VI: Aranuchala

That spot of rain I was talking about last time turned out to be the annual monsoon – apparently they get it later in the years this far south – it’s been proper pelting it down! This rain then apparently drives all the snakes indoors – including cobras. Luckily I’m on the top floor.

The other day I decided to climb Arunchala, the extremely sacred mountain which overlooks Thiruvanamalai. Waking at six, I caught Glenda with a quick STD (they are the international phones), her slightly slurred voice telling me she was still up & drinking (surprise) at one in the morning Scots time. My ascent then began in light drizzle, which follow’d a series of arrows & religious graffiti painted on the scattered boulders, all pointing upwards. As I climbed, the view of the town & surrounding area began to increase. Thiruvannamalai is not as big as I thought, & shaped like a dolphin’s fin protruding from the southern flank of the sacred peak. Beyond it lies a flat, nameless plain – very green – with a range of hills about 10 miles away or so. Their proximity, & the fact that the crazy town streets quickly fade into verdant champaign re-inspired me to get a bike & go cruising.

After about an hour I reached the summit – a pleasant sensation made even more so by an encounter with the local guru. He is 30 – an orphan – & has been living in a shack just off the summit for ten years – 10 fuckin years meditating & shit. He’s the guy who’s painted all the graffiti – including one funny one indeed… his own fuckin’ website. Talk about 21st century asceticism. He even has a mobile phone – no reception on the top of the mountain however – but I’ve got his number if I ever need to meditate with him. He was a nice guy & gave me a glass of chi & taught me a little Tamil. If I make it back up I’ve promised to bring him some tea & brown sugar.

The descent was delightful, passing through a little corner of the world that the gods promised the Dragonflies. After musing on the possibility of anyone being eaten alive by dragonflies, & coming to the conclusion that they properly hadn’t, I paused for a while. About a hundred of them were buzzing around me, with some of the braver ones coming almost to my nose & hovering with their four delicate wings for a few moments, before darting off awhile. Further down the flanks of Arunachala I came across the two caves that Sri Ramana had lived in at the turn of the century. He’d been doing a similar thing to the guy at the top of the mountain, basically meditating for years. I guess that after a while enough people turned up & gave him 50 rupees (like me) for him to steadily improve his living quarters. First he built a house around his original cave – where devotees still sit in silent candlelight to this day – then he moved to another cave higher up the slopes & built a villa around it. His final port of call – for 27 years – was the ashram at the bottom of the hill.

The Sri Ramana Ashram is quite a funny place – full of meditating souls, Asian & Western, with everyone leaving shoes at the door of what is quite a large temple complex. I witnessed quite a spectacle while I was there, sat cross-legged on a marble floor before the shrine where Ramana’s body is buried. A few brahmin – men & boys – were sat down singing with deep intonation some Vedic hymn like the drone of a Miltonic canto. It took the form of a question & answer thing, the acoustics of the room echoing their voices even further, & while they sang a few devotees wailed ceremoniously round the shrine. To me it was rather like a Lenard Cohen single played at 33 rrp. I even joined in for a couple of circuits, the music sending vibrations through my chest – but just before the Stepford Wives & their spiritual tupperware party had persuaded to give my brand new sandals away & move into a cave,  I quickly reclaimed my shoes & fled to the safety of the library across the road.

All this brought up the question of religion for me. The closest I’ve ever been to god was down the ‘Dads & Lads’ night on Fridays down Woodtop Church in Burnley, where after singing a few hymns we were given tea, biscuits & got to play pool. But to the Indian faith & devotion is totally ingrained into the psyche. It was the same for the English not two centuries ago, but modernistic materialism is the new religion now – coinciding with the end of the age of Pisces… Jesus was a fisherman, remember, & the age of Pisces began when he was born. Will India be affected by atheistic modernism. I believe ultimately it will, but the change will take centuries, not the mere decades it took the West to wake up & smell the bullshit. Besides, Christianity was based on fear of the afterlife – Heaven & Hell – while most eastern religions believe in some form of Moshka – the release from the never ending cycle of birth & death. By this reasoning, eventually there will be no one left in the east to believe, because they will all be in Moksha

The few westerners who come to India seeking ‘salvation’ are a funny bunch – but looking at the predominance of middle-aged ex-hippies wandering about the ashram it is my conclusion that most of them took too much acid in their youths. I mean, so did I like, but there’s no need to turn into a thrill-less mind-junkie, lost in your own thoughts & only ever getting laid when its tantric (ie no quickies).

Thiruvanamali
26 – 11 – 08

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