Guest Blog – Arunachala Girivalam by Vikrant Rawa

Guest Blog - Arunachala Girivalam by Vikrant Rawa

The Arunachala Girivalam (Giri Pradakshina) is a 14 km pradakshina around Arunachala hill, embarked upon by several devotees every year, usually on a Poornima (full moon day). I had the opportunity to embark upon this sacred pradakshina three times, thanks to my spiritual teacher, Gautam Sachdeva, who introduced me to this tradition.


First of all, Arunachala has a very strong spiritual aura that can be immediately felt as soon as you enter this small town. In my personal experience, you definitely feel a resonance with your true nature if you allow it. It is the place where the great sage Ramana Maharshi did his sadhana and attained the highest truth. Hence, this is the place where several spiritual seekers visit every year from all over the world to enquire about their true nature. Some of them also embark upon this sacred pilgrimage of Girivalam.


During my Girivalam, I wanted to investigate the significance of this tradition, and there are several beliefs pertaining to it that promise the devotee who embarks on this parikrama freedom from past karma. However, my understanding is that the only way to free yourself from past karma is by understanding that you were never the doer of any action/karma. So, what would be the basis for such a belief? If this belief were true, this parikrama should reveal to us our true nature and thereby free us from all past karma.


When I examined the aspects involved in the parikrama, I found that they include the eight lingams, the Arunachala mountain around which the parikrama is made, and the jiva or the person who embarks upon this journey. There are other aspects as well: for example, it is recommended to do this parikrama on a full moon night and with a speed as slow as a pregnant woman, with bare feet.



My understanding of the aspects is as follows:


Parikrama: To me, the parikrama is symbolic of life/samsara as you come back to the same place you started. The journey of life, from birth to death, begins and ends at the same point – not knowing who we really are.


The sacred mountain Arunachala: Arunachala is the embodiment of Shiva, and to me, it represents the absolute reality. It is the fulcrum around which life happens, and the mountain represents changelessness. Hence, the parikrama around the mountain, as there has to be a reality underlying the happening of phenomenal life. But most importantly, it represents grace with which a jiva attains liberation.


Lingams: To me, the lingams represent the reality behind the different aspects of life as we know it, including the elements of nature such as ether, fire, water/rain, air, and other aspects such as wealth (Kubera), death (Yama) that were extremely significant for existence. My understanding of a lingam is that it represents the reality behind or underneath form, i.e., it symbolizes the formless that is Shiva.


The full moon represents the reflected consciousness, also called Chidabasa. Since the moon does not have its own light, it reflects the light of the sun. Similarly, our minds reflect pure consciousness, and it seems like the mind is conscious, but this consciousness is borrowed from our true nature – pure consciousness or reality.


The bare feet represent the surrendering of the ego, and the slow pace represents contemplation.


When one embarks upon this sacred pilgrimage with the grace of Arunachala, one contemplates upon his true nature. When the ego is surrendered, it is revealed that the true nature of the jiva is chit (consciousness). However, one encounters different aspects of existence symbolized by objects. These objects are symbolized by the lingams, and upon contemplation, it is revealed that the reality of objects is sat (existence). However, since there can be only one reality (advaita), the reality of chit (consciousness) must be the reality of sat (existence). This means that the existence of objects (sat) occurs concurrently with consciousness (chit), and there is no existence of objects (sat) apart from consciousness (chit). This can happen only under one condition, and that is if the existence of objects is an illusion (maya). For example: When we see a mirage in a desert, the seeing of the mirage creates the mirage. There is no mirage separate from the seeing of it since it is just an illusion. Similarly, the existence of objects, i.e., the universe (sat), exists only because of consciousness (chit); they are not two (advaita). When this understanding is revealed by the grace of Arunachala, you bow down to the mountain in gratitude – Arunachala Shiva Om. For me, the last aspect of maya was an important insight I had during my stay at Arunachala.


Disclaimer: These views are entirely based upon my own understanding of my experience doing the Girivalam as a spiritual seeker; these may not be the same as mentioned anywhere else, and I do not claim them to be the truth.


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