of the eight cardinal directions along the Circumambulation Route are lingas or lingams, enshrined in stone edifices, each with a sacred pool by the side. The first one along the route is the due east linga, Indra Lingam. Then comes Angi Lingam at the southeast cardinal point followed by Yama Lingam taking up the directly south location. In the the southwest position is Nirutthi Lingam, then Varuna Lingam exactly due west. In the northwest position is Vaayu Lingam followed by the due north linga, Kubera Lingam. The eighth and last is the northeast linga, Eesaanya Lingam. Daily worship is conducted for some, but many are devoid of any worship. Some of them do have a Vimana, Antarala and a Sanctum.
Here are a few of the important places to visit:
- ARUNACHALESHWARA TEMPLE. The main temple of Tiruvannamalai. Pictures and graphics of the temple, including a temple plan can be found at the bottom of this page. It is located at position #18 on the CLICK THROUGH map. The usual, or classic, starting point for beginning Giri Valam is through the East Gopuram (tower) of the main temple. Acceptable as well is starting at Indra Lingam and ending instead, in the main temple. In either case, visit the Brahma Lingam within the temple, making your way toward the South Gopuram, then on to the Indra Lingam. While within the main temple grounds be sure to see the Thousand-pillared Hall and (attempt) to see the underground vault, Patala Lingam, where the young Sri Ramana spent his early days.
- INDRA LINGAM. Due East. First cardinal point Ashta Dik Lingam on the giri valam route. For specific information regarding each of the individual Lingams, including graphics, click: LINGAMS.
- AYYANKULAM TANK. Not long after Sri Ramana arrived in Tiruvannamalai he walked out of the temple grounds and someone called out and asked if he wanted his tuft removed. He consented, and was conducted to the Ayyankulam tank where a barber shaved his head. He threw what little money he had with him into the pond together with the sweets that had been given him. He thought, “This body died away, why make a fuss about it?'” returning to settle down in the temple.
- GURUMURTAM. The shrine Sri Ramana moved to initally after leaving the underground vault in the main temple. It was here that he began being looked after by Palaniswami, the person who was to spend the rest of his life in the service of Sri Ramana as his personal attendant. ANGI LINGAM. South East. Second of cardinal point lingams along the route.
- SESHADRI SWAMI ASHRAM, #19 on the CLICK THROUGH map.
- SRI RAMANA ASHRAM, #20 on the CLICK THROUGH map.
- SKANDASHRAM CAVE AND VIRUPAKSHA CAVE. Neither cave is actually on the circumabulation route, however, both are must visits. Skandashram Cave is a small cave about 800 feet above and behind the Ramana Ashram off the main route. Virupaksha cave is about 200 feet below that. Virupaksha Cave is named after a great yogi and saint of Thiru who preceded Ramana. He had a large following and one day he told them he wanted to be alone in the cave. After a while they started to wonder about him. When they entered the cave all they found was a pile of ashes. Ramana subsequently took over the cave and formed the ashes into a tall pile. Higher up, the path curves round to the east slope. Just below the main peak are the Seven Springs located in small crevices of a huge rock where there is cool water year around even in the hottest weather. Above Seven Springs is a mound of boulders at the entrance to another cave. Sri Ramana often sat there with his devotees. Swami Ramdas, under Sri Ramana’s guidance, spent nearly a month in a cave on the slopes of Arunachala in constant chanting of Ramnam. It was his first occasion that he went into solitude. After twenty-one days, when he came out of the cave he saw a strange, all-pervasive light: everything was Ram and only Ram (God).