The last of a short series of pieces on a trip I made a couple of years ago to the pilgrimage town of Tiruvannamalai in the state of Tamil Nadu, South India, 2019. The write ups are in dairy form, sometimes with double entries for a single date due to notes taken at the time either in my Yuva notebook or on the memo pad of my Samsung phone.
Got up today at 6.18 and by 6.45 I was enjoying a large glass of chai at the Ramana Drinks Stall opposite to Ramanasramam on the Chengam Road. There were just a couple of other people there sitting on the plastic chairs by the side of the road, no doubt slowly getting themselves together for another day in India. For me there was no conversation as after I’d finished my chai I took a walk up the holy hill of Arunachala to Skandasramam where I arrived by 7.25 to find it pretty empty and that was probably because the gate was still closed. A lone attendant informed me that it would open at 8.15 which meant it was just a question of waiting if I wanted to go inside the cave. There were hazy views of the temple town below as I sat and enjoyed the feeling of being in a relaxed state of mind, glad to have made the effort to walk up there. Since there was just the two of us I had a conversation with the attendant about the Giri Pradakshina which he told me brings in 2 to 3 lakhs of people to Tiruvannamalai each month on full moon day, with a lakh being 100,000, meaning in other words that the town got pretty busy. The full moon in April this year would bring in even more people due to it being a bigger one than usual, bigger moon that is, which might mean up to a million pilgrims, quite a lot in anyone’s book. The most popular time for Giri Pradakshina is during Karthikai which falls in December when between 2-3 million people come to Tiruvannamalai for the 10 day festival. It culminates with a beacon being lit on top of Mount Arunachala where 3500 kilos of ghee gets burnt in a huge cauldron, taken up the holy hill by priests and volunteers from the Arunachaleshwar Temple at the bottom of it in the centre of town. The other big occasion in the religious calendar of Tiruvannamalai is at the beginning of March and it is called Sivaratri, a festival which is popular throughout the whole of South India, marking as it does, among other things, the start of the hot season.
This is the third of a short series of pieces on a trip I made a couple of years ago to the pilgrimage town of Tiruvannamalai in the state of Tamil Nadu, South India, 2019. The write ups are in dairy form, sometimes with double entries for a single date due to notes taken at the time either in my Yuva notebook or on the memo pad of my Samsung phone.
Breakfast this morning 21/2 was a coffee from the drinks stand opposite Ramanasramam plus a banana I had bought the day before and which I ate standing by the roadside with a glass of hot sweet coffee in my hand watching life go by on the Chengam Road. When I’d finished I took a walk across the road to the ashram where after a little while I ended up in the Ashram Book Depot and bought a few books. It was as if I suddenly realised it was going to be my only chance to buy some quality Ramana Maharshi reading material on this trip and it was important for me to chose some from the selection on offer in the Depot because in the wider world quality Ramana Maharshi books could be pretty hard to find. These are the ones I came away with –
This is the second of a short series of pieces on a trip I made a couple of years ago to the pilgrimage town of Tiruvannamalai in the state of Tamil Nadu, South India, 2019. The write ups are in dairy form, sometimes with double entries for a single date due to notes taken at the time either in my Yuva notebook or on the memo pad of my Samsung phone.
On that first evening of my stay at the Arunachala Ramana Home I walked out mid evening and did the Girivalapathai or Giri Pradikshina, the circumambulation of Arunachala, because it just so happened to be the night of a full moon. The Girivalapathai around the holy hill, Mount Arunachala, was 14 km in length, taking 3 hours and clocking up a pretty impressive 21,000 steps on my mobile phone step counter, setting off from the Arunachala Ramana Home at 8pm and getting back by 11 pm. It was simply something which I had to do. In my projected plans for the trip to Tiruvannamalai it had always been in the back of my mind to do it this year and I guess it was one of the reasons why I’d arrived in Tiruvannamalai a few days before my booking at Ramanasramam begun. Just needed a kick to get me out the door so to speak, because after the rigours of the day with all my shifting from place to place and what not, I was beginning to feel a bit lazy, but when that kick happened it meant I was soon up and running. Well, not exactly running but at least walking very fast. Now it has to be said the vast majority of pilgrims on the circuit were walkin’ barefoot around the holy hill and if I had realised before beginning that was the way it was done I might well have joined them and not worn my pair of New Balance shoes. Instead of having to watch my step, it felt like I was walking on air, so soft so comfortable so springy they were, those shoes, with it probably taking me a good hour to realise what was going on and that I was odd man out. By then it was too late for me to turn round and go back to start again, and I also didn’t have a bag with me, but that was OK, as after all wasn’t I odd man out anyway, considering the fact nearly everyone else doing the holy circuit were Indians and Tamils at that? Well yeah, on one level maybe I was, but on another, not really.
