Skandashramam

This piece was written during a trip made to Ramanasramam in the holy temple town of Tiruvannamalai in the state of Tamil Nadu in South India. It is specifically about a couple of walks made up to Skandasramam, the cave behind on the holy hill of Arunachala and where Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi stayed for 7 years from 1915 – 1922. Towards the end of the piece reference is made to the red flame vision described in my previous blog entry, Honey Valley.

First Walk

My early morning meditation began later than usual due to my late night struggles to get back on track, but I was in the meditation hall by 6 am where I had a solid hour of sitting whilst feeling in a good state of recovery. Concentration good, body pacified and back to the breath! Skipped breakfast as I wanted a couple more hours for my stomach to feel fully settled, instead I went and had a large glass of coffee from the tea bar across the road from the ashram entrance. Cost me 20 rupees which was a bit of a rip off price, but it was good to sit there for a while and watch the early morning street life pass on by outside the ashram. I realised the sound of the lorries had not bothered me half as much the night before, maybe that was because I had other things on my mind such as my guts. Probably would be the case that if I stayed round the ashram long enough I would not even notice those lorries were there as everything would eventually blend into one.

After my roadside coffee I decided to take the path up to the cave behind the ashram where Ramana Maharshi had stayed for 7 years from 1915 – 1922. It was a half hour walk which took me some way up Arunachala the holy hill and it felt good to be walking as I needed to stretch out, take some exercise in the fresh morning air. Even though it was not yet 8 am the weather was already hot, so the steady pace I set myself soon brought me out in a little sweat with my heart moderately pounding. Might just be the case that I was getting out of shape! Struck lucky when I got to the cave however, as it was just before it was opened by the ashram attendant and there were already a bunch of Westerners on the steps outside the entrance. I realised they were waiting to go inside to sit and meditate so I took the opportunity to join them. Soon enough I was sitting inside the cave building with my back against one of the walls, eyes closed and drinking in the atmosphere, which I have to say was very powerful. Sat there in blissful silence for a good 40 minutes in which it felt like my body had simply fallen away. It was unexpected, just like the best experiences always are, an inner bathing with no contrivance, punching me back to a state of no mind, no mental conversation, almost an out of body experience and under the circumstances most welcome.

An hour or so later I walked back down from the cave and sat a couple of times along the way to enjoy the views of Tiruvannamalai through the heat haze hanging over the plains below, with the temple towers of the town standing in the middle of the urban sprawl like a scene from centuries past. At the bottom of the hill I stopped to talk with Siva, a young man who made his way up to the hill each day to sell his stone carvings. Bought one off him which was in the shape of the holy hill, with Ramana Maharshi’s face on one side carved into it and on the other the sacred syllable Om with rays of light emanating outwards in all directions from the centre. Loved it as soon as I saw it and paid him handsomely without putting too much energy into the haggle. Siva was pleased about that and blessed it before he wrapped it up in some newspaper to hand over to me. It felt good having walked up the hill to the cave where I had sat inside in a state of deep meditation and it felt good to have made my way back down again, so I planned in my mind to do the same thing the next morning.

Second Walk

After breakfast I walked up to the cave again, sitting in silence in the same place where Ramana Maharshi had stayed for those 7 years in the early decades of the twentieth century. This time around I had no out of body experience or anything like that but I did make a connection which left me pondering over the fact that what is subjective can sometimes combine with what is supposedly the outside objective. It dawned on me as I sat there in the cave that the red flame which I had been experiencing on and off in my meditations over the last few weeks, which in particular had been very strong when I was in a place called Honey Valley for a few days up in the hills of Coorg, was similar to the flaming peak of Arunachala. It is a fact the holy hill is depicted in drawings and carvings with a red flame on top of it. On special days such as when there is a full moon at the end of a religious festival, a fire beacon is lit which blazes from the top of it as devotees perform circumambulation around the bottom of the hill throughout the course of the night. I therefore took it as a sign that it might well have been the case Arunachala had been calling me and that indeed was why I had made the journey to Tiruvannamalai. Deluded fantasy possibly, but maybe not! Maybe this was my time to be there and maybe I will never have that red flame vision ever again now that I had made it to the ashram and the holy hill. Who knows? No explanation for it really, but all I felt as I sat there with my back against the wall of the cave, was that it seemed to make perfect sense, which is all I have to go on at the end of the day, being an inexplicable codification of my own experience.

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