Saturday, January 8, 2011

He received enlightenment at age 16 (in 1896) and
renouncing the world, he moved to Mt. Arunachala to live in a cave in silence.
They say he meditated in a small cave for 17 years, in silence, eating little else but rice...

Sri Ramana Maharshi is one of India's most renowned holy men and yesterday we visited his cave, to sit in silence for a short time.  We went to feel his energy and the energy of the tens of  thousands of devotees who have since made a pilgrimage to that place.  Many of us felt a calmness there we hadn't felt before and thought we might have sat for hours more, had we been given the chance.

"Here in India, where thousands of so-called holy men claim close tune with the infinite, it is said that the most remarkable thing about Ramana Maharshi was that he never claimed anything remarkable for himself, yet became one of the most loved and respected of all." NY Times, 1950

Maharshi left his body in 1950 but the ashram that has grown up around the cave on Mt. Arunachala has flourished since that time.  Pilgrims come from hundreds of miles around to visit the mountain, his ashram, and the magnificent Temple Complex at Tiruvanamalai.

Built between the 9th and 10th century by the Chola Empire.
The temple towers or gopurams are massive,  and there is a 1000 pillar hall inside.
We had the opportunity to climb half way up the sacred mountain and see the thousand year old temple from above -- an inspiring sight that evoked images of time long past.  Sitting in meditation on the mountain with other pilgrims surrounding us, we felt far removed from the honking and screeching in the city streets below.  How different we felt on the mountain than when we returned below to the busy city and temple where all was spectacle and bustling energy.  Up on the mountain top all was still and quiet and solitary.  Once could imagine a young Maharshi passing time amidst the lush green, the monkeys, and the blissful silence while below the world played out its complexity.

Entering the temple with us were hundreds of red sari clad SHAKTI devotees, women who were on pilgrimage visiting shrines devoted to the divine feminine energies of Parvathi, Durga, Kali and other mother goddesses. We tussled with them, pushing and shoving for a space on the long, claustrophobic lines that wound through the dark inner temple, edging closer, slowly, towards the Inner Sanctum where we might received the darshan of the god and goddess, Lord Shiva and his beloved.  It was dark and warm and crowded, overwhelming and intense.  My students didn't know how to push and stay together as a group so aggressive shakti pilgrims divided us up and we became a bit lost in the mob.  Our tour guide, Lisa, warned us to stay together or we might get swallowed up in the throng.  We managed to get in, to see the gods, to receive our holy forehead powder (made from cow dung0 and retreat back into the sunshine of the outer courtyard unscathed.


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