In southern India, a magnet for seekers of spirituality (Feature)

November 26th, 2008 - 11:13 am ICT by IANS  

Thiruvannamalai, Nov 26 (IANS) Not many beyond Tamil Nadu know that every full moon day, this temple town attracts over 300,000 Indian and foreign visitors who come to trek 14 km clockwise around a mountain here.That hillock is called Arunachala, literally meaning “sun mountain”, made famous by Hindu saint Ramana Maharishi who made his home there.

Over 800 people from the US, Europe, Australia, Japan and other countries live in this town, 190 km south of state capital Chennai. Their quest for spirituality has brought them here.

For the last five years, the numbers have registered a steady growth.

Peter, a German who prefers to give out just his first name, lives here with his wife and two daughters. The children are kindergarten students whose second language is Tamil.

“The spiritual experience unravels and grows on us with every passing day and it cannot be explained in a few minutes. One has to live here to understand inner peace,” Peter told IANS.

He and his family help visiting German compatriots with the nuances of yoga and run an eatery that sells Indian and German vegetarian cuisine.

They also help supply bit roles in movies for people from Europe in Chennai where hundreds of films are made every year in four southern Indian languages.

However, most come here because of the serenity of the Arunachala hillock where quite a few hermits practise meditation.

Houses, restaurants, hermitages and shops selling bric-a-brac surround a Shiva temple and the oddly shaped Arunachala hillock.

The place traces its origin as a bastion of spirituality to Bhagwan Ramana Maharishi who made the town and its hill his home in 1896. The fame of this holy man clad in a loin cloth attracted many foreign devotees who began writing about Thiruvannamalai and its vicinity several decades ago.

The first was Frank Humphreys, a British cop who began writing about this town and its godman in 1911. The first of this series appeared in The International Psychic Gazette.

The next was Paul Brunton, a British philosopher who found spiritual bliss at the feet of Ramana, in 1931.

Wrote Brunton: “I find myself outside the rim of world consciousness. The planet which has so far harboured me disappears. I am in the midst of an ocean of blazing light. The latter, I feel rather than think, is the primeval stuff out of which worlds are created, the first state of matter. It stretches away into untellable infinite space, incredibly alive.”

Soon other internationally recognised writers like Somerset Maugham, Julian P. Johnson and Arthur Osborne followed. Maugham’s novel “The Razor’s Edge” (1944) described a fictional guru fashioned after Ramana Maharishi.

In more recent times, the serenity of Arunachala has attracted film personalities like Tamil music maestro Ilayaraja and thespian Rajnikant who regularly trek around the hill, many times in disguise to avoid being mobbed.

Their link to this town in turn has attracted droves of devotees most of whom come for monthly pilgrimages.

One of the devotees is Swami Devananda, a Canadian by birth and a practising Hindu since 1967.

“Christian missionaries spread a canard and create history around it with more lies. While I still expose these perfidies, I am here to find out the real meaning of divinity,” Devananda said.

Said Peter: “The real reason for the fame of this place is the hermitage of Ramana. In a nutshell that is the unique selling points of Thiruvannamalai where many seek spiritual answers.”

Even Tibetan Budhist spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has written about this place.

“The heritage of India is enriched with numerous saints and yogis. Ramana Maharishi represents that tradition and his spiritual greatness is guiding millions of people. Such masters light the path and bring solace to suffering humanity,” the Dalai Lama has been quoted as saying.

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