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2-22-11 - Circumambulating Mt. Arunachala

Yesterday I was sitting in front of Mooji's satsang place in the unspoiled countryside not far from here admiring an especially good view of Arunachala. This is the holy mountain where Sri Ramana Maharshi spent most of his life either on or near. He came here when he was a teenager and never went more than a kilometer or two away is what I read. It's a rocky mountain that one can walk up on trails and I thought I spied the outline of a likely route. Soon Katrinka and I will do that - starting early. It's still winter here but it's already getting in the high eighties during the day. We keep the ceiling fan on all night.

Every month on the night of the full moon, a million or so people flock to Tiruvannamalai, the city that the mountain sits in the midst of, the city where we're living now. They come here to circumambulate Arunachala. Knowing that, I made sure that Katrinka and I arrived on the 16th of this month as the 18th was the full moon. On the 17th, I was warned, the busses would be packed.

Walk around that mountain? It's not that big but we just got here and that's exhausting to think about and it's tiring to even to walk up the steps to our little apartment. But circling Arunachala is the thing to do here and I tend to gather stamina when I hike on and on - even uphill. So at 5:45 on the 18th, I walked over to the Ramana Ashram, three minutes from our place, went inside and circumambulated the main altar for Ramana, retrieved my sandals from the footgear cage, and returned to the road out front. Then to a fruit stand where I bought 23 tiny bananas for 20 rupees to hand out to beggars along the way. Then I joined the throng that headed down the two lane road closed for this event - except for occasional busses, trucks, cars, auto rickshaws, and motorbikes that honked by on the side.

Onward I proceeded counterclockwise, always counterclockwise for 14 kilometers, dispensing all the bananas in the first 100 meters, past orange clad holy men, some beating drums and clanging cymbals, sitting on the side with official looking shiny containers for offerings. Others just lay beggars with coconut bowls, some lying down groaning and wagging a stump arm, bent old women. Lots of people gave to them but if it was one out of fifty that would be lots. Onward by fruit and tea stands and those selling religious trinkets and CDs, more beggars, around colorful chalk drawn mythical figures attracting rupees, maybe Shivas, this is a Shiva city, by musical offerings with drums, bells, chanting, an occasional keyboard, some seeming like Indian Zydeco, others blaring through overworked cheap speakers, a pulsating singing -  into the countryside and somewhat darkening night. I kept a brisk pace, moving somewhat faster than the flow, weaving slowly into those in front of me as other weaved past me. There was a fairly wide mix of Indians and occasional Westerners. Almost everyone was barefoot but not Plantar Fasciitis me - without arch support I'm prone to be crippled. Every kilometer or so there'd be a temple or shrine with tributaries of the crowd filing through. There was a truck with men in back giving away free plates of rice and vegetables to hundreds of reaching hands. The watermelon tables were popular as were the coconut mounds where a worker would decapitate one for with a broad knife and stick a straw down into the milk. There was so much action on the ground - looking at the people and the mountain's changing profile, that I forgot about the moon, but it was there with us, assisted by the artificial light generated by the venders and structures we walked by.

This is Ramana country so I'm doing the Ramana koan - he didn't call it that but the Zen folks did. It's the universal "Who am I?" That was my mantra as I kept going and going, stopping only once to get a rock out of my Keens.

I never noticed the road curving so it seemed we were still on the same side, like walking up next to the Sierras, but then just about the time I thought we were going to hit Nepal, we reentered the busy city going right through the center past the massive four pyramided Shiva temple and back to our road out of town till I recognized our neighborhood and the Ramana Ashram again. That's good. I was getting tired.

Along the way I took a few sips of water from my bottle and ate two mid sized bananas and four deep fried goodies I'd picked up at the beginning. It was warm at first but settled into the low seventies toward the end. It took four hours. I never said a word to anyone but there were some bows, hand to the heart, smiles. Good to get back to our apartment, take a shower, and fall into bed next to reading Katrinka - still not knowing who I am but tired enough not to care.

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