This is the first of a short series of pieces on a trip I made a couple of years ago to the pilgrimage town of Tiruvannamalai in the state of Tamil Nadu, South India, 2019. The write ups are in dairy form, sometimes with double entries for a single date due to notes taken at the time either in my Yuva notebook or on the memo pad of my Samsung phone.
A week or so before I left for Tiruvannamalai I had a long conversation with my old friend Anita who just returned from there after staying for a couple of months. We had both made a trip to Tiruvannamalai together in 2017 when we had stayed for a few days in Ramanasramam before heading down further south to the ancient temple city of Madurai located in the heart of Tamil Nadu. This was in order to visit the birth place of Ramana Maharshi in 1879 in the village of Tiruchuzhi and the place of his self-realisation in 1896 which was in the city of Madurai itself. During the course of our talk she wrote down the following on a piece of paper and handed it to me –
Swami Hamsananda Athithi Ashram 11 G/1 Manakula Vinayagar Street Sri Ramanasramam PO Tiruvannamalai 606 603
Writing these words in Chennai. First did this trip 8 years ago, no sorry, 7, as the first one was back in 2012 and now we are in 2019. The trip takes me across South India west to east, from the Tibetan settlement of Bylakuppe to Mysore, then Mysore to Chennai with a late evening arrival at Chennai Central on the Shatabdi Express, before a late night taxi ride from the railway station to my hotel. For the last 3 trips including this one, I have stayed in the New Woodlands Hotel in Mylapore which has rooms at various levels of quality. My reason for staying in Woodlands is that the hotel has a pretty good travel desk from which I can painlessly book a car to take me down to Tiruvannamalai. This time around I have booked one for 10 O’ Clock the next morning with the hope of getting to Tiruvannamalai by early afternoon or mid afternoon at the latest. It is all pretty familiar to me by now, I mean I have followed this same pattern for my last three trips – 2016, 2017 and now this one in 2019 – and it has always worked out well enough for me. The first trip I made to Tiruvannamalai back in 2012 was slightly different in that I stayed the night in Chennai at a place called the Himalaya in Triplicane, the Muslim quarter of town and not too far from Chennai Central Railway station, as on that occasion Woodlands had been fully booked.
So this is my life, this is what I do, I mean not all the time of course, but at least part of it, pretty much each time I come out to India, or certainly it has been like this for the last few years. I am making the trip to Tiruvannamalai primarily in the hope of doing some quality meditation and finding inspiration in my spiritual practice by way of being in the place of the guru Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. From Friday 22nd I will be staying at Ramanasramam for 6 days and nights until Thursday 28th when I return to Chennai so as to get the Shatabdi Express the following morning to take me back to Mysore on March 1st. Before those 6 days in the ashram I have 5 days at the Athena Hotel, a mid to upper-range place in Tiruvannamalai booked mainly because it was one of the last few which still had rooms available. The reason for all the hotels in Tiruvannamalai being busy, and all the ashrams too, is because it is a full moon on the 18th of the month when the town will get a lot of visitors, people in the form of pilgrims and devotees of Lord Siva who will do the moonlit walk around the holy hill Mount Arunachala. So we shall see how the Athena Hotel stacks up, see how convenient or not its location turns out to be in regard to Ramanasramam. Hope it is not too far, hope that the 1 km distance from town as per the description given on Booking.com is correct and that the reality is not that they have pulled a fast one and that it is stuck out in the middle of nowhere. In other words I hope I will be able to walk Ramanasramam without too much in the way of hassle because if it is hassle that could be a bit of a drag. I shall just have to wait on that, see what the situation is when I get there. Hopes and fears! Trips are so often predicated on these two things which can be more than a little bit tiresome; tuning into one’s inner voice, discovering you are still wanting the best for yourself, wanting only the good and to push away the bad. Dualistic dialogue of the unenlightened is what I guess you might call it, rather than the simple acceptance of whatever it is you are given by invisible forces we never catch sight of.
