15 Dec On a pilgrimage
It is late in 2016, a full 100 years after Ramana Maharshi moved from Virupaksha Cave to Skandashram cave where his mother had come to join him. Probably the most comfortable time in terms of weather, the winters in Thiruvanamallai are pleasant with temperatures averaging around 25 degrees celcius. In the caves up on Arunachala Hill though, the temperature and intensity is palpably higher. The entire town of Thiruvanamallai has a sense of piety to it and Ramana’s Ashram is still full of his presence even after the master left his body 66 years ago, in 1950.
There is a whirlpool of questions as we walk the 14km periphery of Arunachala Hill on the auspicious Maha Deepam day. More than 2 million devotees have arrived in the small town which had been making special arrangements for the festival from 2 months. What prompted Ramana at the age of 16 to drop everything and come to Arunachala? Is it still possible in our age to find a place where you can drop everything and just be? Even the Himalayas have become crowded! Isn’t the number of sadhus also too high? Was following a spiritual path a little bit simpler in the olden times? Walking upto the caves, one can see the sprawling town of Thiruvanamallai which is growing in all directions! If you were to ask Ramana, the answer ofcourse is easy: An intense self-inquiry asking ‘Who am I?’ Who is asking all these questions? It is the ‘I’ and once that realization dawns, everything else stops to matter.
But that road is long. The mind still says that even Ramana had to come to Arunachala, even though at the age of 16. There was a pull to come somewhere and be. It is very hard for the mind to accept the dryness of Vedanta which eventually comes down to the realization that there is nothing but the mind is still at peace. You’re not giving power to any of the senses for external pleasure but at the same time are at ease with the dryness of enlightenment.
It’s amusing how if you look at the time frames, 1940’s in India must have been full of the freedom movement. But at the Ramana Ashram, even the British took refuge in Ramana for showing a way towards deeper self-inquiry. Many records of his talks are with westerners who have come to Thiruvanamallai seeking the nectar of Ramana.
Fast forward to today, so much has changed but nothing has changed! Thiruvnamallai has changed beyond recognition and the ‘development’ of the town is just beginning. Age old traditions are going away, food habit are changing (fortunately, at a much slower pace than North of India) but man’s purest search is still the same. There are still people from all over the world who pour into the Ashram to find solace. The trees and the Ashram premise stand testimony to that eternal peace that pervades through the Ashram (I am inclined to write ‘and partly throughout the town’ but something stops me from doing that).
We are looking at a 150 year time frame but even if once extrapolates and takes in a 1000 year view, this view stands true. Ever since the human form started taking its current avatar, the only constant has been this search for enlightenment, this search for the life force where man and universe becomes one, where there is perfect harmony! And if you look at Ramana Ashram where even dogs, cows, crows and monkeys attained Nirvana, this pursuit through self-inquiry is the only quest of a life form.