“The supreme knowledge (Self-knowledge), which cannot be attained without great difficulty, can easily be attained by anyone who sees the form of this hill from wherever it is visible or who even thinks of it by mind from afar.” – Shiva, Arunachala Mahatmyam
Arunachala is a fire incarnation of Shiva. It means “the unchanging light,” and essentially symbolizes one’s True Nature (Satya).
Located in the pilgrimage town of Tiruvannamalai in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, India, Arunachala is one of the five main Shaivite (worshippers of Shiva) holy sites in South India. The Arunachaleswar Temple, the largest Shiva temple in the world, is located at the base of the hill that is known as Arunachala.
It is believed that when Brahma and Vishnu began to argue as a result of being deluded by pride and egoism, Lord Arunachala Shiva appeared before them in the form of a column of fire, and conquered their egoism by teaching them true knowledge. When Shakti, Goddess Parvati, wished to achieve a state in which she could commit no wrong, Lord Shiva sent her to Arunachala, where she merged and became one with him (forming the deity Ardhanarishvara). Like so, even to Brahma and Vishnu, Arunachala was Guru, and to Parvati it was the place where her separate individuality was destroyed.
“By merely thinking of Arunachala, one will surely attain Liberation.” – Shiva
Such is the assertion given by Shiva in the Arunachala Mahatmyam about the power of the sheer thought of Arunachala, and this assurance has received significant confirmation from the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharishi, a renowned Indian sage from the 20th century, who lived and taught at Ramana Ashram, located at the foot of Arunachala.
Sri Ramana related how the thought of Arunachala worked on his mind to arrest its fluctuations, bringing its attention towards the Self, thus making it still. Through his own experience, Ramana assured that this practice will lead the mind to the path of self-enquiry (re: the ‘direct path’), as in his own case. Ramana had referred to Arunachala as the non-dual reality that transcends time, space, name and form.
Arunachala has always been discerned as the bestower of liberation, the slayer of the ego, and the remover of the false notion that one is the body.
In many of the verses Ramana wrote, he clearly explained that the role of Arunachala is the designation of the guru. In Aksharamanamalai he indicates that Arunachala roots out the ego of those who think of it; it conquers those who approach it as God; and destroys the attachment of those who come to it with attachment.
Arunachala is the gross form of Supreme Truth, therefore to connect with it in any manner is considered satsang: to think, to see, or to live near this sacred hill. A way of engaging satsang with Arunachala is to do Arunagiri-pradakshina, which refers to walking barefoot around the hill, keeping it to one’s right side. Because Arunachala is recognized as the ‘fire of knowledge’ (jnanagni), when the mind, which is saturated with worldly tendencies (vasanas) goes round the hill with quiet, inward contemplation, one’s tendencies gradually lose their control over the mind.
Annually in the Tamil month of Karthigai (October–November), Deepam (Light the Karthigai) is ignited atop the hill, accompanied by chants of “Arunachala Shiva!” by the massive crowds numbered in the hundred thousands. The fire on top of Arunachala can be seen for many miles around.
O Arunachala, ocean of grace in the form of a hill, bestow grace upon me! (Ramana Maharishi, Sri Arunachala Aksharamanamalai, verse 17)
This article was originally published for Salt Spring Malas.