I’m travelling solo, on my own, just myself, and if I so wish I can keep all contact down to a bare minimum, need hardly have to raise myself above or beyond the basics of interaction in order to get things done, don’t have to do any more than that. Solitary bird flyin’ high in the sky! If that is what transpires then we shall see what I have to say about it, but sailor boy lost might also kick in, find me getting into conversations with others merely for the company. Hope not, it would be nice to go beyond that, inhabit the realm of the confident alone and be happy there, to rest easy.
Decent enough night’s sleep considering the standard of room I’d booked, which was a cheap one, for my one night at Woodlands. I had to keep the blades of the ceiling fan spinning at a pretty fast clip so as to stop the mosquitoes from landing on me and taking a bite, but apart from that there were no complaints, not that that is a complaint, more an observation. Still, it is time to face the fact I might not be the person I crack myself up to be, at least not in the sense of how I would like others to see me. Guess reality comes crashing in from time to time, dumps me back at square one as a consequence, like I am starting all over again, seemingly never ridding myself of this pollution. Heat confusion talkin’ here, or maybe something deeper whilst above my head that ceiling fan still keeps spinnin’…
Second of two posts today, 24th May 2021, to mark – on my blog – the 80th birthday of the incomparable recording and performing artist – Bob Dylan.
Happy Birthday Bob!!!
This one is a write up of the third of three shows I saw Bob play back in 2003. Whilst the first two were run of the mill arena shows, one in Birmingham and one in Sheffield, this one was always going to be special – a return to the legendary Hammersmith Apollo in West London. Sure enough, Bob didn’t disappoint, pulling some stone cold nuggets from out the bag, including a song which he hadn’t played in 26 years. Nice one!
So now it was a case of two down one to go as far as my Three Bob Shows for 2003 were concerned. There was a whole two days in between the Birmingham NEC show which I had been to on the Friday and the Hammersmith Apollo show on the Monday. That was a long weekend to get through in other words, a very long weekend indeed when I knew that Bob was in town, playing places like the Shepherds Bush Empire which would no doubt be packed to the rafters and full of adoring fans. This time I was going to see Bob with Duncan “Dunc” Hutson one of my partners in crime at Wise Words, the small distribution company specialising in books on Buddhism, which I helped run as well as being co-director of. Dunc had come to see Bob with me once before, the first of the two London Docklands Arena shows in May 2002 and at the time he had been suitably impressed with what he had witnessed. When I told him a couple of months ago that Bob would be back in London in November he jumped at the chance to come along with me to see him again. Therefore on the Monday I finished early at Wise and arranged to meet Dunc round my place in the late afternoon for him to park his car before we took the tube down to Hammersmith from Woodford.
First of two posts today, 24th May 2021, to mark – on my blog – the 80th birthday of the incomparable recording and performing artist – Bob Dylan.
Happy Birthday Bob!!!
Following on from my overview of Bob shows from the 1990s and also shows in the period 2005 – 2009, this post covers me seeing Bob Dylan live at the Tempodrom, Berlin on two dates in 2013, the Royal Albert Hall in London 2015, the Cardiff Interantional Arena 2017 and finally Hyde Park, London 2019.
It was to be just over two years later at the end of October 2013 when I next saw Bob by way of going to two shows in Germany on October 24th & October 26th at the Tempodrom in Berlin. Just so happened that I was over there paying a visit to my old friend Thomas Deilecke, otherwise known as Toby Ruft and who takes a leading role in some of my Indian writings which appear on my website Traceless Path, specifically in a novel on there by the name of Tiger Trails, but also in a number of shorter pieces found in a section called Om Reflections. But I guess this is something which I might have mentioned before! The tickets for the shows had been bought well in advance of my visit and I guess they were the main reason why was I was making the trip over, not solely of course, because it was great meeting up once again with Thomas but Bob was most definitely in my sights, no doubt about that. He was actually playing an unbroken three night stint at the Tempodrom, a concert hall in the middle of town built in the fashion and shape of a circus tent and we had tickets for the first night and for the third. Now it has to be said that the night of my first Tempodrom show was also my first day in town, having landed at Berlin Tegel in the early afternoon and gone straight with Thomas to his flat in South Berlin in order to dump my stuff and have a late afternoon meal with him and his wife Beate who would also be coming to see Bob with us. There was no question that I was very excited over the prospect of seeing Bob not once but twice in Berlin, which meant we all arrived at the venue pretty early as we had standing tickets and I wanted to make sure we had a good position down on the floor.
Thought it would be nice to mark the beginning of May, the month of Bob Dylan’s 80th Birthday, with another in my series of accounts of going to see Bob in concert, something I have been lucky enough to do on 37 separate occasions. Needless to say this figure pales in comparison to many, many other Bob fans out there, but all the same it is the number I have so far been allotted and believe me, I have no complaints. After this I’ve got a similar piece on NET shows 2013 – 2019 but I think I’ll save that one for the big day itself – 24th May 2021. Following on from my brief overview of Bob shows which I went to in the 1990s, this post covers me going to see Bob Dylan play live at on three occasions at the Brixton Academy in 2005, once at Wenbley Arena in 2007, once at the London Roundhouse in 2009 and finally a brace of shows at the Cardiff International Arena in 2009 and 2011.
In writing about these 2005 – 2009 Bob Dylan shows mention first has to be made of the three Brixton Academy shows which I saw Bob play in November 2005. For some reason I did not write these up at the time and so they didn’t make it into my 2000 – 2006 period of live show full write ups, although of course they should have. A number of these full write ups I have already posted onto this blog over the last couple of years. My lack of notes for the Brixton Academy shows is an anomaly which now, fifteen years later, I can’t really explain, other than to say it was probably the case that work at Wise Words, the small book distribution company which I managed, must have been pretty stressful at the time. That would no doubt have made the prospect of writing up reports on those three shows beyond my capabilities, which is strange because I know that I really enjoyed them. Needless to say it is way too far down the line for me to remember them in any great detail, beyond what I will write here and even what I write here involves a little bit of cheating in that I have had to go online to check what the set lists were, as even these were not listed down by me at the time.
Final part of a short series of pieces on a trip I made to the holy South Indian pilgrimage town of Tiruvannamalai in the state of Tamil Nadu where I stayed at the Athithi Ashram which is run by devotees of the great twentieth century spiritual master Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. The resident teacher of Athithi Ashram is Swami Hamsananda, with whom it is possible to sit and meditate each morning as well as engage in conversation about the life of Bhagavan, meditation, and the spiritual paths of bhakti (devotion) and Jnana (self-enquiry) in the form of asking the question – Who Am I?
So yesterday 18/2 finally saw me make the climb up the hill to Virupaksha Cave. Been to Skandasramam a couple of times before – more than a couple in fact – but so far never made it to Virupaksha. This was a trip I had been planning to do but I had been too locked into my daily morning routine at Athithi Ashram to so far make it happen. Yesterday was different however in that there was no 6.30 cup of sweet coffee in the ashram and no climb up the stairs to the meditation hall to join Swami Hamsananda for morning prayers. Instead I left the ashram at around 6.30 and headed for the Ramana Coffee & Juice Stand on the main road outside Ramanasramam where I had a glass of coffee for 40 rupees which was a little on the sweet side as they really ladled in the sugar, but then I guess I was a bit slow off the mark in tellin’ them when to stop.
After I’d drunk my glass of coffee I was ready for the walk up Arunachala which meant first crossing the main road and walking through the grounds of Ramanasramam so as to go through the gate at the back and take the path to Skandasramam and Virupaksha Cave which lay beyond. I put my New Balance trainers on after I’d got to the other side of the ashram and immediately saw a couple with a child, Russians by the sound of them, who were walking barefoot and then seriously wondered if I shouldn’t also be doing the same. Something made me keep my shoes on – laziness, reluctance, ignorance – but as I passed them and began the initial steep ascent it bugged me that I wasn’t doing the walk quite right, as Arunachala to the faithful is a temple in itself and in a temple you always walk barefoot.
So yes there I was, feeling bad for not goin’ barefoot like a pilgrim would, but I guess my pair of New Balance trainers felt so damn comfy and gave me so much spring that I couldn’t take them off. Funny thing is they were the same pair of New Balances I had used last year when I did the Giri Pradikshina – the walk around the holy hill – where again the vast majority of people doing the circuit with me on that night of the full moon, were walkin’ barefoot. Just like last year there was no intention on my part to cause offence, I’d just assumed it was done in shoes, simple ignorance more like, something which if truth be told I have in abundance. Well anyway, soon I was poundin’ up the path with my New Balances on and leaving those barefoot possible Russians with their little kid standin’ in the dust trails behind me.
Part of a short series of pieces on a trip I made to the holy South Indian pilgrimage town of Tiruvannamalai in the state of Tamil Nadu where I stayed at the Athithi Ashram which is run by devotees of the great twentieth century spiritual master Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. The resident teacher of Athithi Ashram is Swami Hamsananda, with whom it is possible to sit and meditate each morning as well as engage in conversation about the life of Bhagavan, meditation, and the spiritual paths of bhakti (devotion) and Jnana (self-enquiry) in the form of asking the question – Who Am I?
Today it was possible for me to have another morning conversation with Swami and just like the day before it was just the two of us, one on one.
I began by asking him whether it was correct to think that whatever happened in one’s life – positive or negative – was the grace of the guru and that if supposedly bad things came along you just had to accept them. His reply was something along the lines that I didn’t have to worry about all that. The main gist was just to be fully and firmly convinced that the power which was in Bhagavan is also inside each of us. It is very important to strongly believe this is so. If we do then there is no need for sadhana, the individual quest for enlightenment, as that is the responsibility of the guru. If the conviction that you and Ramana – Arunachala are one and the same is firmly embedded deep within the heart, there is nothing else you need to do. He will take care of it. It is beyond our control – way beyond – and lies within the remit of a higher power.
What we have to do is cultivate inner satsang, to commune with The Self which lies at the very core of our being. Pray to Bhagavan. Prayer is very important. Both on a spiritual and mundane level he will take care of our needs and as the relationship is very open he will take you exactly as you are, so you only need to be yourself with him. Pray to him for the solution to problems, leave it aside in terms of trying to fix the problem yourself, as you will only make things worse, so let go, it is not your job. You have gone as far as you can with it and if you persist in trying to find a solution it will only be the ego seeking to gratify its own needs. Leave it, pray to Bhagavan and let him sort it out.
Yes, that’s right, there were no less than 10 Bob shows in the 90s that I went to – 4 at the Hammersmith Apollo, London in 1993, 1 at The Fleadh, Finsbury Park, London in 1993, 2 at the Brixton Academy, London in 1995, 1 in Hyde Park, London in 1996, 1 at Wembley Arena in 1997 and last but not least 1 at the Cardiff International Arena which was also in 1997. What you can read below is a brief description of all of them, prefaced by an account of how Bob came into my life, or if we wanna go Biblical, how I found Bob.
Now I first got into Bob towards the end of 1992 thanks to Good As I’ve Been to You which I bought from a CD shop just off Walthamstow market in North East London. Yes Good As I’ve Been to You was my first ever Bob Dylan album, which in some way is kind of ironic since it is a work of traditional folk and blues covers with not an original Bob Dylan song on it. Just saw it there in the CD racks of the shop and when I picked it up to take a closer look there was something about the photograph of Bob on the front which made me want to buy it there and then, immediately, on the spot. It is certainly the case that I hadn’t been intending to get it when I had walked in there but when I got to play it later that evening, after clocking off from another day of work at Wisdom Books, I was simply knocked out by it and from that point onwards never looked back.
Bob’s voice was ragged and dirty from having been around the world a million times over and done pretty much everything you could hope to do as a 20th century recording artist. When it came to popular music back then, there were a handful of names which immediately came to mind for the vast majority of people and The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan would almost certainly have been among them. It was probably the case that in any given city throughout the Western world you would have been able to bet your bottom dollar the vast majority of buskers out on the streets and in the parks would have known at least one Bob Dylan song. Yet here he was on the cover of Good As I’ve Been to You looking pretty fed up, world weary and almost it seemed at the end of the line. Guess in some strange way it would be true to say my heart went out to him, it really did and pretty much from that moment onwards I was on his side, wanting to see him pick himself up again and get back to where he belonged.
It is also true to say that Bob came along at a time in my life when I might well have needed him as by late 1992 I was just over three years into what would turn out to be a 27 year stint working at Wise Words. It was a case of having stumbled into working there in the autumn of 1989 after returning in the June of that year from what had been an eight month trip to Nepal, India and Sri Lanka. My journey to the East had seen me do a number of Buddhist meditation courses as part of some kind of spiritual quest I was on, at least when that quest wasn’t interrupted by prolonged periods of dope smoking, playing those opium bongos and all the rest of it. Wise Words specialised in the distribution of books on Buddhism and it was through connections I’d made whilst I was out there that I was able to find casual work back in London, stuffing flyers into catalogues for sending out to people on the Wise Words mailing list. It was not long before I moved onto packing books for them in their small warehouse in Walthamstow, then after a year or so I had worked my way up to processing invoices, before a couple of years later becoming their office manager at the same location.
As you can see, I ended up staying at Wise Words a very long time and for a great number of those 27 years I was managing what in reality was a tiny book company which never employed more than 5 or 6 people. After 10 years trading in Walthamstow, Wise Words moved to larger premises in Ilford, East London, in late 1999, something which on reflection was probably the high point as far as the company was concerned. The further we progressed into the 21st century the tougher things became to stay in business, which meant that for a lot of the time trying to keep the whole show on the road was really quite stressful, whilst the salaries we paid ourselves were modest by anyone’s standards. Eventually in the autumn of 2015 we woke up to the inevitable and decided to pull the plug by way of Wise Words going into voluntary liquidation, something which finally happened in June 2016 after we’d spent six months trying to tidy things up as much as possible in relation to our creditors. Throughout those years from late 1992 onwards it was a great source of joy for me to have Bob in my life, his music for me to listen to and his shows to go along to. It is probably true to say it was a blessing and something which I felt lucky to have, still do as a matter of fact. Yet after all this time I consider myself to be just a fan, one of many, not an expert, not someone who would be able to discuss in any great depth the ins and outs of Bob’s words and music. The only thing I can say is that I love it all, even the bad stuff, of which there is actually quite a lot!
So anyway, as I have already mentioned, it was only at the back end of 1992 that I first got into Bob by way of Good As I’ve Been to You and yet by the middle of February 1993 I would be able to proudly tell anyone who would listen that I had already seen Bob Dylan play live! This was because he did a string of five shows at the Hammersmith Apollo in February 1993 out of which I went along to no less than four of them. The first two, Monday 8th and Tuesday 9th, I bought tickets for in advance whilst the latter two, Thursday 11th and Friday 12th, I went down and bought tickets off the touts lurking outside the venue. Guess that might give you some idea of what kind of impression seeing Bob Dylan play live had on me. In fact it would be no exaggeration to say that the first moment I saw him step on stage I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was a performer on a whole different level of magnitude when compared to anyone else I had previously seen. Those first two shows were so damn good that I just couldn’t resist going back down again and again, to buy tickets at inflated prices sold to me in the shadows, just so long as I would be able to see him.